Our realities have been divided, nested, segregated, interlinked, distorted, and fractured. We live in the era of alternative facts, truthiness, false equivalence, and fake news. I assume I’m living in one sort of place and suddenly discover that the world has shifted and what was once familiar appears like a simulation. In a parallel universe that makes more sense than the one we currently occupy, President Hillary Clinton is giving a news conference pledging federal resources in response to hurricane Irma. If this a dream, who is the dreamer? And what will come of the Dreamers? Into this age of uncertainty arrives a work of art that perfectly expresses what it feels like to be alive when fiction, dreams, and empirical reality increasingly collide, fuse, and reconfigure in bewildering ways.
I watched the two-part finale of Twin Peaks: The Return in my parents’ house, on the same couch where I watched the original series. This show about the instability of identity is so wrapped up in my own identity that I honestly have no idea who I’d be if it didn’t exist. Twin Peaks lit a fire in me as a high school art nerd, giving me permission to embrace my own freaky Pacific Northwest as a setting worthy of the stories I yearned to write. When I was in high school, I hadn’t yet visited Snoqualamie Falls or the other settings of the show, so it seemed to exist in a parallel Northwest with the same trees and mists I took for granted in my literal back yard. Twin Peaks made me consider Washington State in a way that was both shockingly new and profoundly congruent with my conception of a place that was weirder and more sophisticated than the mainstream media would have us believe.
After I left home and saw more of my own state, I eventually spent some time at Salish Lodge, transformed in the series into the Great Northern Hotel, site of those iconic falls. I attended a wedding at Kiana Lodge on the Kitsap Penninsula, where Pete Martell discovers the plastic-wrapped body of Laura Palmer. Watching The Return brought me back to places I know and flooded me with moony love for the Pacific Northwest. Some of those shots in the mossy woods provoked longing emotions now complicated by worry that those same forests are now ablaze. Spotting my friend Diana Fairbank, an actor cast as a horrified witness to a child’s death, both pushed me out of the show and drew me deeper into it. The real and the fictional blurred in accordance to the dream logic of the series itself.
One of the highlights of my life–no exagerration–is the time I got to have lunch with David Lynch when I was an editor at Amazon and he was in Seattle to promote Inland Empire and his book, Catching the Big Fish. Sitting across the table from the auteur at an Italian restaurant in Pioneer Square, I attempted to mentally record every utterance he made. At one point, apropos of nothing, he said, “Have you heard of this new band Au Revoir Simone? Hot dog they’re a good band!” I thought of this moment all these years later when Au Revoir Simone appeared on an episode of The Return to play a gig at the Roadhouse, the Twin Peaks venue that apparently has a super well-connected booking department.
I’ve long believed that a sign of great art is that you continue to have a relationship with it years after you experienced it and return to it occasionally in your thoughts. Great works become our spectral companions, feeding us, providing solace and context, revealing more of themselves in light of our lived experiences. I know I’ll be unpacking Twin Peaks: The Return for the rest of my life. The enormity of what I don’t understand about the show dwarfs what I think I know. But let me try to give it a shot without “explaining” what it “means.”
First, what the show makes me think and feel is precisely what it means, and those things don’t depend on the creator’s consciously decided-upon themes or motifs for their value. My experience with this art is unique to me, and studying Lynch for the past quarter century leads me to believe he would be entirely cool with that. Lynch is one of those artists like the writer Haruki Murakami who seems to have optimized his life to be a conduit to the mystery. His is an art of intuition rather than predetermed strategems, a communion with mysteries rather than an explanation for them. Some think it’s funny when even Lynch himself confesses he doesn’t completeley understand what his work means, but I consider this evidence of a higher order of artist. David Lynch operates in the world on a spiritual plane, in the frisson between metaphysics and the technology of film/television, an artform whose evolution he has adroitly exploited. Make no mistake about it–this son of Spokane, Washington has been masterful at bringing his idiosyncratic visions to our screens against the headwinds of the stultifying creative conformity endemic to those media. That such a thing as David Lynch’s career even exists in the world is something of a miracle, and is a testament to how relentless and cunning this artist truly is.
The Return seemed to hit us precisely when we needed it, in the first summer of Trump, with an umbilical cord from our current political climate to the jerimiads of shit-shoveling Dr. Jacoby. The fault lines of good and evil that are coming into stark relief in this country seem embodied in a single character, the bifurcated FBI Agent Dale Cooper. Throughout the series, while Dougie Jones bumbled around, Chauncy Gardner-style, and Mr. C glowered and murdered, the discomfort of disunion never felt so acute. The yearning I felt for the re-emergence of the real Dale Cooper was of a piece with the sadness I feel for this splintering nation.
It’s telling, I think, that of all Lynch’s work, the Return is where he takes the most time in front of the camera. Lynch plays Gordon Cole with foghorn vocal delivery (explained by the character’s hearing impairment) and palpable tenderness. Some of the most moving scenes in the series were when Gordon is talking to agents Albert and Tammy, played by the late Miguel Ferrer and Chrysta Bell. Lynch’s Cole is considerate and empathetic and wants to do right by people. In his scenes with Laura Dern’s Diane and MacLachlan’s Cooper, it’s easy to detect the director’s decades-long affection for these actors who have been such faithful champions of his vision. Tonally, there were moments in The Return that reminded me of the Beatles’ Let It Be, a bittersweet recognition that the old magic is fading away, with even more confounding mysteries to come on the road that stretches out ahead.
Twin Peaks: The Return cements David Lynch’s legacy in our time and ensures his work will be pored over and debated for hundreds of years, that is if the forces of good that wrestle over the human spirit keep our species alive that long. I’m sad to say that this series does feel like a goodbye to me, a curtain call, if you will, though I wouldn’t put it past Lynch to surprise us. Regardless, we’ll be measuring the human condition with David Lynch’s ouevre for years to come, led by his imagination into the darkness where the mysteries of love come clear.