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The Possibility of Parallel Realities in TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN

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Almost everyone I know who is closely watching the astonishing third season of Twin Peaks agrees by now that the chronology of the scenes set in the town of Twin Peaks itself is far more scrambled than the chronology of the show’s other narratives set outside of Twin Peaks (see my updated timeline for examples). A lot of commentators, including me, believe that this non-linearity is deliberate on the part of the show’s creators, David Lynch and Mark Frost, and that it relates to their desire to further explore the kind of time/space paradoxes that have always been central to both the show and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (Annie Blackburn appearing to Laura Palmer in a dream and conveying information about Dale Cooper before his arrival in town being perhaps the most prominent example). While puzzling over the current season’s tricky chronology – specifically the way two different episodes depict separate scenes of Bobby Briggs that appear to be occurring in the Double R Diner on what seems like the same night (one involving him interacting with Shelly and Becky, the other involving him interacting with Big Ed and Norma) – an idea struck me: what if, instead of a jumbled timeline, the town of Twin Peaks and its residents exist simultaneously in two separate realities? And what if David Lynch is freely cutting back and forth between these parallel realities without giving viewers any clear or comforting indication of when we are seeing what I’ll call “Reality A” vs. when we are seeing what I’ll call “Reality B?”

The most solid evidence in favor of this theory can be found at the end of Part Seven. In one of the show’s most baffling moments to date, a young man identified in the credits as “Bing” bursts into the Double R Diner and excitedly blurts out the question “Has anybody seen Billy?” before turning and running back outside. This action happens over a series of wide shots taken from the back of the diner that are interrupted by medium shots of Norma sitting in a booth and looking up from her paperwork, seemingly in response to the commotion caused by Bing. Interestingly, the dozens of customers populating the diner are completely different from one wide shot to the next – even though no time appears to elapse over the straight cuts that separate them. Some cynical viewers have suggested that the use of shots featuring different extras is a mere “continuity error.” Others think the sense of temporal dislocation imparted by these cuts is intentional on Lynch’s part but cannot agree on the purpose of this bizarre editing scheme. Could it be that this scene is the key to understanding that Lynch is explicitly juxtaposing two different realities – where waitresses Shelly and Heidi are working the same shift but where their customers are totally different in each? Adding to the confusion, the scene ends with Bing, who we already saw exit the diner, walk up to the cash register to pay his tab. So, let’s say that in Reality A, a man named Billy is missing in the town of Twin Peaks and that his friend Bing is frantically looking for him. In Reality B, Billy is not missing and his friend Bing is enjoying a leisurely meal at the Double R Diner. You can watch the scene in its entirety here.

In Parts 12 and 13, the beloved character Audrey Horne made her long awaited reappearance on the show in two exceptionally dreamlike scenes. In both, she bitterly argues with her husband, Charlie, about the fact that her boyfriend, Billy, has been missing for two days. Audrey begs Charlie to escort her to the Roadhouse in order to help her look for Billy but both scenes end on a curious note of irresolution as Audrey seems almost physically incapable of leaving her home. Many viewers have speculated that the “real” Audrey is either still in a coma (caused by the bank explosion at the end of season two) and that these scenes are her dreams as she lies unconscious in a hospital bed, or that Audrey is inside some kind of mental hospital and that her “husband” in these scenes is actually a psychiatrist engaging her in a form of therapeutic role play. Both of these theories make sense: there is no technology in Charlie’s home office more recent than 1989 (when Audrey went into a coma) and, in a line of dialogue reminiscent of something Ben Kingsley says at the end of Shutter Island, Charlie at one point ominously threatens to “end” Audrey’s “story.” The problem with these theories, however, is that Audrey seems to have knowledge of events taking place in town that we have seen independently of her (e.g., the fact that someone named Billy has been missing for “two days,” and, if we are to further assume that Billy is the “farmer” interviewed by Deputy Andy in Part 7, that his truck was both stolen and returned prior to his disappearance).

The possibility of multiple realities reconciles this contradiction somewhat: could it be that Audrey is stuck in a loveless marriage to Charlie and having an affair with Billy in Reality A but that she is in a coma in Calhoun Memorial Hospital in Reality B? Could the empathetic Audrey of Reality A somehow sense that another version of herself is in a coma in a parallel reality? This would explain why, distraught, she tells Charlie that she feels like she’s “someone else” and “somewhere else.” Could this also be why Big Ed seems to react to the fact that his reflection in a window at the end of Part 13 is out of synch with his actions? Could the Big Ed of one reality be glimpsing a version of himself in another reality? Could the weirdness in Sarah Palmer’s home, including the strange looping of a boxing match on her television set near the end of Part 13, indicate that she is somehow trapped “between two worlds?” Finally, might this theory also explain the discrepancies between Mark Frost’s Secret History of Twin Peaks novel and the events of the show’s first two seasons (notably concerning the death of Norma’s mother and the fact that there are two different Miss Twin Peaks pageant winners)? While I’m not 100% sold on this idea, I find it intriguing to think about. Future episodes (and further close viewing) should bring clarity.

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

8 responses to “The Possibility of Parallel Realities in TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN

  • Caemeron

    Yeah, I am more and more thinking that something like this is the case. We have talked about it a bit on the podcast (Drink Full and Descend).

    I actually think, though, that it would work better with this theory to just jettison the idea that Audrey might be in a coma or whatever. The scene in Part 13 seems to pick up the action where it left off in Part 12, but they are in a different room and so on. Plus, in 12 Charlie did not want to go to the Roadhouse because he was sleepy, but in 13 he seems fully down to go. So, perhaps two different versions of the same reality?

    One thing I find interesting, thinking about the inconsistencies with Secret History in particular, is the way the core of those stories and characters remains intact. The differences tend to just be in little details (about Ed and Norma, Ben’s recovery, etc.). The one exception is Annie, who is just not mentioned in Secret History at all. Hmm. Anyway, thanks for this.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks for reading, Caemeron. I look forward to checking out your podcast. I agree that the Audrey part of this theory doesn’t fit as well as the other pieces yet but there’s clearly _something_ going on in her scenes that doesn’t add up and I wanted to try and fit it in somehow.

  • Chris Bulmer

    Insightful article. I wonder if this is how we may see Laura again “I died and yet I live”.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks, Chris. I don’t know if there will be a reality in which Laura didn’t die but I’m sure we’ll somehow see Laura in Twin Peaks again.

      • Chris Bulmer

        There was also the turkey jerky incident – Sarah seeming so freaked out about when they arrived led the viewer to see it from the perspective and manner of the shop assistants. I.e kind tolerance of a disturbed person. But we know that Sarah has an accute perception of the supernatural

      • michaelgloversmith

        Yes! When Sarah asked the checkout girl about when and how the turkey jerky arrived it seemed like she was paranoid that it had magically materialized instead of being unloaded from a truck or something.

  • harveyparadox

    I don’t think there’s anything strange going on here at all. This is just the R&R over time. Notice in the first shot Heidi is in the dining room , then when we come back to that side of the counter and the people have changed Heidi is inside the counters. Nothing strange going on here at all.

    • michaelgloversmith

      You could be right, of course. But Lynch doesn’t dissolve between shots or fade to black or use any of the traditional cinematic effects that show the passage of time. The use of straight cuts make it seem as if the diner customers have just been magically replaced by other customers.

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