Let’s start with something from last week’s episode. When faced with Diane Evans’ sudden exit, Tammy mentions “tulpas” in disbelief to Gordon and Albert. It’s a line that didn’t catch me at first but it turns out to be somewhat important in understanding at least a modicum of what’s been going on in Twin Peaks and even figures into last night’s double-whammy of a series finale.
In Buddhism, a tulpa is a manifested figure created by the contemplative mind, one that can essentially act on its own accord or serve a very particular need. In the case of the Diane that was sent to the Red Room last week, she seemed to be a tulpa sent on a mission: to kill Gordon Cole and the rest of the Blue Rose unit. In “Part 18,” the second Cooper created from the remnants of Mr. C was also given a basic task: to replace Dougie. It’s unclear if Mr. C was himself a manifestation or some sort of separate vessel for Bob and I’m not entirely convinced it matters all that much.
This explains a small portion of what’s been going on in Twin Peaks: The Return but there is no universal key to understanding these 18 episodes. Those looking for some magical theory that explains every blind alleyway and detour that Lynch led us down in this series were doomed long before Mr. C made his first appearance. Was that monster from the beginning the elusive “Judy” or just some random manifestation of Bob and his forces? What happened with Shelly and her criminal kingpin beau? And sweet heaven, what is with that disgusting, pestering loon in the Twin Peaks jail? The Twin Peaks reddit page will likely never die because of these questions but in striving too hard to find narrative meaning, or even symbolic meaning, in everything Lynch created here, it’s easy to miss the sublime pleasures of tone, mood, and atmosphere in the name of comforting, dull reason and logic.
That being said, there is a sense that Lynch is taunting the audience to make sense of what he’s laid out. “Part 17” opens with Gordon explaining the origins of “Judy” (or Xiao Do), lending some marginal credence to the seeming nonsense that Philip Jefferies was spitting at the beginning of Fire Walk With Me. From there, a phone call from Bushnell Mullins sent the Blue Rose unit back to Twin Peaks to converge with Mr. C, Agent Cooper and the Mitchums, and the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department, which includes an incarcerated James and Freddy. For all his trickiness and disinterest in narrative cohesion, Lynch set this entire episode up in a familiarly satisfying way, up until the last 20 minutes or so. Even the inter-dimensional trips to the Fireman’s lair and to visit Philip Jefferies one last time seemed to fit snuggly into the scope of the showdown between the two Coopers.
The image of Cooper superimposed over the last portion of the showdown, when the real Diane Evans was revealed, said only “this is the dream,” which suggests that the slight sense of conclusiveness in that sequence was illusory — “one for the grandkids” — compared to the more beguiling turns in “Part 18.” As the penultimate episode ended, Cooper was thrust back to the night that Laura Palmer was killed, specifically her farewell to James before going to meet with her assailants. He is able to save her for a moment but he loses her along the way, and that’s what brings us to the bewildering final hour.
After losing Laura in the woods, Cooper and Diane drive toward an area that’s similar to where Mr. C originally almost got pulled back to the Black Lodge but also to the grey, crackling visions of power lines that we saw in Sarah Palmer’s open face. (My inclination is to believe that Sarah’s ultimate loss of hope and her smashing of her daughter’s photo is what caused Laura to get lost on her way back home with Cooper.) It’s there that they hop to another dimension and Diane warns Cooper that when they get to the other side, they might not recognize one another. And that’s exactly what happens when they arrive in an alternative Odessa, Texas, making love in a cheap motel room without recognizing one another as Cooper and Diane, rather Richard and Linda.
The sex scene itself is one of the more unsettling sequences Lynch has deployed thus far in the series, with a foreboding score overwhelming a soulful love song and then dissipating as Diane gets increasingly alienated by Cooper’s stone-face gaze. It’s ostensibly her leaving, however, that leads him to find Eat at Judy’s and finally come across the home of the woman he believes to be Laura Palmer, played by Sheryl Lee. Lynch smartly spreads out a number of symbols here — Judy’s, the white horse on the mantel, the dead man on the couch — to suggest that there is a spiritual thread between all of these dimensions but that no single one looks or even behaves like the others.
This at least partially explains what happens in the final 15 minutes of “Part 18.” When Cooper drives the Palmer doppelgänger back to Twin Peaks, he finds strangers in the home where Sarah Palmer lived, a middle-age couple who have never heard of Cooper or the Palmer family. It’s unclear if Cooper and the Palmer doppelgänger’s trip back to Twin Peaks caused a jump in time — “What year is it?” — or if they have simply crossed completely into another dimension. It’s also possible that Cooper is just stuck in the same dimension he crossed over into with Diane at the beginning of the episode and that the perceived jump back that we witness on the road was simply a tricky editing choice.
No matter what the reasoning might be, Lee’s final scream and the blackout of the Palmer home make it clear that she either remembers everything or can feel the horror of this place, of what Laura went through, in that moment with total clarity. Much like in comparing Twin Peaks with Twin Peaks: The Return, the aesthetic and narrative differences are plentiful between Laura Palmer and this doppelgänger but the terror and grief remain the same. There may have been no better way for Lynch to end this run of episodes than to at once seemingly confound his audience full-stop while also, in a way, ending this season on a massive cliffhanger. Maybe there will be more, but if there isn’t, Lynch has already made every other show on network television and streaming feel rote, pre-ordained, and limited in comparison, retreading and reworking the known while he continues to stroll into the unknown.