“The past dictates the future.” These simple words comprise one of many potential guideposts that Twin Peaks fans eagerly prodded and picked over as The Return rolled out in 2017. To figure out the layered mysteries and fractured realities David Lynch and Mark Frost offered, viewers were given a complex buffet of information old and new, including the radical idea that everyone’s favorite FBI Special Agent, Dale Cooper, could actually raid that past through a well-developed but still inexplicable series of wormholes and save Laura Palmer from Leland, BOB, and death itself.
For all you can say about the confusing and downbeat ending, one of the clear exercises in the third season of Twin Peaks is exploring the dangers of nostalgia and slamming different eras into each other, from the meta-commentary on the modern age of television series revivals to the strange and negative places promising youths can find themselves after 25 years or so.
One of the harshest headscratchers of the new run revolves around the lot of Audrey Horne. A fan favorite from back in the day who arrives late in this game, seemingly existing outside most primary storylines, married woefully beneath anyone’s expectations and finally drifting on the edges of reality with a nostalgic moment of her own that turns violent, surreal and inconclusive.
So what the hell happened to Audrey? Short answer is yes, Hell. Long form gets a bit more complicated. She’s a prime example of one of the most fundamental stories in all of Lynch’s work, and specifically the world of Twin Peaks. Not only that but if we viewers follow the advice offered in the title of Part 17 quoted above, we’ll realize the keys to this knowledge have been there all along. Audrey Horne not only embodies the Lynchian archetype of the abused woman, but she is also a direct victim of the main villain of Twin Peaks, which we tend to forget is a small, terrible and amazing group of women. Terrible for their experiences and amazing for their resilience—the ones we know the most are Audrey, Diane, and Laura. With all due respect to the tragedies of Maddie Ferguson, Teresa Banks and Ronnette Pulaski, these three form something of a bedrock to the prodigious girl power of Twin Peaks. All beloved heroines of the tale, all cursed to suffer the crime of rape at the wicked hands of BOB. Perhaps it becomes more instructive to take a look at the circumstances of Audrey’s fellow sufferers, then, to sort out what we’ve seen of her lot in The Return.
First of all, there’s the epicenter of the Twin Peaks universe itself; Laura Palmer. Assaulted by BOB since the age of 12, she’s dead by high school, murdered for daring to resist the horrid spirit’s efforts to take her over entirely and turn her soul to darkness. The ending of Fire Walk With Me offers a vague, but somewhat comforting finale for her, yet she is still in the red room, spirit seemingly trapped in an alternate dimension that doesn’t match too many definitions of Heaven I’ve seen.
Flash forward 25 years and she’s still there, releasing Cooper from his lengthy stay, clearly an otherworldly entity at this point. BOB’s influence over her existence couldn’t be more obvious. Then we have the good Cooper and evil Judy engaged in a cosmic tug of war over Palmer’s body and soul that cracks her into another name, personality, location and existence. Thanks to the terrible actions of these malevolent spirits, Laura Palmer ends up dead, disappeared, and ultimately not even her own original self.
Similarly, we have Diane, Cooper’s one-time love and Girl Friday, never seen in the original run but showing up to play a huge role in The Return. It’s not until late in the game that we learn BOB raped her, too; in the vicious doppelganger version of Cooper, BOB showed up at some point over the 25 year gap between old and new Peaks and, once again, did what BOB does. The result? We quickly learn how fractured Diane herself has become in the following years, with the version who gives voice to his crime quickly revealed to be a spirit copy of the original, a Tulpa laboring under BOB’s continuing influence, trying to undermine the Blue Rose Task Force’s efforts.
The true Diane, we come to discover at the very end, has been hiding in the form of an eyeless spirit called Naido. She helps Cooper escape his interdimensional prison and Judy, regaining her true form only once BOB is forcibly returned to the Black Lodge himself. Cooper and Diane are barely granted a warm embrace before Cooper overconfidently strides in between dimensions to finish his mission to save Laura Palmer, and when that goes awry he one again draws Diane into his plans, this time following what we’ll call The Fireman’s Richard and Linda protocol. Her story ends after a round of sexual magic with Cooper transforms them into these new identities, but we don’t ever see Diane as Linda—we only see the breakup note she leaves for Cooper on the bedside table, their transformations sadly complete. To recap, after becoming a victim of BOB, Diane shatters into multiple identities, dimensions, and may well be lost to the ethers for good.
Hopefully a pattern is emerging that gives some foundation to the wobbly circumstances and information we’re given in Audrey’s brief scenes. While all indications are that, yes, Audrey Horne is alive and in Twin Peaks—and if you’re prone to believe Mark Frost’s Final Dossier, she did marry her wormy accountant and settle in to a life of domestic piss—she has been touched by BOB in a way neither Laura or Diane were. She bore his son. Hinted at fairly early on in the new run, confirmed when BOB ends his child’s awful existence, it can’t be overstated what a miserable curse it must have been on Audrey.
Cursed not only in the many terrible day to day burdens of raising a clearly wicked human being, but the cosmic weight of having given birth to this monster infected with pure supernatural evil obviously has had ripple effects throughout this victim’s life—much as BOB’s assaults did on Laura and Diane. Lynch and Frost give the viewer quite a bit less to work with in piecing together the whats, whys and hows of Audrey’s 25 years, but the clues do pop up as we watch The Return roll out.
We see young Richard Horne’s path of destruction across Twin Peaks, terrorizing his grandmother after running down a child after attempting to join a drug gang. We never do see Richard and Audrey interact, but we can imagine the stress he’s put on her, and we see it in Sherilyn Fenn’s lovely but newly saddened face when she does arrive, surprisingly, towards the middle of Season Three. She is trapped with an ugly, passive-aggressive weasel of a husband, their revulsion for each other and codependency dripping off every line exchanged between them. She pines for the mysterious Billy, infrequently mentioned and never seen, quite possibly not a character who exists wholly on the regular plane of existence.
And when she does finally make good on her plan to seek him out at the Roadhouse, reality slowly but surely leaks away from the proceedings as the floor is suddenly turned over to her for a dance throwback to better days. A fight breaks out, and we flash to a stunned closeup of Audrey in a white room looking in a mirror. As we watch the house band play “Audrey’s Theme” in reverse as the credits roll, we’re tempted to figure this is a cliffhanger we’ll find out more about in The Return’s final two hours. Not so. It’s the last bit of evidence to ponder about Audrey Horne’s mystery, and I believe when taken in tandem with Laura and Diane’s stories, it becomes clear that Audrey, too, no longer sits in one solid dimension, one concrete reality, one primary identity.
We watch the surreal moments unfold at the Roadhouse and see her shift to a completely different place than her home or anywhere else we’re familiar with. Infected with BOB’s evil, birthing his demon seed into the world, Audrey is paying her own cryptic shattered price for the experience, much as Laura and Diane did in their own complicated and tragic existences. Sadly our storytellers decided, as they did with many other characters in The Return, to leave the details to the devils and allow the viewer to worriedly imagine what specific travails and torture Audrey is being subjected to across the multiverses of Twin Peaks. But understanding how she got to this miserable place, tough as it may be to absorb, is ultimately a fairly simple path through her past and those of BOB’s other victims.