How Twin Peaks: The Return Made a Whole New Cooper in One Weird Diner Scene
As Emmy nominations approach, Vanity Fairs HWD team is once again diving deep into how some of this seasons greatest scenes and characters came together. You can read more of these close looks here.
THE SCENE: TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN, PART 18
The final diner scene in the Twin Peaks saga starts cozily, like many other warm, nostalgic moments in diners throughout the run of the show. But when the man we have known as both Dale Cooper and Dougie Jones (Kyle MacLachlan) walks into a spot in Odessa, Texas, named Judys, the viewer is only just beginning to understand that the landscape of his world has once again been altered. Previously, MacLachlans character woke up to a note from the woman he thought was Diane (Laura Dern)—but in this missive, she signs her name “Linda,” and calls him “Richard.”
Something is different. But Richard, if thats what his name is now, doesnt let that stop him. At this point in the story, the man who was once Dale Cooper is so fixated on trying to right the story of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) that the details about where he is—or who he is—seem extraneous.
In a series of events that seems loaded with intention and significance—although its unclear why—Cooper/Richard walks into Judys, asks for the other waitress, and first intervenes with, then thoroughly neutralizes a group of dudes harassing the waitress on duty (Francesca Eastwood). He frightens an older couple having their breakfast, calmly assures everyone that hes an F.B.I. agent (which, is he?), and drops his opponents weapons into a vat of bubbling hot oil.
Viewers who recall the lore of the show will remember that Judy is a name for the dark, essential evil that the Blue Rose task force tried to defeat. But even if you do remember that, the experience of watching this scene for the first time is destabilizing. Its a moment that marks the beginning of a massive unraveling, one that concludes with Laura Palmers last anguished scream. Like so much else in David Lynchs universe, the scene is marked by oddly anticlimactic pacing, thoroughly detailed set pieces, and self-conscious, brooding performances. It makes the action, when it finally does occur, feel especially electric and uncontrollable, like energy is seeping out of the frame.
Looking at the final episode of Twin Peaks: The Return as a whole, the diner scene is the pivot that locates Richard as someone distinct from Cooper—and serves as a gateway into the revivals final nightmarish moments. When the jerks in the diner finally stand up, shaking off their wounds, they stare after Richard, Cooper, whoever he is—and ask, quite reasonably: “What the fuck just happened?”
HOW IT CAME TOGETHER
It was, of course, Lynchs idea to dispose of the guns in the deep fryer, said Twin Peaks: The Return production designer Ruth De Jong. There was a real fire on set, but it was monitored by the crew; the production-design team worked closely with special effects to rig the stove and create a bubbling substance that looked like oil.
MacLachlan was taken in by the illusion. When they were filming, he said in a recent interview, he found himself thinking, “Oh man, I hope this doesnt screw the guns up.”
“It wasnt hot, it was bubbling with air. But youre still dropping this thing and pretending its oil,” he explained, laughing. “These are the thoughts that go through the actors head. I feel for the props guys, theyre going to have to get these out, theyre gonna have to clean em. I better get it right the first time.” Details like those deep-fried guns are what make Lynch stand out as a director, he added. “The time it took for Cooper to come and get the guns and come back—and he let all of that play out in real time . . . all those little beats, David wanted me to play. . . . This is as important to the story—the placing of those, the rhythm of that—as anything else.”
MacLachlan liked the detail; to him, disabling guns by putting them in the deep fryer is a pretty sensible move for an escaping action hero. “You know, instead of in movies—they throw the guns to the side, and what if they pick it up and come after him? And its like, that doesnt make any sense.”
De Jong found the perfect location for the scene in Los Angeles: a quintessential roadside diner that seemed beamed in from another era. The team kept its retro color palette and furniture, but dressed the restaurant with crockery, signage, menus, and decor. The goal was to make a place that looked “timeless, and kind of stuck—trapped, maybe 20, 30 years back, but still relevant to present day,” she said—a locale that would evoke the cyclical, dreamlike state of watching Twin Peaks.
Lynch told MacLachlan that his character in the last two episodes of the revival “really is just different” from the character he had been playing—“and thats about as far as he would elaborate,” MacLachlan said. Lynch offered a bit of guidance on tone, but otherwise MacLachlan kept his performance close to the script—and tried to fill in the gaps by puzzling through the story himself.
“If we assume that this story—the latter part of the series, when we cross that threshold, cross that line—Im in a way going back into another dimension. To see if I can set things right, or reset things right. There is a Cooper that we know and obviously recognize, but—“ MacLachlan sighed. “Hes slightly off, for lack of a better way to put it. So I just internalized him a little more.”
In the original two seasons of Twin Peaks, Cooper was “much younger, full of a boyish enthusiasm, still had a very strong moral code, and upstanding belief in the F.B.I.,” he added. “This variation was all of those things, but also, I let the age of myself and the character come into play a little bit more.”
The character he plays in the diner, continued MacLachlan, is a more lethal variation: “He kind of goes over the top on that,” the actor chuckled. But his comic excess also stems from the characters rather tragic confusion. MacLachlan, whose emotional journey while watching the new episodes mirrored the experience of Twin Peaks fans, also wondered what was going through his characters mind. “I was never sure of whether or not our man, our Cooper, is conscious of the fact that he is now altered,” he said. “Hell do whatever it takes to bring balance back to the world. . . . I think he launches himself into this universe without much of a tether. And he just trusts that he will be able to find his way back.”
“He gets the joke pretty quickly, in that diner scene, and whats going on. Hes in hostile territory. So he adapts himself to that,” MacLachlan pointed out. The original Coopers code is to protect—“to stop evil, in whatever form . . . that is just inborn with him.” In the past, Cooper operated with a certain flair—but “in this particular instance, there is no panache. Theres just—get the job done. Dispatch, as quickly as possible.” MacLachlan said that the sequence reminded him of a line from Apocalypse Now: “Terminate, with extreme prejudice.”
De Jong agreed that working with Lynch generally means dealing with a certain amount of uncertainty. “Theres a mystery to how we work with David,” she said. “There was a lot of, I dont even know why Im doing what Im doing, but I understand what Im doing. Its knowing and understanding David, and delivering, and not worrying about the rest. He will let me know if something needs to change; otherwise, I am on track. I dont need to know the ultimate reason for why something is something.”
That faith in Lynchs vision—and an occasional bafflement—are sentiments De Jong and MacLachlan shared.
“Hes confident enough to not worry about people saying, this scene is too long, its taking too long—all those nagging voices that I hear in my head, when Im working sometimes. Its really hard to shut them off sometimes, and David seems able to do it. He strips away that worry—as an actor . . . its pretty great.” MacLachlan said. “I so admire it—Im kind of in awe of it, actually.”
“This was just a standard roadside diner, and that is what it is. And what David does with that is what David does with that,” said De Jong. “A lot of times the audience will run with things, and were like, hey, this is just this roadside diner, and Cooper stepped in. It gets broken down to every nuance. . . . I dont know all the answers, I dont have all the answers, nor will I ever know any of the answers—whereas in another film, I might have really known all the specific reasons for every instance and every characters move and every thought.”
“It was pretty awesome,” she added, “to be led and to lead and to have this dance throughout the whole thing.”
Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:Then and Now: The Evolution of the Twin Peaks Cast
Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer/Maddy Ferguson)
Ah, the girl whose mysterious death started it all. Shell probably forever be identified with the two roles she played for David Lynch—or perhaps, to some, as Katrina from Vampires—but Lee also enjoyed a stint on One Tree Hill as Ellie Harp, among other roles, including a supporting part opposite Jennifer Lawrence in Winters Bone and, more recently, the part of Karen Stern in Cafe Society.Photo: Left, by Lynch/Frost/Spelling/REX/Shutterstock; right, by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images.
Kyle MacLachlan (Agent Dale Cooper)
In the years since he played Agent Dale Cooper, Kyle MacLachlan has had no shortage of interesting roles. Hes played ill-fated lovers Trey MacDougal and Orson Hodge on Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives, respectively, as well as the Mayor in Portlandia, among many other roles.Photo: Left, Spelling Entertainment/courtesy Everett Collection; right, by Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images.
Lara Flynn Boyle (Donna Hayward)
Although she was a relative rookie when Twin Peaks first aired, Lara Flynn Boyle went on to be one of the shows biggest breakout stars. Her film repertoire includes credits in Men in Black II, Dead Poets Society, and Waynes World. Her longest-running TV role to date was as Helen Gamble in The Practice, in which she appeared for six years.Photo: Left, Spelling Entertainment/courtesy Everett Collection; righ, by Ben Horton/WireImage.
Mädchen Amick (Shelly Johnson)
Since Twin Peaks left the airwaves, Amick—who played poor, unfortunate Shelly Johnson—has been one of its most prolific alumni, with memorable roles in Gilmore Girls, ER, Gossip Girl, Witches of East End, and, most recently, Riverdale, among many others.Photo: Left, Spelling Entertainment/ Courtesy: Everett Collection; righ, by Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutterstock.
Kimmy Robertson (Lucy Moran)
Kimmy Robertson doesnt always fetch doughnuts. Shes also played a wide swath of roles, including the feather duster in Disneys original Beauty and the Beast, Milhouses short-lived girlfriend Samantha in The Simpsons, and Kimmy on The Louie Show—which one should not confuse with Louie, although the stars of both now live on FX.Photo: Left, Courtesy Everett Collection; right, by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.
Kenneth Welsh (Windom Earle)
You know what they say: one mans insane ex-cop is another mans foolish veep. At least, it seems that way with Kenneth Welsh, who played Windom Earle in Twin Peaks, as well as the vice president who didnt believe Dennis Quaid about global warming in The Day After Tomorrow. Welsh, who had been an actor for decades before Twin Peaks, enjoyed a bit of a career high in the mid-aughts, which brought roles not only in the climate disaster film but also in films like The Aviator and The Exorcism of Emily Rose.Photo: Left, Spelling Entertainment/courtesy Everett Collection; right, by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic.
Russ Tamblyn (Lawrence Jacoby)
Before David Lynch brought him on as a sketchy doctor with multi-colored specs, Russ Tamblyn—yes, father to Amber Tamblyn—co-starred with Richard Beymer in West Side Story, in which he played Riff. Post-Peaks, you can find him, among other roles, in Django Unchained and Drive.Photo: Left, Spelling Entertainment/courtesy Everett Collection; right, by Andrew Toth/Getty Images.PreviousNext
Sonia SaraiyaSonia Saraiya is Vanity Fair's television critic. Previously she was at Variety, Salon, and The A.V. Club. She lives in New York.