“What cannot be mystified in Las Vegas must be contextualized.” —Dave Hickey
Last month, Twin Peaks celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, just as it’s begun to feel more and more like the whole world is inhabiting its eerie environs. The series reenters the American zeitgeist when, to quote one of the freakier lines of its last season, it feels like “we live inside a dream.” The show’s prescience is well known: Twin Peaks helped to lay the foundation for prestige TV, the “dead girl” trope, water cooler talk, and certain aspects of meme culture (its mysteries were referenced everywhere from SNL to Mad Magazine to The Simpsons, a few of American pop culture’s most reproduced sources of satire). Now, appropriately, the show’s universe speaks to this moment in unsettling ways: Twin Peaks is about dying; grief; shut-ins; the spread of a mysterious, sickening, and deadly entity; business tycoons with questionable values; and, in its most recent season, both health and corporate insurance.
As COVID-19 ravages the globe, it appears that Twin Peaks, anachronistic and concerned with the malleability of time, is relevant again, or, to quote Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) in the penultimate episode of the series, “right on time.” Its third and most recent season, Twin Peaks: The Return, which premiered on Showtime in the summer of 2017, feels extremely timely. Denizens of places as disparate as Twin Peaks, Washington; Montana; Las Vegas; Buckhorn, South Dakota; New York City; Odessa, Texas; Philadelphia; and White Sands, New Mexico, deal with private and public horrors, and the encroaching malaise, and ensuing dread, brought on by a fearsome thing they don’t understand. In one of The Return’s early scenes, a couch-bound couple spends an inordinate amount of time staring at the happenings inside of a transmitting box. This nonstop watching ultimately leads to their demise. If that’s not the best metaphor for the psychological toll of spending all day viewing cable news, I don’t know what is.
No wonder Vulture named The Return the best TV show of the 2010s, and acclaimed film journal Cahiers du cinéma called it the best film of the last decade: there’s been something in the water for a while, and Twin Peaks tapped into it. Currently, American media is rightfully compelled by the spread of societal ills, though at times without an attunement to the history of the things that proliferate: white nationalism, misogyny, xenophobia, hate crimes. And now we can add to that list the coronavirus, its mysterious origins, and the ways it’s shining a light on systemic inequality and racist and classist public health disparities. Who better than David Lynch—who has consistently shown how deep-seated and insidious pain and abuse are, and whose trademark visual symbols are Blue Velvet’s seedy nastiness beneath a white picket fence and a severed human ear in green grass—to speak to the culture? Twin Peaks: The Return is about getting to the source of what ails us, about hearing what piqued the ear.
Rewatching The Return during quarantine has been—forgive the pun—a real trip. For one, because of the everyday horror of life in the age of COVID-19, I can stomach its surrealistic—but at least fictional—visuals a bit more. As much as I was enraptured by the series during its initial run, and as much as I come back, from time to time, to the magic and majesty of its acclaimed eighth episode, The Return’s creepy imagery and nightmarish aesthetics were hard to return to at night, when I have most of my free time. Right now, as every grocery store trip feels terrifying, the fear of droplets (and air) in the air, The Return is less horrific than the push notifications, death notices, bizarre daily press conferences, and intensity of the conspiracy theories cropping up around the novel coronavirus. The Return’s themes, and its unwieldy plot, feel particularly urgent at this moment, not least of all because the Fireman’s (Carel Struycken) gnomic quote from The Return’s first episode, “It is in our house now,” is exactly the kind of sentiment all of the hand-washing, staying at home, and social distancing is meant to prevent.
Although the subtitle’s most obvious reference is the story’s return to the town of Twin Peaks and its quirky, lovable characters—Hawk, the Log Lady, Dr. Jacoby, Audrey Horne, Norma, Big Ed, Lucy, Andy, et cetera—after more than twenty-five years, the main story line details Agent Cooper’s odyssey back to himself after his soul has been splintered and the ensuing clones made of his essence run amok. The Cooper clones—including the evil Mr. C and Dougie Jones, a hapless, scummy insurance agent—are on the loose. Early in the season, the Cooper that’s trapped in the Black Lodge, the series’s spiritual hub, is sucked through an electrical socket and trades places with Dougie, becoming catatonic in the process. Meanwhile, a mysterious force is killing people around the country, and governmental agencies are on the case.
Freak accidents and creature comforts set aside, there’s poignancy in the ways Twin Peaks: The Return plays out its subtitle. My mind drifts to the recurrence of the Roadhouse, a local Twin Peaks haunt, which serves as the setting for nightly jam sessions. The bar offers a bit of a reprieve from the season’s wildly escalating stakes, and its draw is not unlike that of our current Instagram livestreams and “together at home” concerts. I think of the recluses and homebound folks who struggle with living in what Lynch has deemed “the Home Alone age”: the ailing Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson), who calls Deputy Sheriff Tommy “Hawk” Hill (Michael Horse) to prophesy and perhaps to feel a little less lonely inside her home; new character Carrie Page (Sheryl Lee), who is desperate to escape her house and travel outside of Odessa, Texas, her current hideaway; Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), who wants to leave her residence but feels afraid to; and the grieving but numb Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), who leaves the comfort of her place on the couch in front of the TV only to get vodka. As I find myself poring over wine and takeout delivery menus, I feel a kinship with Sarah Palmer that I hadn’t ever thought I might. At this moment, I can’t help but think, like the Log Lady and Carrie Page, of where I can’t go.
When I watch The Return, the destination I mostly think of is Las Vegas, my home for a year and a half, from summer 2018 until February 2020, right before America started taking the virus seriously. One of The Return’s main story lines is set in Vegas, and there are some remarkable shots of the city and its suburbs. Not nearly as hallucinogenic as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or as dryly procedural as CSI, the show treats the city as I know it: between those two extremes, a location of blinkering beauty, off-kilter charms, ritual, and routine. One of these liminal impressions is shown in episode 16, when Cooper tells Rodney and Bradley Mitchum (Robert Knepper and Jim Belushi, respectively), two sleazy, bumbling, but ultimately affable Vegas casino owners, that he needs to charter a plane to Spokane, Washington. The trio ends up in a limousine with the brothers’ girlfriends, three lookalike blond cocktail waitresses who wear pink silk bunny outfits and serve the men black coffee and Bloody Marys. Presumably en route to McCarran International Airport, the car winds down a remarkably empty Las Vegas Boulevard, passing under one of the stretch’s many pedestrian bridges. Dawn shines on the Strip’s skittering neon and LED bulbs, and the area is both awe-inspiring and a hull of itself in the early morning, when thousands of visitors are still asleep (or at least in their hotel rooms). This ride down the Strip in the Mitchum brothers’ limo broadcasts the famed American site in limbo: sans tourists cramming sidewalks, beguiled by the Fountains of Bellagio or craning their necks to take in Paris’s towering Eiffel, the Strip is still grand, but not nearly as enchanting.
Unthinkingly, a parallel image emerges: the empty, baroque Vegas of the past six weeks, one I’ve been able to access only via dispatches from the news and a community of artists and writers I’m lucky enough to call my friends. Needless to say, the city has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. During a speech made to the Las Vegas city council in early March, after Nevada governor Steve Sisolak ordered the city to shut down its casinos for at least thirty days, Mayor Carolyn Goodman said, “Our economy depends on tourism and being open for dining, entertainment, gaming, sports.” She continued, “I know we, they, cannot survive any total shutdown of the economy… beyond the immediate week or two.” Now it’s been almost two months, and Vegas is at the center of questions about America’s return, from Mayor Goodman’s rush to reopen the city and bring tourists back, to the city’s possible role as savior of the NBA, one of the only viable live-sports options for the country in the foreseeable future.
Amid all of this, Vegas’s artists have been rallying around one another and documenting this unparalleled moment. For the past month or so, Justin Favela has been using his audio platform, The Art People Podcast, to talk with other Vegas artists about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives and work. In early April, he spoke with artist and designer Brent Holmes, who’s been reporting on the crisis for KNPR and the magazine Desert Companion. In their conversation, Favela and Holmes highlighted the maintenance workers who are still cleaning the Strip, and the homeless people who are made hyper-visible by the street’s emptiness. Holmes discussed Las Vegas Boulevard’s largely barren stretch in naturalistic terms, calling it a “public park,” a “canyon,” and a “superstructure.” By contrast, Favela described the Strip as a “movie-set, because everything is kind of built to only last ten, fifteen years, and then it’s turned over, and it becomes a brand-new set for something else.” He called this moment a “restaging time.” Holmes replied, “[The Strip] has that movie magic where they pull the curtain back and now everybody’s just running around trying to put it together.” Photographer and installation artist Mikayla Whitmore has been going around on socially distant walks with fellow artist and photographer Krystal Ramirez, capturing the empty Strip. Her images frame the city somewhere in the uncanny valley between canyon and movie set. She’s been snapping stunning pictures of a darkened Caesars Palace, an open window in the Tropicana’s pink stucco, which is now an odd tourist echo, a double exposure of the MGM Grand and New York–New York’s Statue of Liberty, and a near-Strip strip club offering “Coronavirus-Free Lap Dances,” among other stark portraits of the area amid social distance.
The Silver Mustang—one of the casinos not portrayed by Whitmore—is an off-Strip casino. It is not off the Strip in the way that so many other Vegas casinos are off-Strip. It’s not one of the cluster of downtown casinos near the Fremont Street Experience; or one of the smaller franchises that are docked in the city’s strip malls, like Dotty’s; or one of the Strip-adjacent ones like the Orleans, which has one of the best bowling alleys in the city; or the Tuscany, where the Henderson Writers Group holds the Las Vegas Writers Conference; or the cinephile-friendly Palace Station, with its nine-dollar ticket prices; or one of the ritzy resort casinos in Summerlin. The Silver Mustang is off-off-off-Strip because it’s made-up. Being fictional is not necessarily a condition for nonexistence in Vegas, but the Silver Mustang is really far off the map. With its concave, faux-Greek facade, it is not exactly a real place; it’s merely a product of Mark Frost’s and David Lynch’s dense, prodigious imaginations. It served as a set piece for The Return, and its interior and exterior shots are of two hotels in California, which makes it, hilariously, a kind of Vegas place: a Vegas hotel that’s a composite of two Californian hotels is like an inverse of the New York–New York or Paris casinos. (The name of the hotel used to shoot the exterior scenes, the Commerce Casino, is way too on-the-money for Vegas, though.) Let’s not forget that the Strip is technically not in Las Vegas; it’s in Paradise, Nevada.
The name Silver Mustang fuses two deeply mystical symbols: silver, which is emblematic of money and is evocative of Nevada (“the Silver State”), and the mustang, a signifier of independence. According to the Lynchian-titled website pure-spirit.com, “The horse is a universal symbol of freedom without restraint, because riding a horse made people feel they could free themselves from their own bindings. Also linked with riding horses, they are symbols of travel, movement, and desire. The horse also represents power in Native American tribes.” (I’m not sure which Native American groups this post is referencing, but the vagueness makes it sound like a specious claim.) Despite the glaring generality of Pure-Spirit’s horse entry, as season three in particular makes clear, Frost and Lynch are interested in roughly all of those signifiers: vaguely Native American mythology, travel, movement, desire, and silver.
It’s at the Silver Mustang that Cooper, who’s been mistaken for his doppelgänger, Dougie Jones, is dropped off after a romp with Jade (Nafessa Williams), a sex worker. Jade and Dougie meet for sex in an abandoned suburban model home at Rancho Rosa Estates, a nascent (fictional) planned community at the edge of Las Vegas that’s attractive on the outside, but, owing to its residents—a meth-addicted, neglectful mother, and the murderous thugs perched around the vacant streets—incredibly dysfunctional. (It’s worth noting that, besides Hawk, Twin Peaks offers limited depictions of its nonwhite characters; Jade, perhaps the only black woman ever to appear on the show, is a sex worker, and, at some point during the last season, the character Naido appears, an Asian woman who is nonverbal and exists only to serve as the living shell of a white woman who’s hiding out in her body. For as imaginative as the show is, as universe-expanding as it proclaims to be and often is, its nonwhite characters are extremely one-dimensional. Talk about a limited series!) Dougie walks into the Silver Mustang and chants, “Call for help,” as if warning the casino’s pit bosses and security guards. Even though that scene clearly predates the corporate stimulus for the aviation, private equity, and hospitality industries, Dougie’s preamble is pretty damn resonant right now.
It’s at the Silver Mustang that David Lynch’s idea of Las Vegas takes hold. Known for his musings on California’s meteorology, in The Return the filmmaker is interested in all kinds of Vegas weather, from the city’s notorious summer temperatures to its anything-goes social atmosphere. Although I know Lynch loves Los Angeles, after watching The Return, I find it weird that he didn’t set any of his previous work in Las Vegas, since they seem made for each other. (Apparently, it was Mark Frost’s idea to set part of the season in this city.) Both Lynch’s and Vegas’s iconographies are consumed with retro America, and Americana, the desert, conspiracy, Area 51 (and now Area 15), homelessness, and the idea of something called an “atomic cocktail,” which was on the menu at Atomic Liquors, one of my favorite Vegas jukes, back in the 1950s. (Lynch’s atomic cocktail is a detonated nuclear bomb, stunningly simulated in The Return’s singular eighth episode.) Setting one of Cooper’s clones in Vegas, the place of “original fakes,” as Stefan Al writes in The Strip: Las Vegas and the Architecture of the American Dream, is not only Jungian but one of the kind of punny, layered references Lynch and Frost stacked in the program’s first two seasons.
Watching The Return with an overlay of Vegas in my mind, similar to the palimpsest of Cooper’s face over one bewildering late-season scene, I think of not only Sin City but Twin Peaks itself. In Lynch’s hands, Vegas is less secretive than Twin Peaks, despite its traditional branding. In other words, Vegas’s longtime tag line, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” might also be true of the fictional Twin Peaks, Washington. Twin Peaks’ insular dynamic is, unlike Vegas’s, meant to harness a dark energy. By the time The Return kicks in, the lumber town has practically killed itself with secrets, its dying citizens and vanishing industry calling to mind the old “If a tree falls in the forest” thought experiment. In the essay collection Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy, art critic and former Vegas resident Dave Hickey argues that “what is hidden elsewhere exists [in Vegas] in quotidian visibility,” and that’s true of Twin Peaks’ skeletons. What happens in Twin Peaks stays in Twin Peaks, until it starts to spread and infect the world.
Recently, I discussed the change in the city’s slogan with my friend Erica Vital-Lazare, a writer, art curator, and professor at the College of Southern Nevada. Only a few weeks before COVID-19 fears ramped up, Vegas swapped “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” for “What happens here only happens here.” “We had so much pride in being singular in that way,” Erica said. “But we had to face the reality that now what happens here is happening everywhere.” It’s ironic that the new slogan was unveiled just as it became untrue, or, rather, right when its contradictions have become more pronounced. Vegas is an every-town in the same way Frost and Lynch imagined Twin Peaks to be. When you’re at home, you’re in Vegas too. As Hickey writes,
So when you fly out of Las Vegas, to, say, Milwaukee, the absences imposed by repression are like holes in your vision. They become breathtakingly perceptible, and, as a consequence, there is no better place than Las Vegas for a traveler to feel at home. The town has a quick, feral glamour that is hard to localize—and it arises, I think, out of the suppression of social differences rather than their exacerbation. The whole city floats on a sleek frisson of anxiety and promise that those of us addicted to such distraction must otherwise induce by motion or medication.
Vegas’s “feral glamour,” beauty, and inequality might be hard to localize, but its kinetic energy is not. In his audio essay about mortality and The Return, critic Howard Hampton explains, “[David Lynch’s work] is about that fission of worlds colliding, of unknowable postulates bombarded with atomic particles, that A-OK bomb frisson unfolding over the New Mexico desert, or psychic fallout drifting into a Las Vegas subdivision.” A scene from The Return reminds me of the changing way Vegas frames itself. At one point during episode three, after a long, atmospheric, abstracted special-effects sequence, there’s the humming of a low electrical scratching. A woman in a red velvet dress appears from behind a couch and says, in the creepy backward cadence of the Black Lodge, “When you get there, you will already be there.” That statement kindles the fission of Vegas’s energy into every other American town, and the frisson of a city searching for its identity, much like Cooper swimming in Dougie Jones’s clothes.
Right now, when stores are shuttered and Vegas’s infrastructure is dialed way, way back, I’m also struck by the show’s interest in the power of electricity, an ever-potent symbol of human innovation and connectivity. I text my friend Steve Siwinski, a vintage furniture dealer, craftsman, and programs manager at Vegas’s Neon Museum, to ask what the lights are like in the city. He writes back: “You’ll be happy to know that neon is still glowing away. Outside of the casinos, along the streets, and even at the Neon Museum. The lights are kind of like our version of the eternal flame.” The Return is famously interested in electricity: characters are transported through electrical sockets; the show is scored by strange crackling sounds; one character literally says, “E-lec-tricity!” before all of the lights in the scene blow out. The show accurately captures Vegas’s electric thrill, the neon feel of good luck, which appears as a mirage-like flame atop slot machines, and the shadows cast by the darkened hotel lights. “Electricity is humming,” says the Log Lady, reciting a tone poem of loss. “You hear it in the mountains and rivers. You see it dance among the seas and stars and glowing around the moon. But in these days, the glow is dying. What will be in the darkness that remains?” Similar to the eternal flame, the Strip’s lights rarely go out at night, except, of course, these days, and when politicians and headliners die. For so many American communities, like Chicago, the Navajo Nation, and Las Vegas, where dozens of hotels are currently empty, but whose homeless citizens were at one time expected to sleep in a parking lot, COVID-19 has illuminated more inequity than they already knew.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Twin Peaks and Vegas is the meaning of color and light within their bounds. The former is a town where, to quote Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean), “a yellow light still means slow down, not speed up.” In Vegas, a golden glow is nebulous: it can connote anything from the primary color theory1 my friend Steve teaches about at the Neon Museum, or the warm, ambient sunrise of James Turrell’s Akhob installation at the Aria casino’s Louis Vuitton store. In my experience, what happens to you when you spend time in Vegas is what happens to Dougie Jones when he is channeled into a Rancho Rosa bedroom: you get rearranged. Or, like the Caesars Palace statue Mikayla Whitmore trained her gaze on, you’re cast in a different light. Lynch’s longtime interest in balance—narrative, televisual, and painterly—is exhibited in the dualism of The Return’s silly and sinister Vegas scenes, and the show’s presentation of the Strip, a carnival of light nestled deep in the dark Mojave. You have this contrast in the covalent bloom of an atomic mushroom cloud; the boom-pop of a gunshot in a “living” room, which marks the death of a housewife; and the blip of humanity inside a sterile glass box.
Over eighteen languorous episodes, we watch Cooper emerge from the white lightning of the Black Lodge and the Red Room’s supernatural gloom. He slowly travels back toward who he really is—or who he never fully acknowledged himself to be. Similarly, I have been stuck in a fugue, suspended in a liminal space of hearing about my cousin’s and his wife’s coronavirus diagnoses but not knowing their severity; as whatever random combination of fears swarms my brain; as I’m slow to return texts and calls; as the weighted blanket of reality keeps me in bed hours after I technically awaken. The show “hits different now,” as the saying goes. I’ve long thought of Special Agent Dale Cooper’s odyssey to return to himself as a metaphor for an extended bout of depression, of a brain bogged down, its synapses a bit slower on the draw. When “Mike” the One-Armed Man cries, “Wake up!” in the weirdo reversed lingo of the Red Room, Dougie’s blank-eyed stare is, to my eyes, at the threshold of obliviousness and emotional oblivion. In all of the much-ballyhooed narrative and cinematic baggage of The Return—the extended sequences of people blinking, the minutes-long scene of a man sweeping the Roadhouse floor, the conversations (and characters) that seem to go nowhere—I see our contemporary moment. The hours that go on and on, and days of the week that have lost their character. The show asks: What does it mean to return? To oneself, to one’s home, to one’s home away from home? For Cooper, that’s Twin Peaks. For me, it’s Las Vegas.
In February 2020, when I returned to Vegas from Philly, I was riding down Valley View Boulevard toward Sahara Avenue in a Lyft. I asked my driver how long he’d lived in the city, and, after explaining that he’d moved from Kansas and had been in Vegas for more than twenty years, he told me he’d worked in the city as a land surveyor. He talked about its sprawling nature, and how the city keeps stretching out, past previously understood limits. Out past Rainbow, past where, he says, there was only desert and sagebrush before it kept getting built out, and before (white) men like him helped to manifest its ever-expanding vision. Beyond even where The Return’s half-constructed Rancho Rosa Estates might be located on the municipal map. I asked him what the qualifications are for getting into the vocation. “If you can understand triangles,” he said, “you can understand land surveying.” He was making a point about the importance of math in the craft of land speculation, but he also inadvertently exposed the lack of other education (in history, land management, and ecology, to start) you might expect one to acquire before getting into the profession. “Only land surveyors know where the land ends,” he continued, cryptically. Land surveyors may know where the land ends, but artists, writers and filmmakers do too. Mark Frost told IndieWire that the idea to set part of The Return in Vegas came from the economic meltdown of 2008 and its impact on the real estate market: “The reason Vegas came to mind for me was all these images of vast tracked [sic] housing developments that had been built in the anticipation of this endless boom and were then abandoned. They were like ghost towns, but three-year-old ghost towns. I’d never seen that on screen up to that point and I thought, ‘There’s an image to work with.’”
While it’s possible to build the world of a novel or a TV show without understanding the physical and psychic dimensions of what you’re undertaking, if you do so without caution, you open yourself up to damage. Lynch and Frost convey that psychic destruction in their hazy, anechoic Vegas images, particularly in the inaccessible gaze of Cooper-as-Dougie, the cloistered violence of Rancho Rosa Estates, and the addiction that runs rampant within its crumbling concrete gates. The Return, perhaps more so than the previous two seasons of Twin Peaks and any other show on television, is about where the land ends,2 where it begins again, and where pain figures into the equation.
In David Lynch’s Las Vegas, beginnings and endings, like The Return’s perception of time, exist in a perpetual loop. And the action all picks up on the Strip, which, in Lynch and Frost’s rendering in The Return, is a kind of Möbius strip of time, chance, opportunity, and the crackling that happens between people when we realize how connected we are. In Lynch’s hands, the Strip is also a power strip, where people go to (ahem) recharge, but also where ruthless casino magnates barge into the office of Lucky 7 Insurance and dance the conga, mocking the risk they profit from. It’s on the Strip where the real world converges with Twin Peaks, where fantasy and mythology cohere with reality for a weekend, the classic span of a Vegas adventure in Hollywood movies; for a legendary “48-hour bender,” as the Dennis Rodman episode of The Last Dance, one of the truly galvanizing quarantine entertainments, unpacks; for twenty-plus years, which is about the amount of time it’s been since my land-surveying Lyft driver and Dougie Jones dropped their luggage in Las Vegas.
A few days after spending eighteen hours immersed within The Return, I find myself blurring the lines between the fictional universe and the real one. In my head, I’ve begun cross-cutting the words people say in order to comfort one another and to fast-forward through the ache and dread of now, both in the show and in our world. “What’s going on around here?” Deputy Bobby Briggs asks, right after multiple corpses pile up in the sheriff’s station. Rolling Stone commands, LISTEN TO MICHAEL MCDONALD’S UNEXPECTEDLY TIMELY REMAKE OF MARVIN GAYE’S “WHAT’S GOING ON.” “When you get there, you will already be there,” utters the woman in the Black Lodge. WELCOME BACK TO GEORGIA, the headlines read, as if most of its occupants had left. “It’s slippery in here,” says the disembodied voice of a former FBI agent, who is now stuck in a kettle-like vessel in the Black Lodge. I think, I’m tired of being in the house, and nod on my porch. “One for the grandkids,” sputters a befuddled Rodney Mitchum after seeing a dead man disappear into thin air. THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC WILL MINT A NEW GENERATION, a Business Insider headline speculates. “When this is over,” we say. I blink and see Whitmore’s photos, imagine Vegas with Justin Favela’s quote in mind, and wonder how the city-as-movie-set might restage itself in the days and months after the quarantine, and what life will look like behind the curtain, to invoke Brent Holmes. I close my eyes and glimpse a scene from the final episode: Cooper; his assistant, Diane (Laura Dern); and FBI deputy director Gordon Cole (David Lynch) walking soberly down a dark hallway that doubles as a border with another dimension. Cooper says, “See you at the curtain call.” He and Diane do get to the other side of the curtain, wherever that really is, and find themselves driving along an empty highway near a stretch of mountains and desert. They stop. Right before he and Diane kiss, Cooper leans in, and, like Gary Cooper or some other golden age Hollywood leading man, says, “Once we cross, it could all be different.” They traverse the interdimensional line, and indeed, things have changed. They are not the same people; they have new names. They’ve become tourists in this new land, so they stop and check in to a motel. They make love, awkwardly, and fall asleep. When Cooper wakes up, Diane is gone, and has left a note, which partially reads, “I don’t recognize you anymore.”