Lost in the Movies: Introducing The TWIN PEAKS Character Series

Introducing The TWIN PEAKS Character Series

UPDATE 2018: This directory is now obsolete; the line-up for the revised Character Series will be published here when it begins [in 2023]. However, this post remains public for archival purposes, with links to only those posts that were later duplicated, so that you can read them in their original context or explore the often extensive discussions that followed at the time.

Original Introduction

There are so many different ways to experience Twin Peaks. We might tour its locations, from the cozy red-and-white checkered comforts of the RR Diner to the majestic, vaguely magical woodsy decor of the Great Northern to the brooding, bittersweet musical milieu of the neon-soaked Road House. We can sample its various motifs: sipping hot coffee, savoring a flaky cherry pie, jolting at the hoot of an owl. Or we could delve into each genre in turn, spinning the wheel to land on the cheerful tone of wacky farce, the sleek style of midnight noir, or the visceral chill of creeping horror.

This written and illustrated web series - eighty-four entries in total, starting tomorrow - will focus on another aspect that is able to touch on all of the above. Character is how many viewers, probably a majority, develop a personal connection to the material they are watching. Despite its unique qualities - the eccentric setpieces, the prevailing ethereal mood - Twin Peaks has proven itself to be no exception. As often as they point to touchstones like the iconic Red Room or Angelo Badalamenti's ethereal score, fans will cite characters as the reason they keep coming back to Twin Peaks.

Who is your favorite? Agent Cooper, with his mixture of boyish enthusiasm and professional genius? Audrey Horne, slinking around corners with a diabolical grin? The Log Lady, speaking softly and carrying her big "stick"? Deputy Andy, crying when he finds a dead body; Big Ed, solid as a redwood while the one-eyed buzzsaw Nadine hovers nervously around his trunk; Gordon Cole, cheerfully shouting his way through the hearing world like a deaf version of Mr. Magoo; or (RIP) Agent Rosenfield, cynically ripping apart the small town's sentimental platitudes before revealing the heart on his own sleeve?

Twin Peaks characters have a cartoonish quality; even its straight men - Ed, Sheriff Truman - are outlined with stark simplicity. Brad Dukes, author of Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks, describes Cooper and the Log Lady as resembling Sesame Street characters in their appeal to him as a nine-year-old in 1990. Indeed, the ability to paint these figures in broad strokes perpetuated their images and endeared them to generations of fans. At the same time, Twin Peaks has a serious core and thirty episodes (plus a feature film, and a grabbag of deleted scenes) to flesh out the complexities within these broad sketches. And it makes the best of that potential, always delighting to reveal hidden sides of its citizens, leaving us uncertain about their demons and capabilities (especially in the show's first half, dominated by the question "Who killed Laura Palmer?" - maybe the show's most famous character, dead before the pilot begins).

For the next seventeen weeks, we will take a journey from Twin Peaks' most minor characters to its biggest star. Tomorrow and the day after I will combine many characters into short entries, first a rapid survey of sixty (dispatching them with an image and a sentence or two), and then a slightly longer countdown of thirty "hidden" characters (each gets a paragraph). On Thursday, the main work of the series will begin with the first standalone entry for a character. For inclusion in these standalone entries, my criterion was that a character "speak" in at least three scenes, though "speaking" might include singing, screaming, even giggling.

In a few cases (Invitation to Love and "Spirits of Twin Peaks") I combined several characters into a single category and measured their collective screentime. The "Spirits" entry will thus be one of the biggest, taking time to explore major manifestations of the town's psychosphere like Bob, the Man From Another Place, and the Giant, while also observing them all under the umbrellas of the show's mythology. I made this decision for several reasons. For one, these "characters" - however we interpret them - aren't really people (hosts like Phillip Gerard and, arguably, the room service waiter get their own entries, which will cover them both when they are and aren't possessed). For another, there are cases to be made that some of these spirits are actually "one and the same" as the giant says (is he referring to the waiter or the Little Man?).

Above all, these figures inhabit such a radically different realm than all the other characters on the show that I felt it made sense to observe them as their own independent phenomenon, rather than sprinkling them throughout the other entries (this also allowed me to save them for much later, giving the series a sense of building momentum). Don't worry, the treatment will still be extensive: it will just be all in one spot instead of diluted.

As for the rest of the ensemble, the first subject is onscreen for just two minutes and from there we will work our way up to someone who dominates nine of the show's thirty hours. Climbing up this mountain will require consistent tools day by day, so that we can explore each character in turn and then compare them to those we've already visited.

The following will be my approach every weekday until we reach the premiere of new Twin Peaks on May 21:

A one-line description of the character's personality will open each entry.

A Timeline of Events
The events of the series take place between Friday, February 24, 1989 and (probably) March 28, 1989. There are a few glimpses of earlier events - a video of Windom Earle or Laura Palmer, James Hurley's flashback of Laura - but for the most part everything occurs within this tight frame. The feature film is a prequel, focusing on the week before the show begins (Thursday, February 16 to the morning of Friday, February 24, 1989) as well as some events from a year earlier (February 1988). In this section, I will lay out the character's storyline chronologically, with a short entry for each day, not necessarily in the order the narrative was told but in the order it takes place. I will also be "starting" days at dawn rather than midnight (since it's hard to tell which nighttime scenes take place when). Sleep (usually) and sunrise, rather than the arbitrary stroke of twelve o'clock (which often occurs in the midst of unfolding action), will be my demarcation. If an event occurs in the early-morning hours of March 3, it will be discussed with the events of March 2 even if that's technically incorrect.

Onscreen interactions with other characters...
This section will provide a simple list of other members of the ensemble who this particular character interacts with. Each interaction will be illustrated.

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through the character
What does the character tell us about Twin Peaks the TV show and Twin Peaks the town? Do they cultivate a sitcom or soap opera vibe? Do they give us a tourist's or a long-time resident's perspective on the community? Do they offer us insight into Cooper, or the mystery of Laura, or the spiritual underbelly, or the criminal world? Each character is a piece in a larger puzzle.

The character’s journey
Zooming in from their collective contribution, how does this character's arc function as a standalone element? Do they mostly cater to other characters, or do they learn and grow along the way? Are there obstacles they must overcome? Whether or not they change, does our perception of them change as we gain new insights into their experiences and desires?

Actors and Actresses
Researching the cast, I discovered how many of them had fascinating careers and even more fascinating offscreen lives. For many, including those whom we might only know for their involvement with this series, Twin Peaks was just one tiny flourish on a colorful canvas.

This list will also be illustrated, doubling as a quick survey of a character's physical evolution. If they change costumes within an episode, I'll feature several images; this will work as a complete survey of outfits too.

Twin Peaks featured eight writers and fourteen directors. Who worked with this particular character? What unique contributions may they have made?

In this section, I'll provide the following for the dataheads out there: a rough count of screentime (estimated to the minute); number of scenes, episodes, and days they appear in; which location they appear in the most; which other character they appear with the most; even if they are among the top ten characters of a given episode! This is the nerdiest segment of the series, and in some ways the most fun for me to put together (it would have been virtually impossible in an era before digital files), although it's a pretty small part of the overall presentation.

Best Scene
Subjective, of course, but hey - if you disagree, share your own in the comments!

Best Line
In a compromise between most iconic and personal favorite, I'll quote the dialogue that best sums up this character for me.

Additional Observations
• In a few bullet points, I'll collect any other stray notes; sometimes these will extend for many, many lines (just wait till we get to Phillip Jeffries).

SHOWTIME: I will report whether or not a character appears on the cast list for 2017 and offer some entirely meaningless speculation about what they may have been up to for twenty-five years.

So that's it. I look forward to following this format (at the time of this writing, I've already completed twenty entries, nearly a quarter of the total) which will provide a structure to both anchor and liberate me. I'm hoping I'll hear back from readers along the way too. What do you think of the characters; are there any details I missed; are you familiar with the actors' other work? In a series devoted to community, I hope we can continue to develop a community around this journey. See you tomorrow.

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