SPOILER ALERT! YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!
As some of you may know, I'm not only a dedicated metalhead; I'm also a huge David Lynch and Twin Peaks fan. It has devoured my life over the last few months. What follows is my own personal interpretation of Season 3 of Twin Peaks. While I do not think that there is a “correct” way to look at this season, I do think that there are “incorrect” ways to go about it. Lynch has said to “look at the donut, not the hole.” With that in mind, my analysis here is the result of weeks of pondering what we have actually been presented on screen, my understanding of Lynch’s prior works, and theories of others from numerous Youtube channels and podcasts that are based in real evidence and not leaps in logic or, god forbid, syncing up episodes. It’s all good fun, have at it, but it’s not the key to developing a sound theory. That out of the way, Let’s Rock.
What we see for much of the season (and perhaps Fire Walk With Me with Chet Desmond’s bizarro Twin Peaks adventure and Dale’s early attempt at warning Laura “don’t take the ring”) is more or less viewed through Dale's eyes/mind/electrical impulses while he is piecing himself back together in the lodge. Remember that Hawk warned Cooper that confronting the shadow self with imperfect courage could result in annihilation of the soul. This is likely what happened at the end of season 2. So now, we are seeing the events unfold exactly as Cooper is, playing out like a Brechtian play. The purpose of this play is up for debate, but it’s my opinion that it is both reintegrating information and the psyche as well as preparing Cooper for his final mission.
I have plenty of evidence to support this notion, but diving fully down that rabbit hole could easily result in writing an entire book on the subject. For now, consider the bizarre moments of “Brechtian distancing” and Mike's mesmerizing Tibetan bowl sound (which we first heard the Man from Another Place produce by wringing his hands in S2). Both of these techniques are associated with increasing self-awareness and are meant to keep the viewer (both us and Dale) in a somewhat detached state. We should not fully trust what we are seeing or become fully immersed; we are here to observe from a somewhat removed perspective in order to learn things.
All of the strange, fourth wall breaking and moments where characters seem aware of events they were not "present" for can be explained within this context. A few quick examples (I have pages of these):
I could go on and on, but the Log Lady puts it best in one of her calls to Hawk, saying "Watch and listen to the dream of time and space...things that are, and are not." Some of what we are seeing is perhaps literal, though as in Lynch’s other works flavored by subjective perception and dream logic, some of it is pure abstraction meant to detach and/or evoke a mood, and some of it is meant to teach us and Dale something important towards the final conclusion.
As this vision of time and space wears on, moments become increasingly bizarre, especially at the Roadhouse, which seems to be somewhat of a halfway point between the lodge and reality. Note the that master of ceremonies has more than a passing resemblance in both look and dress (right down to the style of sports jacket) to the “See You In The Trees” singer in the Red Room at the end of Season 2. In any case, Dale, and by extension us, is becoming more and more aware of the strangeness of the "dream." Those familiar with “lucid dreaming” are likely aware of this being tactic for gaining control of the dream world.
This culminates for most of us in one of the season’s most meta and bizarre moments: “Audrey's Dance.” This is most certainly a thing that cannot be. Here we have a song announced with a title that only exists outside of Twin Peaks as a universe, the crowd parting in a very unsettling manner, and Audrey reliving a moment for no apparent reason other than to tell the audience that THIS IS NOT REAL. This was a moment that I perhaps agonized over the most after the season wrapped, but ultimately my take is this: the Audrey we see here is no more than a dream projection. She is simply another character in this play summoned from Dale’s subconscious in order to further help him regain full awareness and also understand the ins and outs of being a character in someone else’s dream (more on this later).
This explains the existential crisis of not knowing who she is, what she wants to do, or even how to get to the Roadhouse. We get a sense in each of her scenes that she is not even sure what happened immediately prior to Lynch shouting “action!” This is because she is, just like in a dream, being conjured from nothing each time a scene begins. It’s like in Inception when a character is asked “How did you get here? Can you remember?” She can’t because literally nothing led into the scene. It just happens. And when this becomes more apparent, her existence collapses. I also believe that Jerry’s arc has much to do with becoming aware of cracks in his reality and that Cole is perhaps better able to understand what is going on than anyone.
Cole seems to have an extra-sensory awareness of a lot of things as evidenced by his ambiguous sketch, vision of Laura with Sarah calling out to her (same audio as in the finale) in his doorway, and intercut pondering as if he can anticipate Cooper’s impending awakening in the hospital bed. Jeffries says that it is Cole who will remember the “unofficial version,” which may be referencing his knowledge of multiple timelines. And that’s not even mentioning his “Monica Belluci dream,” where he (and again by extension us and Cooper) are more or less told explicitly that we, in some manner, are living inside of a dream as well as furthering the Judy and “two Coopers” plotlines.
Again, none of this is to say that these events are not "happening." That argument can certainly be made, but I’ve found that line of reasoning to be somewhat incompatible on rewatch. As Audrey herself puts it, “dreams sometimes harken to truth.” The most solid bit of evidence for me is that at the opening of Part 18 (AFTER Cooper has left the “dream” narrative), Frost and Lynch make a point to show us that Dougie is recreated by Mike to return “home,” and Mr. C is still burning in the Red Room. It’s not a dream in that Dale (or Richard as some theorize) were just sleeping and dreamt up this whole thing in bed. Rather Lynch is playing, as he has many times before, with the “dream” that is our filtering of events through our own individual lenses, schemas, and expectations. Two people can be present for the exact same moment and walk away from it having had a completely different experience.
However you read it, Dale may be “awake” in terms of no longer being in a Dougie stupor when he tells Mike that he is “100%,” but he has not yet become “woke,” so to speak. It is not until he sees Naido that all parts of himself come together. We could argue over why this moment is the tipping point: the ridiculousness of that entire scene and those present, having last seen Naido (arguably) prior to entering the “dream,” piecing together what he witnessed in the Diane tulpa final scene where she said that she is “in the sheriff’s station.” Pick one or all of the above, but it is this moment when Dale both exists as the dreamer living in the dream and the omnipresent dreamer. His superimposed face is a lingering reaction shot from the moment he laid eyes on Naido, and voices the acknowledgement that “we live inside a dream.” Again, this is much like when a lucid dreamer is able to trigger self-awareness; acting both as the mind of a real person and an avatar within the dream.
With this newfound control, the dream is able to shift more deliberately. The setting and characters literally fade away as he makes his way to Mike's door in The Great Northern, which I note is both when the giant face disappears AND his FBI pin reappears. He has reintegrated all parts of himself and his mission. He signals for Diane (who “remembers everything”) to find him at the “curtain call” (Glastonbury Grove) and, just like in Mulholland Drive, his turning of the mystical key in the mystical door signals his final awakening back into the lodge.
From here Mike (speaking forwards to further emphasize the shift in reality) takes him to Jeffries who helps him begin his true and final mission: not to "save" Laura, but to find her and enact the end of Judy. This is something he has been briefed on by watching the previous storyline as well as other interactions that may have happened off screen previously. Jeffries twists and manipulates the entry point of time (represented by an infinity sign with a sliding marker) where a looping battle between good and evil has been happening for God knows how long. This idea had already been presented in the boxing loop Sarah was watching in her home (complete with an electrical sound at every reset).
Cooper travels to, as Jeffries puts it, “where you’ll find Judy,” which is the night before Laura dies in Fire Walk With Me. Note that the very first image after traveling is the Palmer house: the current nexus of evil and home base of Judy. But another important note before we proceed: I believe that this may be where the opening scene between Cooper and The Fireman truly takes place. Why? Notice how he materializes in the past. There have been a number of effects presented this season for inter-dimensional travel, but this particular effect is unique to this moment, Laura Palmer’s body vanishing, and Cooper’s disappearing from The Fireman with the line “You are far away.”
We are meant to use this cue to tie these moments together (although his pin is notably missing when meeting with The Fireman). It also makes sense chronologically for this meeting to take place at this point in the story. He is given his final clues to fulfill his own “destiny,” and also informed that when he hears the sound played on the phonograph “it is in our house now.” In other words, things are going to plan, and we have it under control. It is also worthy of note that this sound is much like that of the “wooden fish” instrument that can also be used in meditation alongside Tibetan bowls. I am by no means an expert in this area, but from my limited understanding it is commonly used to symbolize wakeful attention. Cooper is entering yet another “dream” of sorts by entering the past, and this sound is a “hey stupid…listen for this cue. It’s important. Don’t get lost in the moment, you have a job at hand.”
And if we’re just taking the scene as it plays out, this all makes a lot of sense. Dale is walking Laura towards the entrance to the White Lodge that we saw earlier, and it seems like they are close enough that The Fireman could scoop her up. Furthermore, we not only hear Laura’s scream, but also the wind in the lodge curtains. This exact audio replays to make absolutely sure that we are connecting this moment to all the way back at the Season’s beginning when she flies out of the Red Room. Dale doesn't just redirect Laura; he literally removes her from existence, both from this timeline and the Black Lodge. Also notice that while Cooper looks sad and concerned, he doesn’t look caught entirely off guard or frantic. It's yet another jarring, tragic moment for Laura, but one he understands needs to happen as per his instructions (which could “not all be spoken aloud now” likely due to Judy’s awareness).
With that task complete, he resets back to the Red Room, this time sans Laura (the empty chair) and with Mr. C (who exists outside of time and space) still burning so that he may finally, truly leave. Only one can be out at once, after all. The Evolution of the Arm reminds him of what he learned in his previous "dream journey" by saying something from one of the more 4th wall breaking moments in Audrey's part: "Is it the story of the little girl who lived down the lane? Is it?" The phrase, in a way, reminds me of the unicorn origami in Blade Runner. And for what it's worth, this is also the name of a movie about hiding a child from her abusive mother. This triggers the memory of Laura's whisper, which is up for debate, but I am starting to wonder if that whisper was her conducting the dream: something that could last seconds in the lodge, but hours in reality. There are definitely moments in the earlier parts of the season that feel like they come out of Laura's mind rather than Dale, especially the looping themes of domestic violence and cheating as with Richard, Becky, Steven, and others. Even the one-off characters at Dougie’s office are engaging in infidelity.
So Cooper leaves (with his fancy hand unlocking trick mind you), meets up with Diane as per his instructions, and carries on with his Fireman quest. They drive over the 430 mark, which I believe now puts them into Laura's dreamworld somewhere outside of the other realities we have seen. Some argue that this is OUR reality (after all, Lynch even cast the current owner of the Palmer home as Mrs. Tremond), but others say that this is perhaps a hibernating space like the one described by Hastings regarding Major Briggs. But for what purpose? This is where the trap theory comes into play.
Sarah/Judy was visibly distraught at Laura’s removal from the timeline, so much so that she is caught in a loop of symbolically attempting to destroy Laura’s picture, only to find it completely impervious to damage. She has lost her direct line to fathomless pain and sorrow. Diane and Cooper’s next task is to lure Judy into this other reality using the same sex magic described of Jack Parsons in The Secret History. We also saw this ritual play out on screen with sex resulting in the Experiment materializing in the glass box. Part of the reason why I believe they do this in a pocket reality/dream of Laura’s is that both Dale and Diane start to dissociate much like the characters (especially Audrey) in his previous journey. Diane sees herself, not a tulpa or doppelganger this time, but a very Lost Highway-esque vision of her depersonalizing into “Linda.”
This sex magic is particularly potent given that Diane is experiencing fear and disgust at making love with a man who shares the face of her rapist. The connections to summoned evil are made even more explicit by the repeat use of the song “My Prayer” from episode 8. This seems to further shift the reality as Judy perhaps makes further modifications or the trap is “closed.”
Unfortunately, this also leaves Dale and Diane more fully integrated into their character roles of this reality/dream. They are confused and further depersonalized. "Linda" becomes one with this projected identity and leaves. Dale, fortunately, still seems to have one foot in his true self (as he was repeatedly told both by Jeffries and also the Fireman: "remember"). He continues to follow his breadcrumbs, though unable to act entirely like himself. This is showcased most clearly with the scene at Judy’s diner where he is not at all the Dale Cooper we have come to know and love. He’s not Mr. C or Dougie, either…he’s Richard with a goal-directed Dale pulling whatever strings that he still can. If Kyle doesn’t get an Emmy next year for this performance, I don’t know what to think.
Now skipping a bit forward, an interesting moment happens when he gets to Carrie/Laura's house: he sees the electrical pole that is NOT just any pole. It's not the one from FWWM or the boy being hit by the car. It is the EXACT one with the background that ANDY was shown by the Fireman. This to me is further vindication of my theory that Dale knows everything that WE as the viewer know because he saw all of it too. Knowing for sure that this is the place with Judy now feeding with a direct line to her house, he goes inside and ignores the body more or less because none of this is exactly "real." It's disturbing and sad, as is the reappearance of the Pale Horse, but it's more or less inconsequential. The fact that Laura doesn't acknowledge it despite having the FBI at her door further shows the cracks in this reality, just like how Bobby barely reacts to the vomiting kid in the car with the honking woman. We are being told once more not to trust all that we are seeing.
He takes her with, and here we have the LONG ride. Unlike the rest of the show which was filled with jarring moments to remind us that we are, in fact, viewers; here it is basically just like reality. We watch the road, there's no one following us, we stop to get gas. Dale is slipping more and more into being just Richard in the dream. He is forgetting himself. Luckily, they get to the "Palmer house" with some of his wits still about him (passing a mere projection of the RR), and go to the door.
He knows he is supposed to take Laura to Judy, but beyond that he has little instruction and is still slipping away. The lodge names may be there to help act as another cue (or warning depending on how you look at it), but he is struggling and can't even remember what year it is. But it is Laura who ultimately realizes what is happening (we even got a glimmer of this when she was even taken aback by the mention of "S-Sarah?"). She hears Sarah calling to her, which is audio taken directly from Twin Peak’s very first episode. It is the moment that Sarah is trying to wake her up, not realizing that her body is wrapped in plastic on the shore. And again, we also heard this audio with Cole during his doorway vision (perhaps further showing that this IS all part of the plan and not some horrible mistake).
“But Flight,” you say, “if this is part of the plan, why does Laura scream in terror?” Consider the context. The existential horror is all rushing back to her in this moment, surprising even Dale. Imagine realizing that you are a dream projection of someone who died, lived in the black lodge, and is now hearing the voice of your mother calling back to you through time and different realities. So yes, she screams, as we all would, and with that the reality is shattered as it was with Audrey, but this time I like to believe that she wakes up back in her own reality to her mother's calls sans Bob or Judy. Judy has been stranded without electricity to feed or travel, and Laura has been returned to her own bed. However, the final backwards music (also mirroring Audrey’s final scene) and the image of Laura whispering to Dale during the credits beg one to wonder if they didn't just reset back into the loop.
But that pretty much does it for this explanation. Whether I'm "correct" or not, this is all plausible given the "donut" Lynch and Frost presented and offering very few observations of "the hole." There's plenty more to add, and a lot of metaphorical subtext regarding ruminations on trauma, aging, death, living in the present, etc., but as for how it fits together as a story, this is the point I have come to. Take it or leave it. The ride is certainly not over in any case, and THAT is what really makes this season such a masterpiece. It has more layers, intrigue, and full utilization of elite-level writing and directorial tricks than anything I have ever seen in my life.
On a final note, one of my favorite observations after watching this season is that, to Laura, Dale is a lodge spirit. Think about it. She has never met him in person, he appears to her either in dreams (FWWM), within the Red Room, or through strange, cosmic appearances where he sets her on a different path. He is basically what The Giant was to Cooper in the original series run. Mind blown.