Here be S P O I L E R S:
Returning after a 25 year hiatus—a span of time explicitly referred to in the season two finale of Twin Peaks—Twin Peaks: The Return has concluded with a finale as audacious and enigmatic as the one we were left with 25 years back. While the finale could be analyzed as a legitimate cinematic unit unto itself, I will use it as the jumping off point for my reflections on the entire new season.
The Return presents a collision of worlds. Times have changed. Lynch has evolved as a filmmaker, the world of 2017 America is much different from 1990 America, and the characters within the film's universe themselves have grown or been thrust into new circumstances. This creates a synergy as these worlds collide in dialectical tension and, in the finale, find a kind of dramatic synthesis of elements.
Lynch's more intensely avant garde, experimental side, as was set loose in INLAND EMPIRE especially, is not altogether absent (and is sometimes given full reign, especially in episode 8 and the finale) but is tempered by the structure of his old world of Twin Peaks, along with the dictates of television and his collaboration with screenwriter Mark Frost. This results in a weaving of some the lighter elements and notes of the original Twin Peaks into a framework that primarily evokes a mood characteristic of Lynch's later work. This is especially evident in the way that the two main storylines—following good Cooper (who becomes Dougie-Coop) and evil Coop—are yet another investigation of the themes of disassociation and the duality of the self as are strongly present in Mulholland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE.
Here the theme is explored, not through the confusion of dreams or a blurring of the lines between film worlds and "real world", but in a literal splitting of a person in two. Evil Coop is Dale Cooper's shadow self, complete with his characteristic intelligence, proficiency, and skill, and along with his occult interests, but all of which have become untethered from his heroic virtues and thereby monstrous. Meanwhile the Special Agent Dale Cooper we know and love, early in the series becomes trapped in a suburban life in a dazed state as the result of a traumatic transportation, not able to remember who he is or what he's attempting to accomplish. Yet we still see glimmers of Coop beneath the surface of the aloof Dougie-Coop.
The real Cooper, the heroic Cooper of the 1990s, the Cooper of the original series finds himself trapped in suburbia—a suburb that, as in Lynch's Blue Velvet, is crawling with darkness beneath the glossy veneer—and is rendered mostly impotent as an agent. Meanwhile his evil shadow self, the 'new' Cooper, his doppelganger, is loose and reeking havoc everywhere he goes. This state of affairs holds for the vast majority of the season, and can be read as a cynical commentary on what Jaynie-E, Dougie-Coop's wife played with verve by Naomi Watts, calls in a memorable tirade "a dark, dark age." Sure, the original Twin Peaks had quite a bit of darkness itself, but it is taken to another level here. Literally so as the evil entity from the original series, Bob, is revealed to be a subordinate entity to an even greater evil named Judy.
While our best selves are trapped impotently in suburbia and corporate drudgery, chaos and evil runs amok—and we are also the agents and perpetrators of that! A parable for our times, to be sure.
Though Cooper's sojourn as Dougie-Coop also acts as a purifying agent on his soul. He emerges from it having experienced the simplicity of a life as a basically autistic man in a loving family. It also prepares him for a comparable experience that is laid out before him, where he will again become someone else and be tasked with remembering himself and his mission.
And when the heroic self does emerge from his slumber, as Cooper triumphantly does in episode 16 ("finally!"), he arrives on the scene early in the first part of the finale only to act as a bystander in the vanquishing of Bob and Evil Coop at the Sherriff's station.
But Cooper's greater mission still lies ahead in the mystifying, time-hopping, dream-traversing conclusion to come. This takes him deeper to the heart of Twin Peaks lore, as he time travels to save Laura Palmer from ever being killed in the first place. In so doing, however, history is altered and the good Coop wakes up in a new dimension where he is now "Richard", though he seems not to remember being Richard. And the Giant had given him a clue earlier that he needed to remember "Richard and Linda" (Diane is now Linda). He now appears to be an integrated version of Cooper continuing on his heroic mission—which at this point entails saving Laura and defeating Judy—and seems to have a darker edge about him reminiscent of Evil Coop. If this is a new timeline where the original events have been altered, then Coop never would have entered the black lodge and gotten trapped there while his shadow-self doppelganger escaped, so it makes sense that he is now a little bit of both.
Cooper eventually coming to resemble an integrated self, no longer divided, seems a fitting conclusion to Lynch's elliptical reflections on the theme of duality of self. Rather than being haunted by a doppelganger, a tulpa, or some shadow self, Cooper meets his final challenge as a complicated but whole person.
These broad strokes present a Decline narrative: to the extent that the sweet, charming side of Twin Peaks exists, as it does in a few of the original characters and Dougie-Coop and his family, it is overshadowed not only by Evil Coop and a new metaphysical evil (complete with its own anti-creation myth), but many layers of scumbags, abusers, low-life criminals and cretins, exemplified by the likes of Steven, Chad, and the loathsome Richard Horne. And what we see in the periphery of the town itself—in the Roadhouse scenes and instances like the vomiting zombie child—contains much less wholesome Americana than the original series but indicates that the darkness lurking in Twin Peaks has spread on an almost ontological level, through the town and beyond it. In fact it is precisely that old wholesomeness which has become corrupted. In one sequence at the double-R diner, a reformed Bobby who has made something of his life is trying to do some good for his splintered and troubled family and is interrupted by, in order: Shelley (his now ex-wife) making out with a spooky drug dealer; a random gunshot accidentally fired by a child out of a passing car into the diner; and finally the aforementioned zombie child rises up in the car, leaving Bobby staring agape and helpless at the chaos. Quite the blackpill.
The Return is only ever obliquely political—save perhaps in the Alex Jones-ish rants of Dr. Jacobi—but this pessimism about the state of the world is persistent. In the epic episode 8, where the birth or activation of the evil entities of the Twin Peaks world is triggered by the testing of the atomic bomb at the Trinity site in New Mexico, you have what can certainly be read as a left-ish commentary on what America unleashed in the post-Wars world. But this can also be read as a reactionary critique of modernity and its concomitant scientism itself.
The crackling electricity that pulsates across the land in the show, and is explicitly connected to the malevolent entities of the black lodge, points to Lynch's latent Luddism and dim view of technological society. This is punctuated in a scene right before the finale where, after Bradley Mitchem (James Belushi) says "so what was it, electricity?", it cuts to Lynch himself (as Gordon Cole) looking around in bewilderment, if not horror, at the room full of buzzing gadgetry.
The way that sex functions in the show is also vaguely reactionary. In every case but one, immediately following upon sex some traumatic event of metaphysical significance happens to the people involved. Ben and Tracey open a portal to Judy resulting in their gruesome demise; Dougie has sex with a prostitute only to be sucked into the black lodge and destroyed; and finally Cooper and Diane's awkward coitus results in the transition into the new timeline or dimension, where they are now Richard and Linda and are breaking up. The sole exception is Dougie-Coop and Jaynie-E's marital lovemaking that ends with their bond of love becoming solidified. Along the same lines, the reformed Ben Horne remains chaste in the face of temptation and, while he is never seen outside his office, is a bulwark of sanity amidst the chaos.
Despite the bleak overall picture, we do also get the sense that the White Lodge is, in some sense, really in control. That despite the decline, despite what is going on in the world and in Twin Peaks, the forces of light are working behind the scenes to bring about their own purposes. Whether they succeeded or not is left somewhat ambiguous.
Most of the joys and delights of this season of Twin Peaks are elided by this broad overview, and it's pointless to try to do them justice in one piece. Lynch and Frost's work in the various twist and turns of the plot, in the deft use of digital film and editing, and in Lynch's superb sound design creates an aesthetic, world-weaving experience that is certainly not to be missed. The esoteric aspects of the narrative (Buddhist influences, mythic symbolism, occult references, CIA secrets etc.) and the enigmatic conclusion leave space for much speculation and discussion. But the ominous depiction of America in decline, alongside a persistent if wary hope in a deeper order of light and good, refracted through the Lynchian lens, makes for one of the most compelling and enveloping television experiences of all-time.