A comprehensive look at David Lynch and Mark Frost’s seminal TV series that breaks the show down into smaller, more easily digestible servings of garmonbozia.
We’ve been watching Twin Peaks the wrong way all these years. Let me explain:
Until the release of Showtime’s 18-episode revival, we’d been engaging with Lynch and Frost’s series as two wildly uneven seasons—the first a perfect nine hours of suspense, surrealism, and shocking reveals, followed by a front-loaded and sprawling second season where the wheels come off. After the release of The Return, we were forced to cram another sprawling season of television onto the end of the previous two. This time, instead of the maddeningly uneven second season, we were given 18 short films. It looked like a season of television, but it didn’t feel like one. Most important—and frustratingly—those 18 short films, as wondrous as they occasionally were, didn’t feel like a continuation of what came before.
But what if they were a perfect continuation of what came before, and what if we hadn’t been watching three seasons all these years — but six?
MAJOR SPOILERS LIE AHEAD!
A quote from Mark Frost spurred me to contemplate this new arrangement. In October 2014, BuzzFeed asked Frost why Showtime only ordered nine episodes. (If you recall, the revival season was originally slated for nine installments.)
About the nine-episode length, Frost said:
“Well, if you think back about the first season, if you put the pilot together with the seven that we did, you get nine hours. It just felt like the right number. I’ve always felt the story should take as long as the story takes to tell. That’s what felt right to us.”
After reading Frost’s quote, I fixated on that nine-hour length, pondering the various ways different networks approach the concept of a “season” of television. The classic American network season runs more than twenty episodes and unspools over the course of several months, usually September until the start of summer.
But as all of us TV nerds have learned in this Golden Era of Television, that’s not the only game in town. (Note: Spoilers for Mad Men and Breaking Bad ahead!) Basic cable introduced us to shorter seasons—the first five seasons of HBO’s The Sopranos each ran for thirteen episodes, while its supersized sixth season ran for a more network-style twenty-one. (Though if you ask me, The Sopranos really ran for seven seasons, twelve episodes for season “six” and nine for season “seven.” As you can tell, I like reorganizing classic shows.) Other great basic-cable shows followed the “baker’s dozen” format. Mad Men’s first six seasons ran for thirteen episodes, while its final season ran for fourteen. (I also prefer to think of Mad Men’s final season as two smaller seasons.) Breaking Bad’s first season ran a very Twin Peaks-y seven episodes, while its following four installments ran thirteen. Its fifth and final season ran sixteen episodes, split into two eight-episode legs across two years.
Looking across these shows, we see the rise of a new phenomenon—the “midseason finale.” The midseason finale bears all the hallmarks of a standard finale—the protagonists find themselves in a bind or the narrative otherwise comes to a head. Mad Men and Breaking Bad both had their share of memorable midseason finales. “Waterloo” ended the first leg of Mad Men’s seventh season with such shocking twists as Bert Cooper’s death and the sale of SCD&P to McCann-Erickson. And of course, Breaking Bad’s now-legendary fifth midseason finale saw Hank Schraeder finally figure out the identity of Heisenberg.
Abstract in the Abstract
Why am I talking about this? To soften you up to accept my thesis: that like all of the classic shows it sired, Twin Peaks follows a similar format over its 48-episode run, delivering six discrete “seasons,” each about eight hours long with their own premieres and finales. Further, the series includes three BBC-style holiday specials, as well as one standalone movie, Fire Walk With Me, which serves as a bridge between and a Rosetta Stone for the material that precedes and follows it.
A brief note on terms: In this essay, I refer to the original, benevolent incarnation of Dale Cooper as “Good Coop,” even when discussing him in his Dougie Jones persona. I refer to the evil, BOB-inhabited incarnation of Cooper as “Evil Coop.” I refer to the show’s original 29-episode run as the “original” series or seasons, while referring to the new season as the Return or “revival” season. I refer to Fire Walk With Me by its name. Colloquially, I refer to 12-13 episodes as the “AMC” model for season length. (And by “colloquially,” I mean “I’m the only person who uses that term because it’s a made-up thing.”) But for the sake of this essay, let me introduce a new made-up thing: the “Frost and Lynch”—or F&L—model for season length. The F&L model runs for seven to nine hours. Shorter and leaner than the AMC model, the F&L model skews toward the BBC format, which favors the unity and symmetry of films and only calls on its TV seasons to run for precisely as long as they need to tell their stories.
The original series of Twin Peaks is many things—it’s a meditation on how evil can infest even the most good-hearted people; it’s a TV version of Blue Velvet; it’s a portrait of a small town in mourning. It’s also a cannily self-aware goof on TV itself, using the tropes and traditions of classic TV—including and especially barn-burning night-time soaps and the cornpone sitcoms of the ’60s and ’70s. Frost, an alum of such meat ’n’ potatoes dramas as Hill Street Blues, helped Lynch build a reliably engrossing cast of regulars, some of whom could’ve been lifted out of Dynasty or Dallas (Josie Packard, Catherine Martell, the Hornes); while others hailed from Mayberry or Green Acres (Sheriff Truman, Andy, Lucy, Hawk). The unusual division makes for a pleasing “court and mechanicals” rift among the series regulars—a rift spanned by the show’s lead, the boundlessly kind and intuitive Agent Dale Cooper. Cooper (a stand-in of sorts for Lynch) serves many functions in the narrative—he drives the investigation into Laura Palmer’s murder, he provides key exposition—but more than anything else, he’s good. He’s decent, kind and empathetic, and in a show largely about a battle between kindness and cruelty, he’s our greatest, clearest, most shining avatar for the former.
The revival season was at once a continuation of the original series’ narrative and a response to the hoopla surrounding it. On an extratextual, “meta” level, Lynch and Frost were in a dialogue with the original series and its obsessive fandom, which includes me. They asked why we cared about certain storylines and certain characters. They asked why we needed to find out what happened to Cooper and why we wanted to return to both Twin Peaks the show and Twin Peaks the imaginary town. This dialogue informed the textual narrative of what was literally happening to the show’s characters and settings, including the Lodges, Waiting Room, and related nether-realms. For me, that’s the key to grokking the revival season, because when viewed as separate enterprises—the original series and the revival season—Twin Peaks looks very much like two completely different projects: the former an unusual but fairly straightforward paranormal soap opera, the latter a sequence of disjointed experimental films that riff on what came before.
But they’re not separate. They’re one. Remember when I made the the no-brainer observation that the revival season was a direct continuation of the original? If we accept that as axiomatic, then the show’s full 48-episode run starts to come into focus. When Lynch and Frost teamed up to create Twin Peaks, they opened a dialogue with television as a whole, importing character-types and storytelling tropes from a diverse roster of traditions, remixing them in a narrative that looked normal, but which was subject to the occasional burst of chaos wrought by Lynch’s injections of dream logic and Buddhist thought. When they reconvened years later to create Twin Peaks: The Return, they reopened their dialogue with television, with one important twist: they also reopened their dialogue with Lynch’s filmmaking. The original series was as much informed by Frost’s storytelling strengths—good dialogue, sturdy plotlines, soapy twists and turns—as it was by Lynch’s filmography at the time. The original Twin Peaks was the product of the Lynch of Blue Velvet and The Elephant Man, while the revival season was almost entirely the product of the Lynch of Lost Highway, Wild at Heart, Mulholland Drive, Fire Walk With me, and—most important—Inland Empire. (Frost’s influence is there, to be sure, but it’s mostly expressed through The Secret History and The Final Dossier.)
By engaging with these elements—television, their own work, the original seasons of Twin Peaks—not as holy writ but as a curious cultural artifacts, Lynch and Frost deliver us three products that work on two levels. The original series works as both avant-garde cinema and soap opera; the revival season works as a response to the original series and a straight continuation of it; and when viewed as a whole—from 1990’s pilot to 2017’s “What Is Your Name?”—Twin Peaks is a 48-episode series that works as a meta-commentary on expectation and nostalgia and as a weirdo paranormal shocker about an entire universe slowly disintegrating.
Watching the full series, which I’ll call Twin Peaks: The Whole Shebang, from beginning to end is like watching a show that’s slowly going insane, and for many in the audience, this was a little too much to take at first. But I’d argue that my notion to split the larger show into several seasons makes this easier to understand and digest. Lynch and Frost tangle with some big ideas, but when you break it into smaller portions, those big ideas get a little less daunting.
So finally, let’s talk about The Six Seasons of Twin Peaks. I’ll specify how and where each season begins and ends, why I made the choices I did, and discuss the strengths and weakness of each season—because, believe me, some seasons are better than others.
The Original Series: Seasons 1-4,
plus one Holiday Special, “Beyond Life and Death”
Season One: “Murder In A Small Town”
Pilot and episodes 1.1 through 1.7
The one unit of F&L-style seasonal storytelling you can spot with the naked eye is the first season of Twin Peaks, which also happens to be the actual, literal first season of the show. Starting with the now legendary pilot, the first season introduces us to the bizarre and byzantine world of Twin Peaks, with its interlocking network of rivalries, grudges, financial dealings, secret loves, and old hatreds—to say nothing of all the Norwegians, Brie sandwiches, black coffee, and delicious cherry pie.
Season one unfolds over the course of nine of the most perfect hours ever seen on television. I get goosebumps when I recall some of its best moments—when the gang discovers the mysterious cabin where Laura and Ronette spent some of their harrowing final moments; when Coop asks Hawk if he believes in souls (“Several,” comes Hawk’s prescient answer).
The first season also includes some of the finest examples of what makes Twin Peaks so influential: its willingness to smuggle arthouse imagery onto mainstream television. Sometimes that imagery is a simple combination of the daft and the terrifying, such as when Waldo the parrot gets it: Perched above an exquisite arrangement of doughnuts, Waldo chillingly recites Laura’s sorry pleas before an unseen gunman silences him, spattering the bird’s blood across the table.
Other times that imagery is…well, this:
Among its many virtues, Twin Peaks acted as a Trojan horse for arthouse imagery, techniques, impulses, and methods. It gave David Lynch a nationwide showcase for his mastery of dream-logic—and that daring has echoed across the following decades. Not only did Twin Peaks sire the current golden age of television, but it specifically paved the way for shows like The Sopranos and Mad Men, both of which traffic in dream-logic storytelling.
Season One Recap
Strengths: Narrative tightness, dreamy imagery, perfect introductions—and every episode is a classic.
Weaknesses: I’ve never liked how Major Briggs strikes Bobby in the pilot. It’s always felt like an early-development misstep—a flashy choice they made before they really got to know the character.
Best episode: This was a tough choice between the pilot and episode three, “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer,” but episode three scores a narrow victory. From beginning to end, it’s a perfect episode, packed with unforgettable scenes—from the opening introduction of a baguette-bearing Jerry Horne, to Coop’s rock-toss, to the now-immortal first visit to the Black Lodge, it introduced the imagery and perfected the particular off-kilter tone and humor that made Twin Peaks a hit.
Second-best episode: I’m a huge fan of the season-one finale. It’s the only episode written and directed entirely by Mark Frost, and it shows. One of Twin Peaks’ myriad delights is the ongoing storytelling tension between its two eminent showrunners—Lynch is withholding and abstract, Frost generous and straightforward. That straightforwardness makes for a rousing, headlong finale. It’s simply packed with stuff happening: the mill gets blown up, Andy shoots Jacques Renault, and of course, Coop gets shot.
Season Two: “The Investigation”
Episodes 2.1 through 2.7
My toughest choice for this essay was where to place the “second” season finale. Given that the first 15-16 episodes all bear on the revelation (and death) of Laura’s murderer, I had a few options. Does the “season” end right after her killer is revealed, in episode seven, “Lonely Souls”? Or does it end when her killer dies in episode nine, “Arbitrary Law?”
I eventually decided to make episode seven, “Lonely Souls,” the finale. Here’s why: If you were to plot the episodes of Twin Peaks on a graph where the Y-axis represents an amalgam of quality and thematic payload, you’d see several spikes, usually when Lynch and Frost drop in to write and direct an episode. They dropped in less and less as the series went on, turning over the major writing duties to a team that came to be dominated by Harley Peyton and Robert Engels (who was a major contributor to both the series finale and the movie, Fire Walk With Me), and an eclectic crew of directors that included television journeymen (or journeywomen) like Lesli Linka Glatter, Todd Holland, and Tim Hunter, as well as some oddballs like Diane Keaton (whose episode ain’t bad) and Uli Edel.
But the Lynch episodes carry an especial level of importance, and if we also factor the series finale into this equation we further find that the series’ major events revolve around the activity of the BOB entity.
And on that note, let’s commence an aria about the Twin Peaks that could’ve been:
By now, it’s conventional wisdom that ABC screwed up the show by forcing Lynch and Frost to reveal the identity of Laura’s killer. It robbed the narrative of its momentum and revealed the execs’ fundamental misunderstanding of what Twin Peaks was—it was never a murder mystery. It was a demented and dreamy portrait of a small town. Laura Palmer’s murder was simply an initial, delicious hook to reel in the audience. In a better world, the showrunners would’ve delayed the revelation of Laura’s murderer until the series had run its course, saving its most dramatically satisfying reveal for the series’ final movements, much in the same manner as The Fugitive, which saved the capture of the one-armed murderer (himself referenced in Twin Peaks’ own one-armed man) for its series finale.
But here’s the thing: not even ABC could completely screw up a show this good. Happily, the revelation of Laura’s killer raised a larger, more inscrutable question: What exactly is happening in Twin Peaks? That structure—answering one question while raising others—was forced upon Lynch and Frost, but they handled it gamely, establishing a modus operandi later imitated by shows like LOST. (Side note—LOST ain’t perfect, but damn if it isn’t the closest thing we’ve had over the years to the kind of week-to-week weirdness that Twin Peaks delivered.) In any event, here’s the point of my aria: Lynch and Frost are master showrunners. When forced to solve their story’s central mystery, they deftly redirected the show’s energies into a new and larger mystery: what is BOB?
Let’s focus on talking about what actually happens in my proposed season two: we meet some intriguing new characters (Lenny von Dohlen’s Harold Smith, among others) and delve deeper into the investigation of Laura’s murder. We also learn that while Laura’s murderer was technically her father, Leland (the incomparable Ray Wise), we also learn he was under the possession of the malevolent entity BOB.
This season also sets up the following two seasons in my arrangement: Coop gets word that his old nemesis, Windom Earle, may be at large again, while Major Briggs hints that something paranormal may be afoot in the woods surrounding Twin Peaks.
Season Two Recap
Strengths: Momentum established in season one carries through the end of this season. We find out who killed Laura. We learn more about the entity BOB. Premiere and finale are both top-notch episodes.
Weaknesses: That “season one” magic starts to fade, but otherwise I’d argue this season is as strong as season one.
Best episode: “Lonely Souls.”
Season Three: “Aftermath”
Episodes 2.8 through 2.14
Well, it was nice while it lasted.
My “third” season of Twin Peaks compartmentalizes all of the series’ weakest elements. Its worst storylines and worst episodes can all be found in this seven-episode stretch, which sees James ditch town for a pointless fling, Nadine succumb to retrograde amnesia, and Ben Horne become a Confederate war general. Hoo boy.
On the plus side, there are some great episodes in here. The Tim Hunter-directed ninth episode, “Arbitrary Law”—which unmasks Laura’s killer—features one of the series’ most powerful scenes—Coop cradling a dying Leland after he confesses to the crime. As the jail’s malfunctioning sprinklers rain upon them, Coop recites from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, providing Leland absolution before he dies. On the writing side, Harley Peyton and Robert Engels take the reigns. I have no idea if either of them emerged as defacto showrunner, but I generally dig their episodes.
As for the “third” season finale, I decided on “Double Play.” Windom Earle’s first appearance onscreen remains a strong moment, and it kicks off the action for my proposed “fourth” season.
Season Three Recap
Strengths: Although the show jumps the proverbial shark in its “third” season, it’s still got that Twin Peaks magic, which lends it incredible charm even through its weakest stretch. Gary Hershberger’s Bobby, basically unseen since the pilot, shines. Windom Earle’s impending entry to the fray is legitimately menacing.
Weaknesses: Too many to count.
Best episode: “Arbitrary Law.”
Season Four: “Project Blue Book”
Episodes 2.15 through 2.21
Twin Peaks was the first show I binged.
This was years before Netflix streaming, years even before Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service. I was just out of college, and although I’d seen the show’s first season (as well as the movie—don’t judge me), I’d never watched the show in its entirety. Luckily, my mom’d given me the complete series on VHS (!) for my birthday. Over the course of a week, I watched the whole series in grainy, pan-and-scan, LP glory.
Ever since that first viewing, the awesomeness of the final eight episodes has lingered with me. When I first encountered the Black Lodge, I felt sure it’d be impossible for the showrunners to explain what it was without robbing it of its power.
Boy, was I wrong.
Over the course of eight episodes, Twin Peaks imports themes and devices from shows like The Night-Stalker and The X-Files, pitching the Black Lodge as a sort of interdimensional nexus. You can only access it from certain places, and while it’s well-nigh impossible to escape, if you do, you’re liable to pop out at any place—or any time—in the world.
Shows like Twin Peaks straddle the line between science-fiction and fantasy until they’re forced to commit to one. LOST began as a crunchy sci-fi epic in the mode of MYST but eventually committed to contemporary fantasy in its final seasons, much to its detriment. But Twin Peaks gets to have its cake and eat it by treating the Black Lodge as neither magic or science, but paranormal and preternatural. Twin Peaks draws on a great many American folk myths, including an old favorite of mine, the Mothman. As the story goes, the Mothman is an extradimensional entity that supposedly menaced the town of Point Pleasnt, W.Va., in the late sixties, wreaking all manner of mind-bending havoc—delivering confusing reports about the future, teleporting people great distances, and inducing selective amnesia (or time-loss) among its victims. If you ask me, encountering the Mothman sounds a lot like a visit to the Black Lodge. (Side note, Mark Pellington’s 2002 movie The Mothman Prophecies is worth a look. It’s based on John Keel’s (supposedly) nonfiction book of the same name.)
In its “fourth” season, Twin Peaks deepens its mythology, placing the eccentric hamlet at the center of an interdimensional superhighway. Incidentally, more of this deeper mythmaking bubbles up in the prequel movie, Fire Walk With Me, as well as its companion work, The Missing Pieces—basically ninety minutes of deleted scenes from the movie. In FWWM and The Missing Pieces, we glimpse new realms (and new citizens) of the Black Lodge, while also bearing witness to some of its temperospatial aftereffects—David Bowie’s Phillip Jeffries teleports across the world in the manner of the X-Men’s Nightcrawler, while Heather Graham’s Annie Blackburn appears to Laura Palmer to warn her of future calamity.
Season Four Recap
Strengths: An alluringly creepy, paranormal tone. Windom Earle’s expanded presence provides a much-needed injection of life.
Weaknesses: The sharp turn into X-Files territory may not be to everyone’s liking, but it’s certainly to mine.
Best episode: “Miss Twin Peaks.”
Holiday Special #1: “Beyond Life and Death”
I’ve not seen many BBC holiday specials, but I like their function. Typically standalone episodes, they work both as bonus content for the fans and as an expectation-free playspace for the showrunners. (Edit: Someone on Reddit pointed out that I seem to suggest that my proposed Twin Peaks holiday specials also constitute “bonus” content, rendering them optional to an overall viewing. It’s a fair point. I didn’t mean to suggest that, not at all. My three proposed holidays specials are very much mandatory, and I further explain their function below.)
In the case of Twin Peaks I’d argue we got three holiday specials connected in hyperspace. Let me explain:
I’m the last person who should explain wormholes to anyone, but the general idea is that a massive object, typically a black hole, stretches spacetime to such an extent that it joins two distant points in space—possibly even two points from different universes. The three holiday episodes of Twin Peaks are:
“Beyond Life and Death.”
“Got A Light?”
“What Is Your Name?”
These three episodes depict dimensional disturbances of such magnitude that they stretch spacetime to the breaking point. Indeed, if you were to sketch these three episodes on a graph of fourspace, they’d be connected by a pair of wormhole-parabolas, starting with “Beyond Life and Death” and looping over to “Got A Light?” before making one final swoop over to “What Is Your Name?”
Like most elements in Twin Peaks, these episodes serve two functions: they act as bridges between each other while also functioning as bridges in the musical sense, pausing the action and deepening the show’s themes, while simultaneously giving us a chance to catch our breath—all while taking it away.
Twin Peaks’ second season—the actual second season, not the one highlighted in this essay—caught a lot of flak for its disjointed tone and embarrassingly bad detours into melodrama. Those criticisms are well-founded, but what’s remarkable is how quickly Lynch, Frost, and the rest of the creative team were able to right the ship in the second-season finale. Working from a script by Mark Frost, Harley Peyton, and Robert Engels, Lynch famously improvised much of the events depicted in “Beyond Life and Death,” including the appearance of a famous/infamous white horse. There’s a lot to praise in the episode, from its skillful/maddening pacing—the use of the B-story at the bank to run down the clock heralds the “peanut-sweeping” goofballery of the revival season—to its stellar performances, but more than anything else, “Beyond Life and Death” perfectly captures the claustrophobic terror of nightmares.
To wit, I call on you to bear witness to the following scene; I don’t know if Lynch improvised this bit of mayhem on the spot, but it deserves mention alongside any of the greatest moments in horror cinema history—including The Shining, Jacob’s Ladder, or Hellraiser—and Lynch pulls it off with only a pair of contacts, an unusual set, and flashing lights.
Like its sibling holiday specials, “Beyond Life and Death” uses every cinematic tool at its disposal to unmoor the audience. If you went into this episode expecting the preceding narrative to be fulfilled, you were in for a crushing disappointment. Despite its supernatural trappings, the events of “Miss Twin Peaks” set up a standard rescue mission for the season finale—Coop was to venture into the spectral reaches of the Black Lodge to retrieve Annie Blackburn. What eventually happened was a shattering of expectations—and of our world. As season-ending cliffhangers go, it stands among the best. It’s only too bad we couldn’t have seen its resolution the following fall.
The Movie Special: Fire Walk With Me
From 1989 to 2005, the longrunning British sci-fi series Doctor Who was off the air. That 16-year break wasn’t as long as Twin Peaks’ 26, but I’m sure for die-hard fans of the Doctor, it was interminable. Happily, at about the midway point (1996), fans were given a peek into the Doctor’s ongoing adventures in the form of a full-length movie.
Reaction to the movie was mixed, but as a cultural artifact, it’s an interesting bit of mid-90s schlock. But regardless of how good or bad the Doctor Who movie—or Fire Walk With Me—are, I think there’s a structural—repeat, a structural—comparison drawn between them. Both works act as small tastes of the series’ larger world that both tantalized and tided over fans during their long waits for the series’ return.
Even more important, both works act as previews for what their respective series were to become. In Doctor Who’s case, the show was to become a sleeker experience with better special effects. In Twin Peaks’ case, Fire Walk With Me, especially in its extended prologue, hinted at what a third season of Twin Peaks would look like, how it would behave, and what characteristics it would have. Briefly, these qualities include:
• An expanded role for the FBI storyline and characters.
• A deeper dive into the Project Blue Book mythology.
• An expanded exploration of the geography of the Black Lodge and related nether-realms.
• A first peek at the room above the Convenience Store and the Woodsmen!!!
• A wider scope and national canvas for the story.
• A totemic fixation on Laura Palmer and her greater cosmic significance.
That said, Fire Walk With Me’s most important narrative heavy lifting comes in how it prepares us for all of the revival season’s frustrating, maddening, and off-putting elements, including the franchise’s ongoing examination of the myriad ways men exploit and abuse women.
Don’t get me wrong—I love Fire Walk With Me. It belongs in a trilogy with Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive in how all three movies put you in the driver’s seat for the protagonist’s mental breakdown. It also shows us the blasted landscape of a household in the grips of an emotionally abusive grownup. Sometimes, our abusers terrorize us simply by telling us to wash our hands. It’s as mundane as it is horrifying.
But make no mistake, Fire Walk With Me is endurance cinema. I’ve probably seen it less frequently than any Lynch film because every time I watch it, I have to wait several months to lets its horrors metabolize out of my system. It’s just that tough to watch.
The Revival Season: Seasons 5-6,
plus two Holiday Specials, “Got a Light?”
and “What Is Your Name?”
Twin Peaks fans waited 26 years for the resolution to the cliffhanger of “Beyond Life and Death,” wondering what havoc Evil Coop would wreak and whether Good Coop would ever escape his confinement. We were given a few tantalizing hints in the prequel film Fire Walk With Me, a project whose sensibility, structure, and tone largely informed the revival season, but depending on your view of Twin Peaks: The Return—and its tie-in novels, The Secret History of Twin Peaks and The Final Dossier, both written by series co-creator and co-showrunner Mark Frost—we never got answers to either of those questions.
Or any questions, really. Hear me out:
To be sure, I’m exaggerating, but when I pondered how to organize the revival season into smaller seasons, something fundamental occurred to me: The revival season’s episodes extend the same essential storyline and occupy the same universe as the original series’ episodes. (This concept is key, and I’ll circle back to it shortly.) The revival season is a continuation of the original series, even though structurally, it differs from the original series in almost every important way. In the original series, important storylines are introduced in a familiar fashion: the murder investigation follows law enforcement officials as they map the crime scene and interrogate persons of interest. The FBI gets involved. An autopsy is conducted. Clues are gathered. Leads are followed. These leads help introduce the town’s other major players, all of whom are suspects, and all of whom populate a densely inter-latticing network of soapy rivalries, crushes, and grudges. The quality of the storylines varies, but for the most part, events and characters are introduced according to a knowable logic, granted their proper weight in the narrative, and dispensed with in a way that (by and large) feels fair. Windom Earle is a villain who’s eventually vanquished. Audrey Horne is a mischief-maker who continually lands herself in trouble. Coop is a hero who bravely ventures through the gates of hell for the woman he loves. James is a doofus who does doofy things. (Just kidding.)
But in the revival season, storylines are introduced with the veneer of importance, only to later be revealed as meaningless. Seemingly important characters are introduced, presented as leads, given no development, and then dispatched from the narrative when it’s convenient. Other manifestly important characters are held in reserve, presented as bizarre afterthoughts, then dismissed from the proceedings. Important turns are interminably delayed, then executed when it’s convenient. The very ideas of expectation and nostalgia are bandied about, both to generate affection for certain characters and storylines, while in other cases, they’re used simply to frustrate—or dare I say, scold—the audience for even having expectations or feeling nostalgia in the first place. In contrast with the original series, the revival season is uniquely unconcerned with delivering on traditional storytelling pleasures.
It’s also unquestionably the best show of 2017, and probably one of the greatest achievements in filmmaking history. I know I sound like I’m bringing the hammer down on the revival season, but rest assured, I loved it even when I was frustrated because (I’d argue) that was the point. Needless to say, all of this is a result of the collision between the storytelling sensibilities of Lynch and Frost. Lynch is withholding and mischievous, Frost generous and straightforward. The collision of those two voices is and has always been magical.
Season Five: “The Two Jailbreaks”
Episodes 3.1 through 3.7
One of my central contentions in this essay is the idea that Twin Peaks should never have been saddled with a standard, 20-plus episode network season order. It’s just too much real estate to cover for a show like Twin Peaks, which is far more suited to the leaner season orders of the AMC or L&F model.
Season five is no exception, running for seven episodes and generally introducing us to the revival season’s curious new tone and feel. It’s a survey of Lynchian imagery and settings. The season opens in a sitting room that could be tucked behind Eraserhead’s famous radiator and depicts a classically Lynchian baffler that plays like Samuel Beckett adapted a numbers station broadcast. The “black box” observation room in New York recalls Michael J. Anderson’s communications chamber in Mulholland Drive. Evil Coop inhabits a southern gothic underworld that’s straight out of Wild at Heart or even the rural locales of Inland Empire. I’d also wager that Evil Coop would get along famously with Mulholland Drive’s Cowboy. The revival season continues with this synthesis over the course of its run.
Season five also introduces us to the revival season’s foundational device and ongoing illusion: that of expectations renewed, sustained, and denied. The first four episodes—aired across one electrifying premiere night—mostly follow Special Agent Dale Cooper as he struggles to escape the Black Lodge and its attendant spectral realms. Fully dozens of tantalizing ideas are introduced in these opening scenes, some of which—like the identity of Naido—are paid off, but most of which vanish into the revival season’s larger narrative like jetstreams trailing into the horizon. The geography of the Lodges—the larger scope of which was hinted at in Fire Walk With Me—is developed: Good Coop leaves the chevron-floored Waiting Room and slips across realities and “non-existence” before he lands in the “Mauve” Lodge, where he encounters the eyeless, wordless Naido, gets a glimpse of Maj. Briggs galaxy-sized head, and escapes back into our world through a power outlet.
Good Coop’s escape is the first of the fifth season’s two jailbreaks—and the first hint that Lynch and Frost are playing with our expectations. After 26 years, Good Coop basically just blunders his way out of the Black Lodge, reemerging into our world as a shell of his former self, the much-maligned “Dougie Jones” persona. Twin Peaks fans had been fantasizing for 26 years about how Good Coop might escape the Black Lodge, and when he did, it was both dazzling and disappointing. His voyage across Lodges, realities, and non-existence gave us some of Lynch’s most gorgeous abstract filmmaking since … well, since “Beyond Life and Death,” while the nature of his escape felt arbitrary and unearned, to say nothing of the initial disappointment of watching Good Coop being relegated to the undignified status of doddering house husband. (More on Dougie later.)
In tandem with this storyline, Evil Coop is revealed as an underworld mob boss of some repute. His actions across the initial episodes unveil more of the rules behind the Lodges—apparently, after a quarter-century, Evil Coop is due to be summoned back to the Black Lodge. To forestall his return, Evil Coop constructed a duplicate—or “tulpa,” as we later learn—of himself, Dougie Jones. When the time comes for his return, Dougie is called in his stead, allowing him to remain on earth. But this changeover is fraught with peril for Evil Coop. When Dougie is called to the Black Lodge, dimensional turbulence causes Evil Coop to barf up a lapful of garmonbozia while he rolls his muscle car. The wreck eventually lands him in jail, where some familiar faces from the FBI—Gordon Cole, Albert Rosenfeld and newcomer Tammy Preston—interrogate him in one of the revival’s most memorable scenes. I still get chills when I think of Kyle Machlachlan’s dead-eyed stare behind that bulletproof glass.
But I’m moved to ask some annoying questions: why, after being AWOL for 26 years, would a former FBI agent be put in a maximum security prison and generally treated like Hannibal Lecter? Why—or more important, by what legal mechanism—is he further kept there? Given that he later frees his confederate in crime, Ray, from prison only to later kill him, are we to believe that Evil Coop landed himself in jail on purpose? If so, why does he wait until the fifth-season finale, “There’s a Body All Right,” to free himself, given that he had the ability to free himself and Ray literally any time he wanted?
I ask these questions not to be annoying—well, maybe a little bit—and neither do I ask them to quibble about the plot. Indeed, the revival season is about many things, but it’s only fleetingly about its plot. It’s far more about a vibe, a tone, and how it makes you feel. (There’s a larger discussion to be had about that divide. Many shows are about what they’re about, while others are far more about how they make you feel. Game of Thrones is essentially about what happens in it, while American Gods is more about how it makes you feel.)
Twin Peaks’ fifth season plays a game with our expectations. Superfans love to dissect every image and bit of lore associated with the show, so season five gives us troves of new lore to chew on—the black box, the new Lodges and nether-realms, the mysterious transmission box in Argentina, the new owl petroglyph presented to Darya before her demise, Evil Coop’s “phreaking” powers, more pages from Laura Palmer’s diary, the Pentagon-wide scope of Project Blue Book, new maps, secret code numbers, and an intriguing new storyline that echoes the original series’ hook: the murder of a town librarian in Buckhorn, S.D.
The Buckhorn storyline introduces a slew of new characters, most notably the Buckhorn cops and the hapless Bill Hastings, played with impressive imaginative dexterity by an older and wiser Matthew Lillard. This storyline once again stokes and plays with our expectations and nostalgia. We’re led to think that history is repeating itself, that the forces of the Black Lodge are once again seeping into our reality and driving a heretofore good-hearted family man mad. Once again, we’re given a glimpse into the daily life of a small town, with all of its internecine rivalries and star-crossed relationships. We learn that Hastings himself has been drawn into the Black Lodge, his voyage having driven him bonkers enough to start a conspiracy website about his experience. (Hilariously and somewhat ominously, Showtime built a real-life version of this website to promote the show’s merch.)
But as befits the fifth and sixth seasons, the Buckhorn storyline arouses our expectations but in the end doesn’t amount to much. (Hastings is unceremoniously dispatched early in season six.) The Buckhorn storyline is almost—almost—the perfect expression of the revival season’s raison d’etre, but that honor falls to the revival season’s most important new element, I’d argue; a character who’s at once something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue:
For me, the Diane character perfectly embodies the thesis of the revival season. She is Twin Peaks: The Return. She’s a classic piece of Twin Peaks lore, a character only referred to by name in the original series, but who looms large over its legacy. The rumor mill had long held that Lynch intended to cast Laura Dern, one of his greatest leading actors, in the role. When news broke that Dern had joined the cast, fans salivated over the possibility that this most sublime confluence of material and talent would finally come to pass. In season five’s penultimate episode, “Don’t Die,” that promise is finally paid off: Laura Dern appears as Diane in one of the most memorable reveals in television history.
But ask yourself: Who is she? What is she like? What was her relationship with Cooper like? Does she have carpal tunnel from transcribing all his tapes? Did they ever have a fling when they were both working at the FBI? Most important, ask yourself this:
What does Diane do over the course of season five?
The answer, I’d argue, is nothing. Like everyone else in the FBI storyline, Diane basically just hangs out in that South Dakota hotel, sends a few text messages, and swears a lot. Lynch and Frost use their magnum opus as a vehicle through which to open a dialogue with the audience about expectation and nostalgia. They ask us why we like to obsess over the lore of Twin Peaks. They ask us why we even wanted to see Diane in the first place. They also know that casting fan-favorite Laura Dern as Diane would instantly win the character oodles of audience goodwill, even though they didn’t do any of the hard work needed to develop Diane as a character—and yet, she’s still one of the best parts of the fifth and sixth seasons expressly because she’s the perfect avatar for what they’re trying to accomplish.
Needless to say, this mischievous exploitation of our expectations and nostalgia informs season five’s other major “storyline,” the plight of Good Coop as Dougie Jones. I put “storyline” in scare quotes because it’s a storyline in name only, with no discernible progression or conflict. It centers on a shrill performance from a doggedly game Naomi Watts and a cut-rate subplot of office intrigue at Dougie’s insurance company. Of all the revival season’s storylines, this one’s the weakest. Sadly, it’s also the one that includes the overall series’ lead character. Episode four of season five kicks off one of the longest, most frustrating slogs in television history: the wait for Dale Cooper’s return. Once again, the showrunners interrogate us about our fandom, our expectations, our nostalgia. Why did we want to see Cooper return in the first place? As season five wore on, we looked at each other and asked ourselves another important question:
If he doesn’t return, will we be okay?
We’ll get to that.
Season five ends with the second jailbreak, that of Evil Coop and Ray from the federal penitentiary. The imagery in this sequence echoes that of classic television—the grimfaced, helpless warden (a stellar James Morrison) looks on as Coop and Ray vanish into the night. It’s a perfect season-ending cliffhanger, except for the fact that there’s really nothing to worry about.
But should there be? Do we even need to be worried about the story in order for Lynch and Frost to continue their interrogation? As we’ll discover in the first holiday special, the answer is no.
Season Five Recap
Strengths: The first four episodes expertly establish the tone and texture of the new season. Some of the revival’s best scenes—including Good Coop’s escape from the Black Lodge and Evil Coop’s jailhouse interrogation—are contained within.
Weaknesses: For me, only Dougie, although at this point, we didn’t know what a liability he was to become.
Best episode: “Call for Help.”
Holiday Special #2: “Got A Light?”
There’s very little I can add to the ecstatic critical consensus that surrounds “Got A Light?” My reaction to the episode was to fall to my knees and shield my eyes from its magnificence. By riffing on the closing sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lynch shows us the origin story for BOB as only he could—by blowing a hole in reality so big that a demon seeps in. In response to BOB’s incursion, two ancient celestials—the Fireman and Lady Dido—rise from their slumber to send an angel to earth.
That angel is none other than Laura Palmer, and once again, as I reflect on the revival season, I’m moved to ask myself why this choice felt so right, proper, and true. Why on a fundamental story level, did it feel so right for Laura to have been dispatched to earth by Lady Dido in the manner of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go? The reason is anthropic, circular, tautological. Laura Palmer is by rites the gods’ answer to BOB because Laura is the central character in Twin Peaks. No other reason is needed.
But the sequence with the Fireman and Lady Dido isn’t all there is to “Got A Light?” No, the episode delves deeper into the show’s mythology, giving us our first looks at the hobgoblins of Twin Peaks, the fearsome Woodsmen. In the one scene that pushes the story forward, the Woodsmen revive Evil Coop after Ray shoots him. The episode ends by flashing back to the 50s, where they descend on an unsuspecting small town and murder several citizens—but not before first putting them to sleep by hijacking a radio station and reciting the “Water and the Well” verse, itself a kind of poetic echo, a thematic rhyme with the famed “Fire Walk With Me” verse.
The revival season had already tested our patience by slowing the pace of its storytelling to a crawl. In “Got A Light?” the showrunners demonstrate that the mythology of Twin Peaks is durable enough to sustain an hourlong aria that moves the story forward barely a millimeter, but which deepens the experience by several thousand lightyears.
Happy holidays, Peaks fans, because it only gets more intense from here.
Season Six: “Curtain Call”
Episodes 3.9 to 3.17
Twin Peaks’ sixth season pays off the promises of its fifth by essentially reneging on them all. In doing this, the revival season makes, for me, its clearest argument—that nostalgia’s a scam and that we should let go of our expectations. If we do, the rewards are immeasurable.
Virtually every storyline set up in season five is revisited in season six but rarely in the way we expect. Certainly none of the show’s major storylines are paid off according to any fan theory, and moreover, none of them are paid off in any way that fulfills any of our expectations. Bill Hastings dies in season six’s third episode, “There’s a Fire Where You Are Going,” essentially ending the Buckhorn storyline. Evil Coop continues his molasses-like progression toward (presumably) Twin Peaks, exchanging the occasional text message with Diane. The FBI guys continue to hang out in that hotel. Good Coop keeps being Dougie. There’s some progress, of course. Cole and the Blue Rose task force slowly discover that there might be more than one Cooper, as do Frank Truman and the local cops in Twin Peaks. Tammy joins the Blue Rose task force.
But again, I’d argue that the revival season isn’t about what happens. It’s about that dialogue with (and interrogation of) the audience. We’re tacitly asked again and again why we want—or expect—certain things, and over and over, the answer we’re given is let go and just be.
Ironically, this sentiment is best expressed in the revival season’s clearest moment of fan service, when Big Ed and Norma finally get together. As in every other storyline, the showrunners stoke our nostalgia and expectations. We love Big Ed and Norma, and we always wanted those two kids to get together. For most of seasons five and six, it looks like their relationship is doomed, that Norma’s destined to wind up with Walter, the charmless moneyman behind the RR Diner franchise. But just when all hope seems lost, we get to the sixth season’s seventh episode, fittingly titled, “There’s Some Fear In Letting Go.” Nadine finally frees Ed from his good-hearted (but misguided) commitment to her, but when he goes to propose to Norma, she asks him to wait a minute.
And he does.
Big Ed pulls up a stool at the RR, gets himself a cup of coffee, closes his eyes … and lets go. A moment later, Norma’s hand slides onto his shoulder. He smiles, turns to her, and asks her to marry him.
This goes without saying, but this scene had me in tears. I’m an old softie, and Big Ed’s maybe my favorite character, even over Coop. But on reflection, this moment best expressed the answer to Lynch and Frost’s interrogation. They’re basically telling us how to watch the show. We all went into the revival season with so many expectations, all of those expectations tinted by nostalgia. In response, Lynch and Frost asked us why we felt those things. Over and over again, they asked us. They asked us not only why we had those expectations—they asked us if we even needed to have those expectations.
We wanted Twin Peaks back because we wanted Dale Cooper back. In response, Lynch and Frost took him away.
We wanted Twin Peaks back because we wanted the irresistible storylines back. In response, Lynch and Frost gave us a never-ending series of puzzles with no solution, with some episodes so still in their execution that it drove us mad.
We wanted Twin Peaks back because we wanted to find out what happened to Audrey after the explosion. In response, Lynch and Frost gave us the idea of Audrey, placing her in some of the revival season’s most perplexing—and in one case, scolding—scenes.
We wanted Twin Peaks back because we wanted to return to the cozy confines of its titular town in all of its deep-finished wood glory. In response, Lynch and Frost showed us a town gone wrong. The Twin Peaks of seasons five and six is glitching, derezzing, malfunctioning, disintegrating, its older citizens graying and ineffectual, its younger citizens hooked on drugs, puking in cars, and scratching at rashes.
But if we let go and just be, then the fifth and sixth seasons of Twin Peaks will unlock their riches for us … which brings us to the sixth season finale and the third holiday special:
Season Six Finale: “The Past Dictates The Future”
The sixth season finale of Twin Peaks goofs on the very notion of narrative expectation, bringing all of its storylines to a head in the sheriff’s office. Evil Coop arrives, shrouded in menace, and sits with Sheriff Truman. Good Coop, finally awakened from his long slumber, speeds back to Twin Peaks with everyone from the Lucky 7 storyline in tow. Everyone else, including Naido, is pretty much in the jail downstairs. Lucy plugs Evil Coop and unleashes the orb of BOB, keying off a battle between BOB and one of the show’s new arrivals, Freddie Sykes.
As with most of the revival season, Freddie’s role stokes and subverts expectation. We get a glimpse of him and his green hand in season five’s second episode, when he and James roll into the Roadhouse. I tell you—that green hand was as glaring a symbol as a shotgun on the mantlepiece. You knew it was going to pay off … and pay off it did in a sequence that is so cringe-inducingly terrible, it had to have been intentional. After his majestic origin story in “Got A Light?,” BOB is dispatched in a boss battle that would ill-befit an off-market Super Nintendo game. (When it came to the Dougie storyline, I think Lynch and Frost may have just lost some of the heat on their fastball, but they knew what they were doing here. They meant for this to be ridiculous.)
For me, the Freddie/BOB battle rhymes with one of season six’s most polarizing scenes, the capper to its eighth episode, Audrey’s dance. Lynch and Frost’s mischief sometimes has painful results for fans, but they really twist the knife with Audrey. At least with Coop, we got to see him escape the Lodges, but with Audrey, we get only the slightest sense of her fate. She appears in a series of dreamlike, elliptical scenes with her husband (played with admirably dry humor by Clark Middleton). Her “storyline”—there are those scare quote again—culminates with a hallucinatory trip to the Roadhouse, where she re-enacts one of her most famous moments from the original series, her trippy, swaying dance in the RR Diner. I could practically hear Lynch and Frost scolding us, asking us why we wanted Audrey back, why we wanted to see her dance again, why we couldn’t just let her live in the past, forever trapped mid-explosion. Instead, we get a glimpse of what a sad and lonely adult Audrey’s grown to be, with the slightest, most maddening hint at her fate. Is she in a mental institution? Is she still in a coma? Is she inhabiting the literal creative headspace of Lynch and Frost, her character’s essence briefly called into being like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Tom Stoppard?
Similar to the scolding tone of the Audrey’s dance scene, Freddie’s battle is a knowing subversion of our expectations. For all the fans that had hoped for a final showdown between Good and Evil Coop, we were forced to watch with Coop on the sidelines as a character barely two episodes old destroyed the show’s unstoppable avatar of evil … by punching it really hard.
I was perplexed and pissed off at the time, but now I’m laughing like my ass off, even though I also think BOB could have met a more distinguished end. I feel both of those feelings equally, and furthermore, I think Lynch and Frost could’ve found a way to deliver a satisfying end for BOB while also subverting our expectations. On this note, I also think their handling of Audrey was one step too scolding. For my part, I didn’t want—much less need—to see Audrey dance again. I just kind of wanted to see what she was up to. That said, I’m far more forgiving of the Audrey storyline than the Freddie/BOB battle.
But—and I know I keep saying “but”—if we simply let go of our expectations and nostalgia, the wonders of seasons five and six present themselves. When I let go and just be, I’m moved to reflect on how powerful Audrey’s role is. Lynch and Frost didn’t just bring Audrey back; they put the audience in the drivers seat for the mental breakdown of a stunted child who grew into an unstable adult. They did it with humor and haunting energy, calling on Sherliyn Fenn to deliver one of the revival’s best performances.
When I let go and just be, I’m forced to admit that Freddie’s mano-a-mano with BOB is pretty damn hilarious. I mean, is Freddie’s power any more or less goofy than BOB himself? Lynch added BOB to Twin Peaks’ cosmology when he spotted Frank Silva in the background of a shot. His very existence is something of a joke; that his send-off is so risible feels righteous.
When I let go and just be, my skin prickles with gooseflesh as I remember that seasons five and six are packed with scores of perfect moments that run the gamut from sublime to terrifying: Kind old Andy cradling Naido in his arms at the base of Jackrabbit’s Palace, the ground covered in mist and moss—a sorrowful tableau right out of an Alan Lee painting. Carl Rodd watching a child’s soul ascend. The Woodsmen escorting Evil Coop through a succession of dream-portals to his audience with Phillip Jeffries. Coop and Diane’s dark coupling in another dimension. Laura’s final shattering scream.
That said, if there’s one scene that captured everything I loved about the revival season, it was the closing Roadhouse scene in season five’s second episode. You know the one. To the otherworldly tunes of the Chromatics’ “Shadow,” we drop in on Shelly again after all these years, and she looks great as she’s laughing and surrounded by friends. After taking a shot, she spots James—maybe the most hapless and beleaguered of the show’s regulars—and says he’s always been cool. And y’know what? He has always been cool, because he’s a part of the legend, same as Shelly, same as Bobby, same as Laura … and same as Coop. This scene put me in the most dreamy of happy places when I first saw it, but at the same time, the lyrics to “Shadow” weren’t lost on me:
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
For the last time
For the last time
Let’s watch this scene again:
For the last time.
As I’ve reflected on the revival season, two major themes have bubbled up for me—that of endings and the transformative power of death. Everyone’s mileage will vary, but Twin Peaks: The Return is one of the most beautiful and thoughtful meditations on death I’ve ever experienced. Let me offer a brief anecdote that describes how the revival season made me feel: Some years ago, I stumbled across an online memorial dedicated to an acquaintance who died in an auto accident back in the 90s. The website was maintained by the departed’s family and included a blog. I tell you—the grief expressed in those blog entries put me on my knees. What was even more striking was how recent the entries were. The passage of time hadn’t dimmed, dampened, or assuaged the family’s grief one bit.
The Twin Peaks revival aches with the lingering, dull pain that attends a long-distant trauma, and it’s strange—as much as I wish the show could’ve continued its original run back in the 90s, there’s something truly special about having had to wait almost three decades for these new episodes. Because the cast members are literally 26 years older—some of them giving the last performance of their lives—there’s a palpable sense of the passage of time, of loss, and a very real sense that despite the old adage, time doesn’t heal all wounds. At best, it merely applies a layer of scar tissue that flares up whenever lightning strikes over Glastonbury Grove.
As maddening as the Dougie Jones storyline is, it’s a strangely thoughtful and empathetic portrayal of dementia. Dougie stumbles through life, his every move guided by a loving (if very loud) family, his eyes occasionally lighting on something—a power outlet, a statue, a flag, a TV show—that sparks an old memory, lost to the mists of time and a weakening mind.
Catherine Coulson’s appearance as the Log Lady is breathtaking on two levels. One, it’s simply great to see one of Twin Peaks’ most iconic characters again, and two, it’s clear that Coulson very likely gave her performance from the comfort of her home in the final days of her life. (Lynch’s recently released memoir, Room to Dream, confirms this. Coulson died five days after shooting her scenes, which Lynch directed via Skype.) Her appearance shimmers with the golden light of valedictory, of farewell, underlining the sense that old Mrs. Lanterman is carrying out the last of her great labors before she departs this realm. It’s fitting that one of Lynch’s oldest colleagues—she was a camera operator on Eraserhead, among other projects—should return for one last appearance. Further, there’s a cosmic rightness to the Log Lady calling on Hawk to investigate Coop’s disappearance. Hawk and the Log Lady are two of the show’s most spiritually awakened characters—rivaled only by Coop himself—and as fans have pointed out, no less than Agent Cooper himself told Hawk that if he ever got lost, he hopes Hawk’s the man they send to find him. (I’ll acknowledge here the problematic nature of Hawk’s spirituality; it’s a hoary old trope to often assigned to Native American characters. Sadly, Twin Peaks is packed with troubling content, from the relentless violence it inflicts on its women to the inescapable whiteness of its cast. But that’s a whole other essay.)
To that end, the season six finale bears that same sense of pain and loss. Remember when I said Diane was a cipher and that she didn’t do anything in season five? Well, Diane’s presence is finally paid off when Naido is revealed to be the real Diane, trapped these many years in the Mauve Lodge. Strangely, the fact that we don’t meet the real Diane until moments before reality is shattered feels cosmically right. Lynch has always been a master of showing us our dreams onscreen; the final moments of “The Past Dictates The Future” are a perfect expression of this mastery. Despite my misgivings about Diane as a character, it turns out that casting a performer as talented as Laura Dern in the role was more than enough to fill in the lines of a character crafted from nostalgia, legend, and expectation. It pains me that Lynch and Frost so readily inflict rape and sexual assault on their female characters, but Dern captures Diane’s suffering with incredible empathy and skill—her every scene is electrifying. For Coop’s part in Diane’s storyline, I could very well imagine him on his deathbed, dreaming of a long-lost love and wishing he could travel back in time to right an old wrong. I could also imagine him saying some of his last lines on his actual deathbed: “I’ll see you at the curtain call.”
I may even use that line on my own deathbed.
But Lynch and Frost aren’t done with us yet. Season six ends by closing Twin Peaks into a narrative ouroboros—Coop travels back in time to prevent Laura’s murder, because after all, she’s an angel given to us by two ancient celestials. (I won’t bother to ask what happened to poor Ronette because it’s too heartbreaking.) The series seems to end on this bittersweet note—until the third holiday special rolls around.
Season Six Recap
Strengths: The revival starts to pick up steam again. Includes some of the show’s best episodes, including the finale and “We Are Like The Dreamer.”
Weaknesses: “Let’s Rock” typifies the show’s occasionally scolding tone, all while slowing the narrative to a crawl.
Worst Episode: “Let’s Rock.”
Best episode: “The Past Dictates The Future.”
Holiday Special #3: “What Is Your Name?”
To close out Twin Peaks: The Whole Shebang, Lynch and Frost decimate our expectations and nostalgia by following their larger storyline—that of a universe slowly disintegrating—to its natural conclusion.
The universe falls apart.
Not the whole universe. Not every universe. But the universe we best know from Twin Peaks is essentially cast aside as Cooper and Diane slip across realities. As with most of the revival season, its ending rankled me at first, but within seconds of the finale’s ending, I found myself transfixed. I kept thinking, “Wow, those last episodes were packed with unforgettable images and great ideas.” The revival’s final scenes—starting after Frankie’s vanquishing of BOB—most recalled Lost Highway and Inland Empire for me; Lynch was depicting the kooky logic and dark magic of the subconscious with incredible skill and elegance, in the end creating a finale/holiday special that serve as perfect companion pieces to both “Got a Light?” and “Beyond Life and Death.”
There were also, obviously, deeply satisfying shades of Mulholland Drive, and therein lies one of this holiday special’s greatest triumphs. Lynch and Frost once again crafted an ending that can ably sustain (at least) two compelling readings — (1) The “crunchy mythology ending,” where Coop has somehow slipped into a nearby parallel reality, bringing with him the qualities of both Good Coop and Evil Coop, and (2) the “real reality” ending, where Twin Peaks never existed, where Coop and the town were always the creation of a troubled man named Richard, whose personality is an amalgam of Good Coop and Evil Coop.
If we take the second reading—the “real reality” reading—out for a spin, then we get loads of compelling payoff. Here’s one random example: I loved how the “real” version of Diane wore black, white and red; if Twin Peaks—and by association, the Lodges—are all the invention of Richard’s subconscious, how fitting is it that his estranged wife/partner manifests as a woman he mostly never sees, and whose appearance (again, that black, white, and red outfit and accoutrements) manifests as the Red Room itself, a claustrophobic realm of judgment and menace, whose floor looks like jagged fangs.
Of course, there are zillions of other readings, none of them as compelling as the brute fact that “What Is Your Name?” is beautifully unsettling and disturbing in a way I still struggle to describe.
Twin Peaks is magnificent and maddening, flawless and flawed. To be sure, I’ll never know if it was a good idea to sideline one of the greatest TV characters of the past quarter-century for sixteen episodes, but the end result was a rigorous examination of expectation and nostalgia that asked us what it feels like to say goodbye—to our loved ones, to the world, to ourselves. We’ll likely never see its equal.
Author’s note: This essay compiles and expands on two shorter pieces originally posted on Welcome to Twin Peaks and OffScreen.