Return to the complete Twin Peaks index

Written by Mark Frost & Harley Peyton & Robert Engels,
with uncredited re-writes by David Lynch
Directed by David Lynch


Airdate: 10 June, 1991

The end of Twin Peaks isn't really "The End" of Twin Peaks. It would certainly seem, from the way the writers have talked about in years since, that they genuinely hoped for a third season when they set up that cliffhanger (at any rate, they had plans for what they'd do with a third season if they got one). Plus, little over a year later, the feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me came along, and a hair under 25 years after that came the 18-episode third season, Twin Peaks: The Return.

But it really is The End. Cliffhangers and all, the 30th and final episode to air on ABC, 14 months and two days after the pilot, leaves us with what I believe to be a completely self-contained narrative, one that does not require Fire Walk with Me or The Return to have a solid narrative arc, and arguably does not benefit from them. It is the story of a good man, FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), and how he learned that goodness was not enough. The final scene, without the knowledge of anything to follow it, is 9/10ths of a complete bummer, a perfectly bleak and despondent fare-the-well to the quirky, pleasant denizens of Twin Peaks, Washington, but it wraps up the story of Dale Cooper nice and tight. It is, I find, completely fulfilling - hellaciously aggravating and unsatisfying, but fulfilling.

It's worth noting that what we typically think of as the final episode of Twin Peaks is actually just the final 18 minutes of the final episode of Twin Peaks (and that an episode running 4-5 minutes longer than usual for the series). It's not hard to see why this passage would so thoroughly dominates the legacy of this episode, and hell, the whole series: it is an unprecedented stretch of symbolic surrealism (surreal symbolism?) filtered through some of the purest art-horror in the history of American pop culture. Nothing in this show came anywhere close to preparing us for it, let alone all of the rest of television; and certainly nothing on television I can personally name in all the years prior to Twin Peaks: The Return even tried to touch it.

But still, it's substantially less than one-half of the whole. The good news is the whole was directed by David Lynch, making his only episode of the entire second half of the series, and there's not a flat note in it. The episode generates an elecric charge from as simple a thing as using a slightly wider-angle lens than is appropriate to make a small room bend and warp against the laws of physics (it's noticeable straightaway, in the second scene in the sheriff's office). Or putting Pete (Jack Nance) in the foreground, in a place in the frame where we'd anticipate that he'll be in focus, but he's not; instead, the focus is on the back wall, where the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) has just walked in.

Or there's the marvelous matter of the bank scene, which suggests that whatever other aesthetic peccadilloes Lynch has, his heart truly belongs to scenes of old men slowly walking across rooms. Remember the old waiter from Episode 8? The bank scene blows that away. It's a simple matter: just old bank manager Dell Mibbler (Ed Wright) shuffling back and forth between the water cooler and the vault door where Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) has chained herself, but the execution! The shot includes a pan so prominent and out-of-character (Lynch's episodes thrive on static cameras) that it simply cannot help but call attention to itself, and in so doing call attention to the fact that the pan is being used to significantly protract the action of Dell walking. It also calls attention to the depth of the shot, by shifting in one steady, decisive move from a reasonably flat shot of Audrey to a plunging deep focus scene, on that suddenly exaggerates the speed and depth of Dell's movmement: he appears to suddenly and dramatically shrink as he he wanders into the background. It's a quintessential Lynch scene: unbearably normal, quotidian actions turned into something slightly mind-melting, just through the use of the right lens.

And that's great and all but really: the Red Room. Which we now learn is maybe the same as the Black Lodge? I'm honestly not very interested in doing the whole "what does it all mean?" thing, in part because I believe it's insoluble, and in part because we'll learn in Fire Walk with Me that Lynch didn't have much use for people interpreting Twin Peaks. But I do think you need to at least try to weasel out some ground rules. And while I hate to do it, I'm going to go back to Episode 18, the first of the very bad episodes, where we first heard of the place through legends recited by Deputy Hawk:"There is also a legend of a place called the Black Lodge. The shadow self of the White Lodge. Legend says that every spirit must pass through there on the way to perfection. There, you will meet your own shadow self. My people call it The Dweller on the Threshold... But it is said that if you confront the Black Lodge with imperfect courage, it will utterly annihilate your soul."

We've got plenty of that going on here: the shadow self of Dale Cooper, who he does in fact meet with imperfect courage, running away before the Shadow Cooper even appears. But it doesn't utterly annihilate his soul: I think just from the evidence within the episode, with the fragment of Laura Palmers's (Sheryl Lee) personality still trapped in the Lodge telling Dale that she'll see him in 25 years (and 25 years after Fire Walk with Me, just look what happened!), we have reason to hope that he wasn't utterly annihilated.

But he still loses, of course. Episode 29 is all about losing. The first scene we see is the only one in which the characters end happily. Otherwise we have people probably almost certainly dying, especially if you pretend that this is the very end of everything (the likely body count includes Ben, Audrey, Pete, Annie, Andrew, and a bank security guard whose first child was just born moments before). We have the heartbreak of the scene where Mike (Gary Hershberger) has his first sincere, tender moment thrown back in his face, Norma (Peggy Lipton) and Ed (Everett McGill) realise that they're doomed to remain apart, and Nadine (Wendy Robie) so visibly horrified by the realisation that she has nothing in life, that her very private space has been invaded, that Ed definitely doesn't love her, that she can only scream about her drape runners. And I am once again reminded that Lynch, uniquely among the series's directors, understood that the amnesia Nadine story is an essentially sad, tragic story.

But anyway, back to the Red Room/Waiting Room/Black Lodge we go. It's a hard sequence to right about, for this is the pivot point in Lynch's career. Before this, he mostly made tonally weird but ultimately conventional narratives, like Blue Velvet, or The Elephant Man, or the Twin Peaks pilot (but also, to be fair, Eraserhead). After this, he made experimental films hiding inside narrative films, and sometimes not even hiding, like Lost Highway, or Mulholland Dr., or INLAND EMPIRE (but also, to be fair, The Straight Story). Mulholland Dr. is particularly impossible for me to imagine without the final sequence of Episode 29 showing the way. Both of them are representational mysteries - by which I mean, they both ask the question "what just happened?" at the topmost level of, "no, actually, please explain the events that I just watched". They both make sense more as feeling-generating events than meaning-generating events, though you feel damn sure that there's some meaning in there. They both get a huge amount of mileage out red curtains creating vaguely sinister spaces of innuendo. Twin Peaks particularly excels at this. The Red Room is obviously the cheapest set that could be built; hang curtains at a 90 angle, slap down a floor and a few pieces of furniture, and we're good to go. But "cheap TV set" is the very last thing this makes me think of. It feels ad hoc and artificial, all right, but that's much more a part of what makes it feel like a genuinely otherworldly place; like the hugely unconvincing Victorian room in 2001: A Space Odyssey, I'd say it suggests some non-human intelligence attempting to approximate a space for a human guest to reside in. And that's just the part we saw as far back as Episode 2. The new material is much stranger.

The whole sequence is incredible horror, not simply because it is scary - though it's certainly that, particularly when we start to see the inhuman doppelgรคngers of Laura and her father (Ray Wise), assuming Leland is a doppelgรคnger, and not the shade of the man himself, stuck in the Black Lodge for his sins. At any rate, when the not-Laura appears to enact her jerky parody of the probably-Laura we saw earlier (placing her hands in a strange position and blankly stating "Meanwhile"), and then starts screaming like some monster loosed from hell, it's disturbing in a way that very little filmed entertainment ever has been, to say nothing of network television (it also, I think, directly anticipates the great jump scare in INLAND EMPIRE). And she's doing it in reverse! As in the previous Red Room scenes, everything was filmed with the actors playing backwards, and then the film run backwards, to create a grotesque approximation of forward speech, and Lynch found some very sublimely distressing applications for that here. Screams, it turns out, sound very bestial and quavering in reverse. When someone gives a conspiratorial wink in reverse, it looks like a portion of the face has melted and repositioned itself. Great things like that.

There's also a few scenes here that make use of not one, but two strobe lights, on other side of the set, with their rhythms slightly offset. That is, blackness alternates with one of three different lighting scenarios (from the left, from the right, or from both, so as to seem "flat"), at an unpredictable fast, flickering pace. The perceptual effect is phenomenal; it's actually an experimental film here, not just "experimental" meaning "very fucking weird for a narrative". There are scenes where the lighting and compositions work together such that we're practically forced to think of the way that light falls across solid surfaces by seeing the light contrasting with itself so often. For a director, and a series, that have used variations on flickering lights and strobe effects, this is a bravura gesture indeed, creating a heightened visual state that's also a bit wearying the more you stare at it.

Basically, with everything going on - the deeply uncanny sense (that's the word, "uncanny", not "scary") created by the non-characters and the non-sets; the torment of speech being turned into analogue sounds that no human mouth could quite make; the perceptual overload of the lighting, the black-and-white zig-zag floor (perfectly designed to flummox our eyes), and the unpredictability of knowing what any cut might bring - the whole Red Room sequence (and it is quite long), is primarily about wearing the viewer out, I think. It is an exhausting episode to watch, and every time I see it - more often than I have seen the show, I don't feel ashamed to admit - I always feel distinctly dazed when it wraps up. It's not just about creating a sense of horror, though Lynch being Lynch, horror is one of his tools; it's about creating a sense of a profoundly disordered universe, where evil is what men do but also a physical place and real, specific figures, an where good guys can get absolutely blindsided by that evil (as can bad guys - the mocking way in which Windom Earle, the main villain of the second half of the series, is just tossed aside like a rag doll, is one of the better storytelling touches in this largely a-narrative sequence).

Anyway, it a damned tiring big of television, and it's really just the set-up for the final reveal, the confirmation that yep, the good guys lose. Cooper saved Annie, probably, but he's trapped in the Black Lodge, and here's this gibbering, maniacal clone, housing the spirit of Bob (Frank Silva), all set to do God know what mischief for the next 25 years. And I think what's so potent about it isn't simply the sucker punch of nihilism, but the inevitable way it happens. The reveal isn't when we see Bob's face in Cooper's reflection. It's when he gets out of bed and states that he has to brush his teeth in something of a dull shriek, with no humanity in it, and then again when he idly squirts toothpaste all over the bathroom sink. He's broken and just simply wrong in some way, and even if we didn't quite grasp the import of the doppelgรคnger Cooper catching up to the "good" Cooper, I think it's hard not to be full of a sense of danger well before we get the confirmation. And the episode has spent the last twenty minutes grinding us down to be able to respond to this with nothing but a passive burst of outrage at the unfairness of it: the Black Lodge for beating such a good-hearted man as Cooper, ABC for cancelling Twin Peaks, and David Lynch for ending the show this way when he certainly damn well knew the show wasn't coming back. It's sober and grim, and I'm pretty close to 100% certain it's the most extreme emotional response I've ever had to anything I've seen on television, and it's an emotional response I still get even when I know it's coming. That's a hell of an achievement, and a fine way for Twin Peaks, that show about emotional affect above all things, to close up shop, even if just for a little while.

Grade: A+