Huge spoilers from the start

I struggled with this one for all of five seconds until I remembered that my favourite TV series ends as it began, with the threat of many more bodies wrapped in plastic

The battle between BOB, the evil spirit that haunts the woods surrounding Twin Peaks, and Special Agent Dale Cooper, is nothing less than a Manichean struggle between good and evil. BOB is the home invader, the predatory paedophile, the serial killer. He’s every tabloid nightmare made fantasmal flesh. Worse, he’s the madness that made the good man Leland Palmer rape and kill his daughter, Laura, wrap her corpse in plastic and throw it in the river. Dale Cooper on the other hand is the answer to the question, what if Buddha were a policeman? In constant communication via dictaphone with his forever absent personal assistant cum spirit guide, Diane, Cooper’s a coffee loving, pastry chomping saint with a badge. The kindly face of authority come to rescue us from All Bad Men, and guess what? He fails, and he fails catastrophically.

There might be a message in there, something about the law being scant protection from ferocious Oedipal energies, or how our midnight terrors can’t be tamed by reason nor order, but Twin Peak’s final episode doesn’t feel like it’s trying to sell us an idea. The relentless disasters that rise up to crush our beloved characters are nothing short of absurd – we’d laugh if weren’t too busy crying. All of it, we’re made to feel, some earthly manifestation of the Black Lodge’s demonic evil, and at the heart of the maelstrom, Coop’s final confrontation with BOB.

You might have heard how the show was cancelled and how David Lynch in a fit of pique opted to splatter his babies with a sawn-off shotgun, but we Twin Peaks fans never noticed the barrels being levelled. We’d been trained to believe that if there was one guy who could exorcise BOB it was Dale. He just needed the right set of terrible circumstances and like every true hero before him he’d dig deep and find victory within himself. I kept expecting all that meditation, all that talk about the Tibetan Book of the Dead to pay off. Coop would have some Zen-thunder moment and the white heat of enlightenment would reveal the Black Lodge as just another transitory bardo hell, ultimately ephemeral.

But when Cooper heads into the Lodge to save Annie, the woman he loves, hope goes out the window. Of course, Dale dutifully does personal sacrifice routine and the villain of the moment, Windom Earle, gets his comeuppance and our hero gets resurrected, but only to find himself stalked by BOB through the zig-zag corridors of the underworld, any thought of victory thwarted by the heart sinking, all too human fear on Coop’s face. Days later Cooper and Annie are found unconscious in the woods. Dale awakens in the Great Northern Hotel, and, after asking after Annie, heads to the bathroom to brush his teeth. The sort of fastidious thing that even a traumatised Coop would do. Good old Cooper.

Roll credits.

Twin Peaks always had an ultra-dark edge, but it was also a show which not for nothing earned the description soap opera. The characters were central to Twin Peaks’ appeal, so to have them so utterly debased and destroyed, to have the possibility of a happy ending for anyone, those few that survived the series relatively unscathed, so resolutely undermined by BOB’s return was devastating. And of all the characters we loved Dale was right there at the centre. To rob us of him, to replace him with pure evil, wasn’t simply to outright reject the idea of a hero, a frightening outcome in a world as terrifying as Twin Peaks, it was to plunge a dagger into our collective hearts.

Nastier still, the Manichean backdrop – encapsulated in the battle between BOB and Coop, and further exemplified by the contrived bleakness of almost every subplot resolution – takes the ending to an even more awful place. In a world where spiritual evil wins so totally we can’t help but feel that everything that made the show so lovable is thrown into doubt: those joyous scenes of doughnuts shared, zen-police-work, Coop’s warm relationships, Audrey’s dreamy dancing, even the possibility of spiritual redemption suggested by the Major’s sojourn in the White Lodge and Dale’s indefatigable goodness. If Twin Peaksis a bad place, then did any of that mean anything?

But it’s worse than that even, because as I’ve noted Twin Peaks was ultimately destroyed by the cold, uncaring realities of network television. David Lynch went off to make Wild at Heart and the second season lost it’s way. By the time he returned to the show ready and willing to re-inject much needed focus the ratings were down, its neck hanging over the chopping block ready for the axe. Understandably some people like to blame Lynch, others point the finger at the network, others the fickle public – whatever the truth of it Twin Peaks seems to many fans a show that died before its time, that was in some sense never as good as it could have been had the momentum of the terrific first series not been lost only to be found again too late.

I’m sympathetic to the argument that the ending robs fans of much that is precious, but it also represents a return to form, and it’s thanks to that return to form that we’re reminded of something we thought we’d lost, only to have it pull away from us once and for all.

And so it goes that Twin Peaks lives in our imaginations as a story at odds with itself, complete yet unsatisfactory, great and mediocre. For the fans familiar with the history the show is burdened with the possibility of what it could have been had Lynch stuck with it, had the second season lived up to the promise of the first, had the plug not been pulled, had it got another season. For all their mesmerising finality the catastrophes that befall the characters strike us as all too convenient – as expedient, possibly resentful storytelling on behalf of Lynch. The product of a story that lost its way rather than a consistent vision.

This tension between what was and what could have been is in my view part of the series’ charm and fascination, but it’s also deeply frustrating. Thankfully it also offers us a way out of BOB’s triumph: the series’ unsettled nature gently undermines the full stop of the final episode, an effect reinforced by the possibility that all the horrific conclusions are just another set of cliffhangers of the sort Twin Peaks has thrown at us time and time again.


It’s in that light that Fire Walk with Me, the Twin Peaks film that arrived a year after the show’s demise, has to be seen. There are those amongst us for whom the film will never be quite Twin Peaks, a change in a central cast member, a different format, a different medium, a more consistently disturbing tone, and a very late arrival all counting against it. Many complained that what it lacked in humour and warmth – both hallmarks of the show despite its dark reputation – it made up in perverse Lynchian opacity. But there are those of us, an increasing number, who feel that FWWM is the ending the show wanted to push towards and would have had the gods been kinder. FWWM might be Lynch at his most surreal and frightening, but it’s also a film with a happy ending. The happy ending. A happy ending for Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer.

Personally I would urge fans to treat FWWM as they treated the series’ other inconsistencies, simply another to be assimilated. If people can weather the wild shifts in tone, focus and quality then they can weather a film which attempts to take Twin Peaks back to its central concerns. More to the point the best of Twin Peaks is built on happy incongruences – scenes, sequences and episodes that pile dramatic shifts in emphasis on top of each other to produce complex, fascinating effects. For good and ill mixing things up is part of the DNA of Twin Peaks, and it’s because of that that I believe that fans should be more willing to open the door to the film.

And, hey, it’s the only way to ensure that BOB loses.

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