“What year is it?” Those words have been ringing in my ears for quite awhile since I finished the final episode of Twin Peaks: The Return. This season has been many things: It has been different doses of opaque, cruel, beautiful, ham-fisted, and confusing – among other traits. As Vulture noted early on: watching the show was akin to “a slow train ride without Wi-Fi.” you just enjoy the ride. I have to agree with that assessment, as this is a show that gleefully defied attempts to understand or review it by those self-same AVClub, Buzzfeed, and the like; who love to find meaning in a clockwork masterpiece. However, it’s also a refutation to what’s been Prestige Television’s extended reaction to Breaking Bad. While I love Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul to death, it’s hard not to feel like everyone took the wrong lessons from those shows. There’s been a long fascination of Breaking Bad’s methodical attention to detail as it relates to essentially having control over the narrative reality. However, people misunderstood that clockwork logic in failing to recognize the emotional arcs underpinning those twists and turns through those cracks and alleys. In turn, TV became more concerned with twists than people. Where The Return differs, is that it’s a show fundamentally about intuition. One where sticking a fork in a socket is a resurrection, where a log has the universe’s wisdom, where coincidence can change everything. It doesn’t want or need your intellectual understanding. Your gut is what matters in this situation. As a friend of mine put it in a discussion: “You will get payoff you did not expect and will be denied payoffs you did expect.” It’s not a show built to satisfy those of us who pick things apart for a hobby, or enjoy payoff (i.e. most of the American viewing public), but that’s fine: we always need different habits to grow.
The original show of course had shades of this, with things like the Black Lodge scenes, Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) bleeding to death for the second season premiere while being visited by the Giant, or (if David Lynch and Mark Frost had gotten their way) the reveal of Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) killer being put off essentially forever. but it was also constrained by being a network TV show which meant it was to some degree exercising restraint. However, the show itself has been more like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and Blue Velvet, both of which traffic in the same dream logic and fugue state storytelling that defines a lot of Lynch work. The show carries itself in a world where intuition can be more powerful than straight “Point A to B” logic. Where the show really shines is about the things great and small that define our lives. As understandable as the frustration over the slow burn in Cooper returning to health, it allowed you to become invested in the trials and tribulations of the other people that inhabit this particular world. There were moments of pure love like Big Ed and Norma finally tying the knot after twenty five years, moments of ultimate despair like Audrey’s endless attempt to reach The Roadhouse, and moments of triumph like Cooper’s final line in episode 16. This is a show after all where Cooper’s mental resurrection is initially triggered by a whiff of coffee – stuff doesn’t necessarily have to make sense so much as it feels right. That’s the reason why the show refuses to avert its eyes from the quiet moments that form so much of our lives, not just the big bombastic ones.
The show ultimately ended with something potentially bigger even than Season 2’s famous ending with Cooper being trapped in the Black Lodge with BOB on the loose. One of the things that has persistently defined the show is that reality is a very thin membrane to be played with. The fragmentation between reality and dreams, the past and the future, even higher realities and ours, all of those things can be pierced, things can leak in and out. That’s where BOB can interact with reality, how Cooper could transcend time again to meet Laura Palmer before her death, how Phillip Jeffries could become smoke, anything and everything is possible. Possibility runs both ways however. It can create good and bad outcomes. When Cooper saved Laura, he did a service to her, but he also unleashed something else in the wake of his act of kindness. That one act as a whole is a mirror of this entire season. Actions such as BOB’s final act of malice in trying to trap Cooper in the tulpa Dougie Jones, which gave Cooper a loving family in Janey-E and Sonny Jim to help him recover. Ultimate good can come from bad luck after all.
There simply is no other show like Twin Peaks. So few other shows make a concerted attempt to build a world of small people, of small moments, of small cruelties, of small heartbreaks, of small loves. But this show does. This is one where a love we missed for twenty five years got to bloom into outright romance at the cusp of old age, where a love we never saw at all got to be made complete in one moment, where parental love is finally reciprocated after wanton acts of cruelty, where a man can transcend evil and save one person’s life. It’s a show that’s as much about the beautiful dignity of growing old, as it is about parents and children, as it is about reality-warping entities and so much more. David Lynch and Mark Frost created a small oasis of beauty in the midst of a vast desert. There’s nothing else like it. Not in reality, and nor in television. Appointment television is overrated, as is the concept of precision. When you can put as much effort into one moment of true love as you do tipping over dominoes, isn’t that worth fighting for in fiction and life? While bad may happen, those good things are ultimately what will triumph. Even if we don’t know the ultimate details of what happened to Audrey, or Big Ed, or Carrie, or Diane (Laura Dern), or Cooper: If this was where Twin Peaks ended: with Cooper wondering where he is, with one final scream, that could be the end forever. But so much has already happened that we may just be fine, I’d be sad, but I’d still be happy. In the end isn’t that what ultimately matters? The happiness at the end of the road.