Twin Peaks: was this the long, perfect goodbye to David Lynch?

David Lynch’s debut Eraserhead was the greatest movie ever made. Shot over five years in an old barn behind the American Film Institute, where the director was living at the time, it was painstakingly built frame by frame by a group of friends – the very definition of a labour of love. Exactly 40 years later, Lynch has just completed his most personal project ever since. Twin Peaks: the Return can have a cast of stars-art digital effects and a 18-hour run time. But basically, it was just another movie at home: the work of an artist coming full circle, incorporating all he has learned in four decades as a filmmaker in the hands, DIY model, he established with his first film.

Sometimes, the Back looked like a checklist of familiar Lynchian motifs: strip the criminals, the law enforcement officials of the crusade, slinky femmes fatales, coffee, pie, parallel dimensions. Even the cast reads as a part of the meeting: almost all of the lead has worked with Lynch before, and not only in the original Twin Peaks. Laura Dern, starred in Blue Velvet and Inland Empire; Naomi Watts and Robert Forster has appeared in Mulholland Drive; Balthazar Getty has been Lost en Route, Harry Dean Stanton was in Wild at Heart, The straight Story and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. It was not just employees, they were friends for life.

Old friends popping in for a catch-up … Twin Peaks. Photo: Showtime

The appearances of the original Twin Peaks regulars often felt less like an integral part of the plot points and more old friends popping in for a catch-up. Warren Frost (co-writer Mark Frost’s father, now deceased) gave his performance via Skype, while David Patrick Kelly as Jerry Horne wandered alone in the woods, stoned out of his gourd and only in interaction with the other characters of her first and last scenes. Ben Horne and his daughter Audrey, the two of them had a storyline which was going precisely nowhere, while Norma and Big Ed dropped in, rekindled their love and then promptly abandoned it straight out again. Eraserhead veteran Catherine Coulson had four scenes heart-wrenching as the Log Lady, filmed shortly before his death from cancer. His last appearance was perhaps the series ‘ most memorable moment, as Lynch released what was essentially an intimate eulogy to one of his closest friends.

The Back also leaning back in the creative director of pages, and not just his work on-screen. What has been the Evolution of the Arm (the stick-like sculpture to replace rebel Pics icon of Michael j. Anderson) if it is a 3D representation of one of its most oblique works of art? The series established roles or singing cameos from Chrysta Bell, Rebekah del Rio, Trent Reznor and Julee Cruise, all of whom have made music with Lynch over the years, alongside returning composer Angelo Badalamenti. Elements of the previous films of Lynch and TELEVISION projects have been continuously woven in: a castle in the sea like something out of Dune, a sticky-bug creature straight out of Eraserhead. Agent Cooper, several of the figures nodded to the “fugue psychogenic” Lost Highway, while the last episode of the sharp left-hand bend on a whole new plane of existence follows closely the last scenes of Mulholland Drive.

Straight out of Lost Highway … Dougie “fugue psychogenic”. Photo: Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

But it is in this last hour as the Return of its most notable pause, Lynch is past, as Agent Cooper and his assistant/muse/lover of Diane traveled across dimensions to a place that felt uncomfortably like the “real” world (albeit one where motels change their faces and unearthly voices echo from thin air). The show had already staked his claim as the most socially responsible Lynch’s work to date, digging as the Dr Amp on the right in the “crap” that we find ourselves in, nodding both to America’s growing problem of poverty and its propensity to violence: “the glow is dying,” reported the Newspaper Lady, in his last speech. Not all of Lynch’s political ideas, worked in his acceptance speech for the cross-dressing Denise Bryson was a bit awkward, but it is invigorating to see this inward-looking filmmaker embracing larger concerns.

More unsettlingly linked to the earth and all that Lynch has tried to do this before … Twin Peaks. Photo: Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

However, the final episode went even further, feeling more unsettlingly linked to the earth and all that Lynch has tried to do before. The city of Odessa, Texas, has been presented in stark terms, full of traffic and grime, a true world apart, far from the fuzzy, nostalgia of Twin Peaks. Even the roads had lost their mystery – a set of sinister headlights in the rearview mirror proved not to be a gang of criminals, but just another car. The episode and the series culminated with a tired, ordinary-looking Agent Cooper leading Laura to the door of his own house, only to be confronted with the puzzled face of Mary Reber, the woman who is the owner of the Palmer house in Everett, Washington.

Was it Lynch bids a final farewell to fiction? At the age of 71, he closed his own loop? This year’s heartwarming documentary of David Lynch: the Art of Life seemed to say that this is more of a homebody now, happy to potter around the studio with his toddling daughter and her brushes. If Twin Peaks: the Return turns out to be the last film of David Lynch, and taking into account its age and its pace of work, which could well be the case, it is difficult to think of a more fitting swan song. It may be that the title does not only refer to the town of Twin Peaks, Agent Cooper is the slow path to mental health. It could also mark the return of its creator, putting aside the dense, violent, strangely comforting worlds he has spent four decades of creation and to return to a semblance of reality.