It took Dale Cooper 25 years, 15 episodes and one extended detour in Las Vegas to return to Twin Peaks, and he didn’t stay long.
In Sunday’s twisty final installments of David Lynch’s magnum opus (stop kidding yourself if you’re holding out hopes for a fourth season), a revived Cooper rushes to the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department just in time for a boss battle against a floating orb of evil right out of an NES game. You’d have thought he’d stick around to at least give Hawk a firm hand shake, maybe put an affectionate hand on Albert’s shoulder or learn all about Wally. Instead, he didn’t even stop for a slice of cherry pie (apparently nobody told him about RR2Go). Fresh from his hard-earned escape from the spirit world, Cooper… rushed right back to the spirit world.
There are already good theories pinging across the internet that explain the gist of the finale, or at least take a little bit of the initial sting out of its irresolution. It seems Lynch was trying to tell an even bigger, much more ambitious story than those first 14 episodes let on. Yet for all the big themes that consumed the series — the fluid nature of evil, the inadequacy of good intentions, repetition compulsion — what people will ultimately remember the most about Twin Peaks: The Return is its audacity to deny fans what they wanted. Here’s a sprawling, Berlin Alexanderplatz-sized work that made time for a minutes-long shot of a bartender sweeping but that still refused us many of the reunions we’d spent decades longing for. One of the initial fan complaints about the feature film revival Fire Walk With Me was it hardly had any Cooper in it, due to Kyle MacLachlan’s limited availability. The Return, ironically, offered magnitudes of Kyle MacLachlan, yet somehow the old Coop we remember — not Dougie, not Richard — still hardly got any screen time.
Of all the extended reunions we never got to enjoy — Cooper and Audrey, Cooper and the Bookhouse Boys, Cooper and the Double R — one’s absence felt especially conspicuous. For most of the revival, FBI Director Gordon Cole, played by Lynch himself, served as a stand-in for Cooper, an avatar of decency and determination who’s oblivious to his own eccentricities. The camaraderie between the FBI agents was always a highlight of the franchise, and given how so much of the new series tracked Gordon’s search for Cooper, all signs pointed to the old friends sharing at least a little one-on-one time as a narrative reward. But though they’re both present for the series’ climatic smackdown, Cooper never paused to catch up. We never got to see them share that curtain call Cooper alluded to.
Instead, we’re left with the bastardized “reunion” between the two in the season’s fourth episode, when a confounded Gordon meets Cooper’s doppelgänger for the first time through prison glass. For my money, it’s the most moving scene of a season that offered so many. So much of the coverage of The Return focused on Kyle MacLachlan’s bravado performances, and rightly so, but here Lynch carries the scene. Who knew he could act like this? Gordon fights to maintain a neutral face while making sense of the monster in front of him: his beady eyes, his halted speech, his robotic conversation. “Gordon, I really, really missed spending time with you,” the dark Cooper intones, with all the emotion of an answering machine. Gordon plays along, though his voice can’t disguise a tinge of a tremor: “Yes, Coop. I too have missed our good times together.”
There’s terror on Cole’s face — how could there not be, given what he’s witnessing — but there’s something else, too: grief. His eyelids are red and heavy as he processes the disappointment that his long-missing friend is still gone. When the fake Cooper flashes him the old thumbs up, Gordon reciprocates to maintain the ruse, but he seems sickened by the act. It’s as if he’s betraying part of himself.
Gordon was always an impressive comic creation, but for a few scenes he becomes not only the show’s most sympathetic character, but an audience surrogate. Like Gordon, we waited 25 years to see our old friend again. Instead, we were greeted by something else — something terrifying, fascinating and confusing. The season was filled with scenes like this, moments that awed us with their creativity and gave us the titillation of seeing something truly new, but that leave behind a sense of loss over what we weren’t seeing. And while it’s tempting for fans frustrated by the finale to write off Lynch’s oblique storytelling as a kind of callousness, that’s never been the case. Lynch was right there on screen. He doesn’t just understand what we wanted to see; he grieves with us that we never got to see it.
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