When Twin Peaks: The Return was first announced, I sort of just assumed it’d be like everything else 2017 has had to offer: another helping of char-broiled butts. Why should the return of Twin Peaks, the most significant and artful television endeavour of all time, be anything but a let down? Lynch hadn’t made anything in over a decade, the cast had presumably moved on, and people seemed to have forgotten all but the most trite coffee and cherry pie adjacent quips with which to prove they gave a flying fig about the ultimate fate of Agent Cooper.
But then, it happened. Like some kind of catastrophic counterweight to all the other world events slamming our collective head in the car door that is this year, Twin Peaks: The Return coasted into view and for 18 instalments blew our minds. Again. I actually – genuinely – believe that The Return is superior to the original Twin Peaks. It’s angular as hell, sure, and it lacks the fuzzy, chintzy edges, but of course it does. It has to. It’s about a world that’s had BOB in it for 25 whole years.
This is a world where the resting pace is the Winkie’s Diner scene from Mulholland Drive. It’s nested deep within the Lynch multiverse, where stories diverge and intermingle, like milk and vinegar you drank on a dare, now roiling hatefully against one another deep in your guts. It’s about contradictory forces of good and evil collapsing in on each other.
It’s great is what it is.
So I’m not going to insult you by checking to see if you’re up to date. This piece is going to be an exhaustive, jubilant dive into what I personally think the two part finale actually meant. Because although I believe this story could easily be picked up and continued by Lynch and his cohorts (Lynch has hinted he’s up for a fourth season, though he’s quick to point out it’d be a long way off), I also think the finale works as an ending in and of itself.
Halfway through Twin Peaks: The Return, we witnessed a giant in a tuxedo floating through a monochrome velvet cinema, golden mist streaming from his mouth into the ether. From there, Lynch and co. somehow ratcheted up the obfuscation, but what became apparent was this. Our giant had a name: The Fireman. And apparently, he had a plan. And I’ve come to the conclusion that he, and Cooper, and Philip Jeffries, and all the other forces of light in the world of Twin Peaks, pulled it off. They won. Mostly.
So if you want, or need, a clean, digestible summary of what The Fireman’s plan was, slotted into a timeline and detailing Dale Cooper’s role in the whole affair, buckle up. Because this is the water, folks, This is the water. And this is the well. Drink deep and descend.
On July the 16th, 1945, the atom bomb is dropped. This creates a Lynchian fissure (and one of the boldest stretches of modern television ever aired), giving birth to “Judy”, source of true evil. She gives birth to a miasma of corruption, including BOB, her star pupil, her chief progeny. This is noticed by The Fireman from The White Lodge, and as a counterpoint, he creates a weapon, a being who can counteract Judy. Laura Palmer. He sends Laura down from the lodge to the world below to combat Judy, but tragically, her father is corrupted and turned by none other than BOB, who takes up residence in the Palmer house (they are in our house now). He abuses, corrupts, and eventually murders her.
When Dale Cooper – someone with deep connections to the otherworldly – is sent to investigate Laura’s murder, The Fireman sees a chance to salvage the plan, and to take out Judy in the form of a new champion, an ally in his weird quest. He contacts Mike, a “reformed” spirit who used to run with BOB. Mike’s Arm – the arm Mike cut off because it was corrupt – then visits Coop in his dreams, delivering clues and dancing while Laura (or someone who looks like her) whispers secrets to him. Agent Cooper is now on board what I’m going to go ahead and call The Fire Engine.
Eventually, sometime down the road on the investigation, Dale Cooper is shot in The Great Northern, by which I mean the hotel. “The Great Northern” isn’t prison slang for a specific part of his body. At this point, The Fireman visits him directly, as well as indirectly through his own vessel, Senor Droolcup, who offers him milk (ethereal abstractions aside, it’s important for Coop to have strong bones).
Cooper is set back on the course. As the investigation builds to a crescendo, BOB proves how feral he really is: he murders Laura’s cousin, Maddy, chasing the high he got after killing Laura, which in turn leads the FBI and the Bookhouse Boys right to him. Finally, they defeat BOB’s vessel (Leland), and send his spirit hurtling back to the Lodge.
After Coop settles into a life wearing silly flannel shirts and looking to buy real estate, Wyndham Earle, his old mentor and nemesis, returns. After a game of cat and mouse, Earle takes Coop’s girl, Annie, and hurries her into the Black Lodge. Naturally, Cooper goes in after them. Wyndham and BOB try to derail the Fireman’s counter-plan yet again by trapping Dale in the Lodge, and releasing into the world Mr C, a Cooper Doppelganger, inhabited by BOB himself. Mr C is rescued, having been mistaken for Coop, and thanks the good guys for their trouble by smashing his head against his mirror in The Great Northern, and capping off the original series with the immortal words, “How’s Annie?”.
Mr C heads out into the world, violating people who matter the most to Cooper (Diane and Audrey chiefest among them). The Black Lodge seems to have a deal with it’s darker denizens: time outside is limited to 25 years. Mr C can’t be easily stopped by the forces of good during this period (probably because he’s inhabiting the body and memories of Dale Cooper), and so he hangs onto the reins. So the Fireman needs to enlist the aid of other paragons, such as Garland Briggs and Phillip Jeffries, until the arrives for Dale’s return. Thus begins a quarter of a century surrealist cold war.
When the time comes for Mr C to return to the Black Lodge and swap places with Cooper, his true machinations are revealed: he has created a Tulpa, Dougie Jones, a simpleton who works at an insurance firm in Las Vegas, married to a relative of Diane herself. When the summons to return to the Lodge goes out, Mr C fights it just long enough to ensnare Cooper inside the Dougie Tulpa, essentially doing a full factory reset on Coop, trapping him in a near vegetative childlike state. Jade gives two rides. The world turns.
As Mr C has his agents try to close the net on a weakened Coop, housed as he is inside the unflappable joy-fountain that is Dougie Jones, and as Dougie somehow manages to find allies to get him home, other individuals attuned to the needs of The Fireman (The Log Lady, Hawk, Freddie Sykes, Bobby Briggs, Andy and many more) are activated and begin preparations for the final conflict. Finally, in Episode 17, it is revealed that the coordinates fed to Mr C were, all along, designed to trap him in the one place all the good guys would be: the sheriff station. The good guys converge, and Cooper, now fully awake, arrives. Mr C is cornered.
He is hemmed in, attacked and destroyed. BOB is killed, and the husk of Mr C burns forever in the Black Lodge where he belongs. We also see him superimposed over this, indicating he is remembering this from somewhere in the future, or that he envisioned this would happen while in the lodge over the intervening 25 years – or perhaps that this is Cooper’s tulpa, watching the real Cooper in bewilderment from The Lodge, drinking it all in.
Having ensured everyone is safe and BOB vanquished, Dale can now finally enact the second stage of the plan as intended.
The plan is audacious: He plucks Laura Palmer away from her fate, and in doing so creates a pocket timeline of sorts – a timeline in which Laura never died. This enrages Judy (Jow-Day), whose rage manifests through the body she inhabits: Sarah Palmer. Judy then enters the pocket dimension to go after Laura (I suspect she is summoned there; we know Judy can be summoned by sex, as seen before the glass box in New York at the start of the season). The Fireman anticipated this move – to ensure Judy doesn’t find her mark, he hides Laura in this timeline as someone else, someone who can’t give away that she’s Laura because even she doesn’t know who she is. He gives Cooper directions on how to find her, which he does.
So Dale and Diane enter that world to rescue Laura. Dale was prepared for this (“Remember Richard and Linda”) and tries to warn Diane, but Diane can’t process or cope with the situation and leaves (and I hope she finds her way back). Dale finds Laura and takes her to her mother, in order to kill or negate Judy. They arrive at the Palmer Home, and meet Mrs Chalfont, a previously established denizen of the Black Lodge, and the convenience store. If she’s not Judy, she’s certainly guarding Judy. But Laura isn’t Laura, and Cooper leads her away.
At this point, he twigs that something is wrong, and asks what year it is. And just when it seems like all is lost, Laura hears something from her old bedroom, and finally remembers who she is. She screams, the memories flooding back, and the electricity – source of all power and life in Lynch’s worlds – that makes up the nest Judy has made, shorts out. Blows up. The pocket timeline detonates. Judy has been bested.
Over the credits, we see Cooper in the Lodge, with Laura whispering something in his ear. My suspicion is this: Laura tells him she knows her role in this plan. She knows she’s going to have to die.
Cooper has ensured his friends and loved ones are safe back in the other timeline – Twin Peaks is intact, BOB has been killed. Hawk, Bobby, Andy, Lucy, those who helped Dougie. And what of Cooper himself? Perhaps by shutting down the pocket timeline, he ensures he never left. Or perhaps his desire will be fulfilled; perhaps he’ll see them all again someday (not a stretch, given his skills). Or perhaps the tulpa he left with Janey and Sonny Jim is the real Cooper, and it’s his tulpa that went spelunking in Odessa, meaning the first scene in the series is a Coop tulpa being briefed for his mission.
Either way, the future isn’t nearly as dark or hopeless as people think. It’s the perfect level of “what comes next” to either leave us with a sense of hope and (admittedly nightmarish) adventure for Coop, or it’s the perfect place for a fourth season to pick up.