Lost in the Movies: FBI Chief Gordon Cole (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #37)

FBI Chief Gordon Cole (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #37)

*A revised entry will be published separately in 2024 or 2025 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.

Hard of hearing but tuned in to subterranean frequencies, Gordon relishes the confusion and surprise of everyday reality.

Friday, February 12, 1988
"GET ME AGENT CHESTER DESMOND OUT IN FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA!" shouts FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole. With his pompadour, black suit, and tentacle-like hearing aids poking out of each ear, he looks like a character from a comic book. As he stands in profile against a flat "natural" backdrop with his mouth wide open, we might almost expect a speech balloon to emerge from his mouth. Instead a silent brunette assistant exits the room and connects him with Agent Desmond, before another silent assistant, this time a blonde, offers him a mug of coffee while he shouts over the phone (Gordon's hearing loss makes it difficult for him to gauge the volume of his own voice). Gordon orders Desmond to meet him at a private airfield near Portland, Oregon, where they will discuss the recent murder of a seventeen-year-old girl, Teresa Banks. At the airfield Gordon introduces Desmond to Agent Sam Stanley, who "cracked the Whitman case," and then introduces both of them to Lil, "MY MOTHER'S SISTER GIRL," dressed in a bright red dress adorned with a blue rose. Desmond mutters, "Federal" and Gordon nods and places his hand, fingers outspread, over his face with a solemn expression. Lil, herself made up in cartoonish fashion and clad in a bright red wig, sashays on the tarmac, making curious gestures and squinching her face. Desmond seems to understand while Stanley is confused, and then Gordon sends them both off to the town of Deer Meadow. He advises them that he'll be returning to the Philadelphia office shortly if they want to reach him.

Tuesday, February 16, 1988
In Philadelphia, Agent Dale Cooper enters Gordon's office and crouches in front of his desk. Looking very concerned, he warns Gordon that it's 10:10 am on February 16, and he's worried about today because of a dream he already told him about. A few minutes later (or so it seems - or is the dream itself unfolding?) Gordon is in his office with Albert Rosenfield, a sardonic fellow agent. A dazed, stumbling figure in a white leisure suit wanders into the room and Gordon immediately recognizes him as "THE LONG-LOST PHILLIP JEFFRIES," an agent who disappeared in the field years ago. Jeffries can only babble about a "room above a convenience store" while refusing to talk about Judy (whom he nonetheless keeps mentioning). Gordon sits Jeffries down and sends the skeptical Albert out of the room while trying to reach the front desk. The lights begin flashing on and off, Cooper leaves, and a frustrated Gordon - who can't seem to connect with anyone via the speakerphone, shouts "WHAT, AM I ALONE IN HERE?" He looks around again and...he is. Jeffries is gone. Albert reaches the front desk and informs Gordon that Jeffries never checked in or, as Albert puts it, "he was never here." He also reports "news from Deer Meadow - Agent Chester Desmond has disappeared." Gordon and Cooper check the surveillance tapes and see that, sure enough, Jeffries disembarked an elevator and walked through their corridor. "BUT WHERE DID HE GO?" Gordon wonders. "AND WHERE IS CHESTER DESMOND?"

Tuesday, February 28, 1989
A year later, Gordon calls Cooper via a secure line at the Twin Peaks sheriff's station, where he is investigating the murder of another teenage girl, likely related to the one in Deer Meadow. Gordon reports Albert's findings in the Laura Palmer case, revealing the brand of twine that bound her hands, identifying bird bites on her shoulders, and awaiting an analysis of a plastic fragment found in her stomach during the autopsy. But Albert's been up to something else too: he has registered a formal complaint about the local sheriff, who punched him in the face during his visit. Cooper defends the sheriff, telling Gordon to "file it under 'F' for 'Forget it,'" and insisting that Albert was at fault. That evening, Gordon calls in again, declaring that the bird bites have been identified as those of a myna or parrot, and that Albert is faxing over a reconstruction of the plastic object.

Wednesday, March 8, 1989
A week later, Gordon himself arrives in Twin Peaks, meeting Sheriff Harry Truman. He informs him that he's Cooper's supervisor and comes bearing a series of valuable updates. Albert has identified fibers from the area where Cooper was (not fatally) shot as belonging to a Vicuna coat ("The coat was Vicuna," Truman repeats, to which Gordon responds, "SOUNDS REAL GOOD, SHERIFF, BUT I ALREADY ATE"). A lab report has established that the mysterious one-armed man (whom the department is currently looking for) had a powerful cocktail of drugs mixed in his abandoned syringe. And the torn pages from the crime scene belong to a diary. As Truman digests this information, they are interrupted by Deputy Hawk Hill escorting a distressed one-armed man, Phillip Gerard. "THERE'S THE ONE-ARMER NOW!" Cole declares, pointing at the unhappy detainee. They move to Truman's office. That evening, Gordon waits in the lobby for Cooper and senses immediately when he arrives. The two are delighted to see one another and Gordon has an important message which he delivers intently: "YOU REMIND ME TODAY OF A SMALL MEXICAN CHIHUAHUA." Withdrawing to the sheriff's office behind a close door (no matter; the others can hear every single word Gordon shouts), Cooper's supervisor worries about his condition, especially since he was wounded; "YOU GOT INTO THE CHUTE IN PITTSBURGH," he reminds him, but Cooper assures Gordon that this situation is different. Truman joins them as Gordon reveals a package from the sinister Windom Earle, Cooper's former partner who has escaped from an asylum. The envelope contains a typed message: "P to K-4" - a chess deal. In the conference room, the lawmen focus back on Gerard, who seems to be experiencing withdrawals. "IF WE GIVE HIM THE DRUG, COOP, YOU'LL NEVER SEE THE OTHER SIDE," Gordon acknowledges, and sure enough - as they withhold his medicine - Gerard emerges as a calm, eloquent personality, an "inhabiting spirit" named MIKE" who tells them about BOB, a parasitical spirit who feeds on "fears and the pleasures." Gordon listens intently, with neither disbelief nor full credulity.

Thursday, March 9, 1989
The following morning, everyone lines up in the lobby for coffee and donuts. Gordon announces his departure for Bend, Oregon, and says goodbye to the others, advising them "TAKE GOOD CARE OF MIKE!"

Thursday, March 16, 1989
A week later, Cooper has solved the Palmer case but faces a new crisis: wild accusations (including drug-running) have led to a suspension from the FBI. Gordon calls to let him know a DEA agent will be arriving soon; he also offers his full support. "DON'T LET 'EM RATTLE YOU, COOP," Gordon advises him. "THESE GUYS MAKE A LIVING LOOKING THROUGH OTHER PEOPLE'S DRAWERS. WE'VE ALL HAD OUR SOCKS TOSSED AROUND FROM TIME TO TIME. COUPLE WORDS OF ADVICE: LET A SMILE BE YOUR UMBRELLA."

Thursday, March 23, 1989
A cheerful Gordon rushes into the sheriff's office bearing the classified portion of the Windom Earle dossier. Joining Cooper, Truman, and Dr. Will Hayward, Gordon reveals that Windom used the same drug as the one-armed man and that he used to work on the Air Force's top-secret Project Blue Book, an investigation of UFOs. The gang heads out to breakfast, but not before Gordon tells Cooper to "DUST OFF YOUR OLD BLACK SUIT" - he's finally restoring him to the FBI. Cooper eagerly takes his badge and gun back and says, together with Gordon, "WE WILL PURSUE, CAPTURE, AND INCARCERATE" before offering each other the first of several happy thumbs-ups. At the RR Diner, Gordon spots a beautiful waitress and vows to engage her "IN A LITTLE COUNTER-ESPERANTO." He then loudly flirts with Shelly Johnson, dropping his volume for the first time only when he realizes he can hear her voice perfectly. "It's a miracle!" he declares. A lady with a log, also sitting at the counter, demands to know "What's wrong with miracles? This cherry pie is a miracle." Gordon agrees, and tells Shelly he wants some paper and a pencil (shouting again for some reason): "I'M GOING TO WRITE AN EPIC POEM ABOUT THIS PIE!"

Friday, March 24, 1989
Gordon's rental car is ready to go outside but he lingers at the diner, sitting across the booth from Shelly and telling her stories of his own adventures in the FBI. They are joined by Cooper and Annie Blackburn, a fellow waitress. He and Shelly receive three pieces of pie each; Gordon declares Shelly "a miracle worker, and a goddess sent from heaven." He then makes his move, telling Shelly he'll regret it forever if he doesn't kiss her and as they lean in to smooch, an angry Bobby Briggs bursts through the door: "What the hell is going on?" Gordon tells him exactly what's going on before chuckling to Shelly, "Acts like he's never seen a kiss before!" and turning back to Bobby with an invitation. "TAKE A GOOD LOOK, SONNY! IT'S GONNA HAPPEN AGAIN!" And sure enough it does.

Characters Gordon interacts with onscreen…

Sam Stanley & Chet Desmond

Agent Cooper

Albert Rosenfield

Phillip Jeffries

Sheriff Truman

Phillip Gerard

Deputy Hawk

Deputy Andy

Doc Hayward

Shelly Johnson

The Log Lady

Annie Blackburn

Bobby Briggs

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Gordon
Like Cooper, Gordon delights in the pleasures of Twin Peaks, although at first he's all business (to the extent such an enthusiastic, joyful man can be described that way). Though he certainly loves that pie, it's the women of Twin Peaks who seem to impress him most - especially one. Gordon's intervention in the narrative may be a case of directorial self-indulgence, but it also provides a boost to Shelly's flagging morale and a roundabout catalyst for a reconciliation with Bobby (the initially passionate lovers have been primarily antagonistic for over half the show at this point). Gordon is deeply connected to Twin Peaks' strange mysteries (or more broadly, the strange mysteries of the Twin Peaks world), as we discover most extensively in Fire Walk With Me. However, he is also a character of immense comic relief; if the filmmaker is typically linked with many of Twin Peaks' most disturbing moments, the actor facilitates some of the most delightful. Gordon, like Nadine, Johnny, and Gerard, exploits Twin Peaks' fascination with the disabled; unlike Eileen, whose condition is never remarked upon, Gordon's near-deafness is a constant punchline, albeit one that all the others characters grow accustomed to and roll along with. Some have criticized the show's comedy as ableist, as far back as 1990, while others find the humor so good-natured and affectionate as to be inoffensive. Thematically, Gordon demonstrates a wry distrust of language and communication that pervades Twin Peaks.

Gordon’s journey
Gordon develops slowly over time - when we first hear him in season one, there's no indication at all that he has trouble hearing (his voice is a bit raised, but mostly it seems to convey the effect of speaking over a long-distance line). He has a certain folksy twang to his voice, but could hardly be described as eccentric - if anything he seems preoccupied with professional duties almost to a fault. When he arrives in person, the shouting shtick arrives with him, and he looks much more cheerful - there's no stern attitude taken with Truman, despite that earlier conversation (maybe he knows Albert and the sheriff have essentially patched things up). Gordon's still all about the job, but his manner is pleasant and relaxed - at least if that decibel level can be associated with relaxation. His next phone call is a bit lackluster (perhaps reflecting the performer's attitude about the material - "THESE ARE HARD TIMES" feels rather meta). If the first call didn't establish enough of a routine, this one leans too hard on the gag, but when Gordon returns to town it feels like all the elements have coalesced to form the perfect character. The diner scene is easily the best sequence in the twelve-episode stretch between Leland's death and the final episode, and while there are many factors, Gordon's presence and situation dominate them all.

By the time Gordon shows up in the movie, he has evolved into one of Twin Peaks' gurus, as much a spirit guide as the Log Lady or Major Briggs, albeit somehow way more cryptic and confidential than either of them. And even he is confused by the events of the film. Fire Walk With Me established Gordon's code, retroactively imbuing some of his stranger statements on the show (especially the "CHIHUAHUA" bit) with new purpose. As Desmond explains to Stanley, Lil's dance is a coded message, each gesture or piece of costume carrying symbolic weight. This is a comical pastiche of Twin Peaks' own ambivalent puzzle-making and demonstrates Gordon's journey from brilliant joke to iconic presence. Chronologically, beginning with the Banks case and ending with the Johnson kiss, Gordon's narrative is a fun shaggy dog, culminating in a miraculous albeit temporary restoration and a bit of cute romance. In order of writing and production, Gordon's arc exhibits a more subtle quality: the show's ability to birth instantly memorable character, and then gradually mould them into something even more compelling.

Actor: David Lynch
Popping up as an extra or in quick cameos in films throughout the eighties and nineties, the actor has found more prominent work in comedy these past few years, including a recurring voice role on The Cleveland Show and, most famously, as TV executive Jack Dahl (or is it Dall?) in Louie. Lynch did have one large role in the eighties, portraying a butler posing as a playboy in the film Zelly & Me, directed by Tina Rathborne (who also directed the funeral and wake episodes of Twin Peaks). Perhaps she recommended him to Twin Peaks' producers; it's hard to imagine how an actor with such a thin resume landed the memorable role of Gordon Cole. This will have to remain one of Gordon's Blue Rose mysteries... (film pictured: Dune, 1984)

Episode 4 (German title: "The One-Armed Man") - voice is heard offscreen

Episode 13 (German title: "Demons")

Episode 14 (German title: "Lonely Souls")

Episode 18 (German title: "Masked Ball") - voice is heard offscreen

Episode 25 (German title: "On the Wings of Love" - best episode)

Episode 26 (German title: "Variations on Relations")

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (feature film)

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

Gordon's voice is introduced in one of Robert Engels' solo scripts, and the character shows up in person during an episode co-written by Engels (with Harley Peyton). Engels also co-writes the diner episode as well as Fire Walk With Me. The writer has talked about modeling Gordon's manner of speaking on his own near-deaf mother so it's reasonable to assume he had a big hand in shaping the character. Mark Frost also pens several Gordon episodes, one solo and another with Peyton, and Barry Pullman authors the second Gordon vocal-only guest spot. Gordon's directors include Lesli Linka Glatter (she was asked by the actor himself to step in for his first appearance) as well as Duwayne Dunham and Jonathan Sanger (who worked on Blue Velvet and The Elephant Man, respectively). Dunham also directs a vocal performance, as does Tim Hunter (a fellow AFI alum). And of course Gordon is directed (in an episode and the film) and co-written (in the film) by some guy named David Lynch.

Gordon is onscreen (including voice-only) for roughly twenty-three minutes. He is in twelve scenes in six episodes plus the feature film and deleted scenes collection, taking place over a year. He's featured the most in episode 13, when he first arrives in Twin Peaks. His primary location is the sheriff's station. He shares the most screentime with Cooper. He is one of the top ten characters in episodes 13 and 25.

Best Scene
Episode 25: Gordon meets his muse and awakens his senses over a delicious cherry pie breakfast.

Best Line

Additional Observations

• Gordon Cole's name derives from one of David Lynch's favorite films, Sunset Boulevard. After aging silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) drives back to the Paramount lot, she receives a call from Mr. Cole. Joe Gillis (William Holden) answers the phone, thinking that the studio employee wants to offer her a part, but in fact Cole works for the props department and wants to use her car. Joe is dismayed for Norma's sake, and tells the caller to find another car. Lynch later noted that Billy Wilder was probably inspired to use the name "Gordon Cole" by the proximity of Gordon St. and Cole Av., which cross Sunset Blvd. a few blocks away from one another in Hollywood. For more on this film, you can check out my review which wrapped up my Hooray for (Hating) Hollywood series in 2008.

• Gordon isn't mentioned enough times to warrant a standalone section, but Albert does grumble, "Gordon Cole ordered me back here" in episode 8 (Cooper mentions him in passing in episode 21 as well - waiting to hear about his suspension). More memorably, in episode 22 Albert offers an impression of Gordon: "I'M WORRIED ABOUT COOP!" He also mentions that Gordon is following up on some of Windom Earle's clues, planting the seeds for his later return. As far as I can determine, there were no deleted scenes although Harley Peyton cops to some deleted dialogue - according to him, Bobby was supposed to dismiss his romantic rival as an "old guy" but that line mysterious wound up on the cutting room floor.

• A close-up shot of Gordon's bizarre hand gesture from the Lil sequence appears one scene later in Fire Walk With Me, as Desmond explains Gordon's code in meticulous detail. I'll save that quote, and any applicable analysis, for an upcoming entry.

• According to Scott Frost's The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes, Cooper met Gordon Cole on August 3, 1978, around 10:00am. "Seems to have a hearing problem," Cooper reports, "and one of the strongest sets of vocal chords I have ever encountered in my life." When Caroline Earle is killed and Cooper lands in the hospital, his morose dispatch to Diane contains only one light note: "Dad is here in the hospital now, as is Gordon Cole. They seem to have hit it off." Gordon later informs Cooper that Windom is in the psych ward after "finding" an already-attacked Cooper and Caroline. Gordon continues to look out for Cooper and shares his suspicions about Windom; "Gordon has really gone to bat for me," Cooper notes. Then, of course, we hit a discrepency. Written before Fire Walk With Me (in which Kyle MacLachlan refused to appear for more than a few days as Cooper, forcing a rewrite of the Deer Meadow case), this novel tells us that Gordon sent Cooper to investigation Teresa Banks' murder. "Gordon has asked me to handle it," Cooper tells Diane, "because he has this feeling it may be a serial event and none of the agents in that district have direct experience with one." 

• Mark Frost's The Secret History of Twin Peaks dives more deeply than his brother's book, picking up where Fire Walk With Me left off to demonstrate Gordon's investigative links to the paranormal. (Interestingly, despite his connection to Jeffries and the suggestive nature of the "blue rose," even in the film there is never explicit reference to Gordon heading a sort of "supernatural squad"; Frost is essentially picking up on a mythos planted in the film, and even more subtly in the series, but evolving primarily in viewers' imaginations over subsequent years.) The book, in the form of a top-secret dossier, is ostensibly presented to us by Gordon himself - the introductory "interoffice memorandum" is professional but retains the now-deputy director's signature voice: "we need to know it yesterday!", "many moons ago", "roll up your sleeves and get to work on this thing." The dossier is notated by "TP," finally revealed as Tamara Preston, an FBI agent who works under Gordon and keeps diligent notes along the margins. One, in reference to a secret installation near Twin Peaks, reads "This points more or less directly to then-Regional Director Gordon Cole - who, as I recently pointed out, is one of my superior officers - as the 'FBI man' initially recommended to Doug Milford by none other than Tricky Dick himself, and I have to admit I find this troubling, but then, Director Cole's admonition to me was 'follow the trail wherever it may lead.'"

The Secret History reveals that Gordon was trained at Quantico alongside Phillip Jeffries - indeed, they were the top two graduates in 1968. Gordon and Jeffries visited Twin Peaks years before the Laura Palmer investigation, in 1983, at the request of Mayor Dwayne Milford whose constituents were curious about a strange military installation located up in the mountains (no doubt, the Mayor was also curious because his brother, an ex-government spook, was directly involved). Gordon reports back that the government construction project is linked to President Regan's SDI ("Star Wars") missile defense initiative and hence all other information is classified, closing his letter with "We hope that this information serves to satisfy the patriotic spirit of their inquiries." In fact, as Tamara is able to confirm, "alleged SDI connection was intended as a misdirect." The base is clearly linked to Project Blue Book, Dougie Milford's work with UFOs, and, we must surmise, whatever haunts the woods of Twin Peaks and/or whisked Jeffries away from Buenos Aires several years later.

• Since I somehow forgot to include him in my character preludes, let me take this moment to celebrate Twin Peaks' other creator cameo: Cyril Pons. Pons is a TV reporter whose voice can be heard in the pilot, reporting on the train car crime scene and Ronette's emergence from the woods (this is the only time we see/hear any news coverage of the Laura Palmer case in the entire series, although the pilot's teleplay indicates it could have become a major theme). We later see him in episode 8, reporting from the ruins of the Packard Saw Mill (a weeping Shelly is watching him from her hospital bed). He is, of course, played by Mark Frost. Interestingly, Pons may be the only Twin Peaks character to cross over into another film - Frost intended for the character to appear in his directorial debut Storyville though I saw the movie and couldn't spot him (perhaps he was cut). A few years ago, I tweeted Frost with an question (misspelling the name, but hey, this was unknown at the time at least to me - it's apparently a reference to Solar Pons, a character created in tribute to Sherlock Holmes; I wish I could remember where I heard this). Anyway, Frost shared the tweet on his account...but, of course, didn't answer the query. As Tamara Preston and Gordon Cole himself often say...well, we'll get to that momentarily.

• It's hard to imagine any fictional character being better suited for David Lynch than Gordon Cole. The mixture of secretive code and open manner, boyish enthusiasm and professional authority, offbeat quirk and super-squaredom, is quintessentially Lynch. Gordon hammers home Lynch's mixture of esoteric weirdness and Eagle Scout simplicity, especially at a time when the filmmaker leaned much more conservative than he does today (he was well-known for praising Reagan in interviews and there is real admiration in his portrait of morally upright lawmen, however eccentric their behavior). That said, the character isn't simply his real-life personal transplanted into fictional form - the brilliant conceit of his hearing loss/vocal compensation makes Gordon a unique figure in his own right.

• If Gordon is a wide-eyed intuitive type, he may also represent the limits of a narrow view. Martha Nochimson (with whom I discussed Lynch several years ago) observes the following in her brilliant study The Passion of David Lynch: Wild at Heart in Hollywood:
"The first thirty minutes of Fire Walk With Me tell us not to look to the logic of authorities to deliver us. ... 
Our first image of the brotherhood of detectives reveals Gordon Cole (David Lynch) who is about to begin the investigation into the death of Teresa Banks by summoning Special Agent Desmond. Cole stands in his office in front of a mural that recreates the surface appearance of the great outdoors. He shouts, as if across great distances, to a secretary who, when the camera pulls back, is revealed to be a few inches away from him. Cole's reality is a culturally created, flat simulacrum of time and space. The experience of depth is only betrayed by its absence and the odd excess of Cole's voice. 
Cole, arguably Lynch's comedic self-portrait, is the chief officer of this network of busy investigators, working with all seriousness in the flatlands of FBI procedures and only imagining the depths of mystery beyond the reach of a reductivist logic through his designation of a Blue Rose Case. A Blue Rose Case stumps the detectives because it confounds their depthless, bounded mindset with intimations of a world with manifold layers and without neat limits; the many-layered Teresa Banks murder is a Blue Rose Case. 
Parallel to the lack of spatial depth is the problem of language for the FBI. Cole's inability to hear begets his proclivity for yelling secrets and thus his need to invent a better mode of confidentiality. Therefore, he instructs Agent Desmond and his partner Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) using the body of a figure he refers to as Lil (Kimberly Ann Cole). As Cole 'writes' on Lil, he transforms a human body into an animated stick figure. Lil - actually three-dimensional - has been rendered cartoonlike for his purposes. ... Here, language takes on the flatness of Cole's opening gesture and flattens the body itself."
Amusingly, when Lynch agreed to his first of several interviews with Nochimson, he conducted the entire conversation in the persona - and voice - of Gordon Cole.

SHOWTIME: Yes, Lynch is on the cast list for 2017. One of the few promos released so far features Gordon Cole, alone (aside from a coffee-clasping hand that briefly strays into the frame), eating a donut for about twenty seconds. Watch and learn.

The closing words of The Secret History:
"As Director Cole once told me, that time he took me out for coffee, a big part of this job - and for that matter, life itself - is waiting for the right moment."

Tomorrow: Harold Smith

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