Reaction to Twin Peaks Season 3 Episode 17 & 18
In just two hours of television that was equal measures of scintillating and mystifying, Twin Peaks third and perhaps final season simultaneously managed to complete and destroy itself. Duplicity has always been the overriding theme to Lynch & Frost’s small town symphony of the surreal and in the final two chapters, this reached its illogical conclusion.
If anything, these final episodes presented us with the dichotomy between Mark Frost’s love of meticulous storytelling versus David Lynch’s rejection of certainty and convention. While Episode 17 seemed to be on rails in reaching a climax that aligned with much of the conjecture on these pages and many others beyond it, the final hour in Episode 18 will have those not overcome with frustration and/or bemusement scrambling to re-evaluate almost everything that has gone before it.
As per usual, this appraisal will eschew most of the details to our forthcoming Episode Summaries, but spoilers still abound if you haven’t witnessed the culmination of Twin Peaks: The Return for yourself yet.
The opening of Episode 17 sought to further accelerate the pace of the previous three episodes as we reached a frantic climax at the Twin Peaks Sheriff Station. Given how often Season 3 has stopped to smell the (blue) roses, there was something incredibly satisfying about seeing most, though certainly not all of The Return’s plot finally intertwine as Doppel Coop arrived in Twin Peaks via a brief detour through the Fireman’s Fortress.
After some chicanery in the jail cells downstairs, a confrontation ensued in Frank Truman’s office between Mr. C. and the newly assembled team of Naido, Freddie, Andy, James, and Lucy. This culminated in the green gloved cockney in a boxing match with BoB’s bowling ball before the former vanquished the black sphere once and for all. The next item to be ticked off was that of the true identity of the eyeless chirper, Naido, who was revealed to be the original Diane, replete with a vivid scarlet wig replacing the platinum blonde of her tulpa.
Once friends new and old had been reunited, Good Coop set off with Diane and Gordon to the basement of the Great Northern with that key fob in hand to discover the source of that bloody hum. Turns out that the sonorous tone is some kind of beacon for Philip Gerard who was waiting for Cooper behind the locked door after the Red Room Sentinel had watched Coop’s doppelganger burn in a pyre of black fire and created a new Dougie for Janey E. and Sunny Jim (hold on to that precious piece of closure; there won’t be much more coming).
The second half of Episode 17 is instigated by Cooper and Gerard visiting Philip Jeffries at the Dutchman’s, where the steaming teapot pipes out the Owl Cave symbol which morphs into the number 8 (infinity) and switches around on itself. Cooper then finds himself inserted into the final night of Laura Palmer’s “life” in a mixture of scenes from Fire Walk With Me and The Missing Pieces. This was undoubtedly The Return at its most rewarding as it felt like we were going to get a retrospective on key events of the original series with the time-traveling Cooper putting right what once went wrong. Of course, Lynch has a very different agenda…
What follows is arguably the conclusion of Twin Peaks as we know it as Cooper leads Laura away before she reaches Leo and Ronette and averts her death at the hands of Leland and BoB. This is presented wonderfully by showing Pete Martel heading off for his fateful fishing trip in 1989 just as Laura’s corpse flickers out of existence by the river bank, essentially erasing all events thereafter. Indeed, Sarah Palmer doesn’t seem very happy about this development as she begins smashing and stabbing the homecoming photo of Laura in the present day as if her daughter was key to whatever diabolical plan the entity possessing Mrs. Palmer had in store.
This particular chapter ends with Cooper leading the young Laura towards the Jack Rabbit’s Palace portal. As hopes begin to burgeon that we’re heading to the Fireman’s Fortress for some more cryptic conclusions, we hear a Frog Moth chirp and Laura promptly disappears before Julee Cruise shimmers into view singing The World Spins. The world then spins away from us entirely as we approach a climactic episode that likely enthralled as much as it enraged.
Episode 18 is an hour of television that will live in infamy and will likely be poured over for years to come. After Cooper and Diane take a road trip precisely 430 miles away from Twin Peaks, the two seemingly switch into an alternative reality completely divorced from the Twin Peaks mythology. Diane abandons Cooper soon after as she appears unable to cope with being reminded of the trauma visited upon her by his doppelganger in what was an adroit concession from Lynch, which will hopefully redress some of the flack the director has taken for the treatment of his female characters this season.
After Cooper reads a note addressed to “Richard” from “Linda”, reality again swings on its hinges as the FBI agent emerges from a different motel from the one he entered with Diane the night before. In terms of fulfilling the Fireman’s prophecy, it’s difficult to imagine how this “resolution” could have been more abstract as The Return’s cadence becomes increasingly discordant with our expectations.
With the sand remaining in the top half of the season’s hour glass now starting to look worryingly inadequate, this final episode lurches towards a “conclusion” that no one could have anticipated. The ins and outs of how we reach it is a story for another time but by this stage, any hope of the myriad of what now appears to be extraneous plotlines (Red and his Sparkle; Audrey’s rude awakening; whatever the point of meeting Beverley’s cancer-ridden husband was; everything that happened in New Mexico back in 1956) had been extinguished.
This most enigmatic of epilogues ends with Cooper and Laura – now “Carrie Page” in this meta – visiting the Palmer household only to find that its occupants have no recollection or connection to the family. Before everything turns black, however, we learn that the new occupants go under the name of Tremond and bought the house from a Mrs. Chalfont, but such a tantalising reference to Twin Peaks’ past offers scant closure. To all intents and purposes, it seems something has gone drastically wrong in Cooper’s plan as he asks “What year is this?” (the new “How’s Annie?”) before Sheryl Lee expresses the audience’s frustrations with her trademark scream.
Lynch leaves us dangling in a fog of confusion devoid of any objective rationale as we witness Laura once again whispering into Cooper’s ear as the credits roll for perhaps the final time. It is a climax that demands the re-evaluation of virtually all Twin Peaks media, but that is likely to be a thorny process that will yield as much vexation as it does reward. Even those looking to plunge straight back into this season’s denouement will have to contend with a plethora of ponderous car journeys on what could ultimately be a road to nowhere.
Of course, the hope that Twin Peaks would be concluded with a neat ribbon bow was always a futile one, but the tease of this in Episode 17 only makes the climax all the more obtuse and ambiguous. Rumours still persist that a fourth season is a possibility, but given the abstract absolution on display here, it would appear that Lynch has completed his vision by deliberately clouding ours even further.
There will be many who simply won’t be able to forgive so many loose ends culminating in the whole ball of yarn unraveling entirely and there have already been unfavourable (and inaccurate) comparisons with the final episode of Lost and The Sopranos. While the latter of those televisual landmarks is more appropriate since such an opened ended conclusion here is by design rather than the desperation that pervaded Lost’s clumsy closure, such correlations seem inadequate when compared to the complexity of Frost and Lynch’s infernal machine.
If this is to be David Lynch’s swan song, then it is a fitting one that exemplifies his peerless power to simultaneously intrigue and alienate. Mark Frost’s work is yet to be completed with The Final Dossier’s release still imminent, but it is highly likely his new book will only deal with events preceding Episode 18. And maybe that is for the best since this gives the final hour of Twin Peaks the answer to its ultimate question: Who is the Dreamer?