Lost in the Movies: Lana Budding Milford (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #56)

Lana Budding Milford (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #56)

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.

Lana's "curse" attracts and haunts the men she meets in Twin Peaks, but this naive bewitchment eventually gives way to more down-to-earth calculation.

Thursday, March 16, 1989
Lana stands at a makeshift altar in the Great Northern Hotel with Dougie Milford, a man about sixty years her senior. The blushing bride's nuptials are interrupted by Dougie's angry brother, who registers his objections when the preacher casually says, "Speak now or forever hold your peace." Lana looks upset - but maybe also just a bit coldly irritated - as this other Milford, actually the Mayor of Twin Peaks, is escorted out. At the reception, Dougie and Lana dance in marital bliss, and she feeds him a piece of the cake. She is impressed to meet FBI Agent Dale Cooper - "You solved that Laura Palmer case, huh?" (referring to the recent murder of a local teenager) - before Dougie whisks her away again.

Friday, March 17, 1989
Lana runs screaming through the halls of the Great Northern, passing by a stunned Bobby Briggs. A while later, she is seated mournfully outside the honeymoon suite where her husband lies dead. On his way out of the room, the Mayor turns towards her and accuses her of witchcraft. A weeping Lana agrees with his assessment, telling Deputy Hawk Hill that she's cursed; ever since she was a teenager and broke the braces of a boy she was kissing at the prom, her relationships have ended badly. That night Hawk continues to comfort her at the sheriff's station, mixing a bottle of Irish whiskey with some milk for the "widow Milford." In forlorn yet sultry fashion, Lana leans against the doorway and Sheriff Harry Truman, Deputy Andy Brennan, Dick Tremayne, and Doc Hayward stare at her in thunderstruck disbelief; Dick and Doc even begin reciting Romeo and Juliet. They all gather around her in the conference room, and listen with goofy grins on their faces as she tells them a bizarre story about her cousin, a rodeo clown.

Sunday, March 19, 1989
Andy, Harry, Hawk, and Cooper join Lana and Dr. Lawrence Jacoby in that same conference room a few days later. Jacoby explains that he's spent the past twenty-four hours with Lana and she's no witch; she has a "heightened sexual drive and a working knowledge of technique, anatomy, and touch that few men have ever had the pleasure of experiencing or the skills to match." Proud of the diagnosis, they march off to go bowling...only to be confronted by the Mayor in the hallway. Pointing a double-barrel rifle in their direction he warns: "Anybody that moves, I'll blast her into kingdom come. And the hippie too." Cooper brokers a peace by inviting the awkward in-laws to talk it over in the conference room, allowing the Mayor to take his weapon with him and closing the door behind them. Under these circumstances, Lana takes the safest route, and when the lawmen return to the room she and the Mayor, with lipstick kisses dotting his face, are cuddling and announcing they plan to adopt a child. She swoons over how much he reminds her of Dougie as they exit the room hand in hand.

Friday, March 24, 1989
After a week of apparently nonstop lovemaking, Lana and her lover relax at the RR Diner. She calmly asks a favor, or rather makes a gentle demand: "I wanna win the Miss Twin Peaks contest." The Mayor, who is judging the pageant, doesn't quite get her meaning and a look of frustration crosses her face before she repeats herself more firmly. As he demurs, she presses the issue, employing both insistence and seduction to get her way. That afternoon, after filling out her admission form, she enrolls in the contest at the Road House with a committee of which the mayor is a part. In the evening, she assists Dick at a wine-tasting event in the Great Northern, happily answering his open questions, even correctly guessing that one of the wines has a slight taste of banana.

Saturday, March 25, 1989
The Mayor finds Lana in the Road House and tells her that Dick will be one of the judges. He encourages her to seduce him so that two judges will support her. Then the Mayor breaks down, longing to elope with Lana. She tells him they'll marry only after she becomes Miss Twin Peaks.

Sunday, March 26, 1989
The next morning, Lana practices her choreography at the Road House. During a rehearsal break, she wanders up to Dick and coyly asks for him to help her find an "important prop" in the storage room. The room is dark so Dick turns on a flashlight but Lana keeps shutting it off and rubbing up against him. Eventually, she "finds what she's looking for" in the dark room and Dick sounds equally pleased with her discovery. That night, Lana joins the rest of the chorus for the big show at the Road House. For her individual event, she wows quite a few men in the room with her "contortionistic jazz exotica," a wildly exaggerated Orientalist/Hollywood riff on a belly dance. Dick gapes and the Mayor is absolutely thrilled. It's not enough, however...when the final announcement is made, Lana doesn't win and as the other contestants flock to the winner's side in gracious enthusiasm, a shocked Lana stares at the Mayor in disbelief. She doesn't have long to wallow in her discontent, however; the lights go out in the Road House and there are several explosions. Lana and the other women scream and race around stage, attempting to escape the pandemonium. She flees close on Shelly Johnson's heels amidst the strobe-inflected smoke.

Characters Lana interacts with onscreen…

Dougie Milford

Agent Cooper

Bobby Briggs (exchange glances as she runs past)

Deputy Hawk

Doc Hayward, Harry Truman & Deputy Andy

Dick Tremayne

Dr. Jacoby

Mayor Milford

Lucy Moran & Shelly Johnson (dancing with her in chorus line)

Donna Hayward & Audrey Horne (holding hands waiting for announcement)

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Lana
A southern belle, Lana obviously isn't originally from Twin Peaks, and it's uncertain how long she's lived in town. However, she has the longest list of character interactions of anyone so far, and she appears at - is indeed central to - two of the town's biggest events: Miss Twin Peaks and her own wedding. She even dates the town's mayor. Another link to the town is her vaguely supernatural aura, though this is shot down by Jacoby. And of course she embodies one of the town's most consistent subjects, the attractive young woman navigating a world of powerful, sex-hungry older men (interesting that Lana is one of the few characters to bring up Laura Palmer in the show's later episodes). She does so, however, in a consistently comedic vein. The Milford subplot is some of Twin Peaks' goofiest material. The tone is always wacky, almost smirking in its ludicrous execution. Indeed, if it wasn't handled in such a casually flippant, sitcom-y manner, Cooper's decision to send an armed, angry old man into a room alone with a terrified young woman would be a premature concession that BOB is already strong with him.

Lana’s journey
Like the Mayor, Lana has two arcs. Unlike him, she almost emerges as two different characters in a separate analysis of these arcs. In her first storyline, Lana is a happy newlywed quickly turned grieving widow before rebounding with an in-law. She comes off as vaguely naive, naturally exercising her sexual power without much conscious intention while also accepting that she may be a witch. In this plot, Lana is usually passive - her one moment of decisive action occurs offscreen when she seduces the Mayor. For the most part, she's argued and ogled over. In her second storyline, Lana's hungry ambition causes her to cheat her way into becoming the local beauty queen, a task which she ultimately fails (it's an interesting goal, considering she is an out-of-towner; what is she trying to prove?). Starting right away with that diner scene after a five-episode absence, Lana presents herself very differently. She is ruthlessly eager to attain her goal - winning the Miss Twin Peaks contest - and manipulates both the Mayor and Dick with calculated prowess (in several moments, she is noticeably exasperated, exhibiting an intelligence that was completely hidden in the earlier episodes). I noted in the Mayor's entry that this second storyline may be even less compelling than the first; there's a lot of filler since the required actions are fairly simple. However, in Lana's case it definitely offers more compelling character development - providing her with a more active, subtle role, less a simple object of everyone else's attention.

Actress: Robyn Lively
Lively was one of the youngest actors on Twin Peaks; on a show where twentysomethings often played teenagers, she was a teenager playing a twentysomething. As a reference point, she's only six years older than the actor who played Little Nicky. A child/teen actor throughout the eighties, she appeared in numerous TV shows (including Punky Brewster, where she plays an orphan), The Karate Kid III (in which her role had to be rewritten because she was a minor while her intended love interest, Ralph Macchio, was twenty-seven) and, perhaps most famously, Teen Witch. I missed that film as a kid, but several years ago on the Twin Peaks Rewatch forum, the user Argobot posted some clips and, well...they are are deliciously cheesy and worth watching. The film is something of a cult favorite, including with Lively's little sister Blake (like at least a dozen other Twin Peaks cast/crew members, Lively has celebrity siblings/offspring). Lively has appeared regularly on television throughout the past three decades, including recurring roles as a nurse on two shows (Doogie Howser, M.D. and Chicago Hope) and as Casey Wagonmaster on a full season of George & Leo. Most recently, she plays the mother of the title character in Gortimer Gibbons' Life on Normal Street, an Amazon children's series; a third season has been shot but not yet aired. She also pops up in "Dual Spires", the 2010 episode of Psych that pays tribute to Twin Peaks in both subject and casting - she's one of seven Twin Peaks alums to guest star. On the episode she is married to Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs), who owns the town diner. Their daughter Paula Merrill is murdered and found wrapped in plastic by a lake. (Psych appearances are something I'm going to start noting each entry; I just went back to add a reference for Catherine Coulson, the only previous guest.) (film pictured: promotion for Teen Witch, 1989)

Episode 18 (German title: "Masked Ball")

Episode 19 (German title: "The Black Widow")

Episode 21 (German title: "Double Play")

*Episode 26 (German title: "Variations on Relations" - best episode)

Episode 27 (German title: "The Path to the Black Lodge")

Episode 28 (fan title: "Miss Twin Peaks")

Lively reportedly knew Lynch and was recruited personally by him although she never appeared in any of his episodes. Lana is introduced by Barry Pullman (who also wrote her final episode), and her other teleplays were authored by Harley Peyton and Robert Engels (in two collaborations), Scott Frost, and a Mark Frost/Harley Peyton collaboration. In fact, I suspect Frost - who wrote the first episode of her second storyline - was behind her shift toward a more conniving, clever character, considering both his general interest in such characters and how he deals with her in The Secret History of Twin Peaks. Lana is directed by Duwayne Dunham, Caleb Deschanel, Uli Edel, Jonathan Sanger, Stephen Gyllenhaal, and Tim Hunter.

Lana is onscreen for roughly twenty minutes. She is in thirteen scenes in six episodes, taking place over ten days. She's featured the most in episode 28, when she competes in Miss Twin Peaks. Her primary location is the Road House. She shares the most screentime with the Mayor. She is one of the top five characters in episode 28.

Best Scene
Episode 28: Lana lays it on thick for Dick, while the Mayor watches approvingly; in a dark storage room, he helps her find what she's looking for.

Best Line
“They made him stand in the middle and take his clown costume completely off!”

Additional Observations

• Lana is mentioned a few times leading up to her first appearance, but never by name. In episode 17 the Mayor and Dougie argue over her at Leland Palmer's wake (where the Mayor denies being jealous, taunting Dougie about Lana's age while alleging she's cursed). Other wake guests reveal that Dougie has been married many times. In episode 18, the crew at the sheriff's station jokes about Dougie's endless weddings: "Dougie's weddings are a seasonal thing," Hawk comments, "like the return of the salmon." Andy and Hawk show their gifts for the Milfords: a matching ascot/scarf set which the script describes as "two loud, almost road-kill plaid scarves."

• When she marches up to the stage at the Miss Twin Peaks try-outs, Bobby watches her and snarks, "Does anybody smell a fix here?"

• The only female character who really reacts to Lana in any way is Lucy - and she doesn't like her. In fact, she's infuriated when she sees the men (and especially Andy) fawning over her at the sheriff's station and irritated as Dick flirts with her at the wine-tasting (this inspires her to spit her wine in his face, although her excuse is that she's pregnant).

• Lana's unique otherworldly effect on men is a tough sell in a town already populated by women played by Sherilyn Fenn, Madchen Amick, Joan Chen, Peggy Lipton, Sheryl Lee, Lara Flynn Boyle, Heather Graham, and so on. Lively herself knew this, and settled on an exaggerated Southern accent as the quality that could set Lana apart.

• In Mark Frost's The Secret Lives of Twin Peaks, Lana - despite her small part on the show - is featured in several prominent pages (significantly more than, ahem, a certain Miss Twin Peaks, which must satisfy Lana wherever she is now; mysteriously, when giving public readings, Frost frequently refers to the widow Milford as the true winner of the contest). No wonder she makes the cut; her beau is the star of the book. Frost relishes descriptions of Lana's conniving charms and is worth quoting at length: "...she'd drifted in on a breeze -- no one could recall exactly when, but it was recent. Lana's form was her fate: She had the legs of a chorus girl, the chassis of a sleek jungle cat and a face poised precisely between perky and provocative. Soon after securing a job at the Twin Peaks Savings and Loan -- where, one assumes, she assayed a glance at Doug's balance sheet -- Lana locked onto her target like a Hellfire missile from the moment he entered her sights. She proceeded to conduct the kind of purposeful campaign to bring down her prey that the younger Doug Milford would have recognized, professionally appreciated and avoided like dengue fever. This was not the younger Milford." Frost goes on to describe how their romance began, when Lana "accidentally" locked them in the bank vault (this runs contrary to deleted dialogue for episode 18, in which the Mayor explains that his brother was teaching a course on journalism and Lana was one of his students.) Far from marrying the Mayor, Lana leaves town "once the check cleared" (Dougie signed no prenuptial agreement "so if fortune hunting was indeed Lana's game, she bagged her limit.") The text's narrator speculates that Lana may have been an assassin, given Dougie's shadowy history with the U.S. government and assorted conspiracies.

• We also learn that Lana had a fling with Donald Trump: "She allegedly fled to the Hamptons, and briefly dated a bizarrely coiffed real estate mogul before marrying a hedge fund manager -- sounds about right."

• Update 2023: This entry was written in 2017, before the third season, and did not need to be revised as Lana did not re-appear. Only the description/intro at the top and the ranking were updated. In the original character series, Lana was ranked #41, between the Mayor and Gerard.

SHOWTIME: No, Lively is not on the cast list for 2017. Lana's fate will (probably) remain a mystery, beyond what Frost describes in his book. As will her true motives - even in a text unafraid to clarify certain ambiguous characters (see Josie), Lana's inner life remains hidden. Was she a kid in over her head, a witch embedded in a web of magic, a conniving gold digger, a professional killer? Lana has often, understandably, been dismissed as a one-note sexist stereotype, but perhaps within the unanswered questions of her past and future we can glimpse a more intriguing figure...and grant Twin Peaks the benefit of the doubt.

Next (active on Monday, March 27, 2023 at 8am): Carrie Page

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(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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