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Twin Peaks and a tale of two Audreys

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Mar 25, 2021, 10:00 AM EDT (Updated)

As the long-awaited revival of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s wildly influential TV series Twin Peaks begins to wrap up, many questions are finally being answered. Prior to its premiere – which included a screening at the Cannes Film Festival, a place not known for its warm embrace of TV – many fans wondered if Lynch and Frost could strike lightning twice. A lot has changed in the 25 years since the original series wrapped up with one of the medium’s great cliffhangers, and the show’s influence can be seen everywhere in the age of Peak TV, from Lost to Gravity Falls and beyond. When you set the standard and everyone has followed in those footsteps, how do you top that? We needn’t have worried, as Twin Peaks: The Return surpassed all expectations, offering viewers one of the most rewarding experiences on television in the past decade. Lynch, one of film’s great director icons and someone who’s never let normalcy get in the way of a good story, has crafted a mind-bending delight with The Return, melding genres, tones, and ideas with expert panache. The series has been unnerving, hilarious, abrasive, warm, epic, quiet, mundane, and bizarre: All in all, patented David Lynch.

As well as offering audiences a deeper dive into the mythos of the world -- alongside some delightfully bizarre tangents that are revealing themselves to be entwined in the same tapestry -- Twin Peaks: The Return has done some interesting things with its ensemble of characters who fans loved so much. A lot can happen in a quarter of a century, and Twin Peaks has been eager to see the results of that evolution: While Dale Cooper is stuck in a semi-catatonic state as Dougie Jones as his evil doppelganger runs riot, surly teen rebel Bobby Briggs has become a new man as the town’s deputy sheriff. James Hurley, former boyfriend of Laura Palmer and Donna Hayward, has a life of quiet simplicity (somewhat disturbed by the most recent episode's bar brawl), and Laura's mother Sarah is now plagued by literal demons inhabiting her body. Some characters have found love (the long-awaited embrace of Norma and Big Ed), and others seem doomed to repeat their mistakes (Shelly Johnson/Briggs). As it does, life goes on.

That is, it goes on for most of the residents. One character, in the interim 25 years, seems to have undergone some major changes, and that’s led some fans to wonder what’s going on. Audrey Horne, played by Sherilyn Fenn, was arguably the original series’ breakout star. The stubborn but vivacious teenager who could tie cherry stems into knots with her tongue and captured the attention of Special Agent Cooper was the icon of many a young woman during the show's original run. Who wasn't enchanted by Fenn's striking beauty, that knowing smirk, and the way she commanded the screen with little but a raise of the eyebrow? Her return was much lauded, and as each episode passed with no mention of her existence, let alone an appearance, we began to wonder what horrible fate could have befallen her, especially after the fate her character met in the Season 2 finale. Eventually, 12 episodes into an 18-episode run, Audrey appeared, but now, older and in no way wiser, Audrey seems to be an entirely different person.

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We are reintroduced to Audrey in a bizarre, excessively drawn-out 10-minute scene involving her and her apparent husband Charlie (played by Clark Middleton). She demands his help to look for someone named Billy, a man she's been having an affair with and who has allegedly gone missing, but Charlie is more concerned with the mountain of paperwork on his desk. After she verbally browbeats him for a while longer, where they argue about Tina, Chuck, and Paul (none of whom has been introduced yet), Charlie finally offers to call Tina for news on Billy, but he refuses to let Audrey know what they discussed, even after she screams at him.

To put it mildly, it's an exhausting scene. This just isn't the Audrey we know, and after waiting close to three months to see her again, it's no wonder some viewers were left perplexed by what they got. All of Audrey's scenes feel like the antithesis of fan service. Gone was the dogged amateur investigator who danced alone in the diner. Instead, this Audrey was cold, bitter, and shrewish, but also deeply scared. This examination extended to more recent episodes, where her appearances included the same quandary of this mysterious Billy and Audrey’s inability to get to the bar to look for him. Now, as seen in last week’s episode, she’s less keen to make the trek, whereas before she was furiously trying to force Charlie to accompany her. When Charlie stepped away, taking off his coat to signal he wouldn’t go with her to the Roadhouse where she hoped to find Billy, she suddenly attacked him. It’s another scene that, like her first appearance, is frustrating and tough to watch, obstinate in a way that the show seldom is, even at its most obtuse. After those first three appearances this season, Audrey Horne still hadn’t left the house.

It's easy to imagine David Lynch delighting in the frustration of his viewers who had hoped to see one of the show's brightest lights shining at her finest. Lynch is a director at his best when he's interrogating the true terror behind the surface of the mundane, be it love, suburbia, or death, and much of this new season has been focused on contrasts: The previously capable go-get-'em drive of Agent Cooper has been replaced by a mere shell of a man, while Bobby Briggs now enforces the laws he previously flouted so churlishly. Twin Peaks itself is also a town that does terrible things to people, particularly women. Audrey herself is already very familiar with the cruelty of this town, having spent time in its seedy underbelly at One Eyed Jack's. Even with this experience, Audrey was fundamentally one of the show’s innocents. She was a wannabe bad girl, smoking in her locker and messing up her father’s business deals, but always driven by goodness. Audrey was a girl with good intentions and a big crush who got in too deep. Who can’t relate to that?

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Now the fear seems to have caught up with her, and she is steeped in frustration, possibly of her own making. Her relationship with Charlie seems like more of a business endeavor, and the slow, sternly controlled manner in which he talks to her is part psychiatrist, part gaslighting. At one point, he tells her, like a parent chastising a toddler, that he doesn’t have a crystal ball, all while there’s one sitting at the front of his desk.

There is another man in Audrey’s life, one whose beastly behavior would go a long way toward explaining the major changes in Ms Horne’s life. Richard Horne, finally confirmed to be her son, has appeared several times throughout the season, and all of them have been moments of pure repulsion. So far he has run over and killed a child, tried to murder a witness to the crime, assaulted his grandmother and taken her life savings, and been an accessory to drug smuggling across the border. Twin Peaks is a town that has a habit of birthing bad men who commit monstrous deeds, but it’s still a shock to see this slimy creep revealed as the son of Audrey. We’ve yet to see the pair on screen together, and Audrey herself hasn’t even mentioned him. His parentage is still up for discussion, although we know that Audrey, while in a coma after the bank explosion from Season 2, was visited by a man who looked an awful lot like Agent Cooper in hospital. Evil Cooper’s progeny born from raping an unconscious young woman makes a terrifying amount of sense, and goes to levels of darkness all too common in the town of Twin Peaks. This theory was confirmed in Episode 16, when Evil Dale glibly said "goodbye, son" after letting Richard be fried from existence.

The oft-discussed possibility to explain the major changes to Audrey was one that felt distinctly Lynchian. She hadn’t left her house yet and she seems mentally incapable of doing so. She hasn’t mentioned her son or family and seems unconcerned with anything other than this Billy, whom we haven’t met (although current theories suggest he may be the man bleeding profusely from his face in the jail cell across from Chad), and nobody in the town talks of her in recent terms. Perhaps she never woke up from the coma of 25 years ago? Maybe, like Dale Cooper, she is stuck in her own lodge of frustration and confusion, unable to leave or perhaps too scared to try?

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That may have been confirmed in the most recent episode, as Audrey finally made her way to the Roadhouse and the fourth wall of her own existence broke for a few minutes. The iconic music of Audrey's diner dancing played, the dance floor cleared, and soon Ms. Horne was swaying hypnotically across the bar, completely caught up in her own world. Her private dances became a performance for the world, and for one shining moment fans had back their Audrey. Of course, that didn't last, and as a fight broke out, Audrey scrambled back to her husband and begged him to get her out of there before the scene cut to another Audrey, bare-faced and staring at herself in the mirror, unsure of what was going on or where she was. The stark whiteness of the scene suggested a hospital or possible asylum. Maybe Audrey never did leave that coma. One of the show's most iconic images is of Dale Cooper staring into the mirror, but another's reflection -- BOB -- stares back at him. What did Audrey see when she looked at herself, older and no wiser? Tonight will be the show's double-part finale, and with Dale Cooper back to normal, we can only hope the same fate will face Audrey.

While David Lynch has never been too worried about neat resolutions to the myriad questions his work asks, Twin Peaks has been solidly reliable in that area. As bad a write-up as Season 2 often gets, it did wrap up most of its plot lines before the climax, and with The Return, we’re seeing more and more of those threads get tied up in a heartily satisfying way. Whether the same thing will happen to Audrey Horne remains to be seen. This is a show of contrasts, of committed pleasure in life’s idiosyncrasies, and of unflinching honesty of life’s hardships. It may very well end up that the Audrey Horne we have wasn’t the one we wanted but the one we needed.