Lost in the Movies: Sylvia Horne (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #74)

Sylvia Horne (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #74)

*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.

Sylvia is never happy, and she's not afraid to let others know.

Friday, February 24, 1989
It’s late afternoon at the Great Northern Hotel on a gloomy winter day; despite the luxurious interiors, the mood inside the hotel is just as gray. Sylvia, the owner’s wife, sits at a table with her daughter Audrey. A nurse approaches, asking Sylvia to go upstairs and talk to Johnny – “Maybe it will help.” Johnny is upset that his friend Laura is late for their usual afternoon appointment, and he won’t come downstairs until she arrives (that’s a problem, since Laura has just died). Sylvia demands to know what’s so hard to explain and forces the nurse to go tell Johnny that Laura will never be back. The whole time we hear a consistent, repetitive thud upstairs in Johnny’s room.

Saturday, February 25, 1989
Sylvia, her husband Ben, Audrey, and Johnny – dressed in a huge Indian headdress – are having dinner in painful silence (except for the odd noises Johnny makes as he perches on his chair). The awkward meal is interrupted when Ben’s brother Jerry arrives, handing out baguettes and trying to kiss Sylvia who hisses, “Benjamin!” She holds her head in her hands as a cheerful Ben flees the room with Jerry, munching on bread.

Monday, February 27, 1989
Sylvia argues with Ben about Johnny; they are hoping Dr. Jacoby will get him to remove his headdress so they can leave for Laura’s funeral. Sylvia actually defends the young man, saying they must be patient and shouldn’t talk about him when he’s in the room. Ben quips, “I have been waiting twenty years for some sign of intelligent life.”

Sunday, March 26, 1989
Nearly a month later, Sylvia shows up at the Haywards’ house to discover Ben confronting their entire, upset family. She demands to know what he’s trying to do to them and Ben snaps back, but before an argument can build Doc Hayward shoves Ben into the fireplace. Sylvia and the others rush into the living room where Ben lies unconscious next to a wailing Doc.

Characters Sylvia interacts with onscreen…

Jerry Horne

Ben Horne

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Sylvia
Despite her husband’s wealth and power, Sylvia’s patch of Twin Peaks seems awfully narrow, barren, and monotonous. Most of her screentime is consumed with Johnny, either arguing about him with others or sitting next to her troubled offspring as he mumbles to himself. She seems equally frustrated by both Ben and Jerry, while the often vivacious Audrey is sullen in her mother’s presence. The Twin Peaks Sylvia shows us is increasingly farcical but with a nasty, unhappy edge: an endless roundelay of outbursts with no possible reprieve from the dysfunction.

Sylvia’s journey
As that description suggests, Sylvia doesn’t have much room for an arc. When we meet her she’s fed up and when we depart from her, she’s still fed up. Like Johnny, and unlike the more dynamic Ben and Audrey, she’s stuck in a rut. However, she does seem a bit more nuanced/subtle in the pilot and a bit more stylized/exaggerated in the finale - in keeping with Lynch's general shift between these two episodes towards a less naturalistic, more baroque approach to the material.

Actress: Jan D'Arcy
D’Arcy has remained active in the Twin Peaks community, attending many fan festivals. In an interview with Brad Dukes, she reveals that she was inspired to act after seeing Orson Welles in Macbeth and later participated in summer stock as a teenager – where Billie Burke (Glinda the good witch from The Wizard of Oz) invited her to Hollywood. Between that and her childhood in the woods with an outdoorsman father, her connection to Lynch seems clear enough. Though she had lived and worked in L.A. for years, she moved to Seattle before Twin Peaks and got the job that way. More recently, she worked as an executive speech coach. (film pictured: Alive, 1992)

*The Pilot - best episode

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

Episode 3 (German title: "Rest in Pain") - voice is heard offscreen

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

Sylvia was mostly a Lynch speciality. D’Arcy auditioned for him personally and she only appears onscreen in episodes directed by him (though apparently Mark Frost told her at the Emmies that they were planning to write her back in). Her part was written by Lynch, Frost, and Harley Peyton (when she’s overheard arguing with Ben while Audrey spies on Johnny – a vocal performance directed by Tina Rathborne). In the finale, Lynch told her to improvise her line in the finale since she hadn’t been written into the teleplay (along with many other forgotten characters, Lynch wanted to bring Sylvia back for this episode, however briefly).

Sylvia is present (onscreen or vocally) for roughly four minutes. She is in four scenes and four episodes, taking place on four different days. She’s featured the most in episode 2, the Horne family dinner. Her primary location is the Great Northern and she shares the most screentime with Ben.

Best Scene
The Pilot: Sylvia shows vulnerability beneath the bitter surface as she turns away from the nurse who asks her to talk to Johnny; she’s clearly in pain.

Best Line
“BENJAMIN!” (as Jerry leans in for a kiss)

Additional Observations

• In a deleted scene from season one, available as a special feature on the blu-ray, Sylvia tells Jacoby that Audrey caused Johnny’s condition by pushing him down the stairs when they were children (an eavesdropping Audrey is upset by this discovery, though it turns out to be unfounded).

• In a deleted scene from Fire Walk With Me, which was unfortunately never shot, Sylvia hosts a birthday party for Johnny and – surprise! – argues with Ben, in this case because he has a picture of Laura on his desk.

• Although she’s in a couple scenes with Audrey, Sylvia never interacts with her daughter (ditto Johnny).

• Like many other characters (including Audrey), Sylvia’s hairdo changes quite a bit between the pilot and her next episode.

SHOWTIME: Yes, D’Arcy is on the cast list for 2017. There is a pattern to the affirmations so far – they are all characters or actors whom Lynch had a particular interest in; like Heidi the waitress, Sylvia was brought back after a long interval and was even intended to be in the film. Perhaps in the quarter-century since we last saw her she’s been able to break free from her claustrophobic life. Or maybe she’s taken control of it. Apparently Lynch envisioned her co-running the hotel on the original series – maybe today, her husband incapacitated by a head injury, she administers the business by herself. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if in classic Lynch fashion (think Frank Booth, Dumbland, or The Angriest Dog in the World) Sylvia is still trapped in a darkly comic cycle of anger and resentment, seething at the world and snapping at her husband. Update 2019: How did I do? Check out Sylvia's revised and re-published entry, reflecting her appearance in the third season.

Yesterday: Daryl Lodwick

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