Twin Peaks Episode Guide: Season Two Finale — “Beyond Life & Death”

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The series finale…or so we thought…

(If you need to catch up, you can check out all my posts til now right here.)

EPISODE 29: “BEYOND LIFE AND DEATH”

Written by Mark Frost & Harley Peyton & Robert Engels, Directed by David Lynch

Airdate June 10th, 1991

After all these months, here we are at last, making one last trip – or so we thought for a quarter-century until about three years ago – into the woods. And it’s the strangest trip yet. Here we go.

In the aftermath of the Miss Twin Peaks pageant, everyone is shaken. At the station Andy is consoling Lucy with amorous consequences. Coop meanwhile is at the end of his rope trying to figure out where Earle could have taken Annie. Truman says all available men are out there on the case, but no one can find and trace of Earle or Annie, it’s like they’ve vanished. Coop knows the Owl Cave petroglyph is the only thing that can offer a solution. He sees the figure of the Giant, of the Little Man, of fire: “Fire Walk With Me.” Pete interrupts with the incredible claim that the Log Lady stole his truck from The Road House and fled towards the Ghostwood Forest. Coop remembers Earle was dressed as the Log Lady at The Road House, and furthermore, somehow he knows that the Log Lady will be there with them in one minute. In the interim and knowing now that Earle has fled to the woods, Coop further intuits that The Black Lodge opening is somewhere in Ghostwood. When Pete mentions off-handedly that he had 12 rainbow trout in the bed of his truck, this jogs Truman’s memory: in the petroglyph there’s a circle of 12 sycamore trees, and there’s a place like that in Ghostwood called Glastonbury Grove. Hawk jumps in and reminds everyone that Glastonbury Grove is where he found the bloody rags and the torn out pages of Laura Palmer’s diary; this puts it within a stone’s throw of the train car where Laura was murdered. The name Glastonbury rings a bell with Coop, and he realizes it’s because it’s the same as the burial place of King Arthur. King Arthur, of course, had 12 knights with whom he met at a circular table. Just then, as Coop predicted, the Log Lady arrives. She has a jar of oil Coop asked her to bring. She tells him her husband – who died in a fire in the wood son their wedding night decades prior – called it an opening to a gateway. This is the oil then, seen in the puddle at the end of episode 27 in which the red curtains were reflected. Coop smells it, lets Truman smell it. It reminds both of scorched engine oil, which is what Dr. Jacoby reported smelling at the park when he saw Maddy/Laura and was attacked from behind. Then a real blast from the past as Coop has Hawk bring in … Ronette Pulaski. She’s looking better than the last time we saw her a dozen or more episodes ago, if still a little shell-shocked. Coop asks if she recognizes the smell of the oil. She does, and it frightens her because she remembers it from the night Laura was killed.

Meanwhile in Ghostwood Forest, Earle and Annie arrive at Glastonbury Grove in Pete’s pilfered pickup. Earle formally introduces himself. She’s heard his name. He points out the 12 trout in the truck bed, and notes he likes the fear he’s feeling from her. We remember, of course, that fear opens The Black Lodge. As he drags her towards the Grove, Annie begins to pray. They reach the ring of sycamore trees with the circle of white powder at its center, and Earle proclaims they have an appointment with the end of the world. Annie believes Coop will come for her, but Earle doesn’t believe he will. They enter the ring of trees. He’s raving lunatic at this point, and she is paralyzed spiritually. Both are the first effects of the dark power of The Black Lodge. The shadows of the forest morph into the folds of a deep red curtain, which Earle is able to part and lead Annie through. They pass out of our world and into The Black Lodge. The curtains then fade to shadows again.

At Ed’s, Doc Hayward is tending to Mike and Nadine, the latter of whom got hit on the head by a sandbag in the melee at The Road House. Despite these injuries, Ed is snapping a jaunty tune and smiling as he snuggles up to Norma, who at last he’s free to be with. Mike is trying to comfort Nadine but when he professes his love for her and tries to steal a kiss, she freaks out, says she doesn’t know who he is or why he’s in her house. She’s back in her right mind, if it can be called that, and she doesn’t remember a thing about high school, cheerleading, Mike, or Ed and Norma. What really gets her goat is that her silent drape runners are gone. Suddenly the happiness of a just moment ago is shattered.

At the Haywards’, Donna has a suitcase and is on her way out the door as her mother Eileen and Ben Horne try to talk with her about ben being her birth father. Ben takes the blame for Donna finding out like this. Then Doc comes home, figures out pretty quick what’s going on and tells Ben to hit bricks. As Ben is asking Doc’s forgiveness, Sylvia Horne – who hasn’t appeared since season one – appears on the stoop, demanding to know what Ben’s trying to do to this nice family. Doc snaps and punches Ben hard in the face, knocking him against the stone hearth and opening a giant gash in his forehead that drops him like a sack of potatoes to the ground, where he lays motionless. Doc is in anguish at his own rage and what it has wrought, and Donna is a blubbering mess.

At the Packard’s, Andrew is taking a closer look at the key Eckhardt left Catherine. He recognizes it as belonging to a safety deposit box and replaces it with an identical one. Pete catches him in the act, though, but Andrew doesn’t let that deter him.

Coop and Truman locate Pete’s truck at Glastonbury Grove, but there’s no trace of Earle or Annie. They make their way to the circle of sycamores, finding the way by Coop’s intuition, or rather the messages he’s being divined from The White Lodge. Halfway out, these messages tell him he has to go on alone. He won’t explain why, he just goes. But then Truman starts creeping after. Coop hears an owl hoot and knows he’s close. He comes upon the circle of trees. He enters the circle and sees the puddle of oil inside the smaller circle of powder. He recognizes it as the same brought by the Log Lady. He also sees footprints, and follows them to where Earle and Annie disappeared behind the red curtain. As Truman watches, the curtains appear and Coop disappears behind them as well. It should be noted, however, that the curtains opened for Coop, he didn’t open them.

Coop is inside The Black Lodge. He enter into a hallway decorated same as the red room of his dreams. At the end of the hallway is a statue of Venus, armless. The song “Under the Sycamore Tree” is being sung from somewhere in a strong baritone. Coop walks down the hallway and parts the curtain at the other end. The light begins to strobe. He’s in a room exactly like the one he dreamed about. The Man From Another Place enters as well and the strobing curbs but doesn’t die. The Man dances across the room to a chair and has a seat. The singer – an elderly Hispanic man – is seen and finishes his song as the lights flash between white and red and darkness. The singer fades from sight. Coop’s eyes are wide, as though he’s hypnotized.

Back in the real world, Andy finds Truman in Glastonbury Grove. They wait until morning but Coop still hasn’t reappeared. He’s been missing going on 10 hours now. Andy leaves to get food and coffee.

Audrey shows up at the Twin Peaks Saving & Loan first thing that morning and very politely chains herself to the bank vault. This is an act of civil disobedience in protest of the bank financing the Ghostwood development project, and she won’t leave until it is agreed that a town meeting will be held to discuss the effect of the development on the local environment. Amidst this modest chaos Andrew Packard and Pete arrive to check the safety deposit boxes, but of course there’s a Horne standing in the way of that. Andrew admires her verve, but doesn’t see a problem. She just chained herself to the door, after all, and that still opens. So in they go. Andrew has the elderly bank manager, Dell, locate the box that matches their key. Andrew and Pete open it, and at long last there’s the bomb we’ve all been expecting, along with a note that reads, “Got you Andrew, Thomas.” That bomb explodes then, presumably killing all inside.

Major Briggs and his wife are enjoying a lovely breakfast at the diner as Bobby and Shelly talk at the counter. Bobby thinks they should get married. Shelly reminds him technically she still is, and he says Leo is all but out of the picture. Bobby’s more correct than he knows thanks to the spider cage hanging above Leo in Earle’s cabin. Then Jacoby enters with Sarah Palmer, another character we haven’t seen in forever. They’re looking for the Major, Sarah has a message for him, and she’s going to speak it in a voice that is most definitely not her own. It says: “I’m in the Black Lodge with Dale Cooper. I’m waiting for you.”

In The Black Lodge Coop is still in the room with the Man From Another Place. The lights are normal again and both men are sitting. The Man tells Coop, “when you see me again it won’t be me,” and that this room is just the waiting room. Then he offers Coop some coffee and tells him some of his friends are here. That’s when she walks in. Laura. Or the not-Laura of Coop’s dream, the one who whispered her killer’s name to the older version of Coop. She speaks backwards and snaps her fingers, then says the best line in all of television history because apparently it’s 100% true: “I’ll see you again in 25 years,” Laura disappear and the elderly bellman from The Great Northern, the one who came to Coop after he was shot, right before the Giant did, appears in her place with a full cup of coffee. He and the Man exchange hallelujahs. The bellman serves Coop the coffee then turns into the Giant and takes his seat next to the Man, who clarifies these spirits are one and the same. The Giant disappears. The Man rubs his hands together sinisterly, and Coop goes to sample the coffee but one second it has congealed into a solid, the next it is liquid, and the next it is syrup. “Wow, BOB, wow,” exclaims the Man, then levels his gaze on Coop and says “Fire Walk With Me.” A vision of flames and a shrill shriek then the room goes dark and light starts strobing again. The Man is gone. Coop stands and walks across the waiting room and exits, entering the true Black Lodge, which looks just like hall he came down before, calm and serenely lit. The same Venus statue waits at the hall’s end. Coop walks toward it and parts the curtain there, entering another room. It is decorated exactly the same, there’s no immediately discernible difference, so Coop turns back, walks back down the hall again, and re-enters the waiting room. The Man is still there and tells Coop he’s going the wrong way. Coop returns again to the hallway and down it to the next room. In it the Man manifests laughing madly and sits down. But remember the promise made that when Coop saw the man again, “it won’t be me.” This then is the Man’s doppelganger, which we can tell by his milky eyes. “Another friend,” he says, laughing and disappearing behind his chair as Maddy enters across the room. Her eyes too, milky white. She warns Coop to watch out for her cousin, then fades from view. Coop returns to the last hallway, goes back to the waiting room. It’s empty, completely, only bare floor and curtains. He crosses to the middle of the room and looks down The Man’s doppelganger is sneering up at him saying “Doppelganger.” Laura is in the room again in same pose she disappeared in minutes earlier, but now her eyes are white as well and her face is twisted in a snarl.

Then comes the single most terrifying sequence of the entire series.

The lights die and start strobing violently as Laura’s doppelganger shrieks and contorts herself over furniture – just as BOB did in Maddy’s first vision of him – then rushes into the camera, her eyes insane, looking like something parasite in need of feeding, which perhaps she is. Coop runs from the waiting room back into the depths of the Black Lodge. The first room he comes to is also empty but he finds the gunshot wound in his stomach has suddenly and painfully reopened and is bleeding badly. He stumbles back into the hallway, following the path of his own blood. The Venus statue is notably absent, as though no beauty can be here. When Coop enters the next room, his hands slick with blood, he sees himself lying dead on the floor with Caroline in his arms. Then Caroline is Annie in the same dress, killed the same way as Caroline was, by a single stab wound to the heart. Annie sits up like a zombie. Coop says her name but she doesn’t seem to understand. The light strobes yet again. Annie and the other Coop disappear. Our Coop is wandering the hallways now, calling Annie’s name. He enters another room. His wound is healed. Annie is there, also healed and wearing the dress she wore in the pageant, the dress she was wearing when Earle absconded with her. She tells Coop she saw the face of the man who killed her. He doesn’t understand. She says it was her husband. Coop calls her name but she doesn’t know it, asks who’s Annie and then morphs into a white-eyed Caroline, then back into Annie but in Caroline’s dress, the dress we saw her dead in, then into Laura, white-eyed and still shrieking like a tea kettle, and lastly into Windom Earle. Annie appears separate, standing between the two men, then disappears. Windom laughs and tells Coop if he gives up his soul, Annie will live. Coop instantly agrees, so Earle instantly stabs him. A vision of flames, and then time reverses itself, or rather is reversed. Coop is unstabbed and finds Earle in the clutches of an enraged BOB. BOB tells Coop to go, tells him Earle can’t ask for Coop’s soul, so instead BOB will take Earle’s. This involves, apparently, igniting said soul and extracting it from the top of Earle’s head. It sounds like it hurts. Coop goes while the going is supposedly good. Then, out the opposite corner, Coop enters the room again, comes up behind BOB laughing maniacally with him. The eyes, though, betray this new Coop isn’t our Coop, it’s “bad Coop,” the doppelganger created by The Black Lodge. In the hallway, good Coop meets white-eyed Leland, who tells him he didn’t kill anybody. Coop starts to move on, but sees his doppelganger enter the hallway. Good Coop scoots. Bad Coop follows him, pausing to snicker evilly with Leland. Good Coop is running, Bad Coop chasing after. Each hallway, each room looks the same. Good Coop makes it to the waiting room, and just as he’s about to get out bad Coop catches up and they tussle by the curtain as the light strobes again and BOB blocks our view, leering at us now, sniffing at the screen like a hungry dog that smells fresh meat. We don’t see which Coop gets out or how.

In the woods, Truman sees the red curtain appear again and runs towards it, calling Coop’s name. The Special Agent appears on the ground, unconscious, along with a bloodied Annie.

Back at The Great Northern Coop is in bed. He wakes, surrounded by Doc Hayward and Truman. He asks how Annie is. They tell him she’s going to be fine. He says he needs to brush his teeth. They help him up and he goes into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. They both notice there’s something off about Coop. In the bathroom, Coop squeezes all the toothpaste into the sink, then smiles into his reflection … which is BOB. Coop smashes his forehead against the mirror, cracking it. Truman and Doc hear this and call his name, try the knob but it’s locked. Coop/BOB meanwhile is snickering madly, laughing at his own faux concern for the girl’s well-being. He utters the episode’s, and the time the series’ chilling last line in a mocking, depraved tone: “How’s Annie?” He says it over and over and over, and each time he finds it funnier.

And that’s it. That’s how Twin Peaks ended. For good, at the time. If you listen carefully, you can still hear the echoes from 1991 of a quarter-million televisions being kicked in at once. The show didn’t just end on a high note, it ended at the peak – pardon the pun – of its mystery and intensity, delivered by the strangest, most confounding and open-to-interpretation hour of television, ever.

The script might say the finale was written by Mark Frost, Harley Peyton and Robert Engels, but the truth of the matter is that when David Lynch got his hands on the script, he altered most of it, including most notably changing the original ending to the looser, broader, most obtuse ending that made it to air. In a nutshell, the writers saw the finale as a physical confrontation between Earle and Cooper, which makes absolute sense, and Lynch saw it more of a metaphysical confrontation not between Coop and his nemesis, but Coop and his true greatest enemy: his own fear. The result is a confounding, confusing and probably intentionally-so sequence that is equally fascinating and flabbergasting, and which breaks down to Coop’s fear of Annie being killed as a result of her involvement with him is so strong that it allows The Black Lodge to divide his soul into good and bad forms, the latter of which escapes into our world, leaving the former trapped in the Black Lodge. That still might not clear it up, but like I said it’s up for broad interpretation, check out the essay.

Aside from the narrative, the whole episode is a technical highlight, but especially the last half hour once Coop enters The Black Lodge. If this finale is not the culmination of all the plot threads, it is the culmination of everything visual that makes Twin Peaks Twin Peaks. This is the one payoff we get for certain, we get to see The Black Lodge in all its weird, wild glory, and it’s an incredible world unto itself. The chevron, the Venus, the curtains, the Man, the Giant, Leland, Laura, BOB: it’s perfect, visually speaking.

So then where does everything stand when the final credits roll? Ben Horne is Donna’s real dad and possibly dead, which would make Doc Hayward a killer. We see Doc again, he shows up at the end of episode at Coop’s bedside, but Ben is never seen again nor is any mention of his condition made. Mike Nelson is single again because Nadine is back in her right mind and still in love with Ed, who didn’t get a chance to divorce her which means he’s not married to Norma, like both of them were longing for. Audrey was in the bank when the bomb went off; until recently I’d wondered if this had killed her, but since Sherilyn Fenn made the cast list for season three, seems Audrey somehow survived. Andrew and Pete, however, most likely died, being right in front of the bomb when it blew. We don’t know where Catherine ended up, and the other character in their realm, Josie, is a drawer knob in The Great Northern. We get no resolution for Andy, Lucy, Hawk, Truman, Shelly, Bobby, Major Briggs, Sarah Palmer or the Log Lady, but all but Truman are returning in some form for season three, and even Truman might be, if Lynch recast the character; Michael Ontkean retired from acting more than a decade ago, and Robert Forster, who was originally offered the Truman role but passed, might be playing the Sheriff in the new season.

Annie is somehow alive. What this means for her soul he do not know, and may not know, as heather Graham in not in season three. Given that she seemed to be in mortal peril from bad Coop/BOB, perhaps she didn’t survive her return very long.

And Coop is not Coop. Rather, he’s two Coop, and the one we know, the one we love, is trapped in that horrible place, and presumably has been since the first time this scene aired 25 years ago.

Love it or hate it, Twin Peaks certainly went out with a bang, if also with the most frustrating series finale in all of TV history. It could be argued that the show was approaching its apex, and it can certainly be considered that the pacing of the second season and the narrative after Laura, both which turned away viewers in droves, rewarded those who stuck around by insidiously linking back to the original storyline in a way that gave it deeper, chillier, and even darker connotations than it originally had. Everything after Leland died that people thought was straying from what made Twin Peaks a phenomenon was really backstory of the mythical dimension that birthed the evil that led to the murder that started Twin Peaks. If you look at it that way, season 3, or what season 3 could have been at that time, might have been the point all along: season 1 show the manifest of this ancient evil and introduce our hero. Season 2 reveal the nature of the evil, the origins of where it comes, and send our hero to confront it. Season 3, our hero is the evil and must be saved from himself. But that’s just speculation on my part.

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: Perspectives on Twin Peaks

For my money, Twin Peaks never got more interesting than it did in the last 20 seconds of the second season finale. I’ve seen the series all the way through many, many times now, and every single time it has been a gut-wrenching moment, usually followed by curses both colorful and condemning directed at ABC executives and mainstream American television audiences. This time, though, knowing the story isn’t over, knowing, in fact, that with an 18-episode commitment for season three the story is barely half-way told, it was an exciting moment, it was a moment of renewed potential, even if or somewhat especially because it can’t be linear anymore. We can’t just pick up with Truman and Doc on the other side of that door (I don’t think), Annie isn’t around in season 3, or if she is, Heather Graham isn’t playing her (Naomi Watts?) and Truman isn’t either (see above?), but I think this makes it more interesting because in addition to whatever mysteries are swirling about the third season, there will be mysteries for a quarter century before them to explore.

I’ve said before and I’ll say it again here: I don’t think a movie wrap-up would have been the satisfying thing fans thought it would be. I think what’s opened by the finale is too big to wrap up in two hours, and in fact I think it’s got the most room to grow of any plot Twin Peaks ever introduced. It’s the biggest story yet, what’s started here, the rest has just been leading up to it, this is the ultimate showdown. To wrap that up in a movie would have been disrespectful to all the work that had been done up until then. A prequel was the only way to go: layer the mythos, give people more room for their imaginations to extrapolate and hope one day the show could be given the room to finish correctly. They have that room now thanks to Showtime, and we’re going to get the slowly-unfurling resolution we and the series deserve.

Next week: one stop to go before brand new episode, Fire Walk With Me, the prequel movie that closes the perfect circle of Twin Peaks narrative. It’s a doozy, though, so bring snacks.

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