The following contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
It was all a dream. After 25 years, we’re left, again, with a cliffhanger.
We might feel many things—confusion, betrayal, and perhaps satisfaction—but we can’t accuse Lynch of pulling a fast one on us. With all the clues, little landmarks in the woods placed with care, we should have known all along that this wasn’t meant to make sense. What dreams ever do?
In the final moments of Part 18, the finale of the Twin Peak's revival, Dale and a woman who both is and isn’t Laura Palmer travel from Odessa to “go home” to Twin Peaks. When Dale knocks on the door of the Palmer homestead, he is greeted by a stranger who claims she doesn’t know the Palmers. When Dale asks how she acquired the house, her husband, out of sight, claims to have bought the house from Mrs. Tremond (who, keen Twin Peaks fans will remember, was the old lady visited by Laura Palmer for Meals on Wheels). On discovering the house is no longer owned by the Palmers, if it ever was, Dale and Laura walk out to the street where, in confusion, Dale stumbles forward to open a door that doesn’t appear. He asks, “What year is it?” Someone bellows Laura’s name from inside the Palmer home and Laura, in answer, lets loose a blood-curdling scream. The screen goes black.
In my previous article on Twin Peaks, I questioned whether The Return was an extended metaphor for the awakening of consciousness “found” within transcendental meditation (TM), which Lynch practices. And indeed, the characters who become themselves, after being lost for some time, bear out that interpretation. But we’ve fallen deeper into the mystical mire since then. The doppelgangers are no longer just that; they are also tulpas, a concept from Buddhism in which objects manifest through spiritual projection. Numerology also abounds in the later chapters, suggesting a fascination with the occult. And Dale, his face superimposed over the Twin Peaks cast in the finale, has become the all-seeing Oz, the imagination behind the samsara.
In Part 14 of The Return, we were treated to a dream sequence in which Cole meets the Italian actress Monica Belluci. Over coffee, Belucci tells Cole, “We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream. But who is the dreamer?”
It certainly isn’t Diane, whom, with her doppelganger dispatched, wakes from her form as Naido, the eyeless woman, to become herself. Dale asks when she appears: "Do you remember everything?" And she does. She remembers Dale and the warmth she felt for him. But she also remembers the trauma she suffered under the hands of Dark Coop. When she and the “real” Coop travel to the “other side” and make love in a roadside motel, Diane can’t help but relive her traumatic episode with Mr. C. A letter left for Dale (now called Richard) from Diane (who signs off as Linda) pleads, “Please don’t try to find me, I don’t recognize you anymore.”
In a scene that bridges Parts 17 and 18, Dale finds young Laura Palmer and James Hurley in the crucial moment when Laura flees into the woods to meet her death. Laura sees Dale in the trees and is frightened by his appearance. However, she follows him when he promises to take her home. Dale appears for a moment to have saved Laura from her fate. But just as her body wrapped in plastic disappears from the shore of Pete Martell’s home, she disappears from Dale’s strong grip. All that is left is the echo of her scream.
So, the answer isn’t as simple as Dale having awoken. It seems instead that a fractured reality has been created—one in which Laura doesn’t die but still suffers. This is out of Dale’s control. Perhaps it is Judy, the entity, exerting her (or their) influence over the dream? Or perhaps Dale is weaker than he wishes he were. Or we wish him to be. In the end, Dale can’t change the fact that trauma has happened and will happen again. He cannot change the fact that no matter how woke or transcendent he might become, evil still lives in the world.
If this interpretation holds true, we’ve now seen Lynch at his most cynical. This is Lynch, on a personal level, suggesting that TM isn’t the cure for the world’s suffering. It’s just another way to see it. In TM, our reality here on Earth is just one reality within another, greater one. For Dale, the realities of the red room, the White Lodge and the Black, his various offshoots, are portals leading to unified reality where Dale awakens to the dream he has created.
The world of Twin Peaks is Dale’s tulpa. This isn’t a slight. Like The Wizard of Oz—of which Twin Peaks: The Return and other Lynch films make heavy reference— there’s a sense that what happened in the dream has consequences. It is powerful, this place—whether it's real or not.
“There’s no place like home,” said Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, clicking her red shoes together in the land of make believe. She awakens to Auntie Em holding her hand. Dorothy, disturbed when her uncle says he was worried she “was going to leave us” says: “But I did leave you Uncle Henry, and I tried to get back for days and days!” She goes on to proclaim: “But it wasn’t a dream. It was a place! And you, and you, and you, and you were there! But you couldn’t have been, could you?”
Dorothy travelled to Oz. She believes this. What she learned on the other side carried over. And like Dorothy, Dale has crossed many planes of reality in his quest to make the world right. And he believes in what he has done. He has seen the wizard. But the reality he created has spun out of his control, and it is falling apart around him. Perhaps, in the end, it was always too much for a man to transcend.
In One, a documentary about Lynch, the director explains that often he is shooting without knowing how it will all fit together. This shooting style lends itself well to abstraction, but not towards interpretation. These seeds manifest as seeds of the self. They blossom into dead ends and non-sequiturs. They grow into trees that are sometimes evil, and sometimes good. They become a forest of possibilities, all formed by the same mind.
What made Twin Peaks: The Return so compelling is that, while these seeds never came together to make something concrete, they still contained a soul, a fire, that walked with Dale and through us.
Lynch has, essentially, played the “and you were there” trope to its most absurd limits. He has juggled chaos and order to create a bind between the two. Taoists believe that to obtain a balance between stability and dynamism—living between the world of chaos and order—is to find one’s proper being. And we were there as witness to this act. We grew old with the mystery. We were a part of it all.
The past dictates the future. The atomic bomb. The sins of the parents. There is no Twin Peaks without the past, the dark underbelly, the dream of innocence lost. The dream of a quiet town violently ripped asunder by the death of a beauty queen. Sometimes in awakening there is no return to ground zero. To awake is to engage with a new reality—one created by sheer effort.