Thoughts Roundup - Twin Peaks: The Return, Part 17 & 18
“It is a story of many, but begins with one - and I knew her. The one leading to the many is Laura Palmer. Laura is the one”. So said the Log Lady in her iconic introduction to the first ever Twin Peaks. Just as Laura became a conduit to the town and its people, all these people led right back to Laura Palmer. She was at the end of every road, her photograph lived in all the town’s buildings, and even decades later in The Return, her face emerges slowly from the trees during the opening credits. What was about her always will be about her, and that cannot be changed.
Everything in these two hours presents easier answers than Laura does, but that has always been true of her - she’s the one still filled with secrets. There is something of a heartbreaking, world-changing realisation in this finale, the kind of realisation that the patrons of the Roadhouse had when Maddie Palmer was killed. There was no way for them to know what had happened, but they felt it. Twin Peaks has always been about feeling rather than knowing. It feels like falling, like the world is being rocked from its axis, and it is the show at its most powerful.
There is a common idea in Television Finales that the last episode is where something concludes - where the world, for better or worse, is put to rights. And when this finale feels like it’s heading towards that, it takes a violent u-turn and reminds us that Twin Peaks has never been normal television.
The hellish final fight between Freddie and Bob is visually very Lynchian, yet there is an unusual amount of literalness and resolution to it. Just as Freddie punches Bob through the floor, the BobBall (there’s gotta to be a better word for it) rises again, a terrifying and unstoppable anthropomorphised nightmare that violates our screen, bursting from it with visceral and unknowable force. When Bob crawled over the couch in the Palmer house and came directly towards the camera, that was an invasive and affective moment, but this is that moment amplified to unbearable measures. But he still is vanquished, broken into small pieces and absorbed through the ceiling of the office. And after everything Doppelcoop had been through, after all the vicious, hardened monsters he’d come up against - it was Lucy who killed him with a single gunshot and sent him packing back to the black lodge.
Lucy gets her heroic moment (She has always been an unsung hero, a smarter-than-you’d-think character who, despite struggling with mobile phones, still gets things done when she needs to) and even though all of these moments feel suspiciously neat and tidy, it’s hard not to be delighted by them. It turns out Naido is Diane as many suspected (and we finally learned earlier that Judy is the ancient evil being referred to in The Secret History of Twin Peaks, and most likely the experiment we saw in the box in New York) and her and Coop’s embrace is satisfying but again, very convenient. And then - right on time! - here’s Gordon, Tammy and Albert! And Bobby, The Mitchum Brothers, James and Freddie! They’re all here, all your favourite characters! And at any moment it almost feels like someone is about to come in and say “Coop, this telegram came for you - your old pal Harry Truman says ‘Coop, i’ve sent you a piece of cherry pie and a coffee, and i’ll be home soon. Hee-Haw, and Merry Christmas!’”. It feels unreal and purposefully kind of artificial. But something tells us this is off.
After interacting with Naido/Diane, Dale looks as though he’s almost regressing back to who he was before waking up. But instead, he’s remembering something. He’s met her before, in another world. His moment of realisation echoes throughout the scene, as a transparent and ghostly image of Dale’s face dominates the frame and the rest of the action occurs, visually, inside his head. He remembers something, and we begin to suspect that none - or all - of these worlds are real, including the one we’re in now.
Earlier in the episode, Cooper commented that the time 2.53pm is 2+5+3 which is “10, the number of completion”. The clock in the sheriff’s office cannot move on. It is stuck between 2.52 and 2.53. Time moves strangely and completion cannot be reached. There is something missing, which the transparent Dale comments on: “We Live Inside A Dream”. He also says that past dictates the future and that things will change, and suddenly, everything does start to change. As Dale will soon change the course of history, the moments in the office begin to feel unreal. Their current existence can’t exist as it does if what happened in the past is undone. The dream will soon be shattered, and it’s already starting to fracture. Is it future or past? One and the same.
The past dictates the future, so if the past can be changed, then there are infinite ways that the story could turn out. There are versions where Laura was killed, versions where she lived, versions where she was never born in the first place. The version that we know is a dream inasmuch as it is just one version of events. It’s a version that was directly affected by Bob because he killed Laura. And so, as the sinking feeling begins again, the lights go out in the office and Dale, Gordon and Diane find themselves removed from the office and walking through darkness. Is this what it’s like to go missing in Twin Peaks? Is this what it was like for Jeffries or Desmond? And are the people in the Sheriff’s office still there, wondering just where the hell those three went? Or are they non-ex-ist-ent?
The trio find themselves in the basement of the Great Northern hotel. The door to which Dale has the key is maybe the final and most important precipice that he pushes himself through. Though he has been guided by The Fireman, this decision is what changes everything, and it’s a decision that we now know was not the right decision. It’s so painful, in hindsight, to see Dale so plucky and optimistic going into this. He so selflessly wants happiness for everyone, and not only that but wants to remove pain that exists now and has existed seemingly forever. He wants to be the ultimate hero, and once he’s in 1989 and writing himself into Laura’s history, he begins to act as a version of The Fireman. Jeffries has sent him here, after telling him where to find Judy, (”Say hello to Gordon. He’ll remember the unofficial version”), and at first Laura sees him hiding and screams. It’s an absolutely ingenious retconning of events, and visually it is seamless. The events that we see from Fire Walk With Me feel and look like a distant dream that Dale tries to wake her up from. When Laura stumbles through the woods, she sees Dale, looking tall, benevolent and completely out of place, much like The Fireman did whenever he appeared.
As Laura Palmer’s theme chimes in, and as you hear her voice again, sounding so young and so sweet, it is overwhelmingly moving. You know that he is here to save her, and it is the bittersweetness of wishing this could happen and knowing that it cannot that makes you ache. As he lead her away, her plastic-wrapped corpse disappears from the beach, and Pete Martell finally gets to go fishing. It is almost too much to fathom, but as Dale leads her through the darkest woods, through complete silence, we know that it cannot be that simple. The sound the Fireman played back in Part 1 finally triggers something, and Laura is gone again, her agonising scream shattering our hopes. Laura is gone. She hasn’t been saved, she has been entirely relocated, and Sarah Palmer - or Judy, who seems to live inside her - feels this. The smashing and stabbing of Laura’s portrait by Sarah is violently ugly, and the editing as her strikes are reversed and chopped up is masterful. Someone has stolen her Garmonbozia.
When Dale makes it out of those dark woods, he’s in the Black Lodge again, and this is where things start to look familiar. Laura’s whispered secret causes Dale some confusion, and she is ripped out of the lodge and placed in another time and another place. Her whisper is something we will never know, but it isn’t something Dale is happy to hear. “You can’t save me”. “You killed me”. “I’m in Odessa”. Who knows - it could’ve been any of these things, or none of these things. The point, really, is that we don’t know. We almost feel as if her words would somehow answer a cosmic question that’d make everything fall into place, but would they really? What could she say to make any of this okay? I think Dale’s reaction - an incredulous “huh?” - says that he is realising what we are all realising throughout this episode. Some awful, horrible truth. And even still, he listens to Leland - “find Laura”.
Outside of the Lodge at Glastonbury Grove, it’s hard to tell what is real in the darkness of the woods. Diane is there, and Dale and her confirm to each other that they are their real selves. But by this stage, we don’t know who they are anymore. This is further obfuscated by the purposeful lack of time that we spend with Dale and Diane together. They are suddenly driving somewhere far, far away from Twin Peaks - 430 miles to be exact - to the place that Doppelcoop crashed and was nearly taken back to the lodge at the top of the season. And it’s here, next to crackling electric pylons that physically resemble the owl cave symbol we’ve seen time and time again, that Dale and Diane go through the final door. (Speaking of final doors, i’m so delighted to see a version of Coop/Dougie returning home to Janey-E and Sonny Jim. It was a long time coming, but it’s nice to see that sometimes you really can go home).
They know things will be different on the other side, but don’t they already feel different? We have been entirely disconnected from the rest of the characters in the finale, and that makes wherever Dale is seem completely isolated. The last of Dale as we know him is gone after one final kiss, and the blue skies turn into the darkest of nights once again - we are in another place. In this other place, Dale and Diane are still themselves, but they’ve lost something. Dale is colder, slower and quieter. Diane seems to be in pain again. At a motel, she stares out of her car window and sees herself emerge quietly from behind a wall. Perhaps this was a warning to her to get away. That the identity of Diane would be dead by the morning if she stayed. She stayed, and the world changed.
Nothing has ever felt as wrong as their sex scene feels. Dale is emotionless and still throughout, not even reacting as Diane claws at and mashes his face; she looks towards the ceiling, desperate to be far away. It feels like they are becoming other people, they are slipping away from who they are into entirely different roles. It feels sickly and uncomfortable, as if the more they try to get closer, the further apart they drift. They aren’t themselves anymore.
She is gone when he wakes up, and in this other world they’ve passed into, she has fully accepted her identity as Linda. It is a continuing theme from Lost Highway, a nightmarish concept of finding out that you are not who you thought you were. Dale doesn’t accept that he’s Richard, and is confused by the letter he finds naming him as Richard, and signed Linda. Dale is holding on for dear life, but even he has to acknowledge that outside, the motel is not the one they entered last night, and the car he gets into is not the car they drove last night - if it even was last night. Identity is a big theme in Lynch’s work, and Dale bases his identity on being an enthusiastic, kind and hard-working man, but now he is being pushed further and further away from that until he is literally somebody else.
Dale seems to drive without direction. He’s not his usual determined self, and not a note of music is heard now. He drives through a flat, faceless but realistic looking town. The banality receives a jolt of terror, as a giant “JUDY’S” sign makes the place feel manufactured again. Inside the cafe, Dale is different. He doesn’t enjoy his coffee, he is far more violent than usual when dispatching the three men in the cafe (though gotta admit: they deserved it), and there is a spark gone from his eyes. He’s Dale minus something. He leaves Judy’s with his information on where to find “Laura” and waiting outside Laura’s - or Carrie’s, as she’s known in this reality - is that same buzzing telephone pole that was found in the fat trout trailer park. It is a symbol, a warning, a normal object repurposed as a symbol of something evil and dangerous. It is directly outside her house. Dale recognises this but continues.
There is such pain in seeing Laura not as Laura. She has disappeared from one reality to be thrown into one manufactured by Judy which sees her as Carrie, someone with a great deal of pain inside her too. Nervous and unsettled, she reacts with a stuttering dread to the name “Sarah”. She is on the verge of a realisation, even if she brushes off being told by Dale that she is a girl named Laura. He seems to have such a lack of control in this scene. He asks rambling, untidy questions that don’t get him anywhere. He has little sense of authority, and is easily confused by what he learns. He is Richard in this timeline, or at least, he was supposed to be. He’s holding onto Dale but he’s not as strong as he was. He wants to wake Laura up and to take her home, but what does he expect from that? Does he really think Laura can be saved, and Judy defeated? Would Laura really want to return home? Dale doesn’t think of this because he’s fixated on fixing things. But he ruptured something when he went back to 1989.
It’s hard to say what is more troubling in Carrie/Laura’s living room: the corpse, or the figurine on her mantle of the white horse. “Woe to the ones who behold the pale horse”, we were told by the Log Lady. Woe to Dale and woe to Carrie/Laura. We have descended fully into this netherworld with them and cut off contact with what is familiar. The focus that they get in this last episode begins to hint that this is it. As the minutes go on, we know there cannot be an encompassing closure. There are threads and stories that won’t be tied off. You can think of these last moments as a detour, but they’re a detour that close the story in an eternal, figure 8 loop. Just as the first ever episode of Twin Peaks shifted gear with Dale driving into the town, the final parts close with the same journey. The first time, he’d gone to save the memory of a girl named Laura Palmer. The second, he’s come to bring that girl back to life.
And so they drive, and drive, and drive. She is happy to be leaving Odessa, to be far away from Judy’s and White Horses. She doesn’t know exactly what to expect, but she accepts the ride. The dark night ahead of them is the longest yet. The headlights on the road linger for so long. They are leaving Odessa on an odyssey through the lost highways and into woods of Laura’s memories. The blackness becomes all encompassing, this becomes their dark night of the soul. We are going deeper into this world and deeper into Laura, and we wait for any sign that she is who she was. She looks out the window and the douglas fir trees fail to trigger anything for her. They pass the Double R diner - the lights are off and the streets are empty - and still nothing.
This isn’t home anymore. It wasn’t home when Laura was alive, either. It was a trap for her, just as Odessa was a trap. Twin Peaks was not a dream, but a nightmare for Laura. It was her dream - her nightmare - that they all lived inside. And Dale fails to recognise this and now he’s broken it. He wants for that to be erased and replaced with something better, but if she is erased, then how can it all exist? The Log Lady once said: “When this kind of fire starts, it is very hard to put out. The tender boughs of innocence burn first, and the wind rises, and then all goodness is in jeopardy.”. Dale is a hero for trying to put that fire out, but Margaret was right: goodness is in jeopardy, and it isn’t easy, or possible, to save it this way.
At the house, Dale bumbles through questions to the owner. No, there’s no Sarah Palmer here. No, we didn’t buy the house from her. The answer that we do get says so much: her name is Alice Tremond, and she bought the house from Mrs Chalfont - both names given to a woman who existed both in our world and in the black lodge. Though she was largely benevolent, this hammers home that this isn’t the Twin Peaks we know. Something is very off. We are in their house now. Is this the same woman who will one day give Laura the painting of a doorway? There is too much to comprehend in these questions, and back on the street, it all washes over Dale as he is wounded in confusion. He tries to hold onto some semblance of reality, like a dream upon waking. But he is powerless again - he hasn’t delivered Laura home, he hasn’t saved her, and home doesn’t really exist anymore.
The curtains are torn down and the realities crash into one, the dream has ended, and now we face a world where he and Laura possibly don’t exist. By taking Laura from the woods and delivering Laura back here, has he killed the memory of her? The question that strikes Dale is “What year is this?”. He staggers around in confusion; Laura looks down, beginning to tremble. She doesn’t know what year it is. She is on the cusp of a realisation, of a memory, of this dream she is in being shattered as the other one was. It is all too much to bear, until a familiar sound sends everything crashing to the ground.
The sound is the haunted, ghostly voice of Sarah Palmer calling “Laura?” from the house. It isn’t just her calling the name - but the exact clip from the first episode of Sarah calling upstairs to Laura. A memory, a fragment of who she was and what happened to her, is calling out from some deep, dark and distant world. And like Doppelcoop’s ominous “:-) ALL” text message, the sound lights a fire and and she remembers everything. She does the only thing she can do, and we hear maybe the most famous, haunting and agonising sound in all of Twin Peaks: the primal scream of Laura Palmer.
Dale looks in fear, in shock. He has got what he wanted, but he’s realising what he wanted is not what is right. A pain that has lasted forever and will last forever is reawakened in her. Dale can go back and try to change history, and he can destroy the timeline as we know it: but he cannot undo the pain and the fear. Laura was killed. He tries to kill two birds with one stone: to save her from death, and then bring her back home. But she cannot be brought back home without remembering what happened to her. This kills her all over again. It is a paradox of anguish, a full circle that is destined to loop forever. Her scream shatters the dream, and the lights in the Palmer house suddenly shut off. She has broken something. And before we see where they go next - to non-existence, back to the start, or wherever else you like to imagine - it cuts to black, the only sound lingering is the echo of her scream. It will always echo. It will always have been, and it always will be.
As the credits begin to roll, Dale and Laura are in the Lodge again, and she is whispering a secret into his ear in slow motion. Fear and confusion are written across his face. He is realising she cannot be saved. Perhaps he is realising his attempts to fix things have made them worse. He has shattered her dream, the dream of Twin Peaks, and as a result undone his reality as well as her’s. He has trapped himself between worlds. He longs to see, but he has never been able to wake up fully from his own dream. He has never been able to stare reality in the face and realise that he cannot save the world. If Twin Peaks has been Laura’s dream, it makes it no less real. It all happened, she saw it all unfold in her dreams, she saw herself sacrificed and much later, she saw Bob finally defeated. But then Dale undid this.
It is impossible to think of this all in literal terms. I don’t think any of it was invalidated, and I don’t believe that it was all as simple as a literal dream. I think instead that we’ve been privy to a version of events and everyone has played inside that. Maybe that version was Laura’s dream and that’s the one that should’ve been. The Return has asked us repeatedly to question who the dreamer is, to challenge everything we are seeing, because nothing is ever simple, and nothing is ever really finished.
Everyone believed The Return referred to Dale’s return to Twin Peaks. It didn’t. It referred to Dale trying to return the world to how he believed it should be - a place free from the abuse and murder of Laura Palmer. And he’s right, we shouldn’t live in a world where that kind of thing happens. But ultimately it did happen. Dale is powerless and misguided, because instead of learning from past trauma and building a healthy road away from that, he attempts to drive back down that dark road and delete and invalidate the existence of that trauma. That can never be done. You cannot remove it without removing everything along with it. Where he should’ve focussed on dismantling the evil going forward, he focussed on undoing the damage.
I don’t know if Laura will ever find peace in this, or any dream. I don’t know if Dale will, either. It is a painful realisation that home will never be the home you thought it was, and that you cannot go back and recapture what once existed. And the ending is certainly a bleak one that argues that we get caught in desperate cycles of trying to control and fix our pasts and futures. But what it also applauds is thorough and dedicated goodness, as well as the benefit of attentiveness and listening. Dale was goodness incarnate, but he didn’t listen as he should have. Perhaps we can make things better, perhaps we can help others and overcome evil. But we have to listen to do that. We can’t strip away the experiences of others, but we can listen andlearnfromthem. The reason the ending was so dark was because of Dale’s flaw - that he didn’t learn this.
The Return has been about learning and about listening. It is a testament to understanding and appreciating the world around us, and loving each other enough to hear what they tell us. We shouldn’t give up. We should pay better attention. We should listen to what those in pain tell us. We should do as the log lady told us and listen to the trees blowing and the river flowing. We might never find answers that will satisfy us entirely, but we can pursue these questions, we can behold the mystery, and in this, we can try and make things better. And if we listen and look closely enough, we might just find a light shining in those darkest of nights.