The Melancholy of Nostalgia in TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN

“Through the darkness of future past

The magician longs to see

One chance out between two worlds

Fire walk with me.”

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN “TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN”

In the original run of Twin Peaks David Lynch and Mark Frost were never going to say who killed Laura Palmer. Only after pressure from executives at ABC. Lynch called Laura Palmer’s death “the goose that laid the golden eggs” and when you look at the history of episodes that immediately happened after, it’s clear there’s no bullshit there. The ship was righted by the Season 2 finale and we were left with a cliffhanger that promised a dark future for the town of Twin Peaks, its citizens and the surrounding universe. Darkness is eternal. But so is light. One cannot exist without the other. The darkness in Twin Peaks, while supernatural in nature, exists as a personification in symbols. Grief, loss, pain, all real human emotional traits that exist in every one of us.

It’s fun to talk about David Lynch like he’s the ultimate troll and is intentionally trying to fuck with his audience. Make no mistake, he definitely ends up fucking up with his audience. I just think it’s reductive to claim he’s putting together surreal imagery without rhyme or reason. There’s always something to ground his visuals. In Twin Peaks, it’s entirely about the emotions of the characters. It’s why the characters feel like they’re operating in a classic melodrama. The reality is heightened and so are their feelings.

In The Return it’s about coming to terms with their worlds and lives they’ve lived. It’s why we constantly cut back and forth between the outside world and Twin Peaks. These people have moved on. From Dougie Jones to the citizens of the town of Twin Peaks, lives had been lived between the time Cooper entered and finally escaped the Black Lodge.

If we’re going with the semi-paradoxical/meta idea of Twin Peaks as a show about a television show – look at the show within a show Invitation to Love in the original series – it makes complete sense for the reboot to give us everything we needed by the penultimate episode, just not everything we wanted.

Closure had begun to take form, even if questions weren’t being answered. Cooper was back in his regular body. “100%” he tells MIKE, the one-armed man. We had enough. But Cooper, ever the boy scout, wanted to save everyone. He wanted it all. And he almost had it! Mr. C was gunned down by Lucy. (FUCK YEAH, SHE KNOWS HOW CELL PHONES WORK!) BOB was finally vanquished by Freddy (SURE, WHY NOT!). The stories and characters intertwined and while “happily ever after” isn’t as easy as it sounds, citizens in the world of Twin Peaks could move on from the past. Finally. Only, that’s not what happened.

As odd as it sounds, Cooper got greedy. Greedy for the right reasons, i.e. saving a human life, but without looking at the ramifications of the soul. Most importantly, Cooper sought salvation for Laura Palmer without confronting the evil that hurts her as an individual.

Who would have thought the worst part of Cooper trying to save Laura Palmer from being murdered would be his success? Cooper couldn’t see beyond a shortsighted moral fabric of reality. Laura Palmer survives but she’s not saved. Like the atomic bomb dropping and creating BOB, evil and the darkness that defines it isn’t a by product of a singular event. It’s a constant. Make no mistake, a new evil took shape, forming around new tangible reality that didn’t exist before. But there was still a reality that was living and thriving.

That’s why we’re shown the denizens of Twin Peaks. We’re seeing how far they’ve grown, how far some have come from their initial appearances. Some find one another after years of being apart emotionally even if they occupy the same space physically. Nadine and Ed come to terms with their relationship founded on guilt. They were holding each other back. Now they can be free to pursue their own happiness, with Ed and Norma embracing a several decades long courtship that could only end one way: in a marriage proposal. I cried and you know you did too.

There’s nothing wrong with looking back at the past. Just don’t get lost in romanticizing it. Sometimes it was as good as you imagined. Sometimes you get “James was always cool.” A statement many people may find untrue but speaks volumes to the series. He wasn’t a fan favorite by any means but there’s nothing wrong with sugar coating a couple things as long as it’s digested properly. The past is the past. It’s impossible to move forward while holding on to something long gone.

On that note, can you blame Cooper for not wanting anyone to miss getting a happy ending? He wants to save as many people as he can. Unfortunately, Cooper’s not sugarcoating anything. He’s avoiding a subject entirely. An evil wasn’t defeated with Cooper guiding Laura from the inciting act of the series. It was avoided. Laura was suffering at the hands of vicious murderer and rapist BOB via Leland Palmer long before the series began and her life was ended.

Fire Walk With Me shows us a community who failed a young woman. Even now, after everything that’s happened, the inability to reconcile with what has happened lead to an eradication of everything we’ve known and loved about the series. It’s not a mathematical equation that needs to be answered, nor a mystery to be solved. It’s all there for us to watch. The truth will set you free and whatnots. By not confronting the truth of the life of Laura Palmer via Fire Walk With Me, Judy wins. And who is Judy?

Judy is the spirit jiāodāi. Jiāodāi literally means “to explain” or seeking answers. But we’re not gonna talk about jiāodāi. In fact, we’re not gonna talk about jiāodāi at all. Cooper isn’t interested in talking. He’s interested in a valiant quest to save Laura Palmer but never looks at the circumstances surrounding Laura Palmer.

“The absurd mystery of the strange forces of existence” says Albert, in Miguel Ferrera’s final performance (RIP to the legend). Who needs answers? We don’t need them. We want them. Whether we realize it or not, we need art that challenges us. The stories of Twin Peaks were never a passive viewing experience. When the people of Twin Peaks had found one another, they had what they needed. Agent Cooper did not have what he wanted, as pure as his intentions were. By searching for definitive answers, by proxy a continuation, Cooper attempts to rewrite their story in a manner suitable for all.

Their story isn’t just over, it’s been over-written. Cooper and Laura are now characters in a story that doesn’t exist anymore. Continuing to search for jiāodāi leads further into the rabbit hole of darkness. It’s just as important to look at a road map as it is to see what’s right in front of you. A balance. That’s the driving force behind the supernatural elements of the series. Where there is light, there is darkness. The birth of BOB brings the culmination of Laura. Agent Cooper, Wyndam Earle. Anyone and a doppelganger. Without acknowledging the truth of the past, there is no logical future.

I’m a huge fan of the group Chromatics, so when I watched the two-part premiere I was in tears from the emotional toying Lynch was using but also in the resonant power of the group’s music on display. Haunting and hypnotic, melancholy but relaxing, Chromatics music is a match made in heaven for the work of Lynch. I joked around about the song “Shadow” being the unofficial theme of the series. I’m sticking to that but it honest to god works as a thesis statement to the entire show. LISTEN

Imagery even coincides verbatim in “Shadow” to Twin Peaks:

At night I’m driving in your car

Pretending that we’ll leave this town

We’re watching all the street lights fade

Laura and Cooper drive from Odessa to Twin Peaks, passing by an empty and drab shell of a once vibrant world Cooper once knew. Laura doesn’t know she’s Laura. And if she does, she’s avoiding it. She tried her best. The lights at the gas station they stop at are almost engulfed by a surrounding darkness. When they reach Twin Peaks, the RR Diner has blacked out windows. No Norma. No anyone. It’s empty.

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

Sarah Palmer, possibly occupied by Judy, smashes the portrait of Laura being escorted by Cooper. Laura vanishes.

You’re in the water

I’m standing on the shore

Still thinking that I hear your voice

Can you hear me?

Can you hear me?

Can you hear me?

Can you hear me?

We see Pete walk out in the morning to go fishing, no longer stumbling across Laura washed up on shore or wrapped in plastic. Later, Laura and Cooper walk back defeated from any answers in the street in front of what was once Laura’s home. Laura hears her mother (or is it Judy?) call out “Laura.” In a world where Laura Palmer isn’t dead, but alive and from Odessa, Sheryl Lee releases one last piercing scream.

In a statement released by Chromatics’ Johnny Jewel, he says:

“Everyone has a shadow. There is no real difference between ten years ago and ten seconds ago. Your future determines your past. The flame of nostalgia is a tempting black hole to jump into, but I recognize it as a fantasy.”

Personally, I like to think Agent Cooper and Laura Palmer could fix things. Not to change things yet again, but to revert to the moment where Laura and Cooper confront the trauma, together. Cooper helps Laura through her passing at the end Fire Walk With Me, but it’s only assistance from the sideline. Not an all-time ending battle of good vs. evil or the like. Rather, a story of coming to terms with death and loss. It’s not easy but nothing worth having ever is. If there were to be a fourth season it would need to be about that confrontation. However, confrontation implies continuation and I’m getting the feeling Lynch is happily trying to move on. The past dictates the future. David Lynch confronted the troubled past of Twin Peaks. Now he’s just asking us to do the same.

BUY Twin Peaks: From Z to A [Blu-ray]

3 thoughts on “The Melancholy of Nostalgia in TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN

  1. I told a friend a few weeks that I really hope they wouldn’t tie things up neatly as it was seeming they would as I would hate to see David Lynch sell out. While “Inland Empire” wasn’t my favorite Lynch movie, it was definitely him doing what he does best – fucking with your mind and sending your brain into maze that it will never escape. I felt the same way about the Twin Peaks finale. Frustrating as hell but I can’t stop thinking about it and coming up with more theories. Was the Fireman actually warning Cooper when he said he mentioned Richard and Linda and Cooper didn’t really “understand” as he claimed? Was Charlie actually The Arm (in “Fire Walk with Me” the little guy says “with this ring I thee wed” and we know Charlie and Audrey have sime fucked-up, less than legitimate marriage; in the final episode, the Arm mentions the little girl that lives down the lane story that Audrey mentioned to Charlie)? Was the end perhaps the dream Cooper tried to tell Cole about in “Fire Walk with Me”? The superimposed image of Cooper’s face looked a lot like his frozen face on the security camera at FBI headquaters the day Phillip Jeffries appeared. So much to think about.

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