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.
Ronette bears not only her trauma but that of her best friend and indeed of the whole town - she carries this burden, without relief, in its overwhelming entirety.
circa February 1988
Ronette Pulaski and Laura Palmer, seventeen-year-old prostitutes from Twin Peaks, hang out in a room at the Red Diamond Motel in Deer Meadow. Clad in lingerie and crouching on the bed, they are waiting for their friend and fellow sex worker Teresa Banks to introduce them to her client. When Teresa appears, however, she says the guy got nervous and split (even though he paid her). "Looks like it's just us girls," Teresa says as the trio cuddle on the bed.
Sunday, February 19, 1989
Thursday, February 23, 1989
Ronette, Jacques, and Leo meet Laura in the woods and ride up to Jacques' cabin in Leo's red Corvette. They party long past midnight, into the early morning hours of the following day. Ronette applies makeup and lipstick in a mirror and then immediately smudges it all over her face by making out with Leo. The four of them drink, snort cocaine, and play sex games. When Jacques ties Laura up, she shouts "Not tonight!" but he ignores her, holding her down by force. A concerned Ronette rushes to Laura's defense but Leo pulls her back and she is tied up too. When they're finished, Jacques and then Leo disappear outside and don't return (when Leo grabs his boots, Laura pleads, "Will you please untie me?" and he yells in her face before stumbling through the door). Then another man enters the cabin and kidnaps Laura and Ronette, tightly gripping the twine that bind them as he marches through the woods to an abandoned traincar. Inside, he mostly focuses on tormenting Laura as Ronette sobs and offers a self-degrading prayer: "Father, if I die now...will you please see me? Look at me! I'm so dirty. I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." A bright light envelops Ronette; she sees Laura staring in disbelief before turning her own gaze upward to catch a blonde angel hovering overhead. When the light disappears, a stunned Ronette realizes her hands have been untied. She hears someone banging on the train car door and struggles to open it from her side as the other person pushes outside. The would-be killer attacks Ronette just as she cracks the door open, and she tumbles outside, unconscious. The man who opened the door with her wanders past her body and later the kidnapper, carrying Laura's corpse, kicks her body over and leaves her behind.
Friday, February 24, 1989
A railroad switchman pauses in his work to gasp at a figure crossing the metal bridge over a nearby river. Ronette, clad in her torn slip, twine still hanging from her wrists, body covered in burns, brusies, and dirt, stumbles in a daze across the bridge, clearly traumatized but moving forward through some lingering impulse for survival. Taken to Calhoun Memorial Hospital, she hovers between consciousness and coma - the doctor says a CAT scan is needed because Ronette is unresponsive and may have neurological damage, adding "this girl doesn't even know where she is...or if she is." An FBI agent and the local sheriff hope to question her, but Ronette is mostly uncommunicative (aside from repeating one mysterious phrase near the end of their encounter). The doctor says she was raped several times, and the sheriff notes that Ronette attended the same high school as "the dead girl" (Laura's murder has been discovered) but otherwise no connection is established. The agent holds a magnifying glass to her fingernails and seems disappointed to find nothing there.
Saturday, February 25, 1989
A sheriff's deputy questions Ronette's parents while she hovers in her near-comatase state behind a glass window.
Friday, March 3, 1989
Ronette murmurs to herself as images of the bridge-crossing flash through her mind. That night, her arms raise slowly and she jolts awake with a gasp. As she re-enters the waking world, she is also remembering the night of her trauma in visceral detail. She sees a long-haired man in a jean jacket running towards her - then he is stabbing a screaming Laura and hovering over her body inside the train car, before bellowing an inhuman howl of laughter, anguish, or some combination thereof.
Saturday, March 4, 1989
Ronette is awake, her eyes are open, but she remains silent and weary. The FBI agent and sheriff return to her room and, after struggling with the hospital stools, they sit down and begin asking questions. The agent shows her two sketches, asking if she recognizes the men who hurt her. The second picture, of the long-haired man Ronette saw in a vision the night before, agitates her, inspiring violent spasms as she barely manages to choke out the words, "Train! Train!"
Sunday, March 5, 1989
In the early morning Ronette is so agitated that she leaps out of her bed and must be restrained by nurses and orderlies. After she is sedated, two FBI agents and a sheriff observe that her IV was poisoned with blue dye. This time, one of the agents uses tweezers to retrieve a small slip of paper with the typed letter "B" from underneath Ronette's fingernail as she screams.
Sunday, March 26, 1989
Three weeks later, Ronette is out of the hospital. She is dressed in normal clothes and her hair has been cut. As a sheriff's deputy escorts her into the station, she looks healthy, physically fully recovered but still nervous. The familiar FBI agent greets her and asks her if she recognizes a particular smell (close to scorched engine oil). Ronette sniffs an open jar and leaps back into the deputy's arms, deeply shaken and upset. "Yes," she whimpers, "the night Laura Palmer was killed."
Characters Ronette interacts with onscreen…
Spirits who appear with/to her
Ronette, meanwhile, is mostly forgotten or overlooked by the community. To start with, she is working-class - her parents are mill workers whereas Laura's father is a business lawyer. Ronette worked at a perfume counter in the downtown department store but otherwise we learn little about her social life and she certainly doesn't seem to have left the same impression on the town's "respectable" society that Laura did. Except for the doctor who shows concern for "Ronnie," Ronette Pulaski (an ethnic name which, with her more Eastern European features and dark hair sets her further apart from the blonde, blue-eyed, WASPish Laura Palmer) is mostly isolated in her hospital room, treated at best as a source of information for Laura. This tells us something about the priorities of the town, law enforcement, and to an extent Twin Peaks itself (although this is complicated - see the "journey" and "writers/directors" sections below).
When we meet Ronette again in Fire Walk With Me, we see the extent to which she shared Laura's lifestyle of drug use and sexual promiscuity with older men. We also glimpse her admiration and concern for Laura, and there are hints in the film, deleted scenes, and diary that there was a romantic spark between them (Laura definitely has feelings for Ronette). Ronette is a character who emphasizes an important point: while the circumstances of Laura's tragedy may have been unique, the larger pattern is not. While Ronette also serves as a touchstone for the supernatural (she is the first character in these studies to show us BOB), the investigation, and even the show's deft mixture of horror and humor (those stools!), above all Ronette demonstrates the hole where Twin Peaks' conscience used to be (or maybe never was). In their obsession with Laura, and also in their inability to fully grapple with what happened to her, the town doesn't want to recognize the even more troubling truth: there are many Lauras who are exploited, addicted, and traumatized by Twin Peaks' denial-based ecosystem.
Ronette’s journeyThe denial that obscures Ronette's presence is an important point to harp on. Her arc on the show is largely determined by Twin Peaks' willingness to focus on the visceral nature and clinical effects of sexual violence and psychological trauma. She's an important presence in the pilot who fades as the first season takes on a more playful, fun vibe in its investigation. She returns in season two to direct us toward an emphasis on BOB, initially less as an esoteric spiritual figure than as a harbinger of horrors that can't quite be named or pinned down in a human body. And when Ronette finally reappears at the end of the show, after a very long absence, it's explicitly to drag the terror of Laura's death center-stage for the first time in half the series (again, in a way that draws our attention to BOB, since he is associated with the scorched engine oil).
In the film, a new aspect of Ronette is revealed: she often functions in the narrative as half of a pair with Donna, two doppelgangers for Laura's split personality, one reflecting her "good" side, the other her "bad." Ronette is linked with Donna through several incidents - she steps into focus as Donna's point of view fades in the Pink Room, she's the one who tells Laura that Donna is being groped, and finally her fate bears an eerie similarity to Donna's. Both are rescued when different forms of violation appear imminent; Donna is clearly retrieved by Laura but is Ronette's angel, in a more subtle way, also an empathetic intervention by a concerned friend? (I explore this idea fully in my video essay "She Would Die For Love".) If so, it's also a nice reflection of Ronette's gesture a few minutes earlier, attempting to stop Jacques as he ties Laura up. And this in turn might be inspired by Laura's earlier action with Donna - all reinforcing the symbiotic relationship between Laura and Ronette.
The film ends with a glimpse of an unconscious, bloody Ronette. Without the series, we might think she's dead, rendering that angelic escape largely moot; only if we know her role on the show and especially her collected appearance in the finale do we see the light at the end of the tunnel. Observed chronologically, Ronette's arc is straightforwardly redemptive (and could even be read as a classically Christian hellfire-and-salvation narrative - a promicuous, drug-using teenager "scared straight" by rape and murder, rescued by her own guilt and divine grace, redeemed through weeks of suffering in a limbo-like coma and finally allowed to tidy up and live a normal life while still occasionally reminded of her dark past as a warning - though God knows I find such a reductive path neither dramatically rich nor morally edifying). Regardless of how one reads the implications, Ronette descends into a dark pit and slowly but surely crawls out.
Observed in production order, from the pilot to the prequel, Ronette's arc is redemptive in another way - it redeems the creators (particularly David Lynch), showing that they can develop and respect a minor character most other shows would simply cast aside. Viewed this way, Ronette moves from "secondary character used to illuminate the main victim for lawmen" to "crucial witness whose inner life takes us closer to Laura than any other character" to "fleshed-out person with a life of her own, who plays a central role in the narrative." This is especially true when you consider why Ronette was probably brought to the train car. If BOB intended for Laura to participate in a ritual murder of Ronette (he came prepared with the letter "R" after all) then her refusal - and perhaps even her direct rejection of this route by calling an angel into being - is the specific action that closes Laura off from BOB forever and forces him to kill her. (Keep in mind that the ring which incites the final stabbing only rolls into the train car when Ronette opens the door, and she's only able to open the door because the angel has untied her hands; one action leads directly to another in a chain both logical and esoteric.)
Ronette, Twin Peaks' forgotten girl, provides an opportunity for both Laura and Lynch to turn their own stories around, re-centering them on compassion instead of nihilism, transcendence instead of denial.
Actress: Phoebe AugustineAugustine has remained very active at fan events, attending many festivals and Q&As where she talks about a role that clearly meant a lot to her. Her screen credits are sparse and mostly clustered around the time she made Fire Walk With Me: an appearance in a TV movie and two potentially big roles on very short-lived shows. One, The Elvira Show, was never aired; in the pilot, Augustine plays Elvira's long-lost niece who shows up to live with the famous horror goddess when she moves to Manhattan. The other, Frannie's Turn, was actually part of CBS' primetime lineup in 1992-93; Augustine plays the stubborn daughter of the main character. Set in a working-class household on Staten Island and produced by one of Roseanne's top writers, the show was cancelled less than a month into its run - around the same time that Fire Walk With Me was leaving its last theaters. Six episodes were aired and it's unclear, but probably unlikely, that any more were shot. (series pictured: Frannie's Turn, 1992)
Writers/DirectorsRonette is written by Mark Frost and David Lynch in the pilot (although in the draft available online she is named Sharon Pulaski). She is supposed to cross a busy highway rather than a bridge, but likely the scene was rewritten after the filmmakers visited the location and saw that striking image. Though Sharon/Ronette has the practical function of dramatizing the violence of Laura's death and drawing an FBI agent into the investigation, her characterization is humane and poignant (a single tear is described running down her cheek as she lies in the hospital). At this point it seems fair to assume she's the product of an equal collaboration between the co-creators, perhaps even with Frost contributing the most after years of deftly crafting such victims for Hill Street Blues. After the pilot, though, a funny thing happens to Ronette - and especially to Augustine as Ronette - and it's hard not to see Lynch emerging as her primary patron.
In episode 1, written by Frost and directed by Duwayne Dunham, Ronette is relegated to the background of a broadly-drawn interview with her parents. Most notably, her head tilted away from the camera, she's played by a different actress (there is an explicit note pertaining to this in the script: "do not show Ronette's face"). It makes sense; Augustine was a Seattle actress conveniently available, like Sheryl Lee as Laura, for a pilot shot on location. The producers weren't going to fly her down to Los Angeles for extra work. Her part may even have been over as far as they were concerned - at that point. Perhaps it was Frost's idea to bring her back for the second season after a long absence (after all, she was still alive, her situation unresolved: perfect grist for the narrative mill). Maybe that was always the intention. But given his later persistence, it's easy to suspect she returned thanks to Lynch's interest.
In the first few episodes of season two (written by Frost, Harley Peyton, and Robert Engels, and directed twice by Lynch and once by Lesli Linka Glatter), Ronette becomes something new: a visionary like the Log Lady or Cooper himself, but with a direct access to Laura's trauma that no one else shares. She's also a conduit to the increasingly supernatural aura surrounding the murder - a gateway to the terror of BOB, a character who, like Ronette, had faded in the latter half of season one. Yet after she is nearly killed, Ronette is dropped a second time, never mentioned for a full twenty episodes. In the series finale, we can say with certainty that it was Lynch's idea to bring her back: she's not mentioned in the teleplay at all. Lynch does two things with this appearance. He concludes Ronette's arc in a hopeful manner, showing that - while she's still traumatized by the memory of that night - she has physically recovered and looks healthy and well-composed. And he uses Ronette, again, to draw our attention to another character who has been forgotten for many episodes: in this case, Laura herself.
Ronette is one of many elements anchoring us in the early part of the series, emphasizing how important it is for Lynch to return the story to its roots even as it goes in new directions. That, of course, is the entire project of Fire Walk With Me, and while plot necessitated Ronette's involvement, by this point Lynch clearly felt a spiritual importance in including Ronette as well. He co-wrote her part with Engels but added new details during production, most notably the angel inspired by conversations with both Augustine and Lee, who felt the scripted ending was too negative. The process of Ronette's realization is one of the most revealing aspects of Twin Peaks' creation, indicating how unusual and generous its storytelling could be.
StatisticsRonette is onscreen for roughly nineteen minutes. She is in fifteen scenes in six episodes plus the feature film and deleted scenes collection, taking place over five weeks (with several flashbacks to a year earlier). She's featured the most in Fire Walk With Me/The Missing Pieces in which she accompanies Laura on her harrowing death trip (in the show she's featured the most in episode 8, at least if you include the flashback/vision ostensibly from her perspective). Her primary location is Calhoun Memorial Hospital. She shares the most screentime with Laura.
Fire Walk With Me: Ronette's bridge is one of the show's most iconic images, but her tearful prayer and angelic vision in the train car may be the linchpin of the entire narrative.
“Don't go there...don't go there.”
The Pilot: If there's any reason to suspect that Ronette was always intended to return, it's her ubiquity in the pilot. Even after we've left the hospital for good, she keeps popping up. Cooper and Truman open Laura's safety deposit box at the bank and discover an issue of Flesh World, identifying a black-and-white photo of a lingerie-clad Ronette circled with green marker. Shelly Johnson watches a news program featuring a photo of Ronette as the announcer discusses her condition. And at the town meeting, Cooper mentions Ronette as the intended third victim of a serial killer.
Episode 1: Dr. Will Hayward, following an examination of Ronette and an autopsy of Laura, confirms that the same perpetrator attacked both of them. He says he's unsure if and when Ronette will ever be able to talk to them, given the severe head wound she's suffered (so it isn't just shock sustaining her condition).
Episode 2: When Cooper asks about Ronette's condition, Hawk answers, "Body and mind are still far apart." He also reveals that Ronette quit her job at the perfume counter (which her parents apparently did not know).
Episode 3: Audrey Horne tells Cooper that Laura worked at the perfume counter and he admits that Ronette did too, to Audrey's surprise.
Episode 4: Audrey tells Donna that Ronette and Laura both worked at the perfume counter.
Episode 5: Searching Jacques' apartment, Cooper finds an issue of Flesh World with a letter and envelope marking the page where Ronette's picture appears. The P.O. Box on the envelope is where Ronette received her mail. When the cops visit the Log Lady's cabin, she tells them how her log heard two men escorting two girls through the woods and then a third man taking them away, as they screamed. It's assumed that the girls were Laura and Ronette.
Episode 6: Forensics confirms that Ronette visited Jacques at his cabin. Audrey opens Emory Battis' little notebook and discovers an entry for "Ronette" dated 2/3/90 (a continuity error since elsewhere, including Ronette's hospital chart, the year is 1989). Four hearts appear after her name, the highest score (only one other girl, the mysterious "Lois", shares it) and Audrey murmurs, "Ronette Pulaski." This confirms that Ronette, who worked at the perfume counter like Laura (and now Audrey, as part of her investigation) was also sent by Emory to work as a prostitute at One Eyed Jack's.
Episode 7: Jacques mentions Ronette several times in conversation with Cooper - first when he's being set up, then when he's being questioned as a suspect. He explains her photos on Flesh World - it was Laura's ideas to pose for snapshots and send them to the magazine to see if they got any responses. He also says that Laura and Ronette had been to his cabin plenty of times before: "They was no nuns."
Episode 8: Cooper lays out the everything they know about the death of Laura, including all the details involving Ronette. As he talks, we pan over an array of donuts and various images are superimposed, including the shot of a dazed Ronette staggering across the bridge. Albert says that Ronette was tied up for the first time in the train car which, from what we see in the film, is false. Cooper says that the killer hit Ronette with a hammer (which fits the film though it's unclear what he uses) and surmises that "he must have been so intent on killing Laura he didn't realize that Ronette regained consciousness and escaped," to which Albert adds, "Either he didn't know or he didn't care." That night, the Giant appears to Cooper and says, "One person saw the third man; three have seen him, yes, but not his body. One only, known to you, ready now to talk." This appears to be a reference to Ronette's imminent awakening.
Episode 9: When Cooper and Albert chat over breakfast, Cooper informs his colleague that Ronette has regained consciousness. "I'm thinking she's going to have quite a story to tell," he predicts, "once she regains the ability to speak." "So she's not talking?" Albert asks. "Waking but silent," Cooper responds. "Probably shock." He then describes his plans to show her sketches of Leo and BOB. Emory admits to recruiting Laura and Ronette for One Eyed Jack's when Audrey strangles him and demands answers. That night, Cooper has a nightmare/vision which includes Ronette writhing in bed, in slow motion.
Episode 10: Cooper charts the people who have seen BOB, including Maddy, Mrs. Palmer, himself, and Ronette who "saw him physically at the train car." Albert reveals that the "B" removed from Ronette's fingernail was cut from Flesh World, just like the previous letters. If not for Lynch's last-minute interventions, this would have been the last time anything was seen or heard of Ronette in Twin Peaks.
The Missing Pieces: The Log Lady weeps outside her cabin as she overhears Laura's and Ronette's screams in the distance.
• The Access Guide reveals that the Pulaskis (misspelled as "Polaskis," hopefully not on purpose!) are Catholics who attend Christ the King, the only stone church in Twin Peaks, with "a breathtaking Rose window intersected by delicate Douglas Fur mullions." The Hurleys and Packards are fellow churchgoers and Mass is presided over by Father Dunne and Brother Poplinski. This religious background provides an interesting context for Ronette's desperate, self-loathing prayer in the train car as well as the classically Christian image of the angel that appeared to her.
• Ronette is the second Catholic character to pray in Twin Peaks (or the first, chronologically); former nun Annie Blackburn recites a Psalm while Windom Earle drags her to Glastonbury Grove. In both cases, the specific lines were unscripted and presumably added by Lynch on set.
• Ronette is an important character in Jennifer Lynch's The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (although her name is written as "Ronnette", just as it is in the pilot's credits). The book reveals that Laura had a crush on Ronette (though it's not clear if the romantic feelings were reciprocated, they certainly shared a lot of sexual experiences). Classmates who once shared a friendly moment while changing their outfits during a pageant, Laura and Ronette connect outside of school at one of Leo's parties. Laura is impressed by Ronette's appearance: "...looking like she had given up junk food, and had started taking pretty good care of everything on her body except her nose." (She's high on cocaine when Laura spies her.) Laura is nervous about her feelings, joking, "All I need are rumors buzzing around that Ronnette and I are "seeing" each other every chance we get. Mom would have to be sent to the Haywards', if not the hospital itself..." Ronette shows kindness to Laura on a later occasion, taking care of her and getting her home when she escapes a near-gang rape while hitchhiking. At the perfume counter, Laura "adore[s] working with someone as cool as Ronnette. She always understands when I'm depressed and doesn't get down on me for it." She also grumbles about Emory not allowing her "a pat on Ronnette's ass." Laura and Ronette share a series of codes ostensibly about the perfume counter that actually refer to drugs and parties. In another entry, she convinces Ronette to pose for Polaroids they'll send to Flesh World. When she temporarily quits cocaine, she complains that Ronette doesn't invite her out or talk closely with her anymore. Laura starts using again when she and Ronette are invited to One Eyed Jack's. The last reference in the book underscores the film's linkage of Laura's two best female friends: "I told Dr. Jacoby I missed Donna and I wished that she and Ronnette would like each other. I wish that we could all be friends so I wouldn't have to hide anything from anyone."
• The incident in Teresa's motel room, shown as one extended sequence in The Missing Pieces, is split as a flashback into three scenes in Fire Walk With Me. In the first, Leland is watching Laura and Donna on the couch and has a sudden vision of Laura and Ronette in a similar position. In the second, Leland is sitting in the car with Laura when he remembers visiting Teresa and walking up to the motel room where he glimpses the two girls through an open doorway. In the third, Laura sits in her bedroom, reflecting back on one of Teresa's gestures, brushing her bangs aside to reveal a green ring on her finger (Ronette hovers behind her in this slow-motion close-up).
• In a deleted scene from episode 9, Audrey questions a One Eyed Jack's employee named Nancy (this is one episode before Blackie's sister shows up, and it's unclear if this is the same Nancy). She shows her a picture of Ronette torn from a yearbook and asks Nancy if she recognizes her. Nancy responds, "Just a summer girl. She didn't stay long."
• In deleted dialogue from episode 16, Truman asks how Ronette saw BOB in the train car. Cooper answers, "Maybe the head injury. The trauma opened some kind of perceptual window..."
• As dark as Fire Walk With Me is, the script was even darker, detailing what is left to our imagination in the movie: "Leland goes into the cabin. His smiling eyes are on Laura while he rapes Ronette. Laura watches as her fear drives her to hysteria."
• When I collected commentary from the Twin Peaks Usenet board of 1990, I highlighted one particular comment by a psychiatrist who was impressed by the accuracy of Ronette's depiction. You can find it by scrolling about a quarter of the way down this page to the entry dated 10/18/90 (or name search for "Fiona Oceanstar"). Here's an interesting sample: "Ronette's initial appearance, walking across the railroad bridge, was one of the first things about 'Twin Peaks' that made me sit up and say, 'Wow--this show may even be realistic!' Having seen lots of post-rape and post-trauma victims, I can vouch for her zombie-like expression, listless walk, and pale skin being consistent with a normal human response to an overwhelming psycho- logical (let alone physical) trauma. If she looks like she's on autopilot in that scene, that's because she *is*. It took considerable inner strength for her to get up and walk out like that. Many people in that situation might have died of exposure, just from being too psychologically blasted to find the will to move. But Ronette is young, and the young do have a strong sense of survival. My response, as a shrink, when I saw her walking across that bridge, was a) to be shocked by the trauma she'd obviously suffered, and b) to cheer for her--'All right! You can MAKE it!' Seriously."
SHOWTIME: Yes, Augustine is on the cast list for 2017. We shouldn't be surprised, given Lynch's devotion to this character, and his desire to bring her back time after time for important moments. I look forward to seeing where Ronette is at in her forties. Where does she work? Does she have a family? How does she remember Laura - has she formed any explanation of the strange things that happened to her in the train car? I'm particularly interested to see Ronette on her own, living life, since she served as an accessory to Laura's story for so long. While I am happy we'll be getting even a cameo, I think she could play a larger role in the narrative too. Either way, it wouldn't be Twin Peaks without her.
Tomorrow: Jean Renault
Yesterday: Jacques Renault