Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews the Twin Peaks series finale — Episode 29, “Beyond Life and Death”
Following on from Andy‘s announcement that the mysterious drawing from Owl Cave was in fact a map, Twin Peak‘s final fifty minutes begins in the sheriff’s office where Andy and Lucy touchingly declare their love for each other and Cooper is planning his next move.
The excitement doesn’t let up, and the FBI’s finest once again shows off his sixth sense as Pete enters accusing the Log Lady of stealing his truck followed by Cooper accurately predicting her arrival.
It’s hard to define where Cooper’s sudden intuition has come from, and though slightly inconsistent with previous episodes, it does feel more like the Cooper who was throwing rocks at bottles than the Cooper who failed to sense Windom Earle while being in close proximity to him on several occasions. Also, Pete wins the award for the funniest line in the finale when Cooper makes a connection between Glastonbury Grove and the burial place of King Arthur, to which Pete replies in the way only Pete could “King Arthur’s buried in England… last I heard”.
However, things feel a bit more coherent when the Log Lady delivers the jar of oil that her husband gave her before he died. Describing where she found it, Cooper realises that the ring of twelve sycamore trees marks the entrance to the Black Lodge and is also where Hawk found the bloody towel and torn out pages of Laura’s diary. This is a nice touch, as we know that Leland murdered Laura while possessed by Bob and ties in with the fact that we later see him in the Red Room minus his grey hair, clues that will offer much post-cancellation theorising.
Now he has all the information he needs, Cooper pursues Earle into the Black Lodge. He tells Harry that he must go on alone and the sheriff watches from behind a tree as he disappears behind the red curtain. It’s one of those moments where the sceptic is forced to become the believer and it would have been interesting to see more of Harry’s reaction to Cooper’s disappearance and reappearance. For most of this episode he’s forced to helplessly watch, for a whole day, while he waits for his fellow Bookhouse Boy’s return. Harry’s sadness as he waits for his lost friend almost reflects what the audience is feeling, sat there watching and knowing this is probably the last we’ll see of the people we’ve gotten to know so well over the course of the series.
It’s Cooper’s scenes after he passes through the red curtain that really make this episode so special, and they shift from being beautifully surreal to nightmarishly disturbing, almost unbearably so. When he first enters there’s a singer (Jimmy Scott) crooning the wonderful “Sycamore Trees”, another song penned by David Lynch, which creates an unforgettably dreamy atmosphere. Amidst all the terrifying moments later on, there’s one which really demonstrates Cooper’s love for Annie where Earle tells him he’ll let her live if he gives him his soul. Without a second thought Cooper says yes, but it’s Earle’s undoing as Bob appears and informs him that Earle can’t ask for his soul and it’s safe to assume it remains intact.
Using the strobe lighting effect, again, the final scenes in this Lynchian nightmare can only be described as intense. The backwards screaming from Laura, the evil Cooper and the annihilation of Earle are executed extremely and when Cooper finally emerges into Glastonbury Grove, it’s like waking up from a bad dream.
A whole host of familiar faces in the Red Room this time, including Bob, the little man, the elderly waiter, the giant, Laura Palmer and even Leland Palmer. There’s also two versions of Cooper, introducing the idea of evil doppelgänger — in the Black Lodge the Doppelgängers are represented by milky pupils which distinguish them from their alter egos — and though it’s not really made very clear, it seems certain at the end that the good Cooper remains stuck there. Before we can see which version of Cooper manages to make it out of the Black Lodge, the Doppelgänger stops the real thing from leaving and what happens next is obscured by Bob’s grinning face.
The actual meaning of these incredible moments are still a source of lively debate, though for any optimistic Peaks fans the one thing to take away from them is Laura Palmer’s “I’ll see you in twenty-five years” line. It’s also worth remembering Hawk’s words about the Black Lodge that “Legend says every spirit must pass through there on the way to perfection”. He also said the those who confronted it with imperfect courage would be annihilated, though Cooper seemed quite ready to enter, unlike Windom Earle who was undoubtedly a goner.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that although he isn’t a credited writer, David Lynch did rewrite the script for the final episode as he wasn’t happy with the first version. His influence is most obvious in these Red Room sequences which were originally intended to be quite different from those that ended up in the final version, and certainly different from Cooper’s original dream. However, he is credited as the director, a fact that’s evident from the quality of Episode 29, which is one of the few later episodes that can truly be deemed a classic.
Apart from main event of Cooper entering the Red Room, there’s plenty happening on the other side of the curtain. Most of what’s happening is that people are dying, or so we’re lead to believe, and things don’t look to good for some major characters.
Firstly, there’s the explosive confrontation between Ben and Will. Following John Justice Wheeler‘s advice of “telling the hardest truth first,” Ben has landed himself in hot water with the doctor. Still in good Ben mode, he makes it his mission to come clean at the Hayward’s house and Will Hayward, who has up to this point been nothing but good natured and genial, punches Ben who smashes his head against the fireplace then lands in heap on the floor. It’s a really tense scene and the dramatic score doesn’t bode well for the hotel owner, whose fate also remains open-ended.
Later on we’ll find his daughter, the non-secret one, tied to the bank vault door of the Twin Peaks savings and loans in protest, hoping to drum up some publicity for her father’s campaign. Her civil disobedience coincides with Pete and Andrew Packard‘s visit (the duo continuing to be entertaining when paired up) to see what the mysterious key from the puzzle box opened. Unfortunately, what they discovered was Thomas Eckhardt‘s last laugh, a bomb.
Given that we see the bomb go off, the windows of the bank blow out and the bank teller Mibbler’s glasses fly comically through the air (something which seemed a little unnecessary and begged the question of how they managed to get out of the windowless vault), it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that Pete, Andrew and Audrey are dead. Andrew isn’t such a loss but it’s hard not to mourn the potential departure of Pete and Audrey, however much they may have been wasted as characters in the second season. For those who aren’t Audrey fans, her ending is darkly comical as she died for a pointless protest, with Pete and Andrew easily accessing the vault while she’s handcuffed to the door.
As for the scene itself, which is quite a lengthy one, it’s classic Lynch and the doddery Dell Mibbler echoes the equally elderly waiter that found Cooper lying on the floor of his hotel room (so much so that one might also suspect he has a Red Room counterpart). There’s a sense of our time being wasted as Mibbler talks too slowly and takes such a long time to get Audrey a drink, but it builds the anticipation about what’s to come and it is a really unexpected moment when Andrew and Pete find the surprise that’s waiting for them.
There are also echoes in the finale of the pilot episode, most notably when Heidi reappears in the diner at the same time that Jacoby brings in Sarah Palmer to visit the Major, and while Bobby professes his love to Sally and barks, for the last time, like a dog. David Lynch seems to be trying his best to steer Twin Peaks back to the series that he and Mark Frost had originally envisioned, and does a pretty good job of it, almost washing away the bad taste of the series’ downfalls like Little Nicky and James’ short-lived odyssey.
Unfortunately, even David Lynch’s special brand of magic couldn’t save the show, and it all ends with the possessed Cooper solemnly getting up from bed to go and brush his teeth; the last we see of our hero is with his head bleeding and maniacally repeating “how’s Annie?”. It’s another disturbing moment as we see Bob’s face reflected in the mirror and realise what has happened, but nonetheless it leaves us wanting more. In a way it’s disappointing to see Cooper possessed, but it’s a tremendous ending, leaving us on a cliff hanger with no obvious answers but plenty of clues to re-examine and ponder the meaning of.
I’ll refrain from speculating too much on what could have happened in a hypothetical third season, or on the meaning of the various hints we are left, but pose a few questions which would inevitably have impacted any subsequent episodes.
- What happened to Ben? Ben looked in a pretty bad shape after Doc Haywards’ sudden burst of anger, yet at the end of the episode the doctor seemed to act normally. It seems unlikely Ben died but it’s certainly a possibility. If he was dead and Audrey was too then that would mean, according to Episode 21 where Audrey stated her father’s estate would pass to her should anything happen to him, then presumably that would mean the Great Northern would be Donna’s. Given the ruthless streak and knack for scheming her character has displayed at times, it’s easy to imagine her in such a role.
- Are Pete, Audrey and Andrew dead? This seems like a no-brainer, though I’ve learnt not think someone’s dead just because it’s implied that they died. Of course, there seems no plausible way that the trio could have escaped the bank vault alive, and Audrey, Andrew and Pete had outlived their usefulness in terms of moving the plot forward at this point.
- Now that Cooper’s possessed by Bob will he ultimately die too? The most perplexing mystery that we’re left with is how Cooper would survive being possessed by Bob. He’s the hero of the show so he couldn’t die, and perhaps is one of the few people that could resist the evil demon, but the scenes of him smashing the mirror with his head are similar to Leland Palmer’s final moments. Even so we have been introduced to the idea of the character’s evil doppelgänger in the Black Lodge and it would seem like the only satisfying course for his character would be for the good Cooper to eventually escape. This would also have set the Major up for a larger role, possibly helming a mission to save Cooper, as we know he’s able to pass through the Lodges unharmed and was sent a message via Sarah Palmer from the Black Lodge telling him where Cooper was. We only ever really got to see hints of how interesting the Major’s character could be, and while other characters gradually lost their sparkle his was the one that always seemed to have the most untapped potential thanks to the late Don S. Davis excellent portrayal.
Overall, Episode 29 is a bitter-sweet one, one of the series’ best, yet a frustratingly inconclusive ending to one damn fine TV show. Given the troubles the second season faced, the finale surpassed expectations leaving us wanting more rather than being relieved it’s all over. There’s little doubt that enough new questions and mysteries were put forward to have sustained a third season of the show and one that wouldn’t have been forced shoot its wad halfway through. Killing off, or at least seemingly so, so many major characters may have seemed like a drastic move but then it also appeared that Cooper had been killed at the cliffhanger to the first season.
While Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me offers some hints at what became of Cooper, his ultimate fate remains unknown as does the fate of Twin Peaks other inhabitants. That is unless David Lynch and co were to revive the series in 2013 to show us what happened 25 years later. Until such a thing should happen, fans could do worse than explore the films of Lynch which often feature many Peaks actors, themes and symbols which occur in the show. In particular, Mulholland Drive is worth checking out and almost feels like it could have been a spin-off from the show (it certainly seems as if it was influenced by Lynch’s idea for a spin-off series for Audrey Horne and was originally meant to be the pilot for a TV series) and the roots of Twin Peaks are visible in Blue Velvet which stars a fresh faced Kyle MacLachlan.
Whatever the fans’ opinions of the second season, there’s no question the series as a whole is one of the biggest influences on the serialized TV we enjoy today. Throughout these reviews I’ve drawn comparisons to LOST, which although doesn’t feature references to the show in the same way that Fringe does, it has some interesting parallels with Twin Peaks which are hard to ignore. The idea of Black vs White, Good vs Evil, and evil doppelgängers, are synonymous with both shows and when feeling frustrated by the inconclusive second season I remind myself that the death of John Locke and his reincarnation as the Man In Black was a necessary step for the good guys to win.
I also console myself by believing that the decision to reveal Laura Palmer’s killer was not only Twin Peak’s undoing but a necessary sacrifice for shows like LOST to exist and to be allowed to keep their biggest secrets. By taking away the central mystery so forcefully, it really exposed how important that mystery is to maintaining the audience’s interest and making such gripping, memorable and meaningful pieces of television as Twin Peaks was.
10/10 Seriable Stars