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Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch
Directed by David Lynch


Airdate: 3 September, 2017

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

It's no fresh insight to suggest that Twin Peaks: The Return acts as something of a compendium of The Complete David Lynch Since 1992, drawing a little bit from all of his movies and many of his shorts made since Twin Peaks temporarily went off the air in June, 1991 - mostly Mulholland Dr. and INLAND EMPIRE, in that order, but certainly not only those. The one thing that tends not to show up in these dissections of whatever the hell is going on withΒ The Return is the incontestable odd man out in Lynch's entire career since his student days, 1999's The Straight Story.

Turns out that's because he was saving it. For all that it does a shitload of things, Part 18 of The Return, probably the final episode of Twin Peaks, maybe even probably the last thing David Lynch will ever direct, is absolutely the Twin Peaks version of The Straight Story, done as a primal scream of existential rage and terror instead of gentle, generous snapshot of American life so beatific and calming that it was released with a G-rating by Walt Disney Pictures. Which is both a big difference and a littler difference than it probably should be.

I'm not going to belabor this much (because I don't really know what I make of it, beyond "well, wouldja look at that"), but let us consider: the story of a road trip, enthusiastically spending time on the longueurs of idly passing by the landscape that most movies eschew, or at least deign to hide inside a montage. Along the way, there are incidental encounters with locals that are certainly colorful, but not really germane to anything. It involves the protagonist returning to his/her family in some capacity, but it's very obvious that, as they say, it's the Journey, not the Destination that matters. And so back to those longueurs: it's all about the experience of time crawling by as the road passes underneath your wheels, and not so much anything else (the 57 minutes of Part 18 are just achingly slow).

The two are, of course, polar opposites: The Straight Story is all set in the golden hues of a Midwestern summer, Part 18 takes place largely in an inky black night. The Straight Story is about reconnecting with your past and finding it pleasant to do so, Part 18 is about the past being an unattainable mirage, and attempting to touch it results in nothing but nightmarish failure and an existential void of more or less pure terror.

So anyway. It should be clear to anyone who's been following along with this reviews that my interest with Twin Peaks generally and The Return specifically has not ever been very much about "what happened?" and "what is going to happen?", and I'll not be indulging in any speculation as to What. The. Fuck., begging your pardon. I did enough of that back when Mulholland Dr. was young, and Part 18 seems like much the same thing: it sure does seem inscrutable, but inscrutable in a way that has a certain logic to it - like when you've forgotten half of a dream, but you know that it made sense right at the moment you woke up. By the end of the decade, people had more or less figured out Mulholland Dr., and I am sure people will figure out The Return before too long. I'll wait for that.

In the meantime, I'm just much more interested in how Part 18 made me feel, because that is the peculiar magic of late David Lynch: his projects all have a primordial sensibility, one that starts ringing alarm bells deep inside the dark parts of the brain. Separating out what the thing is from the extremely subjective experience I had watching it honestly doesn't even seem possible.

And it feels like a hell of a thing. It's somehow completely detached from all 17 parts of The Return preceding it - where Part 17 is the neat finale, putting a bow on it and moving on, Part 18 feels like a coda or parenthetical or something. Probably for no better reason than the horrible disappointing The Dark Tower movie coming out just a month to the day prior to Part 18, I find myself thinking of how Stephen King ended his 4500, 7-volume prose monolith: by telling us in advance that the ending is going to be very disappointing and unfulfilling, and maybe we'd be better off bailing out and not finding out. Part 18 is the exact opposite. Despite all of the available evidence that at no point in its history has Twin Peaks done satisfying resolution, and only very rarely has Lynch done so, Part 17 completely suckered me. It seemed like we were headed for a tremendously gratifying, even triumphant conclusion, with Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) having saved the day so completely that he undid all of the evil of the whole series, and now was going to finally re-connect the universe. Much as I posited way back when that the sweetness and heart of Episode 25 of the original run was necessary to set up the nihilistic misery of the devastating Episode 29, so too do I think we needed that altogether neat and tidy Part 17 so that Part 18 could crush us all the more firmly.

Let's not sugarcoat it: Part 18 is supremely unsatisfying. We can certainly credit its potency, its artistry, it's frankly wonderful sense of humor (guns in the deep fryer is somehow the most offbeat, hilarious thing, and the episode doesn't even play it like it's a gag), but it is all these things and also unsatisfying, emotionally and dramatically. In some ways, I think all 17 episodes of The Return were about nothing but pushing different buttons in different ways to guarantee that we'd have this most immaculately unsatisfying feeling at the end of it.

By no means do I think this means that Lynch and Mark Frost are having a laugh at their audiences (though I do think that, out of all the dangling plot threads, what they did with Audrey Horne was pretty unbelievably shitty both to the audience and to Sherilyn Fenn, and inasmuch as I'd like to see a Season 4, it's entirely because of her and really not because of the ostensible cliffhanger we see here). It is, I think, simply reiterating the thing that Twin Peaks has always been about. Basically, this series - but not, I must point out, the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me - has always been, secretly and silently, the tragedy of Dale Cooper. Three seasons have now ended with Cooper failing. The whole arc of the original show was of a man who believed he had the "perfect courage" to face the evil of the Black Lodge turning out to be wrong. And now, The Return adds the final set of three episodes, in which Cooper returns from a fugue-like mental void to be confident, certain, powerful, and ready to fix all of the terrible things that have befouled Twin Peaks, Washington since 1989.

Back when I reviewed the pilot, I proposed that the key line of dialogue was "That's what I need: a clean place, reasonably priced". Cooper, the worldly man who has seen depravity and suffering, wants to believe that Twin Peaks is a beacon of goodness in Season 1; he wants to redeem it and banish evil from it in Season 2; he wants to change history itself to eradicate that evil in The Return. And he cannot. In Part 17, he claims "The past dictates the future", which to him presumably means that changing the past changes the future; but the phrase can also mean that the past is set and we can only react to it. Attempting to redefine the past is his hubris, and it results in his failure, again. Inasmuch as I'd like there to not be a Season 4, it's because I can't imagine what would change: this is the story of Twin Peaks, and will presumably always be.

All that being said, Part 18 is at least as much Sheryl Lee's episode as Kyle MacLachlan's, even though she's in much less of it. But the moment she appears, she becomes a much more interesting character, and Lee makes every minute of screentime count. It's her slight confusion and fear that we have access to, really, and if the series ends with Cooper in a state of disappointed confusion, the final moment is all about Laura's savage horror. I do not, in fact, know what happens in those final beats, though here at least I will do some theorising: hearing her name, presumably spoken by her mother, is what switches Laura's consciousness back on, reminding her of the hideous life she led, eradicating the Dougie Jones-like life she's been living in Odessa - if not a happy life (that rotting corpse), than at least one free of the memory of being raped and murdered by her own father. I think that scream, which really is one of the best screen screams in ages, is the scream of having all that flood back to her. In which case, double-fuck Cooper, for being wrong, and for re-trauamatising Laura so hard that her anguish apparently causes the entirety of reality to wink out of existence.

The ending is one of the most visceral things I think I've ever seen in Lynch's highly visceral career, including the brutal murder in Twin Peaks, Episode 14, the jump scare in INLAND EMPIRE - you know, that one - and anything else you could care to name; Lee's ragged screaming and the expression of bottomless horror on her face get inside you, somehow, turning into something profoundly unsafe like almost nothing else in horror. It's a good button for an episode that has spent its entire running time feeling decidedly off, not just because of the explicitly weird goings-on in the script, but because of how atonal and hazy it's treated in the directing and acting, and the staging. Without being particularly scary, or particularly anything else, Cooper's little out-and-back walk by the high tension lines is odd; the sex scene between him and Diane (Laura Dern) is a small masterpiece of showing the most human of actions in a way that feels thoroughly bereft of humanity. Just the placement of MacLachlan and Dern's hands has more of a ritualistic than an erotic quality. To say nothing of how out-of-place and inexplicable and frankly unwanted the sex scene is.

The slow pace of The Return's entire run culminates in a positively glacial speed here, which further ramps up the wrong feeling - part of that Straight Story-esque "focus on the parts in between the plot points" rhythm, but there it was beatific, here it is maddening and disorienting. Those endless driving scenes, a massive violation of basic dramatic rules in every way, make the setting feel like a discordant, alternate reality long before Cooper wonders what year it is. And the whole thing is so altogether discomfiting, inexplicable, aimless, and purposefully unsatisfying, it left me altogether in a state of genuine agitation and anxiety that the final scene took great advantage of. I cannot recall the last time I felt so gutted and despondent over a cut to black - not what a cut to black signifies ("the end"), but the actual cut itself - and for that profoundly lost feeling alone, I'd have been glad for The Return, even without all the other great pleasures it offered along the way.

Grades:
As the conclusion of The Return: B+
As an individual episode of television: A
As the conclusion of Twin Peaks entire: A+