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.
Roger is a stern, humorless hardass who executes his unpleasant assignment without question but he is also, we sense, an honorable individual.
Wednesday, March 15, 1989
Roger enters the Twin Peaks sheriff's station with Canadian Mounty King, interrupting fellow FBI Agent Dale Cooper as he says goodbye to the local officers (he has just solved a murder case in the small town). Roger, who is with Internal Affairs, announces that Cooper has been suspended from the FBI. Cooper has been accused of misfeasance ("the improper and unlawful execution of an action that is itself proper and lawful") and also of an association with drug trafficking, which shocks him much more. Roger and the Mounty present Cooper with evidence of his transgressions (photos of corpses at One Eyed Jack's, the Canadian bordello where Cooper went on an unauthorized raid to rescue a hostage victim). He defends his honor, explaining how the deaths occurred and vociferously denying he had anything to do with drugs. He then surrenders his badge and gun. Roger and the Mounty than speak with Truman, who angrily refuses to help them in their investigation unless they can legally compel him.
Thursday, March 16, 1989
Roger and two other agents question Cooper, but he refuses to defend himself. Roger is shocked, pressing Cooper by reminding him what is expected of an accused agent. Cooper smiles and recites a monologue about looking at the big picture, listening to the wind blowing through the trees, and so on. Roger is perplexed and begins to suspect Cooper has lost his mind - he tells him that he "may recommend a full psychological workup." Cooper thanks him for his candor and leaves the room. On his way out of town, Roger stops at the RR Diner to read a newspaper (whose headlines announce the death of the murderer Cooper recently captured), and enjoy a pie and coffee provided by the friendly waitress Norma Jennings. Roger smiles and acknowledges that he's heard "so much about" the pie. Later, still sitting in the booth to finish his paper he is startled by a deputy crashing to the floor nearby.
Characters Roger interacts with onscreen…
Roger’s journeyRoger remains pretty solid throughout, never quite losing her composure or betraying much of a human side in his execution of duty (the pie and coffee is relief, not release). However, there is a subtle arc as Cooper defies his expectations, captured subtly in that penultimate scene. When Cooper refuses to play the game by defending himself or providing excuses (though he doesn't confess his guilt either), Roger has a nice moment of both slight exhaustion and a hint of acceptance: he looks down at the table, betrays a whisper of a sigh, and speaks a bit more calmly when he looks up again. In all the earlier scenes, he's more of a stock figure for Cooper and Truman to bump against, relaying exposition and dramatizing the trouble our hero is in. Only his final meeting with Cooper gives us some insight into a more complex character, setting us up for that nice little button in the RR.
Actor: Clarence Williams IIIWilliams' two-episode appearance on Twin Peaks was something of a big deal, primarily because it represented a reunion with his Mod Squad co-star Peggy Lipton (if you're wondering why Roger, whose plot circulates entirely around Cooper, showed up at the RR...that's why). Entertainment Weekly covered the guest spot at a time when Twin Peaks wasn't getting much coverage at all, even reaching out to the third Mod Squad member Michael Cole to see if he'd be interested if David Lynch reached out to him (Cole would, but Lynch didn't). Hailing from a famous musical family (his grandparents were composer/pianist Clarence Williams and blues singer Eva Taylor), Williams achieved initial success as a theater actor (aside from a couple small parts in The Cool World and Pork Chop Hill, where both he and fellow Twin Peaks alum Harry Dean Stanton were uncredited). He was invited to Hollywood by Bill Cosby and Aaron Spelling in the late sixties, where he jumped right into fame with the hip prime-time crime show. A great interview with the Chicago Sun-Times in 1999 even credits Williams with popularizing the word "Cool" on TV. As that interview notes, after a lot of TV work, Williams experienced a late-career film revival thanks to director John Frankenheimer. Now in his late seventies, he still makes occasional appearances, including in films like Lee Daniels' The Butler and TV shows like Empire. (series pictured: The Mod Squad, c. 1970)
Episode 17 (German title: "Dispute Among Brothers")
Writers/DirectorsRoger is written by Tricia Brock and Barry Pullman, and directed by Tina Rathborne and Duwayne Dunham.
StatisticsRoger is onscreen for roughly eight minutes (including when he's speaking from offscreen). He is in five scenes in two episodes, taking place in two consecutive days. He's featured the most in episode 17, when he arrives in town. His primary location is the Twin Peaks sheriff's station. He shares the most screentime with Cooper. He is one of the top five characters of episode 17 and one of the top ten characters of episode 18.
Episode 18: Roger gives Cooper a chance to defend himself and is stunned when he declines.
“Now Dale, there's a right way and a wrong way to do this. And the first thing we expect is a Bureau man to stand up for himself. Now a man who can't - who doesn't even try - well, he may be packing feathers where his spine is supposed to be.”
• Roger's crew provides us one of our rare glances at a computer in Twin Peaks - a clunky Apple "laptop" circa 1990. How modern technology is integrated into the Twin Peaks universe will be one of the interesting features of the new series.
• Until the diner scene, Roger almost never cracks a smile. The closest he comes is a split-second flicker when he tells Truman that his cooperation would be "greatly appreciated."
• In the interview linked above, Williams says, "Sometimes I think it's healthy not to think in racial terms when casting. But, then, sometimes you wonder what people were thinking, especially when they cast a show like The West Wing without any black faces in the White House." With that quote in mind, it's worth noting that Roger is the highest-ranked black character on the list, aside from the upcoming "Spirits of Twin Peaks" entry which incorporates three African-American actors with much smaller parts. In the cultural climate of 2017, the diversity of the new Twin Peaks cast - or lack thereof - is certain to attract some attention. In the case of the original series, there is something of an excuse (the population of Washington state is only 4% black and likely lower in rural areas); that said, the series is not otherwise terribly interested in offering an accurate social depiction of America in the early nineties so they could probably have cast anyone they wanted. Indeed, the universe Lynch likes to depict (and subvert) is so rooted in stereotypes of fifties-era Americana - white, middle-class, patriarchal, heteronormative - that it has sometimes provoked criticism from those who see his reflection of a racist era as itself racist. In David Lynch Keeps His Head, David Foster Wallace opined, "why are Lynch's movies all so white? The likely answer involves the fact that Lynch's movies are essentially apolitical. Let's face it: get white people and black people together on the screen and there's going to be automatic political voltage. ... The films are all about tensions, but these tensions are always in and between individuals. There are, in Lynch's movies, no real groups or associations." Wallace has it a bit backwards here; excluding black characters arguably politicizes a work far more than including them. This lead into the much broader subject of the political/social/cultural content of David Lynch's not-overtly-political works, so perhaps I've opened too big a can of worms to deal with here. But it seemed to be worth addressing. I will actually be discussing politics in Lynch (and specifically Twin Peaks) in an upcoming episode of the Twin Peaks Unwrapped podcast, so stay tuned. To return to Roger, his race plays no overt part in his story; incidentally, the script describes the Mounty, but not Roger, as black.
SHOWTIME: No, Williams is not on the cast list for 2017. (There's another Williams, Nafessa, but they appear to have no relation.) Where did Roger go next? Does he work out of the Philadelphia office too? I'm not sure how diffuse the Internal Affairs department is, if they're just centralized in D.C. or spread out over different regions, but I do get the sense that Roger and Cooper had already crossed paths. Will they again? If the "bad Cooper" starts acting up, does Roger have to launch a new investigation? And if so how does that version of Cooper react? Maybe there's a reason we won't be seeing Roger again.
Tomorrow: Room Service Waiter
Yesterday: Malcolm Sloan