Lost in the Movies: Teresa Banks (TWIN PEAKS Character Series Bonus #15)

Teresa Banks (TWIN PEAKS Character Series Bonus #15)

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.

Teresa, rootless, enigmatic, and hardened despite her youth, has cultivated her wits and uses them in a risky move that ends up backfiring.

circa February 1988 (most dates uncertain)

Day #1
A customer calls Teresa Banks, a teenage prostitute, after seeing her picture advertised in the Flesh World magazine. He arranges a rendezvous and mentions he’s driving from Twin Peaks. She tells him how to find the Red Diamond City Motel.

Day #2 (possibly the same as Day #1)
In the motel room, relaxing in a post-coital position, Teresa smokes a cigarette while her client suggests that next time they “party with those girlfriends you told me about.” Then he covers her eyes and asks “Who am I?”. She says, a bit unnerved, that she doesn’t know. “That’s right,” he leers.

Day #3
At their second rendezvous at the motel, the client tells Teresa he’s chickened out, handing her money and rushing away quickly. Teresa seems baffled, but the wheels are turning in her head. She enters the motel room where “those girlfriends,” fellow prostitutes Ronette Pulaski and Laura Palmer (both from Twin Peaks) were waiting for the client. “Looks like it’s just us girls,” Teresa tells them as they cuddle together on the bed. Then she brushes her bangs aside, and Laura notices the ring on her finger. Later that day (or so it seems, based on the clothing she wears), Teresa calls up a friend in the sex industry, Jacques Renault, a French-Candian pimp who operates out of Twin Peaks. She asks him what Ronette’s and Laura’s fathers look like, and when he describes them she recognizes that the client must have been Laura’s dad (though she lies to Jacques about this). Then she pulls out a scrap of paper with a phone number on it and calls up Mr. Palmer. “Hey handsome,” she says, “It’s your little partygirl.” She’s all set to blackmail him.

Day #4
Wearing her waitress uniform (she works at Hap’s Diner in Deer Meadow, and lives in the same town’s Fat Trout Trailer Park), in her neighbor’s trailer for an unknown reason, Teresa is bashed in the head by Mr. Palmer: knocked to the floor and then bludgeoned to death.

Day #5
The next morning, Teresa’s body is floating down Wind River near Deer Meadow.

Day #6
Teresa is dead, her face contorted into a hideous, gasping expression. Two FBI agents examine her corpse and discover a slip of paper implanted under her fingernail, imprinted with the letter “T”…

Characters Teresa interacts with onscreen…

Leland Palmer (her killer)

Ronette Pulaski

Laura Palmer

Jacques Renault

Spirits who (possibly) appear with/to her

Pierre Tremond
*retroactively added in March 2024

Characters who encounter Teresa's corpse…

Sam Stanley & Chet Desmond

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Teresa
Teresa lives in Deer Meadow, not Twin Peaks, but as such she invites one of the strongest class critiques of the titular town. A drifter with, as Desmond describes it, “no known next of kin,” Teresa exploits the family connections of a prominent, well-off Twin Peaks resident to strike back at him. Like many characters in Fire Walk With Me, she highlights the story’s seedy side, demonstrating the sexual exploitation and economic jockeying that lies beneath the pleasant appeal of Pacific Northwestern small towns. Of the characters we’ve met so far, only Nancy demonstrates the ruthlessness necessary to navigate the underworld of the region. However, unlike Nancy, who is more than willing to throw people weaker and more honorable than her under the bus, Teresa targets a predator. This is also a dramatic new insight in our character studies: Teresa is the first character to reveal, nearly full-stop (but not quite), the deviousness of Leland Palmer. Not only does he seek out and manhandle adolescent prostitutes, he is also a murderer. The charismatic eccentric and dignified pillar of the community is depicted, through Teresa’s eyes, as a vicious killer – willing to snuff out a life in order to protect his reputation.

Teresa’s journey
This is a really compact, clear, even self-contained narrative. Teresa meets a client, learns about a weakness, and misjudges the situation – thinking she can blackmail him, she ends up getting killed. Yet so much remains mysterious. Seen only through her eyes, we don’t really understand why her murderer is so obsessive that he would bludgeon her to death rather than pay her off. More importantly, in terms of her own story, we have no idea where she came from and what experiences inform her fateful decision. Played by an actress in her mid-twenties, the adolescent character looks and acts very world-weary for her seventeen years. Whatever made her this way occurred long before we meet her onscreen, but the decisions that determine her death unfold in these few fateful February days. Teresa is also the fourth character in these studies who dies onscreen and, like Rusty and Dougie, her corpse is featured prominently after her death (and much more extensively than for either of those characters). Teresa's roots go all the way back to the pilot episode of the show; in the chronology of production, her arc begins there, snaking its way through the series until blossoming in the film (I'll discuss these references more in the "additional observations" section below).

Actress: Pamela Gidley
Gidley, a New England native, was discovered by a modeling agent in New York, won an Australian contest as “Most Beautiful Girl in the World” when she was twenty, and was trained as an actress by none other than the legendary Stella Adler. Aside from Fire Walk With Me, Gidley’s most prominent role may be in Mike Figgis’ Liebestraum (1991) alongside fellow Lynch alums Bill Pullman and Alicia Witt (not to mention major Lynch influence Kim Novak, of Vertigo). In fact, I’ve read a critic – I wish I could remember which! – decrying Lynch for wasting an actress who had shone so brightly in the Figgis film (too bad they couldn’t see her deleted scenes, where she has a bit more room to shine). Lynch was determined to cast Gidley, negotiating an extremely expensive arrangement in which she would fly back and forth from the Bahamas where she was shooting another project (presumably The Crew – although it didn’t come out for another two years; incidentally the film stars Ray Wise and Grace Zabriskie as well!!!). Gidley also appeared in lots of TV shows from MacGyver to CSI. Like many Twin Peaks cast members, Gidley’s film/TV career ended after a few decades, around the time she entered middle age. Last year, Brad Dukes conducted an amazing interview with Gidley (link updated in 2018) – make sure you check it out! (film pictured: Liebestraum, 1991)

Never appeared on the TV series (although she’s mentioned a few times)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (feature film)

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

While she’s mentioned in several episodes of the series, the character's appearances were only written by David Lynch and Robert Engels, and directed by David Lynch.

Teresa is onscreen for roughly seven minutes. She is in about nine scenes in Fire Walk With Me/The Missing Pieces taking place over about a month, maybe just a week or two. Her primary location is the Deer Meadow morgue and she shares the most screentime with Desmond and Stanley – in all cases, as a corpse.

Best Scene
The Missing Pieces: Teresa coaxes some information from Jacques and then smirks to herself before calling Leland with a genial threat.

Best Line
“Hey, handsome. It’s your little party girl.”

Additional Observations

• In the film, most of Teresa’s scenes are revealed in short fragments, as Leland's flashbacks. We are not shown her blackmail call (thats included in the Missing Pieces), and can only deduce why Leland killed her based on something Jacques says to Laura (two characters who themselves don't actually know who killed her) in a scene so noisy that the dialogue must be subtitled. The viewer has to pay close attention to piece it all together.

• Of course, the deeper psychological motivation for snuffing out Teresa is Leland’s discovery that his daughter is a prostitute. Since he sexually abused her, and since he chose Teresa specifically because she reminded him of Laura, this discovery is charged with massive guilt: it’s the age old “father enters a bordello, and discovers his daughter” urban legend (also explored on the TV show with Ben/Audrey), with an extra twist. Teresa’s blackmail threatens Leland at the very core of his identity.

• When Teresa is killed, a close look at her surroundings reveals that she is not in her trailer - at least, she’s not in the trailer that Desmond and Stanley will later investigate. According to people who've seen production documents, the location is described as the Chalfonts’ trailer - Chalfont is the name given to the eerie grandmother/grandson pair named Tremond on the show, who appear to be members of the spirit world doubled with various families in the real world. This also explains why Desmond finds the mound of dirt with Teresa's ring under the Chalfont trailer, rather than Teresa’s.

Teresa’s ring becomes a major plot point not just in Fire Walk With Me but quite probably the new series. I shared my thought on it in a podcast.

Teresa is definitely a character who is talked about as much or nearly as much as she’s shown. In the film, the whole first half hour centers around the investigation of her murder (the movie opens with a TV smashing as she screams offscreen). On the TV show, she was a presence who by her very nature could never be depicted…

Instead, she’s mentioned in the pilot as the first victim of the serial killer who murdered Laura (the letter on the fingernail is particularly referenced as a clue).

• In episode eight (the season two premiere), FBI agents discuss how Leo Johnson was in a jail in Montana the night of her murder – in other words it couldn’t have been him (and thus he almost certainly didn’t murder Laura).

• In episode sixteen, Leland’s death, Laura’s father/killer mentions that “they made me kill that girl Teresa.” Yet in the film, Lynch clearly gives Leland a personal motive to kill Teresa quite apart from whatever the spirit world wants.

• Teresa also comes up elsewhere in Fire Walk With Me, when Jacques mentions that, before she died, Teresa called him to ask about Ronette’s and Laura’s fathers. Laura seems rather taken aback by this news.

• During their investigation Desmond and Stanley visit Hap's Diner, where Teresa worked. The waitress Irene tells them that once "before her time" (her period?) Teresa's left arm went numb for several days. It's an odd detail to note, but this is the arm that wears the ring (I comment more on the "numb arm" and the ring in the podcast linked above).

The Teresa Banks case appears in Scott Frost's 1991 novel The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes, revealing a bit more about Teresa's background. An orphaned runaway, she lived in a cabin rather than a trailer and the diner she worked at is called the "Cross River Cafe," owned by Mr. Weller (although the town where her body is found is still Deer Meadow, a name Scott Frost apparently coined that Lynch liked and kept). No mention is made of her being a prostitute although to be fair, Desmond and Stanley don't find that out in the film either. Given some of these contradictions, and the fact that Agent Cooper is the one conducting the investigation in this version of the story (which takes place a month earlier than in the film), it's questionable how much of this is "canon."

Update 2018: This entry was written in 2017, before the third season, and did not need to be revised as Teresa 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, Teresa was ranked #63, between Pinkle and Vivian.

SHOWTIME: No, Gidley is not on the cast list for 2017. Teresa is a character I would love to know more about, but we probably never will. She’s dead so we can’t expect too much more from her – not that this has stopped other characters on Showtime’s list, admittedly. I do hope that we continue to explore characters who exist on the margins of Twin Peaks, and similar towns’, societies.

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