Twin Peaks: The Return, Part Thirteen

“It’s Existentialism 101.”
“Oh, f*** you.”

I want to talk about endings and echoes. With serialized television, there is a sense—which I wrote about from a different angle here—that the end will cause us to reassess the entire show. The end of Lost, for instance, made many people feel they’d wasted six seasons of their lives. The end of The Dark Tower series of books made many people feel they’d wasted nearly 25 years of their lives. The journey, from this teleological perspective, was not worth the destination.

The journey of Twin Peaks: The Return has not astonished me. With each weekly installment of disappointment, I’ve put a greater and greater burden on the ending, as though if only Lynch and Frost can stick the landing, all of this will be worth it.

But consider the end of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. It ends as we expect, with the brutal rape and death of Laura Palmer. Consider the end of the original Twin Peaks series, in which Cooper’s imperfect courage trapped his soul in the Black Lodge and allowed a being of intelligent malevolence to inhabit his body. We didn’t expect that, and it’s not a particularly happy ending.

We see the after-effects of both of those events throughout Twin Peaks: The Return. “Part Eight” suggested that Laura Palmer was not just an innocent victim but a force for good sent to counteract evil. Her death, in other words, had meaning beyond the human grief and pain she experienced and those around her experienced. Her death showed that good doesn’t win.

Cooper’s failure of courage was both an ending and a beginning. It ended the graceful goodness of Special Agent Dale Cooper. It began the 25-year career of Evil Cooper (the intellect) and Dougie Jones (the placeholder who is now housing Cooper’s soul). His failure shows that sometimes goodness isn’t enough.

Those two segments of Cooper’s personality have one thing in common: echoes. Echolalia is the repetition of another person’s words. It is a neurological symptom of a handful of conditions. It is what Dougie Jones does all the time. Lacking his intellect—which is housed in Evil Cooper—Dougie only has imitative language and intuitive sensing. But Evil Cooper also experienced echolalia, right after his re-emergence from the Black Lodge. “Where’s Annie?” asked Sheriff Truman. “Where’s Annie?! Where’s Annie?!” screamed Cooper in return, slamming his head into a mirror.

To use the language of arm-wrestling, Evil Cooper’s “starting position” was the same as Dougie’s: repetition of another’s language that may or may not have meaning for the speaker. Evil Cooper moved past the echolalia stage to develop a career as a supercriminal who never moisturizes. He’s smart enough to know where he came from—witness his tidy manner of disposing of the Nez Pierce ring that we first saw in Fire Walk with Me—and smart enough to use his brawn to protect himself.

That makes Dougie his echo, his reflection. Cooper uses his intellect for himself. Dougie, without realizing what he is doing, uses his soul to help others. The Mitchum brothers, for instance. His colleagues at the insurance company. Janey-E and Sonny Jim. Dougie has improved the lives of all of these people. He is a force for good, even if he is watered down.

(The in-show parallel here is the discussion of the RR Diner’s franchises, which are echoes of the original RR. Our RR Diner has the best cherry pie, but it’s a loss-leader. To Norma’s accountant boyfriend, the good cherry pie is not worth the price. To Norma, the good cherry pie is worth the cost, because the metaphorical price of not having it is too high.)

That makes me wonder if this is all we’ll get. Do I still want Evil Cooper and Dougie Jones to merge and become Special Agent Dale Cooper? Yes, I do. But neither of the previous iterations of Twin Peaks had happy endings. Dougie and Janey-E watching Sonny Jim play on the jungle gym might be the happiest, most selfless moment this show is capable of. It’s a cherry-pie moment.

And that non-ending would fit with the theme of “Part Eight”: in the face of atomic evil, it’s the small acts and regular people (like Laura Palmer) who act as unwitting agents of good, even though they often fail.

But what does that mean? Am I hoping that the Good Guys will close the Black Lodge, fix Cooper, and turn Twin Peaks and the entire world in a paradisiacal wonderland? Of course that’s what I want, but that ending has no place in Lynch’s oeuvre. Dougie’s small acts of pure goodness, however unintentional, may be the closest we will get.

That leaves us with the secondary characters. By its second season, the original Twin Peaks became about stories nested within stories—the classic soap-opera narrative style. The Return is about repetition: Shelly is dating a new bad boy, as is her daughter. Big Ed and Norma still aren’t together. Bobby Briggs is like an echo of Major Briggs; Sheriff Truman is an echo of Sheriff Truman. Nadine is still obsessed with her drapes. James is still singing the one song he knows. Twin Peaks is like a record stuck in a groove, like the boxing match Sarah Palmer was watching. It’s a small town echoing itself.

I do want to know what’s going on with Richard Horne, who was drawn to Evil Cooper like a moth to a flame. I want to know what Bobby, Hawk, and Sheriff Truman are going to find when they ever get to the place marked on the map. I want Team Blue Rose to solve a case for once without any loss of life. (And bonus points if they re-discover Chris Isaak.) But Twin Peaks has never been about closure, and I am starting to think that we won’t get any. We are like Big Ed, sitting alone in his gas station, thinking about what might have been and how it will never be.

Or we are like Audrey. Her conversation with her husband was so confusing that I started to wonder if she was in the domestic version of the Black Lodge. The Black McMansion, if you will. Audrey “feel[s] like she’s somewhere else...and someone else.” She doesn’t remember where the Roadhouse is. And then her husband says this:

Charlie: “Now, are you going to stop playing games, or do I have to end your story, too?”
Audrey: “What story is that, Charlie? Is that the story of the little girl who lived down the lane? Is it?”

“The little girl who lived down the lane” reminds me of both Little Red Riding Hood (check out Audrey’s coat) and Ray Palmer’s story of how he met Bob when he was a child. Audrey says “it’s like Ghostwood here,” evoking both the actual section of the forest where bad things happen and Ben Horne’s planned development from Season Two of Twin Peaks. Charlie doesn’t respond to Audrey’s questions directly, forcing her to ask him which choice he would make—stay or go—and “which one would you be?” As she asks him, her reflection is visible in the picture window behind Charlie.

Is he gaslighting her? Is she, as Evil Cooper’s probably-former lover (or former probably-lover) uniquely attuned to the possible confluence of Cooper-related events? Is she, in fact, trapped in some version of the Black McMansion; has she been that way since the explosion at the bank?

I can’t answer any of those questions, and—as you can tell from my maudlin review—I no longer expect answers. Perhaps, like Jessica Szohr of Gossip Girl, I will just cry and laugh as I drink white wine, wondering what’s going on and waiting for the credits to roll.

Damn Fine Coffee:

• Phillip Jeffries—or someone pretending to be him—is the one behind the attempts on Evil Cooper’s life. That explains how Ray got the ring.

• The Fusco Brothers received intel that Dougie Jones was actually a criminal mastermind who was also a missing FBI agent, and they threw it in the trash. Talk about a lack of interagency cooperation.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

2 comments:

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keith Kotay said...

I'll have more to say about this episode when I watch it again, but if Cooper is split (intellect in the doppelganger, soul in Dougie) then why was MIKE saying "Wake Up!" to Dougie in one of the earlier episodes? If Cooper can only be fully restored by the death of the doppelganger, then I would think MIKE should know that. Just wondering out loud...

As usual, great review Josie! You always catch things I miss, and make connections I would never see. As I said before, I have come to the conclusion that for Lynch plot is a vehicle for the individual scenes, not the main focus. IIRC, F&M didn't even want to reveal the killer of Laura Palmer, but the network forced them to do so. If they hadn't, I wonder if there would have been any supernatural content at all?

According to Wikipedia: "During the first and second season, the search for Laura Palmer's killer served as the engine for the plot, and captured the public's imagination, although the creators admitted this was largely a MacGuffin; each episode was really about the interactions between the townsfolk." I think the supernatural stuff is more than a MacGuffin in The Return, but the main focus is still the individual scenes within that framework. I'm sure that F&M have something dramatic planned for the last few episodes, although I don't believe that they feel the need to "stick the landing." For them, it's more about the journey than the finale...