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Twin Peaks episode 12: a beloved character returns, not a moment too soon

Grace Zabriskie as Sarah Palmer on Twin Peaks
“Something happened to me, and I don’t feel good.”
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

The episode description for “Part 12” is “Let’s rock,” and as Twin Peaks fans know, that’s a phrase that rings a lot of bells.

It’s what the Man From Another Place said to Agent Cooper in the Red Room, right before he informed Cooper that the gum he liked was going to come back in style.

It’s what Cooper found scrawled across the windshield of Chester Desmond’s car after he went missing way back in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

And in “Part 12,” it’s how Diane decided to celebrate Gordon’s decision to deputize her to the Blue Rose, the secret FBI order dedicated to the supernatural — although Gordon’s decision seems to be at least a little bit of a ruse, as he and Albert are continuing to track Diane’s messages to figure out exactly what’s happening with her and Dark Cooper.

But would it be wrong to take it also as a celebration of the fact that Audrey Horne is back, and now we’re really rocking and rolling?

Audrey’s return has been long-heralded and long-awaited

Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne on Twin Peaks
Look who’s back.

Audrey is one of the most iconic characters of the original series whose return had been promised — and yet she hasn’t made an appearance in the new season until now. She’s become one of the signifiers of Twin Peaks that pop culture uses as a shorthand for the show: There’s cherry pie, damn good coffee, people talking backwards in the Red Room, Laura Palmer wrapped in plastic, and then Audrey, standing in the middle of the diner in her schoolgirl sweater and red lipstick, dreamily swaying to jazz.

Twin Peaks is a lot more than just those signifiers, but Audrey is also a lot more than her signature soundtrack. In the series’ original run, she was one of Twin Peaks’ most effective symbols of purity: She was a teenager trying desperately to be bad, sneaking cigarettes into school and going undercover in a Canadian brothel, but she couldn’t hide her fundamental innocence. Her quasi-romance with Cooper was one of the show’s sweetest notes.

And Audrey has been notable for her absence over the past 11 episodes. A few episodes ago we learned that she was in a coma shortly after the end of the original series, and it’s seeming more and more likely that Dark Cooper assaulted her while she was in the hospital, and that Richard is the consequence of that encounter. (“Richard never had a father,” Ben Horne says mournfully this week.) But otherwise, she’s been invisible.

As we learn in “Part 12,” that may well be because she’s off living in her own TV show. She doesn’t seem to know or care about what Richard’s been up to in the TV show we’ve all been watching. All complaints about Richard go straight to his grandparents. Instead, Audrey’s concerned about her boyfriend Billy, who has never been seen onscreen but who may be the same Billy mentioned way back in “Part 7.” That episode ended with a guy bursting into the diner, demanding to know if anyone had seen a guy named Billy, and running out again.

Billy is apparently key to the shadow show running behind the Twin Peaks we get to see, the one where Audrey is trying to get a divorce from Charlie, the husband she despises, and is frantic over Billy’s disappearance. (Perhaps this is the show on which we find out about Angela and how she lost her mom and what a player Clark is, as discussed by two nameless girls over the Chromatics in the final scene of “Part 12.”) It’s a show of which we are only granted discrete, singular glimpses, but what we see only reinforces the dark, tragic trend of this new Twin Peaks: Something terrible has settled in the town that pop culture chose to remember as a sweetly charming swirl of kitsch.

“Something happened to me, and I don’t feel good!” says Sarah Palmer at the grocery store. But something happened to all of Twin Peaks. And Audrey has gone from the girl swaying in the middle of the diner to jazz only she can hear, to a middle-aged woman haranguing the husband she hates while her terrible son beats people to death.

Twin Peaks knows you want answers. Twin Peaks is worried about you. Why not relax a little?

David Lynch and Miguel Ferrer as Gordon and his date on Twin Peaks
Can’t we all be as chill as David Lynch?

Audrey’s return aside, Twin Peaks is continuing to crawl glacially toward any hope of conclusion. It’s almost gleeful about how slowly it moves. Watch the look of pure joy on Lynch-as-Gordon’s face as Gordon’s French date sloooooowly makes her exit: She puts on her shoes, shows off her legs, straightens her clothes, checks her makeup, reapplies her lipstick, takes another sip of wine, and kisses him goodbye, dragging everything out as long as humanly possible. And Gordon is just thrilled to pieces.

Albert, watching, is less pleased. He wants to sit down with Gordon and talk business. When Gordon suggests that he get back to his date and his glass of wine, Albert is stonefaced.

Gordon puts a comforting arm on his shoulder. “Albert,” he says, “sometimes I really worry about you.”

The idea of talking business on this show is worrying. It’s as if the show itself is asking why the audience is so invested in the idea of a resolution. Why devote so much emotional energy to trying to solve the mysteries when, after all, there is good wine to be drunk, and when there are beautiful women to chat up? Twin Peaks wants you to relax. Enjoy yourself.

On the other hand: There is Audrey’s tense, frustrated face as she listens to half of a phone call. The other half is clearly full of important information, but she can’t hear any of it — and Charlie clearly has no interest in passing any of it along to her.

“You’re not going to tell me what she said?” she says in disbelief as he hangs up the phone. Then, when it becomes clear he really isn’t going to tell her, in fury: “You’re not going to tell me what she said?!”

Audrey gets it.

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