There are two very different components in this, the second season finale of Twin Peaks. The first is a fairly normal television episode – or at least as normal as Twin Peaks could ever be – which is mostly working to set up the cliffhanger moments that will bring you back for the third season that never happened.
This includes storylines like Doc Hayward’s attack on Ben Horne, who has now revealed that he is actually Donna’s father, which leaves Ben bloodied (in a way very similar to Leland’s death, actually) and at least unconscious on the ground. It also includes storylines like Nadine waking up from her brief fantasy of being a high school student, which of course throws Big Ed and Norma’s hope at a happy life into the shitter. Then there’s the bank explosion, which may have killed Audrey, Pete, and Andrew.
These are all fairly standard cliffhanger stories, and come from a pretty traditional place in TV storytelling.
The other part of this finale is a decent into full-on Lynchian nightmare fuel the likes had never been seen on TV before. Or, really, since.
Coop enters into the Black Lodge to try to save Annie, who has been kidnapped by Windom Earle following her win at the Miss Twin Peaks festival. Earle steals Pete Martell’s truck and head for Glastonbury Grove, a spot in forest of Ghostwood with a circle of 12 sycamore trees, surrounding a puddle of what seems to be scorched engine oil.
Speaking of the oil, this is a bit of a call back to much earlier episodes, and early scenes work to once again connect this story back to the original mystery that had people tuned in obsessively – who killed Laura Palmer. As Cooper and Truman try to figure out where the Owl Cave map is telling them to go, the Log Lady arrives with a jar of oil that was given to her by her husband, who had told her that it was, “an opening to a gateway.” As Coop and Truman give the oil a whiff, they both agree that it smells like burnt engine oil, which reminds them of Dr. Jacoby who described that smell as being in the air when Jacques Renault was murdered by Leland Palmer.
Moments later Ronette Pulaski arrives and Cooper asks her to smell the oil. She responds fearfully, saying that she smelled it the night that Laura was killed.
All of this, of course, is to tell us that the oil connected to the Black Lodge, maybe even specifically when denizens of the Lodge are nearby, or when the “gateway” between worlds opens. Which is exactly what happens next to the pool of oil in Glastonbury, which allows Coop access to the Lodge.
It’s hard to say what would have happened with Twin Peaks had it got a third season. As it stands, with this brain melting visit to the Black Lodge being one of the final moments of the show’s original run, I think it allowed our take on the show to shift gears, and see this sudden emergence of the Black Lodge mythology come to play a much larger part of the overall series. In fact, between this, and the Black Lodge elements in Fire Walk With Me, I’d go so far as to say that by the time we finished with Twin Peaks in the 1990s, it was really more about the Lodge, those that lived their, and humanity’s struggle with them over good and evil, than it was about a teen girls’ murder, or the town that murder took place in. That little man from another place isn’t just some weird side character. He’s at the very heart of what the show is.
Which I’m pretty sure viewers in 1990 weren’t quite ready for. I know I wasn’t. It’s taken me years to really get my head around what Twin Peaks is, and I’m fully prepared for the eventuality of that perspective shifting once this third season is upon us. Because Twin Peaks is something that has evolved almost from day one. Let’s remember that BOB’s presence wasn’t even planned when they started shooting. That character, who ultimately plays such a vital role to the overall mythology, was simply a happy accident.
Now I could talk about those final 20 minutes in the Black Lodge, but I think that would only result in one of two things: Either I just describe the physicality of what happens, and I don’t want to do that – just watch the show, it’s a lot better – or I’d end up trying to analyze what those 20 minutes mean, and I’m not sure I’m cut out for that, especially having already read some commentaries that are probably much better than anything I could come up with.
I will say that if there’s a single cliffhanger from this episode that I’m dying to find the answer to, it’s what will happen 25 years later when Laura Palmer finally sees Dale Cooper again, because I feel pretty confident that tease is going to play at least some part in the new season.
Twin Peaks, it’s 25 years later, and I can’t wait to see you again.