The Verdugo Mountains in Los Angeles have been ablaze for days. It’s the largest wildfire in the city’s history. The smell of smoke and ash filled my apartment at the bottom of the hills on Sunday morning. Still half asleep, I wandered aimlessly from room to room trying to place the source, momentarily forgetting about the scorched mountains above me. Until last evening, I didn’t connect how strange the timing of these fires was with the final two episodes of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. It felt like a burning eulogy for the fictional Washington town and wonderful, strange universe Lynch has created — a place that never really existed, yet has been an intimate part of people’s lives since it first aired in 1990.
The ecosystems in the mountains rely on wildfires to control growth, but the chaparral in Southern California catches fire more frequently. Invasive, non-native plants grow in place of the blackened earth, increasing the size, intensity, and frequency of wildfires. It’s a positive feedback loop that destroys everything around it.
Lynch’s characters become trapped in a similar time struggle, one that changes the coordinates of our reality and refutes our demands for clarity and resolution. “What year is this?” Agent Cooper asks at the conclusion of episode 18. It’s not a question with an answer, but a dark revelation that our hero is lost in a world where his fate has already been decided. It’s a metafiction that poses a much more complex question than the one the series started with: “Who killed Laura Palmer?”
Recapping the final two episodes is a daunting task, but if you’re still clinging to any linear narrative sense of Twin Peaks, it went something like this. Episode 17 opens with Lynch’s Gordon Cole telling Albert about a secret he’s been keeping. He’s known about an evil entity called a “Jowday,” which has since been shortened to “Judy.” Andy escapes death by the gun-toting hand of the imprisoned Chad, thanks to a TKO by Great Northern security guard Freddie — you know, the guy with the impossibly strong, green fist. Evil Cooper heads for the Twin Peaks Sheriff Department, pulls a gun on Sheriff Truman, but is shot by Lucy instead. The real Agent Cooper arrives at the station, puts the carved green and gold ring on Evil Coop, and the woodsmen arrive to prepare the body for battle. The spirit of BOB leaves the body, looking like a grotesque cancerous mass, and is destroyed by Freddie — but nothing can be vanquished that easily in Twin Peaks. There’s a bigger story to tell.
The muttering Naido is transformed into Diane and reunites with Cooper with a kiss. Lynch is frequently criticized for his lack of diversity in casting and his misogynist gaze. The character of Naido is also problematic as a disfigured non-being who doesn’t speak, can’t see, and is merely a symbol for the real Diane, who has been styled in Chinoiserie. Any reference to the horrors of the Atomic Era get lost as we cringe watching one of Lynch’s only non-white characters vanish for a white woman to take her place.
Cooper goes to the Great Northern and is transported to the location of missing FBI Agent Phillip Jeffries, who is now living life as a smoking coffee pot of sorts in a motel room in Twin Peaks’ dark alternate reality. Their conversation sends Coop back in time to the night Laura Palmer is murdered. Coop tries to prevent Laura’s murder and bring her back to current-day reality — and we even see her plastic-wrapped corpse on the river banks vanish — but she disappears before the journey can be completed.
The final episode opens with a confusing repeat of events. MIKE creates another Dougie Jones, who is reunited with Janey-E and Sonny Jim. Cooper returns to the Red Room and speaks with MIKE and The Arm. “Is it future or is it past?” asks MIKE. It’s another question with no answer as we will come to learn. The Arm taunts him, but is really speaking to Twin Peaks’ audience: “Is it the story of the little girl who lived down the lane? Is it?” As the series tells us, the “owls” are not what they seem.
Cooper winds up leaving to reconnect with Diane at Glastonbury Grove. They drive to a point on the highway that will suck them into yet another alternate reality. The couple, in their vintage car and fashions, look more like the mid-century archetypes they were created to be than ever. Lynch has a love affair with the time period, but also uses it to admonish us, as he demonstrated with films like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive. “Kiss me. Once we cross it could be all different,” Cooper tells Diane. And it is. On the other side they become Richard and Linda (and consummate their relationship). Coop wakes the next morning to find a Diane/Linda “Dear John” letter, and he heads out to a diner in Odessa, Texas where a Wild West-style shootout occurs as he tries to get the name of the waitress not currently on duty.
Newly armed with the mysterious woman’s address, Cooper discovers that Laura Palmer, or the woman who looks like her, is now known as Carrie Page in this other reality. Palmer/Page agrees to go with Cooper back to Twin Peaks to see Sarah Palmer, Laura’s mother — but when the duo arrive at the home, nothing exists as it once was. The Palmer residence is now owned by the Tremonds (the name of the character who also goes by Mrs. Chalfont and lived with her grandson at the Fat Trout Trailer Park and, later, in Twin Peaks). Completely overwhelmed with confusion, Cooper questions the year. Carrie hears who we assume is Sarah Palmer crying out “Laura!” Carrie screams, and the screen fades to black. We see credits rolling over Cooper and Laura in the Black Lodge while she whispers in his ear.
As predicted last week, the finale doesn’t tie up all of the series’ loose ends. There’s no telling if the fan theory about Audrey is true, or what her fate is. We don’t know if Becky survives the trauma of an abusive relationship and gets past Steven’s death. Jerry Horne has been found, but how will catching a glimpse of Evil Cooper at work affect his already fragile sanity? The elliptical nature of Lynch’s universe that crackles with electricity reserves its power for the unknown, which is sometimes magical and seductive, other times maddening and messy, and often stunning. That’s Twin Peaks.