The final hour of Twin Peaks: The Return may be the darkest season finale ever conceived. David Lynch and Mark Frost capped their “18-hour movie” with a slow, meditative journey through time and space that refused to resolve conflicts or provide any relief from the deep sense of wrongness that pervaded the final minutes.
Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), the chipper hero of the original ’90s show, is left standing in the middle of a dark street, staring in bewilderment and possibly horror at the ground, unsure whether or not he has failed in his strange mission to save the long-dead Laura Palmer.
There are no beautiful goodbyes or tender reunions. For every frustration and confusion this season presented, by the time the final credits roll, you have undergone an emotional and cognitive experience that means more than most entertainment can give. David Lynch’s sound design—which has entranced us the entire season—is a disconcerting background throughout, a low rumble, whispering wind, or even stark silence. Characters are left to rot in whatever hellish world is left for them. The episodes bend back in on themselves and leave the viewer confused and scared.
This comes after a season unlike anything in film or television. There are moments of hilarious comedy, such as when Michael Cera arrives for a truly bizarre scene in which he plays Deputy Andy (Harry Goaz) and Lucy’s (Kimmy Robertson) son—a Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones type with an erudite vocabulary and fantastic leather jacket. Then there are moments of full-blown nostalgic happiness, most notably Big Ed (Everett McGill) and Norma (Peggy Lipton) finally coming together, and moments of intense conflict and horror—like Richard Horne’s (Eamon Farren) attack on his grandmother.
And then there was episode 8. Anyone who’s watched the season knows episode 8 and has definitely developed strong opinions about it. You may think it is the most breath-taking piece of art house television ever produced, or you might think it was an hour-long waste of time. In protracted, otherworldly shots, David Lynch takes us away from the characters and sparse narrative entirely to explore the origins of evil in Twin Peaks. Atomic bombs explode, the fireman sends a glowing orb of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) out into the world, and a soot-covered woodsman recites a terrifying speech into a ’50s radio mic after crushing a bystander’s head with his bare hands. That’s not even mentioning the oversized cockroach thing that crawled in the girl’s mouth or the five-minute long Nine Inch Nails performance.
That was an episode of television that aired on Showtime. Take a moment to realize how astonishing that is.
You will almost certainly never see anything like this on television again. It is not commercially viable. Shows with minute-long shots of sweeping, long conversations about characters we never actually meet, and desert showdowns that hinge on the presence of cherry pie do not attract millions of viewers. High-octane Game of Thrones rip-offs and wannabe Mad Men will continue to pop up across networks, but something with the unconventional vision and refusal to compromise of this new Twin Peaks only comes about once. It took David Lynch pulling out of the show back in 2015 to convince Showtime to give him full creative control, and even then, it’s a miracle that they allowed it.
In short, this season gave us a baffling, sometimes frustrating, and often beautiful story. The show packs a massive cast, unbelievably intricate story, and settings from New York to Montana and almost everywhere in between into a mind-bending whole.
Yet the final journey whittles it down to bare bones.
In the last minutes of the show, there are only two main characters on screen—Agent Cooper and a woman named Carrie Page, who looks exactly like Laura Palmer, on their long journey through the night back to Twin Peaks to visit the Palmer house. Shot after shot, they are shown silently driving along lost highways, with only the headlights to illuminate the way. And when they get there—more confusion. A woman they haven’t seen before in the Palmer house making obscure references, offering no answers. Then Page’s final scream standing in the street. A jarring and painful ending.
This ending is so dark not simply because of the scene itself and the hopeless looping failure of the journey, but because of how much is left undone. Audrey Horne, one of the most beloved characters from the original, is left behind in episode 16, stuck in some horrible limbo screaming “What?” into a mirror. Sarah Palmer is living with an evil entity inside of her that shows no signs of leaving. Silence pervades the unsatisfying moments. Blackness creeps at the edges of the screen.
It’s a true nightmare ending. That means all the dream logic and confusion that defines a nightmare. Nothing is resolved, but everything sticks together. People are themselves and simultaneously someone else, distant screams carry deep significance, worlds disappear and appear, and you wake up still reeling from its effect.
Featured Image By Showtime