Unraveling the Deeper Meanings of “The Return”



To come or go back to a place or person.

To give, put, or send (something) back to a place or person.

“A lot of times, I don’t know the meaning of the idea — and it drives me crazy. I should know the meaning of the ideas, and I think about them.” – David Lynch

When I finished watching The Return for the first time, I felt depleted and crushed. I wasn’t sure what had happened over the last 120 minutes and how we had gotten from the end of Season Two to here, a loop of Laura Palmer whispering in Cooper’s ear in muted colors for all eternity. I remember rushing out into the cool summer night air, trying to make sense of how it could be over and how David Lynch could have left us all here in darkness.

I thought it was funny how after David Lynch finished directing The Return that he went and built a table. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense. He is a craftsman. He builds things that will last. Just like that table, this series will haunt and inspire for years to come.

Over the next few months, I kept trying to break down all the meanings and answers and questions but then I realised that for me, it simply came down to two words – the return.

On the surface, naming the third season of Twin Peaks “The Return” makes perfect sense to the audience at large. We, as viewers, were finally going to return to that small town where a dead homecoming queen washed up on shore, wrapped in plastic. There’d be coffee and pie, and our favorite characters would still be there, making us laugh or tugging on our heart strings. In a very meta sense, we, as the audience would be returning not only to that town, but also to conversations that had been scattered to the winds and the far corners of the Internet, ideas and theories discussed now in Facebook groups or DMs instead of chat rooms or messageboards of yore. We as a collective would watch the show and devour the new books by Mark Frost and try to answer every question – only to be faced with deeper more complex questions that David Lynch gifted us.

And then there’s Special Agent Dale Cooper. “I’ll see you again in 25 years.” That’s what Laura Palmer told Cooper when he entered the Black Lodge at the end of the second season. For 25 years, we, again, as an audience waited to see what those seven words would reveal. Would Cooper escape and put his doppelgänger back in his place? Would good finally prevail?

The first two episodes set up the tradeoff that has to happen. Mr. C – the evil version of Coop – knows he has to go back to the Black Lodge but doesn’t want to. Meanwhile, in the Black Lodge, Laura Palmer appears and tells Cooper that yes, he can go now. But where?

At first, he’s floating in a mysterious glass box in New York City. Next, he’s spit out into a realm of non-existence which leads him to what we now believe to be part of the White Lodge’s realm. There Naido (the eyeless woman) uses electricity to signal to Mr. C that his time is up. At 2:53, Cooper is drawn to a socket on the wall of the room and thus a trade occurs. At some point, Mr. C made a tulpa of himself – this one known as Dougie Jones – and Cooper returns to the regular world as Dougie. He cannot speak or move very well on his own, but Dougie’s wife and coworkers shuffle him back and forth to work, as if this is par for the course. The more we see these non-Coopers, the more we long for the true Cooper to return.

But in the end, The Return is about Laura Palmer, long dead but not forgotten, her homecoming photo fading into the mist of every episode opener. “Laura is the One,” the Log Lady told us long ago, and it’s true. She is the one that Cooper has been trying to save all this time, even from beyond the grave. Even as a teenager, watching the original series and the end of Fire Walk With Me, I felt like Cooper and Laura had a deeper connection and were always fated to meet – in this world or the next. The shooting script of Fire Walk With Me even contains a scene where Laura asks future Cooper why he couldn’t help her.

And after 16 episodes, Cooper does come back to us – and Twin Peaks – to face his literal demons and kill two birds with one stone, thanks to the help of both old and new friends. With Mr. C and the spirit of Bob disposed of thanks to Lucy and Freddie’s magical green gardening glove, he knows the time is right.

“Find Laura.” That’s what the Leland in the Black Lodge told him. Like FBI agents Phillip Jeffries and Chet Desmond before him, Cooper is going to gamble with the spirit world surrounding Twin Peaks in hopes of restoring order to the past – no matter what it might do to the future – or vice versa. With the help of Mike and Phillip Jeffries, he returns to the night of Laura’s murder and pulls her out of time to return her “home.” Is that the Palmer house, a place filled with dark spirits? Or is it Jack Rabbit’s Palace, the gateway to the White Lodge? Where does Laura truly belong?

Knowing he has to shift the timeline further, that’s when Cooper and Diane cross over into a similar but alternate world where he finds Carrie Page, a hardened “what if” version of Laura Palmer, had she escaped Twin Peaks, never to return.

And yet, that’s what Cooper must do – he must take Carrie Page back to the Palmer house, a source of great evil. The Fireman showed Andy the goodness that was inside of Laura – and we witness Senorita Dido’s reverence in the White Lodge over the golden orb containing Laura Palmer’s true essence – pure golden light and goodness. In whatever form she inhabits now due to Cooper’s well-meaning actions, her light must return once more and bear witness to the terrors that were Laura’s life and death. Only then will there be closure. Only then can Judy be destroyed. As Carrie looks up at the Palmer – now Tremond – residence, something inside her sparks and then comes the scream – a scream so powerful it echoes across all of space and time. The lights of the house go out and we are left in darkness once more.

The Return was about Laura all along – it was about returning her to life and giving her peace. Lynch built worlds strong enough to do both – he brought her home and laid her to rest.

Written by Rachel Stewart

Rachel Stewart is a staff writer at 25YL. She has written fandom commentary and critique for sites like The Sartorial Geek,, Nerdy Minds Magazine, and ESO Network, among others. Her work has also appeared in print in the kOZMIC Press anthology “Children of Time: The Companions of Doctor Who" and the ATB Publishing anthology "OUTSIDE IN TRUSTS NO ONE."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

A broken heart which reads Damn Fine on a chevron background

Favorites Special: We are One!

Une Âme Solitaire: Fans in a Living Novel – Karl Eckler of the Counter Esperanto Podcast