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Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch
Directed by David Lynch

Airdate: 3 September, 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.

The penultimate episode of Twin Peaks: The Return starts with what is by far its worst scene, but it's also one that sets the tone of the hour to follow rather neatly. To wit, we have Gordon Cole (David Lynch), Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer), and Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell) enjoying a very consequential conversation whose solitary purpose is to start buttoning up loose plot holes. It's clumsy and pandering - and upon reflection, and armed with the knowledge of what Part 18 was going to get up to, I think the clumsiness and the pandering are both very deliberate - and in its artless way, it predicts what's going to happen very nearly all the way up to the last scene of Part 17. This is Lynch and Mark Frost's stab at a super-conventional series finale of television, one that gives all of the characters and the arcs the neatest bow possible: Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) understands cell phones! Freddie (Jake Wardle) has realised his destiny! The evil Bob (Frank Silva), embodiment of the evil that men do, has been punched into atomic dust! God's in His heaven, and all's right with the world.

That's a big fat trick, obviously, and you can kind of tell even while it's happening that this will be the case. In the midst of a sequence of events so conventionally satisfying that it's almost disorienting, and quite unmarked by any of the characters, Lynch throws a giant transparency of Dale Cooper's (Kyle MacLachlan) face up on screen, hovering over the action like an observing god. It is, I think, the most important single element of Part 17 that he does this. For one thing, it's a fairly unavoidable reminder that there's an "outside" or "above" Twin Peaks, and while I think it's clearly too trite and clean to say that the whole series was somebody's dream, just because we hear a disembodied, guttural voice (Cooper's?) tells us it's a dream - aye, even after Monica Bellucci's mystic words in Part 14, I think it's too trite and clean - there's no missing the strong implication of layers: different places, different worlds, different realities.

It's also, frankly, just the most damnably distracting thing, and rather stressing to watch, if I do say so myself. It's perfect Lynchian discombobulation: doing something that rather silently calls an extreme amount of attention to itself, and colors a moment filled with one emotion - that of relieved triumph - with another, much darker, much more aggressive emotion. For all that Part 17 tells us that things are great and going to get better for most of its middle, for all that it seems to be playing according to the very nice rulebook of popular narrative art forms, I found the celebratory denouement to be at least slightly unbearable, ratcheting up tension while nobody onscreen seems to notice. It is, for the last time (certainly in The Return, probably in Twin Peaks, and possibly in Lynch's career entire), an intrusion of the sure and certain sense that something is wrong: the medium itself has broken (in fact, I thought for a good minute that the medium had actually broken, and I was looking at some weird streaming ghost effect imposed by over-taxed servers, or who knows what) in the face of the story being told.

At any rate, ratcheting up tension is something that Part 17 is good at: the first half of the episode is full of stretches where Lynch and his army of editors simply tighten, and tighten, and TIGHTEN, using the viewer's knowledge of thriller structure and the fact that this episode is very near the series run (so anybody could be killed for a big dramatic woomph, as it does very much seem for a minute there that Andy (Harry Goaz) might be). The start of this episode is as dreadfully, perfectly nerve-jangling as anything Lynch has ever directed, and he's done some magnificent work in thrillers throughout his career.

And then, of course, the episode goes all weird as shit, starting with that extremely odd fight scene, achieved by ridiculously bad special effects and wacky camera angles (if Lynch is okay with PowerFistCam, maybe I was wrong that he must have hated WeaselCam back in Episode 24 of the original run). As well as the strikingly no-big-dealish way that Bob is destroyed once and for all, despite being very strongly implied to be an element force beyond the touch of physical powers. It's all so sudden, chintzy, and achieved with absolutely no cost to anybody we like, that the very fact that it's so satisfying becomes perversely un-sastisfying; we neededed more of a release from that long stretch of pure rising tension, and the show doesn't give it to us. Couple that with the giant face, and the middle of Part 17 is dizzying and strange and really somewhat empty-feeling.

Still and all, the trick works, in no small part because MacLachlan is so good in the role, so confident and exuberant in his success. And because - and this is the really tricky part - because the show's lurch towards a totally satisfying, everybody wins, three-cheers-for-Dale-Cooper ending is still fucked up. When it turns out, or seems to, that what The Return has meant all along was Cooper's return to 1989 and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, and his attempt to stop the murder of Laura Palmer once and for all before it ever started, this still feels like a big shocking step, mystical and weird, and still very unsatisfying in its way (because implicitly, it means that none of Twin Peaks ever happened, and the whole show has no been written out of existence). It seems like the kind of thing that Twin Peaks might actually be willing to do, even though it's hugely happy and beautiful and speaks to the triumph of Good over Evil (note that Good has only ever won against Evil once in this franchise, in the final scene of Fire Walk with Me when Laura's soul is saved even after her horrible murder).

The fact that it doesn't is for Part 18, not for now. Part 17 is almost beyond question easiest to think of as the first part of a two-hour finale, but it is an individual episode, and a damn appealing one: it's satisfying in an unsatisfying way, the whole thing prickling along your neck constantly, giving you a kind of sick feeling in the stomach at how happy it is, before turning into a series of plot gyrations so weird that it suddenly feels "right" again. After 16 episodes of general stillness and stoicism, The Return suddenly kicks into a stream of agitating emotional highs, impossible to stop feeling even as Lynch and company all but tell us right to our face that they're just toying with us, and the bottom is about to fall out, and the triumph and peace and feeling of closure are lies. I'm not sure when exactly they rip out the support - if it's that screaming noise in the forest, or when Julee Cruise sings the song that accompanied Maddie's horrible death in Episode 14 of the original show - but it's a powerful piece of manipulation that caps the most manipulative episode of Twin Peaks ever, and I do very much mean that in the best possible way. It might take Part 18 to full contextualise what the hell is going on in Part 17, but as a burst of emotional states forced on us for 57 straight minutes, this is an awfully intoxicating, battering ram episode of television.

Grade: A+