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Twin Peaks episode 15: the show bids farewell to one of its most iconic characters

Naomi Watts and Kyle MacLachlan in a still from Twin Peaks Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME
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.

One of the things that makes Twin Peaks so difficult to talk about is that even when a lot happens, it doesn’t feel like all that much has changed.

There were multiple deaths this week — Mr. Todd and his lackey, shot by a breezy Chantal; probably Chuck, punched by Freddie and his mighty garden glove; Steven Burnett, shot by himself — but the only one that feels likely to make a deep mark on the show is the deeply poignant offscreen death of the Log Lady, whose log has turned gold.

The endless Nadine/Ed/Norma/Norma’s-horrible-guy-of-the-year love polygon has finally resolved itself with Ed and Norma’s engagement, and so has the franchise plot that Norma has mostly been pursuing off camera.

We got confirmation that Richard Horne is definitely Audrey’s son, and he finally came face to face with Dark Cooper, the man who is probably his father.

The Las Vegas FBI headquarters are slowly making their way through every Douglas Jones in the city in their quest to find a connection to Major Briggs.

Dougie, prompted by a clip of Sunset Boulevard that mentions Gordon Cole, electrocuted himself. (Look, even if all he did was knock himself out, it’s more forward motion than the Dougie plot gets some weeks.)

By Twin Peaks: The Return standards, this is a lot to happen in a single episode. It’s the kind of momentum that could take you to a finale.

But the aesthetic of this series is devoted to narrative frustration, so it’s difficult to really feel the episode as eventful or forward-moving. Most of the storylines that were wrapped up here are stories the show has purposely avoided spending time on, choosing instead to glance at them briefly in between long sequences of Dougie yearning for coffee and Gordon saying enigmatic things.

The result is that as Twin Peaks approaches its finale, only two sequences in “Part 15” felt like they really moved the story significantly forward in a way that matters: the Log Lady’s death, and Dark Cooper’s trip above the convenience store.

The convenience store segment gets mythology-heavy in a Fire Walk With Me callback

Twin Peaks: The Return
No clue who this lady is, sorry. Hey, maybe she’s Judy!
Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

The room above the convenience store is key to Twin Peaks lore. It’s the space we saw created after the nuclear blast in “Part 8,” and it’s where the spirits MIKE and BOB used to live, before MIKE left BOB behind. It seems to be connected to the Red Room and the Black Lodge, by the same strange, dreamlike logic that connected all the spaces Cooper traveled between in Parts 1 and 2 — and, as became clear this week as Dark Cooper and the Woodsman faded in and out between a hallway and a forest, it’s inextricably linked to the woods of Twin Peaks.

Dark Coop is traveling above the convenience store to visit Phillip Jeffries, the FBI agent of Fire Walk With Me, who since the 2016 death of David Bowie has begun to manifest himself as a giant steam-spewing … thing. (Why not.) During this conversation, Dark Cooper and Jeffries established the following:

  • Dark Cooper is still Cooper, according to Jeffries — which implies that he’s not just Cooper’s doppelgänger but retains some of the real Cooper’s essential being.
  • Dark Cooper has already met Judy.
  • Jeffries doesn’t have Dark Cooper’s number — but he seems to have Judy’s. It’s 480551, according to the steam he puffs out. Go nuts, codebreakers.

So. Who’s Judy?

Judy has never appeared onscreen to our knowledge, but she is mentioned a few times in Fire Walk With Me: in the scene Dark Cooper sees in flashback, during which a ranting Jeffries declares that “we are not going to say anything about Judy”; in a scene set in a Buenos Aires hotel, during which Jeffries asks a hotel clerk about “Miss Judy” and receives a note “from the young woman”; and finally, when a monkey appears on screen and says, “Judy,” directly before the camera cuts to the dead body of Laura Palmer. (Again: Why not.)

John Thorne has written up a pretty comprehensive breakdown of all of the fan theories for what could possibly be going on with Judy, but here’s a summary: According to script notes and a few interviews, Judy was originally planned to be the sister of Josie Packard, who you will recall tragically died and got her spirit trapped in a desk drawer in season two of Twin Peaks’ original run. That plan seems to have been scrapped (although you never know with David Lynch), and the most popular fan theory is that instead, Judy is another Blue Rose dead girl, like Laura and her predecessor Teresa.

Thorne himself, however, argues that “Judy” is a code word for Laura Palmer herself, “a symbolic representation of the idea of Laura Palmer.” And since we learned this season that “Laura is the One” and saw her essence sent to Earth, apparently to balance out the evil presence of BOB, and since now we know that Judy is someone we’ve already met, the idea that Judy is a code name for Laura’s ethereal mystic self actually seems pretty reasonable.

Twin Peaks deliberately lost its charm this time around. Does it have a chance of finding it again?

Everett McGill and Peggy Lipton in a still from Twin Peaks
Aw, it’s a nice thing.

The whole convenience store sequence is fantastic at hitting that exact note of dreamlike horror at which Lynch excels: the way Cooper and the Woodsman fade in and out of sight as they walk up the stairs, the way the hallway gives way to the woods and then reestablishes itself, the light flickering over Cooper’s face as though at any moment he will somehow transform himself — it’s all the kind of nightmarish imagery that made the first Twin Peaks so unforgettable.

But what really made Twin Peaks so compelling the first time around was the way it married the horror of the Black Lodge stuff to the quirky charm of the town itself, and the way the warmth of the latter balanced the terror of the former. And while the Black Lodge and its horror seem to have flourished over the past 25 years, this week’s other great scene suggests that the charm and warmth of the town haven’t been doing as well.

“You know about death, Hawk,” the Log Lady says over the phone. “That it’s just a change, not an end.” But the parts of Twin Peaks that needed to change in order to stay vital and strong haven’t: Shelly is still repeating her worst patterns, and so is her daughter; Andy and Lucy’s quirk has calcified into shtick; Sarah Palmer has only changed if we think that she hasn’t always had a swirling void hiding behind her face, and frankly I’m not so sure.

The town of Twin Peaks hasn’t died. It’s done something worse. It’s held still.

The beginning of “Part 15” holds the possibility of hope: Nadine believes she has succeeded in breaking out of her cycle of rage and resentment, thanks to her golden shovel. She’s setting Ed free, and that, in turn, leads Ed to Norma, and Norma to turn away from the idea of franchising the R&R.

And since the R&R is the true heart of Twin Peaks — the home of the coffee and cherry pie — we at last have the possibility of seeing the town reconnect with its vital beating heart.

We’ve got two episodes left to see if it will succeed. And in the meantime, the show will continue to crawl slowly forward, doing its utmost to keep any forward movement from feeling like movement at all.