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On Twin Peaks, time was fluid, but there was never enough of it

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The finale of the revival series underlines one of the series’s biggest themes: time is linear and always running out

Image: Showtime

On David Lynch and Mark Frost’s groundbreaking TV series Twin Peaks, time is fluid. The show jumps back and forth in time, repeating history while characters try to change it, and occasionally even get frozen in it. And yet, there’s never enough of it. That fundamental truth drives people’s regrets just as often as it gives them fond memories. The future is just as overwhelming as the past. There’s too much to do and too much to see. Twenty-five years after their original 1990–1991 run of the show, Lynch and Frost finally came back to television for 18 episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return. And for the audience, after decades of waiting for answers, even those 18 hours back in the Twin Peaks world wasn’t enough time to get answers, or even a sense of closure.

Seventeen-year-old homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is the series’s most obvious, central proof of the vagaries of time. The 1990 Twin Peaks series opens with the discovery of her body; her life has literally been cut short. But even though the image of her, “dead, wrapped in plastic,” gave birth to an entire genre of mysteries built on the bodies of dead girls, Laura Palmer can’t entirely be counted among their number. Twin Peaks, both the original series and the 2017 revival, belongs to her. She isn’t a means to some other character’s end. When her murder is solved, that isn’t the end of her presence on the show. Lynch followed the original series with the 1992 movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and focused almost entirely on Laura, even though her father Leland (Ray Wise) was apprehended as her killer halfway through the original show’s second season. And when Twin Peaks: The Return picks up the story, it finds the characters trying to bring Laura back home — to buy her a little more time.

Image: Showtime

Even the other inhabitants of Twin Peaks, who’re running on a more linear timeline, are fighting to make the most of their time, especially when it comes to their families. Since the end of the show’s ‘90s run, Andy Brennan and Lucy Moran (Harry Goaz and Kimmy Robertson) have gotten married and had a son (Michael Cera), but their time with him is limited. They’re competing with his love of the road. In their one reunion with him in The Return, he gives them permission to convert his childhood room into a study. He’s not coming back home to roost; he’s making it clear that they’re out of time with him.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook). Over the past 25 years, he’s grown from teenage delinquent to deputy in the Sheriff’s department. Part of his story in the original series hinged on his contentious relationship with his father, military man Garland Briggs (Don S. Davis). Garland predicted Bobby’s future in a remarkably tender scene in the original series — also the last scene between them — but he didn't live to see it come true. Still, as old cases are re-opened in Twin Peaks, Bobby uses his memories of his lost father to play his part in figuring out what’s going on.

Twin Peaks: The Return is obsessed with these kinds of changes — characters who’ve lost loved ones or seen their youthful ambitions run out — but it also reminds the audience that time is passing on a literal, real-world level. The intervening decades left the specter of the inevitable hanging over the show. The cast has visibly aged, and some have died, or otherwise became unavailable for Lynch’s grand reunion. Phillip Jeffries (played by David Bowie in Fire Walk With Me) has become a giant teakettle. Harry Truman (Michael Ontkean), a key character in the original series, has been replaced by Robert Forster, playing Harry’s brother Frank. Albert Rosenfeld and Log Lady Margaret Lanterman both appear in the show, but the actors who played them (Miguel Ferrer and Catherine Coulson) died shortly after filming. Their scenes take on a special poignancy in a show that has always balanced love with loss. Coulson’s scenes in particular read as a farewell. “I’m dying,” she tells Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse). “My log is turning gold.” “Good night, Margaret,” he says, in turn. And then, after hanging up the phone, “Goodbye, Margaret.”

Image: Showtime

This grief — the sudden loss of time, and the resulting uncertainty of how to move into the future — informs the entirety of both runs of Twin Peaks. The bulk of the 1990 pilot episode is devoted to the way Laura’s death tears the town apart, and that pain is just as keen in the new series, in spite of the decades that have passed. Angelo Badalamenti’s “Laura’s Theme” first played when Laura’s body was discovered in the 1990 pilot; in The Return, it plays again when Bobby sees Laura’s portrait in the Sheriff’s station. Even a quarter-century later, he can’t help but weep when he sees her. Time hasn’t dulled his grief.

That déjà vu is one of many scenes that touch upon the cyclical nature of time. Time isn’t always so linear, nor necessarily passing on the same plane for everyone on the show. Lynch shows the grown-up Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) dancing again as she did in the original series, but the music that moves her, once so emblematic of her youth (“Isn’t it too dreamy?” she said, in the third episode of the original series), isn’t a dream anymore. It’s a nightmare. Her dancing is cut short, giving way to an undefined, sterile white haze. History may try to repeat itself, but the passage of time can’t be stopped.

This is most obvious in The Return’s finale, in which Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) literally goes back in time in an effort to prevent Laura Palmer’s murder from happening in the first place. He finds her just before the final events of Fire Walk With Me, and when she asks where they’re going, he simply tells her, “home.” But they never arrive. He loses his grip on her hand, and when he finds her again, she’s apparently no longer Laura Palmer. Her name is Carrie Page, and Twin Peaks and the people in it mean nothing to her. The more he tries to change what’s already happened, the darker the episode becomes. The series’s final moments aren’t redemptive. Laura Palmer can’t be saved.

Image: Showtime

In spite of the loops Cooper tries to draw to save Laura, to restore the life that was stolen from her, time is a line rather than a circle. It seems to repeat itself, but these are echoes rather than repetitions. There are no do-overs. The show’s cyclical nature, from the repeating musical cues to scenes that have been replicated nearly shot for shot, suggests the fluidity of time, but doesn’t contradict its steady march. If anything, history will only repeat itself. The loops have already been closed. Audrey will never be that carefree young girl again; Bobby will never be able to share his new life with his father; Dale Cooper will never be able to rescue Laura Palmer. There’s just never enough time.