“What year is this?” Special Agent Dale Cooper asks an alternate-reality Laura Palmer, who has no memory of Twin Peaks, Washington and only knows herself as Carrie Paige, as he staggers in the middle of the street in front of her childhood home.
It’s where “Twin Peaks: The Return’s” previous 18 hours have led us in its last two minutes—the home to Laura’s ongoing abuse during her teens by BOB, a manifestation of evil who possessed her father.
It’s where the world saw Sarah Palmer yell out her daughter’s name to no response in the “Twin Peaks” pilot 27 years ago, only to watch her heartbreakingly crumble before our eyes when told Laura was murdered.
Laura doesn’t answer Cooper’s question—she probably doesn’t know either—instead, we hear her mother faintly call out her name as we did in that pilot episode. This time Laura responds with her iconic, blood-curdling scream as the memories come rushing back to her.
The house lights cut and the credits roll.
Cooper had spent the previous hour and a half time-hopping through different dimensions in an attempt to undo Laura’s murder.
He’s the ultimate good guy—he sacrificed his soul for a girl he loved, he is impossibly patient and polite, he loves cherry pie—but does ultimate good cancel out ultimate evil? That is, can acts of evil be erased by acts of good?
According to David Lynch, no, they cannot, at least not when the good is stemmed from idealizing the past.
The limited series toyed with nostalgia and even poked fun at its audience who had long anticipated the return of “Twin Peaks”—it took only one episode for a character to be tasked with sitting on a couch and staring at a glass box, waiting for something to appear.
But more than anything it excruciatingly teased its fans with withheld nostalgia, taking 16 of its 18 hours for the beloved special agent to finally make an appearance, spending the bulk of the series with Cooper in the body of a shell shocked insurance salesman named Dougie Jones. Still, when Cooper finally awoke, oh, did we bask in it. (I am still constantly replaying him saying, “I am the FBI,” in my head).
Perhaps that’s when we should have known that “The Return” was not going to end up happily, or even conclusively, as satisfaction tended lead to frustration throughout the season.
But when we long for something in the past, like a two-season crime series from 1990, we tend to overlook not just the uncomfortable parts of that time but how differently and possibly unpleasantly such an event would play out now.
Even Laura Palmer couldn’t remember the trauma of her own childhood, and Cooper’s attempt to safely bring her back to where it all happened only led her to relive the pain.
As much as I loved the Dougie storyline, Cooper finally waking up felt like a reward, but how depressing is that—to view a glimpse of recreating the past as compensation for experiencing the passage of time?
“The Return” amplified the divide between “Twin Peaks” fans and David Lynch fans, which can probably also account for the mixed reaction to the series finale.
At face value, “Twin Peaks” returning with an 18-episode third season after over 25 years only to tie up basically no loose ends (at least Ed and Norma got a happy ending) sounds like a pretty frustrating watch, and it certainly was at times.
Audrey’s scenes were particularly tough—seeing a fan favorite character revealed to be living in some sort of dreamlike state after painfully drawn out dialogues with her annoying husband led us to think, “Yes! Her plot is finally going to get interesting!” only to have her absent from the remainder of the series.
But what made “The Return” transcendent was its sprawling exploration of the cyclical nature of time and evil, while somehow still being unpredictable in doing so.
Cooper is the epitome of a goodhearted man of law, and he thought after dedicating his life to “blue rose” cases (those of supernatural classification) and living in an alternate reality for two and a half decades he understood otherworldly evil enough to undo it and save Laura Palmer. But after all this time, evil proved itself to be complex beyond his comprehension, and his fixation on the past was detrimental not only to himself, but to the very person he was trying to save.
What’s next for Cooper, who knows.
Maybe he’s permanently trapped in an alternate dimension generated by Judy, or maybe a Cooper doppelgänger was created when he and Diane crossed universes and subsequently became Richard and Linda, or maybe he and Laura will return to their original timelines.
Unfortunately for those demanding a fourth season, it doesn’t seem the special agent’s fate will be revealed any time soon, or ever.
Certain realms of the universe exist far beyond our knowledge, and this is where the ultimate tragedy of “Twin Peaks” thrives.
When Cooper asks, “What year is this?” he is stood right where the story of “Twin Peaks” begins, yet is awestruck by the scope of the universe he thought he had cracked over the course of the entire series.
He’s back where he started, because the fight against evil is never-ending and idealizing the past, or literally trying to go back and improve it, is not without consequence.
“I’ll see you again in 25 years,” Laura told Cooper in the once series finale of “Twin Peaks” back in 1991.
Even those most dedicated to fighting darkness with light are not immune from the most threatening evil of all: existing in a cycle created by their own twisted nostalgia.