Sunday, September 3, 2017

REVIEW: 'Twin Peak' - Agent Cooper Finds Resolution While Creating New Mysteries in 'The Return: Parts 17 & 18'

Showtime's Twin Peaks - Episodes 3.17 and 3.18 "The Return: Parts 17 & 18"

The past dictates the future. What is your name?

As I've stated multiple times across this season, I didn't know what to expect heading into Twin Peaks: The Return this summer. I only hoped that Showtime gave David Lynch and Mark Frost the money to tell the story they wanted to tell. I hoped that they would do whatever they wanted in the name of art while still being mesmerizing to watch. In the end, I do think they succeeded in that. This season of Twin Peaks has been so strange and frustrating. Parts of it have soared to incredible highs and produced some of the best moments of the year in all of television. Other parts were completely maddening and seemingly made no sense at all. Despite that though, this was Lynch and Frost with the freedom to tell the story they wanted to tell in this universe after 25 years. Expectations heading into the finale were high for an extreme amount of clear resolution to the story the season has told across the sixteen previous episodes. And yes, there is a fair amount of resolution in these two final hours - especially in "Part 17." But the finale also continues to embrace the themes that have always been present in this show. The world is often chaotic and mystifying. It typically defies any sense of rational explanation. There's a version of the show that has immediate answers for everything. After all the buildup, everything plays a part in the inevitable conclusion. But that's the easy way to tell this story. Lynch and Frost want to show that there is no easy way to wrap up this story. They didn't want to delve into fan service. They didn't want to build a conclusion to this story that they started all those years ago that could serve as a simple resting place for these characters. Along the way there have been beautiful moments that highlight the kinds of happy endings some of these characters deserve. But it's also incredibly fitting that the actual ending only seems to be something completely random and inexplainable. It may set off another 18 episode season. Or it could just stand as it's own thing with Lynch and Frost firmly stating that things are always going to be complex and complicated in this world.

All this time, it seemed inevitable that the season was building to a confrontation between the two Coopers. Their paths were bound to merge at some point at the Twin Peaks Sheriffs Department. The story seemed to be taking them back to the place where this journey began. It's the final trick the universe plays on Evil Cooper. He's tracking down these coordinates for mystical and unexplained purposes. One of them killed Richard. The final one only redirects him to the sheriffs department so he can face this confrontation with the rest of the upcoming characters. He wasn't heading there on purpose. It wasn't a factor in his master plan. It's just the path that he was set on and tried to adapt to. He doesn't truly know what it means. He just knows that it's important that he's interacting with Andy, Lucy and a Sheriff Truman again. Of course, its importance is tricking him into finally going back to the Black Lodge. But it's so completely surprising that it's not Agent Cooper who kills his evil doppelganger. That honor instead goes to Lucy. She is the most random and unexpected person to pull the trigger. But that's what makes that moment feel so good. No one at the precinct deserves to die before Agent Cooper can arrive. It's great that no one does too. Instead, they are able to survive because of their own skills. They don't really need him at all.

Of course, it's also clear that Agent Cooper knows everything that is going on. He expected all of this to happen and is ready once it does. After an entire season where it was unclear if there was anything going on in his head, Agent Cooper now seems empowered with information. All of the narrative stories are finally coming together. Lucy shoots Evil Cooper. The woodsmen are attempting to bring him back to life once more. Agent Cooper arrives with the ring that will send his evil doppelganger back to the Black Lodge. Freddie has been freed because Andy remembers the message he got from the Fireman. And then, the show just goes completely crazy. The woodsmen only bring back Evil Cooper and Bob as a killer ball. That's a weird sentence to type out. It's weirder to see occur in the context of the show as well. This ball is attacking the people and Freddie with his super-strong hand are the only weapon that can be used against it. It's thrilling and baffling to watch. It's so strange but also incredibly rewarding. The audience knew that hand would be important in the endgame somehow. And now, it's serving its purpose. Once again, Agent Cooper isn't the person responsible for ridding the world of this evil. Freddie destroys the ball of villainy. But Agent Cooper still knows what's happening and what to do next. He places the ring and his doppelganger disappears. Then, he recognizes Naido as the woman he truly loves: Diane. That's another unexpected twist. They've both been through this grueling experience. Only now is it becoming clear to the audience.

Stopping Evil Cooper isn't the end of this story however. In the scope of the season so far, that confrontation seems like what it's all been about. The fact that it is happening so early in the season finale proves that more is going on in this world as well. This time Agent Cooper is the active character pushing the narrative forward even though he has no idea what any of it means or what the universe is telling him to do. He just knows that he needs to walk alone through the door at the Great Northern. He loves Diane and Gordon. They understand this journey he has been on. They've seen firsthand the power of these mysterious forces at work in this world. Agent Cooper just has significance for some reason that they do not. The door brings Agent Cooper to the realm where Phillip Jeffries now resides in his new form. It's there that the show once again brings the story back to Laura Palmer. She is the one after all. She's the one who started all of this. She's also the one who seems aware of the mysteries larger than herself in every realm she appears in. She's cryptic as well. As a teenage girl, that was frustrating to her because no one else seemed to understand the world that she was a part of. As a being guiding Cooper through the Black Lodge, she's just as mysterious and destined to be destroyed for nefarious purposes.

And now, it seems like all of this is building to Cooper figuring out a way to save Laura Palmer. He's reaching out to her in archival footage from Fire Walk With Me to save her from the tragic fate that is about to happen. He is a comforting face to Laura because of her dreams. She has no idea who he is but is willing to go with him. This action seems to be erasing everything over the course of the entire series. The show cuts away to the past to show how transformative this action is. It's the infamous scene that started the Twin Peaks pilot. This time though Pete doesn't discover a body wrapped in plastic on the beach. Instead, he just goes fishing while Catherine and Josie go about their days inside. It's so nice to see these characters again. This season had way too many characters that the story didn't know what to do with. But I'm curious as to what happened to Catherine after all of these years and whether Josie was ever able to escape from that door knob. But in the context of the show, this is it for them. Brief glimpses of the life that could have been if Laura was never killed. And yet, Agent Cooper isn't able to fulfill this dream. She disappears just as quickly in this existence as well. She fades into the forrest and becomes just one more mystery that Cooper has to deal with.

Instead, Agent Cooper will just have a happy life with Diane while also making a new doppelganger to be with Janey-E and Sonny Jim. That's a happy ending that would be a very nice place to leave these characters. Sure, it would leave Janey-E and Sonny Jim in the dark about every crazy thing that has been happening to them. Would the Mitchum brothers really be forthcoming with information especially since they can't explain what they saw? But it's a nice thought to have Cooper and Diane in this happy and healthy place. It's a life that they could have with each other. Instead, Cooper decides to follow the plan that the Fireman laid out for him in the first episode. It's fascinating to see those little teases pay off so immensely in this final episode of the show. Cooper just has the urge to keep pressing forward and listen to these other-worldly beings. It's mysterious and powerful. But he knows he must do it. He knows he needs to cross over at the 430 mile mark. It could change the two of them for good. They have their happy moment here. As soon as they cross, they seem to have an even happier moment. The two of them have sex. And yet, it's not very sensual or intimate. Instead, it's pretty dark. Once again, it seems like Diane isn't quite in control of her own body. She's present and clearly in control of the sexual act. But her hands are clearly trying to hurt Cooper. This is actually Agent Cooper as well and not his evil doppelganger. These two love each other. But something strange is definitely happening. That's only further confirmed by the clue that they are no longer Cooper and Diane. They are now Richard and Linda. Diane knows this and Cooper doesn't. She leaves him to continue living her life away from him despite this brief moment of happiness they had. Perhaps the real Diane was replaced by the doppelganger she saw outside the motel. Or perhaps this new world has gotten to Diane in a way that it hasn't for Cooper.

The show really ends with Cooper pulling over once he sees a diner named Judy's. It's explained by Gordon at the top of this finale that Judy isn't a person but the name for an ancient mystical power. As such, it's just important to find the person who is seemingly associated with it. In this case, the universe is pointing Cooper back to Laura Palmer. She is back on Earth somehow. But now, she's living under the name Carrie Page. She has no idea who Cooper is. She doesn't recognize the name of Laura Palmer or any of her family members. She's just a waitress trying to make life work but currently on the run from the law after killing someone. She wants to escape her life and that's why she's willing to go along with everything that Cooper is saying. It's definitely a strange twist. It brings Laura back to the forefront of the narrative in an important way. She is important to the beginning and the end of the show. Everything that is now happening is in service of her. Cooper desperately wants to restore order to this world. He wants to fix what became broken because of Laura's death. He sees that as his grand purpose. And yet, the world is always going to be broken. That seems to be the big message of this entire story. It's hopeless to pursue such endeavors because the world so often defies any kind of explanation. This probably wasn't the ending that most in the audience were expecting. It's just so random and mysterious. It may be setting up another season of the show. That's reasonable to suspect once Cooper and Laura arrive at Sarah Palmer's house only to find someone else living there with Cooper then wondering what year it is. Both he and Laura could be out of place in time and living these new lives. That's been a key element of this season as well. It's depicted the lives lived by these characters across time. Some of them have happy endings. Some have had incredibly tragic conclusions. Such is life. That's the worldview that Lynch and Frost are operating under. Cooper's life was changed by Laura Palmer. That will always be the case. He will always be dealing with that mystery. They are now together but are completely torn apart from the rest of the world. In a way, that is a fitting conclusion to a story where absolutely nothing comes easy and primed to be understood. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Return: Parts 17 & 18" was written by David Lynch & Mark Frost and directed by David Lynch.
  • The most frustrating aspect of this finale is that it doesn't feature Audrey at all. So, her entire story was essentially pointless. Yes, it showed that she was no longer the same woman she was on the original show. Her life was deeply traumatized because of time. And yet, it was also setting up the expectation of a big twist about to occur that would bring her back to the main story once more. Instead, it just randomly ends with that scene of her breaking into a new reality not knowing what's going on.
  • There's no big explanation for what's going on with Sarah Palmer either. But that doesn't feel as disappointing or frustrating because the show followed through on the visual of the monster within her. Plus, she gets the scene of attacking her old photo of Laura just as Agent Cooper is leading her daughter through the woods for the grand reunion. It makes it seem like the monstrosity in Sarah keeps Laura away.
  • There is even some resolution for Jerry Horne. He's been out in the woods seemingly for the entire season. He's been out there getting high and forgetting where he is and what he's doing. It never really had a point. It's just something that became of him after all of these years. But Ben is still bailing him out after police in Wyoming discover him out there. So, at least he's alive.
  • Meanwhile, Chad just happened to have a key hidden away in his shoe that could magically unlock every single door in the Twin Peaks Sheriffs Department. That mostly just happened so that Freddie could use his hand and force Andy to remember that he should bring Freddie, James and Naido to the grand confrontation that is about to take place.
  • Bobby has had so much importance this season. That was a surprise. And hopefully, it will lead to a career resurgence for Dana Ashbrook. But it just feels wrong that he misses out on the grand confrontation in Sheriff Truman's office. The Mitchum brothers are there! But Bobby is not. He just has to accept that his father is present through Agent Cooper and wants him to know that he's proud of what he has done with his life.
  • Agent Cooper fighting the thugs in the diner and winning fairly easily and quickly is one of the few moments of him being in action as a trained FBI agent this season. It's thrilling to watch too. Of course, he then throws their guns into the deep fryer without knowing whether or not it will cause any of the bullets to explode. That's a little reckless of him. It makes it seem like he only cares about the information the waitress can give him.
  • "Part 17" is dedicated to Jack Nance. This show was full of so many tremendous actors. It's tragic that so many of them have passed away over the years. Nance's is still particularly tragic to remember. It's nice to see him get his brief moment here as Pete. He began this entire story with the discovery of Laura's body. And now, he's finally allowed to fish.
  • Again, it seems highly unlikely that there will be another season of Twin Peaks. Lynch and Frost came back for this season because they had a story that they wanted to tell. It would take the right story for them to reunite once more. It's not improbable. But right now, the mystery and fascination of this ending should fuel the conversation. It's such a peculiar choice. One that I've had to sit with in order to truly understand. And yet, that's the precise type of art that Lynch and Frost want to be making with this show. So ultimately, it was a success.