Warning: This contains spoilers for the finale episodes of Twin Peaks’ return. Rather than review the show as a conventional series, we’re following the example of the season’s premiere, diving into Twin Peaks every few episodes throughout Season 3.
It ends with a scream. How could it not? This brilliant, baffling series has been an exercise in challenging, tantalising and ultimately frustrating an audience hoping for nostalgic hi-jinks, but instead getting David Lynch at the absolute peak of his talent. So many scenes in Twin Peaks: The Return culminate in howls of pain or terror – think of the woman stuck in traffic with a violently sick child beside her, or the lady crawling across the Roadhouse floor. So when Sheryl Lee, owner of perhaps the scariest scream in film or TV, starts up at the end of the finale, there’s an awful inevitability about it.
What did people expect? A neat, tidy resolution? They got one, of sorts, in the lovely one-two (or, more accurately, one-and-a-half) of Episode 16 and the early stages of Episode 17. These looked and felt like the kind of season finale that American TV shows are so good at doing. Coop came back to life, Angelo Badalamenti’s theme tune kicked in, and everybody raced to Twin Peaks for a showdown.
It was thrilling, edge-of-the-seat, punch-the-air stuff, as Lucy shot Bad Coop and Freddie-with-the-fist took out Bob (remarkably, the image of the late Frank Silva is still enough to terrify us). Really, though, this is absolutely terrible storytelling, if viewed as conventional narrative. 18 hours to tell a story, and yet one of TV’s most insidious monsters is despatched by a fella with a crap Cockney accent who – despite a brief appearance in Episode 2 – wasn’t given substantial screen-time until Episode 14? This is hardly the most elegant of plotting.
Crucially, though, Freddie’s arc feels like a familiar piece of TV storytelling, so the resolution is reassuring – but everywhere else Lynch and Mark Frost were in the habit of destabilising expectations. Looking back, who would have guessed that cartoonish gangsters the Mitchum brothers would blossom into the most loveable new additions to the Peaksverse, while Red – played by Lynch alumnus Balthazar Getty and revealed to be the new beau of Shelley Johnson – would vanish from the action, without ever really taking part? Or that Audrey Horne would be brought back to act out a tragic tale of marital mediocrity, implied to be the dark dream of a troubled woman in a hospital or asylum, and for that entire plot thread to be left hanging without closure?
It’s no wonder that some will be perplexed, mystified, even angry at the artistic choices made by Frost and Lynch, but – in a daring riposte to centuries of storytelling lore, from Aristotle to Chekov – so much of what we’ve seen has been included for other reasons. It’s fair to say that up to half of the series has been a kind of televisual tulpa, the actors being directed to perform scenes without truly ‘being there’. (The most extreme case of this is Jerry Horne, a wanderer in the wilderness – although at least Lynch had the decency to tell us he made it safely, albeit naked, to a police station.)
Famously, at the turn of the millennium, Lynch had to revise his latest TV pilot into a movie. The result – Mulholland Drive – similarly has sequences that don’t quite connect to the main story, fragments of a bigger vision we’ll never see. It appears now that Lynch realised this was a viable way of returning to Twin Peaks, the sense that, even over 18 hours, there might be moments which exist purely for the pleasure of an audience watching them. It’s a beautiful jigsaw without edges.
And so, it ends with a scream, but not before Lynch has swept all of these shards aside to concentrate on the core tenets of his filmmaking. Episode 18 pared it back to key symbols – roads, motels – and actors. (It played in part like an ultra-bleak sequel to Blue Velvet, as the once cherubic Kyle McLachlan and Laura Dern switch from singing songs of innocence to those of bitter experience.) In narrative and technical terms, it’s probably the simplest, most straightforward episode of Twin Peaks there has been, but, in context, it is radical and revolutionary. The absence of exposition or explication means that it will spark feverish fan debate for the next 25 years, but it’s also a desperately sad, mournful piece of art.
What’s remarkable is how, over three seasons and one film, Twin Peaks has gone from being a post-modern soap opera to something stranger, darker and deeper than anything else out there. Amazingly, it has never lost sight of the tragedy that originally drove it: the death of Laura Palmer. Indeed, the most moving, wrenching realisation of these final episodes lay in Cooper’s calamitous attempt to rewrite history and stop the murder happening. Back in 1990, Twin Peaks was a sensationalist whodunnit. It has since mutated into a mythic epic of good versus evil, a surrealist fairy tale of innocence lost and, now, an unsettling, unfathomable vision of primal forces beyond our control, not least of which is time. “What year is this?” Coop asks at the end, but we’re painfully aware of how the original cast has aged and, in many cases, passed away. (And how nice, incidentally, that the late Jack Nance, once an automatic choice in any Lynch project, got a last moment of screen time as Pete Martell.)
As Episode 17 headed for its electrifying showdown, Sheriff Truman asked Bad Coop what had brought him back to Twin Peaks. “Unfinished business” was the reply. That line is a reminder of the series’ troubled production history, and a nod to the fans clamouring for a conclusion, but it’s also a mission statement for what Lynch has achieved with this series. How can there ever be an ending? Life is unfinished business, and all of us are blundering about in the road trying to make sense of it.
Cue the screams.
Twin Peaks: The Return is available on-demand through Sky Atlantic. Don’t have Sky? You can stream the whole thing legally on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription, with no contract.
Photo: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME