Monday, February 20, 2017

Thomas Eckhardt (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #65)


The TWIN PEAKS Character Series surveys eighty-two characters from the series Twin Peaks (1990-91) and the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) as well as The Missing Pieces (2014), a collection of deleted scenes from that film. A new character study will appear every weekday morning until the premiere of Showtime's new season of Twin Peaks on May 21, 2017. There will be spoilers for the original series and film.

Eckhardt’s sinister vibe and polished presentation do him little good when dealing with desire and betrayal.


Sunday, March 19, 1989
Registered at the front desk of the Great Northern Hotel by his assistant Jones, Eckhardt arrives in Twin Peaks at night, clad in a black trenchcoat and dark shades. He stares into the fireplace, the reflection of the flames licking his lenses.

Monday, March 20, 1989
Eckhardt calls the Packard home and reaches Josie, his ex-lover and employee who has gone rogue. In a mock-jovial tone, he asks her if she heard what happened to his other employee Jonathan (whom he knows Josie killed). Catherine Martell, woman of the house, cuts in and welcomes him to town. Off the phone, Eckhardt tells Jones that he’s disappointed in Josie for “running back to Catherine.” In Afrikaans, the somber Jones says she told him not to trust Josie. That evening, Eckhardt accepts Catherine’s invitation to dinner. Josie answers the door dressed as a maid; as they sip wine, Catherine and Eckhardt engage in a superficially polite but cold-blooded conversation. Catherine bluntly asks Eckhardt why he killed her brother Andrew and Eckhardt essentially says it was for love – or is he threatening to kill Catherine if she doesn’t hand Josie over? Catherine seems unflustered and proceeds to barter over the horrified Josie as she prepares their meal, shuddering when Eckhardt kisses her hand.

Tuesday, March 21, 1989
A gloomy Eckhardt steps into the elevator at the Great Northern and finds something to bring his mood even lower: Andrew Packard, his rival in business and love, whom he supposedly murdered years earlier. Andrew explains that Josie warned him off and chuckles about her duplicitous nature, further mocking Eckhardt by mentioning Josie’s romance with the local sheriff (“I have taken care of that,” Eckhardt declares). Eckhardt insists, increasingly flustered, that “Josie is mine, she belongs to me!” Andrew tells him Josie is returning to him, but warns him to be careful. Exiting the elevator, a shaken Eckhardt considers his options. That night he is in a hotel room with Josie, trying to convince her that he means no harm. Josie shoots him in the chest, just before a man with a gun bursts in the room and points it at Eckhardt. As Josie lies on the bed, seemingly passed out, the bathrobed Eckhardt stumbles to his feet, shuffles forward a few feet, chuckles and falls dead to the floor.

Characters Eckhardt interacts with onscreen…
(updated 3/18 to note who killed him & who he killed)

Jones

Josie Packard (his killer)

Catherine Martell

Andrew Packard (his victim)

Agent Cooper

(also killed Pete Martell and Dell Mibbler)

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Eckhardt
Eckhardt interacts only with the elite of Twin Peaks; he leaves his assistant to deal with the help. Through his eyes, the town appears as a web of power and deceit, the remote but potent axis of a plot that has spanned years and continents. In Eckhardt’s scenes the show develops an arch, pulpy, but articulate veneer of criminal sophistication. There is little overt humor although both Catherine and Andrew present their threats amidst smiles and little jokes, and even Eckhardt initially attempts a rather stale form of subtle sarcasm to ward off his growing obsession and paranoia. But he is doomed; if nothing else, Eckhardt’s tale presents Twin Peaks as a dangerous terminus even for as menacing and worldly figure as him. This is our first real glimpse in these character studies of the town’s dark power, its capacity for psychosexual downfall.

Eckhardt’s journey
Now here we have an arc. The Hong Kong mastermind is introduced to this small town with an arrogant, imposing demeanor. Yet each scene chips away at his confidence until he’s a pathetic figure collapsing to the floor of a provincial resort in his pajamas. At first he doesn’t speak at all, communing with Twin Peaks’ most ominous symbol, fire. After coolly contacting Josie he finally whips off his shades, betraying a petulant frustration with her behavior. He maintains his aloof façade at dinner with Catherine, but begins to reveal his vulnerability in Josie’s presence. Then Andrew destroys what little self-assurance remains. Eckhardt is initially presented as the mastermind behind Andrew’s death, arriving to reprimand and repatriate an unruly underling. He ends up a manipulated, whimpering cuckold, played by every single person he’s encountered, including the one he thought he'd already killed.

Actor: David Warner
Esteemed Shakespearean performer on stage and memorable character actor on film and TV (with a penchant for villains), Warner has the most prolific filmography of anyone we’ve covered so far. IMDb lists two hundred twenty credits (keep in mind that’s counting multiple episodes of TV shows as a single credit) – or an average of four a year since he debuted in 1962. You may recognize him as, among other roles, the mentally handicapped man at the center of conflict in Straw Dogs*, the photographer who has a "run-in" with a glass plate in Israel in The Omen, the figure of Evil in Time Bandits, the Master Controller in Tron, or the voice of Ra’s al Ghul in Batman: The Animated Series. In Titanic he was the right-hand man of another Twin Peaks alum, Billy Zane, and he played different characters in two Star Trek films (V and VI; he’s an assassinated Klingon in the second). In recent years he has appeared as Van Helsing in Penny Dreadful. (film pictured: The Omen, 1976) *title added/picture updated 3/16

Episodes
Episode 21 (German title: “Double Play”)

Episode 22 (German title: “Slaves and Masters”)

*Episode 23 (German title: “The Condemned Woman” - best episode)

Writers/Directors
Eckhardt was introduced in silence by Scott Frost, and all of his dialogue is credited to Harley Peyton and Robert Engels. He was directed by Uli Edel, Diane Keaton, and Lesli Linka Glatter.

Statistics
Eckhardt is onscreen for roughly seven minutes. He is in five scenes and three episodes, taking place in three consecutive days. He’s featured the most in in episode 22, when he calls Josie and meets with Catherine. His primary location is the Great Northern and he shares the most screentime with Josie.

Best Scene
Episode 22: Eckhardt’s dialogue with Catherine feels a bit too forced and mannered, but it’s the only time he really gets to do more than either threaten implacably on the one hand or stew humiliatingly on the other.

Best Line
“One does not kill for art or money; they are commodities easily lost and just as easily gained. However one – or even I – might find reason to kill for love.”

Additional Observations

• Josie dies a few minutes after Eckhardt, in the same room, under mysterious circumstances – of a heart attack, “fright,” or something more supernatural.

• Eckhardt is one of those Twin Peaks martyrs whose story continues after his death. Jones delivers a mysterious box to the Packard clan, which they tinker with for the next few days. Then she crawls into bed with Truman and attempts in vain to strangle him. (“Why?” Truman asks. “Sexual jealousy,” answers Cooper – Truman was, of course, Josie’s lover.) Eckhardt’s first posthumous revenge attempt has more success. Andrew, Catherine, and Pete finally succeed in opening the box to discover a safety deposit key; when two of them go to the bank and use the key, they discover a bomb with a note attached: “Got you, Andrew - love, Thomas”

• Eckhardt’s story also precedes him in Twin Peaks. Early in season two, Jonathan Kumagai, a member of his organization, arrives to escort Josie home, explaining that Eckhardt is ready for her return. After killing Jonathan and returning to Twin Peaks, Josie tells Truman about Eckhardt, describing him as “my father, my master, my lover.” Andrew also talks about him when revealing his own existence to Pete. Eckhardt is one of the most-discussed yet least-seen character in Twin Peaks, perhaps rivaled only by Windom Earle and Laura Palmer (although both end up with far more extensive screentime once they are introduced).

• A clarification, because we only learn this outside of Eckhardt’s scenes: Josie never actually warned Andrew about the plot to kill him. Out of spite, Andrew lies to Eckhardt so that he and Josie will distrust each other even more. He wants one or both of them to die.

• I find many Eckhardt scenes – and Josie’s mid-season two storyline in general – convoluted and unconvincing, with characters arranged like chess pieces for formal confrontations that stretch out the eventual denouement. I’m not sure why Eckhardt feels he must negotiate with Catherine, or why Josie sticks around the Packards instead of fleeing elsewhere, or how Eckhardt found the time, or the wherewithal in his current emotional state, to arrange the elaborate bomb scheme in the few hours between Andrew’s appearance and his own death. (Maybe that last bit was Jones’ initiative, credited to Eckhardt as a tribute.) So much of this seems to be for dramatic show, and to fill time, rather than born out of genuine character motivation. Even the more clever bits, like Andrew lying about Josie’s betrayal of Eckhardt, are difficult to follow on first or even subsequent viewings. This is not one of my favorite subplots and Eckhardt doesn’t really convince me as a character, but, perhaps because of Warner’s distinctive presence, I’ve always had some interest in him anyway.


SHOWTIME: No, Warner is not on the cast list for 2017. There’s not much left to say about a character whose plot was pretty neatly wrapped up – Jones even tells us that his body will be expedited back to Hong Kong, where he and Josie are to be buried side-by-side.

Tomorrow: Tim Pinkle
Last Week: Invitation to Love

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