[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched Episode 18 of Twin Peaks: The Return, and intend to do so, stop at 17; if you have watched 18, or don’t care about spoilers, proceed]
T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis had two great published arguments: Eliot’s response to Lewis’s Preface of Paradose Lost (and Lewis’s reply), and their similar exchange over Hamlet.
In the former case, Eliot took the stance that only poets are qualified to analyze poetry. Lewis attacked this self-justifying elitism. In the latter case, Lewis expressed disagreement with criticism that treats a work of fiction as something real: the title of the essay is “Hamlet: the Prince or the Poem.” Shakespeare critics debate Hamlet’s psychology, what he’s studying school and other details extraneous to the text as if he were a real person.
Now that Twin Peaks is (presumably) over, many are saying it’s probably the most sophisticated troll/prank in history. 25+ years and 18 hours of sitting through catatonic insurance salesmen, musical sequences, bizarre CGI sequences and people driving in the dark mixed in about 8 hours of actual story to be left scratching our heads.
Some are saying David Lynch is a genius. Some are saying those people and Lynch are idiots. Some are saying Lynch is an evil genius. The latter group are probably right.
Somewhere in the original run of Twin Peaks, Cooper says something like “Do you ever feel like you’re in a dream?” In Fire Walk With Me, Philip Jeffries says, “We’re all living in a dream,” a quote Cooper reiterates in Episode 17 of The Return. The question has been posed other places in season 3/The Return. When some of us speculated that the finale would turn out to be a dream, or something of the sort, some people said “David Lynch is too much of a genius to do something so cliche.”
Well, he did.
And now people are still insisting he’s a genius. “It’s existentialism,” some say. “Well, existentialism leads to suicide,” I say. [More on that later].
So what happened?
The Return features the return not only of the original cast but some of Lynch’s favorite actors. One of Lynch’s favorite movies is Sunset Boulevard, to which he makes frequent allusions/easter eggs, such as the name of Agent Gordon Cole, or the presence of the street sign in Mulholland Drive, a movie named after a street in LA known for being the home of wannabe stars as Sunset is known as known as the home of established stars.
Lynch originally created Mulholland Drive as a television pilot, and said it was supposed to be a Twin Peaks spinoff, telling the story of Audrey Horne after the explosion. In a reverse of Twin Peaks, which was shot as a movie with a hasty ending in case the series wasn’t picked up, and the ending was cut out and recut as a dream on the show, Mulholland Drive was shot as a pilot and then re-edited as a standalone movie with a hasty ending.
Either way, Lynch said to think of it as how Twin Peaks was supposed to end, so especially when Audrey “wakes up” in Episode 16 (never to be heard from again), it was predictable that The Return would end in a similar fashion to Mulholland Drive: the hero is a different person, in a different reality, with memories of the idyllic world we just spent most of the story becoming familiar with. There are mobster brothers, weird assassins, etc. Mulholland Drive, like Sunset Boulevard, is a commentary on the film industry and its audience. Twin Peaks may be seen as a commentary on television and its audiences.
The Black Lodge spirits are beings who live off of other people’s fear and suffering, are they just TV viewers? They manifest as people who could have any face or any name. They live in trailers and middle class homes. They sit in leather armchairs. They live in apartments above convenience stores. They live in a dark motel.
In that sense, Lynch seems to agree with Lewis. In the final scene, Cooper (or the man who thinks he’s Dale Cooper) and Carrie, another Laura, like many a fan over the years, arrive at the infamous white house and knock on the door. A woman answers.
Her name is Chalfont, and she bought the house from someone named Tremond, and knows nothing of Laura, Sarah or Leland Palmer. The significance of this is that the lady who answers the door is the real owner of the house. Thus, the two central characters become the obsessive fans, trying to bring to life the fictional reality they’ve come to love, and Lewis would likely point out that today’s obsessive fans are no different from the people in Shakespeare’s day who would jump on stage and draw their swords or the generations of literary scholars who’ve argued whether Hamlet was really mentally ill or just faking it.
Seen as a dream, we have several clues, like Mulholland: if the ending is the “real world,” the dream world is constructed by “Richard’s” memories of different people and places. It struck me that the dopplegangers are called “tulpas.” In Eastern mythology/mysticism, a “tulpa” is basically a parallel self that we encounter in dreams. So the multiple Coopers, Lauras, Dianes, etc., are tulpas in shared dreams. “Who is the dreamer?” Monica Bellucci asks Gordon Cole in a dream: Dale the almost naively optimistic, pop Buddhism practicing, coffee and doughnuts loving, Sherlock Holmes lawman; Mr. C., the callous, murderous, sociopathic criminal; and Dougie, the dimwitted, bored, unfaithful husband and father. We see elements of all three in the “Richard” we encounter in the show’s final half hour. Are they just the lives he lives in his dreams at night, a kind of Walter Mitty?
Perhaps he’s a real FBI agent tracking down a missing person from decades ago. More
Or else, The Return is Flashpoint: Cooper, like Barry Allen, changed the entire universe to save one girl’s life. As soon as he altered the past at the end of Episode 17, I thought, “Wouldn’t BOB just kill Ronette Pulaski, then? How is BOB going to be stopped? Why not go back a year earlier and save Teresa Banks?” One action can, as Prufrock muses, “disturb the universe.”
*Or,* as I reflected several years ago, the whole point is Nirvana: Cooper has to “bring balance to the Force,” which does not necessarily mean a Western/Judeo-Christian understanding of the triumph of goodness. The beings in the Red Room are the souls, which inhabit different bodies in different times, living different lives.
All of these interpretations lead to the same “lesson”: evil can never be completely destroyed, except in our fantasies. “Dale” spends 25 years in the Black Lodge–if he ever actually leaves. “Richard” is a middle-aged FBI agent who’s so jaded he shoots some guys for getting rough with a waitress and then puts their guns in a deep fryer, casually pointing out that they might just explode. Both suffer the consequence of trying to take on evil directly. There is an inverse Catholic truth to this which I will explore in my next piece, but it says something to the jaded Lynch, disappointed in the poor reception his films or the original series received from audiences.
The outline for Twin Peaks season 3, had it aired in 1991-1992, would have seen Cooper leaving the FBI and settling down in Twin Peaks. That ending did not happen because