Twin Peaks: The Return is a Frustratingly Brilliant Season of TV

On Sunday night, I watched the finale of Twin Peaks: The Return with two friends who had become as obsessed with David Lynch’s strange masterpiece as I was.

As the long-awaited conclusion wound its way through its many twists and turns, we cheered, we thrilled, we feared, we laughed. But mostly, the three of us sat in rapt silence, absorbed in the display playing out before our eyes. And in that final cut to black, before the credits roll, before any of us dared to speak our opinions, my mind clutched at a single thought: “If this is the end, I don’t know if I love it or hate it.” Strangely, the sheer fact of that uncertainty immediately answered that question for me. I don’t know if I’ll ever love another show the way I loved Twin Peaks.

Of course, that reaction was not the one many people had, and understandably so. Just as he did 25 years ago, David Lynch left us on an infuriating cliffhanger, dangling the knowledge we craved over us in the penultimate episode before snatching it away in the last, throwing a slew of new questions to confound us as much as the old ones had. That the overwhelming response to this was frustration is to be expected. My friends and I were frustrated too. And I genuinely don’t know whether that frustration is justified or not.

Smarter people than I have already written long pieces on what they think the ending means and why it’s brilliant. Equally intelligent people have dismissed these as grasping at straws, the ending (and often the show itself) merely an incoherent jumble, sound and fury signifying nothing. I can’t pretend to know any better than anyone else which one is true.

Check out Pop Break’s List of The Best Characters and Moments from the First Two Seasons of Twin Peaks.

But what I can know is how this show made me feel. I know that once the finale was over, my friends and I, frustrated as we were, did not dismiss the proceedings. We searched for answers, pouring over online discussions and rewatching old episodes. We did not find the answers we were looking for, but we did find countless theories, come up with our own ideas, and make connections that we had not realized existed. We spent hours doing this, talking amongst ourselves and trying to puzzle together what happened. We sought answers that, deep down, we knew did not exist. But as futile as that struggle may have been, it still felt meaningful. It felt like, if we could just find that last missing piece, that final overlooked clue, everything would fall into place.

It’s incredibly rare to feel so challenged by media, especially by something as big budget and popular as Twin Peaks. This isn’t to prize incomprehensibility over coherence, of course. Difficulty can be a convenient mask for fuzzy thinking, as the debate over Twin Peaks’ own meaning proves, while a straightforward work must stand on its own. But the fact remains that most things you will watch or read are fairly structured, even predictable.

Even when ambiguous or profound, they don’t leave you with fundamental questions about the very nature of what you just witnessed. Twin Peaks did that in spades over the time I spent with it. It challenged me in ways I have almost never felt challenged in my life, not in an arrogant or condescending way, but a welcoming one. It never felt like you were being challenged for the sake of being difficult, but rather because it believed you capable.

And as I went into the finale, I realized how truly, uniquely unpredictable Twin Peaks was. Not just because it was so challenging, but because it had wandered so far from the bounds of traditional narrative that anything seemed possible. It was the rare experience that, even after sixteen hours under my belt, I truly had no idea what to expect from the finale. Anything could have happened. And had you forced me to make predictions, I would not have come anywhere close to being right. Regardless of what actually unfolded, that very unpredictability was thrilling in its own right.

Yet far more than any of the puzzle aspects of the show, I was deeply affected by its ability to create a mood or capture a feeling. In its own strange, unearthly way, the show cut right to the core of fear, joy, and sorrow more effectively than anything else I’ve seen. And it did so in ways that are nearly impossible to explain.

For just one of many examples, at the end of the eleventh episode, we watch as Dale Cooper, still trapped in the life of Dougie Jones, is treated to some cherry pie by some new friends. The music being played on a nearby piano seems to catch his attention, as does someone’s description of the pie as “damn good,” all while a woman whose life he had earlier inadvertently changed thanks him profusely for what he’s done. The combination of all these elements, the pure goodness of Dale Cooper and the better versions of themselves people see reflected back at themselves in his Dougie Jones persona, filled my heart so full of joy that I started to cry.

It sounds ludicrous when the events are simply explained like that, but there is something indescribably touching in the way Lynch presents them that makes it feel like the most natural reaction in the world. And he does this over and over again. I greeted the long-awaited return of Dale Cooper late in the show’s run with applause, even as I watched alone in a dark room.

I was gripped by fear as a filthy, deep-voiced man slowly crushed a radio DJ’s head and repeated a cryptic phrase endlessly into a microphone. And I felt a deep sense of loss and grief as Margaret Lanterman, the Log Lady, gave her strange final goodbyes that seemed to consciously echo the death of actress Catherine Coulson since filming. I am not the most hard-hearted of people, but it is still rare for something to so consistently draw such an emotional response from me. Yet every time, it all felt perfectly right.

Perhaps it was the dreamlike sense of logic and purpose that suffuses the show that made it all possible. For there is some strange sense that Lynch is able to create that makes everything, no matter how bizarre, feel perfectly in place. After all, we’re talking about a show that can recast a small part played by David Bowie as a giant steaming metal teapot without drawing a word of protest or confusion from its viewers.

This, I think, is why the show always seemed to be paced perfectly regardless of how many long pauses or drawn-out shots Lynch saw fit to include. Beneath all the outward obtuseness, there was some sense of logic, no matter how distorted and convoluted, that made it all flow perfectly. There was always some feeling that it all meant something, that it was all going somewhere, that was so powerful it was almost immaterial whether or not it was true.

That’s why, though I’m not sure whether its detractors are correct or not, I can’t help but feel like they’re missing the point. If Twin Peaks evokes the sense of a dream, then the question of what it all means is thrown in a much different light. After all, not every dream has a point, or a message, or an idea to convey. And even when they do, when you emerge from that dream, it often eludes you by light of day. What sticks with us about dreams, what David Lynch seems to understand deeply about dreams, is that the feeling they evoke is often far more important than the story they tell. Perhaps, like a dream, the only true meaning inherent to Twin Peaks is that which we ascribe to it. Or maybe there really is something behind it all, some greater truth that remains just outside our grasp. As I did when I was locked in discussions and rewatches with my friends, I choose to believe the latter.

But even if I am wrong, what Twin Peaks could make me feel, on the long and winding road to this simultaneously unexpected and inevitable conclusion, is more than worth it.

Chris Diggins is a staff writer and incorrigible layabout for The Pop Break. He usually reviews TV and movies, although he sometimes writes ludicrously long pieces of critical analysis and badgers the editors to publish it. He cannot be stopped.