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Cherchez la femme

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KYLE MACLACHLAN, Laura Dern, and David Lynch, the stars and director of Twin Peaks (2017)

By Noel Vera

Television Review
Finale of Twin Peaks: The Return

(Warning: plot outline and narrative twists discussed in close detail)

IN THE FIRST PART of the finale of Twin Peaks: The Return, co-writers David Lynch and Mark Frost pull everyone into the Twin Peaks sheriff’s station and wrap all (well most) of the narrative story lines together in one great grand package of happiness and contentment; in the second half Lynch takes that package, stuffs it under the Trinity bomb and fires the device, sending everything up in a high mushroom cloud slowly spinning against the New Mexico night sky.

Plenty of dropped jaws last Sunday night, even if you’d been repeatedly warned not to expect miracles (“He’s not going to tie up all the strands”), even if you had under your belt Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, the previous two seasons of Twin Peaks – yes, you’ve seen this before; no, you never expected to see it again done quite this way, after 18 hours of protracted viewing.

Plenty of questions were left unanswered – What happens to Beverly Paige and Benjamin Horne? What happened to the girl that swallowed that frogroach? (Maybe she grew up to become Sarah Palmar?) What has Sarah Palmer become and why? (The Experiment?) Where is Audrey Horne? (Still in a coma? An asylum?) Where is Diane Evans? (Or apparently Linda?) – but the biggest question of all may be: “Was it worth it?”

Was it? Twenty-five years waiting (actually 26; the production was delayed a year), then watching each weekly episode for the past three months – perhaps the most amazing aspect (aside from the fact that it happened) was that for some two years of production, no details leaked about Lynch’s presumed ultima opus, that cast and crew have been absolutely tightlipped. Does Lynch command that kind of zealous loyalty? Or is he that secretive about works in progress, maybe keeping the episodes in discs locked in a drawer in his desk?

Say what you will about the overall film/show/whatever you can’t help but marvel at some of the bits and pieces – the way, for example, Lucy’s eccentric inability to understand cellphones (“That means they’re mobile pumpkin”) resolves itself just in time for her to take the crucial shot, the whole protracted running gag a commentary on Lynch’s ambivalent feelings towards evolving technology, (on one hand he embraces them [see Episode 8], on the other insists on clinging to analog techniques [see first half of Episode 3]). Chalk that up to Mark Frost’s ability to plant a detail early in a series, to produce surprising fruit later.

Then there’s the way Lynch and Frost weave age and mortality into casting (Bob Silva, David Bowie, Miguel Ferrer, Catherine Coulson), text (“Hawk I’m dying”), image (half the cast’s lined and weary faces), to create one of the series’ great themes. We all grow old and die (many die too soon we feel); the best we can hope for is some kind of reunion, resolution, return, however brief. Agent Dale Cooper’s best wishes (“I hope I see all of you again. Every one of you.”) have a chilling, sobering effect even on that happy occasion (Mr. C. had just been beaten); in the light of all that follows the implications are heartbreaking.

And for all the deftness Lynch and Frost demonstrate knitting their narrative strands, you can’t help but admire (or loathe, if that’s how you feel) their willingness to go further. Cooper travels back to 1989 – to the night Laura is about to be murdered – and saves her. Lynch’s gesture is breathtaking, the most outrageous of the series of perhaps his entire career: three seasons and one prequels’ worth of storytelling, swept away like so many pieces on a chessboard.

That sealed the deal for me right there.

Call Lynch’s twist a philosophical statement: that life, unlike most stories, never ends; that no problem is ever truly solved, no evil ever definitively put down. That there are forces out there beyond our capacity to fight and permanently defeat.

Which doesn’t mean we should give up. Cooper doesn’t; after cracking the case and beating Mr. C (with not a little help from his friends), he follows the classic advice Alexander Dumas once gave in a novel (significantly the novel slipped into obscurity but the phrase has stayed with us) and followed by almost all noir heroes and antiheroes thereafter: cherchez la femme, look to the woman. The phrase had an unprogressive meaning back then (women are the source of all troubles) but has – in the context of what Peaks shows us again and again – acquired a more troubling implication: look to the woman, she’s up against some abusive, rapacious, murderous, boyfriend, husband, father. Look to the woman, she’s in need of help.

Cooper, having solved all (well almost all) the problems before him steps back, face superimposed on the screen, and thinks: “we live inside a dream.” Unspoken though apparently much in Cooper’s mind: we’re missing someone. And with little hesitation but a little preparation, poignant considering the ultimate context (“See you at the curtain call”), he dives in once again to look for the woman at the heart of it all, who started it all.

Circumstances may change, identities shift, entire alternate worlds fade in and out; evil is pushed back, never defeated, but Cooper persists – maybe a little more badass this time – in moving from one reality to the next, seeking those who need help. As far as final statements go – less a loudly stated declaration than a grim, quietly made commitment – not a bad one to go out on.

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