My thoughts have crystallized a bit regarding the whole thing. This is a long post, so please forgive me in advance. Cooper is dead, probably as the result of violence in Philadelphia, along with Caroline, his archetypical damsel-in-distress. He is in between life and death, coming to terms with his choices, preparing for reincarnation. The "Richard" persona at the end of Part 18 was a big clue, I think. This is who Cooper really is. His Boy Scout side and his Mr. C. side are aspects of his true personality. The death of Caroline seems to be the the primal event in Cooper's life that set the pattern for how he relates to women: she was his original woman in distress. After her came Laura, then Audrey, then Annie, then Laura again. I suspect that on some level, this woman was Diane (hence the overwhelming significance of this character in the Return), regardless of what her actual name was (Diane/Caroline/Linda). Cooper's inability to accept the existance of suffering leads him continually to create suffering. For example, in Season 2, Bob is back in the lodge, but Cooper's entrance into the Lodge allows Bob to escape again. By the end of FWWM, Laura has attained peace by denying Bob access to her soul and accepting death instead, but Cooper can't understand that Laura has attained a state of blessedness and tries to free her completely from suffering by preventing her from ever being killed. This (through some unexplained and, frankly, irrelevent mechanism) causes Judy to wrench her from the Lodge and cast her into some other reality. Cooper tries again to save her, and at the end we realize that we are right where we started: with Laura (enlightenment) and Judy (suffering) engaged in their cosmic struggle. I believe that the repeated footage from Part 17 and Part 18 were clues that Cooper is stuck repeating the same actions over and over again as he learns (or fails to learn) from his mistakes. I also think that the first words of the series spoken by the Fireman ("Remember: 4-3-0, Richard and Linda, etc.") were not instructions but precisely what the Fireman says: a plea to remember. "I understand," says Coop. "You are far away," says the Fireman, i.e. "No you don't!" Lastly, I believe that what we are seeing onscreen throughout the series are multiple levels of consciousness: Coop's obviously, but also Audrey, Big Ed (I don't believe that reuniting with Norma is reality), James (no way is his performance reality), maybe others. BUT...this consciousness is actually all Coop's consciousness: the man stuck in a dreamstate, himself but not himself, trying to obtain his heart's desire of saving the girl. Think of it in terms of levels of reality. These are levels more in a sense of metaphysical dependance than anything else. All really exist and interact with each other. Level 1: Dale Cooper is a FBI agent whose actions cause the death of his love, Caroline. Let me pause here to note that Windom Earle may not even be a "real world" character because he is, in a sense, a doppleganger or inverted model of Cooper (both are FBI agents, brilliant, and have an interest in Tibetan occultism, etc.). If this is true, one possibility that presents itself is that Cooper himself killed Caroline/Diane (and thereby revealing the darkness of his psyche). The obsession with doubles (and triples) throughout the show is leading me seriously to consider the idea that Cooper may have murdered her (the creation of the double is a psychological defense mechanism). I suppose what really matters is that Coop wanted to save Caroline, and failed. The Richard persona we see in E18 is the closest approximation to this Cooper that we see in the show. Level 2: Cooper's bardo-state after his death, awaiting his rebirth. His initial self-conception is one-sided: this is the too-perfect Cooper from the original series: gallant, noble, selfless. He becomes involved in the Laura Palmer case, which is a stand in for the unresolved karmic question of his previous life: who killed the girl? His inability to come to grips with his dark side leads ultimately to a fracturing of his consciousness: the two sides of Cooper are split into two characters (GoodCoop and DoppelCoop). Level 3: Audrey/Ed/James whatever. Tulpas of Coop's consciousness, becoming autonomous and dreaming their own realities. Audrey, a stand-in for Caroline, is dealing with the fact that she was assaulted by Mr. C (standing in for Earle, Cooper's original doppelganger) but is in love with the perfect Cooper who would never hurt her. Her own fractured dream-reality is depicted in E12-16, in which she desperately wants to escape the mental prison she has constructed for herself, but can't manage it. This "reality" is shaped by the one who dreamed her in the first place (i.e. Coop), who himself cannot escape from his own bardo-prison. He wants to move on, but cannot face the reality of his true self. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives inside the dream. Having created this reality through his thoughts and actions, Cooper now lives inside it. Interestingly, David Lynch does exactly that by giving Cole such an important role. That's one more level of reality (Level 0?), in which Lynch's chief obsessive concern (the woman in distress) is acted out in fictional form (cf. Blue Velvet, Mulholland Dr., Inland Empire, etc.). We live inside a dream indeed! I do believe that there are some elements that are more "objective," for lack of a better word (much of Episode 8, for example). That is, not everything we see in the series is in Cooper's mind, but represent some other level of reality (maybe even what we would call "the real world") that is nevertheless interacting with Cooper's reality. As Lynch is fond of reminding us, we dwell an in infinite universe of consciousness. One last thing: in Buddhism, bardo, the intermediate state between life and death, lasts 49 days. Season 1: 8 episodes Season 2: 22 episodes FWWM The Return: 18 episodes 8+22+1+18=49 Thoughts?