The Magician Longs to See
This post includes spoilers for the finale of Twin Peaks: The Return, so if you haven’t seen it yet, for crying out loud, don’t read it.
I didn’t really want to do this.
I didn’t want to sit here in the middle of the afternoon on Labor Day writing about this TV show I watched over the past three months, then marathoned over the weekend in anticipation of the finale Sunday night. But here I am, doing it, because I can’t move on with my day until I get these thoughts out of my head. I have a need.
In the second part of Twin Peaks: The Return, the doppleganger of Dale Cooper, who I’ll call Mr. C, just to keep things clear, admonishes his double-dealing associate Ray for wantonly using that word: “need.”
“If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I don’t need anything, Ray,” he says. “I want.”
Those are carefully chosen words. It’s David Lynch and Mark Frost pointing very early on to the key difference between Special Agent Dale Cooper and Mr C. It’s not so much about good and evil. It’s that one needs and one wants.
Dale Cooper is a character who is very deeply driven by a need to fulfill his duty, whatever that may be. It’s clear when he denies Audrey’s advances at every turn or just can’t take a damn break when he’s suspended from the FBI. It’s even there in his overwhelming drive for pie and coffee. They’re not indulgences. They’re the staples that sustain him. (It’s telling that Mr. C refuses coffee at the sheriff’s station, and the only time we see him eat, it’s a plate of creamed corn/garmonbozia. In the world of Twin Peaks, vegetables are a want.)
Things go badly for Cooper when he starts pursuing his wants instead of his needs. We don’t even really hear him consider what he wants until he’s laying on the floor of his hotel room, bleeding out from a gunshot wound in the second-season premiere. Then he starts mixing his desires with his duty. He breaks protocol to save Audrey from One-Eyed Jack’s and loses his badge for a while. We find out that his love for Caroline led to her death. He goes into the Black Lodge to save Annie, and loses himself for 25 years.
And then, in the finale of The Return, he tries to undo the big inciting incident of everything and prevent Laura Palmer’s murder, using the knowledge and power he has gained from a quarter-century with MIKE and The Fireman and Major Briggs. It may seem like a fulfillment of his duty, but it’s not. It’s a longing.
When Cooper opens that buzzing door in the basement of the Great Northern and meets MIKE once again, it’s telling that MIKE recites the “Fire Walk with Me” poem to him:
Through the darkness of future past
The magician longs to see
One chants/chance out between two worlds:
Fire walk with me
There’s always been resonant meaning in those four short lines, but The Return’s finale almost literalizes it. Cooper, who now has power and knowledge of the world to the point he can seemingly do magic, is longing to see a future (to him now, the past) in which Laura isn’t dead, so he takes his one chance to do that. But because it’s a longing instead of his duty, Cooper can’t see the unintended consequences of his actions, and thus creates another world.
In most of the analyses of the finale that I’ve read so far (and I’m devouring them wherever I can get them), the consensus seems to be that Cooper failed to save Laura. I’m not so sure that’s the case. The remixed opening scene of the pilot, where now Pete Martell goes fishing uninterrupted instead of finding Laura’s body, isn’t presented as a possibility. It happens. Laura is saved from the murder that kicked off the series.
But that doesn’t mean she’s completely rescued from danger. BOB is still out there, inhabiting Leland. And the end of the movie Fire Walk With Me made it pretty clear that Laura’s death was actually the preferable alternative to BOB’s intended goal of taking her soul and possessing her.
Laura disappearing from Cooper’s grasp isn’t a reversion. Laura is now somewhere else, yeah, but that somewhere isn’t necessarily that train car where she was killed. The course is being corrected. The balance is being restored, or at least an attempt is being made, whether it’s by Judy or The Fireman or whatever other force takes her away. (The sound is exactly the same one The Fireman plays on the phonograph for Cooper in the first moments of Part 1, upon telling him, “Listen to the sounds.”)
But it’s too late.
The title Twin Peaks has been a dead giveaway all along. It’s a story about duality, like so much of David Lynch’s other work. It’s also about balance. Every force has a counterbalance. Laura has Donna. Cooper has Mr. C. Need has want. BOB has MIKE. Judy has The Fireman. I’m sure I could think of others. There are lots. Even the two Sheriffs Truman balance each other out in a weird way.
Part 17 of The Return takes two of those counterbalances, BOB and Mr. C, off the table. They’re vanquished. And without them, their balances progress past the fulcrum. Everything comes crashing down. If we’re sticking with the idea that The Return was really a TV show about a TV show, erasing the inciting incident means there’s no show at all, and you’re left with characters searching for a story.
In those last moments of the finale, Cooper and Laura don’t have a story to reside in anymore. Did you notice how Kyle McLachlan sort of leaned over, like he was about to fall? His counterbalance is gone. He’s unmoored.
Of course, this is just one reading. And it sure doesn’t explain a lot of the dangling stories and ideas left behind, like (the big one) what the hell was happening with Audrey? (I did find it very interesting that the Evolution of the Arm repeated one of her lines about “the little girl who lives down the lane,” but I don’t really know what to make of it.) Was it the “real” Cooper or the tulpa who came out of the Black Lodge to meet Diane? Which was the “real” Diane? What was possessing Sarah Palmer? Did Steven kill himself? Did Andy and Lucy ever finish making Wally’s room into a study?
I can’t imagine those things were left open unintentionally. But that story collapsed on itself.
Anyway, it’s 2:53 now, and I’ve got a few paces to walk to get where I’m going. All in all, if I could talk to Twin Peaks: The Return like it was a person, I’d say, “It’s yrev very good to see you again, old friend.”
Matt D. Wilson is the author of Supreme Villainy: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Most (In)Famous Supervillain Memoir Never Published.