17: The past dictates the future
18: What is your name?
So the great evil that Gordon Cole (David Lynch) has been battling to defeat all this time is Judy/Jowday/Jaio Dai (Chinese for “resolution” or “explanation”). It’s kind of a cheap shot, really. Lynch saying “This is what you get when you dare to ask me to make sense of things, or tell you who killed Laura Palmer”. Being, an episode where he offers resolution in an almost perversely perfunctory manner, followed by an episode in which he recants and invites you never to receive any again. Ever. I much preferred the latter.
David Lynch: It's human nature to have a tremendous let-down once you receive the answer to a question, especially one that you've been searching for and waiting for. It's a momentary thrill, but it's followed by a kind of depression.
That said, I’m not one to exalt Lynch’s wilful surreality without question. I don’t venerate the guy or get a kick from telling those who didn’t appreciate Season Three’s lack of resolution (or explanation) that they just don’t get it, don’t get Lynch and – probably not saying the last part but thinking it – they’re far superior and so much more perceptive for clutching this uncontained artist to their collective bosoms. Because there is a bit of that going on in naysaying those who are annoyed about being stumped by what they got (as opposed to being enthusiastically stumped, like the rest of us). There’s also a bit of being stumped at the stumped, who surely ought to have realised about halfway in (maybe even a quarter) that Lynch and Frost weren’t going to satisfy in a traditional narrative sense.
Lynch has always been a bit hit and miss, and for the most part The Return, as some are calling it, is very much hit, but it also whiffs of a very calculated endeavour on his part. I don’t for a second think he was blithely unaware of the ramifications of holding back “our” (dear) Dale Cooper until the pre-penultimate episode, and then handling the reunion of old faces in a babbling, breakneck manner. He was precisely saying that he had no interest in reheating the comfort food of the ABC original incarnation (one thing Season 3 hasn’t been at any point is warm, lush or welcoming, which the previous show, even at its most unsettling, managed to be; while I’m a fan of much of what he has done with the season, I’m not so keen on how flat the digital visuals could be when the director wasn’t going all out for atmosphere and weirdness. Sometimes it was almost as if he’d opened a(nother) bottle of wine and sat down with the cast for a quiet tipple and accidentally filmed the dress rehearsal).
Gordon Cole: For 25 years, I’ve kept something from you, Albert.
I suspect that was also precisely on Lynch’s mind when he held forth, sorry, I mean when Gordon held forth, in some of the most lazy-arsed, made-up-on-the-spot retconning of what it’s all been about. You want explanation? Gordon will give you some that makes every cobbled-together finale in search of something halfway satisfying (Battlestar Galactica, Lost, what have you) seem like robust pre-planning in comparison. Lynch, like Gordon and his hyperactive schlong, has not gone soft in his old age. I enjoyed Albert’s blithe response to being deceived by his boss for 25 years. It would have been better, though, if he’d done a really cutting Albert and said “You just made that up”.
Gordon Cole: The last thing Cooper told me was, ‘If I disappear, like the others, do everything you can to find me. I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone’. And now, this thing of two Coopers.
So we get an elaborately under-baked backstory of the plans hatched between Gordon, Coop and Major Briggs, and that Gordon knows – somehow, probably in the same magical way Coop knows the abilities of the Iron Rubber Glove; Lynch and Frost told them – that Phillip Jeffries “doesn’t really exist anymore, at least not in the normal sense”. They even have a paid informant (Ray) to tell them Evil Coop was looking for some co-ordinates while in prison. Thus, having brought us up to speed that he’s been waiting a quarter of a century for his Special Agent to get back in touch…
Gordon Cole: And I don’t even know if this plan is unfolding properly, because we should have heard by now from our dear Dale Cooper.
I did like the humour of this, of having Coop call just at that very moment, but the scene as a whole is too slipshod to make it land as it should. There were other things I appreciated too, of course – even this episode, probably my least favourite of the run, still has much going for it – mostly our dear Albert, as Miguel Ferrer gets in some final quips:
Special Agent Randall Headley: We’ve found him. We’ve found Douglas Jones. But we… don’t know where he is.
Albert: Has my watch stopped or is that one of the Marx Brothers?
His response to learning Dougie Dale electrocuted himself by sticking a fork in a wall socket too: “That’s strange, even for Cooper”. However, there isn’t one moment during his and Tammy reading from her laptop where you believe there’s anything actually on there. But this is Lynch in mock-exposition mode, so whatever, it all comes tumbling out. And sets the stage for a less-than-engaged final confrontation with Bob.
Sheriff Truman: What brings you back to Twin Peaks, Agent Cooper?
Evil Cooper: Unfinished business.
Whatever it is Evil Coop thinks he’s going to get (Judy too, by some accounts, hence the Palmer’s house being on screen when he visits the Fireman but his getting diverted to the Sheriff’s), it’s permanently truncated by Lucy in a pay-off to her earlier cell phone bafflement gag. The best moments in the Sheriff’s station are pre-Cooper’s arrival. There’s a masterfully drawn out piece of suspense as Frank stares out the definitely-not-right Cooper, while pandemonium breaks out in the cells and Andy gets future flashes.
But then, the smiting of Bob plays with all the drama of an episode of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, and I have to assume Lynch wanted it free from any atmosphere or investment in the proceedings, complete with Coop’s mug superimposed as if in a eulogy (you only have to compare Richard Coop taking on three cowboys in the next episode to see Lynch can summon the staging and editing when he wants).
Candie: It’s a good thing we made so many sandwiches.
There’s more flimsy exposition to follow, this time regarding the key to the Great Northern (“Major Briggs told me Sheriff Truman would have it”). We learn there are some things that will change, that “The past dictates the future”, and that Coop has a chubby for Diane (but how’s Annie, oh fickle Dale?), who was Naido all along (but is also in the Black Lodge when Cooper finds her; that Cooper doesn’t mention this suggests he may not be the same Cooper we see here), we are told, once again, that “We live inside a dream”, and that Cooper must dash, he’s still on a mission but he hopes to meet up with everyone again: “See you at the curtain call”. Probably in a church, at the end of time, when they all reminisce about how important they all were to each other’s lives.
Because Coop is trying to right wrongs, it seems (“This is where you’ll find Judy”), as Mike and the Enormous Teapot help him on his quest. The owl cave symbol becomes that of infinity (there is no end to this), and Coop goes back to February 23 1989 for a spot of Back to the Future Part II-ing.
Most of this sequence fell flat for me, from the over-extended excerpt from a portion of Fire Walk with Me that wasn’t so riveting even in context (I mean, it had James in it: James MK I), to a de-aged Laura in a badly-fitting wig (Windom Earle did a better job playing the Log Lady – or maybe it was purposeful, a badly fitting wig to remind us of the badly-fitting wig Maddy Ferguson sported that time), to the did-he/didn’t-he change things as Laura’s body disappears from the lake shore (and if he did, where/when/how did this take effect?).
At least I was re-engaged come Sarah Palmer’s (Judy’s) kill-frenzy on Laura’s photo, which seemed to put an end to Coop’s attempt to save her. At least, for now. And then that scream. Suppose Coop had (has?) saved her, though; as others have pointed out, she would still have suffered years of abuse at the hands of her father/Bob, so it’s debatable what kind of happy ending Coop arriving at this point in time could foster.
There’s something of Back to the Future Part II in the finale also, but of the alternate 1985 variety, as the old, increasingly familiar alternate universe devices comes into play (to name but two recent apostles: Lindelof and Abrams with Leftovers/Lost/Fringe). But first, Dougie and Janey-E get a happy ending, so that’s one wee extra sliver of resolution.
That aside, Lynch strands Cooper in what appears to be an eternal, cyclic struggle, a Sisyphean attempt at variations on saving the day/saving Laura (but how’s Annie?) At the beginning of the episode, we hear “Is it future, or is it past?”, and with the reappearance of the Arm, and Coop exiting the lodge into the desert, the spectre of the opening episodes swam into focus. The explanation that what we’re seeing for the rest of the episode (even before Richard “takes over”) is another tulpa, and that this is taking place prior to/sideways from 3.17, around the time of those first few episodes (is it the past?) makes some degree of sense (“Is it really you?” Coop and Diane’s tulpas ask each other). In which case, they’re mere seeds, emissaries of the Fireman, on a quest to bring down Judy (by returning Laura in some form).
“Dale Cooper”: Once we cross, it could all be different.
If so, it’s all different before they cross. I was much more in tune with the hypnotic monotony and suffocating strangeness of the final episode, the endless driving through a fractured reality – albeit some theorise this is the real reality, and everything hitherto has been a dream – (another Diane doppelganger observing the Diane who has entered this universe, Coop waking up in a different motel, with a different car and a different name).
Dear Richard. When you read this, I’ll be gone. I don’t recognise you anymore. Whatever we had together is over. Linda.
The sex scene is both endlessly odd and endless, whichever way you look at it (presumably Linda Diane is covering Richard Coop’s face because she can’t bear to look at someone she no longer recognises), but there’s a steely forcefulness to Richard Coop that contrasts effectively with the pervasive disorientation, following the synchronicitous signs to Carrie Page and then persuading her – sans the body in her living room – to come back to Twin Peaks. A different Twin Peaks without any Palmers in their residence (occupied by Tremonds, and before them Chalfonts, with a nice pot of garmonbozia stewing in the kitchen). There’s a resounding uncertainty over period (“What year is this?”) and a voice saying “Laura”, before that scream again (Sheryl Lee hasn’t lost her screaming face, that’s for sure). Richard Coop appears to know all about the version of Twin Peaks it should be, yet is apparently mystified by it being as different as he/his other self predicted it would be (it’s Lynch’s own Mandela Effect).
The Fireman: Remember 430. Richard and Linda. Two birds, one stone.
Having created so much anticipation for Coop’s return, then, Lynch proceeded to merrily puncture it. And there’s no way out for him. Perhaps this is Lynch’s vision of the recursive trap of existence, as told through Cooper: that no matter what we do, no matter how many lives we live, whether with best or worst intentions, we’re doomed to go around in never-ending circles, unable to wake up. Does it matter that we don’t get to find out what happened to Audrey (“Is it about the little girl who lives down the lane?”), whether she’s in the nut house or is in another alt-reality (perhaps 3.18’s alt-reality)?
On one level the finale confounds expectations, leaving behind it a season’s worth’s trail of undeveloped characters and hanging plot threads without no guarantee that we’ll ever be granted a continuation. On another, isn’t it entirely what someone who did exactly that 25 years ago would do? Someone who then made a prequel-sequel that actively refused to invite anyone to like it?
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.