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Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch
Directed by David Lynch

Airdate: 27 August, 2017

Author's Note: This and all subsequent reviews of Twin Peaks: The Return episodes will freely give away details from the episode at hand, and all those preceding it. The spoiler-averse should back away slowly.

I am certainly a fanboy in the matter, but Part 16 of Twin Peaks: The Return should prove to all and sundry, once and for all, that David Lynch & Mark Frost do know exactly what the hell they're doing. Some people have groused here and there that the 18-hour epic has been moving too slowly. And that they didn't give a shit about "Dougie Jones", they wanted FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper back. Well, he's back, and he brought with him the most exhilarating, exhausting, wholly satisfying episode of The Return thus far. And I don't think it could have been shorter: the pure awestruck feeling that comes from seeing Our Dale sit up and pull out the respirator, and hearing Kyle MacLachlan start confidently barking out commands in the professional, no-nonsense delivery that we haven't heard in 25 years (and really in 26, there's precious little Cooper in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me), that moment grew better and better and more exciting from every additional episode of delay. If The Return had been 40 episodes long, I hope Lynch & Frost would still have waited until three episodes before the end to bring Coop back.

Plus, we had all that time to get to know the Joneses, Janey-E (Naomi Watts) and Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon), and for me at least, Twin Peaks: The Return largely became the story of this weird little family, the latest in a long line of dream-logic suburbanites to populate David Lynch's filmography. And all that time paid of handsomely in this episode; I do not know and do not care to guess if we're ever seeing Janey-E and Sonny Jim again, but it surely feels like we're not. That last scene of the two of them with Cooper on the floor of the casino is too perfect as a melancholy good-bye, starting with Coop's very warm, oddly formal "You've made my heart so full" - and very wonderful it is that Lynch, Frost, and MacLachlan have snapped back so quickly to the perfecting writing and even more perfect delivery of the vaguely oracular pronouncements that dominated Cooper's dialogue in the first two seasons, yes? - right up to outstanding tracking shot back from Janey-E and Sonny Jim, seemingly being swallowed up by the tacky glitz of Las Vegas.

Reader, I wept. For all that the have served in a very real sense as a giant narrative frustration (The Return as a whole is very much an exercise in thwarting our expectations, including this very episode - after 15 episodes, we've gotten a handle on the slow pacing and long stretches of silence, and now here come several lengthy scenes of fast-paced, clipped dialogue), the Joneses have emerged as, I think, just about the sweetest, most unironically lovely characters in all of Lynch. Other than The Straight Story, he has only ever touched on sentiment in order to mock it, but the final scenes here with these characters are unabashedly soppy, and without a trace of sarcasm or humor. I'd particularly give credit for that to Watts, who has been so damn good in this series, and so very easy to overlook; but the low-key way she lets us know, through smirks and sideways glances, that she's figured out (and maybe always knew) that "Dougie" wasn't Dougie, all throughout this episode, are superb (my favorite: her expression after Sonny Jim says "Dad can drive. Really good"). Her very controlled desperation in asking Cooper to stay is even better, telling us the entire life history of the marriage she had before and the marriage she's had these past few days, all in the way she fights down tears (and loses). Janey-E has been Watts's best performance since she got her big break working for Lynch in Mulholland Dr., playing a totally different character: one who's all sympathy and good feeling. It's with a genuine feeling of loss - not unlike the one that MacLachlan permits us to know that Cooper is feeling - that I bid this subplot adieu.

Another phenomenal actress taking what looks for all the world like her final bow: Laura Dern's big monologue as Diane-but-not-Diane is just the most devastating thing ever, huh? Helped out immensely by a killer lead-in, as the soundtrack pulses with heavy drums, while Dern walks steadily towards the camera as it dollies back, in one of the best-lit shots in all of Peter Deming's cinematography so far. Patterns of light and dark fall over Dern's face, perfectly anticipating the breakdown that's about to happen, giving us a great long look at the actor above all other living actors who has done the best things with Lynch. And her final pair of scenes live up to that legacy. Twin Peaks has, from the onset, been about the violence men do to women, among other things, but nowhere, not even in Fire Walk with Me, has that been communicated with the raw pain and horror of Dern's monologue, as she moves from dreamily recalling the first time she met Evil Cooper, sometime in the mid-'90s, and transitioning into drained agony as she recounts the assault (and, I presume, murder - it's late in the game for speculating, but surely the reason we have a tulpa Diane is because the actual Diane is dead?), culminating in the repeated line, "He raped me. He raped me", as though the hellish betrayal and torture hidden in that description is too much for language itself. And then, moments later, "I'm not me! I'm not me! I'm not me!" and every repetition is more broken down in wracked sobs, giving the same impression that language, even human emotion, is insufficient to express her pain (it's a damn shame that the scene keeps cutting away to Lynch, Miguel Ferrer, and Chrysta Bell, the one false note in the whole episode).

But I am glad that Diane's last scene is none of this: she's hostile and smart and impatient, and that her last words are "fuck you" before she disappears into a physical breakdown that suggests experimental animation more than anything else in The Return.

Two great women gone, one great woman returned: this is the first episode where Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) felt like Audrey, and even if the show very immediately demonstrates that it's a lie, in that astonishing final shot, it's outstandingly rewarding to see Fenn getting to finally do more than stand still and look terrified, dancing to the old theme Angelo Badalamenti associated with her in the first two seasons. And there's plenty of reason to anticipate that something is wrong even before we get there: the scene is all full of cuts that firmly violate any and all continuity, transforming the dance into bits and pieces that are individually beautiful, but inchoate altogether. Still, seeing Fenn wear that mask of sublime self-satisfaction that Audrey loved to put on is the very best kind of nostalgia, and it seems reasonable to hope that Audrey will be central to the resolution to the show, which will be quite a great treat.

There is, of course, a whole lot of episode beyond this, including two separate moments where colorfully awful villains are offed with indifference - goodbye to Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tim Roth, whose last scene is an exemplar of all the things I've loved about those two together, in their weird cod-Tarantino musings about the minutiae of a hitman's life - and the huge reveal that Evil Coop did rape Audrey in a coma and thus begat Richard (Eamon Farren) buried in the implications of a single line of dialogue that's not even given much attention in the blocking or performance. It's a top-to-bottom consequential episode, one that does much to clear the decks and add some wrinkles and confusion as we barrel into the final arc of the plot, but it's the amazing character work that really puts it over the top. At any rate, between what happens and how potently we feel what happens, Part 16 is an outstanding burst of everything great about this show, that now more than ever feels like the third season of Twin Peaks in addition to the summary masterpiece of David Lynch's career.

Grade: A+