In Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire there’s a schism in the central characters, between their true selves and false ones: Fred/Pete, Diane/Betty, Nikki/Sue. In The Return this schism is given its most literal form yet: FBI agent Dale Cooper has been physically split into two characters, his consciousness dormant inside of “Dougie Jones,” a tulpa, or artificial being, while his evil dopplegänger, “Mr. C.,” is at large. But in all of these films—The Return included—the splitting of the protagonist’s self is an illusion: a dream, hallucination, fugue or delusion. Cooper/ Dougie and Mr. C. are in reality two halves of the same personality: one an idealized self, the other repressed. The entire story of The Return can be read as a battle between good and evil not in the Pacific Northwest woods, but in one man’s soul. In an audacious (or appalling) final stroke that completes (or forever defaces) what may well be his last major work, David Lynch intimates that all the inhabitants of Twin Peaks and their dramas, and its Byzantine mythos of demons, giants, and the Black Lodge, are an elaborate fantasy, the dream of this original Dale Cooper—or whatever his real name is—a desperate attempt to forget what he knows, on some level, is the true story.
What that story really is, we can ’t know for sure. But, just as in Nabokov’s Pale Fire Charles Kinbote’s grandiose fabulations—his flamboyant intrigues, disappointed Queen, and dramatic escape from his imaginary kingdom—offer hints and glimpses of the sadder, more ordinary story of Vseslav Botkin—furtive homosexuality, a failed marriage, and exile—we can infer from Cooper’s fantastic cover story something about the more sordid and mundane reality that lies beneath it. We know that Cooper is an FBI agent, or some sort of law enforcement official, and that he loved a woman, probably a blonde, who died, almost certainly murdered. That her death has had to be buried and disguised beneath so many layers of fabrication, guilt and denial suggests that, at the very least, he, Cooper, may have let her die, was somehow complicit in her death, or an even darker possibility: the real answer to 1990’s question, Who killed Laura Palmer?, may not be the demon Bob or her father Leland after all, but Dale Cooper.