The Center Will Not Hold: Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier Review

by RetroZap Staff

Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier plays meta-fictional games with canonicity, delivering answers that are as concrete as they are mysterious. Stewart Gardiner unreliably narrates.

By Stewart Gardiner //  Looking through my notes on Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, I find a reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, that most tricky of unreliably narrated novels. I find the book and flick through it, willing a key phrase to jump off of the page. The words refuse to do any such thing. All I succeed in doing is making myself want to re-read it. (The first and last time I read it was under the least suitable of circumstances. Suffice to say that Pale Fire and Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain are not exactly holiday reads. Pretension clearly got the better of me that summer many years ago.)

Final Dossier

In the present I search Pale Fire online, convinced I can discover something of use in relation to The Final Dossier. I find this from a 2011 New Yorker article :

The foreword tells us that Shade [the poet] has recently died and that Kinbote [the narrator], ignoring the pleas of Shade’s widow and numerous academic Shadeans, has absconded with the manuscript of “Pale Fire” to the Northwest, where, in a rented “tumble-down ranch,” he sets about annotating the poem. As everyone who has read or even heard about “Pale Fire” knows, Kinbote’s commentary gets everything wrong: it is an anthology of delusion.

References to the northwest and the pages of a manuscript might have some tangential connectedness to Twin Peaks at a stretch. But that’s not what I’m after. I do however take note of that final phrase: an anthology of delusion.

Anthology of Delusion

Final Dossier

Delusion figures heavily in The Final Dossier and within the wider narrative of Twin Peaks. Although not in a necessarily straightforward sense. Agent Cooper may be deluded in that he believes he can save Laura Palmer. Indeed Cooper does succeed in pulling Laura out of time before she is murdered, but that causes reality itself to break down. If delusion suggests a belief that is at odds with the facts, an argument with reality itself, then in Twin Peaks it is reality that becomes delusional. Do people disremember the past by accepting the altered truth that Laura Palmer simply went missing? Is this grand delusion on a mass scale or merely an acceptance of the world re-presented?

The Final Dossier deals with the people that Cooper left behind. The finale followed Cooper and Diane as they crossed over into that other world where they are Richard and Linda. But what of the world they exited? Since the narrative moved on in the television show that question wasn’t addressed. Mark Frost is able is do so in book form.

Some have bristled at the idea that Frost offers too many answers. The perfect ambiguity of David Lynch ran through The Return like electricity. Concrete answers to mysteries would be in danger of damaging that most beautiful of things. However, the answers that Frost provides are thankfully along the lines of confirmations of things that observant viewers already felt they knew (I had a gut feeling that the girl in 1956 was Sarah Palmer and by part 14 it had to be her). I’m the first to defend Lynchian ambiguity over pretty much anything ever, but I don’t think Frost’s book is actually at odds with Lynch’s on screen vision. Frost takes a different approach in The Final Dossier, yet because of Cooper’s actions that world is itself no longer reliable. So it works. The world of Twin Peaks has moved on, but Frost is able to return one more time to examine the effects of Cooper’s actions on that world.

Narrative Disruption

Final Dossier

The Final Dossier sees Special Agent Tamara Preston attempt to make sense of what has happened. Her final integration into the Blue Rose Task Force may be tracked through these words. It is an in-universe follow-up to the previous dossier (presented as The Secret History of Twin Peaks) and Tammy states that she has essentially become the Archivist now (it was previously Major Briggs):

Unlike the previous dossier, where for the most part all documents were presented to us in their entirety, per Bureau standards, here I have taken the time to condense the relevant content I found into an uninterrupted narrative.

Tammy is as objective and trustworthy an Archivist as one could dream of. She’s not an unreliable narrator; it is the world that has become unreliable.

Mark Frost provides answers in The Final Dossier. But those answers are themselves suspect. Not in the sense that they are false. There isn’t any sleight of hand at play, distracting readers from hidden truths. But as Phillip Jeffries – and later Cooper – knows, answers are a slippery business.

Tammy purports to present an “uninterrupted narrative,” yet as Fire Walk With Me and The Return demonstrate, the narrative of Twin Peaks must be interrupted. Or to put it another way, the Twin Peaks story is one of disruptions. Parts 17 and 18 illustrated these disruptions through a glass darkly and Frost does little to recalibrate matters.

It Used to Be Said

Final Dossier

The Final Dossier eventually pulls up at the present day. Tammy was perusing past editions of the Twin Peaks Post on microfiche to investigate reports of Agent Cooper’s first disappearance (for he has of course vanished again). What she discovered was however beyond disturbing: Agent Cooper came to town briefly to assist in the (still unsolved) disappearance of Laura Palmer. Tammy addresses Gordon Cole with her findings:

It’s right there on the front page: Laura Palmer did not die. So, fairly certain I’ve not misplaced my own mind, I go back and check the corresponding police records. They tell me this: Laura Palmer disappeared from Twin Peaks without a trace – on the very same night when, in the world we thought we knew, it used to be said she’d died – but the police never found the girl or, if she had been killed elsewhere, her body or made a single arrest.

When she confronted their friends at the sheriff’s station about it “they all got a slightly dazed and confused expression on their faces … as if they were lost in a fog, having trouble recalling” and each eventually said that sounded about right. That’s how they remembered it.

Living History Rewritten

Final Dossier

There are many fascinating facets to this, but I was immediately drawn to the question of the mutability of Tammy’s words. Newspapers and police reports succumbed to change, their words ultimately lacked permanence. So why should Tammy’s stay for the course, avert the tide of rewritten history? To her mind the words are as she commits them to paper (or screen), but even her mind is going fuzzy, in the town of Twin Peaks at least. Will these particular words even reach Gordon Cole? You and I might read them but we are invaders from an external reality. People’s memories hadn’t been rebooted, but when confronted with an alternate truth their grasp on the original memory slipped away. There is a process that occurs. Readers of The Final Dossier are perhaps uniquely privileged to jump in at a frozen moment in time.

There’s a playful meta-fictional component to all of this (shades of If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino or indeed Nabokov’s Pale Fire) where readers have signed up for a game. This dossier exists as a work of art – and a presumably stable one at that – in this world that I at least inhabit (I will not speak for the other you here). But in fictional terms can it be said to exist? If I knew Gordon Cole was sitting reading the dossier, fine Bordeaux by his side, it might be more comforting. But even that has its limits, for who’s to say that if he read Tammy’s words and they subsequently changed he would retain knowledge of them? At least certain members of the Blue Rose Task Force have uniquely intuitive abilities, Gordon included, so perhaps they can transcend living history being rewritten.

An Unfixed Point

Final Dossier

Is the world of The Final Dossier unstable to the point of breaking? Has the timeline (the prime Twin Peaks timeline if you will) been corrupted and subsequently discarded? Twin Peaks has always been presented through the looking glass of Laura Palmer’s murder and that therefore seems far too significant an event to alter and for it to go unnoticed. In Doctor Who the murder of Laura Palmer would surely be considered a fixed point; unalterable without pulling apart the very fabric of space-time.

Yet perhaps the idea that her death can be forgotten is a commentary upon the unfeelingness of this world in which the makers and viewers of Twin Peaks must inhabit. A world where a monster like Donald Trump can be made president of the USA (and stay in office!) is surely one where the murder of a teenage girl can be forgotten. Of course such tragedies are forgotten, every single day. Laura Palmer may have cosmic significance, but that doesn’t appear to matter to a universe that needs to fix itself or die.

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