[The following contains spoilers.]
Episode sixteen of Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return concludes with enchantments being removed from its knight errant, Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), and its maiden fair, Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn). This episode also resumes the purging of the series’ many undesirables. Diane Evans (Laura Dern), Richard Horne (Eamon Farren), Steven Burnett (Caleb Landry Jones), Hutch Hutchins (Tim Roth) and his wife Chantal (Jennifer Jason Leigh) are all either emphatically or apparently written out.
The farcical, flippant deaths of the assassins Hutch and Chantal are a fair exchange for their murder of Duncan Todd (Patrick Fischler) in the previous episode. The scene outside Dougie Jones’ eerily still home is being built up for a Wild West style, three-way shootout between the Hutchins, the Mitchum gangsters, and some passing FBI agents. Instead, a random neighbour (Jonny Coyne) suddenly rebukes the Hutchins for parking on his drive, the situation slides nightmarishly out of control, and the dismayed Hutchins are dead before they have the wits to reverse out of it. The neighbour – your everyday accountant coming home with an automatic pistol in the back of his car – is clearly a considerably enhanced bookkeeper. There is the enjoyable implication that the professional killers only perish because they lack the social skills to resolve a neighbourhood parking dispute.
Those who are wedded to violence in Twin Peaks soon lose their mystique and die unspectacular deaths that seem to confirm their existential triviality. The callow Richard Horne is no longer born to be wild but sent to be electrocuted. Only two onlookers witness Richard’s death in a landscape that is like a huge empty amphitheatre – contrasting plainly with the amassed townspeople who had grieved when he had run over a little boy. The first of these witnesses, his father, is not especially displeased to be rid of him; the second, his grand-uncle, is more upset about the performance of his binoculars.
So Richard is almost a victim by the end and his attraction to his father is potentially, in some crude, blind way, redemptive. It is the same instinct that we see when Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon) appeals tearfully to Cooper to be his father. In the case of Bad Coop, the father sending his son to be sacrificed holds an obvious note of mockery, a pleasant Satanic frisson. Sonny Jim is betrayed in much the same way, however, since the Black Lodge will assemble a new Dougie Jones imposter for him, out of a single hair from Cooper’s head.
Richard actually falls between good and evil – morally, he is lagging so behind that any instinct for goodness falls short and becomes merely weakness. The same weakness has corrupted the “tulpa” of Diane and this is equally far from being a moral development on her part, more a programming fault. Her memories of being assaulted by Cooper have caused the system to crash; some original emotional truth has infected the hardware. She dithers over her pistol and the FBI agents who she was sent to massacre instead fire first.
Diane’s final scene on Earth is a kind of poetry of the gripping. Lynch sits acting and directing, calm, calculating and infinitely bulletproof.
Tychy had professed amazement when reviewing Diane’s first appearance in episode six. I am able to revisit my words with some satisfaction:
A fruitful art project in 1990 would have been to ask fans of Twin Peaks to draw what they thought that Diane looked like. My Diane would have ultimately resembled James Bond’s Miss Moneypenny – a sexy but tight-lipped professional, seated conscientiously at a typewriter and perhaps allowing herself on occasion to dream primly about Dale Cooper’s distant eyes. So there is a lot of discomfort to Laura Dern’s unveiled gorgon.
She chants “fuck you!” rather as a duck quacks and she chain-smokes between the abuse. Imagine her at her typewriter in 1990, listening daily to Cooper’s lunch costs, snarling and spitting at each reported cup of coffee. Except that it is 2017 and we can no longer access her original character. Dern’s portrayal of Diane is not altogether hilarious. It looks unlikely that Diane can ever be mended and perhaps she is as irretrievable as her old boss now appears to be.
The bombshell of episode sixteen is that we had never really seen Diane. We were only watching a bad copy and there was just as limited an access to the original as we had enjoyed in 1990. Maybe, in 2017, the whole town of Twin Peaks, with its inexplicable scenes of carnage and horror, has been likewise nothing but a tulpa. Now that Audrey has plunged out of her clinical dreamscape, a similarly radical feeling of unease has swept over the Roadhouse. I had never understood the exact status of the bands who were performing in this venue. Were the Nine Inch Nails really the Nine Inch Nails, or were they in fact meant to be acting and playing some local barn band who, within the alternative reality of Twin Peaks, go under the same name? There is currently a possibility that the show’s entire soundtrack has been dreamt by Audrey.
Billy? Tina? Has Audrey’s subconscious manufactured its own Twin Peaks tulpa, a soap opera full of squabbling, conniving characters complete with a stylish half-retro soundtrack?
With Bad Coop’s own bad secretary gone, there must be a good Diane somewhere in circulation. Naido (Nae Yuuki), the eyeless Japanese woman who is being held in the Sherriff’s department at Twin Peaks, is a strong candidate. There is some intriguing correspondence between the two women’s names and the earth-departing Diane admits that she is really “in the Sheriff’s station.” Will the wiping of Diane’s tulpa finally give Naido her voice?
Meanwhile exuberance is singing in the air at Las Vegas, with a family friendly welcome return for Dale Cooper. The celebratory atmosphere is practically Spielbergian. Yes, we can enjoy it without guilt – we have patiently endured weeks of Cooper’s befuddled proxy. There is surely no demand from anywhere to hold a funeral for Dougie Jones.
There are nevertheless elements of creepiness to Cooper’s story if you study it hard enough. As we have seen, the Black Lodge are manufacturing another Dougie Jones spiritual automation to fob off his wife and kids with. Cooper has awoken from two comas simultaneously – an overnight mini-coma that was triggered by Dougie and the somewhat weightier matter of his twenty-five-year exile from planet Earth. Nobody has ever awoken from a twenty-five-year coma like Cooper before, in life or in art.
Cooper is immediately “100%” awake, barking genial commands at everybody around him, with the clipped politeness and assurance of a 1950s civil servant. No doubt, they run through the internet, the invention of Twitter, 9/11, Airbnb, and Donald Trump with him on the walk down to the car. You can probably sum up the human achievements of the last twenty-five years during a short walk. It turns out that he can drive a 2017 car “really good.” He is still sharing a television show with characters who say (as was said in the last episode) “you like to eat cunt, huh?… I’ll fucking pull your little lesbo titties off.” He is in for quite a shock. Can his goodness solve this world – can his cheerful decency and Tintin pluck put everything to rights?
We want to believe so. After wallowing in Lynch’s sea of misogyny and violence for so long, Cooper’s innocence hangs before us like a lifebelt. We want to dream and then live inside the dream.