Showtime’s been very open about the fact that Twin Peaks: The Return was conceived, written and shot as essentially one 18-hour movie, leaving things like serialized teasers and firm episodic beginnings and endings behind for something bigger. If we extrapolate from that statement, then last night’s episode marked the completion of a third of the film, or the end of act one. Though it’s very hard to expect Twin Peaks to play by the rules and deliver a classic act break, “Part 6” of The Return certainly did its best.
The two most memorable moments in terms of action involve a hit-and-run that killed a little boy and a triple murder (at least) carried out by a diminutive hitman passionate about killing with an icepick. Those scenes – and the delightful reveal of Laura Dern as Cooper’s longtime secretary Diane – are the one viewers are mostly likely to be talking about today, around the water cooler or in the Starbucks line or on Twitter. But something else happened last night, something Peaks fans have been waiting years for.
As The Return began four weeks ago, Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill (Michael Horse) was told by the Log Lady (the great Catherine E. Coulson) that something was missing and he had to find it. He was given only two clues to guide him: The “something” related to the missing Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and the way Hawk would find it had something to do with his own Native American heritage.
Trusting in the Log Lady’s prophecy, Hawk went looking, digging up all of the old Laura Palmer case files in the process. As countless new developments swirled around him – including Cooper himself returned to our world, unbeknownst to anyone who’s looking for him, in the life of an insurance agent named Dougie Jones – Hawk has remained planted in the past, feeding our nostalgia by thumbing through dusty old boxes. Until last night, this plot line’s best development was a piece of effective but brief comedy involving a 25-year-old chocolate Easter bunny.
Then Hawk dropped a nickel from his pocket – a Buffalo nickel, no less – and followed it as it rolled into a stall in the sheriff’s department men’s room. A glance back at the stall door revealed a Native American chief’s head as the manufacturer’s logo and a bolt popped loose along the upper seam. Ignoring the protestations of Deputy Chad (who’s quickly become a stand-in for every cynic who thinks Peaks is a silly show), Hawk pried the door open and pulled out a small wad of folded, handwritten pages.
In true Twin Peaks fashion, the moment ends there. There is no swelling music, no exaggerated “Oh my God!” face from Hawk and no triumphant scene in which he lays out every detail of what he’s just found. There is only a moment of calm recognition as Hawk realizes he’s found something important. Then he leaves the room and the episodes, with no indication of exactly when we might learn what he’s just learned. The pages leave with him and the show gives no clear indication of what exactly they are.
But Twin Peaks fans know. Or at least we really think we do.
In life, Laura Palmer – the murder victim who started it all – kept two diaries: One that portrayed her as the perfect homecoming queen the town believed her to be and another that detailed her drug use, sex work and years of abuse at the hands of the demonic BOB. This dark diary passed into the hands of Laura’s friend, the reclusive Harold Smith, before her death. Though Harold then shredded the pages before taking his own life in Season 2 of the original series, whatever was left of the diary then went to the sheriff’s department. Then Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me came along.
Lynch’s prequel film, detailing the last week of Laura’s life, revealed more details about the diary, specifically that Bob seemed to have learned its location and that Laura gave it to Harold in a panic after she discovered some pages were missing. The show did not explicitly spell it out but it would seem that what Hawk found last night were indeed the missing diary pages, stashed away by someone (most likely Laura’s father Leland) to keep them away from investigators.
So, after 25 years, a key piece of the Twin Peaks mystery has just been brought to light for the very first time. Or has it?
With Twin Peaks, you can never be sure what’s going to end up mattering a great deal and what’s a throwaway moment. When you pile all of those decades of meaning onto Hawk’s discovery, it seems like the show has to do a deep dive and lay out what those pages mean in the overall mystery. The show might not agree with that, though. We might never see those pages again, or if we do we may only see brief glimpses.
Let’s assume for the sake of optimism, though, that Hawk will expound on his discovery in the weeks to come. What do those pages contain? In one of Fire Walk With Me’s strangest scenes, Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham) appeared to Laura Palmer in a dream to tell her that “the good Dale” Cooper was trapped in the Black Lodge. “Write it in your diary,” she said. Did Laura write it down? Did she write it on those pages? If memory serves, the chronology of the film does not necessarily support this but Twin Peaks has a funny relationship with time, so you never know.
Whatever those diary pages contain, if indeed that’s what they are, Hawk actually found what he was looking for. Twin Peaks can be a maddening and meandering experience even at its best. You learn to accept dangling narrative threads and cyrptic explanations and images that are meant to evoke a feeling and not to progress a plot. As the show heads into the second act of its resurrection, though, we are moving ever closer to something Twin Peaks fans have been waiting nearly 30 years to get: A payoff.