A Reaction To The Finale Of Twin Peaks: The Return
Who killed Laura Palmer? The first season of Twin Peaks became a television phenomenon because of its unheralded visual strangeness, its dreamlike surrealist undercurrent, and because of that one question. How did this high school girl wind up dead, "wrapped in plastic"? It was the hook, the initiating plot thread upon which everything else was hung. Once the mystery was nominally solved, interest in the show began to decline. Co-creator/director David Lynch was absent for the middle stretch of the show's second season, causing it to further lose its focus. He returned and directed that season's finale, and what a finale it was. To this day it is the most unusual and frightening hour of network television to ever air, and ranked among the best pieces of work Lynch has ever done. But it concluded on a maddening cliffhanger, and as the show was not renewed for a third season, it would go unanswered.
Lynch followed up the series with the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. It was another distinct and powerful work from Lynch, but did nothing to answer the show's cliffhanger, as the film took place prior to the events in the series. At least, most of it did. There are moments that take place well after. In the otherworldly realms that surround the town of Twin Peaks, time does not exist as it exists here. Either way, we were left to ponder that cliffhanger for some time longer.
Over 25 years after the airing of the original series, Twin Peaks recently returned to television, on Showtime, with creators Mark Frost and David lynch at the helm. The two co-wrote the 18 part season, called "The Return", Lynch himself directed every episode, and much of the original cast was present. It was a surprise gift of unbelievable pop cultural importance. It finally dealt with that infamous cliffhanger, but that would be only a part of what it did, and it did so much more. It expanded the worlds of the show by magnitudes, introduced new characters, and moved everything far forward into unknown territory. Again it contains some of Lynch's best work. By the end, it also created new questions. Before we knew what happened to Laura Palmer, we were caught up in theorizing, in putting the puzzle together. It's a fascinating process to be a part of as a viewer, left to make your own interpretations of what is being shown, and The Return is no different in this regard. Most of Lynch's work is built on this open ended dynamic. It leaves seeming gaps, rich with impenetrable shadows. It refuses to explain things in conventional terms, if at all. Its beauty, and the beauty of Twin Peaks, is that it understands the value in what you don't know.
After 18 hours of incomparable, remarkable, mind bending television, The Return ends in an instant of abrupt, bewildering shock. I was left sitting in silence for minutes, while the end credits and their haunting music unwound. But I was also right at home. The stock and trade of Twin Peaks is mystery. To be left hanging again is perfectly appropriate. It might also be the best possible state for the viewer to be in. When we wanted to know who killed Laura, we were vastly more interested than we were after finding out. The game is no fun when it's over. Beforehand viewers were engaged, our imaginations running high. Only after the season two cliffhanger would our interest be renewed, because there was a new mysterious occurrence introduced, something new to contemplate. I will offer the caveat that the actual conclusion to the story of Twin Peaks may have already appeared in Fire Walk With Me, or some previous episode, given the non linear chronology of the property. Just because the 2017 finale is the most recent thing we've seen, doesn't mean it's the last thing that happens. Regardless, we have a stunning new puzzle to think about, and we may be thinking about it for decades to come. After the shock of the show's conclusion wore off, I found myself feeling weirdly grateful. I had once more been given over to wonder, in both senses of the word.