MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
The answer was always there, at the start of every episode. All that time we spent wondering if Cooper would ever fully return, if we’d ever seen Audrey come back again, if whatever evil had infected the world since the Season Two finale would relent – we could have worked it out just by closing our eyes at the start of each episode of The Return. Then we’d hear a burst of electricity, a stretch of ambient sound, and then – after about twenty seconds – the start of the Twin Peaks theme. Twin Peaks was always coming back, and it was always going to be like you remembered it. It’s just that, before that could happen, there would be a bit of electricity and a lot of uncertainty.
Part 16 of The Return will always be remembered for one thing: “I am the FBI”, and the beautiful, hilarious, deeply touching scenes of Agent Cooper returning to our world like a boss. It’s outrageous that they can get away with just having him switched back on after such a long build-up, but damned if it doesn’t work perfectly. Less perfect is the resolution to Audrey’s story. I don’t think it’s a bad ending simply because it’s a downer, I think it’s a bad ending because it’s positioned as a cliffhanger – a rare example of Twin Peaks misleading its audience in a way that doesn’t bear artistic fruit.
Still, there’s still plenty to analyse here, not least the role of music. Eddie Vedder is introduced by his actual name, Edward Louis Severson III, another example of the late episodes blurring the line between fiction and reality alongside the Log Lady dedication and the Monica Bellucci cameo. He begins performing ‘Out of Sand’, one of two Roadhouse songs written for the show. Like the other one, Nine Inch Nails’s ‘She’s Gone Away’, its lyrics are painfully apt, full of “right roads not taken” and old selves that have been lost to time.
Then, of course, we hear Angelo Badalamenti’s theme for Audrey, forwards then backwards. Like Cooper himself, Badalamenti’s orchestrations have been slowly gathering force over the weeks, from the purely textural whooshes and rumbles of the opening two-parter to the rich soundscape of this episode. The music is used to make connections to the rest of Twin Peaks history: the mystery hum that distracts Bud Mullins resolves into the angelic wash we hear as MIKE contacts Cooper, which fits perfectly alongside the Twin Peaks theme itself. Elsewhere, Lynch’s own brutal remix of the Muddy Magnolias’ ‘American Woman’ shifts from being Mr. C’s theme to Diane’s, as her tulpa makes its last stand.
Laura Dern’s delivery of Diane’s monologue about the last time she saw Cooper is perhaps the single best piece of acting in the whole series. Lynch’s work has, in the past, been accused of mediating the horror of rape, using twisted, masochistic relationships (Blue Velvet), language (Wild at Heart) and supernatural twists (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me) to avoid confronting it fully. I don’t agree with these criticisms, but it’s notable that The Return – like the “Sue” sections of INLAND EMPIRE, also starring Dern – comes out and calls it rape.
What makes the Diane tulpa’s monologue even more painful is that she slowly becomes aware that this pain isn’t even hers. Before she dies, she realises who she is, a journey Chantal and Hutch never complete. I haven’t written about them much in these reviews because they’re fairly simple characters, but Tim Roth and Jennifer Jason Leigh are two of my favourite actors and it’s always a pleasure to see them drive around aimlessly discussing religion and existence. Roth has confirmed Lynch didn’t know they’d starred in The Hateful Eight before he cast them, but they still feel like refugees from a Tarantino film. Which is why, ultimately, they have to die here. This isn’t the kind of show where philosophical contract killers buy junk food any more, it’s the kind of show where said contract killers are wiped out by a random Polish accountant. This kind of show is Twin Peaks. Fi-na-lly.