Editor’s Note: This is not an attempt at explaining Twin Peaks: The Return, Twin Peaks, or Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, for those who didn’t get it, or don’t care. This is simply a collection of my thoughts, of some thoughts of friends, written up as an essay of sorts. I think David Lynch has created a magnificent work of art that means a lot to me and the below features spoilers and relies on the reader having seen the discussed work.
After the series finale of Twin Peaks: The Return, Miriam Bale, wrote, “I tweeted that Cooper killed Laura Palmer last month […] Turned out I was right. But I was also wrong. I thought bad Cooper would time travel to 1989, but instead good Cooper did & killed Laura Palmer trying to save her. But are bad Cooper & good Cooper essentially the same person? I think they are.”
This led me down the following path:
I think Dale Cooper stopping Laura Palmer from dying essentially destroys the rest of that narrative. He stops her from the ascension we see in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Or, rather, he ends that dream/reality too early. Like when you wake up sooner than you wish you did. And we always forget dreams. We don’t forget ALL of the dream, but most of it. Some linger longer than others and some dreams are triggered by certain spots or instances, almost like deja vu. It’s why we see his face superimposed upon the entirety of the “happy ending” of Twin Peaks, episode seventeen, where evil is destroyed. You can grasp onto a dream as you’re waking up, but you’re moving into reality.
Laura’s dream/reality of becoming an angel in FWWM is cut short when Dale Cooper attempts to remove her from the narrative she’s on to death. Yes, he erases her death, but her death is essential to the universe that was created here. It’s why he cuts back to the pilot and revises everything. Everything should change, but not everything can change. It’s why we see Sarah Palmer, trapped in this loop (just like the fight she was watching on television), smashing an indestructible picture of Laura Palmer, the one that never leaves Twin Peaks because she is inherently part of this reality, no matter what Cooper does.
There’s two dreams happening here; the first is that of Laura never dying, and we never get to see how that world turns out because it’s not important and we only get the edited pilot; the second is that of Laura dying and events turning out as they seemingly happened in Twin Peaks AND Twin Peaks: The Return. There is a happy ending when Cooper disappears from the room.
There is also a happy ending for other people, specifically Janey E and Dougie, who are essentially Diane’s dream. Diane dreams of the two of them being happy together. Cooper gives her that in one of the dreams/realities. This is partially based on the fact that “half-sisters” to me was more in tune with them being the same person. It’s also why she never remembered her until she was prompted to, just like we can’t remember dreams. Diane, by going with Cooper into a new reality, is unfortunately faced with the fact that this reality is impossible. This results in one of the most uncomfortable and excellently shot sex scenes of the series, which parallels that of Dougie and Janey in pure ecstasy. She covers his face and inevitably leaves him because she can’t escape the past trauma of bad Cooper sexually assaulting her. It’s also why it feels like the camera is distorting the image of Cooper constantly in these scenes. She is no longer the same person. Neither is he.
To an extent, Dale has become the man he dreaded that Bad Cooper was. The similarities between them in eighteen are painfully clear:
- His excessive force and violence in getting what he wants — the diner scene where he does a number on shitty dudes but also points a gun at a seemingly innocent woman a number of times AND puts the cook in danger before warning him to move.
- His night drives propelled by sheer inhuman will to attain a very singular goal, which he thinks is what he needs to do (and Dale thinks is good, but isn’t necessarily).
- Everything I mentioned with Diane.
This may sound like a railing against Dale Cooper as a force of good, but it’s not. Lynch never truly deals in absolutes. Leland Palmer is not absolved of his past crimes against Laura simply because Dale says it’s not his fault. No one is exempt from being a balance of good and evil, except Bob, of course, who is quite literally a ball of evil. Dale is not a bad person, he’s simply a man doing something he thinks will help, that isn’t necessarily doing that.
He’s playing a futile game. To loop back to Dale and Laura, just as the show loves to play with loops (the 8 that Phillip Jeffries sends out being an infinite loop, and the 6 we see on poles in different universes being the closed loops that have predetermined fates), Dale is creating a new reality by cutting Laura’s dream/reality in Fire Walk With Me short. Thus: she wakes up as Carrie Page.
Carrie Page is the real protagonist of this new reality (and, maybe, someday a new dream by way of a new reality coming into existence); Cooper simply exists as the being transcending all of these planes (or, maybe, as Richard, who Linda/Diane speaks of in her note when she leaves him). Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me & The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer is one dream. Twin Peaks itself is another dream. The revised pilot of Twin Peaks in episode eighteen is another dream. A large chunk of Twin Peaks: The Return, that which focuses on the town’s old characters and gives happy endings, is another dream. Janey E, Dougie Jones, and all the characters that come with them are another dream. And another large chunk of Twin Peaks: The Return, that of the Roadhouse performances and guests and Audrey’s scenes, are another dream.
Think of it like an onion of dreams, just layers and layers of reality/dream. In Lynch’s films, reality and dreams are often interchangeable. Look at Mullholand Dr. for the way the entire first act consists of a dream that we, and Naomi Watts’ character, view as reality until the harsh, cold reality is revealed.
Just as Carrie is a new reality and Twin Peaks was her dream, I’d say Audrey is in a new reality as well, as Tina. Audrey, in this dreamscape, can’t stand Tina. She resents her, she resents her husband, because she’s not the woman she loved being anymore. Instead of dreaming of something happy (like the contrast between happy dreams and sad reality in Mulholland), Tina dreams of something miserable: Audrey’s reality/past. Audrey’s dance happening and her being triggered back into reality by the violence of life (and the violence that, likely, took her life in another reality/dream when the bank exploded) is expected. I think the face we see at the end of episode sixteen is her being jarred awake from her dream, looking into a vanity mirror. She’s just a woman waking up from an unfamiliar nightmare. She’s Tina now. Not Audrey. Just like Carrie is Carrie, not Laura.
But trauma lingers. Trauma is inescapable, no matter how many dreams we move through. Twin Peaks: The Return dishes out plenty of happy endings, but it never strays from that essential theme, which is why its finale is so perfect. It’s absolutely moving in that it, as a tragic work, exposes all the flaws of Dale Cooper. To cite Twitter user @bnowalk, “He thinks caught the killer WHILE the real killer is killing another girl, and he doesn’t even quite comprehend the meaning of the message, which is that he failed. Which is something that recurs at the big moments of the finale, particularly when he’s leading Laura out of FWWM and then at the very end and because he’s so damn Good, we trust him, we believe he’s right that that IS Laura and that she needs to be taken home.” But she doesn’t. And, as Twitter user @brendanowicz adds, “Almost as if the return of hyper-competent Coop last week, rather than a triumph, was the emergence of a tragic flaw.”
The show’s tagline, “It Is Happening Again,” is something The Giant (or The Fireman, depending on how you choose to speak of him now) says just before Lynch was removed from season two. He repeats it because these events will always repeat. There will always be new dreams, new realities, new everything. Twin Peaks is a closed case now. The only thread that continues moving is Dale Cooper.
To quote another friend, Conrad Tao, “The show began as a show about a dead girl and the FBI agent who yearns to save her. The show became something huger, with extra mythology, and it became this huge puzzle despite itself (I’m still convince that the mythology became a discrete thing as opposed to highly elaborate metaphor because Lynch and Frost did not write every single episode). The show got past that mythology about halfway through 17 in The Return. The show ends with the original dead girl “saved” but lost, with the FBI agent inadvertently in limbo.”
He added, “The last four words [Dale saying, “What year is this?”] felt like a summation of everything The Return has been about. […] The sense of familiarity and alienness all at once, the sense of being lost, the fear that all you do is for naught.”
Twin Peaks is, and always has been, a tragedy. Dale Cooper will continue trying to change the world, but he can’t. He, nor Laura, will ever remain in a world where everything is good, because, well, reality isn’t perfect. We always have the dreams of how life could have turned out. Of ascension. Of arriving at a red door to happiness. Of a kiss from a lover who we spent decades waiting on. Of freedom. Of enlightenment. Of all sorts of things. Those dreams, those realities, exist, elsewhere, but they’re not without the pain it took to get there. Those dreams are endless, but they’re only as endless as the dreams in which we don’t get those happy endings. In which good people become bad people. In which good people die. In which the things we do are inescapable.
The two final shots are everything to Twin Peaks: Carrie’s scream – playing out exactly like Laura’s scream – is a gut-punch that trauma is inescapable and Laura whispering to Dale on a closed loop serves as further reminder. It’s as satisfying as it is haunting. And it was so painfully predetermined from the get-go with the very first song at the Roadhouse: Chromatics’ Shadow.
“At night I’m driving in your car
Pretending that we’ll leave this town
We’re watching all the street lights fade
And now you’re just a stranger’s dream
I took your picture from the frame
And now you’re nothing like you seem
Your shadow fell like last night’s rain”
Every word from it adds meaning to this theory, but the repetition of “for the last time” and “can you hear me” in particular emphasize that Dale will never hear Laura’s words and that his cycle of futile attempts at righting the world will never come to a close.
Monica Bellucci proposes something to Gordon Cole in a dream, “We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream. But who is the dreamer?”
There is no set dreamer. Twin Peaks: The Return closes the loop of one dream, of one reality, while simultaneously opening an infinite amount more. Gordon Cole had a dream. Dale Cooper had a dream. Audrey Horne had a dream. Diane Evans had a dream. Laura Palmer had a dream. Each dream, each reality, belongs to a new dreamer.
Twin Peaks: The Return now exists, for me, and for many others, as a dream. One that we may choose to reexperience when we close our eyes to the world around us and open our minds to the episodes all over again.