'Twin Peaks: The Return': If All Time is Eternally Present, All Time Is Unredeemable
First, some lyrics…
And you may find yourself
Living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world
And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?
—Talking Heads, “Once In A Lifetime”
This isn’t a review of Twin Peaks, at least in the traditional sense. Applying a close reading to dream logic isn’t my forte, especially when I don’t have a sense of the dreamer in question. The show constantly rejected direct analysis, not because it was being intentionally obtuse but rather because it constantly asked to be experienced rather than interpreted. That undoubtedly annoyed many, but if you stuck with it long enough to feel OK reading a review of the entire Showtime season, then I guess you felt the journey itself was worth it, even if ultimately the show resisted any type of traditional catharsis.
I don’t envy those that tried to break down the show on a weekly basis: I think the show worked well on an episodic basis (to varying degrees), but it always felt like there would be a totality of experience at the end that would make talking about it as a whole easier than the collective sum of its parts. With few exceptions (the crazy nuclear episodes, the penultimate installment), there wasn’t much in the way of either thematic resonance between the varying storylines or huge forward narrative momentum. And yet, the rhythms of the show always suggested this was going somewhere, even if we didn’t know where nor felt confident we’d know it when we got there.
So it’s appropriate in that sense that we ended the show at what was once Laura Palmer’s house, with a person that was once Laura Palmer. Twin Peaks ended in a familiar setting and a familiar face and yet none of it was familiar. As TS Eliot wrote at the beginning of “Burnt Norton,” the first poem in The Four Quartets:
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
Neither Cooper/Richard nor Laura/Carrie knew what the hell was going on. Nothing made logical sense, and yet both could intuit that they were in the “right” place, just perhaps in the wrong time. Much like Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter-House Five, they were unstuck in time, although Twin Peaks consistently suggested (even in its original run) that our notion of time is itself a narrow window into what’s really transpiring. Our understanding of time moving only forward is a limitation of perception rather than a fundamental truth about the universe. Breaking through that limitation is the only way to break the loop that started when Bob was born inside a nuclear mushroom cloud.
That means Cooper can use a former FBI agent now existing as a teapot in an in-between reality to go back to the night of Laura Palmer’s murder and undo that action without truly providing a “happy” ending for the show. This isn’t a case of rewriting history (and therefore the trauma and struggles of every character we know and care about) so much as shifting the karmic balance. It’s hard to get too hung up on people no longer acting like themselves when the slippery nature of “self” is itself the primary focus of David Lynch’s attention.
Where the last few hours gained their primary power came from the fact that while certain people got their just moral desserts (positive and negative), they achieved those denouements through the sacrifice of Cooper and others who directly wage war with the primal forces that lurk under the surface of society. Ever since Lynch dove his camera under the earth of the ostensibly serene suburban landscape of Blue Velvet and showed the hungry, ugly, pulsating hunger underneath, he’s consistently contrasted the idealized version of America with its ugly underbelly.
To be fair, he’s hardly the only writer/director to do so. But few depict this with such unnerving surrealism. Lynch’s America is vast and wide and has certain hotspots that directly link our world to that of demons, fireman, ancient machines, and energy that Edison accidentally tapped into in the form of electricity. By taking on Blue Rose cases, people like Dale Cooper and Major Briggs sacrificed their place in linear reality in favor of ensuring the evil unleashed during the testing of nuclear weapons didn’t utterly undo everything that we hold dear. Briggs died so Big Ed and Norma could eventually get their happy ending, a romantic sentiment I absolutely did NOT expect to get out of this season.
Cooper, Briggs, and Phillip Jeffries couldn’t protect everyone (Audrey is…somewhere, maybe the dreamer of the show as some have suggested, but in any case not in a good place), but there’s something absolutely straightforward about the way that Cooper proceeded with his mission to save Laura Palmer that cut through the insanity and inscrutability of Twin Peaks on a macro and micro level. This was a show that reveled at times in cruelty, but almost always sought to punish those actions. Twin Peaks wasn’t torture porn but a surreal melodrama in which morality played a crucial and even cosmic part. Everyone that helped Dougie Jones ended up getting rewarded for doing so, and Cooper’s gratefulness for their assistance was shockingly warm and extremely welcome. This was a show in which small-minded mobsters ended up retroactively saving a teenage girl from being murdered in the late 1980’s. They had no way of knowing that, and couldn’t have comprehended it even it were explained to them. But they did so all the same. Individual actions mattered, and that’s why each episode mattered.
Near the end of “Little Gidding,” the last of the poems in The Four Quartets, Eliot writes:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
The evil in Twin Peaks didn’t originate inside the town’s borders, but the story that set off so many things within the TV show did start with Leland Palmer’s abuse of his daughter. The last thing that this season depicts is Carrie/Laura knowing it for the “first” time, at least in the reality created when Cooper crossed the 430-mile mark from the Red Room. But rather than ending a journey, it simply kicks off another one, sending the two careening off into another part of the universe, full of mysteries and magic and tulpas and the inexhaustible depths of the self.
I’m torn about the idea of more Twin Peaks in the immediate aftermath of watching the final two hours. On one hand, once I realized this season would take place largely outside the town itself, I enjoyed its deliberate rhythms, incredible sound design, breathtaking visual palette, and absolutely incredible sense of deadpan humor. I’d feel satisfied were this the end. (On a mundane level, it’s currently my third favorite show of the year. I’ll be writing about my second favorite later this week. Tops? Still The Leftovers.)
On the other hand, the finale suggests that there isn’t a final endpoint for this show so much as another part of the arc of this show’s orbit around reality itself, one that warps and bends around a talking electric tree. There are truly infinite amount of stories for this show to mind from the mythology it’s created. The overly long pauses, the long drives down dark highways, the way the camera would either hold an image for too long or pan so slowly you nearly jumped out of your skin with fear…these hold potency regardless of whether or not Laura Palmer is the focus of Lynch’s world.
I have to imagine this is the last we’ll get of Twin Peaks, but far stranger things (both on- and off-camera) have happened. Best not bet on it. But if you do, there’s one thing to say.
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