Lost in the Movies: Rusty Tomaski (TWIN PEAKS Character Series Bonus #8)

Rusty Tomaski (TWIN PEAKS Character Series Bonus #8)

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.

Rusty likes beer and heavy metal and isn’t concerned with much else, even when danger looms before him.

Friday, March 24, 1989
In a cabin in the middle of the woods, a strange man smokes a pipe and regales two guests with a story about two mystical locations: a White Lodge and a Black Lodge. One listener is his nearly mute, ponytailed helper, and the other is Rusty, a long haired, leather- and headband-wearing, tattooed young man, gaping in fascination as he sits at a desk that looks like it was hijacked from an aged schoolhouse. But Rusty’s attention span is short-lived; as much as he digs this occult legend, he came to the cabin for a party. So the strange man offers him beer, all the while packaging him inside a giant papier mache art project. Eventually Rusty can’t even move his arms, but the ponytailed helper (whom Rusty calls “the geek”) pours libations in his mouth and the imprisoned house guest is content. Then the strange man asks for an arrow, shocks “the geek” with an electronic device when he initially refuses to fetch it, and loads up a bow as Rusty chuckles. Only in his final moments does he realize what’s about to happen – and then in an instant, arrow piercing his still-damp tomb, Rusty’s head is thrust back, blood dripping from his lips. He is dead. That night, his body is discovered inside a giant painted chess piece: a pawn, for that's all poor Rusty was in the big game. His frozen, pathetic face, exposed by a hole carved into the pawn, rocks back and forth as a crew attempts to topple this ghastly monument.

Characters Rusty interacts with onscreen…

Windom Earle (his killer)

Leo Johnson

Characters who encounter Rusty's corpse...

Harry Truman & Agent Cooper

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Rusty
A month to the day after Laura Palmer’s tragic demise, Twin Peaks claims another innocent young victim. To say that Rusty’s death evokes considerably less pathos would be an understatement. And obviously that was the intention; played in a cartoonish manner, given a ludicrous fate, the character is listed in the credits only as “Heavy Metal Youth.” We don't learn his name until he’s disappeared from the screen (a friend fills in his backstory as a comical, hazmat-suited procession struggles to carry the giant pawn into a van). So Rusty’s version of Twin Peaks is not meant to be taken very seriously even though it contains elements that could be creepy in the right context. Rusty is also the first character in this lineup to encounter Windom Earle, the major supervillain and plot mechanism of the show’s back half. Perhaps most importantly, Rusty facilitates our most extensive dive into Lodge lore on the entire series. This character study reveals that Twin Peaks contains mystical secrets even if Rusty isn’t the best person to engage with them. Incidentally, Rusty is the very first character in these studies to witness any death onscreen, let alone his own.

Rusty’s journey
Rusty pretty much has one note in his repertoire: befuddled glee as he anticipates beer. We see a flicker of concern when Leo gets zapped but he mostly thinks it’s impossible for anything bad to happen to him. Only his final goofy expression betrays any sort of growth and alas, it’s too late. In fact, most of Rusty’s development will arrive when he’s dead; his friend tells us that Rusty hated his parents and was planning to head to California. The pal even begins weeping (which triggers a similar reaction from the notoriously tearful Deputy Andy), investing Rusty with his only shred of emotional resonance – if we’re able to ignore the hazmat crew noisily chainsawing the pawn to pieces just behind this circle of grief.

Actor: Ted Raimi
Credited with eighty-seven film/TV titles (including over a hundred episodes between Xena and SeaQuest alone), Raimi is one of the most prolific actors to appear in a minor Twin Peaks role. He’s been a mainstay in the films of his brother, director Sam Raimi, and has now landed a recurring role on the show Ash vs Evil Dead. Raimi’s broad style is unusual even in the exaggerated atmosphere of Twin Peaks – he seems to be broadcasting from another show altogether, probably Scooby Doo – and depending on your taste and mood, you either find this charming or irritating. Regardless, the performance has inspired many tributes – most notably, Hammerlord’s tongue-in-cheek “The Ballad of Rusty Tomaski” from their album Wolves at War’s End(series pictured: Xena, c. 1996)

*Episode 26 (German title: "Variations on Relations" - best episode)

Episode 27 (German title: "The Path to the Black Lodge")

Mark Frost and Harley Peyton wrote the episode with most of the “Heavy Metal Youth” scenes, which Jonathan Sanger directed. The character's final, brief shot is directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal (it's not in the online draft, so it's hard to say who wrote it, although Harley Peyton and Robert Engels were credited for that episode).

Rusty is onscreen for roughly four minutes. He is in four scenes and two episodes, taking place in one day. He’s featured the most in episode 26 (only a few seconds of his dead face appears in the other episode). In fact, he’s one of the top ten characters of that episode in terms of screentime; not bad for a one-off. His primary location is Windom’s cabin and he shares most of his screentime with Windom and Leo.

Best Scene
Episode 27: As the pawn-encased Rusty is rocked back and forth in disorienting close-up, the effect is both unsettling and comical; in Rusty’s final moments onscreen, director Gyllenhaal gets the most out of the character.

Best Line
“Hey man, this story’s cool but you promised me beer. You told me it was gonna be a party. I mean, White Lodge, Black Lodge, I mean, what’s the big deal?”

Additional Observations

When Rusty's friend speaks to the cops, he tells them Rusty got him his job with the band (he's a roadie; maybe Rusty is too, though he could also be one of the musicians). Rusty had been staying with an uncle in Moses Lake, anticipating a move to L.A. They wound up in Twin Peaks thanks to a flat tire on their way to a gig in Knife River and then Windom came out of the woods, “like Bigfoot or something,” and Rusty was the only one who accepted his invitation. The sheriff and deputies, taking pity on the roadie, bring him to the station and feed him breakfast. This sequence evokes an in-depth backstory that seems completely divorced from the caricatured portrayal of “Heavy Metal Youth,” though the offbeat comic nature of the scene is emphasized in its direction, smoothing the transition between these two extremes.

Update 2018: This entry was written in 2017, before the third season, and did not need to be revised as Rusty 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), he retroactively became a "bonus entry" rather than part of the full rankings. In the original character series, Rusty was ranked #72, between Jeffries and Dougie.

SHOWTIME: No, Raimi is not on the cast list for 2017. Yet, according to the actor (interviewed in the magazine Wrapped in Plastic), when he shot his episode in the original series the writers hoped to bring him back if there was a season three – as a zombie henchman for Windom Earle!!! Fortunately or unfortunately, Lynch and Frost appear uninterested in resuming this thread.

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