It's been a hell of ride since the finale of Twin Peaks: The Return. Watching the two-parter live was unforgettable, a bracingly raw emotional experience that ran the gamut of thrills, laughs, unbearable tension, heart-warming resolutions, head-fucking narrative turns, and a horrifyingly fatalistic ending. I was so bewildered and overwhelmed, I could hardly speak for hours afterwards. There was so much to take in, to try and make sense of; much of Part 18 in particular was very open to interpretation, and what I felt was being implied was pretty tough to swallow. After everything he'd been through, why did Coop suddenly feel he needed to 'save' Laura? Did he break reality in the process? And what did those closing moments mean - with Coop seemingly lost and Laura more traumatised than ever, had the Black Lodge attained some nightmarish victory?
These and a thousand other questions swam around my head for days on end, my perspective changing so often it was disorientating. Reading and listening to others' thoughts and ideas on it helped; hearing people draw positive and even uplifting conclusions, after feeling fairly down and confused myself, was heartening. But even after perking up, I still had an awful lot of questions I needed to make sense of; the most pressing, and possibly most contentious among fans, was 'why did Coop try and save Laura?'
The common interpretation seemed to be that Coop cannot stop trying to make up for his continued failure to save the women in his life. I can see where people are coming from; Coop, already aching for the loss of his mother at a young age, feels responsible for the death of Caroline, the disappearance of Annie, and for the hellish experience Mr C put Audrey and Diane through. He even had a precognitive sense that another girl would die in the same manner as Teresa Banks, but was unable to stop it; this girl turned out to be Laura Palmer. But is this combined guilt enough to make Coop do something so reckless? Was he so emboldened by his new power, his new understanding of the Lodges, that he'd take this risk for such a selfish reason as to assuage his own guilt?
For me, this just doesn't sit right with Cooper's largely selfless character; in particular, it doesn't take into account that Coop had 25 years trapped in The Red Room to ponder his actions (past and future), or that his journey in The Return sees him reach a new level of spiritual enlightenment. When he's is at the Sheriffs office, having reawakened and defeated his doppelganger, Coop is more aware than ever that he isn't an agent of himself, or the FBI, first but The White Lodge; his own agency has become secondary to the needs of the greater good. But if Coop has been given a mission to save Laura, then by who, and what for? I believe it was given to him by Laura herself, and to ultimately save her mother Sarah, and everyone else, from the ever growing powers of the Black Lodge.
Let me try to explain: since Laura's death and Coop's imprisonment in The Red Room, The Black Lodge has had an almost unimpeded period of 25 years to become stronger and stronger. Not only has Mr C been rampaging across America, building a criminal empire and causing untold levels of pain and suffering (the nourishment of Black Lodge beings) but the Palmer household has become ground zero of their plans. Already a conduit for Black Lodge, thanks to the painting in Laura's room, the Palmer home is a terrible monument to pain and suffering; a family was destroyed here in the worst possible way, through years of psychological and sexual abuse, distrust, discord and denial, that resulted in the deaths of both Laura and Leland. All that is left is Sarah and her grief, over the living hell inflicted on her daughter by her husband, over their eventual destruction, and her all consuming guilt about feeling powerless to stop it and never truly intervening.
The Black Lodge has been looking for a physical host for 'Jowday', or Judy, a being of unimaginable negative energy, that made flesh would surely cloud world in darkness. Just look what happened when BOB gained a physical presence that was a suitable conduit for its power - Mr C was nightmare fuel incarnate, and it took a combined efforts of Major Briggs, Cooper, Gordon Cole, Phillip Jeffries and The Fireman (the White Lodge's highest entity) to concoct and execute a plan to defeat him. In the grand scheme, that was only one of their objectives too, the other being for the true Cooper to ascend, to overcome his literal demon(s), to be prepared mentally and physically to do things that Cooper of 1989 simply wasn't capable. Specifically, to be attuned to the power of the Lodges, and to go back in time to save Laura.
When Cooper meets Laura in The Red Room in Part 2, it isn't the Laura from the end of Fire Walk With Me - it's 'Carrie' Laura. Before she appears, Gerard pointedly asks Coop, "Is it future? Or is it past?" It's almost certainly the future. The physical appearance of this Laura, as can be seen below, is strikingly similar to Carrie Page. The resemblance is so strong in fact, it has to be deliberate; if Lynch had wanted her to look like FWWM Laura, she could have easily worn a wig, or even be digitally de-aged if they felt it necessary. The dialogue is indicative too -
Laura: "Hello Agent Cooper"
(Cooper looks at her, but doesn't respond)
Laura: "Do you recognise me?"
Cooper: "Are you Laura Palmer?"
Laura: "I feel like I know her, but sometimes my arms bend back."
Cooper: "Who are you?"
Laura: "I am Laura Palmer."
Cooper: " But Laura Palmer is dead."
Laura: "I am dead. And yet, I live."
There's a clear identity issue here; she is not Laura Palmer, as Cooper has thought of her, but shares part of her. And 'Carrie' Laura knows who Cooper needs to be, to get her to the point that we see them at the end of Part 18. She shows him the white light inside, what her death and eventual re-birth, have made her. She tells Coop he 'can go out now' and then whispers their fate in his ear, before being torn away from him. When Cooper meets The Arm shortly after, the newly evolved entity tells him the doppelganger 'must come in, before you can go out', although this ends up being Dougie Jones, not Mr C. The Doppelganger Arm tries to thwart Coop by sending him to the 'non-existent' but thanks to the efforts of Naido (actually Diane) and Major Briggs, a thoroughly disorientated Coop does make it back to reality.
The journey we see Cooper take in The Return is to become the man capable of taking the next step in Laura's mission, and go back in time to save her from death. But why? Two reasons - firstly to create another, separate reality, where Laura never died. And secondly, to give Laura corporeal form again. Laura is trying both to save her mother, Sarah, and to stop the Black Lodge from possessing her and making her a vessel for Judy. But in order to get to Sarah/Judy, Laura needs a physical form too. She knows full well what great sacrifices she'll have to make to do so, that the Black Lodge will hide her in this reality, far away from Twin Peaks and with no immediate memories of herself, and even feed from her pain & suffering again (as we see later from the '6' electric pole outside Carrie's Odessa house, and the white horse on her mantelpiece).
It's hard to ignore the potential saviour analogy of Laura Palmer; she resisted possession by evil and died suffering in the name of sin - her father's, her mother's, her own, all of Twin Peaks. At the end of Fire Walk With Me, she is seen at peace, crying with joy at the sight of angel; through self-sacrifice, Laura has transcended into someone with the power to save us all. We're frequently shown Laura's image, whether it's fading over the show's opening or framed in the high school or the Palmer house or in a bright golden orb, and it is always the picture of Laura as Homecoming Queen; like much of the religious artwork of Jesus throughout the centuries, it is idealised and romanticised, depicting her as recognisably human and divine at once. As The Log Lady says to Hawk, "Laura Is The One".
But she needs someone else selfless enough to sacrifice themselves, to get her where she needs; Cooper has always been willing, but it is not until he has cleared the way by defeating Mr C and becoming whole again, that he is able. Surrounded by friends and with the woman he loves, Cooper sees the clock unable to hit 2:53; his personal circle maybe complete, but his true mission is just beginning. He goes to the Great Northern basement to meet Gerard and tells Diane, "See you at the curtain call". With Gerard, he travels into the Black Lodge to see Phillip Jeffries, who delivers some ominous words to Cooper:
Jeffries: "This is where you'll find Judy. There may be someone. Did you ask me this? There is it. You can go in now".
Cooper travels to the past and witnesses Laura and James arguing, in black and white scenes from Fire Walk With Me. She runs into the woods, and just moments before she is about to meet Jacques, Leo and Ronette, Cooper appears and tells Laura, "We're going home". Dale knows he has to get Laura to the Palmer house, but also knows what is about to happen next. We cut to Sarah, howling with anger and pain and clearly possessed, violently stabbing at Laura's framed Homecoming photo; the glass smashes and fragments, but Laura's photo cannot be broken, even as time seems warp and repeat (much like the clock in the Sheriffs office). Sensing they've been cheated out of their victory, and unable to destroy the ascended Laura, the Black Lodge whisk her away to her new fate in the tangent time/dimension. Cooper looks on concerned but resigned and seems to reappear in The Red Room, but I think a visit to The White Lodge is made first.
What we see at the start of Part 1, of Cooper and The Fireman in The White Lodge, I believe happens here. Everything The Fireman talks of relates to the new dimension. "It's in our house now", meaning Judy is possessing Sarah at the Palmer house; "Remember...430", which is the distance Coop & Diane travel to the entrance of the new dimension, "Richard & Linda", the names which Coop and Diane seem to have once they cross over. And "two birds, one stone", which I'm not 100% certain has been fulfilled yet - but maybe in Twin Peaks fashion, the clues given by Lodge denizens don't all come true at once; perhaps this will not become pertinent until a later date. The Fireman transports Cooper back to The Red Room, where Gerard asks again, "Is it future? Or is it past?"
Cooper looks over to the chair, as we'd seen him do in Part 2, but Laura doesn't appear. He follows Gerard to The Arm who asks Coop, "Is this the story of the little girl who lived down the lane? Is it?" Cooper, who seems almost dazed, recalls his previous encounter with Laura and her being torn away; he then snaps out of it, and acts more determined than ever. The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane is a 1970's novel and film about a teenage girl living alone after her father and mother have died and there's some notable similarities in 'Carrie' Laura's story; the girl of the title, a victim of parental abuse like Laura, lives alone, hiding her from past and from the outside world. The little girl also has dead body in her house, like Carrie, and is helped out by a man who is a magician (like Cooper). It appears The Arm thought a subtle reminder was necessary here, and given the affect inter-dimensional travelling has on Coop's memory and sense of identity, this was probably a good idea.
Cooper leaves The Red Room, effortlessly manipulating the once alien environment, at Glastonbury Grove in Twin Peaks, where Diane is waiting for him. After everything they've been through, their arduous experiences in this world and others, it's not surprising the first thing they do is question each others' identity:
Diane: "Is it you? It is really you?"
Cooper: "Yes, Diane" (smiles) "It's really me".
Cooper: "Is it really you?"
It's also a sad portent of things to come. If there is any majorly misjudged action by Cooper in the finale, then taking Diane with him on this journey is surely it. I can understand why he would - Diane is his closest companion, he loves and trusts her more than anyone else, and has always drawn strength from her support. She is likely the only person mentally and physically capable of going with him too, their extra-dimensional experiences preparing them for it in ways other wouldn't be. But it's fated to be the end of them; even as they stand on the precipice ("Exactly 430 miles"), Cooper has a sense of what could happen - "Kiss me", he says passionately to Diane, "Once we cross, it could all be different". They drive through the crossing to the new reality, the entrance next to an electrical pylon that looks like the 'horned head' symbol for Judy.
Once they're fluxing through time and space, everything comes to pieces for Diane & Cooper. They drive silently along a pitch black road, arriving at a small motel - both their car and the motel suggest it's the 1950s. As Cooper goes in to pay for a room, Diane see a double of herself step out from behind a pillar; struggling to keep a grip on her own identity, Diane doesn't even seem to recognise her own reflection. In their room, Cooper initiates sex, but seems dispassionate; his beckoning of Diane, "You come over to me now", is almost cold. The Platters' 'My Prayer' starts the scene but cuts out as Diane is looking at Coop - it's not until she looks up away from him that the track begins playing again. The music is symbolic of Diane trying and failing to summon her romantic feelings for the man she knew as Dale Cooper, but she doesn't recognise the person in front of her; the wounds Mr C left have not healed either, and as the last of her feelings for this man in front of her dissipate, a heartbroken Diane cannot even look at his face.
"Dear Richard" Richard? "When you read this, I'll be gone.
Please don't try to find me.
I don't recognise you anymore.
Whatever it was we had together is over.
Cooper awakens the next morning, in a more current time, to find Diane has left, leaving behind the above note. His one true companion gone, Cooper is adrift alone, broken by the loss of Diane, knowing she is alone now too, in a place and time and space unfamiliar. With no anchor to his identity, and more questions still raised as to who he is ("Richard? Linda?"), the last vestiges of old Coop seem to slip away; all that remains is the mission - find Laura and bring her to Sarah.
When he arrives at Judy's Diner, we see that any trace of naivete or joy are gone; he neither friendly greets the waitress nor comments on the coffee. There's no expression of satisfaction when he drinks it either; it's purely functional. His sense of justice remains though - when some cowboys harass the waitress, he steps in and tells them to stop. When they try and confront him, Coop brutalises them, booting one in the nuts and shooting another in the foot; rather than just disarm them, he puts their guns in a deep fryer, seemingly daring them to recover them, callously unbothered whether the heat could cause the bullets to explode and harm bystanders. In overcoming Mr C, Cooper seems to have taken on some of his energy, using, as BOB once describes it, "the fury of my own momentum" to fuel his righteous mission. He obtains the address of "the other waitress" and leaves.
After arriving at the address on Sycamore Avenue, Cooper knocks on the door and sure enough, Laura Palmer answers. But when Coop addresses her that way, she says she doesn't know Laura, her name is Carrie Paige, and Cooper has the wrong house; there's some serious confusion on both sides of the door. Notably though when Coop asks, specifically, "So the name Laura Palmer means nothing to you?", she doesn't say no, but rather, "Look, I don't know what you want but I'm not her". It's only when Cooper says, "Your mother's name was Sarah", that Carrie starts to remember. Sensing this, Cooper reminds her of their goal, the one she gave him in the Red Room, "I want to take you to your mother's home, your home, at one time. It's very important". She agrees to go with him, ostensibly because her circumstances mean FBI protection could be useful right now. And their long, long drive along the darkest of roads begins.
Once they arrive in Twin Peaks, Cooper asks Carrie if anything looks familiar and she shakes her head no; they drive past the Double R, looking markedly different to its appearance in the rest of The Return. When they get to the Palmer house, Cooper takes Carrie by the hand, just as he had Laura in woods in the past; as they get to the door, Coop looks around curious, almost uncertain as what they should expect here. It's not unwarranted - Coop knocks on the door to be told by the owner that Sarah Palmer is not only not here, but has never been here to her knowledge; the woman has not even heard of her. Cooper is concerned as Carrie looks on And then the rug is pulled from under them - Cooper ask who they bought the house from, and the lady say's, "Chalfont. A Mrs. Chalfont". Cooper's face crinkles, he gulps and his voice breaks a little as he asks, "And do you happen know who she bought it from?" "No." Coop asks one final question - "And what is your name?" "Tremond. Alice Tremond".
Coop makes his apologies, and Carrie and he head back down to the street. Cooper cannot make sense of what has happened and seems more lost than ever; he makes a gesture in the road, very similar to Dougie when he'd speak to Gerard across dimensions, but nothing happens. He turns to Carrie and asks with urgency, "What year is this?" Carrie does not respond but looks towards to Palmer house as fear starts to draw across her face; the voice of Sarah crying out for daughter is heard, and everything of Laura's pain and suffering comes back to Carrie at once. She lets out that earth-shattering scream and the house flashes with a violent electrical surge, before the lights go out and we fade to black.
Everything that has happened up to this point supports for me the idea that Laura gave Cooper this mission, that he came to this dimension to bring Laura to her mother; my feeling is that Laura's selfless compassion and forgiveness, represented by the divine light inside her, would heal Sarah's grief and suffering, and neutralise the negative power of the Judy, and the grip the Black Lodge has on Sarah. Laura was prepared to live a full life of suffering again, in the form of Carrie Paige, to make this happen, and Cooper was prepared to sacrifice everything, his relationship with Diane and his own identity, to help her do it. Laura's scream could be interpreted as destroying this energy; the lights going out could symbolise the energy being overcome. But it feels like much darker ending for me.
It feels very much like a victory for the Black Lodge. Not only have they overcome what they lost by Cooper preventing Laura's death, but they have anticipated and countered Laura & Coop's plan. They have reset not just Laura's life in this reality, but Sarah's too. Her call out for Laura suggests she exists here, but currently out of the reach of Cooper and Laura, and given their broken and confused states now, they might never reach her. In what is surely the single bleakest vision in Lynch's oeuvre, the two heroes of Twin Peaks story, Laura & Cooper, have once again sacrificed everything, their lives and loves, and this time something that, even as ascended beings that can't truly be destroyed, may never get back: their identities. And for what? Essentially nothing. The darkness is still all-consuming. The Return has shown itself to be a reflection of how Lynch & Frost see and feel about modern America, and this ending is the heart-breaking crux of it: the darkness is all consuming.