Lost in the Movies: Mountie Preston King (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #83)

Mountie Preston King (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #83)

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.

Despite his stern demeanor and sharp red uniform, this Mountie is no upstanding law enforcement official.

Wednesday, March 15, 1989
Two figures burst into the Twin Peaks sheriff's station. Standing ramrod straight in the classically bright and flashy dress of the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, Mountie King asks for Sheriff Harry Truman. Having made contact, he allows his compatriot - the equally stern FBI Internal Affairs officer Roger Hardy - to announce that the FBI agent at this station, Dale Cooper, has been suspended and is under investigation. Cooper is told that he violated international law by crossing into Canada and rescuing a young woman from a criminal gang, killing two people in the process and possibly stealing some drugs that had been planted there by the Mounties. This Mountie is particularly furious because he'd been preparing a sting operation for months and feels that this rogue FBI agent stepped on his toes and ruined the deal. Cooper denies any involvement with drug trafficking and the sheriff refuses to cooperate (unless legally required). That night, the Mountie (in a tuxedo rather than his red jacket) shows up at One Eyed Jack's, the very bordello he was supposedly going to raid. He greets Jean Renault, a crime lord he described as "missing" earlier in the day, and opens up a suitcase...full of cocaine. When his two potential partners, Hank Jennings and Ernie Niles, leave the room, the Mountie expresses his doubts about Ernie to Jean: "I don't like the look of him. Too nervous." He then tells Jean that he's going to plant some cocaine in Cooper's car to set him up.

Saturday, March 18, 1989
A few days later, the Mountie, Jean, Ernie, and a fourth man (a slick out-of-town buyer) are finalizing their deal at Dead Dog Farm, a run-down property on the margins of Twin Peaks. Hank isn't present, for uncertain reasons. Ernie starts sweating so much that his shirt begins smoking, and the Mountie tears it open to reveal a wire! They are under surveillance, so Jean and the Mountie seize Ernie and the buyer as hostages, forcing Cooper to reveal himself nearby. He offers to surrender himself if they turn over the hostages, and they do, taking him inside the farm. That night, a bruised Cooper is taunted by Jean while the Mountie nervously looks out the window, growing impatient with Jean's rambling. He notices a waitress approaching the building, and they let her inside. It's a trap: the waitress tackles the Mountie while Cooper grabs her gun and kills Jean. The waitress, actually an undercover agent, cuffs the Mountie as the officials congratulate each other in a successful ruse. The Mountie is now little more than a common criminal, on his way to prison.

Characters the Mountie interacts with onscreen…

Roger Hardy

Harry Truman

Agent Cooper

Jean Renault

Ernie Niles

Hank Jennings

Denise Bryson

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through the Mountie
The Mountie is the first character in the series to lead us into one of its most conventional subplots (although Roger plants the seeds): a law-and-order caper in which Cooper, a DEA agent, and the sheriff's department must prove the hero's innocence and battle armed thugs. So through the Mountie's eyes, Twin Peaks is not terribly different from any other police procedural landscape, albeit dotted with some quirky touches - including the Mountie himself. He initially appears as a comic signifier; to many Americans, Mounties are whimsical beings, as nationally evocative as a German in lederhosen or a Frenchman in a beret and striped shirt. In fact, the Mountie might tell us more about the show's vision of Canada than of Twin Peaks. Like the Renault brothers, One Eyed Jack's, and the Pink Room nightclub, the Mountie paints a dastardly, sleazy portrait of our usually pleasantly-perceived neighbors to the north. It's an image so wildly divorced from the usual stereotype that it seems more outlandish than offensive, akin to South Park's vision of Canadians "with their beady little eyes and flappin' heads so full of lies."

The Mountie’s journey
Externally, the Mountie has a clear arc: a transformation from overbearing lawman to beaten-down outlaw. Internally, on the other hand, there's no real evolution and not even very much personality to begin with. In fact, it's hard to determine exactly why this character even exists: what role does he perform that other character's couldn't? Despite his copious screentime over two episodes, the Mountie is usually a silent sidekick or background presence, playing second banana on both sides of the law, to Roger and then to Jean. If this surprisingly insubstantial character leaves any distinct impression, it's due to his look: the reddish-blonde crown of hair, piercing blue eyes, bushy moustache topping an imposing frown, and of course that instantly-recognizable Dudley Do-Right costume (which, patient Canadians like to remind their neighbors, is not typically worn by Mounties in their day-to-day activities). He's essentially an iconic presence in search of a character.

Actor: Gavan O'Herlihy
As the son of Dan O'Herlihy (who debuted as Andrew Packard one episode later), the O'Herlihys join the Twin Peaks father/son teams of the Lynchs, Frosts and Parks (just this weekend I learned from commentator William Remmers that the Mo's Moters attendant in Fire Walk With Me is James Parks, son of the actor who plays Jean Renault). O'Herlihy's most notorious role is probably Richie Cunningham's older brother Chuck in Happy Days, who has become the poster child for "Characters who disappear without a trace." Chuck Cunningham was recast and then erased from the show, with varying theories as to why (some criticized the performance, others said the character was eclipsed by the Fonz). In an entertaining 2013 interview from the site OnMilwaukee (in which the author randomly posted about Chuck Cunningham on Facebook only to discover two of her friends were the actor's nieces), O'Herlihy explains that he actually asked to leave the show because it wasn't for him. Fortunately, the rest of his career was more gratifying, with roles - often as a handsome villain - in films like Willow, Never Say Never Again, and the miniseries Lonesome Dove. British viewers are likely to remember him as Leroy in Sharpe's Eagle rather than as the disappearing Chuck. (series pictured: Happy Days, mid-1970s)

*Episode 17 (German title: "Dispute Among Brothers" - best episode)

Episode 20 (German title: "Checkmate")

O'Herlihy's character (described as "a black Canadian Mountie in full, red uniform") is written by Tricia Brock and Harley Peyton (wife and husband, though they worked independently on two different episodes). He is directed by Tina Rathborne and Todd Holland.

The Mountie is onscreen for roughly ten minutes. He is in six scenes in two episodes, taking place over half a week. He's featured the most in episode 17, when he arrives in town. His primary location is the Twin Peaks sheriff's station. He shares the most screentime with Cooper. He is one of the top three characters in episode 17 (with over six minutes of screentime, third only to Cooper and Harry), very unusual for a character this low on the list.

Best Scene
Episode 17: The mountie enters as a visually startling figure, provoking instant curiosity.

Best Line
“We worked six months to set this up. One night you march in. Renault escapes, two men are dead, and the cocaine we were using for the set-up was stolen from the premises.”

Additional Observations

• Like many other characters on the show, the Mountie's full name - Preston King - is a classic TV reference. Sergeant Preston of the Yukon was a popular fifties show about a Mountie, and Sergeant Preston's dog was named Yukon King. (The opening is on YouTube, along with comments from nostalgic boomers who endearingly only know how to post in bold and all-caps...maybe they're Gordon Cole?) The Wikipedia entry contains this gem: "In 1955, the Quaker Oats company gave away land in the Klondike as part of the Klondike Big Inch Land Promotion which was tied in with the television show. Genuine deeds each to one square inch of a lot in Yukon Territory, issued by Klondike Big Inch Land Co. Inc., were inserted into Quaker's Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice cereal boxes."

Update 2023: This entry was written in 2017, before the third season, and did not need to be revised as the Mountie did not re-appear. Only the description/intro at the top and the ranking were updated. In the original character series, the Mountie was ranked #55, between Cliff and Sternwood.

SHOWTIME: No, O'Herlihy is not on the cast list for 2017. The Mountie must have regretted Jean's death, albeit not for compassionate reasons. Had they both been captured, maybe he could have lightened his own sentence by testifying against the crime lord. As it is, he might still be serving time today. Question for the legal experts: was he tried in American or Canadian court? (And while you're at it, head back to my Jones entry and tell me what you think about that case too.)

Next (available now): Judge Clinton Sternwood
Previous (active on Friday, January 27, 2023 at 8am): Sylvia Horne

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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