It has been a few months since I visited here or indeed spent any significant time thinking about the Twin Peaks universe. Recently I attempted to make sense of the story line of The Return as a whole. Based on some ideas I encountered online, and my own take on the matter, I came up with an interpretation that I will attempt to outline below. Obviously a lot of these thoughts are still assumptions and opinions, and in some cases questions are still left unanswered, but at least I think I have a cohesive framework that can serve as "an explanation", though of course not "the explanation".
The main story-line of TPTR, as far as I can tell at this point, concerns the efforts of The Fireman to contain the menace of Judy. We don't know the exact nature of either The Fireman or Judy, of course, but they appear to be primal, eternal forces. My best guess is that these two forces are supposed to be in balance, perhaps tilting this way or that way at times, but always intended to return to an equilibrium. The explosion of the atomic bomb on "our" Earth caused a major disruption in this balance. Judy gained access to places where she is not supposed to roam, and The Fireman is working to overcome that. I think it's important to note that while in human terms we are tempted to associate The Fireman with goodness, and Judy with evil, it would be more precise to say that while they are closer to those respective qualities than their opposite from our perspective, their ideas of good and evil may be different from those of human beings or have no meaning to them at all. They are not human, after all, but rather opposing forces locked in some eternal struggle.
Looking at it in this light, it becomes apparent that all of the human characters are merely pawns in the game. While they have agency and take actions that have real impact on events, including on the otherworldly beings, they are a part of something that is beyond their complete understanding. From human perspective, it doesn't help matters that time in the other realms isn't linear as it is on Earth and that events can occur many times in different variations and retroactively alter history in "our" reality. We have evidence of that in at least two instances:
- Cooper saving Laura from dying has a very real effect in "our" reality as noted by Tammy Preston. Laura Palmer's death was erased from history and people suddenly have no recollection of it ever happening. Only with great difficulty can they get a sense that that was indeed the case, but memories have become blurred. The past has changed before our eyes.
- Gordon Cole mentions that he, Cooper, Garland Briggs, and Phillip Jeffries had a plan on how to find and presumably defeat Judy. That of course is a sign of an altered reality as there could be no such plan in the linear track of time that we know. These individuals were never together at the same time and didn't even know each other all the same time to have worked together in any capacity. Unlike many popular interpretations, I don't think that there are many realities of "our" existence. There is only one. There are, however, retroactive changes of history because of non-linear passage of time in other, let's call them, dimensions.
Getting back to The Fireman's plan, we see him looking concerned while Judy is getting unleashed upon the world in the aftermath of the first atomic explosion. Laura orb is sent forth to counter this. Many of us, myself included, mistakenly assumed that Laura was sent to counter Bob, but the real purpose was for her to serve as part of a plan to stop Judy. Bob is just a bit part player in the end, and his dispatch by the "green glove", while necessary, is less significant than it first appeared.
All signs point to the fact that it was The Fireman who setup the alternate realm where Carrie Page dwelt. Cooper is given instructions by The Fireman on how to access this alternate reality ("430") and what identities ("Richard and Linda") to assume in it for him and Diane respectively. We remember from early on in season 3 the glass box in New York. It was an open portal to the dimension presumably native to Judy. Judy was unwittingly summoned from it by Sam and Tracy having sex. The two of course paid with their lives for this mistake. Cooper knows that he and Diane need to have sex in order to summon Judy to the alternate reality realm. This is a part of The Fireman's plan.
The Odessa/Twin Peaks universe actually is an alternate realm, by the way, and not a version of our reality. It is possibly just a shell containing a few necessary locations and not a complete universe. This is obviously speculation, but Cooper is led very easily from one point to another and there are signs of lodge influence all along the way:
- Diane sees her double outside of a motel (reinforcing that this is not the real world)
- Judy's diner
- Number 6 pole outside of Carrie's house
- White horse figurine on the mantle
- Random dead body in the living room (again reinforcing that this is not real, hence no one pays attention)
The Fireman's plan is working perfectly up until the time Cooper wakes up after having sex with Diane. The Fireman stressed to Cooper to "remember" Richard and Linda. Cooper usually has no memory problems so this had to be significant, and it is. Diane fulfills her part. As Linda, she is no longer significant to the plan, and she vanishes from the realm. Cooper, I believe, fails at this crucial point. He is supposed to assume the "Richard" persona, whomever he may be, but he is unwilling or unable to follow Fireman's instruction and hangs on to his "Dale" identity.
This is where things start to go wrong. Cooper finds Carrie Page, but he is confused over the fact that she doesn't remember the Laura Palmer identity. Perhaps he still does the right thing as he brings her to the Palmer house, where Judy should dwell after being lured by Richard/Linda having sex. Indeed it seems to be the right place. While there are no Palmers at the house, there are Chalfonts and Tremonds; black lodge spirits. This is where speculation gets wilder again. My opinion is that if Cooper had assumed his Richard persona, he would have been much more confident in his actions, and the occupants of the Palmer house would not have been a surprise to him nor would Carrie's lack of recollection of Laura. He went off track with the script and became confused. I think it remains open ended whether Carrie->Laura transformation and her piercing scream at the end signify a success of The Fireman's plan or its demise. Cooper seems to have failed to some extent, but the question is whether the failure derailed everything or whether, perhaps, this too was part of the plan. Let's remember that The Fireman almost never gave complete answers or information, only clues and snippets. Clearly, humans were not supposed to be privy to everything.
This ended up being quite long. It's ripe for picking apart for inconsistencies and absurdities...