In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!
After fifteen weeks of watching and reviewing, I have finally completed the entire run of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s enigmatic serial drama Twin Peaks, and I am both unsatisfied and strangely exhilarated by the overall experience. Most shows that revolve around a central mystery go to great pains to explain everything by the series finale, with varying results, but Twin Peaks manages to not only fail to explain the mystery of the Black Lodge and the amoral spirits that dwell within it but also leaves the fate of nearly every character in the show up in the air, never to be resolved. One would think that such a finale would be an infuriating experience, but I found myself admiring Lynch and Frost for daring to end a once-popular show on such a highly ambiguous note.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Before we get to that bizarre finale, we have to cover the penultimate episode, “Miss Twin Peaks,” which is the last episode that focuses heavily on the many reoccurring subplots happening in this odd town in the Pacific Northwest. The main storyline of course revolves around the town’s beauty pageant and the growing relationship between our hero Dale Cooper, and the fetching lapsed nun, Annie Blackburn, which finally gets physical when Annie goes up to Cooper’s room to go over her speech for the pageant. Major Briggs escapes from Windom Earle’s cabin with the help of Leo and is soon picked up in the woods by Deputy Hawk. Still dazed from the truth serum that Earle gave him, the Major is unable to give Cooper and Truman any information about Earle’s whereabouts and when or where he will make his next move. Andy suddenly has a breakthrough while studying the petroglyph drawing, but is unable to share it with Cooper, who discovers a bugging device in Truman’s bonsai plant. Meanwhile, Andrew Packard finally figures out how to open the puzzle box left to him from his old nemesis Thomas Eckhardt. After shooting the final piece a number of times with his revolver, he pulls out what appears to be a key to a safety deposit box. Andrew’s sister Catherine agrees to put it in a place where none of them would be tempted to steal the key.
After finding Earle’s bug, Cooper and Truman rush to the pageant in time to catch some of the talent and speech portions. After a short deliberation by the judges, Annie is awarded the crown, to Cooper’s delight. However, the celebration turns to horror when the lights go out and, in the impending chaos, Annie is kidnapped by Windom Earle, dressed as the Log Lady. When the lights finally come back on, Cooper is frantically trying to find out where Annie has gone, and then Andy approaches him and tells him that he figured out that the petroglyph is a map.
While far from the most interesting or exciting episode of the season, “Miss Twin Peaks” does a fine job balancing the darker, more serious aspects of the show with the goofier stuff. Many episodes so far this season have veered too far in one direction or the other, but this one hearkened back to season one in its handling of these two competing tones. I’m still not a big fan of Windom Earle and his ridiculous costumes, but in the climactic scene of this episode, he manages to convey a genuine aura of menace, especially during the actual kidnapping which is lit only by a strobe to add an extra layer of disorientation and chaos to the surroundings. This episode does a fantastic job setting up the stakes for the series finale and earns 4 out of 5 Falling Sandbags.
All of that promising setup culminates in the series finale, “Beyond Life and Death,” which is without a doubt one of the most frustrating hours of television I’ve ever seen. On a narrative standpoint, this final episode is a complete failure. The only characters whose story is actually given an actual end point is the one involving Andy and Lucy, which was in the running for the subplot in which I had the least amount of interest. One might argue that this finale was written in the hopes that ABC would greenlight at least one more season, but at the time the show first aired, the ratings took such a sharp nose dive once the Laura Palmer case was solved that everyone pretty much knew it was going to be cancelled. Perhaps this certainty that the show was done allowed Lynch and Frost the freedom to indulge in their weird and experimental sides to the point where they just abandoned any attempt at trying to wrap up the story in any sort of conventional way.
The majority of “Beyond Life and Death” follows Cooper as he locates and enters the Black Lodge in order to rescue his beloved Annie from Windom Earle, but the episode frequently cuts to many of the other subplots to give us one final look at the characters we’ve followed since the beginning. There’s a final confrontation between Doc Hayward and Ben Horne which ends with Horne unconscious and possibly dead, as well as a scene in which Nadine Hurley, whose head was injured during the ambush of the pageant in the previous episode, snaps out of her delirium and all but dashes Ed’s hopes of happiness with Norma. Perhaps the most shocking of these final sequences is the one that takes place in the town bank, where Audrey has decided to chain herself to the vault in order to protest the Ghostwood sale. Pete and Andrew show up in order to use Eckhart’s key to see what he’s been hiding in the bank, and when they finally open the safe deposit box, they find a bomb with a note that says “Got you, Andrew. Love, Thomas.” The bomb explodes, and that’s the last we see of Pete, Andrew, and Audrey.
The rest of the episode focuses on Cooper as he encounters all the strange inhabitants of the Black Lodge, which includes the dancing dwarf and the giant from his dreams and the friendly bald-headed waiter from the hotel. He also sees visions of Annie and of his former love Catherine, as well as screaming visions of both Laura Palmer and her dopplegander Maddy. Cooper keeps walking from one room to another in the lodge until he comes face to face with Windom Earle himself, who tells Cooper that he will let Annie live if Cooper will give up his soul. Cooper agrees, and Earle stabs him. They are then visited by Bob, who tells Cooper that Earle cannot take his soul but that he will take Earle’s. Bob then causes a flame to emerge from the screaming Earle’s head. Cooper runs, pursued by a black-eyed double of himself, and runs into Leland Palmer, who tells him that he didn’t kill anyone. Cooper’s double catches up to him, and we are shown Bob laughing maniacally before Cooper blacks out and then wakes up in the woods, with Annie lying unconscious by his side. Truman takes both of them to the hospital, and Cooper awakes in his room at the Great Northern a few hours later. Truman tells Cooper that Annie is recovering nicely, and the dazed Cooper walks to the bathroom, stating that he has to brush his teeth. While in the bathroom, Cooper smashes his head in the mirror, causing it to shatter. He keeps his bleeding head pressed against the broken mirror, and we see Bob in the reflection, flashing his evil grin. As Cooper, possessed by Bob’s spirit, cackles ominously and asks “How’s Annie?” over and over, the episode ends, as does the series.
Since we were never given a proper resolution to all of these huge cliffhangers, it’s safe to assume that Cooper / Bob manages to rape and murder a sizable portion of the town before finally being cut down by a reluctant but duty-bound Truman, or perhaps he manages to fool everyone and goes back to the FBI, where he can do a number of horrible deeds on a much higher scale. We’ll never know exactly because Lynch and Frost never saw fit to give us any clue what happened to all these characters. On the other hand, the Black Lodge sequences in “Beyond Life and Death” contain such delightfully bizarre moments and inventive visuals that I couldn’t help but be entertained. It’s fitting that this final episode was directed by series co-creator David Lynch, since it matches how a lot of his feature films all but abandon their stories in favor of dark, disturbing visuals and highly ambiguous endings. Therein lies my frustration with this episode. As a part of a serialized story, it makes no effort to wrap up a plot that, despite its many ups and downs during this season, has been mostly interesting and engrossing. On the other hand, it also stands out as an original and daring singular work of television simply because of the many storytelling rules it broke. While my thoughts on the Twin Peaks finale are conflicted, I am going to skew positive and award “Beyond Life and Death” 3.5 out of 5 Magic Coffee Cups, and I’ll keep that rating for the show as a whole. For a primetime drama airing on a major network in the early nineties, Twin Peaks was definitely ahead of its time, and even in this current age of shows with complex storylines and morally complicated protagonists, we more than likely won’t see anything quite this weird or original again.
In two weeks, I will begin an all new cycle of this column with the beginning of my reviews of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but first I will be returning to this odd Northwestern town again next week with a review of David Lynch’s spinoff film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Please share your own thoughts on Twin Peaks in the comments below. Thanks for reading.