Back in the summer of 2014, a few months before a tweet revealed that everybody’s favorite gum was about come back into style, a story circulated that Laura Palmer’s family home was up for sale. The stately four-bedroom residence in Everett, Washington, that appeared in both the Twin Peaks pilot and 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me had been placed on the market. Following a failed Kickstarter campaign to raise $600,000 and turn the structure into a combination Twin Peaks museum–bed and breakfast it was quietly sold to buyers who either didn’t know that their new digs had inspired some of the freakiest sequences in television history or else somehow didn’t care—how anybody could sleep a few feet away from where this happened is beyond me.
As it turned out, all roads in Twin Peaks: The Return—every overgrown forest path and headlight-lit lost highway—led to the house at 708 33rd Street all along. After taking the action of their sprawling, unwieldy, and altogether extraordinary sequel everywhere from New York to Las Vegas to New Mexico to multiple, intersecting higher planes of time and space, David Lynch and Mark Frost staked everything on a pilgrimage back to the primal scene.
In Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Laura Palmer runs screaming through the front door after being menaced in her bedroom by BOB, only to see her father, Leland, exiting the house in the intruder’s place. Suddenly, she knows that he’s the one who’s been abusing her. The image of the homecoming queen paralyzed with confusion, fear, and heartbreak on her own perfect suburban front lawn is as potent and haunting as anything in American cinema.
Explaining exactly how and why Agent Dale Cooper ended up bringing Carrie Page—the apparent alternate-timeline-alter-ego of Laura Palmer after Dale’s time-traveling, reality-bending heroics in the previous episode spared her from ever being murdered in the first place—from Odessa, Texas, to Twin Peaks would take some explanation: about 17 hours and 50 minutes’ worth, to be exact. The precise details of the pair’s encounter with the house’s perplexed new owner will surely drive Peaks experts into frenzied speculation: she says she bought the place from the “Mrs. Chalfont,” a.k.a. the sinister Black Lodge refugees known as the Tremond family. It’s one last tantalizingly dangling plot strand in a show that dared to leave most of its ends loose (though I am very glad that the kid who believed it was his destiny to punch something really hard with his super-powerful fist got to do that very thing).
The power of The Return’s final scene isn’t really dependent on plot, however. Instead, it strips narrative away completely and connects to the lurking, uncanny sense of dread—the feeling that something terrible is happening just out of sight—that has always been the series’ (and Lynch’s) greatest asset. Dale’s disorientation at seeing his elaborate plan to reunite Carrie/Laura with her mother fall apart elicits some fine, complex acting from Kyle MacLachlan (his flustered confusion is the inverse of his serenity as the passive, enchanted Dougie Jones). But what sends the scene—which, it’s both amazing and sad to note, may end up being the climax of Lynch’s entire directorial career—into the stratosphere is Carrie/Laura’s sudden, paralyzing panic in the middle of the street as they’re leaving. With startling and terrifying speed, a quiet middle-aged woman reverts back to a helpless, traumatized teenager—and that’s where it all ends.
What’s devastating is that Laura has been put in this position because of Dale, her would-be savior. If I read the end of The Return correctly (and boy, is that a big if), it seems to be at least in part about how Agent Cooper’s transformation over the course of 25 years—from straight-arrow government employee investigating the murder of an innocent small-town girl to a quasi-supernatural being with the power to maybe keep it from happening in the first place—actually diminishes him. It turns him from a figure of heroism into one of pure, naive hubris, trying to fix something long since broken beyond repair. When Cooper sends himself back to 1989—and to the events of Fire Walk With Me—he tells Laura that he wants to bring her “home,” and in the end, that’s what he does. He drags her halfway across the country just so she can involuntarily re-experience the worst feelings of her (past?) life, while he stumbles around helplessly in the dark.
There is, maybe, a metaphor here for Lynch and Frost’s larger project, which is to problematize the process of homecoming—of “return” and its different connotations—for its characters as well as for its audience. The controlled way that the series switched between a rigorous commitment to its own mythology, good-natured fan service, and outright contempt for the wishes or expectations of die-hards suggested that its creators were passionate but also ambivalent about playing around in a universe they’d long since left behind.
For all the stray flashes of beauty, humor, and tenderness in The Return, it concluded with a moment of nightmarish disorientation in which time, place, and identity are completely out of joint but things still somehow feel familiar—the same town, the same street, the same house. The only thing scarier than knowing that you can’t go home again is learning that you can.