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"Twin Peaks," Episodes 17 & 18 Recap: See You At The Curtain Call

We know exactly where this leads.
Keith Uhlich
Twin Peaks Recap is a weekly column by Keith Uhlich covering David Lynch and Mark Frost's limited, 18-episode continuation of the Twin Peaks television series.
"A beginning is a very delicate time."
—Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen), Dune (1984)
And an ending? There's little that's delicate about the conclusion to Mark Frost and David Lynch's Twin Peaks revival, which aired its final two episodes (Parts 17 & 18) this past Sunday on Showtime in a two-hour block. Back in my first recap, I noted that there was "no netherworld of nonexistence in which I'd rather spend a summer," though I couldn't have conceived that my comment would so accurately describe the harrowing, horrifying endpoint of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper's (Kyle MacLachlan) years- and worlds-traversing odyssey.
Perhaps Lynch's Inland Empire (2006) primed me for a more joyous close in the vein of that movie's Nina Simone-scored dance finale. Cooper certainly seems to be readying for triumph when he tells his freshly resurrected romantic interest Diane Evans (Laura Dern)—revealed to have been trapped in the body of the eyeless sprite Naido (Nae Yuuki), or O-Dian spelled backwards (the missing 'E'? Naomi Watts's Janey-E?)—that he will "see you at the curtain call." That statement conjures images of laughs and tears and bows and a standing ovation to end them all, perhaps one to rival the applause Lynch himself received at the Cannes Film Festival after he premiered new Peaks' first two episodes this past May. Instead, Cooper's words are a harbinger of his own arrogance, a need to play God that dooms him to a limbo (a nullity, really) of his own devising.   
How did he get here? And especially after an episode (Part 16) in which he appeared to have had a life-altering spiritual epiphany. Perhaps the simple truth is that old habits die hard. Cooper can't help but be the square-jawed boy scout. Yet all his positive energies, from his effusive love of coffee to his penchant for airy koans like "Every day, once a day, give yourself a present" (the very qualities that have endeared him to many characters on-screen as well as generations of Peaks-lovers off-screen), are nothing without their negative complements. Deny the repugnant qualities of your soul and there's nothing for your moral tendencies to resist.
The diabolical Mr. C. (also MacLachlan) has spent the season as a sentient manifestation of Cooper's dark side. A reckoning was inevitable, and it comes in a most bizarre form, resembling nothing so much as a very special, Lynch-directed installment of Dragon Ball Z. More likely this is Lynch and Frost having some fun with the current vogue for superhero narratives: The big bad is Killer BOB (the late Frank Silva), reconfigured here as a floating black orb that erupts from Mr. C.'s stomach after he's shot down by Lucy Moran Brennan (Kimmy Robertson), fulfilling the prophetic vision of her husband Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz) in Part 14. In the good guy corner is Great Northern security guard Freddie Sykes (Jake Wardle) with his green-gloved, pile-driver-empowered fist, which earlier in the episode helps to take out the loathsome Deputy Chad Broxford (John Pirruccello) once and for all.
Much of Part 17's first half is spent getting these characters, and many more besides, in the same space—the nondescript office of Frank Truman (Robert Forster) in the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Station. And the BOB-Freddie brawl, when it finally happens, is confined to this single room, which lends a sublime surreality to the apocalyptic derring-do. The fate of the world is at stake and it's being hashed out in the squarest place imaginable. "One for the grandkids," says mobster-with-a-heart-of-gold Rodney Mitchum (Robert Knepper) who, along with his brother Bradley (James Belushi), has shepherded the good Cooper to Twin Peaks and bears witness to BOB's vanquishment. Cooper seals the unholy deal by placing the Owl Cave ring on his deceased doppelgänger, finally sending Mr. C. back to the Black Lodge, where we witness him burning to ash (or the Lodge equivalent) at the start of Part 18.
First though, some hellos and goodbyes: A loving embrace-and-smooch with Dern's now red-bewigged Diane, who emerges from Naido's body as if from a chrysalis, as well as a hearty howdy to FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (Lynch) "who is here right on time!" notes a cheery Cooper after his hearing-impaired boss walks in with Agents Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) and Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell) in tow. Then a fond farewell to almost everyone gathered in Truman's office like Dorothy Gale's fantastical surrogate family at the climax of The Wizard of Oz (1939), a Lynch touchstone. "I hope I see all of you again," says Cooper just before he embarks on the next part of his mission, "every one of you." (Miss you most of all, Scarecrow!) The majority of this sequence plays out under a screen-top to screen-bottom superimposition of Cooper's slightly helpless-looking face, as if some part of him is watching from above and afar. This mystical Cooper speaks only once: "We live inside a dream," he intones, repeating the ancient phrase from the Upanishads previously uttered by Monica Bellucci to Cole a few episodes prior. It has the feel of a warning, though no one onscreen appears to hear or heed the words.  
A more pressing matter: The clock on Sheriff Truman's wall is stuck at 2:53—Black Lodge time, the numerals of which add up to, per Cole, "10—the number of completion." His adieus spoken, Cooper dematerializes and emerges, in the company of Cole and Diane, in the Great Northern basement. (A quick aside that Benjamin Horne [Richard Beymer] finally has a lead on his cannabis-toking brother Jerry [David Patrick Kelly] who has somehow ended up in Wyoming sans clothing but is, all told, none the worse for wear.) Anyways, Cooper uses the key to his old room (#315), which he's procured from Frank, to open a nearby door, behind which emanates a familiar ethereal hum. "Don't try to follow me," says Cooper to Cole and Diane. Then his "curtain call" line. And then…
Well, let's just say that this is the point at which Lynch and Frost bring their symphony of alienation to full forte. With the aid of the One-Armed Man (Al Strobel) and the tin machine'd Phillip Jeffries (formerly played by David Bowie, now voiced by Nathan Frizzell), Cooper inserts himself into the events of February 23rd, 1989—the night prom queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) was killed. Familiar footage, all of it from Fire Walk With Me, plays out in black-and-white, minus the lushly mournful orchestrations of composer Angelo Badalamenti. Like so much from here on out, it feels as if we're watching something terribly off—something sterile, something dead.
Laura meets James Hurley (James Marshall) for their final, agonizing encounter in the forest. That great moment when she screams at some unseen presence is now given context: It's Cooper, watching from a distance. For a while, things play out as we remember. Laura leaps off James's bike at the Sparkwood and 21 traffic light. She runs into the forest, sobbing. We see Leo Johnson (Eric DaRe), Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine) and Jacques Renault (Walter Olkewicz) waiting for her. And waiting for her. And waiting for her.
She never appears because Cooper intercepts the young Laura. (Lee's likely digitally de-aged face is key to the sequence's sense of rupture—Lynch wants us to look for the seams.) Laura recognizes Cooper from her dream and takes his hand. We cut to another familiar setting: the rocky shore by the Packard-Martell home where Laura's body is wrapped in plastic. Her corpse vanishes, statically crackling out of existence. Color comes back to the image once we return to Cooper and Laura. "Where are we going?" she asks. "We're going home," replies Cooper as he leads her through the woods, away from her date with death. And then the pilot episode of the original series begins again, the footage reformatted from a square to rectangular aspect ratio. Long-gone characters like Josie Packard (Joan Chen) and Pete and Catherine Martell (Jack Nance and Piper Laurie) appear, effectively resurrected. But this time there is no body for Pete to discover. He's "gone fishin'" and that's all there is. In the Palmer house in the present day, Laura's mother Sarah (Grace Zabriskie), likely possessed by some evil entity, throws her daughter's photo to the ground and pummels it with a broken glass bottle. The Twin Peaks narrative as we know it has been fractured and negated.
But has redemption been earned and transcendence achieved? Lynch and Frost are certainly capable of sentimental gestures; witness the revival series's Otis Redding-scored resolution of the Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton), "Big" Ed Hurley (Everett McGill) and Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie) love triangle. But that was (25-years and more) prepared for. This feels cringingly hollow by comparison—a clear case of playing-God overreach. And that's entirely Lynch and Frost's point. Cooper has overstepped his bounds by interceding in Laura's tragic journey. He's mistaken a selfish action for a selfless one, and a price must be paid.
What really unnerves about the fallout is the degree to which it resembles Christ's last temptation, though absent a divine father to whom one can repent. Cooper has more or less banished the gods and made himself the deity of this realm, as evidenced after he returns to the Red Room and finds he can control the curtains with a simple wavering hand gesture. But what a world to lord over. First he loses Laura in the forest, her disappearance signaled by the scratching sounds that emanated, in the first scene of the revival series, from the old Victrola of the Fireman (Carel Struycken), who briefly appears in Part 17 to send Mr. C. onto his final reckoning. Then, as Cooper looks around at the dark, moody woods, the trees slowly dissolve into the red-curtained stage of the Roadhouse, where Lynch's former collaborator, Julee Cruise, gives an abbreviated performance (at once disquieting and deeply moving in its ephemerality) of "The World Spins"—the very tune, penned by Lynch and Badalamenti, sung in the original series installment that revealed Laura's murderer as her father Leland (Ray Wise).
"Find Laura," says Leland once again, as Cooper repeats many of the same actions as in a complementary Red Room sequence from Part 2. Only now the woman who has to this point been the driving force of his quest is absent by his own hand. "Is it the story of the little girl who lived down the lane?" asks The Arm, the formerly dancing-dwarf spirit played by Michael J. Anderson who has evolved into an electrode-humming tree and now seems perplexed as to Cooper's purpose. (What is our beloved FBI agent, indeed, without a murdered girl to probe and pine for?) The Arm's words also reiterate, to the letter, a neurotic query posed several episodes prior by Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) to her "husband" Charlie (Clark Middleton). Audrey does not appear in either of these final installments, but her own bitter end in Part 16 (talking dementedly to herself in some pallid purgatory) mirrors, in microcosm, Cooper's own. Hell may be other people, but it's somehow worse to be trapped, for all time, with no one but yourself.
This brings us to "Judy," the unseen spirit first referred to by Bowie's Jeffries in Fire Walk with Me and who Cole describes early in Part 17 as an "extreme negative force," one that he, Cooper and Major Garland Briggs (the late Don S. Davis, who makes a floating-head cameo in Part 17) secretly teamed up to investigate. (BOB, it turns out, was just a bogeyman palette cleanser.) There's been plenty of speculation among Peaks freaks as to the identity of Judy. Given Lynch's partiality to Wizard of Oz allusions, I came to think he was referring to "Judy Garland," thus implying "Judy" was "Garland" Briggs. But Judy, it turns out, is more a state of mind or a way of being, a negative force in the very literal senses of negation (at best) and annihilation (at worst). 
It's this soul-crushing ethos that Lynch and Frost unflinchingly portray in the final stretch of the Peaks revival, as Cooper exits the Red Room, reconnects with Diane in Glastonbury Grove, and they both embark on a road trip that is terrifying precisely because of its overwhelming banality. The demarcation point is referenced during The Fireman's speech to Cooper in Part 1: "430" corresponds to 430 miles from Twin Peaks. Once past this spot, everything will change. There's a fleeting sense, just before he and Diane cross over, that Cooper could take back everything he's done so far. That he could return to Twin Peaks, somehow get Laura back on her proper track (narratively and otherwise), and live something close to a contented life in an admittedly imperfect world. (At the very least, he's given Janey-E and her son Sonny Jim [Pierce Gagnon] closure by allowing the One-Armed Man to conjure a replacement Dougie; the Las Vegas-based family's reunification is a lone buoyant moment amid the otherwise masterfully exhausting dirge that is Part 18.) But imperfection is anathema to the "good" Cooper. "Good" people don’t let others die, and it's this stubbornness, this refusal to accept the yin with every yang, that damns Cooper for eternity.
So he becomes a non-person in a lifeless world. He and Diane spend the night together at a motel, and their lovemaking is alarmingly empty. Lynch conveys this weariness through anguished close-ups of Dern, a complementary shot of Diane's hands as she tries to cover Cooper's face (blocking out his blank expression), and a reprise of The Platters's "My Prayer" (that spectral needle-drop from the epochal Part 8) minus a key lyric—"while I pray." There's no place for higher-power appeals here. There is only pain and suffering ("garmonbozia" in Lodge parlance), and of a very specific, very numbing kind.
When Cooper awakes to find Diane gone, there is no need for otherworldly demons to petrify his already sapped spirit. The words she's left on the bedside table note suffice: "Please don't try to find me. I don't recognize you anymore." The note is signed "Linda" and addressed to "Richard" (another of the Fireman's prophecies fulfilled). Shifting identities are a staple of Lynch's work, and even though Cooper still seems to recognize himself as Cooper, there's a clear degree to which—as he ponders these alien names on the page—his old personality, his old life is slipping away.
But some signposts still remain: While driving all by his lonesome through the Texas town of Odessa, Cooper spots a diner/coffee shop named "Judy's." He goes inside and intuitively asks the waitress (Francesca Eastwood) about another waitress who works there, but who hasn't shown up for several days. That's the only subject about which Cooper exhibits any passion. When she asks if he wants coffee, he gives a reticent, barely perceivable nod. And when he intervenes after the waitress is harassed by three gun-toting cowboys (Heath Hensley, Rob Mars and Matt Battaglia), there's no trace of the energetic, eager-to-right-wrongs Cooper. He's just going through the motions as he follows the one last thread that's tethering him to the world he knew.
That thread leads him to the door of Carrie Page, a semi-fraught woman, also played by Sheryl Lee, who Cooper believes is actually Laura Palmer. She has no sense of being anyone other than herself, though when Cooper mentions her "mother, Sarah," there's some flicker of recognition. Because of this (as well as the bullet-riddled corpse, which goes entirely unmentioned, that's sitting in her living room), she's compelled to go with Cooper on a long drive back to Twin Peaks, Washington. Back "home" to the Palmer house. Because what else is there to do?
The paralyzing nullity of their journey (almost entirely at nighttime) is nauseating. "I tried to keep a clean house," says Carrie of her time in Odessa (a name that recalls historic revolutions both actual and cinematic). And later: "Those days, I was too young to know any better." Regrets that evaporate the moment they trip off the tongue. Much of the car ride is filmed poor-man's process, so that there's an overarching sense of non-movement. Cooper and Carrie are going nowhere fast, and everything that appears to be a threat (the headlights hovering ominously in the rearview, for example) proves to be nothing of the sort. All there is is desensitizing gloom and dread.  
When they arrive in Twin Peaks, the duo might be on an abandoned theater stage. The RR diner is dark and empty. Carrie recognizes none of the barren streets, nor the Palmer house when they finally drive up. Cooper is nonetheless convinced awareness will come. They ascend the steps slowly, pausing (perhaps sensing some kind of danger?) before knocking at the door. A woman, played by the Palmer house's real-life owner, Mary Reber, opens the door, breaching the fantasy-reality divide. She's not polite, but she's not rude either. If anything, she's detached, blasé about the strangers on her doorstep. (I recall a favorite line from the apocalyptic TV series Millennium—"doomsday will start simply out of indifference.")
There is no Sarah Palmer here. Cooper asks the woman if there was a previous owner. "Chalfont," she says. He then asks the woman her name. "Alice Tremond." Peaks freaks will know those last names belonged to the dual-identitied Black Lodge spirit played by Frances Bay in both the original series and Fire Walk with Me. So perhaps the gods are still here, but now they close real doors in your face as opposed to luring you through false ones. The divine power of the cold shoulder. 
As Cooper and Carrie descend the steps, cinematographer Peter Deming shoots them both from behind in a composition that recalls the iconic existential finale of L'Avventura (former Entertainment Weekly film critic Owen Gleiberman's very funny swipe at Fire Walk with Me—that it was "like A Nightmare on Elm Street directed by Michelangelo Antonioni"—has come to pass). Cooper and Carrie get to the street and turn to look back at the house. Dead end. 
Cooper buckles slightly. "What year is this?" he asks, all sense of time and self lost. Carrie takes a long look at the house. She hears a faint, muffled voice—Zabriskie's Sarah—say "Laura." It's only an echo, a remnant from some far-off place that no longer exists, but it's enough to stoke something in Carrie's memory. She screams. It's Laura Palmer's scream. The house's lights go dark. The world, after a quick electric flash, follows.
Postscript to the void: The credits for the finale of Lynch's mangum opus roll over a slow-motion image (from new Peaks) of Laura and Cooper in the Red Room. She whispers something in his ear. He responds with gradually dawning horror. It's a reprise (as often occurs in the revival) of a scene from the original series. There, Laura's whisper was eventually decoded: "My father killed me," she said. Here, there are no words. Just futile action and reaction, on an endless loop, moving backward and forward through time—never evolving, never revealing.
We know exactly where this leads: To a place neither wonderful nor strange.   
"Oh, and we were gone
Hanging out with your dwarf men
We were so turned on
By your lack of conclusions"
—David Bowie, "The Bewlay Brothers," from Hunky Dory (1971)


Twin PeaksTwin Peaks RecapDavid LynchMark FrostTelevisionColumns
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