MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
LA-based viewers of the Twin Peaks finale felt unsettled when Dale Cooper drove up to Eat At Judy’s. This isn’t an unusual feeling when watching Twin Peaks: rewatching this episode, I felt deeply uncomfortable waiting for the final shot. They were unnerved, though, because Agent Cooper was driving through their world. The sign of a local Rudy’s Diner had been altered slightly to reference The Return’s main villain, but otherwise it was our real world, with real brand names and – later on – the real owners of the Palmer family house.
After Cooper performs the 430-mile drive followed by sex magick ritual that allows him to cross between universes, he notices a lot of things from his old life in this odd new world. Aside from the name Judy, there is a white horse statue on Carrie Page’s mantelpiece, a number six telegraph pole outside Carrie’s house, and the names “Tremond” and “Chalfont” crop up together. (A reference to a continuity gaffe, where the Black Lodge entity with the teleporting grandson is referred to as Mrs. Tremond in the credits to the TV series and Mrs. Chalfont in the credits to Fire Walk With Me)
Here’s the thing, though – all these things exist in our world. They are not fictional creations in the same way that, say, the purple sea or The Arm are. If we were looking for them, as Cooper is, we could see them and find connections. This isn’t to say that Cooper is suffering from pareidolia: the universe of Twin Peaks is real. It exists in our world. We’ve all seen it. The fact that we’ve all seen it as part of a television series is only relevant if we believe that the world of the imagination and the material world are different places. As has been shown time and time again, Twin Peaks don’t play that way.
So Cooper and Laura are now cast into something approaching our world. Just as we cannot live inside the universe of Twin Peaks – much as we may want to – they cannot return to it. The discourse on nostalgia within Twin Peaks: The Return now resembles some kind of magickal working, a way of getting us to accept the impossibility of returning to those carefree early-’90s days and step into reality.
In The Tempest, Prospero says “We are such stuff as dreams are made on”; last week Agent Cooper said “We live inside a dream”. Contrary to popular belief, The Tempest was not Shakespeare’s final play, and it is to be hoped that Twin Peaks: The Return is not David Lynch’s final film. But they do both share an elegiac mood, a sense that their creators and characters alike are growing old, and the spell must be broken in order for their audience to find closure. In the process, we see a new version of Agent Cooper. He’s not a tulpa, or a man transformed by escaping the Black Lodge, he’s just older. Recognisably the same man – his upbraiding of the sexist cowboys is classic Coop – but sadder, wiser, more solemn.
But it’s not so bleak. Around the window areas, little parts of the old universe break through, like the doppleganger Diane spots outside the motel, or Sarah’s voice calling out between two worlds. And if Cooper and Laura are stuck in reality now, at least it’s a reality shot by David Lynch. As a citizen of the industrial north one of the first things I latched onto in Lynch’s work was how beautiful his industrial landscapes are, how he brings a haunting, mysterious quality to ruined buildings, wasteland and other such non-places.
The electricity pylons Cooper and Diane drive over to in this episode are a prime example of Lynch taking an utterly mundane part of the infrastructure of our world and making it mythic. At its best, his work teaches us to see our world in a different way. By the end of The Return, the master has handed his tools to the students. Make with them what you will.