Twin Peaks: The Return may have concluded its run, but that doesn’t mean we’ve been able to get it out of our heads. The entire series was really one surprise after another, but there were some obvious standout moments, which included the introductions of new (and old) characters, sudden shocks, and weird reveals.
The Return begins with Agent Dale Cooper sitting in the Black Lodge, looking decidedly older but otherwise exactly like he did on the original Twin Peaks. Twenty minutes into the episode, we meet “Mr. C,” his sinister doppelganger who’s been roaming the Earth unchecked for 25 years. Fans who remember season two’s long-ago cliffhanger, which revealed that the good Cooper and the bad Cooper had switched dimensions, were likely expecting to meet the evil twin at some point. But his appearance (that hair!) and hard, cruel demeanor—evident from his very first scene—were still utterly startling, especially when contrasted with the Cooper we already knew and loved.
If you revisit episodes one and two after watching The Return to the end, you’ll notice a lot of foreshadowing in Cooper’s Black Lodge scenes, or at least stuff that finally made sense (relatively speaking) way later in the series: references to “430” and “Richard and Linda;” older Laura Palmer’s revelation that “I am dead, yet I live;” Cooper’s glimpse of a desert highway; and the One-Armed Man’s question “Is it future or is it past?” On the original series, we learned that Bob’s former partner, Mike, severed his own arm—cursed with some kind of mark-of-the-devil tattoo—when he decided to leave Black Lodge badness behind (his real-life counterpart, a kindly shoe salesman, claimed he lost his arm in a car accident, and that the tattoo read “Mom”). The arm itself never came into play until The Return, but it’s evolved into a tree sparking with electricity (more foreshadowing) and is a spooky, but vaguely benevolent, dispenser of advice and encouragement. It also offers a striking reminder that in the realm of Twin Peaks, anything can happen and everything is possible. Even a talking brain-tree-thing.
We may have been expecting to see someone like Mr. C on The Return, but Dougie Jones, the third Cooper, makes a jaw-dropping first impression. Dougie’s been holding Agent Cooper’s place in our dimension for 25 years, during which time he married, had a kid, became a moderately successful insurance salesman, grew a beer gut, and dabbled in the sleazier delights of Las Vegas—including running up a sizable gambling debt. In other words, just when you thought Mr. C was the most opposite of Agent Cooper that anyone could be, along came Dougie. After Cooper zaps back into the real world and into Dougie’s mortal form, Dougie’s consciousness is wiped out of existence, and the long, long road to Cooper waking up from his dopey haze begins. This journey that includes cleaning up the various messes that Dougie left behind, starting with an incredible run of slot-machine luck.
Damn, is that former bad-boy coke dealer Bobby Briggs... in full uniform as a Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department deputy? Laura Palmer’s high-school boyfriend didn’t end up with a perfect life—his marriage to Shelly didn’t work out, and their daughter ended up with a guy who sure seems a lot like Shelly’s abusive first husband, Leo. But Bobby got himself together professionally, choosing a career that would have made his late father, Major Garland Briggs, proud. It’s also the last thing most fans would’ve expected for Bobby—one of the few characters on The Return that still has a deep emotional connection to Laura Palmer—and that makes it even more meaningful.
All Twin Peaks faithful knew the name Diane from hearing Agent Cooper speak it into his little tape recorder throughout the first two seasons, making notes, requests, and observations (“Diane, I’m holding in my hand a small box of chocolate bunnies”) while working the Laura Palmer case. Her character on The Return ends up being quite complex—she’s not at all who you think she is at first. Fans knew that Laura Dern, a longtime David Lynch collaborator, was going to appear on the show, but her casting as the mysterious Diane—a crucial part opposite her Blue Velvet co-star, Kyle MacLachlan—made for an incredibly satisfying reveal.
Richard Horne is a soulless, rotten asshole. We eventually learn that he’s (more likely than not) the product of a nonconsensual encounter between Mr. C and a comatose Audrey Horne. But in episode six, we only know that he’s a bully trying to forge a career in Twin Peaks’ designer-drug trade—and he’s also got a big problem with road rage, which leads him to mow over a child in a crosswalk and speed away without a hint of remorse. It’s a horribly cruel act that makes a bit more sense once you realize he’s basically the son of Bob, but in the moment, it’s just sickeningly awful.
We get a few earlier glimpses of the FBI agent trapped inside Dougie the insurance man, but the first real sign that Cooper was working his way back out came when Ike the Spike—an assassin hired by Mr. C—made his move on Dougie and his wife, Janey-E. Dougie doesn’t even change his expression as he disarms his would-be killer (and throat-chops him for good measure); apparently, muscle memory for being a badass (“Douglas Jones, he moved like a cobra,” marvels one eyewitness) sustains itself over multiple decades.
The now-legendary episode eight takes a turn for the strange when the Woodsmen appear to revive Mr. C after he’s gunned down. But things really get cooking at around the 16-minute mark (after the Nine Inch Nails performance), when The Return explores the psychic fallout from July 16, 1945—date of the world’s first atomic bomb test, with a later shift to 1956 to examine even more (apparently) nuke-spawned terrors. The episode is like a mini-movie unto itself, offering dazzling visuals as well as hints at the origins of the battle between good and evil that’s at the core of Twin Peaks. It also reveals a bit more about the unknowable horrors of the Woodsmen, emissaries of that dark place that powers the Black Lodge—who spend their time on Earth crushing skulls, reciting a poem that’s even more cryptic than “Fire Walk With Me,” and asking, “Got a light?” All that had come before episode eight was still very good, but this was the turning point for The Return. Finally, we got a glimpse inside David Lynch’s head, and were treated to the full expression of his vision—and the long wait for The Return seemed all the more justified.
As we’d already sort of guessed, given the bizarre nature of the murder case he’s become entangled with, Bill Hastings wasn’t just a high-school principal—he was also deeply curious about the paranormal, specifically the existence of alternate dimensions. When the FBI questions him about his blog, he weeps hysterically while describing an incredible story of traveling between dimensions, meeting Major Briggs, and seeing his girlfriend die before his eyes. We know, of course, that he’s become entangled in the FBI’s ultimate “Blue Rose” case, but his extreme mix of grief and confusion is exactly how a normal, average person would react to these same events, and a reminder that not everyone in the Twin Peaks world has their third eye open, so to speak.
Damn, it was nice to see the FBI’s most sarcastic cynic, Albert Rosenfield, sharing a pleasant meal with Buckhorn, South Dakota coroner Constance Talbot. It’s just a tiny moment, and their relationship (if that even comes to pass) is never mentioned again, but you can’t help but react with “awwwww”—a rare happening on The Return, and truly something to be cherished.
Bill leads the FBI team to the abandoned lot where he found the portal between dimensions. While they investigate, he sits terrified in the back of a police car—with good reason, as it turns out, because a Woodsman flickers out of nowhere and deftly removes the top of his skull. It’s the only merciful outcome possible for poor Bill, whose life has become one long stretch of nightmarish agony. But in the moment, it’s hard not to react like Detective Dave Mackley, who finds himself suddenly splattered with Bill’s blood and brains: “OH! MY! GOD!”
Dougie’s overdue gambling debts and huge casino winnings had already made him a marked man in the eyes of Las Vegas gangsters Bradley and Robert Mitchum. But thanks to Dougie’s crooked co-worker, the Mitchum brothers also believed he was the reason they’d missed out on a huge insurance claim. A quick, clean desert execution seemed like the only proper outcome, until Bradley reveals (in true Twin Peaks fashion) that he’d learned in a dream that they couldn’t kill Dougie if he showed up carrying a cherry pie. What’s in the box, Dougie? A CHERRY PIE, plus he’s got a $30 million insurance payout in his pocket for the brothers, which sure helps the trio become best friends. It’s maybe the most comical of all the moments that prove that some force of good is looking out for Dougie, especially since he’s having quite a hard time looking out for himself.
Fans waited until episode 12 to see the return of beloved original character Audrey Horne—and got a shock to see that the Twin Peaks sex kitten/amateur sleuth had become a rage-filled woman seemingly unable to leave her house, despite her obsession with the Roadhouse. Audrey’s plot was so strange and removed from the rest of the show that it eventually became clear that The Return wasn’t really giving us an accurate picture of her reality. But her first appearance was incredibly jarring. Who would have imagined that fan favorite Audrey would have turned out so desperately unhappy?
After Mr. C is revived by the Woodsmen, he hits the road to take down his would-be killer, Ray, who’s taken refuge in a bad-guy lair in Montana. The first thing Mr. C must do when he arrives is arm-wrestle the resident crime boss, a mountain of a man who’s completely unconcerned about his chances—not realizing that Mr. C runs on the power of supernatural evil. We know who the winner will be, and honestly we’re not that surprised when Mr. C caves the guy’s face in after breaking his arm over the table. The inclusion of something so macho as an arm-wrestling contest, however, adds a note of eerie levity to Mr. C’s otherwise mostly psychotic storyline.
“Last night, I had another Monica Bellucci dream,” Gordon Cole says. In any other situation, such a confession might lead into an off-color story, but for Gordon and his FBI colleagues, the dream contains an important clue to their case. The context is just after Gordon has revealed that the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department has stumbled upon a clue to “two Coopers,” via newly-discovered pages from Laura Palmer’s diary. “We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream,” Dream Monica tells Gordon. “But, who is the dreamer?” Gordon’s dream then flashes back to a crucial Fire Walk With Me scene, in which Cooper tells Gordon about his own dream—a dream inside a dream, if you will—and is then accused by the long-lost Phillip Jeffries (who becomes a significent presence in The Return) of not being who he appears to be. Indeed.
Laura Palmer’s mother, Sarah, was always a troubled soul, but in the 25 years since her husband murdered her only daughter and then killed himself in jail, she’s gotten to a very dark place. The Return never explicitly spells out what’s wrong (fan theories, start your engines), but we get a damn good look at what she’s now capable of in this very weird moment. Though Sarah mostly spends her days drinking and watching violent TV shows at home, she ventures out one night—not to the Roadhouse, but a grimy dive bar, where a ponytailed man wearing a “Truck You” t-shirt pays her unwanted attention. After calmly informing him “I’ll eat you,” she removes her face to reveal a black hole—echoing Black Lodge Laura’s face-full-of-light reveal from earlier in the season—and asks “Do you really want to fuck with this?” before replacing her face and ripping his throat out (and then acting like she doesn’t remember what happened). The whole interaction is equal parts gross, empowering, mystifying, and terrifying.
For all the garmonbozia (in Twin Peaks parlance, pain and sorrow) ladled out throughout The Return, the long-awaited engagement of Big Ed and Norma, a love that predates the original Twin Peaks by decades, was a treat sweeter than any cherry pie. (Especially after all hope seemed lost a week prior.) Like Albert’s date but times a million, this moment was shocking in a good way.
You didn’t think we’d have a list of the most shocking Twin Peaks: The Return moments and not include the most literal example, did you? While watching Sunset Boulevard and eating chocolate cake, Dougie overhears the character name “Gordon Cole,” and it sparks something deep inside... a force motivating enough to make him crawl to the nearest outlet and jam his fork inside. The brief coma that follows, we’ll soon learn, is the electrical jolt Agent Cooper needed to cross back over and fully occupy his mind in our dimension—at last.
Diane’s behavior throughout the return could kindly be categorized as hostile, from her attitude (“Fuck you, Tammy!”) to her secret texts to Mr. C, even while she was supposedly working with the FBI to track him down. All is revealed in this harrowing moment, where she shares that 25 years ago, Cooper raped her and then took her to the convenience store—and even now, she says haltingly, “I’m not me,” before waving her gun around and getting shot to death... and disintegrating into the Black Lodge. In fact, the Diane we’ve been seeing this whole time has been a tulpa (a double, like the original Dougie), and the real Diane is “in the sheriff’s station,” trapped in the guise of the eyeless woman, Naido. It’s a lot to take in, so thank goodness Laura Dern makes it all totally convincing.
When Mr. C shows up at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department, daffy receptionist Lucy assumes he’s her old pal Agent Cooper—until she gets a call from the real Agent Cooper, who’s speeding into town at that very moment. She picks just the right moment to understand how cell phones work (a joke from way earlier in the season that finally pays off), and nails Mr. C right when he’s drawing his gun on Sheriff Frank Truman. Who expected Lucy, of all people, to be capable of such quick thinking, and such precision shooting? From the looks of it, she shocked even herself with that move.
In the interest of brevity, and also the fact that we’re still mulling over how everything went down, let’s just say that Cooper is able to transport back to 1989, in the very hours before Laura Palmer’s murder, and literally take her hand and lead her away from danger. Her wrapped-in-plastic body, which turns up in the early moments of the first Twin Peaks episode, vanishes from that iconic frame. She’s alive! For Twin Peaks devotees, the idea that the timeline we’ve been following all these years has now been altered is utterly mind-blowing. (But will she get a happy ending? That scream at the end suggests... uncertainty.)
Speaking of uncertainty, Twin Peaks: The Return ends with the ultimate, most perfect “WTF?” any TV series finale has ever delivered. After a mysterious road trip with and without (the real) Diane that may or may not have included crossing into a different dimension, but definitely included handing an ass-whupping to a trio of rednecks, Cooper finds Laura’s lookalike, Carrie Page, living in Texas. He tries to make good on his promise to 1989 Laura by bringing her “home.” But when they get to Twin Peaks, everything looks the same, but everything is also unfamiliar, including the woman who answers the door at Laura’s old house. Cooper, expecting to find some resolution, is shell-shocked. Then suddenly, he wonders: “What year is this?” As we faintly hear Sarah Palmer yelling for Laura, Carrie/Laura screams that familiar scream, and all the lights in the house go out, leaving Twin Peaks in the dark forever.