Sep 5, 2017 3:16 am
Sep 4, 2017 10:40 pm
Twin Peaks: The Return has finally concluded, with what is shaping up to be one of the most controversial episodes in television history. While the first half of its two-hour finale, Part 17, saw some of the major plotlines tied up – some more comprehensively than others – the path Part 18 took viewers down was dark, obscure, and divisive. It opened up terrifying new doors to its world, shed an uncomfortable light on characters we love, and alienated us from everything we thought we had come to understand over the past several weeks – perhaps even the last several years.
And that’s ultimately for the best.
Warning: Major spoilers for Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive ahead.
For the last handful of episodes, all signs were pointing towards some kind of epic showdown between the mysterious forces at the center of Twin Peaks’ strange, interdimensional mythology. It had become clear that The Experiment, or Mother, was inhabiting Sarah Palmer. Laura Palmer’s own Red Room scenes and apparent origins as a glowing orange orb sent down to defeat Bob pointed to her own nature as an otherworldly entity. On separate occasions we witnessed both Sarah and Laura removing their faces to reveal their inner essence, Laura’s burning with a heavenly white glow and Sarah’s a shadowy, rotten void.
You can’t erase trauma. You can’t undo abuse.
To reduce Laura Palmer’s agony down to some cosmic battle between two fantasy realms would have ultimately cheapened what she’s been through. Twin Peaks is, at its core, a story about a very specific type of human suffering. You need only look at Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the first Twin Peaks story Lynch was free to tell without the restraints of a mainstream network, to realize that. Twin Peaks has always been Laura’s story, first and foremost – the tale of a teenage incest survivor turned drug addict, screaming for help in a town so small and uneventful that it was impossible to not hear, but more convenient to not care.
There is perhaps no character more terribly alone than Laura Palmer.
More important than the murder mystery whodunnit of the original series, than owls and coffee, quirky FBI shenanigans, and conniving doppelgängers is this terrible realization. Whether Laura Palmer was really murdered by a demonic spirit or her own father is secondary to the reality that an entire community of friends, family, and sympathetic strangers turned their back on someone suffering unspeakable abuse, sometimes even finding ways to feed and profit from it. There is perhaps no character more terribly alone than Laura Palmer and you can feel the full weight of that isolation and dread in her final scream, which sends the show – and what feels like reality itself – reeling into permanent darkness.
Of course, Twin Peaks’ deep, sometimes impenetrable lore involving dreams, doppelgängers, tulpas, and metaphysical spirits born of human evil, is not irrelevant. But it’s a testament to the power of Lynch and Frost’s vision that Twin Peaks can operate on so many distinct levels in the first place. They’ve always balanced the raw human tragedy of it with its more surreal mythology in a way that’s both respectful to the core themes, without betraying the role its lore plays in building out the framework with which Lynch and Frost explore identity, grief, domestic violence, and intergenerational trauma. The lore of Twin Peaks, which fans were gifted so much information (and many more mysteries to ponder) about this season isn't negated by the series’ deeper truths – it is the vessel by which those truths are delivered.
The lore of Twin Peaks is a vessel by which its larger truths are delivered.
Lynch and Frost chose to remain faithful to the true pain at the heart of Twin Peaks.
There was no epic “final boss” for Cooper or Laura to take down, no convenient reversal of her experiences, and no happy ending that would allow an entire community silently complicit in abuse to get away with ignoring the atrocities being committed right down the lane.
Instead, Lynch and Frost brought everything full circle, back to the bleak exploration of trauma, betrayal, and alienation that coursed through Fire Walk With Me, and back to the idea that – as was Major Briggs’ greatest fear – love is not enough to save us. They brought us back to Laura Palmer.
And Laura has always been the one.Chloi Rad is an Associate Editor for IGN. Follow her on Twitter at @_chloi.