Interpreting Season 3 of Twin Peaks by way of late Lynch - a guide with emphasis on what the ending means

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Interpreting Season 3 of Twin Peaks by way of late Lynch - a guide with emphasis on what the ending means

Postby tmurry » Sun Nov 19, 2017 3:43 pm

The recent spate of “Twin Peaks is all X’s dream starting at point Y” takes are not so much wrong as just too explicit statements of what are simply useful hacks to try to view certain story elements in isolation and to reduce the dissonance of the “dream logic.” They are easy ways to get a hold on a simple interpretive framework so that the posters can obtain a lens to view things through. This is a legitimate way to approach Lynch – look at the whole thing through several reduced perspectives and understand it like a series of snapshots that we intuitively understand as a story. But even in this, there is a force under the surface trying to manhandle these takes into a single framework by assigning a ground reality by fiat, and I don’t think late Lynch works that way.

Early Lynch, no matter how abstract it got, generally hung on one narrative thread from which the more abstract psychological beads hung. His early/late career break, starting with the last original Twin Peaks episode Beyond Life and Death (or arguably the roadhouse/Maddie’s murder scene in Lonely Souls) begins Lynch’s habitual use of more than one story line/level (some of which are more symbolic than grounded) in which we have to assemble not only what things mean in one context but how things relate across contexts and how the contexts relate to each other. There will never be one answer on any of these, but there are answers that work better for more people.

The "policies and procedures" take for understanding late Lynch is:

1. Recognize the presence of a number of ground realities/threads that have something that could a considered (however loosely) a “main” or driving narrative. Some will be more conventional than others.
2. Figure out how these work internally - what is the basic story, what are the symbolic and operational elements being used, and how do these things function and at what level.
3. Explore how these relate to each other – what congruences and overlaps occur, what are the scenes that lie at points where there is blurring between realities, and what are elements that seem to “tunnel” between the threads. Eventually, this starts to look like “planes of focus” on one thing.
4. Dwell on the psychological elements and themes that might act as anchors and try to assemble a non-magical underlying story and a purely archetypal story that is suggested by both the real and the psychological. Regular movies and shows do this all the time, operating a surface and subliminal story, just in an integrated top-down way in which you aren’t consciously aware of the subliminal elements unless you are attuned to them. Lynch foregrounds and isolates them to the point that you need to consciously deal. 3 and 4 In brief: how are the threads/worlds acting to tell us one story and what is that story.
5. The leap – invent a model that loosely explains how that complex set of overlying relationships work as a framework for the story to work at all levels. This doesn’t have to be totally Occam’s razor, and will probably be messy as hell and hard to articulate when closely examined.
6. Go back to the source and continue to refine by iterating steps 2-5 as things don’t fit exactly.
7. Realize that, by design/nature, you won’t achieve perfection and you should keep going only so long as the process nourishes you – from a health standpoint this would best be a chronic remitting hobby.

Mulholland Drive is a good training film for this process as there are only two threads and a relatively workable framework emerges with (for late Lynch) the least effort. But you still get the experience of looking at a lot of symbolic detail that you can watch again and again trying to work out the details of and, despite the “obvious” framework, you can even go Buddha brain on the meta-context. Lost Highway is a bit tougher, but still has only two threads and a working framework that isn’t too tough to arrive at, so it can be used as a minor level up. Inland Empire, though, is tougher. There are four “base” threads, which are harder to internally integrate, one of which is, uhm, completely archetypically abstracted, and the amount of time spent in those “in between” places is a lot higher. But this is the only training that can really help prepare for what’s going on in season 3 of Twin Peaks.

With these skills, building the framework for season 3 starts with achieving an understanding of the lodge sequence in Beyond Life and Death (which, of course, requires the context of the rest of the original run, notably prior Dale vision scenes, an understanding of Dale’s history - especially romantic and professional - and the mystery of Laura herself… this is real work) followed by grappling with FWWM and the way it changes the original series (especially the somehow getting the FBI/convenience store stuff and understanding Laura’s arc). At this point, you should have built up a thematic story or system in which this world of Twin Peaks is operating within to act as a basis of understanding. Is it possible to forgo this? Of course, but this is very helpful anchoring.

Season 3 is long and just the first step of separating the threads isn’t that easy (due to number, complexity, and more subtle “bleeding” between worlds. This is why Las Vegas was hypothesized to be a pocket reality or dream space – it functions separately in the narrative. The major story cables are: Mr. C’s mission, Dougie/Cooper’s journey, The FBI’s quest, the rumination on Twin Peaks the town, the roadhouse/Audrey limbo space, and Cooper/Richard’s “version” of saving and finding “Laura.” There is another thread that cuts across all of these that encompasses the story of Laura, Judy, the Woodsmen and the lodges, which involves parts of the others but has enough identity to carve out as a deep-historical “flip” version. The brief question, again, is how are the threads acting to tell us one story and what is that story.

The answer that suggests itself is that all are stories of what has been wrong the past 25 years (with a background of what was wrong before that that led to this), acting on all levels (with Dale, with the world of Twin Peaks, with our world), in the quarter century since the show went off the air and the question of what we do about it now. You could see this generationally – what has Lynch’s generation done wrong and how do they atone – or how has America/the west miss-stepped. This is mostly (oddly perhaps) optimistic, suggesting we can own our faults and move forward.

Mr. C is the Coop that lost himself but is also the way the driving force in the culture has become mean, selfish, and unconcerned with collateral damage. Through attaining his stated desires, he is trapped and denied ultimate satisfaction, but his “bad” self is dispatched by icons of innocence and enthusiasm. Dougie is the good Coop trying to gain control but also the attempt to reengage with the world with new awareness, and thus repair, systemically, one by one, the damages caused by prior bad actions, both of which which he does. The FBI tries to find Coop but acts as the cultural consciousness attempting to come to terms with what is wrong, approaching the problem rationally and failing, but standing aside to watch it be solved, well, spiritually. The town itself is depicted as off the rails with gender relationships hopelessly toxic and the good lost and confused, but the story ends by showing us the unification of Ed and Norma and the showdown with good triumphant. The roadhouse/Audrey is about the traumatic necessity of waking up to what has been going on.

All of these threads seem to fit pretty well up to the point that the lights go out in the sheriff’s station (and tossing in the Mr.C burning and return of Dougie scenes that open the last episode). It works like this: Dale was an archetypical hero of our time (circa 1990) who protected women, kept the social order, and believed in the system. He (read: this paradigm) faced his flaws and was found wanting in the lodge trial, unmasking his instrumental view of women and enforcement of the very structures that inadvertently abet the issues he deals with the aftermath of. His collapse – the loss of traditional values and giving into an individualistic desire – leads to “Dale in the world” as a stand in for neo-liberalism’s (the overall regime we live under, not a political party) obsession with efficiency and individual freedoms, and underlying nihilistic slide into meaninglessness. Dale in the lodge is the lost more basic “good” relationship with the world. Dougie is then a story of this good’s ability, once forced out, to rebuild itself and repair the world by reconnecting with it, with Vegas standing in for the harsher aspects of the west which are resisted and won over. The FBI is the part of us that struggles to understand what we’ve become and how we can eliminate whatever is wrong, but is mostly impotent to enact change, but tries hard and bears witness to the birth of the future. Twin Peaks is the place where we see the effects that this passage of time has wrought on what was, on some level, a good place (the monsters that were always there but were held at bay simply in the open now), reuniting with it's better self, while the roadhouse depicts this on an unconscious level of this with Audrey as our confused observational stand in.

All this ends with unification – Ed and Norma (the peaks) come together, Audrey wakes up, Dale’s good reasserts having learned (synthesizing the traditional and the lessons learned overcoming his flaws), the FBI bears witness, the middle age Dougie becomes a better man, the evil version of the national consciousness is defeated, the world healed. There is reintegration of the national psyche, restoration of order while integrating the new, and a return to the “good” marriage of the masculine and the feminine. These are reflections of one story of wrongness righted, with different focal planes after we as a collective stirring awake after 25 years wandering the cultural desert.

The meta thread requires independent work, but works across this allegorically. The post-war years created a media mediated, fear drenched coarsening of the culture (the woodsmen) which put people to (moral) sleep. Aspects of this invoked shift a warped version of “the feminine” (Judy) which rode the consumerist coarsening to “infect” the zeitgeist and creating a dependant distortion of the masculine (Bob). Judy is inattentive, indulgent, and jealous (the Oedipal mother) and creates the masculine Bob, overcome by a need to consume (short v – Betty Draper made Charles Manson) and keeps the trauma underpinning this (Naido) partitioned away. Laura is a modern complex person, manifested of the feminine, born (aren’t we all) subsumed by older archetypes (the firm father and nurturing mother), caught in a culture of Judy and Bob, but refusing to be ultimately indoctrinated by/perpetuate it, leading to her own sacrifice. This leaves Bob freely floating in the culture associated with the Mr. C archetype and Judy associated with Sarah, and the broken feminine on Naido to emerge from as the victim-defined children of that generation (see Tumblr). The restored real Cooper’s last (only) step is to restore the “woman in trouble” Naido to personhood, his trial only truly over when he recognizes the subjectivity of the women he saw as only dead bodies to be avenged (also the futility of trying to end a bad system by isolating one bad element and killing it. The fight is small things, every day, and continues forever, but we'll deal with this below).

So, without getting into more stuff about gender, generations, America, and consumerism, this comes together OK. But what about the last bit, the episode and a half after the sheriff’s station?
The thing is, it corresponds well to all the above elements, as if they are a different telling of them, when considered alongside them. The masculine heroic embodiment makes an error and figures out finally, after 25 years, what is wrong as it faces the feminine. It is complex and can be read in many ways since we need to understand the relationship between the first part – from lights out until Laura disappears – to what happens after. There is a lot that influences my feelings on this both by my own philosophies and via specific cues – black and white vs. color, the FBI pin’s presence and absence, the content of the prior Coop and Andy scenes with the Fireman, and most of all what I want the show’s final statement to be. No doubt this is the truly difficult part of the framework. From here, this is me making sense of this and I’d postulate the following: the scene in the sheriff’s station (+/- the walk to the boiler room) closes out the true Twin Peaks world, i.e. TP the original TV show’s world, and what happens after needs to be something else, although it parallels the other threads as another version of Cooper’s mind that the 25 years has wrought.

Let’s examine some possibilities:

1. Literalist (regular brain) version - Cooper really does go back and change the past (some version of this underpins the Final Dossier). The 25 years ago him still winds up in the lodge with Laura having disappeared rather than died, but the timeline him “wins” the trial. The alternate universe circumstances are now that they’re-in-a-relationship-Diane is waiting for him and they are going to hunt down Laura to wake her up and get at Judy, presumably per some Blue Rose plan. But the years take their toll, and Coop slides into a results oriented obsession, loses who he really is, and loses Diane, all without recognizing the cosmic error that has occurred (whether he knows the unofficial version or not). This plays out what Laura is like denied the agency/choice of her own redemption (that he robbed her of) and relives, after a fashion, the same Mr. C version of Coop (I believe Mr. C was always actually perusing Cooper’s goal, just in the ends justify the means, impulse satisfying way). He is confronted at the end by how he has wasted half his life on a project that has resulted in worse human trauma and tragedy that never ends. I don’t like this version “straight” since it is a version that leaves us trapped in the darkest timeline, but even more in that it puts to a lie the idea that the whole 18 hour season is about Cooper and our society overcoming a sickness and healing. It renders the season moot with nothing learned except that a mistake has been made, left at the same endpoint as season 2. See: the ending of Brazil. Steelman version – the “Cooper” recognition/regret and the “Laura” facing of her trauma are the point that the narrative needed to get to achieve lysis/closure as a beginning not an ending, rendering it cyclical but escapable.

2. The “real Cooper”(glowing brain) version – After the various allegorical and media-ized levels of the story wrap up, we get a transition that lets us know that this is about living, ongoing victimization and the horror that life goes on. After some semi-symbolic depiction of the alienation of a relationship failing under these conditions, we get the real life version - the end of the story this would have been based on - and the wrecked lives of the femme fatale and existential PI, the victim and the knight of infinite resignation. This version at least fits the different names best. Ditto 1, I don’t like it because of bottom line is worse human trauma and tragedy that never ends. It’s like ending the movie Labyrinth with a depiction of the date rape that inspired it. Steelman version of this is that the season shows us the error of our ways and how to resolve them, then drops us off in the real world at the point of recognition and says “now, in your life, fix this.”

3. Lodge re-run (astral brain) version – Coop fails the lodge trial initially, but the trial never really ends during those 25 years… the Jungian facing of the shadow keeps-on-a-truckin’. Although he initially loses, we see iterations of an ongoing test throughout – repetition of the whisper that contains the thing Coop needs to internalize but cannot accept, some version of “your need to save me is wrapped up in the toxicity that caused this” and Cooper’s various reactions/attempts to deal. This read of the end is just a direct run through of a basic failure of the trial… he saves her (mistake) and witnesses the results of his (contributing) attitudes and (resultant) actions on himself, those he loves, and the person he is trying to help, having made everything worse. This is like if the second to last episode of a season of Criminal Minds was the team getting Reid out of prison with joy followed by a last episode depicting what he went through while inside. Better, and is the first version that makes the FBI pin make sense – he wears it when he is being tested – and does not nullify the good ending, but doesn’t really explain the transitional features. Steelman version: just out of sequence event to leave us in the appropriate thematic suspension, a la Pulp Fiction.

4. The last temptation of Cooper (Galaxy Brain) – An altered version of 3 where the superimposition of Cooper’s face in episode 17 indicates the beginning of him remembering the repeated trial to live its lesson in a moment of truth: in order to love he must see women, warts and all, as people with a specific identity not as faceless victims. The face begins at the crucial moment of seeing Naido, drops for a moment when he sees in the red room the image of his own corruption encasing the yin yang of the feminine (an instant encapsulation of his hard earned realization), then drops again when he fully embraces Diane as Diane. This frame is the moment of testing and he “passes.” The face resumes after this, bridging to the boiler room, in order to present this lesson, seen in that original dropped face moment of the crusty ball, in full narrative form. “this was the choice he didn’t make” it says. In other words, the passage with the Naido/effaced Diane is him recalling what he has learned from the “feminine” room as a single abstract image (women are complicated and can’t be walled off by our tainted need to protect) but also directs us to the transition to the boiler room (i.e. the beginning of the full version of the last temptation of that moment – the compulsion to continue to try to save and going after Judy) which is positioned at the end because it marks the beginning of the struggle of the rest of his life as an active project of living correctly. The trial is always ongoing, it says. In other, in other words, the face acts to indicate that the last 1.5 episodes is the full unpacking of what happens in that bracket of time (seeing Naido to embracing Diane), but also that that temptation does not end and he can always lose what he has gained. I like this best because it fits with virtually all the cues, give or take (I take Andy seeing the 6 pole as a warning, just like Fireman namechecking Richard and Linda, to avoid a certain path whether the B&W fireman, stuck as he is in the past, knows this or not – to move forward we have to question the good father’s directives) and gives me the thematic resonance that I want.

5. God brain version – all these versions are reflections of the same big tesseract of an idea which can never be uttered since the language of the soul can never be spoken.

All this is an attempt to find a relation between the more easily resolvable tracks of the first 16 and a half episodes and the complicating last episode and a half. I have glossed over a lot despite the length to get to that point without chapters devoted to unpacking a lot of the interesting but non-core material. Example - Mrs. Tremont/Chalfont was established in the OS/FWWM as the "mother" in all it's traditional loving but prudish disproval, closer to Lynch's own conception of his/the mother growing up, so in the house in the real world, the "real" Laura faces not her cartoon/archetypal mother/Judy but must "see" the inherent abuse/avoidance by the institution of motherhood in our real world "house." Hope this helps and people can follow along without too much of a headache. I will continue to unpack this. Good luck!
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Re: Interpreting Season 3 of Twin Peaks by way of late Lynch - a guide with emphasis on what the ending means

Postby Xavi » Mon Nov 20, 2017 4:36 am

Don't know if I really understand all you wrote, but each and every viewer witnessed that the awakening transferred the story to completely different "dimensions." The utter childish BORB Freddie boxing resolution fitted like a glove on ... Dougie's fist, and his fist only. So, at 2:53 Dougie died, Mr C died, and Dale Cooper died ... but death is not the end, not in Lynch's backyard.
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Re: Interpreting Season 3 of Twin Peaks by way of late Lynch - a guide with emphasis on what the ending means

Postby Saturn's child » Mon Nov 20, 2017 7:42 pm

I love your post tmurry! I don't have time at the moment to comment in detail (except to say that one of your asides has made me reconsider/re-examine the parallels between Coop's & Mr C's goals), but thought I'd at least drop in for a brief 'Bravo'. :)
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Re: Interpreting Season 3 of Twin Peaks by way of late Lynch - a guide with emphasis on what the ending means

Postby Xavi » Tue Nov 21, 2017 5:00 am

I thought this was kind of interesting, though three seemed missing; Ben & Jerry and Dr Jacoby, maybe? And should we see Diane as the "invisible holy spirit?"




Here they are; twelve witnesses (true believers?), of course the pinkies C/S/M/andy do not count because they are in the "version layer."


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