Lost in the Movies: Nancy O'Reilly (TWIN PEAKS Character Series Bonus #5)

Nancy O'Reilly (TWIN PEAKS Character Series Bonus #5)

The TWIN PEAKS Character Series surveys one hundred ten characters from the series Twin Peaks (1990-91 on ABC and 2017 on Showtime as The Return), the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), and The Missing Pieces (2014), a collection of deleted scenes from that film. The series will be rebooted in 2023 to reflect the third season (and patrons will have immediate access to each entry a month before it goes public), but this entry will remain intact. There will be spoilers.

Nancy is so devious she’ll stab anyone in the back – even her own sister – although there may be more to her than pure malignancy.

Sunday, March 5, 1989
Nancy, lover and assistant of French-Canadian crime boss Jean Renault, accompanies Jean to a plush bedroom in One-Eyed Jack’s, a rustic but swanky bordello. There they administer heroin to a delirious teenage girl, whom Jean plans to ransom. Nancy slinks around as others do most of the talking, butting in to slap the nebbishy Emory Battis’ forehead and mock her sister Blackie’s jealousy. Blackie, the madam of the bordello, threatens to back out of the deal if her sister doesn't leave; Jean sticks up for Nancy as she smirks.

Tuesday, March 7, 1989
Nancy drops in on Jean and Blackie and scowls at her sister as she leaves the room. She then encourages Jean to kill Blackie and they both laugh and kiss as he pulls out a knife hidden in Nancy’s boot. Later that night, Nancy runs into a black-clad man in a hallway; he grabs her arm and forces her to take him to Audrey. She watches as this man, the FBI agent from the video Jean showed earlier, hovers above the overdosed prisoner with concern. When Nancy tries to explain this wasn’t her idea, the agent barks at her. When she thinks he's distracted, she reaches for the boot-knife and nearly stabs him in the back but he wrestles the blade from her hand, and punches her in the stomach. She drops to the floor, unconscious.

Characters Julie interacts with onscreen…

Jean Renault

Audrey Horne

Blackie O'Reilly

Emory Battis

Agent Cooper

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Nancy
Nancy is our first villain in these studies, and as such she demonstrates a more sinister side to Twin Peaks – or rather, the general vicinity of Twin Peaks (since we’re across the border). Just as the concierges were limited to the Great Northern and Heidi was stuck in the RR, Nancy’s whole onscreen world is One-Eyed Jack’s, a location filled with slimy, devious backstabbers both figurative and literal. Nobody seems to genuinely like one another very much and there’s no real sense of honor among thieves. Visually, this is a much darker location than the previous ones, and the first to really indulge in the series’ signature color, red (particularly prominent are red drapes hanging from every corner). Having only encountered Coop over morning coffee in previous entries, this entry allows us to witness his more active, professional side. On the job he’s not afraid to get violent or threatening if needed. Nancy’s interactions with an out-of-it Audrey illuminate the bridge between the playful Audrey of the Julie scenes and the more mature Audrey of the Randy scenes. Nancy overhears one brief mention of Laura, when Emory says he saw Cooper at the town meeting after her death, but she doesn’t factor into these scenes in any major way.

Nancy’s journey
Nancy probably has the most complete storyline of any character we’ve encountered thus far – which isn’t to say it’s particularly complete, or satisfying. In some ways, she seems sketchier than the more peripheral characters I’ve already written about. Their specific jobs give them purpose and the opportunity to develop bold, clear personalities; Nancy has less of a chance to transcend cliché. Most of her screentime is spent slinking around Jean, but her most interesting work is in her final couple scenes with Cooper. There she betrays a hint of humanity, though we can’t be sure if she’s just playing him before going in for the kill. After all those grins and glances, her concern by the bedside feels unexpectedly real and startling – as if it’s Jean for whom she was putting on an act, not Cooper. Maybe she reaches for the knife in resentment: nobody, certainly not her sister, ever showed as much concern for her as Coop does for Audrey, a reminder that her role is to be the bad guy and she'd better follow through on it. Or perhaps (like Betty in Mulholland Drive) her performative self is more convincing than her actual one. Nancy is allowed to blossom for a few seconds of screentime, as a fleeting femme fatale and possibly even a tragic figure, not merely a moll. But then she’s punched out of the show and we never get to see further growth.

Actress: Galyn Görg
A prolific actress appearing in many eighties/nineties TV shows and action films, Görg was also cast in Mark Frost’s debut feature Storyville, shot not long after her episodes in Twin Peaks. In her interview with Graeme Larmour on Twin Peaks Archive she talks about learning a New Orleans accent for that political thriller, as well as her development of Nancy's background: “She’s kinda desperate – most of those characters have a desperate quality to them. So I made a back story, I don’t remember the specifics, about her having a really rough upbringing – maybe being abandoned by her mother and being really needy, getting herself lost and hanging around with people like Jean Renault.” (series pictured: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, aired 1996)

Episode 10 (German title: "The Man Behind Glass")

*Episode 12 (German title: "The Orchid's Curse" - best episode)

Nancy is introduced as “Blackie’s younger, tougher sister” in a script by Robert Engels, which also notes “a lascivious look” between her and her lover after injecting Audrey. Her second appearance is written by Barry Pullman. She is directed by Lesli Linka Glatter and Graeme Clifford.

Nancy is onscreen for roughly four minutes. She is in four scenes and two episodes, taking place in two days (with a missing day in between). She’s featured about equally in both episodes, but is probably present for more action (not always onscreen) in episode 10, when she arrives at the brothel. All of her scenes are set inside One-Eyed Jack’s. She shares the most screentime with Jean.

Best Scene
Episode 12: Watching Cooper and Audrey, Nancy gets her only close-up and humanizing moment before forcing us to question its sincerity.

Best Line
“You’re nothing but meat on a hook to these people.”

Additional Observations

In the screenplay Cooper pulls a pistol on Nancy so she'll take him to Audrey. Onscreen, he merely grabs her arm (though he does have a gun at his side). This makes her refusal to yell for help more confusing, almost leading us to wonder if she wants, on some level, to free Audrey. But then why would she try to stab him? I suspect the director or actor thought Cooper would seem too unsympathetic if he pulled a gun on an unarmed woman, but it makes the scene much less convincing.

Nancy is mentioned in a scene between Blackie and Jean, where the disgruntled big sister asks, “What’s she got that I don’t?” and nearly stabs him when he responds, “Something new.” (This is a change from the teleplay in which he smiles and says, “You do all right.”)

Update 2018: This entry was written in 2017, before the third season, and did not need to be revised as Nancy did not re-appear. Only the description/intro at the top and the ranking were updated. Since the criteria for inclusion was changed (originally three scenes with dialogue, now ten minutes of screentime), she retroactively became a "bonus entry" rather than part of the full rankings. In the original character series, Nancy was ranked #77, between Heidi and Nicky.

SHOWTIME: No, Görg is not on the cast list for 2017. This leaves us to wonder about Nancy’s fate. Considering Jean’s ruthlessness, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nancy’s failure to adequately guard Audrey led Jean to kill her. Perhaps he even planned to do this anyway, after using her as part of his plan. We see him back at One-Eyed Jack’s in a few episodes and she’s nowhere to be found. If this is what happened, then within two weeks of conceiving the ransom plan every single member of the conspiracy has been killed.

Previous: Randy St. Croix

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