Our Guide to Twin Peaks Season 3 Episode 17 & 18
Now that we have regained our balance after having the rug firmly pulled out from under us by the final, controversial moments of Twin Peaks: The Return, it’s time try and make a little sense of just WTF was going in this season’s beguiling and bemusing final two episodes. Or, at least give it our best shot.
With that in mind, some of what follows are purely subjective interpretations of what the events of the final two hours could pertain to. These have been sourced from many of our own theories and those that have been posted by other fans and commentators. This also means that we will not be doing our traditional blow-by-blow account of proceedings and will focus on instead what we believe are the key aspects of the last two chapters.
We by no means intend the following to be definitive, but we hope it helps in answering some of the many questions posed by the most enigmatic television event ever!
Now We’re Gonna Talk About Judy
Episode 17 started with a scarce moment of explanation as Gordon Cole explained to Albert and Tammy the driving force behind the Blue Rose project. According to Cole: himself, Agent Cooper and Major Briggs concocted a plan 25 years ago to hunt a “negative entity” known as “Jowday” (the definitive spelling of this name is currently elusive) that has become known as “Judy”.
It is highly likely that this entity takes the form of The Experiment/Mother we saw in the glass box in the season premiere who entered the world during the nuclear blast in Episode 8 and then consolidated her presence with all the Frog Moth/Woodsmen shenanigans in the same episode. It’s also reasonable to assume that this entity has taken up residence in the Palmer household and Sarah Palmer herself.
Whether Sarah or the house has always been possessed by Judy is unclear. It seems that the “White Horse” motif that has cropped up several times during the entirety of Twin Peaks is some kind of totem/harbinger for the entity (“The horse is the white of the eye and the darkness within”), so it is possible that she arrived when BoB killed Maddy early on in Season 2 when a white horse was first seen. It would also explain how Sarah knew Cooper had entered the Black Lodge in that season’s finale.
Perhaps the most likely explanation, though, is that Sarah was the “Girl” back in New Mexico, 1956 and this would explain the dichotomy between light and dark in Laura as she was conceived of equal measures of both. This particular theory has been debated endlessly ever since Episode 8 aired and it is controversial in the Peaksverse as it does contradict Sarah’s origin, which was believed to be somewhere in Washington state. However, what is “official” in Twin Peaks is even less straightforward than ever now.
Coop Was Duped
Once Mr. C. reaches the coordinates given to him by Tulpa Diane, it leads him to the vortex by Jack Rabbit’s Palace and he springs the real trap left for him (the previous coordinates that incinerated Richard were likely a double bluff to trick the doppelganger into thinking he was on the right track). Doppel Coop finds himself caged in the Fireman’s theatre with Major Briggs’ disembodied head floating next to it. This signifies that it was their intention to intercept him here all along.
The need to do this was likely to remove his super-strength that the doppelganger had gained since he was put back together by the Woodsmen in Ep. 8, hence why we see a distinctly Woodsman like shape left in the cage as his transfer begins to the Sheriff Station in Twin Peaks. The less said about the ridiculous boxing match that ensues at said location the better, but it does result in the destruction of BoB and Good Coop uses the Owl Cave ring to return the corpse of his doppelganger to the Red Room, where he is seen at the start of Ep. 18 burning in black fire.
It is still unclear what the doppelganger’s ambition truly was: Did he hope to infiltrate the Fireman’s Fortress and perhaps even take the Giant down? Was he trying to use the Mauve Zone as a passageway to the portal inside the Palmer house to reunite with Judy (presumably this portal is the ominous ceiling fan that Lynch has been obsessed with showing throughout Twin Peaks)? We know he was looking for The Experiment-like symbol on the playing card he mentioned in the season premiere but did he intend to reunite BoB with Judy or destroy her? The latter is actually more likely, so BoB could hoard and feast on the garmonbozia that Judy would have taken the lion’s share of.
Speaking of garmonbozia, this could be why MIKE was so keen to help Cooper bring about the end of both Judy and BoB so he could have all the sorrow-sodden corn for himself. It now seems almost certain that Mr. C.’s phone call in the premiere on his little black box was with MIKE, who was taunting Mr. C. into his next move. This would also explain what Sam (remember him?) was talking about when he said the guy he replaced had seen something in the glass box in NY since MIKE says to Mr. C. “I missed you in New York” so it is likely that MIKE made a brief appearance in that infernal machine.
Whatever Mr. C.’s and BoB’s ambitions were, though, they were ultimately thwarted by their destruction, which sets in motion the next phase of the Blue Rose master plan.
Liar Walk With Me
In the aftermath of the fight at the Sheriff Station, Cooper’s face is superimposed on the screen as we see Diane released from her prison in the Red Room and regains her body from Naido as the clock on the wall flits between 2:52 and 2:33 on a loop. As many of our friends from the last 16 episodes convene, the sentinel Cooper groans out “We live inside a dream” as a reminder and Agent Cooper, Diane, and Gordon teleport to the boiler room at the Great Northern.
The clock is key here. The message that Cooper left for Cole at the hospital was “It is 2:53 in Las Vegas and that adds up to a ’10’; the number of completion” so it is possible that the same “completion” is about to take place (or maybe not) in the Sheriff Station. This means that the various stages of the “plan” are being completed and the final part of this phase involves Cooper returning to February 23rd, 1989 to create an “unofficial version” that everyone – bar Diane – will remember. It is possible that the ghostly visage of Cooper is watching from the Red Room (remember that the Fireman said that Cooper was “far away” in the premiere) and was growing frustrated that the sequence was not “completing” – hence the jittering clock – and he moves the pieces in play elsewhere to hurry things along (he has waited 25 years for this after all), but could these shortcuts be his undoing?
Cooper achieves the next part of the master plan with the help of Philip Gerard who leads him through the Dutchman’s to Philip Jeffries’ teapot. The brief shot we see of the Jumping Man hurrying down the stairs during this journey could be to tell Judy/Sarah that things are about to go awry. Jeffries opens a pathway for Cooper to enter the “official version” and this is where he will find Judy. Jeffries does this by forming the Owl Cave symbol into a figure 8 and moving a black dot around it, which likely sets the time of Cooper’s destination.
This could be hugely significant to the nature of Twin Peaks and suggests that two separate realities have existed previously aside a whole single reality. The broken halves have now been reformed into one whole with a gateway at the centre of the figure 8 between the newly reformed and the previous single reality (we’ll come back to that gateway later). It could also potentially be forming some kind of Möbius strip that would enable Cooper to move freely through two separate timelines and/or realities.
Cooper is then transported back to that fateful evening of February 23rd, 1989 and leads Laura away from meeting Leo and Jacques to avert her murder at the hands of Leland/BoB. Laura first spies Cooper watching her and James from afar and lets out a piercing scream, which leads her to say to James that the Laura he knows has disappeared. It seems Sheryl Lee’s trademark shriek, which is repeated several times over the final episodes, signifies some kind of transition for her character.
When Cooper intercepts her as she runs from James, she says she recognises him from her dream (the one where he told her not to take the ring) and Cooper begins to lead her “home”. We know through this that Coop has changed this “official version” to the “unofficial version” as we see Pete Martel head off to fish without finding a certain corpse wrapped in plastic. We also know this enrages Sarah/Judy back in the present day as she smashes Laura’s homecoming photo, but seemingly can’t destroy it as time itself goes into some kind of endless loop as perhaps this sequence/story becomes stuck in a temporal singularity in the modern day.
Just as it seems Cooper has completed his mission, he becomes like Orpheus, unable to resist the temptation to see if Eurydice truly is following him out of Hades. We then hear the scratching sound which the Fireman told him to listen to during Cooper’s black and white briefing in the premiere and Laura disappears with another transitional scream. There are competing theories as to whether it is Judy or the Fireman who takes Laura at this juncture and it will depend entirely as to how you want to view the majority of Episode 18, but we’re leaning towards the latter for our purposes.
The Man Who Knew Too Much
There has been much speculation in the aftermath of the finale as to when the “briefing” between the Fireman and Cooper took place with some believing it took place sequentially at the start of Season 3 and others stipulating that it takes place between Episode 17 and 18 after Cooper failed to bring Laura “home”. However, it seems increasingly likely that the Artist Formerly Known as the Giant gave his instructions to Cooper 25 years ago, or perhaps even before.
Everything the Fireman tells Cooper to be aware of takes place in Episode 17 and 18; therefore he must have been telling Cooper before the events of the final two episodes. Likewise, the Fireman’s strategy of “two birds, one stone” is mentioned by Gordon Cole as part of the Blue Rose plan at the start of Episode 17 meaning Cooper must have told him when they were concocting said plan with Major Briggs. The last time those three were together? 25 years ago. This would also explain why Season 3 opened with Laura telling Cooper she would see him again in 25 years before saying “meanwhile…”. The briefing is the “meanwhile” and that doesn’t necessarily mean to specify a time.
Furthermore, and perhaps a little more tenuously, the Fireman could have pulled Cooper back in time to when the nuclear blast had just taken place. hence why the Fireman says “it is in our house now” pertaining to the arrival of Jowday and why “it all cannot be said aloud now” since Judy is always listening from that point onwards. Given that Cooper disappears in the same flicker as when he arrives back in 1989, it’s not unreasonable to assume this effect symbolises time travel.
We’ll deal with “430” and “Richard & Linda” shortly, but what is becoming increasingly clear is that Laura was always supposed to disappear once Cooper diverted her from her “official” fate. This was the Fireman’s design from the start and why he made Cooper pay particular attention to the scratching sound, which can be construed to mean that something – perhaps everything – is being overwritten.
The “curtain call” that Cooper mentions to Diane before he enters the mysterious door in the Great Northern basement applies to the beginning of this overwritten world; the flipside of the newly (re)formed reality put in place by Jeffries. And this is where things get really complicated…
The Theory of Everything
Here’s where we get controversial. If we subscribe to the idea that this is all part of the Fireman’s design, then must ascribe a role to the giant and the realm he inhabits. His position as some kind of overseer/sentinel is clear and while the temptation to remain in the Lynchverse by comparing him to the Projectionist in Eraserhead is strong, a more apt one would be to frame him as a similar figure to the Architect in the Matrix films. It is not a flattering comparison to be sure (you’ll get no argument here as to the abhorrent quality of the Matrix sequels in which said character features), but it is a useful one.
Thanks to Philip Jeffries current state, we know that the bell-like structures we see littered around the Fireman’s Fortress can be used to house sentient beings/thought processes. We see an ocean of these containers behind the Fireman when he casually sends Mr. C. on his not-so-merry way and it is perhaps beneficial to understanding what follows to think of these as RAM/processors in some kind of mystic computational device. Could it be that the “reality” we have been witnessing over the last 25 years is contained within these Tesla-like diodes with each of the characters’ stories acting as programs/sub-routines? Well, this is the rabbit hole we’re heading down, but in a figurative – not literal – sense.
The idea that we ourselves are living inside a simulation has been hotly contested over the last few years by philosophers and scientists alike, and it could well be a theory that Lynch and Frost have adopted and adapted to their means here. If so, it means the nuclear blast in 1945 caused a schism within the system (or firewall if we want to get technical) that allowed Jowday in as a kind of virus that began corrupting the system, causing a cancer-like effect (maybe Beverly’s husband was far more significant than we thought) as it feasted upon garmonbozia, i.e. the corruption of other programs.
This would explain why events were going haywire and growing increasingly inconsistent in Twin Peaks as Judy took up residence in Twin Peaks; the system was beginning to crash. Indeed, if we view these programs as “stories”, then this does go some way to explain what the f*ck was going on with Audrey and why the Evolution of the Arm asked what “story” they were in before Cooper exited the Lodge. This does also mean, that areas like the Red Room and the Dutchman’s can be seen as an equivalent of some sort of a back-end or backdoor to the system – much like Neo moves through in those terrible Matrix sequels.
Now, before you start thinking that we’ve reduced the plight of Audrey Horne to being placed in some kind of metaphorical Recycle Bin, this is simply a subjective framing device to help make (some) sense of what follows.
It’s a Trap!
Adopting the theory that talking aloud about plans to eradicate Judy was a bad idea, then the Log Lady banging on about “Laura is the one” (RIP Margret) probably wasn’t very helpful. But, Laura was never supposed to defeat Judy, she was supposed to attract her. It makes complete sense that the Fireman created a conduit/capacitor to absorb the greatest amount of garmonbozia possible to keep Judy and BoB fixated while a way of quarantining her corruptive influence was put in place. And once it was, Laura becomes the ultimate lure for Judy.
When Cooper and Diane travel the requisite “430” miles from Twin Peaks (that one was a gimme, for once) to cross-over into the new realm, there is a genuine sense of apprehension of the unknown once they go through the gateway. This is possibly because there is very little on the other side as they arrive in the fresh territory into an inky darkness where perhaps the rundown motel is the only place that currently exists. The distressing sex scene that follows is likely the first act to drawing Judy into this sketchy world since we know that she is attracted to carnal exploits (as Sam and Tracey found out to their misfortune in the premiere) and the trauma caused to Diane by having to copulate with a man with the same face as the man who raped her must have generated an irresistible amount of the black corn.
“Richard and Linda” it seems were the new code/file names that Coop and Diane were given to hide them from Judy, who quickly makes her presence known in the world that Cooper wakes up in. Many years have clearly passed since he slept which the newly built-up hotel and the modern car he gets into is evidence of. Cooper is in Odessa, Texas (Odessa is the feminine of Odysseus, hmmm…) and quickly comes across a diner called “Eat at Judy’s” with a white horse adorning its signage (she’s certainly not being subtle about her influence: see also the model white horse on a certain mantlepiece later). The diner seems to be Judy’s kind of place too with a group of misogynistic truckers causing misery for the waitress on duty, or perhaps they’re there as a snack for Judy after she acquired a taste for their kind in Episode 14.
Cooper/Richard knows that “Laura” works there (all part of the plan) but this is a different Cooper yet again. It seems both the Boy Scout Cooper from the original series and his doppelganger have merged as there are traits of both in his personality. After gaining “Laura’s” address after cowing the belligerent truckers, he arrives on a street we’ve seen briefly before.
Outside of the house he arrives at is that recurring telegraph pole with “6” plated onto it and this is the very same pole we saw during Andy’s briefing with the Fireman (all part of the plan). These seem to serve as focal points for Judy to extract pain and sorrow, hence why there was one near Teresa Banks’ trailer in the original Fat Trout Trailer Park and why Carl saw the garmonbozia leave the boy’s body after Richard Horne ran him down in Episode 6. It is surely no coincidence that one has been placed outside of the new vessel for Laura.
Laura is now Carrie Page (remember there was one diary “page” still missing, hmmm…), who lives in the house and is having a typically miserable time of it. She doesn’t recognise Cooper or the name Laura Palmer but is keen to get out of dodge, probably because there is corpse rotting in her living room. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that this corpse is Tommy, one-half of the doofus blackmailers Janey E. confronted in Episode 6, so there seems to be a degree of asset-flipping going on in this new “story”. Carrie then accompanies Cooper on a long, interminable road trip through the inky black to Twin Peaks, which again suggests that this new world isn’t fully formed. However, it is heavily suggested that they are being followed as a pair of solitary headlights lingers in the rear window for a suspiciously long time, implying that Judy is still being drawn to the bait.
They arrive in a noticeably empty version of Twin Peaks as they drive past the Double R, which looks unsettlingly different somehow to one we saw for the rest of Season 3. Carrie/Laura and Cooper/Richard come to the Palmer household, but the occupants have no recollection of anyone going by the name of Palmer ever living there. Cooper grows increasingly frustrated in his fruitless questioning as Carrie remains oblivious to her true identity. The pin drops for us, however, when the lady of the house reveals herself to be Alice Tremond and the previous occupants were the Chalfonts; the two family names that owned the mysterious trailer in Fire Walk With Me, with the former family name belonging to Mrs. Tremond and her grandson, of course. It seems these names are a kind of placeholder for Judy’s bases of operations if you will, but strangely Cooper doesn’t seem to realise this.
Then again, Cooper doesn’t seem to even know what year it is as he mutters the already infamous line “What year is it?” just before we hear Judy closing in on her prey with the groaning cry of “Laura” as Carrie suddenly remembers everything. Carrie lets out that distinctive scream once more before the lights go out and everything turns black. The trap is sprung and Judy is either stranded or eradicated as the electricity is pulled from the world robbing her of the “black fire”. The infection has been contained and the system purged.
It is likely that Cooper and Laura were sacrificed in this moment (the “two birds” perhaps?), but Cooper lives on as Dougie whereas Laura is freed from years of bondage as a slave to trauma to affix Judy’s gaze. A happy ending then; from a certain point of view, of course.
So there we have it. As stated before, this is merely this author’s interpretation of the events of 18 hours of extraordinary television – and beyond – that took us on an incredible and infuriating odyssey where perhaps its true purpose and meaning will forever elude us. But that doesn’t mean we cannot attach our own to the one, and only, Twin Peaks.
Thank you for joining us down this particularly deep rabbit hole (where you will surely find several more holes of your own). We would love to hear your interpretations and theories on Twin Peaks: The Return and please share our version of events if you feel we have shed some light on this most cryptic of conclusions.