Full of Ghosts: Twin Peaks and the Ever Present Absent

Robert Montgomery.
robert montgomery
Robert Montgomery.

Harry Truman. Big Ed. Audrey Horne. Almost eleven hours into eighteen of The Return and we have yet to see these three beloved characters. And whatever happened to Donna and Eileen Hayward? Leo Johnson? How’s Annie?

Of those few original characters who have graced our screens but briefly, we know scarce little about their lives over these 20+ years. Are Shelly and Bobby still together? Is he Becky’s dad? What about Norma and Ed? She still carries Hank’s last name. Or are Nadine and Ed still chained to each other through guilt and obligation? What’s up with James? How’s Ronette?

Twin Peaks: The Return has been shaped as much by the people we’ve seen on screen as those we haven’t, a kind of quantum physics of simultaneous presence and absence that provokes a profound sense of melancholy. Adding to the melancholic mix, all of those who lived just long enough to appear final times in this involved third season — Margaret Lanterman, Albert Rosenfeld, and Doc Hayward — as well as those who didn’t. RIP Frank Silva, Don S. Davis,

I’ve never participated in an experience like this third season of Twin Peaks where the past and the present collide in such complicated ways. There is such a pull towards the nostalgia factor of these wonderful characters we haven’t seen in decades and are missed so much, even in spite of the overwhelming magic that has been this strange and gorgeous unexpected third season. And those of whom we’ve seen we still know woefully little about where their lives have taken them. Nadine finally got those drape runners silent. But what else? And what was that about James and the motorcycle accident? Sarah Palmer still lives in that house? Why did Doctor Jacoby move back to Twin Peaks from Hawai’i?

And yet those of whom we haven’t seen — Harry and Audrey most especially — still feel so present even in their absence. From full of secrets to full of ghosts.

Isn’t it strange, and beautiful, and also sort of awful — how ever present the past can be?

Last week my husband and I were robbed through bank fraud and because so much money was stolen I had to go file a police report at our local police station in Lighthouse Point. The last time I’d been in an American police station interrogation room was at the West Hollywood PD on the day that I identified my friend Wendy’s murderer. As I sat in the police station down the street from my Florida home preparing to give my new statement — seventeen years from that night Wendy died — I found myself thinking of quantum physics via Twin Peaks once again.

This is also a police station, but it is not the police station that handled Wendy’s death. This is Florida, not California. This is an interrogation room, but it only has pictures on the walls and none of that perforated soundproofing. This is a detective and he is wearing a gun, but his name is Costello not Pelletier. My hair is half shaved and brown, not long and fire-engine red. My tongue stud is gone now, and I am covered in new tattoos that didn’t exist on my skin back then. This is similar, but it is not the same.

But the more I thought about how these two experiences of giving the police a statement were definitively not the same, the more I remembered about that other time years ago. Like it was yesterday I was seeing the contents of my wallet pulled out from an evidence bag. Having to sign that each of these things were mine. Circling the face of the woman who murdered my friend in cold blood. Signing my name below her scowling mug like an autograph that didn’t belong to me.

Wendy has been gone for a long time, but she has never left me. Nor has the trauma of experiencing her loss firsthand. Entanglement is very real.

David Lynch and Mark Frost understand that as we get older — and even without extreme loss or trauma — we are more and more haunted by the people and places that we have passed through or that have passed through us. It makes sense that we haven’t seen all those familiar faces from the Twin Peaks of old. It also makes sense that those stories are no longer a focus and most likely will not be but brief onscreen moments in the few hours of season three remaining. This new Twin Peaks isn’t that old one. It is similar, but it is not the same.

This is also the big difference between those of us who have been with the show since the 90s and those who discovered it later: We have aged along with the town and its denizens. For many of us who saw it in our teens, Twin Peaks actively shaped our social, cultural, and even psychological development. Twin Peaks has stood a long test of time for us old-timers in a way that newcomers will never understand, if we’re of the same generation or not. We’ve already been living with Twin Peaks’s ghosts for 20+ years. What’s a little longer? Or forever even?

At first the thought of all the not-knowing about my old (imaginary) friends in Twin Peaks made me sad. Depressed even. Until I realized that these are people who will always live in my heart and my memories. We haven’t seen Harry, or Audrey, or Big Ed yet in The Return. But we don’t have to. It doesn’t actually matter if we see them again with our own eyes or not, because they are there. They will always be there.

Sometimes the people who are most obviously absent are the ones who remain present against all odds. There is something beautiful, and beautifully hopeful about that fact.

“The people you love
become ghosts inside
of you and like this
you keep them alive.”
~Robert Montgomery

Written by Sezín Koehler


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  1. Yeah, this is a really beautiful piece and I agree with it… TP is a show so intimately tied with my own adolescence that I was very apprehensive about watching The Return. Up until the night before the premiere, I had no plans to watch it until I realised I had to return as well.

    The sadness of middle age, in my experience anyway, feels quite different to the sadness of youth. I guess it is a lot more melancholy but less frustration, increasingly burdened and heartened by ghosts. In my adolescence, I would not have been able to handle it all, but even now it is an unwelcome gift.

    What next?

  2. Seems like that to me too. Half of them are gone. No one talks about them at all and that is not normal. It has been 25 years that is along time.

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