Why Twin Peaks Had the Perfect Ending - IGN (2023)

Why Twin Peaks Had the Perfect Ending - IGN (1)

ByChloi Rad


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.

With Bob defeated in Part 17, I think many fans were expecting the White Lodge to finally overpower the Black Lodge in Part 18 – for either Laura, as a speculated White Lodge entity, to confront The Experiment and banish her from Earth for good, or for Special Agent Dale Cooper to successfully save Laura Palmer from ever being murdered, thus resetting the timeline for everybody involved. But that would have been dishonest to the core of what Twin Peaks is really about. As neatly resolved as some fans would like Twin Peaks to be, the message of Part 18 is painfully clear. You can’t erase trauma. You can’t undo abuse. And I applaud director David Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost for not betraying that reality.

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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.

“Everybody knew she was in trouble, but we didn’t do anything,” says Bobby Briggs, during Laura Palmer’s funeral in Season 1. “You want to know who killed Laura? You did. We all did.”

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.

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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.

But when it came time to end Twin Peaks, Lynch and Frost chose to circle back to Laura Palmer in the most devastating of possible ways. Some fans have speculated that most of Twin Peaks is Laura Palmer’s dream – either a death dream, à la Diane Selwyn’s own in Mulholland Drive, or a fantasy world she created for herself in desperation for an alternate reality, where people actually care about her pain. She dreams her death has so much cosmic significance that it not only spurs an entire town into a fit of grief and ropes in a special FBI task force dedicated to unraveling otherworldly enigmas, but that it sends ripples through the very fabric of our reality and into the next. She dreams that the origin of her suffering must be the product of something extraterrestrial, born of mankind’s evils, that she’s died for the sins of humanity as a part of some supernatural, pre-determined plan, and that her mother’s helpless neglect of the situation can be explained away by a demonic possession even greater than that of her father’s – as though these ideas were easier to process than the reality of her own abuse. When she envisions what life might be like for her as an adult, she confronts an unrecognizable shell of a woman that perhaps seems less appealing than the fantasy of her own death, a realization that sends her into an existential panic when brought face-to-face with the home that has been her personal hell for most of her life. When (if) she wakes up, she will still be trapped.

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Lynch and Frost chose to remain faithful to the true pain at the heart of Twin Peaks.

You don’t have to choose between interpreting Twin Peaks literally or figuratively. Both planes have worked in tandem to paint a moving picture of Laura Palmer and the people who have been touched by her life over the last 25 years. It doesn’t matter if the finale was meant to reveal Laura as the elusive “dreamer” referenced several times throughout The Return, or simply show Cooper failing to navigate a universe of multiple, branching realities, leaving the plot open to a future follow-up. The most important thing is that, as weird, terrifying, hilarious, and endearing as Twin Peaks: The Return has managed to be, Lynch and Frost chose to remain faithful to the true pain at the heart of their story.

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.

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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.
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