Twin Peaks: Beyond Life and Death

“Fire walk with me.”

Although the past few episodes have been quite good—and get even better on rewatch, when you’re comfortable skipping the boring parts—I wouldn’t recommend, or even like Twin Peaks if it weren’t for this episode, which is mind-blowingly awesome and possibly the most inventive thing to ever air on TV.

There are innumerable theories about this finale. Glastonbury. King Arthur. Coop’s courage—perfect or imperfect? Doppelgangers.

And more: The number 12, which is associated with the turn of fortune’s wheel and the death of Arthur in Malory’s Morte. Owls. My interpretation might be wrong; it has certainly developed over the years. But here it is, the best I can do:

Back in the eleventh episode of this season, Hawk explained local lore: “There are other worlds…My people believe that the White Lodge is a place where the spirits that rule man and nature reside…There is also a legend of a place called the Black Lodge, the shadow-self of the White Lodge. Legend says that every spirit must pass through there on the way to perfection. There, you will meet your own shadow self. My people call it the Dweller on the Threshold. But it is said that, if you confront the Black Lodge with imperfect courage, it will utterly annihilate your soul.”

Windom Earle uses Annie’s fear to access the Black Lodge, a metaphysical space that can be accessed from a variety of locations, including Ghostwood Forest and (possibly) Glastonbury, the medieval monastery that allegedly holds the bones of King Arthur. Good people would see the Black Lodge as a necessary rite of passage to get to the heavenly White Lodge, but Windom Earle just wants to access the Black Lodge’s evil power.

However, Windom Earle is just a pawn in the larger good/evil game. He thinks he is the hero (or villain) of his story, but he’s not. He’s just an excuse for the Black Lodge to get its metaphorical hands on Coop.

We can think of this in terms of show biz. Windom Earle, and all the soap-opera shenanigans that the show has focused on (even in this episode!), are just players playing their parts for the audience. What really matters is what happens behind the curtain. The Black Lodge and the White Lodge are the world’s backstage:

If Coop had perfect courage, he could have gone through the Black Lodge easily and moved into the White Lodge, the place of perfect harmony and joy that Major Briggs described the second episode of this season.

But he doesn’t. Coop’s courage is imperfect. He does a great job for a while, watching Jimmy Scott sing that beautiful song, dealing with the giant and the Man from Another Place. But he has a moment of panic when he runs from a screaming, zombie-eyed Laura Palmer who is climbing, like Bob, over the sofa. As the strobe light (reality shift!) kicks in, we get a glimpse of Windom Earle, and Coop goes running:

And then things get a bit confusing. (They were so clear before.) Coop runs, because he is afraid. But as he does so, the Lodge begins to change around him. This is particularly noticeable in the way that the statue we saw in the space between curtains appears…

…and disappears:

Before his moment of imperfect courage, every time Coop went to the space between the curtains, the statue was there. After his moment of imperfection, it disappears (n.b.: Joss Whedon visually echoes this idea in the fourth season finale of Buffy, and on the commentary to that episode, he describes the space between the curtains as a “space that shouldn’t exist”).

Diligent viewers can track the statue’s appearance to figure out where Coop is—but is he moving from the Black Lodge to the White Lodge, and back again? From the threshold to the lodge proper? Or deeper into the Black Lodge? I ascribe to that theory, I think: the Black Lodge isn’t just a place with one shadow-self, but many shadow-selves. That’s what the Man from Another Place means when he tells Coop that the next time Coop sees him, he won’t be “me.” That’s why the coffee can switch from engine oil to coffee and back again. The Black Lodge is (for Coop, perhaps not for everyone) a place of indeterminacy.

But what was Coop running from? Sure, zombie-doppelganger Laura Palmer was creepy as hell, but Coop is a brave man. However, that moment of shift—in which Laura Palmer becomes Windom Earle, and the lines between good and evil suddenly blur—that is what Coop was running from. A moment of fear about ambiguity, that he then mentally links to his own mortality. That’s why he briefly imagines/re-experiences getting shot, like he did in the Season Two premiere:

Notice that Coop is shot, vulnerable, and facing his own mortality. But he also has blood on his hands: a visual reminder of Coop’s possible complicity in the deaths of Maddy (for not figuring our Laura’s killer soon enough) and Caroline (for not seeing Windom Earle’s true nature soon enough), as well as Annie’s disappearance. Coop’s fear is that, in this ambiguous metaphysical reality (and the real reality of soap-opera nonsense), the Windom Earles of the world might win, Coop won’t be enough to stop them, and Coop might even contribute to the potential for evil. Coop’s fear is that good and evil are not easily separable categories.

There is also the possibility that all of Twin Peaks is just Coop creating a hero narrative out of the hallucinations he has as he lies dying next to Caroline, but I think that’s sort of a cop-out…

…since really, all female victims and all of Coop’s lovers are merging into one in Coop’s nightmarish experience of the true depths of evil in the Black Lodge.

Windom Earle, speaking for the Black Lodge, tells Coop that if Coop gives up his soul, he’ll let him live. And Coop says yes. His imperfect courage denied him the opportunity to visit the White Lodge, but that was never his goal in the first place. His goal was to rescue Annie. And he did so, by losing everything. Sure, Bob claims that Windom Earle can’t take Coop’s soul, but I think that is semantics: Coop leaves his soul in the Black Lodge. The real Coop is still trapped there. The Coop that returns to Twin Peaks has been imBobinated.

It’s worth noting that Coop runs again after the conversation about souls. He runs from Bob, but mostly from his own zombie-eyed doppelganger. When faced with his shadow-self, Coop fails. You tried, Coop. You tried.

And that’s it. This episode raises many questions—the big one being whether or not Annie is alive or dead—but I don’t find it unsatisfying. I think it’s a fantastic ending that reminds us of what Twin Peaks has always been about: the world, both backstage and onstage, is composed of stories within stories within stories. There is no end, only more anger and love and rage and evil and good. We do what we can, and we hope that we don’t fail.

Bits and Pieces

• A bunch of soap-opera stuff was resolved in this episode, and then developed into even more complicated stuff. Audrey might have exploded! Ben Horne might be dead! And yet I can’t bring myself to care, because I miss Coop.

• The singer in the Black Lodge is Jimmy Scott. Here’s a clip of him singing the entire song that we only hear a part of. I think it’s a perfect way to finish out my review of this haunting series:

Josie Kafka probably has imperfect courage, too.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for these great reviews, Josie. I watched Twin Peaks as a teenager when it first aired, and did countless rewatches after that, but I usually lost interest a couple episodes after Lauras murder was solved and skipped the end. And because I never really felt I understood the ending, it left a bad taste. Now, inspired by your reviews I'm gonna do one more rewatch and hopefully get a new perpective on this show that I just adore!

Billie Doux said...

Congratulations, Josie! You indeed deserve a damn fine cup of coffee!

Mark Greig said...


Well done on finishing your Twin Peaks reviews, Josie. Treat yourself to some apple pie.

sunbunny said...

Congrats Josie! *Twin Peaks reference*

Josie Kafka said...

Thanks, everyone!

Anonymous, I hope you enjoy your rewatch! Skipping the boring parts really does make it better.