Lindsay: Part 15 was momentous for many reasons so let’s break this down:
- Nadine frees Ed
- Gersten and Stephen in the woods (possibly ending with Stephen’s suicide)
- The death of Margaret Lanterman
- Mr. C meeting Philip Jeffries at the Convenience Store/the Dutchman’s
- Mr. C also meeting Richard, his son, at the Dutchman’s
- Cooper hearing Gordon’s name in Sunset Blvd and sticking a fork in a socket
That’s a lot of stuff to happen in one episode. And it’s all important in some way or another, whether to the plot or to the themes of The Return (as you like it). And there’s probably more that speaks to you personally. What are your thoughts and reactions to this jam-packed Part? To these scenes and others from it? How does it fit and play out in the grander narrative and thematic thrust of the season?
Adam: Part 15 is full of small endings that mean a lot to me as a fan and a lot to the season as a whole. You could say that the possibility of endings is one of its central concerns, which is fascinating when you consider that this was once a show that tapped the vein of soap opera. A form which is all about the repetitive cycles of life and how change is usually contingent and incremental. Crazy plotlines aside there’s a lot of truth in soap opera, as the academic and Lynch essayist Martha Nochimson points out in her brilliant book No End to Her. I don’t feel like Twin Peaks rejects this view. If anything it explores it.
Which brings me to one of the shows soapiest characters. Freeing Ed ended Nadine’s story by opening up her future. Nadine, maybe more than any other character, exemplifies the toxicity of stasis, a theme that S3 spends a good deal of time grappling with. She’s locked into a cycle of pain and regret so severe that she went out of her mind, regressing to her teenage persona. Even then she was saddled with a hulk-like rage expressed through her physicality.
It’s not an accident that Nadine listens to Jacoby’s show: Season 3 wants its characters to shovel their way out of that shit. You have to make the change, is the message, and yet we should note that it’s her flirtatious chance encounter with her long lost psychiatric doctor that appears to be the catalyst. As our Bobsy would be at pains to point out, contingency and community are just as important as all-American self-determination. The Season’s ending would also seem to suggest that the will doesn’t always trump fate. Sometimes the will is the problem.
Watching Nadine march down the street with non-drapes related purpose brought a manly tear to my eye, although fewer tears than those final seconds with Ed and Norma. Of all the happy endings, for me that’s the happiest. As with the scene that reunites Dougie and Janey-E, Lynch constructs this moment as pure Hollywood cinema. The camera even pans up to the sky as the music soars. It feels forever. It’s a reward for us long-serving fans, but it’s also an odd duck within the context of a season where narrative conclusions of any kind are vanishingly rare — another reason why it hits so hard.
What’s interesting to consider is how it plays to people who haven’t seen the first two seasons. Ed and Norma’s arc, like so many others, is only loosely sketched in S3 so probably won’t have much emotional weight for new viewers. I see this within a broader project of withholding information, which demands that we do the work of pulling things together. To use a fancy term, this kind of ergodic storytelling encourages us into the dream of the Season by forcing us to collaborate in the telling. In Twin Peaks, as in life, the intellectual, emotional, poetic and ultimately creative work of theorising isn’t just permitted, it’s necessary if we’re to make sense of the world.
Margaret’s death is a high watermark (because so. much. weeping) of the Season’s compulsive blurring of fiction and reality. As everyone has noted, and – crucially – knew at the time of airing, Catherine Coulson was in her last days when she shot the scene. In hands other than Lynch and Frost’s, this would be exploitative at best, but what should feel wrong feels reverent, even holy. Coulson – again, as we all know – was one of Lynch’s oldest friends, and the Log Lady one of his most precious creations. Her conversations with Hawk prior to the death scene establish an intimacy between the characters (and with us) that’s accentuated by their focus on the deep magic of Twin Peaks and the shadows of the forest. They talk as equals, yet Hawk’s tone is gentle, as if he were holding her hand as she walks into the night. This is Lynch at his most empathetic, something that we give him nowhere near enough credit for.
Margaret’s final words meditate on death as change and the fear of letting go. This is the opposite of shovelling. We work so hard to cling on, even to the painful things – even to the terrible things – just ask Sarah – because they define us. Margaret holds out the possibility of transformation through surrender. That’s what Nadine, and Ed and Norma discover: new ways of defining themselves. Even Dougie and Janey-E fit this mould, albeit in a more abstract and fantastical way. Dougie is Cooper’s story reimagined as something else, not constrained by all the death that he so desperately clings to. All that yellow (Garmonbozia?) imagery in Las Vegas transmuted into gold, like Margaret’s log.
Did I mention that there’s bits and pieces that could be read as allusions to the Frog Prince in this season? Why does Dougie wear a green suit? Is it just a reference to douglas firs? Golden balls and frog-like things are both associated with transformation… I could go on, but I probably shouldn’t.
Lindsay: I’ve long suspected that we’re forced into a kind of complicitness with Twin Peaks, in the sense that we as an audience wanted the show to return. The implication is that we have some responsibility for revisiting this trauma, so I’m curious how you viewed this collaboration as you called it. In your opinion, how is the audience necessary for Twin Peaks to exist (and obviously not just as viewers)?
Adam: Well, as I’ve said I think theorising or the construction of other kinds of frameworks upon which to base our understanding of events within the season, and indeed the season as a whole, is going to feel necessary for most in the audience, given that so much information is withheld, incomplete or presented in ways that are oblique, hard to parse or deliberately mysterious. To build these conceptual edifices is an act of collaboration with the text, and the result is a semi-personal vision of Twin Peaks. We do the same with all stories, I guess, but here it feels like there’s a marked difference in degree because to shirk from this work would, ostensibly, leave us with mere fragments. Ask yourself, why has this season produced so many radically divergent readings, from the claim that Laura Palmer is the villain of the piece to the assertion that Dale Cooper is working with Gordon to trap Judy in a pocket dimension? The idea, popular for a hot five minutes, that the true meaning of the finale could be uncovered by watching the final two episodes simultaneously shows how much work some in the audience feel compelled to do. The same goes for all those youtube videos that run scenes in parallel. I’m not making any judgements here, merely pointing out that people are going to the effort of reconfiguring the show in order to create or access (depending on your point of view with respect to the validity of these activities) meaning.
You could argue that Twin Peaks fans are an obsessive bunch and that theorising is part and parcel of what makes fandom fun, you could even claim that it’s an important ingredient in the social glue of the community, so of course there are going to be a great many takes, but that’s to ignore the essential nature of the Season. It seems to me to be designed from the ground up to encourage deep involvement from fans, to the point where it frequently blurs the line between fiction and reality. Take the Roadhouse performances. I’ve talked about Lynch’s use of dramatic props, artificial staging and the like to create a feeling of constructedness. The performances do that for the entire show. At the end of every episode we jump into something that feels a lot like a real world setting, a move that shakes the foundations of the fiction that preceded it. There’s much that could be said about that, but what concerns me here is how it highlights our willingness to let this fantasy into our lives. So many of us are eager to cross the border between our sofas and the Pacific Northwest that Lynch and Frost feel entitled to help out.
Going back to your question: are we complicit in the central trauma of the show? In a trivial sense every murder mystery or trauma narrative demands a victim, so as viewers of Twin Peaks and advocates for a third season we’re absolutely complicit in the perpetuation of Twin Peaks’ fictional violence. I’m not sure that concerns me, however, even if you take into account the collaborative efforts described above. No-one was traumatised (that I know of!) on this version of planet Earth — maybe a few people were triggered, an inevitable consequence when you’re dealing with tough subject matter. That said, this very porous text facilitates a peculiar level of engagement with its audience, and that engagement necessarily has dark corners. Whether that raises moral questions is a subject that I don’t feel equipped to tackle, at least not without a great deal more thought.
As counterpoint to the case I set out above, I’d like to add that Susan Sontag’s essay Against Interpretation gave the Diane crew pause when considering The Return. Sontag argues that when we theorise or view a text through the lens of a conceptual framework, as is common within academia, we deny its completeness, and therefore refuse to look at what is actually there and take it on its own terms rather than our own. Her essay wills us back to that act of looking, or perhaps it’s better to say experiencing, so that the art can speak for itself. One of the things that happens when we fixate on ideas is that we miss the woods for the trees, in this case the vast fantasia of Twin Peaks. While I don’t entirely agree (this seems to me to be a text that is deliberately incomplete, a species of story that I’m not sure Sontag had encountered when she wrote the essay) the point Sontag’s making is of value. Perhaps the incompleteness of Season 3 isn’t supposed to have answers, perhaps those absences and confusions are a feature and not a puzzle that needs to be solved. As I’ve said many times, Lynch uses mystery as an aesthetic. His films are deeply sensuous, experiential, and, pertinent to this discussion, surreal. I’m not sure that everything in them benefits from explanation or can be explained. Sometimes we need to pay more attention to how Twin Peaks makes us feel, to its many and varied, sometimes incommensurate, textures and flavours. Is it a soap opera or horror story, a noir city or a sylvan idyll, BOB or Leland, Cooper or Mr C? It’s all that and more. Point being that things don’t need to come together intellectually or even narratively. Twin Peaks is what it is. Or in the words of the EW Twin Peaks Podcast’s Doc Jensen:
I don’t want to make too much of the collaborative aspect (he said 850 words later) or the implications of Sontag’s essay because I’m honestly more fascinated by other albeit related things. Notably the idea that the fragmentary nature of The Return can point us towards deeper meaning. As I said elsewhere, it’s as if the show is missing elements that would make it a fully fleshed out story. Sure, there’s a trajectory to some of what we see, like Cooper’s arc(s), but the details of these various trajectories are only sketched and their import and meanings are usually only alluded to, when they’re alluded to at all. Is it possible that a more complete picture is hinted at in the cracks of the Season? Or rather that the cracks are in themselves are what completes the picture? Seasons 1 and 2 have a similar if less pronounced absence that haunts and gives shape to the text in peculiar ways: Laura’s story. Similar “structuring absences” can be found all over Lynch’s post 80s films. Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway both seem to have an underlying story, a traumatic ground of reality, that is just out of frame, moulding what we see. Maybe Season 3 revolves around another eerily absent centre, another tale of trauma (fragmentation is a common feature of stories that attempt to articulate underlying trauma, as is absence). That trauma being Dale Cooper’s.
Tim Kreider writes eloquently on the possibility of Dale Cooper’s missing narrative in this essay. While I’m loathe to commit to any one position, a skein of my thinking has long followed similar lines. I differ on some of the specifics, such as the implications for Twin Peaks as a whole and Kreider’s conclusions about Dale’s past, but if I were to break Sontag’s rule and re-narrativise the text then this is the direction I’d head in. To discover what I mean you’ll just have to read it. Thanks to the ever brilliant John Thorne for bringing it to my attention.
Lindsay: How far do we believe Diane? Is she really Janey-E’s half sister? How do we understand her motivations throughout the series up until now — she’s seemed like both a bad guy on Mr. C’s side (in her texts to him) and a tormented good guy (in her utterance at the bar after sending the wrong? coordinates to Mr. C: “I hope this works…”)
Adam: Ah, our good old namesake. The way I see it, this is one of the Season’s many, many unresolvable questions. We just don’t have enough information one way or another. Yeah, there’s a case to be made that the link is a ploy to get the FBI to Las Vegas. At the same time it doesn’t feel necessary in that regard. Diane’s comment about hating Janey seems redundant within the ploy scenario, and more like the opinion of someone who actually knows her. As much as I love Janey, she’s a forceful character who conjures strong emotions. Just ask those money lenders.
At the level of subtext (or, you know, text – Twin Peaks regularly conflates them), the idea of sisterhood could be seen as signposting the ways in which the characters echo each other. They’re both romantically linked to an iteration of Cooper, they’re both forceful blondes with a strong point of view, and they both struggle to connect with the object of their affection. Even the ways in which their plotlines diverge could be read as complimentary through contrast: Janey is Cooper’s happy ending; conversely, Diane and Cooper’s separation is the moment when it becomes clear that resolution isn’t possible for that version of the Cooper character. Meanwhile, Mr C burns.
Then there’s the thing about the blondes feeling somehow linked. Not that they’re all literally tulpas – although maybe they are! — but that they’re all part of the project of fragmentation that the season revels in. Fragmented timelines, fragmented dimensions, fragmented atoms, fragmented geography, fragmented plots, and fragmented characters make up the world of S3. The mannequin-like Candy, Mandy and Sandy foreground this idea in the context of the show’s blondes. One feels as if they could have just stepped off a production line, incomplete iterations of Twin Peaks’ one true blonde, who is forever out of reach.
The question of Diane’s motivations is ginormous, so I can’t hope to do it justice here. At the level of plot she’s a tulpa controlled by Mr C, but as ever with TP there are cracks in the picture. For a manufactured person she seems bloody real, eh? Her final moments in the FBI office are among the most human of the season, as she struggles to assert the identity which has been denied to her. It’s a truly harrowing scene that taps into the ever present theme of sexual violence and the trauma associated with it. Like Laura in FWWM, Diane is fighting ownership by her abuser and the legacy of that abuse.
I won’t blather on much more, except to say that it’s possible to read Diane’s story as a movement from absence to presence. Joel Bocko, the creator of the superlative Journey Through Twin Peaks video essay, has pointed out that this is also the trajectory of Laura’s story. She starts as an absence in Seasons 1 and 2 then becomes fully realised, progressively so, throughout Fire Walk With Me. The same goes for Diane. When we’re introduced to her she’s a tape recorder, a repository for a man’s thoughts, becomes a manufactured puppet largely controlled by that same man, then ultimately finds her own selfhood when she rejects him and gains her own name (the assertion that Diane is an abuse survivor maps well across this reading, but I’ll leave readers to make up their minds what I mean by that). In a sense that’s the archetypal story, right? The idea that the protagonist begins their journey as a false version of themselves, but finds self-actualisation by the end. Luke Skywalker isn’t a farmer, he’s a Jedi. Pinocchio isn’t a puppet, he’s a real boy.
Against the fragmented backdrop of the Season it’s hard not to see Diane’s arc, which exemplifies cohesion, as complicatedly happy, even if it does have many dark corners. Sadly, Cooper’s tale moves in the opposite direction. Disintegration.
Lindsay: What are your thoughts about those coordinates?
Adam: I’ve touched on this above. In terms of plot, as with so much else thanks to deliberate choices in S3’s construction, it’s hard to make any definitive claims. Your very own John Bernardy did an astonishing job of piecing together all the available evidence in his column, which I read religiously, and yet I still came away slightly baffled about the specifics. Was Bob trying to make his way to Judy to end the world? Was Mr C looking for answers? Maybe.
In the end I return to the idea that Mr C, like the other Cooper, wants to find his way back to the scene of the crime*. We all want to go back to that place, don’t we? To the central trauma that gave shape to the first two seasons and the film, but which can only be seen out of the corner of our eye in The Return. Both Coopers hope to find some kind of resolution there. We hope to find resolution there, it’s where the show literally ends. I guess we kinda do, in that we finally return to what Twin Peaks has always been about. A terrible thing that happened to a teenage girl. That scream.
The coordinates also allude to a missing structure by tying into the show’s tapestry of mysterious numbers, some of which we know are intended to have numerological significance. Number 10 is the number of completion – Lynch said so himself. Number 8 looks suspiciously like a moebius strip and the symbol for infinity… Hmmm… Episode 18, 1+8=9, the number before completion that we’re eternally stuck on at the close of the season. I could go on all day and I haven’t even started on 119.
Thanks to modern science and mathematics, we’ve been trained to view numbers as a way into the fundamental nature of reality. Season 3 plays on that, but doesn’t define its terms concretely. Once more, we’re thrown into a kind of creative space, where we find ourselves doing the work that the show refuses to do (see my efforts above). There’s this feeling that the numbers represent a hidden order, underpinning the story-world, and yet we can never quite grasp it. This is related to an even stranger facet of the show. Those slow scenes where the camera rests on an inconsequential event, roams over doodles or electrical sockets, give one the impression that The Return is studying itself, trying to divine its own meaning. A vertiginous thought that takes us back to the question “who is the dreamer?”
*For better or worse, post Fire Walk With Me Twin Peaks seems to consider the central crime to be abuse, and not Laura’s murder. Our Rosie quite rightly takes issue with this view.
Lindsay: What is the meaning of the “Audrey’s Dance” sequence?
Adam: Of all the odd scenes in the Season, this is the oddest innit? As I’ve said I see it as the moment when the Season sort of implodes, or should that be explodes? It’s difficult to read it as purely the product of Audrey’s mind because it intersects with stuff that’s happening in the plot. More complicatedly still, it presents us with a scenario that only makes sense to us as viewers and is situated in a location which repeatedly shifts us from TV drama audience to audience of real world band performances. Audrey’s Dance is the title of a piece of music and the defacto name of a scene in a TV show – a scene which gets replayed in a celebratory mode as a gesture to us, the fans. These things don’t fit in the story-world of Twin Peaks, and yet here they are.
Twin Peaks has always played these sorts of games, hence the spotlit characters, curtains and stages, the use of amateur actors and the real life deaths interwoven with the story, all of which can’t help but bring to mind the constructed nature of drama. Many would introduce the idea of breaking the fourth wall about now. While Audrey’s Dance: The Return does that, I’m not sure that’s the intention, or not entirely the intention. It’s more like we’re being invited to share space with the text, like it’s reaching out to us. After all it’s not just the characters of Twin Peaks who are encouraged to tune into the dream of Twin Peaks, which is why the question “Who is the dreamer?” is such a vexed one.
Brecht’s plays — the paradigm example of fourth wall breakage — work to push us out of the theatrical experience so that we can reflect on it. This scene doesn’t stop there. Instead it invites us, through its artificiality, to enjoy it as a celebratory reprise. There’s a word for that: fanservice. We’re not kicked out of the action so much as asked to connect with it in a different way (alongside being weirded out). The jump to what appears to be another level of dream/reality – Audrey in the white room – again complicates this idea of being ejected from the text. It ushers us back into the drama, albeit in a way that’s tough to reconcile. This mirrors how Twin Peaks uses curtains – a gateway to the theatrical experience – darkness, other dimensions, alternative timelines and mystery more generally to suggest that there’s always something beyond. The implication is that we can fall forever into this story, never quite finding the security of a conclusion. There’s always another pathway through the woods.
Is that pretentious enough? I’ll shut up now.
Lindsay: Finally, Cooper’s awakening. I can’t speak for everyone but that moment was both exhilarating and felt wrong somehow at the same time. Take us back and tell us about your thought processes at the time, as you remember them. How did you feel seeing Cooper return? Looking back with knowledge of Parts 17 & 18, do you feel we were led astray in any way by the ending of Part 16)?
Adam: Yes, it does feel a little wrong doesn’t it?
The moment isn’t earned in the usual sense. If it were a conventional narrative you’d expect to see a chain of tough character choices that lead inexorably to this climax. Yes, there’s excitement – Cooper electrocutes himself! He sits up in bed! – but not precisely what you’d call drama. This is of a piece with many storytelling choices made in S3 and exactly what I was getting at when I said that the show has an unusual relationship with plot. Dougie’s arc is full of random, seemingly contingent events that roll together in an arbitrary fashion, only bound together by his irresistible warmth. The fork moment is simply the last in a long line and frankly could have dropped in anywhere. That’s not how stories usually work.
For some in the audience this approach is deeply unsatisfactory, but in my view unsatisfactoriness is part of the point. It’s not like the show attempts to hide these storytelling choices. If anything its absurd, surreal and fantastical elements magnify them. They lend S3 a dreamlike quality, feed into the tendency to ask us to do work, and contribute towards the sense that something is missing from this world. We grappled with this stuff when we discussed the concept of “late style” on the podcast. A term that originated in the work of the philosopher Theodor Adorno, when he attempted to articulate certain aspects of Beethoven’s late stage career. Put roughly, it identifies a questioning attitude to conventional strictures around artistic form that comes, if it comes, with the artistic maturity that often coincides with age. The thought is that maturity, whether in years or in artistic development, can lead an artist to see the limits of their discipline and respond by rejecting them. A radical move not simply because it produces difficult works, but because its adopts an implicitly sceptical stance towards artistic projects more generally. Bearing in mind that we’re talking about creators who are usually at an age when mortality is a real concern, Adorno took the view that this scepticism arises from a failure of art to adequately communicate meaning in the face of death and the incomprehensibility of life. Late style works tackle this inadequacy by embracing it through the highlighting of the limits of artistic endeavour.
In his thoughtful essay David Lynch’s Late Style for the LA Review of Books, Jonathan Foltz argues that Season 3 is a quintessential example of late style, fixated on timeliness and deferred, encoded and elliptical meaning. He also draws our attention, as I have throughout my answers, to the way the Season incorporates so many real world deaths, winding at least two of them into the plot (Margaret and Doc Hayward). And discusses how the ending chimes with the existential implications of late style by leaving our lead character lost. His story catastrophically incomplete and irresolvable in face of narrative obsolescence and the destruction of the original timeline
Which circles me back to Cooper’s return. Contrasted with the feeling of wrongness is the sensation that if anyone is going to bring drive and structure to this narrative it’s our Cooper and his mission. This guy will get things moving is the thought that most of us had. He is the FBI, after all, an organisation made up of doers who solve crime! Except that if there’s one thing Twin Peaks has taught us, the tools of the FBI were never fit for purpose. The problems of abuse, death and trauma that lie at the heart of the show can’t be tackled with a badge and gun. Sadly he couldn’t save Laura Palmer or any of his other dead women. He was always too late. It was always too late. That aspect of his quest was always more about his pain than the needs of a dead girl.
Could it be that Cooper springing up in bed doesn’t just feel wrong because it’s dramatically compromised? But because we suspect that he isn’t up to the task he set himself, that task being incongruent with a story that is ultimately concerned with matters of the spirit. The narrative impetus he brings is joyous, it’s great to see Coop back in the (literal) driving seat, yet we know – maybe always knew – that it’s just a matter of time before be careens headlong into the reality of this fractured story, his fractured story, and shatters.
Mark: Well, yes, I completely relate to that. So right…and yet so wrong. As Adam says, part of it had to do with Cooper’s awakening feeling unearned. But there was a deeper anxiety there too, because by episode sixteen we’d bone-deep internalised the fact that we’d passed the point of no return. I’m reminded of one of Roger Sterling’s more famous lines in Mad Men when, after a season of tumultuous personal and professional change, he asks the simple, deceptively innocent, yet, it strikes me now, profoundly brave question, a question no-one wants to ask for fear or acknowledging and in some way initiating the end of the world: “When are things going to get back to normal?” It’s a question TP fans became increasingly wary of as the season progressed, to the point that, when things seemed as though they might, somehow, click miraculously back into place, we couldn’t wholly believe it. And we were right not to, because Cooper was snatched away from us almost as soon as he reappeared.
So, no, I don’t feel we were led astray. We already knew it was hopeless, it just wasn’t something many of us were strong enough to admit, at least not in the presence of our Special Agent. I guess in the end Cooper had to be the lightning rod for this nagging uncertainty, his provenance and sustainability, his reality, where the stakes truly lay. While I don’t identify Cooper with Twin Peaks the place, I think for most of us he represents the show’s heart, and in the end that heart was shown to be, if not false, potentially untrustworthy. But, as I say, Lynch and Frost knew their audience would remain in denial, a not wholly peaceful state even if it presents that way, right up until they forced us to gaze deep into the faultline of Cooper’s hubris and we had to admit….this guy is making a TERRIBLE mistake.
Looking back, it was excellent, unrepeatable drama.
Lindsay: Thank you Adam and Mark for taking the time to talk with me, and to Team Diane for keeping the mystery alive and helping us all stay engaged with this world through your podcast!
Adam: Thanks Lindsay, thanks 25 Years Later and thanks to everyone who took the time to read my jumbled thoughts. I’ll see you in the trees.
Mark: Yes, thanks a lot. That was a lot of fun. The first time I’ve really returned since The Return, if you get me? Nice to go back. Only not nice. Can we ever go back?
Oh you know what I mean.
Adam is a co-founder of Diane Podcast and thinks way too much about Dick Tremayne for a guy in his 40s with non-men’s fashions related responsibilities. He lives with his family by the seaside in Brighton, UK. Email him at email@example.com.
Mark is the guy who tagged along with that podcast because, hey, it looked like D&D Thursdays were no longer a thing. He, too, lives with his — far younger — family by that very same seaside, desperate for more sleep. He can be reached at the same email as Adam.