Lost in the Movies: Room Service Waiter (TWIN PEAKS Character Series Bonus #20)

Room Service Waiter (TWIN PEAKS Character Series Bonus #20)

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.

Appearing at potent dramatic moments, the nameless waiter slows the pace, sometimes comically, sometimes poignantly, but always carving room for meditation.

Thursday, March 2, 1989
As the night stretches toward the early morning hours of the next day, FBI Agent Dale Cooper lies immobile on the floor of his Great Northern Hotel room, suffering from a bloody wound in his stomach. Someone on the phone is shouting to him but he can't respond. This is the scene when a tall, thin, elderly waiter shows up in the doorway and announces, "Room service!" Annoyed by the noise from the phone, the waiter struggles to hang it up and then shuffles over to Cooper to hand him a bill. He's brought warm milk for the guest, but warns him sensitively not to let it cool down (he seems to be less sensitive to the fact that Cooper may be dying; when the injured man asks for a doctor, the waiter flinches and persists in announcing that he hung up the phone). Cooper, obliging the good-natured if unhelpful senior citizen, asks if gratuity is included (it is). The waiter tells Cooper "I've heard about you!" and gives him a thumbs up followed by a wink. He leaves the room. Then, slowly, he shuffles back into the doorway, repeats his incantation and offers another thumbs up, which Cooper returns this time. He exits, returns, and gives one more thumbs-up and wink. Cooper faintly wags his finger. The waiter seems cheered, and slowly ambles out one more time.

Thursday, March 9, 1989
The waiter sits at the bar in the Road House while the perfomer onstage sings "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart". A few minutes later, as the same singer croons "The World Spins", the waiter stands up and slowly walks over to Cooper. He places his hand on his shoulder, leans forward, and says softly, "I'm so sorry." Cooper looks stunned, staring in disbelief at the waiter's sympathetic expression as he turns away and walks back to the bar.

Saturday, March 11, 1989
The waiter runs into Cooper again, at the end of a long hallway in the Great Northern. For the first time, they are meeting in the afternoon. The waiter repeats some of his previous catchphrases, with slight variation, then offers another thumbs-up before walking off with a milk glass on his tray. Cooper reacts as if he's on the verge of an epiphany. That afternoon, the waiter hitches a ride with Major Briggs in a lightning storm, asking to be taken to the Road House, where Cooper has gathered a group of people to await some sort of revelation. The waiter approaches Cooper and offers him a stick of gum. Leland Palmer, a white-haired lawyer standing nearby, proclaims that he recognizes that brand - "That's my most favorite gum in the world." "That gum you like is going to come back in style," the waiter assures him as lightning strikes outside. A few minutes later, as Cooper shuffles a murder suspect out the door he turns to offer one last, confident thumbs-up to the waiter, who salutes him with an amiable smile.

in Another Place...
There is a Red Room outside the normal confines of time and space. Cooper is inside, seated in a chair, while the wizened little Man From Another Place is on a couch nearby. Sitting next to him is the waiter, who makes the sound of a stereotypical Indian war whoop with his hand cupped over his mouth and then proclaims "Hallelujah!" which the little man echoes. Then the waiter offers coffee, repeating the word several times as he awkwardly steps closer to Cooper, before placing the cup on the little table next to him. Cooper follows the cup with his eyes and then glances up with a look of surprise, as if seeing something he didn't expect...

Characters the Waiter interacts with onscreen…

Agent Cooper

Major Briggs

Leland Palmer

Spirits who appear with/to him

The Arm*

Spirits who co-exist with him

The Fireman*
*names retroactively changed from "The Man From Another Place" & "The Giant" in March 2024

also present for the Singer's performance of "The World Spins"

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through the Waiter
The waiter's presence reminds us that Twin Peaks is a place where time seems to stands still (something almost forgotten when the first season's pace accelerated to break-neck speed). This is Lynch telling us to calm down, to find the patience to linger over atmosphere and mood; paradoxically, nothing will get to the heart of the mystery better than letting it wash over us without rushing. Most importantly, the waiter evokes a sense of magic in the town - this is something glimpsed directly only for a fleeting moment with Jeffries (who preceded this entry when it was originally published), and even then far outside of Twin Peaks' borders. The waiter, on the other hand, suggests an otherworldly current integral to Twin Peaks itself, finally leading us directly into the Red Room (presented in the episode as the Black Lodge), our first trip in these character studies and our introduction to the Man From Another Place. With the sole exception of Teresa Banks, the waiter is our most important character so far. At the very least, he's present for more important scenes than anyone else we've met. His introduction radically shifts the nature of Twin Peaks as a series, arguably rivaled only by Cooper's drive into town, the Red Room dream, and the murder of Maddy (and perhaps, in a negative way, Leland's wake). The waiter has even been accused of souring audiences on the previously popular show, contributing to a rapid decline in ratings already evident in the second hour of the season two premiere which he opens. The waiter also marks the violent, shocking murder of Maddy, when Leland Palmer is revealed as Bob's host and the killer of Laura Palmer. The old man's gesture of kindness is the only comforting note in a symphony of abject pain and sorrow. The waiter is inserted directly into the (perhaps too neat) resolution of the investigation, and while this role generally suits him, it's notable this is the only appearance Lynch didn't direct. Even the delivery of the lines - "I know about you" vs. the more poetic "I've heard about you" and the addition of "...but it's getting warmer now" to "That milk will cool down on you..." - suggests the waiter is being torn from his more mystical status in order to provide more literal encouragement. That's redeemed by his final appearance; even while clarifying the waiter's connection to the Giant, the scene is so full of strangeness that the character's mystique is only deepened.

The Waiter’s journey
A simple man whose still waters run deep, the waiter doesn't evolve so much as occasionally re-emerge from a place of stability to remind us of an underlying order. In the first scene his presence is mostly comical and perverse but the next time we meet him he is gentle and kind, completely up to the requirements of a deadly serious moment. Our knowledge of his identity develops thanks to what we see when he's not onscreen - namely, the Giant. In fact, almost every single time the waiter appears, the Giant follows (the only exception is when he tells Cooper "you're getting warmer now" in the hallway). When the waiter (finally) leaves Cooper's hotel room, the Giant makes his first appearance, offering Cooper three clues (echoing the waiter turning back three times for a thumbs-up). Before the waiter comforts Cooper at the Road House, the Giant appears onstage to warn "It is happening again." The waiter's incantation about gum triggers a vision of the Giant returning Cooper's ring. Then in the finale we get our clearest confirmation yet: the Giant literally replaces the waiter in front of Cooper, sits down next to the Man From Another Place, and says, "One and the same." The waiter's dramatic arc takes him from a humorously human figure to a guiding spirit, though the suggestion of the latter has been there all along.

Actor: Hank Worden
Worden began acting in his twenties, appearing onstage in the Jazz Age and in his first feature early in the Great Depression, before he had turned thirty. Even so, he'd already lived a rich life: born on a Montana ranch, he was a true cowboy - he didn't just play one onscreen in a hundred or so Westerns. He was also a Stanford-educated engineer who flunked out of flight school shortly after World War I and became a rodeo performer, breaking his neck in one accident although he wouldn't discover the fracture for several decades. He has something in common with another Twin Peaks actor; like Jan D'Arcy (Sylvia Horne), he was encouraged to pursue a Hollywood career by a real-life encounter with Lynch's beloved Glinda, i.e. Billie Burke (the Ziegfeld legend who played the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz). Small world. Worden's most famous role was Mose Harper in The Searchers, one of twelve collaborations with director John Ford and seventeen with John Wayne. The character is not entirely dissimilar to the waiter: a mentally disabled part-Comanche cowpoke whose often inappropriately cheerful demeanor conceals some helpful wisdom. His trademark is an Indian war whoop - Lynch's use of this in the finale (which then spills over into Fire Walk With Me, where it's appropriated by the waiter's couchmate) is almost certainly a direct reference to The Searchers. I could've sworn the character also proclaims "Hellelujah!" but it looks like I'm wrong about that; I haven't watched the movie in a while and can't find any references to that line. (You can read my reviews of The Searchers here and here.) Worden appeared in over two hundred films during a sixty-year career. Incidentally, his New York Times obituary credits the last episode of Cop Rock as his final screen appearance but they're wrong - the Twin Peaks finale was shot and released later, making it his true farewell. (film pictured: The Searchers, 1956)

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

Episode 14 (German title: "Lonely Souls")

Episode 16 (German title: "Arbitrary Law")

Episode 29 (German title: "Beyond Life and Death")

Mark Frost wrote the teleplay for the waiter's first appearance, with the story co-credited to Frost and David Lynch. Certainly a genial, frustrating, slow-moving old man is very much a Lynch motif (and indeed, Carel Struycken, who played the Giant, reports that on the set Lynch kept requesting Worden to move even slower). However, the scene bears a striking similarity to an episode of Hill Street Blues written by Frost seven years earlier (more on that in the "additional observations" section). So it feels like a true meeting of the minds, with Frost quite likely conceiving the situation in the first place. Frost also included the waiter in the script for the killer's reveal, though it was Lynch who improvised his addition to the finale. Frost, Harley Peyton, and Robert Engels co-wrote the waiter's role in the resolution of the mystery, in an episode directed by Tim Hunter. All the other waiter episodes were directed by Lynch.

The waiter is onscreen for roughly eight minutes. He is in five scenes in four episodes, taking place over about eight or nine days, aside from his Red Room appearance (who knows how or why the waiter got there). He's featured the most in episode 8, when he walks slowly around Cooper's room. His primary location is the Great Northern. He shares all of his screentime with Cooper.

Best Scene
Episode 8: One of the quintessential Lynch scenes, in which he picks up where the rapid-fire season finale cliffhanger left off and sloooooooooooooooooooooooows things down.

Best Line
“I'm so sorry.”

Additional Observations

• The waiter is mentioned in one scene he's not in, from episode 9 (written by Harley Peyton and directed by David Lynch). Cooper discusses his shooting over breakfast with FBI colleague Albert Rosenfield, who notes, "Oh, the world's most decrepit room service waiter remembers nothing out of the ordinary about the night in question. No surprise there. Senor Droolcup has, shall we say, a mind that wanders." Though not exactly intended as a term of endearment, "Senor Droolcup" has been adopted as such by fans ever since.

• The waiter's outfit (which he wears even when he's not on the job) is an entirely functional uniform; nonetheless it serves other evocative purposes too. Most obviously, his bow tie matches the Giant's, working alongside his height and slowness to underscore their connection. Also, the small apron combined with the formality of the shirt and tie distinctly evokes the Freemasons' costume, a very important motif for Mark Frost. Frost envisions the Masons as an esoteric force for good in a larger spiritual struggle, much like the Giant and the waiter in Twin Peaks. From his book The Secret History of Twin Peaks: "These theories suggest that there were two esoteric organizations vying for future control of the developing nation: one with positive democratic intentions for its citizens (Freemasons) and the other malign (the Bavarian Illuminati), interested only in enriching its elite class at the expense of the general populace. Opposing ideologies, it might well be said, which continue that struggle to this day."

• As I mentioned above and pointed out on Tumblr, "In the season 3 finale of Hill Street Blues - co-written by Mark Frost - an oblivious room service waiter comically interrupts a potentially serious scene, repeating 'Thank you' and returning to the room several times. In the season 2 premiere of Twin Peaks - written by Mark Frost - an oblivious room service waiter comically interrupts a potentially serious scene, repeating 'Thank you' and returning to the room several times. Hmmm...." In Hill Street Blues' case, two lovers are trying to indulge in a quickie during a lunch break when the waiter interrupts and then collapses on the floor, forcing them to address his needs instead of theirs. You can watch the episode on Hulu (or jump to a low-res clip, cued up, on YouTube).

From the date above: Technically, the waiter first appears on the morning of Friday, March 3; we know this because before Cooper enters his room he tells Diane it's 4:30 am. However, aside from this and one or two other cases, it's difficult to know when a night scene takes place before or after midnight. So for the sake of clarity/consistency I'm reinventing the way our calendar works. Every day is classified as beginning at dawn rather than midnight! Perhaps I should have just used "Day 1", "Day 2", etc with the dates in parenthesis afterwards, but it's too late now.

Update 2018: This entry was written in 2017, before the third season, and did not need to be revised as the waiter did not re-appear. Only the description/intro at the top and the ranking were updated. Since the criteria for inclusion was changed (originally three scenes with dialogue, now ten minutes of screentime), he retroactively became a "bonus entry" rather than part of the full rankings. In the original character series, the waiter was ranked #57, between Hardy and Cliff.

SHOWTIME: No, Worden is not on the cast list for 2017. If he was alive today, he would be in running for oldest person on earth (even twenty-five years ago, the eighty-nine-year-old was the oldest person associated with Twin Peaks; the late Warren Frost, at ninety, beats his record in the new series). Worden passed away at ninety-one in 1992, a year and a half after the finale. Did the waiter himself die during the events of the series? Some have speculated that this is why he's allowed inside the Lodge (unlike Cooper, Windom and Annie who entered through the curtains in Glastonbury Grove - it's hard to imagine why or how the old waiter could have made it that far into the woods). I think that may be looking at things a little too literally; besides, how much of what we see is generated by Cooper's own consciousness, how much is separate entities presenting themselves to him, and how much is a collaborative if chaotic "meeting of the minds"? The waiter always exists with one foot in the physical world and one foot in the spiritual realm - the perfect guide for Cooper.

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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