Now that the dust has settled and the ringing in my ears from Laura Palmer’s final piercing scream has subsided, we can begin to process what on earth actually went down in the crazy Twin Peaks finale. After the two-hour conclusion had aired on Showtime, my initial reaction was a flurry of emotion ranging from anger, to disappointment, to complete bewilderment. But over the following hours and days, by reading many fan theories across Reddit and Twitter, I accepted the fact that there was no easy way to come to terms with Lynch’s conclusion, or lack thereof, and that I would have to find my own answer in order to accept the ending. There is no definitive answer, but here are a couple of theories that appear to be plausible and are worthy of consideration.
THEORY #1: Richard is the dreamer, and all of Twin Peaks was simply a dream
This one may be a little hard to take for Twin Peaks fans, as it essentially suggests that everything that has happened in all of Twin Peaks has been a fictional figment of imagination from Richard, a man who we know as Dale Cooper. This theory suggests that the only time the show is actually depicting reality is when Richard/Coop wakes up in Odessa. The previous scene showed us a very uncomfortable sex scene between him and Diane in a sleazy motel, but now he has woken up alone in a completely different building, and when he leaves he has a different car. Next to his bed is a note written by ‘Linda’, addressed to a man named “Richard”.
Although his character still appears to believe he is Dale Cooper and has Cooper’s FBI ID, even Maclachlan himself seems to concede that he was playing a character called Richard in this recent interview. Therefore, Richard is mentally unhinged having become obsessed with his dreams and the real-life town of Twin Peaks. Also obsessed with Carrie Page, the waitress at his local diner, he attempts to drag her into his deluded dream world, as he has imagined her as Laura Palmer, a girl in need of his rescue. This longing to be an authority figure comes from the crime he witnesses around him, and his obsessions are likely what has led his wife Linda to leave him.
There are several indicators that this really could be the case. Much of the episode is shot in a much more realist style, with foul weather and mundane surroundings; at one point, Richard drives past a warehouse and focuses on the corporate logo on the side. Even the RR diner is not shot from the stationary angle we usually see it in. And could there be any bigger hint than Lynch’s decision to use a non-professional actor to play the owner of the Palmer residency; in fact, the woman we see is the actual homeowner of the property in real-life. This is a huge indicator that the world we are seeing in episode eighteen is, in fact, the same world that we live in.
It also cannot be denied that this character is clearly not quite the same as the Cooper we are familiar with. Would our Dale Cooper unnecessarily shoot a crook in the foot, and then put innocent lives at risk by placing their guns in a deep-fryer. Would our Coop sit cold-faced and silent for so long, while driving with a concerned passenger in his car? Rest assured, for one reason or another, this is not our Coop.
Obviously, there are occurrences that seem to contradict this theory, such as the occupiers of the Palmer house’s surnames: Tremond and Chalfont, two names that have appeared in Fire Walk With Me. Also the fact that Laura screams at the end, which leads to my next possible theory…
Theory #2: Everything actually went to plan
This one’s a little more difficult to piece together, and there is less evidence to support it, but there could very well be some truth to it. In this theory, the events of episode eighteen take place in the dream of Laura Palmer on the night she originally died. We already know that Laura had dreamt of Cooper before she died, as her secret diary revealed. Quite why or how she has this dream of Odessa is unfounded, and does leave a gaping hole in the validity of this theory.
The central hint that this could well be the case happens at the very end of the episode. After Coop asks “What year is this?”, the sound of Sarah Palmer calling up the stairs to Laura on the morning after her death can faintly be heard, and Laura unleashes a piercing scream. Could it be that Coop actually saved Laura, and she is now waking up from this nightmare on the morning after she was supposed to die? This would mean that Laura is the dreamer, and Coop lives inside her dream. Having tampered with time itself, perhaps Coop can no longer exist in reality and has been exiled to exist only within the mind of the girl he saved. And perhaps by saving Laura, Cooper also prevented something that happened further down the line which led to Judy inhabiting Sarah Palmer. This may explain why, during Cooper’s rescue, the current Sarah Palmer was seen aggressively stabbing a photo of Laura out of rage, due to Judy’s realisation that she has been defeated.
Admittedly, this theory may be clutching at straws and making something out of nothing, but we all know the feeling of waking up to someone saying our name, and we often hear the voice in our dream just before we wake up. In my eyes, this is certainly a plausible theory.
Theory #3: Episode eighteen takes place in an alternate reality
This theory is an interesting one, as it completely reassesses a key scene from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. It leads with the suggestion that the events of episode eighteen are actually taking place in an alternate reality. It is difficult to know why or how Cooper has found himself in this alternate reality; did Phillip Jeffries send him there? Did Judy somehow take Laura from Coop and place her in Odessa having realized the threat imposed upon her?
Phillip Jeffries is the crux of this theory, in both realities. When Cooper encounters Jeffries and asks to be sent back to the night Laura died, Jeffries makes a comment alluding to the suggestion that Gordon Cole would remember ‘both versions’. What could this mean? Both versions of reality perhaps? This would make a lot of sense based on the only other time Jeffries and Cooper interact.
Back in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, one of the most memorable scenes is the one in which Philip Jeffries returns to Cole’s office having been missing for years. Babbling about ‘Judy’ and stating that “We live inside a dream”, Jeffries proceeds to disappear, as if he were never there. Tying back to Cole’s significance in the matter, during The Return, thanks to “another Monica Bellucci dream”, he recalls this scene referring to it as “the day Phillip Jeffries appeared…and didn’t appear”. Could Jeffries have appeared in an alternate reality, which Cole manages to recall because of his ability to remember ‘both versions’?
Another thing I recall thinking when first watching the film was that Cooper seemed distinctly ‘off’ during this scene, slightly different or unusual. I believe that the Cooper we see in this scene is the same Cooper that we get in episode eighteen and that the reality in which Jeffries appears in Fire Walk With Me is the same one as in The Return’s finale. Therefore Jeffries’ claim that Cole would remember both versions could have been him informing Cooper that after whatever happens, Cole will be aware of the events that unfold in episode eighteen.
What this means for Laura and Cooper is unclear, but as Gordon Cole would say: “this is really something interesting to think about”.
While all these theories were interpreted and pieced together myself, many circulating theories and ideas from the fan community helped hugely, so if interested, I would urge everybody to check out the Twin Peaks Reddit page for more theorizing and discussion.
Agree or disagree with any of these three theories? Have your own that you’d like to share? Feel free to leave a comment below and further discuss the never-ending mystery of the Twin Peaks finale.