Lost in the Movies: Black Rose "Blackie" O'Reilly (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #72)

Black Rose "Blackie" O'Reilly (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #72)

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.

Blackie's sultry, sophisticated persona conceals a bitter fury toward the men who hold power over her, and a desire for vengeance.

Saturday, February 25, 1989
Black Rose O'Reilly makes a bold entrance, parting the red sea of her crimson-clad employees to emerge into the front room of One Eyed Jack's, a Canadian bordello. She greets Ben Horne, the owner of Jack's, and his brother Jerry at the bar. Ben recites William Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 (contrasting her favorably to a summer day, for "thy eternal summer shall not fade...") but Jerry interrupts them to inquire after "the new girl." Blackie indicates a nervous young woman standing in the curtained hallway, Ben and Jerry flip a coin, and Ben - the winner - disappears with the first-time prostitute into the folds of the curtains. A bemused Blackie and disappointed Jerry return to the bar.

Thursday, March 2, 1989
Blackie notices a couple men in the casino and chats them up. One has a bushy moustache and big curly hair, while the other (whom she compares to Cary Grant) wears glasses and a tuxedo. They flirt and tease each other - it's evident they don't want to reveal their true identities, with one of them saying he owns a gas station but is also an oral surgeon. There's a fine line between suspicion ("you look like a cop") and attraction ("tonight might be your lucky night"). In Blackie's office, last weekend's new girl escorts the latest "new girl" in a black dress, another recruit from the perfume counter at Horne's Department Store. The girl introduces herself as Hester Prynne ("I read The Scarlet Letter in high school too," Blackie shoots back at her) and concocts a resume including time at Big Amos' in Calgary ("Big Amos is the name of my dog," Blackie chuckles after trapping the young woman). To rescue the interview, "Hester" retrieves a cherry from a drink on Blackie's desk, places it in her mouth and, after sloshing it around a little bit, removes a stem that has been tied into a perfect knot by her tongue. Blackie hires her on the spot. When she returns to the office, dressed in a frilly white outfit, Blackie asks her to choose a playing card to be sewed on the front. She selects the queen of diamonds and Blackie caresses her hand approvingly. When Ben Horne signs an important contract at One Eyed Jack's that evening, Blackie directs to him to the newest "new girl." Meanwhile, she's growing desperate for a fix; back in her office she asks Jerry why Ben is holding out on her. After some cruel mockery and intimidation he drops a little baggie of heroin on her desk and departs. She curses him while preparing her torniquet for injection.

Friday, March 3, 1989
The new girl visits Blackie while she is being massaged by two employees. Blackie scolds her for refusing a customer the night before, asking what "her type" is (with more than a little sexual interest) to which the snickering teenager responds, "Not you. No offense." Offended, Blackie offers a corrective while the guards grip the disobedient employee: "I don't want to hear another complaint about you. When you work for me, everybody's your type."

Saturday, March 4, 1989
Blackie hangs up the new girl's telephone right as she tearfully informs someone that she's in trouble. Behind Blackie is Emory Battis, the head of Horne's Department Store, who has just informed her that this disobedient prostitute is none other than Audrey Horne, the boss' daughter. Blackie offers a chilling, smiling threat: "You don't know what trouble is, not by a long shot."

Sunday, March 5, 1989
Blackie doses a gagged and bound Audrey with heroin as Emory videotapes. He's worried about the danger Ben presents, and wants to kill Audrey, but Blackie prefers a blackmail plot for vengeance as well as profit. She was hooked on drugs by Ben and wants to do the same to his daughter. Later, she and Emory look at a surveillance video from a few nights earlier. He recognizes the tuxedoed, bespectacled visitor as an FBI agent in town to investigate the death of local girl Laura Palmer (who briefly worked at Jack's). Jean Renault, a Canadian gangster, arrives with Blackie's despised sister Nancy. Blackie was Jean's lover once, but now Nancy has replaced her at his side. Blackie demands her sister "go back north or this deal goes south" but Jean refuses. He also confirms that Audrey must be killed when they've received the money.

Tuesday, March 7, 1989
Jean explains how he will kill Cooper (as vengeance for his own brother's death) and Audrey. Blackie leaves the room as Nancy enters; they scowl at one another. That night, Jean prepares the lethal dose and Blackie nearly tosses a drink in his face when he explains novelty as Nancy's appeal. Blackie is ready to leave but Jean asks for a kiss. As they embrace, he stabs her with the same knife he plans to use on Cooper. She slides to the floor, and her head rolls to the side, blood dripping from her mouth as Jean licks his smeared lips like a vampire. When he flees, she is left alone, sprawled out on the floor of the business she ran but ultimately couldn't control.

Characters Blackie interacts with onscreen…

Ben Horne

Jerry Horne

Ed Hurley & Agent Cooper

Audrey Horne

Emory Battis

Nancy O'Reilly

Jean Renault (her killer)

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Blackie
Blackie never enters the town of Twin Peaks (or even the U.S.) on the show, but she's intimately tied to its affairs (sometimes literally so). Blackie's introduction accompanies our first entrance to One Eyed Jack's and once she's dead we almost never see it again. Few characters are this synonymous with a single location. Blackie's Twin Peaks is a dark-but-not-too-dark, elegantly sexy noir, well-lit and brightly furnished but caught in perpetual night nonetheless. Greil Marcus has written that Twin Peaks is a fusion of the sylvan village and noir metropolis. One Eyed Jack's with its bustling traffic, libertine ethos, and sophisticated intrigue definitely leans toward the latter (although its wood furnishing and the occasional exterior of the blinking neon sign in the forest remind us that it's surrounded and penetrated by the former). The first season shows us the surface of Blackie's world: a bustling business involving contact with the outside society. The second season goes beneath this surface, and we seldom see Blackie interacting with customers or running her operation again - she's too busy struggling with addiction, desire, and revenge in the shadowy backrooms of Jack's. That second season also emphasizes the pulpy, crime-genre trappings of Blackie, One Eyed Jack's, and Twin Peaks as a whole (the kidnapping story has the most screentime of any subplot in the episodes between the premiere and the run-up to the killer's reveal).

Blackie’s journey
As we move along in this series, we will be encountering characters who are in Twin Peaks long enough to undergo noticeable changes during two seasons. Blackie is one of them. Throughout season one, she seems self-assured, in control, elegantly bemused by the goings-on around her. This immediately shifts during her first scene in season two, even though it takes place within hours, even minutes, of most of her earlier scenes: she's desperate, dependent, and bitter. (Keith Phipps points out how sudden this is in his A.V. Club episode guide: "Blackie's a junkie and Horne's her dealer? Since when? Did we miss an episode?") Her power has been diminished (in our eyes) and she's eager to gain more however she can. This works in two ways, one more evident in the early episodes of the season (especially the premiere), the other as her arc winds to a conclusion. Seeing Blackie's vulnerability and insecurity deepens the character, adding an explicit psychosexual shade to the glossier image we got before. However, it also allows her to become a more pathetic antagonist at times, addled by heroin, driven by resentment, and double-crossed by everyone around her. Essentially, the effectiveness of this turn depends on the writers and especially the directors. Lynch's scenes with Blackie, especially the later ones, are her best, demonstrating the limits of her power and why she is so driven to exercise what she's got. When he's not directing, she slips more easily into cliche - the scene where she tells Audrey to "ride the white tiger" being a prime example - and we become nostalgic for the cooler character of season one (this kind of describes season two's issues in a nutshell: higher highs, but less consistent and cohesive than the first season). In the end, Blackie's death (stylish as it is) feels rather anticlimactic after her strong start, reinforcing the notion that she's become a clingy sidekick to Jean. If the execution is not entirely satisfying, the shape of her narrative does make some consistent sense. Ben's tribute to her mature beauty is redirected by his interest in the new girl, Jerry insults her as being a washed-up junkie, Blackie's treatment of Audrey is explicitly revenge for being exploited by her father, and Jean tells Blackie he's chosen her little sister over her because she offers "something new." In her introductory scene, when she seems to have all the authority and bearing she lacks in her exit, Ben's Shakespearean serenade is cut off just as he says "Nor will death..." How appropriate.

Actress: Victoria Catlin
Aside from her roles in several thrillers and horror films throughout the eighties, information on Catlin is hard to find. In fact, she's the most mysterious actor I've covered so far. I did run across an interesting anecdote in the 1990 book Twin Peaks: Behind the Scenes by Mark Altman. He quotes Todd Holland, who directed Blackie's penultimate episode: "Victoria Caitlin [sic], who plays Blackie, said to me, 'I don't die, do I?' I had read ahead to [Season 2] Episode 5 and I just sort of winced when she asked me. My face turned white; I didn't know what to say. She got really upset because she was having fun on the show and I said, 'I'm sorry, I feel like the Grim Reaper.'" Compounding the poignancy of the anecdote, Catlin has no screen credits after this point, save for a bit part in the show The New Adam-12 that aired a couple weeks after her character's death on Twin Peaks. If anyone knows what she's been up to since then, please feel free to share in the comments. (film pictured: Ghoulies, 1984)

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

Episode 6 (German title: "Realization Time")

Episode 7 (German title: "The Last Evening")

*Episode 8 (German title: "May the Giant Be With You" - best episode)

Episode 9 (German title: "Coma")

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

Episode 12 (German title: "The Orchid's Curse")

Catlin was written by David Lynch, Mark Frost, Harley Peyton, Robert Engels, and Barry Pullman. She was directed by Lynch, Frost, Caleb Deschanel, Lesli Linka Glatter, and Graeme Clifford.

Blackie is onscreen for roughly fifteen minutes. She is in thirteen scenes in seven episodes, taking place over a week and a half. She's featured the most in episode 6, when she hires Audrey. All of her scenes are set at One Eyed Jack's. She shares the most screentime with Audrey. She is one of the top ten characters in episode 6.

Best Scene
Episode 8: The dark side of the Hornes' relationship with Blackie emerges as she begs for heroin.

Best Line
“Well, I got a Chevy parked out back with a serious root canal problem.”

Additional Observations

• Blackie is one of the few bisexual characters on the show (as far as we know). Her attraction to Audrey is pretty clearly conveyed in the season two premiere, and Jennifer Lynch explores this idea even more openly in The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer in which she sleeps with Laura Palmer, declaring, "I'm going to teach you a thing or two about fucking right now." Instead Laura turns the tables: "By the time I left Blackie, she was on the floor, naked except for her jewelry, and was humiliated because I had been able to take total control and show her things she had never thought possible. I took her into a very dark erotic place ... but I left her there alone." The diary mentions Nancy too (which I should have noted in her entry), saying that she brought Laura's clothes to her house after she was fired and then told her something important. However, the page detailing what Nancy said is torn from the diary.

• Nancy was aware of Blackie's impending death beforehand and not only didn't warn her, but actively encouraged Jean to kill her. Jean killed Emory a day earlier, but it's not clear if Blackie knows about this.

• Unbeknownst to Blackie, Cooper and Sheriff Harry Truman are raiding One Eyed Jack's when she is killed (in fact Harry witnesses her death from just outside the room). Her killer will himself die within two weeks - Cooper shoots Jean after being taken hostage at Dead Dog Farm.

• Cooper is confronted with a photo of Blackie's corpse in episode 18, when he's accused of stealing drugs during the One Eyed Jack's raid. This is the last time we see her image or hear about her on the show.

• Update 2023: This entry was written in 2017, before the third season, and did not need to be revised as the Blackie did not re-appear. Only the description/intro at the top and the ranking were updated. In the original character series, Blackie was ranked #50, between Denise and the Singer.

SHOWTIME: No, Catlin is not on the cast list for 2017. Blackie joins the ever-growing chorus of dead Twin Peaks characters as we make our way through these studies. There's not much left to wonder about her, but I do wonder if her sister felt guilty for colluding in her demise.

Next (active on Monday, February 20, 2023 at 8am): FBI Chief of Staff Denise Bryson
Previous (active on Friday, February 17, 2023 at 8am): Betty Briggs

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