Lost in the Movies: Jean Renault (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #58)

Jean Renault (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #58)

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.

Jean is a ruthless, cold-hearted businessman but a passion for vengeance will eventually betray him.

Sunday, March 5, 1989
Canadian crime boss Jean Renault and his lover Nancy O'Reilly enter the room of Audrey Horne, a hostage at One Eyed Jack's. Audrey is the teenage daughter of the boss, caught snooping around by Nancy's sister Blackie and drugged up on heroin while the bordello's managers conspire to extract a large ransom from her wealthy father. Jean caresses Audrey and feeds her a caramel while introducing himself. Then he meets Emory Battis, a sniveling co-conspirator of Blackie. He and Blackie show Jean a videotape of FBI Agent Dale Cooper in a tuxedo talking to Jean's brother Jacques on the night of his death. "I want him," Jean demands, asserting that Cooper must deliver the ransom so that he can avenge his brothers' murders (youngest brother Bernie was also killed a few days after the agent arrived in town). A jealous Blackie demands that Jean send Nancy home, but he laughs her off. "Of course," he adds when their business has mostly been wrapped up, "we can't let the girl live now, can we?"

Monday, March 6, 1989
Jean waits for Ben Horne, owner of One Eyed Jack's, in the office at the Great Northern Hotel (which he also owns). Ben doesn't recognize Jean at first, until the gangster reminds him that he collects protection money ("insurance" he calls it) on Jack's. Ben is confused by Jean's visit until he's shown the videotape of Audrey bound and gagged. Jean warns that he is just the messenger, but that he has some demands of his own: a cash fee in addition to the ransom, a partnership in One Eyed Jack's, and the assignment of Cooper as the bagman. Back at One Eyed Jack's, Emory escorts Audrey in to see Jean. Still doped up on heroin, she is delirious and accusatory. When he learns Emory has been hitting her, Jean comforts Audrey, telling her she won't be harmed again. As Emory tries to talk his way out of trouble, Jean coldly shoots him in the chest, knocking him to the ground and killing him instantly. Jean then climbs onto the chair with a shuddering, sobbing Audrey and soothes her.

Tuesday, March 7, 1989
Jean shows Blackie how he plans to kill Cooper: with a sliding knife hidden in his sleeve. He tells her that Audrey will slip away peacefully in the throes of an overdose. She's uncertain that Ben will go along with this, and Jean (in a bit of a non sequitur), protests, "You know, you love a good steak, but you don't want to know how it got on your plate." Nancy enters as Blackie leaves and demands to know what Jean is going to do about Blackie. He waves her knife around before laughing and embracing her. That night, Jean and Blackie prepare Audrey's lethal overdose. She's annoyed with his continued interest in Nancy, nearly throwing her drink in his face when he says the little sister gives him "something new." Jean asks Blackie for a kiss when she's ready to storm away and then, as she least expects it, stabs her with his hidden knife, sliding her to the ground and licking the blood from his lips. He spots a crouched man watching him through a glass panel in the door and drops to his side, firing his gun several times before fleeing. In the woods outside One Eyed Jack's, Jean watches several men escape with Audrey over their shoulder; he holds a gun to a man on a walkie-talkie and demands identification - reaching into the man's pocket, Jean finds a state prosecutor's badge.

Wednesday, March 15, 1989
A week later at One Eyed Jack's, Jean greets the "state prosecutor" (actually a local ex-con named Hank Jennings) and a shadowy accountant, Ernie Niles, who says he can arrange a major drug sale. The corrupt Mountie Preston King joins the trio in Jean's office, opening a briefcase to reveal several kilos of cocaine. He asks Ernie's help in unloading four kilos and tells Jean he hopes to plant a kilo in Cooper's car, framing the FBI agent. "I want him crucified," Jean growls.

Saturday, March 18, 1989
At the run-down Dead Dog Farm, Jean and the Mountie sell cocaine to Ernie and a slick out-of-town buyer. The Mountie notices that Ernie's chest is smoking, and pulls open his shirt to discover he's wired. Ernie and the buyer are taken hostage and Jean demands to see Cooper, who emerges over a nearby hill. He trades himself for the hostages and Jean, the Mountie, and Cooper hole up inside the farm as a squadron of police wait tensely outside. Jean considers killing Cooper even if they have to surrender, telling the agent that he blames him for his brother's death because before he arrived in town to investigate the murder of a young woman, everything ran smoothly in Twin Peaks. Maybe, Jean suspects, if he kills Cooper things will return to normal...even though clearly Jean himself has no way out at this point. The Mountie spots a waitress approaching the farm and Jean invites her in, accepting her tray but wondering why she looks familiar. Before he can figure it out, Cooper grabs a gun strapped to the waitress' leg and fires at Jean, who turns to run. A moment later he is doubling back to shoot Cooper from a safer spot. However, he can barely stand and collapses dead to the ground, the last Renault felled in a month of terrible misfortune for their family.

Characters Jean interacts with onscreen…

Nancy O'Reilly

Audrey Horne

Blackie O'Reilly (his victim)

Emory Battis (his victim)

Ben Horne

Harry Truman (sees him through glass and fires at him)

Hank Jennings

Ernie Niles

Mountie King

Agent Cooper (his killer*)
*retroactively added in March 2024

Denise Bryson

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Jean
Although Jean's storyline makes a big point of his relation to Jacques, it's actually easy to forget their connection. They are totally different characters, demonstrating divergent qualities and drawing our attention to different aspects of Twin Peaks' crime world. Jacques is earthy, hedonistic, and lowly; Jean is calculating, powerful, and ruthless. Yet Jean is also more sentimental than Jacques, sacrificing everything - including, ultimately, his own life - in a quixotic quest to avenge his family. Whereas Jacques is barely fazed by Bernie's death just a few days later, slurping up beer, lasciviously recalling an orgy (without much concern for his dead lover either), and plotting to make a cool ten thousand without a flicker of grief or fury for his dead brother. Jean exemplifies an aspect of Twin Peaks' underground simultaneously more romantic and more businesslike. Though he's French-Canadian rather than Italian, and far more hands-on than any Mafia don, he represents the Godfather model of crime boss, simultaneously sinister and noble. This places Twin Peaks in a slightly different genre context than it's dealt with before and indeed, Jean's quest for Cooper provides a more conventional framework for the series. It also, often explicitly, establishes Jean as a predecessor to Windom Earle in the role of primary antagonist. Both Jean and Windom set Cooper back on his heels in a way no season one villain does, and they force him into a more classically heroic role where he's less the detective exploring a mystery than a cop-hero defending himself against baddies.

Jean’s journey
Jean has a strong entrance, softly trotting into Audrey's bedroom like the Big Bad Wolf (a backwards metaphor there, I guess). His unusual approach to Audrey, gently petting her and speaking calmly but firmly, provides an immediate contrast with the forceful way Blackie and Emory treat her in other scenes. It's an immediate indication of his character, the way he likes to toy with his victims before slaying them (as he will also do with Blackie). This is a perverse quality; there's no reason for him to act so chivalric toward a hostage he plans to kill anyway, but we get the sense that enjoys this game. The more we see of Jean, the clearer it becomes that he is willing to betray every person he works with. He exploits both Blackie's and Ben's ends of the proposed deal, flirts with Nancy and Blackie, and is willing to throw the Mountie under the bus for his own vengeful purposes. The intensity of Jean's desire to avenge Jacques and Bernie also comes into focus as he undercuts his own success to bring Cooper down. Ultimately, Jean is an intriguing character with a not-particularly-interesting plot. He fills a gap when Cooper needs an antagonist, but his obsessive quest feels necessarily forced; the best Parks can do to make it work is to effectively suggest an intense psychosexual compulsion lurking beneath the teleplays' contrivances.

Actor: Michael Parks
It's unsurprising that Parks manages to create a hook into a character who shouldn't really be all that compelling. As Variety once wrote, "Parks has such light in his eyes, fire in his belly and a mellifluous purr in his voice that it would probably be a pleasure to watch him recite the Manitoba phone book." That mellifluous purr wasn't just for reading lines - Parks enjoyed a brief string of country hits in the early seventies, including "Long Lonesome Highway" which cracked Billboard's top 20. That song also provided the theme for Parks' short-lived but much-loved cult TV show Then Came Bronson in which he played a lone motorcyclist navigating the back roads of America. Initially a TV movie that caught fire when it was first expanded into a series in the wake of Easy Rider, Bronson only lasted one season. Parks never quite achieved the stardom many expected; he spent the next couple decades working steadily in television. His major comeback as a character actor arrived after Twin Peaks, when Gen X directors like Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, and Quentin Tarantino cast him in memorable parts, most famously Earl McGraw, the Texas Ranger featured in From Dusk Till Dawn, Kill Bill, and Grindhouse (as discussed in this memorable interview). Parks' connections to famous directors go way back; as a young man he befriended the legendary Jean Renoir (only a few letters off from Parks' Twin Peaks character, come to think of it) and he also played Adam (yes, that Adam) in John Huston's The Bible. (record album pictured, 1970)

*Episode 10 (German title: "The Man Behind Glass" - best episode)

Episode 11 (German title: "Laura's Secret Diary")

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

Episode 17 (German title: "Dispute Between Brothers")

Episode 20 (German title: "Checkmate")

Jean was written in individual screenplays by Robert Engels, Barry Pullman, Tricia Brock, and Harley Peyton as well as two collaborations (Engels and Peyton in one episode, Engels/Peyton/Mark Frost/Jerry Stahl in another). He was directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, Todd Holland (twice), Graeme Clifford, and Tina Rathborne. If the actor's and his directors' anecdotes are any evidence, Parks could be an intimidating, insistent presence. Glatter (a "gal director" in one interview and a "chick...who's the director" in another) had to grapple with his forceful insistence on using the accent he'd developed; she seems more bemused than offended: "He had strong ideas, but that's never a problem to me, I find that interesting." Rathborne apparently also ran some resistance against the thick French-Canadian drawl, while Holland was forced to edit around Parks' slow speaking patterns when the actor refused to speed up his memorable delivery. Clifford, for his part, laughs, "I loved his accent!" Unlike the other big Renault, Parks never worked with Frost on the show. But, as a New Orleans resident connected to Twin Peaks and its casting director Johanna Ray, Parks was a natural for Frost's feature debut Storyville, in which he plays a slimy political operative who reacts violently (and I do mean violently) when questioned in a courtroom. Parks never worked with David Lynch but he met him once, during a dubbing session. Lynch entered the studio, pointed at Parks, and said simply, "Really good actor!"

Jean is onscreen for roughly nineteen minutes. He is in eleven scenes in five episodes, taking place over two weeks. He's featured the most in episode 20, when he holds Cooper hostage. His primary location is One Eyed Jack's. He shares the most screentime with the Mountie. He is one of the top ten characters in episode 20.

Best Scene
Episode 20: Trapped inside a dilapidated farmhouse, Jean calmly assesses whether or not he should kill Cooper in cold blood, blaming him for the turmoil of Twin Peaks.

Best Line
“So if you die, maybe you will be the last to die. Maybe you brought the nightmare with you. And maybe the nightmare will die with you.”

Jean Offscreen

Episode 13: Harry locates Jean's mugshot in a large book and shares it with Cooper. He explains: "He runs the northern territories. Drugs, extortion, gambling; you name it." Cooper is shocked to discover that Audrey was nearly killed in part due to himself. Later, Cooper tells Ben that Jean killed Blackie.

Episode 17: FBI Agent Roger Hardy and the Mountie (before his corruption is revealed) show Cooper a picture of Jean and explain that the Mountie was setting up a sting which Cooper ruined with his raid.

Episode 18: Hank tells Ben that he doesn't work for him anymore; there's been a "hostile takeover" of One Eyed Jack's. A furious Ben accurately guesses that Jean is pulling Hank's strings and warns, "Hank, that man is a psychopath! A psy-cho-path! You're dancing with the devil!"

Episode 19: Audrey shows Cooper pictures taken by Bobby at Ben's behest. They depict Jean meeting with Hank, Ernie, and the Mountie and give Cooper the evidence he needs to pursue the sting operation that eventually kills Jean. When they get ahold of Ernie, he makes outrageous claims of torture and blackmail to justify his collusion with Jean.

Episode 20: Ernie calls Jean from the sheriff's station to set up the buy. He alternates between abject terror and false bravado ("Jean Renault is a hard man, but I've known men who'd make him quiver").

Additional Observations

• In the series, Jean doesn't recognize Hank and seems impressed by his state prosecutor's badge (which is confusing in its own right, but I'll address that in Hank's entry). This is contradicted in Mark Frost's The Secret History of Twin Peaks, which asserts that Hank worked closely with Jean from an early age. In fact, Jean had a hand in fixing a controversial high school football game with Hank's help: "Jean Renault--oldest son of deceased family patriarch Jean Jacques Renault--was overheard bragging during a poker game that he'd placed a substantial wager on underdog Kettle Falls in that game and then 'fixed' the outcome. When asked why he'd go to all that trouble to corrupt a high school football game, Jean laughed and was heard to say, in thickly accented English: 'Because I can.'"

• In deleted dialogue from episode 14, Audrey asks her father, "Did you know that Jean Renault was going to kill Emory and Blackie?" He answers, "Serves them right, doesn't it? They're the ones who kidnapped you." Audrey presses, and he says, "No."

It's never quite explained how the Mountie actually intended to operate in his supposed sting, since he is obviously working with Jean. Even if he lied to Roger, he must still have been telling his superiors and colleagues something to lead them to believe he was going to arrest Jean. And if he wasn't, what was his plan to let Jean off the hook? This is one convenient plot point that is hard to rationalize.

• Obviously Cooper needs to rescue Audrey at One Eyed Jack's, and it's definitely the highlight of this not-so-great subplot (actually the primary plot of episodes 9-12, in terms of screentime). However I can't help but feel there's a bit of a missed opportunity in the locale that Jean proposes: "Across the border, five mile east of Grand Fork on the road to Castlegar, is a bar called the Columbian. Behind it is a failed amusement park. Go to the merry-go-round. Leave the briefcase beside the horse with no head. At midnight, alone." Given its unfulfilled specificity, I wonder if this is a reference to a particular film or other work? If so, it escapes me...any ideas?

• Update 2023: This entry was written in 2017, before the third season, and did not need to be revised as Jean did not re-appear. Only the description/intro at the top and the ranking were updated. In the original character series, Jean was ranked #43, between Ronette and the Mayor.

SHOWTIME: No, Parks is not on the cast list for 2017. Jean is gone, but his final monologue lingers. Initially his condemnation of Cooper didn't do much for me. After all it's kinda forced; Cooper came to town and therefore it's his fault your brothers died?! However, it's grown on me lately - Parks' delivery almost sells the perverse notion of blaming Cooper, and as we get closer to a series in which we are certain to see Cooper's dark side, despite what he himself may wish for, "you brought the nightmare with you" seems ever more resonant.

Next (available now): Mayor Dwayne Milford
Previous (active on Wednesday, March 22, 2023 at 8am): Sonny Jim Jones

To read advance entries every week...

(When the series resumes publicly, all new or revised entries will be published at least a month in advance for patrons.)

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