Lost in the Movies: FBI Agent Phillip Jeffries (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #73)

FBI Agent Phillip Jeffries (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #73)

*A revised entry will be published separately in 2023 for an updated character series (which will be collected here). This is the original entry written before The Return.

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.

Clad in a leisure suit, sporting a pompadour, the rambling Jeffries appears to be traveling through space (and maybe through time, though I have my doubts).

Tuesday, February 16, 1988 (I think)
Jeffries enters a hotel lobby in Buenos Aires. He asks the desk clerk if “a Miss Judy” is staying there, and is told a young lady left a note for him. A bellboy escorts him out of the lobby, where various couples are dancing a tango. And then suddenly…

An elevator opens at FBI Headquarters in Philadelphia. Jeffries exits, walking down the hall into his supervisor Gordon Cole’s office. Cole announces that the “long-lost” Jeffries has “been gone damn near two years.” Jeffries confronts Cole, a skeptical Agent Albert Rosenfield, and a distressed Agent Dale Cooper (whom Jeffries points out accusingly, asking, “Who do you think this is there?”). After telling them “we’re not gonna talk about Judy,” Jeffries babbles for several minutes, saying that he’s been to a meeting above a convenience store and that “we live inside a dream.” Did this all happen immediately after the previous scene? Jeffries doesn’t talk about Buenos Aires but about “Seattle at Judy’s” where he “found something…and then there they were!” He lays his head on the desk, and mutters about a ring and “February…1989!” Cole tries to get other agents in the room, but the communication device isn’t working and the lights start to flicker and then…

In a flash of light, Jeffries reappears on a staircase at the hotel, with a scorched, smoking black mark on the wall behind him. The bellboy and the maid are horrified and Jeffries can only wail in distress with his arm outstretched.

Characters Jeffries interacts with onscreen…

Gordon Cole

Albert Rosenfield

Agent Cooper

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Jeffries
Until now, we’ve studied characters whose personal paths were clear and simple. They spent all their onscreen time in Twin Peaks (or just across the border), floating around the periphery of the story’s core mysteries and interacting with Cooper and the FBI only at a distance. Jeffries represents a radical shift from these perspectives. His scenes are by far the most obscure – we’re barely able to discern who he is or what he’s doing; they cover the greatest distance without ever once setting foot inside Twin Peaks; and perhaps most importantly, they offer us a startlingly frank glimpse of the supernatural. Jeffries’ appearance in Philadelphia ambiguously suggests paranormal phenomena, but his return to Buenos Aires is unequivocal: he was not there and then, in a bright flash, he is. So we can say with certainty at this point that the Twin Peaks universe subverts the laws of physics as we presently understand them. Jeffries shows us a Twin Peaks that isn’t at all tied to “Twin Peaks” (invented for the prequel film, this character’s scenes all take place before the series itself has even begun). This is a quantum leap from the characters we’ve observed thus far, but to call it a “greater understanding” would be misleading…if anything we’re more confused than we were before.

Jeffries’ journey
Hoo boy (or should I say “Hell God baby damn”), this one’s hard to pin down. First of all, when do Jeffries’ scenes in Buenos Aires take place? Cole’s comments suggest that Jeffries may have disappeared from that hotel in early 1986, leaping across time to emerge in Philadelphia. However, we see Jeffries returned to that exact place and time a few moments later – making it unlikely that Cole is referring to his disappearance from the hotel. For the purpose of this write-up, I’m making the controversial assumption that Jeffries is in Buenos Aires and Philadelphia on the same day and that he travels across space, but not time. Instead, I would guess that Jeffries stumbled across the mysterious meeting in Seattle two years earlier and ever since then, he’s been out of touch with his superiors, obsessively hunting for Judy on his own personal initiative. I’ll save other observations and deductions for the notes near the end of this piece; for now, all we can say with (near-)certainty is that one day Jeffries is seized by a force beyond his control and hurled over five thousand miles in an instant, materializing and dematerializing to deliver a rambling account of something he witnessed in the past. This is what Jeffries himself seems to experience when he’s onscreen; the assembly of deleted and extended footage from The Missing Pieces presents this most clearly, rendering his brief arc in somewhat legible form (it’s that presentation that I’m focusing on in this entry). However, it’s worth noting that in the theatrical cut of Fire Walk With Me, which for years was our only vision of this character, there is no before/after in Buenos Aires, and the Philadelphia footage is intercut and overlapped with a surreal gathering of ghoulish figures in an otherworldly space. Naturally, we can assume that this footage shows the “meeting above a convenience store” that Jeffries witnessed, offering us further (and exclusive) insight into his traumatic history, helped especially by recognizing some of these creatures from the show and knowing what they represent. The nature and meaning of Jeffries’ journey can only be pieced together from multiple sources and even then it remains enigmatic.

Actor: David Bowie
You may have heard of this guy: wherever there's a top ten list of all-time rock artists, the creator of Ziggy Stardust is probably on it. By far the most famous person involved with Twin Peaks, Bowie’s role is also one of the smallest – and most random. One of Lynch's assistants was a huge Bowie fan and kept pestering the director to find a place for him in the story; finally he did. The superstar apparently enjoyed the work, stating “I highly recommend working with David. He’s delightfully and dedicatedly bonkers.” While better-known for his musical rather than cinematic endeavors, Bowie had memorable parts in Labyrinth and The Last Temptation of Christ (as Pontius Pilate). One of my favorite Bowie appearances was a cameo as himself on Extras, showcasing his songwriting talent in hilarious fashion.

(Never appeared on the TV series)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (feature film)

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

As he only appears in footage shot for the film, Jeffries’ part was written by David Lynch and Robert Engels, and directed solely by Lynch. It's worth mentioning that Mark Frost included some additional information about Jeffries in his recent novel The Secret History of Twin Peaks (suggesting that the agent had visited Twin Peaks in the early eighties with Gordon Cole, to investigate/cover up for a secret military operation involving paranormal forces).

Jeffries is onscreen for roughly four minutes. He is in three scenes in Fire Walk With Me/The Missing Pieces (with alternate versions of one scene), taking place – I think – in one day. His primary location is the Philadelphia FBI office and he shares the most screentime with Cole.

Best Scene
Jeffries’ babbling Philadelphia encounter best explores the character while keeping his circumstances murky (actually, I prefer the even murkier montage in Fire Walk With Me).

Best Line
“Well now…I’m not gonna talk about Judy. In fact, we’re not gonna talk about Judy at all, we’re gonna leave her out of it.”

Additional Observations

• Problematically if we presume both Fire Walk With Me and The Missing Pieces are canon (a word neither Lynch nor Frost enjoys), Jeffries never says “We’re gonna leave her out of it” in the take used in The Missing Pieces. Instead he ends the line with “we’re not gonna talk about Judy at all” before staring right at the camera. Make of that what you will.

• When Jeffries says he “found something” in Seattle that allowed him to witness the convenience store meeting, many fans assume he’s talking about the Owl Cave ring. He later mutters “the ring…the ring” which can be heard very faintly in the Fire Walk With Me version of the scene, and more audibly in The Missing Pieces. This reinforces the common conception that this talisman is a conduit between two worlds.

• Though more pertinent to Cooper’s perspective than Jeffries’, it’s worth noting that in Fire Walk With Me we see surveillance footage of Jeffries passing Cooper in the hallway. Peculiarly, this footage is being watched live…by Cooper himself! Is he in two places at once? Maybe this does tell us something about Jeffries as well…

• Many fans assume that Jeffries has traveled through time – and this was likely Lynch’s and Engels’ original intention. In the script, inspired by Cole shouting “Mayday!”, Jeffries mumbles, “May…1989” and then turns to see a calendar revealing that it is, indeed, 1989. In the footage shown in The Missing Pieces, we see that on set Lynch and Bowie changed the line to “February…1989?” (probably to make it clear that Jeffries was referring to the current date on the calendar – since the scene was never supposed to take place in May). Jeffries says this as he’s looking at a desk calendar. The implication (repeated by sources like Twin Peaks Wiki) is that Jeffries must have disappeared around 1987, and is now shocked to see that two years have passed in an instant. There’s two problems with this; first of all, we see Jeffries reappear in the hotel so if he disappeared at an earlier date, it wasn’t for very long. More importantly, when Lynch and editor Mary Sweeney cut Fire Walk With Me they moved the Philadelphia sequence to before the “One Year Later” marker – meaning that it now takes place in February 1988, before Cooper is dispatched to Deer Meadow. This despite the fact that the scene was scripted and shot to occur in 1989. Understandably, they cut the already rather confusing “February…1989” line altogether. Now The Missing Pieces has restored the line, but it can no longer mean what was originally intended to mean. Jeffries is not in February 1989 when he says this, he’s in February 1988. So perhaps he’s having a psychic moment but time travel as any sort of motive seems pretty superfluous and entirely irrelevant to his dialogue. Unless, of course, the new series reveals we’re dealing with alternate timelines. To quote Albert (in a line cut from every existing version of the scene), Tylenol is mandatory.

• Who is Judy? Other than Diane at the top of my “hidden character” runners-up, I haven’t included any unseen figures in this series. There are all kinds of rumors and speculations about her identity – Josie’s sister, Jeffries’ own Laura figure, an upcoming character who would have been played by Sheryl Lee in future movies, perhaps in a red wig (consider that in Vertigo, Kim Novak’s two characters are named “Madeleine” – an explicit inspiration for Laura’s cousin Madeleine, played by Lee on the show – and “Judy”). John Thorne offers my favorite reading of “Judy”,  not least because it acknowledges how Fire Walk With Me evolved during production and asks why “Judy” remains in a finished film that is pared down to focus on Laura’s tragedy. That said, now that Lynch and Frost have the opportunity to expand her story, I suspect we’ll find out more about Judy in 2017. Until The Missing Pieces, her name was the last word spoken in Twin Peaks (very faintly, by a monkey – ! – in the final minutes of the movie). And if we hear more about her, or even meet her, perhaps we’ll hear more about Jeffries too.

SHOWTIME: No, Bowie is not on the cast list for 2017. That’s some of the saddest news I have to share in this whole series. Apparently, Jeffries was written into the script but they were unable to film any sequences with him before his untimely death in 2016. That said, there are rumors of secret characters who aren’t on Showtime’s published list. Catherine Coulson, who also fell ill with cancer as the new series was being prepared, was apparently able to shoot something before her death – perhaps the same is true of Bowie? It seems much less likely, however (Coulson was lifelong friends with Lynch and the Log Lady meant a great deal to her, to the point where she made time for it as she was dying). I will be surprised if we see Jeffries again. Considering how difficult it is to suss out what the character’s up to even when he’s onscreen, I won’t speculate what happened to Jeffries after his last appearance in Twin Peaks. Hopefully, though, Lynch and Frost will be able to share whatever they had in store, ideally by adapting the material to these unfortunate conditions (and maybe by incorporating old footage somehow).

Tomorrow: Rusty Tomaski
Yesterday: Sylvia Horne

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