As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. As many of you may also know, I’m the author of the book Wrapped In Plastic: Twin Peaks (ECW Press, 2015). Previously, I never would have imagined that there would be any connection between two of my greatest loves, but following last night’s conclusion of Twin Peaks: The Return, I can’t help but think about how both series confounded expectations of their followers.
Read along with me, but be advised, there will be massive spoilers for both The Dark Tower and Twin Peaks: The Return.
Last night on Showtime brought the resolution of the 18-episode limited event series, Twin Peaks: The Return. As co-written by show creators Mark Frost and David Lynch, and directed solely by Lynch himself, the series was essentially about the return of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) to the town he first visited some 25 years ago when he was tasked with investigating the murder of high school student Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee).
I’m not going to get into deep analysis off the series as a whole (you can wait for the follow-up to my book), but it’s worth nothing that the real story for this remarkable piece of art Lynch and Frost created is ostensibly that of Cooper’s return to Twin Peaks, and a final confrontation with his evil doppelgänger that has roamed free for decades while Cooper himself has been trapped in the series’ supernatural meeting house, The Black Lodge. And in episode 17, that’s what Lynch and Frost deliver – moments that fans have dreamt of for 25 years themselves. Cooper, clad in his black suit and craving his cup of coffee, back in the town, surrounded by familiar faces and some new ones. The evil doppelgänger vanquished, seemingly for good. This was fan service at its finest, and for many, shutting things down with this conclusion probably would have been just fine.
Fans felt the same way in the final book in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. After seven books detailing Roland of Gilead’s quest to find the Tower that holds multiple worlds together, the Gunslinger finally arrives at his destination. But before going any further, the narrator begs the reader to not continue their own journey with Roland; to take comfort knowing that in other worlds, his fallen comrades (his ka-tet) are still alive, gathered together to live happily ever after. To rejoice that Roland has completed his quest, and to let him enter the Tower on his own. It’s unlikely that any reader did as suggested, which is why when the revelation that Roland’s journey is a cycle, that he has found and entered the Dark Tower multiple times and is destined to repeat his journey until he learns from his mistakes, more than a few were angry at the results. However, as we were told constatly throughout our own Dark Tower cycle, ka (destiny) is a wheel, forever turning.
Twin Peaks: The Return was a journey itself, Cooper’s journey home. And perhaps, for most fans, the defeat of Mr. C was where the show should have ended. But that’s not quite the story Lynch and Frost were determined to tell. Cooper the hero had grand ambitions, a determination to save Laura Palmer from the horrible death that befell her back in February of 1989. Frustratingly, Cooper returns to The Black Lodge and encounters the long-lost Phillip Jeffries, now embodied as a kettle with the power of time travel. Cooper is sent back to the night of Laura’s death. We see him watch her final moments with James Hurley (straight out of the cinematic prequel Fire Walk With Me, with Laura’s out of nowhere scream from the original film now given explanation). Before Laura goes to meet Leo Johnson (Eric Da Re), Jacques Renault (Walter Olkewicz) and Ronnette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine), she encounters Cooper in the woods, offering his hand and a promise to take her home. Though Laura disappears with another scream before his mission is fully completed, it appears that Cooper has done more than enough.
However, in doing so, Cooper has rewritten time, and his entire reason for being in Twin Peaks has been negated. As the first moments from the series replay, the body wrapped in plastic is no longer on the shore. Cooper has never had reason to come to Twin Peaks. Yet, he still exists, his experiences intact. And his determination to bring Laura home remains, a problematic goal seeing as how the world he was part of has now changed. In fact, as the final hour of Twin Peaks: The Return suggests, Cooper is now trapped in a world where Laura may have never actually existed. Having travelled through a time portal with his secretary/flame Diane (Laura Dern), Cooper himself is different. His eyes are darker, and his methods and mannerisms are crossed with that of his doppelgänger.
Is this even the Cooper we were rooting for?
When he finally encounters who he thinks is an older Laura Palmer who has survived, she comes with a Texas accent and the name Carrie Page, with no recollection of Twin Peaks and all of its events. She may look like Laura Palmer, and she may even feel like her, but it’s doubtful that it truly is who we see. Much like Roland the Gunslinger of The Dark Tower, Cooper too is determined to press on, to take Laura home and complete his own noble quest, though what he finds there may not be what he or the audience is looking for.
Upon knocking on the door of the familiar Palmer house in Twin Peaks, a woman we’ve never seen before answers the door. There is no Sarah Palmer living there. There never was. The previous owner was named Chalfont, which was also a name of the old lady who lived in the Fat Trout Trailer Park in Fire Walk With Me, and was seen in the Black Lodge. The woman at the door herself is named Tremont, another name used by the same aged woman. This house, which I would suggest is some sort of nexus for evil, never belonged to the Palmers. Do the Palmer’s even exist here and now?
As we know, there are other worlds than these.
Cooper is shocked. He walks out into the middle of the street with Carrie Page and stunned, suddenly asks out loud, “What year is this?” Carrie hears the name Laura in the wind and screams the ear piercing scream that Sheryl Lee has delivered so masterfully before.
Perhaps Twin Peaks is a wheel.
The series finale of Twin Peaks: The Return is frustrating for all of us that wanted something clearly definite and explained. After 25 years, those are not unfair expectations. But this is a series, and these are creators, than typically feel a sense of obligation only towards the story they’ve decided to tell. The story that has percolated sans fish over their own decades of living. Much like Stephen King understood that many of his readers would despise how The Dark Tower ends, no doubt David Lynch and Mark Frost knew the same thing. However, the greatest stories write themselves, and make no mistake, Twin Peaks: The Return has been great storytelling. It leaves you thinking about what you’ve seen, and wondering if you’ll see more. What we do know is, like Roland’s quest for The Dark Tower will never end, Agent Cooper’s quest to save Laura Palmer will forever continue, with every good deed and misstep in lockstep.
Even as the lights grow dim, the last page is turned, and the credits roll.