50 min., 1991
Written by Mark Frost/Harley Peyton/Robert Engels
Directed by David Lynch
My rating: ★★★★★
Episode 29: “Beyond Life and Death”
Originally broadcast June 10, 1991
You and I have an appointment at the end of the world.
[WARNING: This review is full of spoilers. If you haven’t watched the last episode of TWIN PEAKS, you should do so before continuing here. No kidding here, folks. This is a close examination of how the series concludes. Proceed at your own risk.]
Are they gone? Is it just you and me? You’ve watched the final episode of the show, right? Good. Very good. Because I’ve got a confession to make: the reason I started reviewing this show is because I wanted to talk about this one, single episode. It is one of the most baffling, fucked up endings of a TV show in the history of the medium. Well, there’s the snow globe ending of ST. ELSEWHERE, but come on. That doesn’t even hold a candle to TWIN PEAKS. I can’t tell you how much of an impact it’s had on me, personally. It helped change the way I look at the world. I know, that sounds dramatic, but it’s true. It will teach you how to tell a story in a very different way. Let’s walk through it, shall we?
Special Agent Dale Cooper stares at Andy’s drawing of the hieroglyph, trying to figure out how to use it as a map. As he does this, Pete shows up to report that the Log Lady stole his truck—12 rainbow trout in the back, no less—but Cooper tells him it was really Windom Earle. Cooper then figures out that the circle of sycamore trees on the map is actually Glastonbury Grove, symbolic because King Arthur was supposedly buried in Glastonbury. Even more interestingly, it is located in Ghostwood. What would have happened if Catherine’s plan succeeded? Would the portal to the Black Lodge have been destroyed? We don’t get to explore that idea, though. Too bad. The Log Lady shows up with oil in a jar, which her dead husband left to her. He’d told her that it is an opening to a gateway. Cooper smells it and is reminded of the burned motor oil he smelled in the railroad car where Laura Palmer was killed. He brings Ronette in to smell it, and she recognizes it, as well.
Windom Earle and Annie arrive at Glastonbury and find the ring of sycamore trees. Here, Windom seeks the portal and finds it. A set of red curtains materializes out of nowhere, and the two of them pass through into the Black Lodge. The moment the curtains appear is very creepy, mostly because it’s so quiet. There isn’t a lot of fanfare. It just . . . happens. It forces a chill to run through you.
Mike Nelson confesses his love to Nadine. Nadine doesn’t remember who he is. In fact, it looks like her memory as a 35-year-old woman has returned. She freaks out when she sees that her silent drape runners are gone.
Dr. Hayward comes home to discover Donna ready to run away. Ben Horne is there, and the doctor knows what has happened. Furious, he attacks Ben and strikes him so hard that Ben hits his forehead on the fireplace and falls back. His head wound looks bad. Is he unconscious? Or is he dead?
We never get to find out.
Andrew figures out that Catherine’s key goes to a safety deposit box. Pete catches him in the act of stealing it.
Cooper and Harry arrive at the grove. Cooper feels he must go on alone, but Harry follows him anyway from a distance. Andy follows the both of them. Harry watches, unbelieving, as Cooper enters the ring of trees and finds the portal to the Black Lodge. He pushes the curtains aside and enters, leaving Harry in shock. Throughout the series, even though he has seen some strange things, Harry has remained very skeptical. He’s kept both feet firmly in the real world. Now, his mind is completely blown, and it’s great to see it on Michael Ontkean’s face.
Cooper finds himself back in the red room he saw in his dreams. An elderly man with a microphone sings “Under the Sycamore Trees” as the dwarf eases through the curtains and slowly dances his way to one of the chairs. This is another great chill-inducing moment. It’s all in the way it’s shot. You get the feeling you’re truly at the end of the world, and all the secrets of the universe are about to be given to you.
Meanwhile, outside Harry and Andy wait for Cooper. Even though it seems like minutes have passed, Cooper has been in there for ten hours. And then Lynch fires another shot at his audience: Andy asks Harry if he wants coffee. And food. And dessert. Harry takes his time answering: “Yeah.” Once again, we have inaction where there should be action.
At the bank, Audrey chains herself to the vault out of protest. She wants to bring attention to the fact that the bank is funneling funds to the Ghostwood project. And then, she asks one of the bankers, an old man who walks veeeeeeeery slowly, to get her water. If you thought the scene where Andy asks Harry if he wants food and drink was slow, you’re in for a treat with this one. This scene drags so slowly you’d think it was shot with molasses. Holy shit! Cooper just entered the Black Lodge! He’s one-on-one with the dwarf! We’re going to get answers, right? Right?! And we’re busy watching an old man walk back and forth across the room?!
Relax. Remember, the important part of this inaction vs. action equation is the incredible payoff. This is no different.
Andrew and Pete arrive at the bank to get the safety deposit box. There’s MORE FUCKING SLOW WALKING! And then the old man has to figure out which box the key goes to. After what seems like an eternity, Andrew opens the box. Inside is a bomb with a note from Eckhardt, saying that he got you, Andrew. The bomb then goes off. Does it kill Andrew? Does it kill Pete? Does it even kill Audrey?
We never find out.
Dr. Jacoby brings Sarah Palmer to the RR, where Maj. Briggs sits with his wife. Sarah has an important message for the major, and boy, does she fucking give it. She stares at him with her creepy, empty eyes, and then she says, “I’m in the Black Lodge with Dale Cooper.” But she uses the same voice Mike/Gerard used when he was on the hunt for Bob.
And then the strangest, scariest, most fucked-up 20 minutes in TV history begins . . .
The dwarf tells Cooper that they are in the waiting room, and that the next time Cooper sees him, he won’t be himself. In an absurd moment, he offers Cooper coffee, and the elderly room service guy from the Great Northern arrives with coffee. He then changes into the giant from Cooper’s visions, revealing they are one and the same.
It should be noted that Lynch does something incredible with everything that happens in the Black Lodge. It’s all shot backwards, and then he reversed it so it looks like everything is moving in the right direction. As a result, everyone’s movements seem otherworldly, like they don’t belong. Lynch goes as far as teaching everyone how to talk backwards, which will creep you the fuck out. The only one who doesn’t speak and move backwards is Cooper, since he’s not a part of the Black Lodge. He’s an outsider.
The dwarf then transforms the coffee. At first, he solidifies it. Then, he turns it to liquid. Lastly, he turns it to sludge. “Wow, Bob, wow,” he says. A palindrome. Why does this happen? I don’t fucking know. I can explain just about everything else, but the significance of this moment eludes me.
Laura Palmer arrives, and she tells Cooper that she will see him in 25 years.
And then, Cooper is alone. He moves on to the next room and discovers that it is identical to the waiting room. Confused, he goes back and sees the dwarf, who tells him he’s going the wrong way.
Cooper goes back to the other room and the dwarf enters, jittering and laughing and screaming at the same time. It’s like he’s having an epileptic fit. And then he disappears behind the chair, just as Maddy arrives, warning him to watch out for her cousin. And then, Laura Palmer shows up again . . . or is it really her? Could it be someone else? Could it be her doppelganger? She runs toward Cooper as a strobe goes off, and she screams. It’s a hair-raising moment. It’s incredibly scary, and Cooper reacts as any sane man would: he runs away.
In the next room, Cooper feels pain in his guts and realizes that his gunshot wound has returned. He’s bleeding all over the place. Here, he finds his own corpse, and next to it is a woman’s body. He takes it for Caroline first, but then he realizes it’s really Annie. She tells him that she knows who killed her: her husband. And then he knows it’s really Caroline, after all. Annie fades in and out next to them.
Surprise! It’s not Caroline, either. It’s Windom fucking Earle, and he’s grinning like the proverbial cat with the canary. He offers to let Annie go . . . in exchange for Cooper’s soul. Cooper doesn’t even hesitate: he says he’ll take the deal. Windom immediately stabs him in the guts, and Cooper falls.
And then comes one of the scariest moments on the show. It’s made of fire and adrenaline. Cooper rises, and Windom Earle starts screaming like no other man has ever screamed before.
What scares a psychopath like Windom Earle? Bob, of course. Bob holds him in thrall, laughing like a maniac. It’s such a jarring, soul-searing moment it can’t do anything but shock. Bob then shouts for Windom to be quiet, and he suddenly is. But his mouth is still open in a silent scream, trapped in a moment of pure fear.
Bob turns his attention to Cooper. He says that Windom doesn’t have the power to demand Cooper’s soul. Instead, Bob is going to take Windom’s soul. Bob tells Cooper to go. Before he does, Bob turns Windom’s mute button off, and he starts screaming again. A column of fire shoots out from the back of his head, and Bob tames it back in. Windom stops screaming. He stops trembling. He stops everything. He is now empty. Cooper turns back, and as soon as he gets out of the room, the curtain behind Bob parts in a frenzy, and another Cooper runs up behind him, his eyes covered with milky cataracts, laughing just like Bob.
Remember what Hawk said? When you’re in the Black Lodge, you will confront your shadow self. If your courage falters, you will be destroyed. Meet Shadow Cooper.
Cooper starts leaving the Black Lodge when he runs into Leland Palmer, grinning like he’s lost whatever remains of his mind. “I did not kill anybody,” he says, and in that moment, you can’t help but feel sorry. In that moment, he’s himself, barely holding on, despairing over the truth, that his body was used to kill Laura and Maddy. But then, the grin snaps back in place, and he moves toward Cooper. Cooper, fearful, backs away and gives Leland a wide berth as he moves on.
He catches a glimpse of Shadow Cooper coming after him, and he realizes the danger he’s in. His courage falters. In a panic, he runs, trying to make it to the exit of the Black Lodge in time. The strobe lights up, and Shadow Cooper catches him at the door.
Outside, Harry and Andy see Cooper’s unconscious body materialize. Annie comes back with him. They rush her to a hospital, where it turns out that she’s going to be OK. They take Cooper back to his hotel room, where he comes to with an overwhelming desire to brush his teeth. In the bathroom, he squeezes all of the toothpaste out of the tube and into the sink, symbolizing his own emptiness. And then, in the most heartbreaking moment of the series—even more so than Harold’s death—he hammers his head into the mirror, shattering it. In his reflection, he sees Bob staring back. He starts giggling and imitating himself from a moment ago. He’d asked Harry, “How’s Annie?” Now, he finds it hilarious and mocks it as he repeats it over and over again. Remember when Leland/Bob faked his anguish upon learning that Jacques didn’t kill Laura? This is exactly like that moment. Bob finds it hilarious when he has to pretend to be human, and this is no exception.
Aaaaaaand that’s it. Credits roll. Can this really be the end of TWIN PEAKS? With the real Dale Cooper’s soul destroyed in the Black Lodge and Bob wearing his skin, waiting to begin killing again?
Well, truth be told, the crew didn’t know it was going to be the end. The show was in danger because people stopped watching after the mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder was solved. They brought Lynch back in to save the show. It was too late, though. The show was canceled. Not even an insidious cliffhanger like this could bring it back for a third season.
People still wonder over what this ending means, and it’s pretty simple. The key to understanding anything Lynch does is knowing this: he takes a completely mundane thing and tells its story in the strangest way he possibly can. This is one big story about a poor girl who was being raped by her father. One day, he murdered her, but he’s such a respected member of the community that no one suspects him. Everyone just morns the death of a young girl who everyone thought was perfect. But once you view it through Lynch’s askewed vision, it starts to look different. It barely looks recognizable. That’s his true genius.
If you’ll remember, I asked two questions in my review of the pilot episode. The answer to the first is pretty obvious: yes, the weirdness of TWIN PEAKS certainly lives up to its reputation. In some moments, especially this final episode, it exceeds all expectations. The other question was, does it hold up for a modern audience?
That one’s harder to answer. There are 24 years between its debut and now. The vibe of the ‘Eighties was still strong in 1990, and I believe that the ‘Eighties were the death-throes of the ‘Fifties. Everyone who grew up during that era was now in their middle-age, looking back fondly on their childhoods. When you look at the world of Twin Peaks, everything has that ‘Fifties feel. The RR Diner could easily have had Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly on its first jukebox. Speaking of music, the song that James writes with Donna and Maddy could have easily come from back in the day when Jan and Dean were popular. Many of the cars on the show are throwbacks with tail fins. Nearly everyone smokes. So it’s hard to talk about how a show holds up when that show supposedly happens in 1990 but has so many ties to the past. It’s hard to connect with the gimcracks of TWIN PEAKS.
But there are just some things that are universal. The character interactions, the situations, the emotions, those never change for the human race. Once you get past the cosmetics, the tender meat at the center will latch onto your heart. Yes. Yes, it holds up. It holds up like a motherfucker. It helps that Lynch is a visionary ahead of his time.
It’s still so heartbreaking that we’ve left poor Cooper with Bob in his body. Will we never learn what happens next? Well, there is a TWIN PEAKS movie called FIRE WALK WITH ME. Lynch has got to tie up the series in the movie, right? Right?! RIGHT?!
Stay tuned for more.Have You Read...?