Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Mike Nelson (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #34)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Mike Nelson (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #34)


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.

Mike is a follower - whether surly mimic of his best friend or grinning boy toy for a superwoman, this restless jock is perpetually pulled forward by stronger forces than himself.


Thursday, February 16, 1989
Mike Nelson, a Varsity football player and wrestler at Twin Peaks High School, perches on the edge of Bobby Briggs' convertible on a school morning. Their minds aren't on class. Mike is worried about their business, selling cocaine to other students. They owe Leo Johnson $5,000 and Bobby doesn't seem nearly as concerned. Their girlfriends walk by and decline a ride to school. Mike calls out to his girlfriend, Donna Hayward, "That's what I like about you, you're tough to handle. That's what you need a real man." Donna teases him back, and Mike and Bobby both stand up inside the car and chant, "Mike...is the man!"

Friday, February 24, 1989
Mike is at football practice before school when he overhears his coach talking about Bobby on the phone, remarking, "He's been late every day this week, Mrs. Palmer. And last week." When Bobby does saunter into the hallway later that morning, Mike warns him: "Something's up." Bobby is called into the principal's office. Bobby's girlfriend, and Donna's best friend, Laura Palmer has been murdered, and Mike sets off to look for Donna when the sheriff asks for her. He finds his girlfriend at Big Ed's Gas Farm and gets into an argument with her and Ed, driving away in a fury. Later, as Mike waits for Donna outside the sheriff's conference room, Bobby shows up at the station. He delivers some additional bad news - an FBI agent showed him a video of Laura and Donna taken by a mysterious third person whom Bobby suspects is a "freakin' biker." Mike and Bobby drink up and head over to the Haywards' house that night. Mike makes a poor impression on his girlfriend's dad, smoking on the porch, telling him that Bobby (who is clearly wasted) is driving them around, and rudely insisting "Oh, we'll find her, don't you worry about that," when Doc Will Hayward tells him Donna is missing. The buddies go to the Road House and wait at the bar, surrounded by hostile bikers, until sure enough Donna walks through the door. Mike grabs her and insists she's just like Laura. Ed, who is also there, tries to intervene but Bobby punches him and a big fight breaks out. Mike and Bobby taking on the whole motorcycle gang until they're finally knocked down (by this point, Donna has disappeared). Arrested and held in a jail cell overnight, Mike and Bobby see James Hurley, a biker who wasn't at the Road House, escorted into the cell across from them. In a form of macho intimidation, they bark loudly as he cowers in his corner.

Saturday, February 25, 1989
Mike and Bobby are still in their cell the next day. Mike says Leo called his house yesterday and Bobby admits he's already given Leo half the money they owed him. Unfortunately, the other half is still being held in Laura's safety deposit box, which must now be police property. Mike is irritated that Bobby never told him this and worried about what Leo will do. That afternoon, Cooper tells them they're free to go but they should "pray for the health and safety of James Hurley, because if anything happens to him we're coming for you." It's not warning enough; that night the duo drive over to the Hayward house and see James' bike parked outside. "First your girlfriend, then mine," marvels Mike. "Too bad we can only kill him once," Bobby sneers. Then they're off to the woods to pick up product from Leo Johnson; Mike shows Bobby his switchblade, just in case. They find only half of the cocaine they're looking for inside a slashed football before Leo himself emerges from the trees with a flashlight and shotgun, berating and threatening the two frightened drug dealers. At the end of their exchange, he aims the gun right at them and tells them to "go out for a pass." They run hysterically through the forest and the deflated football lands on the car just as they reach it. "Damn it, I'm done, Bobby," Mike wheezes.

Monday, February 27, 1989
At Laura's funeral, Bobby attacks James and Mike intervenes, first, it seems, to pull Bobby away but then to join in until he too is being restrained.

Wednesday, March 9, 1989
A week and a half later, Bobby brings Mike into Leo Johnson's house and shows him Leo's current condition. Leo was shot by a local thug (when Bobby was in the room) and is now in a vegetative state, confined to a wheelchair, silent except for the occasional random outburst. One of these outbursts - "New shoes!" - inspired Bobby to pick up a pair of boots Leo was having repaired; Mike suggests he get a hammer and they bang open the heel to discover a micro-cassette tape.

Thursday, March 16, 1989
At school a week later, Mike says hi to his ex in the hallway. In the weeks since they broke up, they both have quickly moved on. Donna is chatting with Nadine Hurley, Ed's wife and James' aunt, who for some reason is attending high school again as if she was a teenager. She smiles and greets Mike, who ignores her. Later, in the gym, she sits next to Mike and begins using the leg press. He is pressing two hundred forty pounds...she is (easily) pressing six hundred. Coach Wingate rushes to her side, amazed, and invites her to join the wrestling team. Mike is shocked.

Friday, March 17, 1989
At practice, Nadine wrestles Mike, the district champion, taking him down while asking for a date. Mike looks battered by the end of the session and when he runs into Donna later he readily confesses, "I got beat up by a girl." He asks, in vain, if she'll help keep Nadine away by pretending they're still a couple. "Maybe an older woman's just what you need," Donna chuckles.

Saturday, March 18, 1989
At the RR Diner, Nadine sits next to Mike and offers moony compliments. He's had enough and insists in no uncertain times that "I don't want to talk with you, I don't want to walk with you, I don't want to see you, I don't want to know you. Is that clear enough to understand?" Apparently not, as she forces a long, hard kiss. When she leaves, Mike slowly raises himself back up to the counter, shaken and no longer entirely sure what he wants.

Wednesday, March 22, 1989
Mike is now fully committed to Nadine, but still uncomfortable being seen with her. They check into the Great Northern Hotel disguised as "the Hinkmans," an out-of-town couple on vacation. One of Mike's classmates runs into him and blows his ridiculous cover (a gray coat, fedora, and spectacles). The couple beat a hasty exit before the concierge asks too many questions.

Thursday, March 23, 1989
The next morning the mood has lifted - even the desk clerk is delighted by the contagious cheer of the clearly oversexed Mike and Nadine. "How was everything?" he asks with a smile. "Incredible," Mike beams. Donna shows up at the desk next to them, asking for someone at the hotel and Mike greets her warmly before staggering away with Nadine (Donna is equally amused).

Friday, March 24, 1989
Mike escorts Nadine to the Miss Twin Peaks peagant sign-up at the Road House. They are not totally open in their relationship and when Bobby asks his pal about this "sudden interest in the life of fossils," Mike explains, "It's not what you think." He whispers something in Bobby's ear and Bobby is so astounded he belts out a loud, "WHOA!" The whole Road House looks up, and he staggers away as Mike winks knowingly at Nadine.

Sunday, March 26, 1989
Now Mike is nervous again - Nadine is conducting a slide show of her wrestling triumphs for Mike, Dr. Lawrence Jacoby, Norma Jennings...and Ed. The group has gathered at Nadine's house to painfully explain that, despite thinking she's still seventeen, she's married to Ed and they'll be getting a divorce, not just breaking up. Mike looks uncomfortable to be in the presence of his lover's husband, even though it's in Ed's interest for Nadine to date Mike. After all, as Ed hesitantly reveals, "Norma and I are going to get married." Nadine, who has been clutching Mike's left hand this whole time, tenses up and declares that she and Mike are getting married too. Before he has time to digest this information himself, Mike shrieks with pain: Nadine has applied bone-crushing pressure to his hand by gripping it so tightly. Mike somehow avoids a cast or a sling, but that night Doc Hayward is forced to address another wound. Both Mike and Nadine have bloody bandages wrapped around their heads. When the Miss Twin Peaks contest devolved into chaos that evening, she was hit with a sandbag while a "tree" (perhaps one of the props adorning the stage) fell on him. Mike has come to his senses - after harboring some doubts about their relationship, he realizes that he truly loves Nadine. Leaning in for his kiss, he is shoved away by her. Unfortunately for Mike, Nadine has come to her senses in an entirely different way. Demanding to know who he is, pleading with Ed, "Make him leave!" she acknowledges that she is thirty-five and searches for the drape runners that obsessed her a few weeks ago. Her head injury has restored her to the identity she held before the attempted suicide, brief coma, and amnesiac awakening that lent her super strength and adolescent delusions. Her romance with Mike, it appears, is definitely over. "I'm sorry, Ed," Mike says softly, standing up from the couch and preparing to leave the house. "I guess I let things get a little out of hand."

Characters Mike interacts with onscreen…

Bobby Briggs

Donna Hayward

Doc Hayward

James Hurley

Deputy Andy & Deputy Hawk

Leo Johnson

Nadine Hurley

Randy St. Croix

Ed Hurley

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Mike
Mike is one of our gateways into an aspect of the town that gets too little play: the social life of Twin Peaks High School (as opposed to the off-campus investigative endeavors of the high schoolers themselves). Through his eyes, we glimpse the effect of Bobby's charismatic braggadocio, while Mike's bullying abuse of Donna establishes one of Twin Peaks' persistent themes. Later, he embodies the wacky tone of mid-season two, as the arrogant jock becomes the hapless victim of Super Nadine. In the process, he also demonstrates the malleability of Twin Peaks' characters, how they can start one place and end up somewhere totally different - different in tone, personality, even physical appearance (once he accepts Nadine's overtures, Mike loses his near-ubiquitous letterman's jacket). And he exhibits one of Twin Peaks' most appealing qualities, even if many don't care for his particular example of it: the crossover possibilities of characters from totally different storylines. We haven't studied many figures who span the entire run of episodes. Mike is still a patchwork example of this - he's absent for over ten episodes in the first half of the series, but he does appear in just about every important section of the show: the mysterious, melancholy pilot, the fast-paced season one, the tense lead-up to the killer's reveal (just barely), the absurd Nickelodeon-style hijinks of mid-season two, and the building drama (often revolving round Twin Peaks) of the last stretch, and the offbeat, open-ended "resolutions" of the final episode. His character evolves accordingly with the spirit of each stretch, making him a particularly good barometer of where the show is at in a given moment.

Mike’s journey
So far we've discussed a couple characters with more than one arc. Few embody more radically different subplots than Mike, to the point where he almost seems like two different characters. Season one Mike is, unambiguously, an asshole. An insecure sidekick who vents at his girlfriend and follows his quarterback's every move, Mike is a high school punk involved with the drug trade and sneeringly disrespectful to solid adults like Doc and Ed ("Oh, Ed, I'm not your friend," becomes quite humorous in retrospect). Already by the next couple episodes, he's mellowing a bit - we might feel even a bit sorry for him as he realizes how in-over-his-head he is. But as his best friend spends more time with Shelly, Mike fades away, no longer needed to provide the necessary bouncing board for Bobby. His return in the killer's reveal episode serves a useful plot function (Bobby needs to talk about Leo's criminal history with someone, and he's never come clean about his involvement to Shelly). But it also works as a nostalgic nod to the early days of the show as it reaches its halfway point and gets ready to take a giant swerve.

Only with the Nadine relationship, which spans eleven episodes, does Mike really share a story he can call his own. While Nadine herself is the star, it wouldn't work (well, to the extent we accept that it does work!) without Mike to play off of. And because he's been established as a mean-spirited tough guy in the pilot, Nadine's seduction carries an extra comical punch. Imagine if they'd introduced some new hapless teen just for this purpose - it would feel quite different. Even before he begins dating Nadine, Mike is much more easygoing, even sympathetic, than he was as Bobby's partner; once he and Nadine become an item he's genuinely likable and fun (although a bit of the old Mike, in a different vein, sneaks through when he boasts to Bobby). It's a ridiculous development (and one that could be seen as problematic were it not handled in such a wacky vein), but one that's admittedly kinda grown on me the more I've watched the series (the hotel scenes, at least, are amusing). Then again, maybe repetition has simply worn down my resistance to Nadine's persona, as it apparently did for Mike himself.

Anyway, Mike shows up one last time for Fire Walk With Me, in a truly blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo (the moments is extended slightly in The Missing Pieces, but even there it feels more like a throwaway tribute than a truly integral appearance). As with much of the prequel, Lynch hits a reset and restores the teenage to his blustering, jockish appearance of the pilot albeit in a more overtly pathetic light as Donna turns down his rather meek offer to walk with her. Viewed chronologically, we can observe Mike's shift from the somewhat eager-to-please boyfriend to the more abusive figure of the pilot and wonder to what extent events of the intervening week and/or Laura's death transformed his attitude. Perhaps more interesting is how Mike is featured in Fire Walk With Me when he isn't onscreen, but we'll get to that.

Actor: Gary Hershberger
Aside from the occasional film role (little in the past few decades, but he's listed as "College-age bishop" in Sneakers), Hershberger has appeared in a lot of TV over the years, including 21 Jump Street, Murder, She Wrote, Chicago Hope, The West Wing, The O.C.Grey's Anatomy, and Big Love. Twin Peaks was definitely his biggest part, but he also had a recurring role for a couple seasons of Six Feet Under as the owner of a corporate funeral home chain trying to buy out the central family. He has often participated in Twin Peaks commemorations and in 2015, when David Lynch temporarily left the Showtime series, Hershberger joined other cast members in a homemade video. "Twin Peaks without David Lynch," he declared, "is like a letterman's jacket...without the letter." He recorded the video in a game room, wearing a letter-less jacket himself, still evoking the Mike of early episodes even after the Nadine shenanigans of his later arc. Lately, Hershberger has been traveling around with Sheryl Lee (who played Laura Palmer of course) conducting a workshop called "The Actor's Director" in places like Los Angeles and Seattle in the past month or two. (series pictured: Six Feet Under, early 2000s)

Episodes
*The Pilot - best episode

Episode 1 (German title: "Traces to Nowhere")

Episode 2 (German title: "Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer")

Episode 3 (German title: "Rest in Pain")

Episode 14 (German title: "Lonely Souls")

Episode 18 (German title: "Masked Ball")

Episode 19 (German title: "The Black Widow")

Episode 20 (German title: "Checkmate")

Episode 24 (German title: "Wounds and Scars")

Episode 25 (German title: "On the Wings of Love")

Episode 26 (German title: "Variations on Relations")

Episode 28 (German title: "Miss Twin Peaks")

Episode 29 (German title: "Beyond Life and Death")

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (feature film)

Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces (collection of deleted scenes from the film)

Writers/Directors
Mike is written or co-written by Mark Frost in six episodes (one script is solo; collaborators for the others include David Lynch, Harley Peyton, and a Peyton/Robert Engels combo - Engels also co-writes Mike with Lynch in the film). Two of Peyton's solo scripts feature Mike (the funeral and the first Nadine kiss) and he collaborates on two more with Engels. Additionally, Mike is written three times by Barry Pullman. Mike is directed four times by Lynch, three times by Duwayne Dunham, and once each by Caleb Deschanel, Todd Holland, James Foley, Jonathan Sanger, and Tim Hunter.

Statistics
Mike is onscreen for roughly thirty-two minutes - the first entry in this character series to top a half-hour. He is in twenty-five scenes, another record (no one so far has even reached twenty), in twelve episodes (tying the Log Lady) plus the feature film and deleted scenes collection, taking place over about five and a half weeks. He's featured the most in the pilot, when he fights with Donna and tags along with Bobby. He appears most often at Ed's Gas Farm/the Hurley house. He shares the most screentime with Bobby (substantially more than with Nadine, despite their breadth of episodes). Mike's debut is auspicious; he is one of the top ten characters in the pilot episode of Twin Peaks, behind only Laura, Truman, Cooper, Donna, Bobby, James, and Sarah (all but one of whom would go on to be top ten characters of the series).

Best Scene
Episode 29: The jerk has become the lover, ready to turn over a new leaf after being hit by a tree...but a redwood named Nadine has other ideas.

Best Line
“Do you have any idea what a combination of sexual maturity and superhuman strength can result in?”

Mike Offscreen

The Pilot: Lucy eavesdrops on Mike's conversation with Bobby and shares the transcript with Cooper, although he already realizes the video was taken by a biker. Donna's sister Harriet calls Mike "Mr. Bonehead Boyfriend." (Mike gets a lot of nicknames in this episode; not only does Bobby call him "Snake" - I can't believe I haven't mentioned that till now! - but the bikers at the bar snicker, "Mutt and Jeff just crawled in.")

Episode 3: When Cooper tells Truman about his dream with MIKE and BOB, Truman asks "Mike and Bobby?" Cooper tells him no - these are totally different individuals with the same names.

Episode 14: When Shelly presses for help with a vegetative Leo, Bobby tells her, "I can't keep telling my mom and dad that I'm spending the night at Mike's." (Oddly enough, Mike never interacts with Shelly, and only appears in one of her scenes.)

Episode 18: Donna and Nadine are talking about Mike in the school hallway before he walks by; Nadine asks if Donna is still seeing him because "there may be some major chemistry developing..." When he's gone, she marvels to Donna, "He has the cutest buns."

Episode 22: After seeing Ed and Norma in bed, Nadine tells them it's no big deal: "Now I don't feel so guilty about me and Mike. ... It's really, really serious."

Episode 23: Nadine tells Ed that she and Mike are in love and that "on the wrestling trip we had the most magical night together." "All night?" Ed marvels.

Episode 24: Dr. Jacoby and Ed talk to Nadine about her relationship with Mike and what it means for her and Ed. "One thing I really don't want to see, Ed," Nadine tells him, "are any incidents with Mike. No jealous rages. Well, maybe just one!"

Fire Walk With Me: As they relax in the Hayward living room, lying across the couch, Donna muses to Laura, "I wonder if Mike could ever write a poem." Laura starts giggling. When Bobby shoots Deputy Cliff Howard during a drug deal, Laura laughs and tells her drunk, high, and/or traumatized boyfriend, "You killed Mike!" He isn't amused, but as she keeps insisting that the dead man isn't Mike, he begins to wonder... "Is this Mike?"

The Missing Pieces: Donna tells Laura she's "thinking about doing it with Mike." Laura dismisses the idea, pointing out that Donna doesn't even like Mike but Donna argues, "this is about sex, not like." At school the morning after the shooting, Laura giggles again and teases Bobby: "You killed Mike!" He insists this joke isn't funny - someone really is dead because of him, and it isn't Mike.

Books/Deleted Scenes/Additional Observations

• Different Mike. Different Bobby. Right? Putting aside some of the more out-there theories I've heard (that Bobby will show up in 2017 with long hair and a jean jacket), there are some cool little connections between the two Mikes. First of all, of course, as many have pointed out we can't really be sure which Mike Laura is referring to when she tells Bobby, "You killed Mike." Bobby is obviously thinking of his friend, but Laura's mind may be elsewhere (or, I should say, another place). Also an interesting coincidence (or more?): Nadine injures Mike's left arm in the penultimate episode. Other connections are discussed in a thread I started years ago. By far my favorite subtle, very Lynchian link is when Donna says, in an apparent non sequitur, "I wonder if Mike could ever write a poem." MIKE, of course, is introduced on the show reading his "fire walk with me" poem.

• Jennifer Lynch's The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer reveals how little Laura thinks of Donna's relationship with Mike. "The two of them remind me of a chewing gum commercial or something. 'Happiness and ambition, athletics and academics, rah, rah, rah." She also calls him a pig. "I don't like the way he looks at Donna either. I worry about her, because, he seems like such an asshole...thinking he's something of a superhero with his letter jacket on all the time. ... I just can't believe Dr. Hayward hasn't said something." She does not approve of Mike joining Bobby in the drug business, because she's afraid Donna will find out and tell on her. During an alienating visit to Donna a few months later, Laura learns that Donna wants to have sex with Mike and has even set a date for the deflowering. The next time she sees Donna, at the perfume counter, Laura's estranged friend expresses contentment with Mike.

• In Fire Walk With Me's script, Mike's dialogue with Donna is delivered at the high school instead of on the sidewalk; he snaps his fingers for her to come to him and, according to the scene description, "without missing a beat Donna changes direction. Mike has to hustle to keep up." In later deleted dialogue (when Donna shows up at Laura's house before she heads to the Road House), Laura asks Donna, "Isn't tonight the night you are going to do it with Mike?"

• In the pilot script, Mike and Bobby buy beer at a convenience store and sit in the car trying to figure out where to find James and/or Donna. James and Donna talk about Bobby and Mike in the woods, with James saying, "Those bastards! They were involved with this, I don't know how exactly..." He also mentions that on the night she died, Laura was screaming to him about "people she met through Mike and Bobby."

• In episode 1, Donna's mother was supposed to ask her about Mike, with Donna revealing that she and Laura made a pact to leave Mike and Bobby. The scene with Cooper talking to Mike and Bobby is split into two scenes, with each of them alone. Cooper tells Mike, "You don't seem like such a bad kid to me, but Bobby Briggs could drag you straight into hell." Mike is defensive as Cooper questions him, but he shuts up when he's told, "Settle down there, punk. I could make one phone call and you'd go so far away God couldn't find you."

• In a deleted interaction from episode 3, Donna runs into Mike at Laura's funeral and breaks up with him after he apologizes. According to the teleplay he is "shellshocked."

• As written, Mike did not have his own head injury in episode 29. After he kisses Nadine, she cries, "You try to stick your tongue down my throat and then, as some sort of explanation, you say your name is Mike? What the hell are you doing in my house, anyway?! ... Bullpucky. Take a hike, bozo." and tells Ed "this kid's trying to molest me." Mike doesn't deliver his final line and the whole scene is pitched in a more exaggerated, goofy style.


SHOWTIME: Yes, Hershberger is on the cast list for 2017. Maybe he'll come back with a beard and one arm (maybe Nadine broke something that was never treated and eventually the wound developed an infection and had to be amputated?). Doubtful of course, but what will Mike be up to? Will he have any relationship to Nadine? Or to Donna (who looks to be completely absent from the series)? Did he and Bobby remain good friends? Did they go completely straight and do they now work on the other side of the law? Or will Mike just pop up quickly at a convenience store or in the diner, a local whose legend has faded over time? "Hey, didn't that guy used to be the district wrestling champ?" "Yeah, until that Hurley lady bodyslammed him."

Yesterday: Evelyn Marsh

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