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We live inside a dream

September 5, 2017

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The night terrors didn’t show up until Monday. I watched the two-part Twin Peaks: The Return finale twice on Sunday night, first alone with my chair pulled up close to the screen and the volume cranked, clinging to every second as has been my custom all summer long. The second time was in public, at Radio Coffee and Beer, which has been showing the episodes on a delay every Sunday. This was the first time I’d gone, which is a shame because the episodes were projected on a big screen with a full house of fans. (The closed captioning was also on, which made me realize just how much [ominous whooshing] this show has.) It was interesting to watch the reactions. For the first hour, people were laughing and clapping and cheering. For most of the second hour, dead silence.

Monday I felt hungover, both physically and spiritually. The feeling of the show’s final minutes clung to me all day, and it was hard to fall asleep at the end of it. When I finally did, I had the most vivid, extended series of dreams I can remember in a long time. I won’t bore you with all the details, but at one point I found myself at another public screening of the Twin Peaks finale, this time with some cast members in attendance. It all went wrong, of course.

It’s entirely appropriate that this miraculous 18-part season has felt like a dream from the moment it was announced. I remember being in New Orleans in October 2014 and seeing that David Lynch and Mark Frost had simultaneously tweeted “That gum you like is going to come back in style.” That couldn’t mean…? Driving back to Austin a couple days later, I stopped for lunch and checked Facebook. It was officially announced: Twin Peaks was coming back. It never felt like it could really be happening (and briefly it wasn’t, when Lynch dropped out over budget negotiations). Over the years since the original series, I’ve had a recurring dream about finding a trove of unseen Twin Peaks episodes. This summer it came true. Now it feels like something I dreamed again.

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I know there are some fans who wish the whole series had been dropped at once, Netflix-style, for the binge-watchers. I’m grateful that it wasn’t, and we got to have the old school experience of letting each new episode grow in our imaginations for a week, debating what we’ve seen, discussing theories, reading what other people think. It lived in my mind all summer long, but I’m also glad that Parts 17 and 18 aired together. They needed each other: the mythological ending with the death of Evil Coop and the defeat of Bob, and the existential ending that still haunts me.

Part 17 made me ask the one question that hasn’t been asked all season: “What’s the hurry?” For a show that took its time with every scene, The Return barreled through Agent Cooper’s reunion with his old friends in that peculiar northwestern town. I think Gordon Cole spent more time with the French girl from the hotel in Buckhorn than Coop spent with Andy, Hawk, Albert, and the rest. (The question of “How’s Annie?” has now been definitely answered as “Who cares?”) Was there no time to drop by the Double R for some coffee and pie with old friends before rushing back in time to try to save Laura? (After all, if you’re traveling to the past, what difference does it make when you leave?)

Ah, but that’s nostalgia talking, something The Return resisted all along. Lynch gave in occasionally along the way (Ed and Norma brought the joy, the Log Lady brought the waterworks), but he was never going to indulge the impulse. There’s a line near the beginning of Part 17 that initially sounds like a throwaway joke: Albert tells Gordon Cole he’s gone soft, and Cole replies “Not where it counts, buddy.” Yes, that’s Cole the dirty old man saying he can still get it up, but it’s also Lynch speaking through him and offering us a warning: he’s not going soft on us here at the end. He’s taking us right to the heart of darkness.

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In his quest to be the hero, Agent Cooper always misses the big picture. What does he think he’s doing by stepping in to save Laura Palmer right before her murder (by literally entering the scene from Fire Walk with Me)? She’s already experienced the lifetime of trauma and horror; all that remains is her death. In the movie she’s released from her pain, finding the angel she thought had gone away. Now the white knight leads her through the darkness, but he can’t restore her. She’s gone and all that remains is a scream.

Cooper knows that everything might change when he enacts his plan, but he does it anyway, driving with Diane to the spot the Fireman has directed him to. Now he seems more like a fully integrated Cooper who has absorbed some elements of his (now never existent?) doppelganger. Diane seems to feel this way, covering his face when they have sex – the face he shares with a man who raped her in another life. When he and Diane check into the motel, it’s noirish and Lynchian; when he leaves in the morning, it’s completely changed, now much more generic and contemporary. We’re in a world closer to own now, but one that’s hollowed-out and underpopulated. Judy’s Diner is somehow even more depressing than Hap’s, that dark doppelganger of the Double R from Fire Walk with Me. At least that place had style; there’s no mood or atmosphere in this sterile place, just bad vibes and violence.

That’s also true of the home belonging to Carrie Page in Odessa, Texas. She’s Laura Palmer, or she used to be, or she was in another reality. There’s a dead body in her living room that goes unremarked upon. She goes on a long drive with Agent Cooper. They stop for gas, not at a stylized convenience store, but a regular Valero station you see everyday. (It’s shot like an Edward Hopper painting, but, you know. Lynch.) When they arrive in Twin Peaks, the Double R is closed and the “RR to Go” signs are gone. Something has changed.

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Cooper brings Carrie to the house where Laura experienced nothing but terror. This is his big hero move; somehow if he reunites her with Sarah, everything will be magically restored. (Of course, last we saw Sarah, she was consumed by some unspeakable evil and smashing the iconic photo of Laura over and over again.) But Sarah doesn’t live there and maybe never did. The new owner is Mrs. Tremond; the previous owner was Mrs. Chalfont. If Cooper recognizes those names as Black Lodge entities, he doesn’t show it. (Mrs. Tremond is played by the house’s actual owner, Mary Reber, adding to the meta feeling that we’re closer to our own reality now.)

Cooper is lost again, and doesn’t even know what year it is, which would seem like the least of his problems at this point. Carrie hears the echoing call of Sarah Palmer for Laura and is restored in a shattering instant, another scream that blows out all the lights (in the house and maybe in this reality). In the Lodge, she’s eternally whispering something to Cooper that we can’t hear and he’ll never comprehend. Twin Peaks is always going to end this way, with this feeling, whether this is truly the end or not.  I tend to think it is, given the near impossibility of pulling off these 18 hours (not to mention the age and decades-long smoking habit of Lynch). I’ll miss it, though. I can’t even say how much I loved the whole ride – talking electric trees, giant David Bowie teapot, cosmic nuclear horror, maddeningly cryptic Roadhouse conversations, green glove of destiny, and all the rest. It truly was a dream come true, ending in a nightmare I still can’t shake off.

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