Eighteen hours of television have led up to the finale of Twin Peaks’ third season. But was it truly worth waiting twenty-five years for?
Warning – this article contains spoilers for Twin Peaks: the Return as well as the original show and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
Distorted and horrible, Laura’s name can be heard spoken in Sarah Palmer’s disembodied voice in the last scene of Twin Peaks: the Return. Dale and Laura, not quite themselves in this strange alternate reality they have landed themselves in, are on the street looking out at the foreboding white Palmer house that, at this point in the timeline, is not the Palmer house. Laura, who goes by the name of Carrie Page and has led a different life due to Agent Cooper’s meddling in the fabric of reality, realises who she is in a sudden rush and lets out an awful shriek. The lights go out. The credits roll across the screen, imposed over a picture of Laura whispering her secret into Dale’s ear in the red room.
Not only eighteen hours of television have led up to this point, but also the thirty episodes of the original show, Fire Walk With Me, and multiple spinoff books like The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. Almost thirty years of Twin Peaks and its obsessive cult following finally culminated in – what, exactly?
at its core, Twin Peaks is all about Laura Palmer [and] a very specific type of violence…
Season three of Twin Peaks was shockingly unlike its predecessors – though, to be fair, that’s to be expected when David Lynch is given full creative control over eighteen hours of network television. The camp is gone, the familiar setting all but abandoned; even Agent Cooper is nowhere to be found until very late in the show. Almost every second of The Return is unsettling, strange, and difficult to decipher. It’s an unexpected and yet fantastic show, sweeping and ambitious, with incredible sound mixing, visuals, and use of score. Lynch expertly captures the aesthetic and feeling of roadside Americana, with plot lines that take characters all across the empty expanse of the country, long and eerie shots of deserted roads at night, and decrepit gas stations by the roadside that serve as a liminal space between worlds.
The show, thematically, explores the natures and origins of good and evil in humanity. We return to the Black and White Lodges, with new mystical settings like the huge black and white hall home to the giant. It takes us all the way back to 1945, to the first atomic bomb tests which, in Twin Peaks lore, spawned the demon BOB. It goes back even further when revealing the ancient ultimate big bad known as Judy. But in the final two hours, it all comes back to Laura Palmer.
Twin Peaks is a show with a rich and vast internal mythology that has provided for literal decades of theories, analysis, and debate. The supernatural mysteries are vast in scope and meaning. But at its core, Peaks is about Laura Palmer. It’s about a very specific type of violence – the abuse Laura endured at the hands of her father and/or the demon BOB.
for a few moments, it seems as if good has finally defeated evil.
In the last episode, Lynch reminds us that Peaks is, has been, and always will be about Laura. The magic and mysticism comes second to the main story: here is this girl, living in a town so small that everyone knows she’s in trouble, and yet no one is helping her. Here is the tragedy of her life, and the goodness that she maintains and fights for. Though she doesn’t have a huge amount of screen time, Laura’s presence is felt running through every moment of The Return, and through every moment of the original series.
The ending of The Return gives us Agent Dale Cooper, finally returned to himself after 25 years, and yet not satisfied. He cannot accept that Laura’s death is irreversible, and is determined to save her, despite knowing that it will have massive effects on the present. And for a few moments, it seems as if good has finally defeated evil. Lynch repurposes footage from Fire Walk With Me to show Dale going back to the night Laura died and taking him away with her. We’re going home, he says. He takes Laura by the hand and leads her out of the woods. We flash to reimagined scenes from the pilot; Laura’s body, wrapped in plastic, disappearing from the shore. Pete Martell goes on his merry way. But Sarah Palmer, presumed to be possessed by the demon Judy, is not happy. She screams and smashes the frame of Laura’s iconic homecoming picture, again and again. Dale looks back, and Laura has disappeared.
maybe love is not enough to save Laura from her past. But it is enough to keep fighting, to keep love alive
Dale’s subsequent insistence on further pushing the bounds of reality to try, again, to save Laura reveals his fatal flaw, a flaw that makes him who he is, that defines the beautiful and heartbreaking bond between him and Laura. He will not stop trying to save her. He believes, beyond reason, in the power of good. What is it that he says he fears the most, all the way back in the original series? The possibility that love is not enough. He simply cannot accept that love is not enough to save Laura. A popular theory of the finale’s meaning is that Dale dooms himself to a loop of trying to save Laura, in an endless battle between good and evil. But if we go back, back to 1992, we find ourselves in the red room at the end of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Laura sits on a chair, crying with joy as she looks up at the angels she thought had abandoned her, with Dale standing right beside her.
On interpreting the meaning of film, David Lynch had this to say: “All viewers, on the surface, we’re all different. We see something and that’s another place where intuition kicks in. So you see a thing, and you think about it, you feel it, and you sort of know something inside. And you can rely on that”. Here is what I know: the end of Fire Walk With Me is the end of Twin Peaks. Dale accepts the fact of Laura’s death, and leads them both, at long last, to peace.
The Return is a testament to Laura and Dale. “Look,” Lynch seems to say, “at this town, these lives, this very universe that can’t seem to shake Laura Palmer. Look at this man who is willing to rip apart the fabric of reality to save this young woman who he has never met in the flesh.” Twin Peaks is a story of hope. Though it may not seem like it, it ends with hope. As Dale fears, maybe love is not enough to save Laura from her past. But it is enough to keep fighting, to keep love alive, and to keep the angels waiting for Laura when it’s finally time to go.
Image: Brian Harkin