Lost in the Movies: Evelyn Marsh (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #46)

Evelyn Marsh (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #46)

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.

Evelyn deceives and conspires with so many different lovers that eventually she begins to question her own aims.

Thursday, March 16, 1989
At Hide-Out Wallie's, a rustic bar somewhere in Washington state, Evelyn Marsh savors her olive as the bartender pours another drink. A young man in a leather jacket enters, and Evelyn immediately sizes him up. After some flirtatious banter (discovering that he is a biker fleeing Twin Peaks for nowhere in particular), she offers James Hurley a job. Mrs. Marsh recently crashed her wealthy husband's Jaguar and hopes James' mechanical aptitude can salvage it before he returns home. At the Marsh estate, James tells Evelyn it's fixable; she tells him about her husband's obsession with perfection and asks him about his motorcyle. "I guess I'm not so interested in how my bike looks as where it can take me..." he admits. "It's not really a place, it's a feeling." She invites him to stay in the guest apartment while he works on the car.

Friday, March 17, 1989
Evelyn visits James as he works in the garage. He says her brother told him about her husband, and asks about the state of her marriage. She tells him to mind his own business but after this shaky start to their conversation, they end up kissing. Then she sees her husband Jeffrey pull up across the driveway and races out to see him. "It's not as bad as I made it out to be," she insists.

Saturday, March 18, 1989
Visiting James, Evelyn wears dark shades and when James removes them he sees that her face is bruised. He tells her why he left Twin Peaks - a girl died, and he was confronted by how little he knew her. Then another girl was murdered, and he hopped on his bike and drove away. Evelyn kisses James again, and as she hears Jeffrey leave she pleads for James to help her out (but she doesn't say how). That afternoon James shows her the restored car and they drink champagne and make out. That night Evelyn sneaks out of the bed she is sharing with James. In the hallway outside, Malcolm, the family chauffeur and her supposed "brother," smooches Evelyn and snickers at the sleeping James. Evelyn looks distressed.

Sunday, March 19, 1989
James chats with Jeffrey as Evelyn watches them with aloof cool. The very uncomfortable James quickly dismisses himself and Evelyn watches Jeffrey drive away in his Jaguar. As his engine fades into the distance, she hears a screech and a loud crash: a nearby accident, or a premonition of what's to come? She goes to James' apartment and finds him packing, surly and wounded, telling her their romance is wrong as she begs him not to leave her with Jeffrey. He storms away to check on his bike. Evelyn goes to Wallie's and runs into a teenage girl from Twin Peaks, asking around for James. She tells this girl, named Donna, that James was at her house to fix a car but he's since departed. She's dismissive and condescending and Donna responds warily. Back at her house that evening, Evelyn reveals to James that Jeffrey has died in a car crash - "Oh my God," he realizes, "You killed him!" Evelyn blames Malcolm but acknowledges that James has been framed (as the police pull up outside). She tearfully proclaims her love and begs him to escape. He runs out of the house and she walks downstairs to feed a story to the police outside. Finding the time, before the night is over, to don a widow's veil and black dress, Evelyn corrects Malcolm when he stumbles over "Jim"'s name with the state troopers: "James. James Hurley." When the troopers leave, Malcolm manhandles the miserable Evelyn and tells her he doesn't want "a nervous co-conspirator."

Monday, March 20, 1989
A drunken Evelyn runs into Donna again at Wallies and mercilessly mocks the flustered adolescent when she pleads on James' behalf. "He was good at two things," Evelyn sneers. "The car...and me." Donna is furious: "You really like to make everything sound pointless and stupid, don't you?" Malcolm interrupts their spat to shove Evelyn out the door, (barely) acting like a concerned chauffeur. Evelyn continues to drink at the house, blowing smoke rings and staring at the ceiling until James bursts in, demanding answers. She admits that she's not good and honest but that her love for him was sincere at least some of the time. They end up kissing again but Malcolm bashes James over the head and plots how to disguise his murder as self-defense, handing a gun to Evelyn so her fingerprints will be on it. Donna runs to James' side and begs for his life while Malcolm demands the gun. Evelyn retreats, Malcolm pursues, and Evelyn fires directly at his chest. The dying Malcolm collapses on her and drags them both to the ground where Evelyn flails around and begins practicing how she will explain this to the police: "He was angry, he was crazy, he killed Jeffrey, he came back to kill me. ... I shot him till he was dead."

Characters Evelyn interacts with onscreen…

James Hurley

Malcolm Sloan (her victim)

Donna Hayward

(also killed Jeffrey Marsh)*

and Laura Palmer is mentioned*
*retroactively added in March 2024

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Evelyn
We never see Twin Peaks in Evelyn's scenes, though it's mentioned frequently. Unfortunately, wherever she lives doesn't have much of an identity the way, say, Deer Meadow or Philadelphia do. There's no sense of a community that can define Twin Peaks by contrast or comparison. Evelyn does scoff at James' first mention of the town, as if it seems provincial by comparison to her luxurious lifestyle. And her treatment of Donna reveals a similar contempt. This contempt is returned by many Twin Peaks fans; this is possibly the show's most disliked storyline and by extension, one of its least popular characters. The objections to the Evelyn Marsh detour are numerous: it's far from Twin Peaks, it revolves around James (hardly the most dynamic member of the show's ensemble), the plot is both predictable and underwhelming, and the material is tonally divorced from everything else on the show (more like a straight-up formulaic soap opera than a subversion of the form). Evelyn Marsh exemplifies the moment that Twin Peaks really, truly stumbles. There are earlier warning signs, but the Laura Palmer mystery holds the show together for the first half of the series. The sharp decline begins an episode before Evelyn, as a number of wacky subplots kick off, but Evelyn's entrance signifies that the series is going to stick in this irrelevant mode. This plus its extended length (by comparison, Little Nicky only appears in three scenes, with a handful of others following up on these brief appearances) and, probably especially, its literal distance from Twin Peaks marked "Evelyn Marsh" as shorthand for Twin Peaks' decline. But what of the character herself?

Evelyn’s journey
Evelyn is more a type than a flesh-and-blood person. Her arch banter and cunning glances immediately declare "femme fatale" in the first few frames. From there, the writers, actress, and directors must figure out what to do with this cliche. Unfortunately, Evelyn only begins transcending her broad outlines in her final episode, at which point the story has exhausted itself (many viewers are stunned to see it continue, assuming that James' escape signified the ending). Nonetheless, Evelyn does exhibit growth over the course of five episodes. The revelation of her manipulation comes as no surprise; we're waiting for that shoe to drop from the very beginning. More subtle is the emergence of a guilty conscience. The confirmation of her duplicity, as she embraces Malcolm outside James' room, is immediately accompanied by a forlorn look and this ambivalence continues when the plot comes to a head. The conclusion of her arc fully explores this gray area between devious conspirator and dissatisfied depressive. While the execution of Evelyn's narrative leaves much to be desired, there is the raw material for a compelling characterization - making the outcome all the more disappointing. There is a potentially interesting character and situation buried beneath the tired treatment Twin Peaks offers; it's even possibile for this story to tie in to the larger pathos of the Laura mystery and the desperation of the town. However, I'll leave the rest of that discussion for James' entry.

Actress: Annette McCarthy
McCarthy plays a medical officer in the sci-fi horror film Creature who is ultimately (spoiler alert) decapitated and fed to the titular alien (designed by a team that worked on Aliens a year later). Aside from a bit part as a nurse in the comedy Second Thoughts, this was McCarthy's only film work - most of her credits are in television, including Magnum, P.I., Night Court, Happy Days, St. Elsewhere, and Beauty and the Beast. She was personally cast by David Lynch for Twin Peaks and went on to appear in several episode of Baywatch - her last listed role - in the mid-nineties (she has since become an executive chef; earlier in her career, she doubled as a rock musician, opening for and partying with Twisted Sister). She is on Twitter (her bio simply states "The Real Evelyn Marsh") and conducted a great interview with Brad Dukes a few years ago (in which she reveals that she was both Sofia Coppola's and Zooey Deschanel's babysitter). When Dukes published his seminal oral history Reflections in 2014, she became a crucial presence in the book. McCarthy acknowledges that "my scenes with James were a little overdramatic and some of the lines were pretty silly, but it was cute, what can I say?" She clearly appreciated the experience and particularly remembers the champagne scene: "we actually drank champagne and they took (I think) maybe twelve takes of it. I had to drink twelve glasses of champagne! At one point they had to take me to the dressing room and lay me down. (laughs) The production assistant screamed to get some sparkling water instead. ... James and I were wasted. Wasted!" James Marshall, though frustrated with the direction his character took, enjoyed this aspect of the work too: "It was totally fun working with Annette though, she was really cool. She was really fun and a really good actress, aside from being an incredible kisser!" (film pictured: Creature, 1985)

Episode 18 (German title: "Masked Ball")

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

Episode 20 (German title: "Checkmate")

Episode 21 (German title: "Double Play")

*Episode 22 (German title: "Slaves and Masters" - best episode)

Harley Peyton is the creator of the Evelyn Marsh storyline. He recently confirmed that the Otto Preminger noir Angel Face is a particular inspiration (see the "Additional Observations" section below for more). Peyton writes one solo script for Evelyn, as well as collaborating twice with Robert Engels. Barry Pullman introduces Evelyn and Scott Frost writes one of her episodes. Evelyn is directed by Duwayne Dunham, Caleb Deschanel, Todd Holland, Uli Edel, and Diane Keaton. Keaton brings out the most in the actress and character. In Reflections, David Patrick Kelly observes, "she brings this idea of empowering women," and Wendy Robie also remarks that Keaton "understood Nadine so well ... She completely understood." This sympathy carries over to Evelyn as well. After floundering as a stock figure for four episodes, she suddenly becomes a poignant figure and McCarthy relishes the opportunity to demonstrate the character's vulnerability - as well as her bite (the bar scene with Donna is more effective than the earlier one with James, which itself was one of her better moments). Keaton also lavishes attention on the sleek, chic side of Evelyn's persona, lingering over the close-up of her veil (superimposed over numerous other scenes), a slow-motion shot of her blowing smoke rings, and inserts of her hands caressing glamor magazines and glistening ashtrays. For some viewers, it's too little too late; for many, it's way too much when they're ready for the story to be over. I have many issues with Keaton's episode, but looking at this arc as a whole I find her attentive, enthusiastic treatment of Evelyn to be among the more redeeming aspects of this character's material.

Evelyn is onscreen for roughly twenty-six minutes. She is in fourteen scenes in five episodes, taking place over five consecutive days. She's featured the most in episode 22, when she kills Malcolm. Her primary location is the Marsh estate. She shares the most screentime with James. She is one of the top ten characters in episode 18, one of the top five characters in episodes 20 and 21, and second only to Cooper in episode 22.

Best Scene
Episode 22: There's an energetic spark to this scene that's been lacking from most of the strained banter; as the podcast Bickering Peaks puts it, "drunk Evelyn seems like a lot more fun than sober Evelyn because she's lippy, her mannerisms are more relaxed..."

Best Line
“If there was a reason to climb out of this primeval swill, believe me, dear, I'd know it.”

Evelyn Offscreen

Episode 19: Malcolm introduces himself to James as Evelyn's brother. He rattles off a lot of exposition - including that Jeffrey Marsh beats her regularly. James is shocked as the bitter Malcolm spits out, "Sonny boy, nobody stops Mr. Marsh." That night, during a thunderstorm, James hears noises from across the courtyard - muffled shouts and breaking glass. As he gazes out the window Malcolm enters the room and grumbles again, this time finishing on an ominous note: "And one day...I swear I'll kill him. No matter what it costs."

Episode 22: James and Donna hide out in Wallie's. James argues that he may be able to convince Evelyn to tell the cops the truth. "She'd listen to me," he insists, "I know she would." "Why?" asks Donna, suddenly guessing at the reason if she hasn't already.

Episode 23: In their last scene together on the show (and James' last scene, period), Donna and James have a picnic in the woods and discuss the aftermath of the Evelyn drama and everything else that has happened to them in the past few weeks. James tells Donna he's going to be a witness in Evelyn's trial (presumably for the prosecution). Donna tells James she knows about him and Evelyn. James understands if she hates him, but Donna says Evelyn took advantage of the state James was in after Maddy's death. She encourages him to hit the road, to get the wanderlust out of his system, and says, "I'll miss you like crazy, but you'll come back and and tell me a bunch of great stories. And none of them will be about Laura, or Maddy, or Evelyn."

Additional Observations

• The similarities between Angel Face and the Evelyn Marsh arc are easy to spot: in both stories, a man with mechanical aptitude (who was not working as a mechanic) is lured by a bold, seductive woman to her estate to work on an expensive car and conduct a relationship with her (the Beverly Hills mansion in Angel Face even looks remarkably similar to the Marsh home). The woman shares her house with a family member and an interloper into the family whom she greatly resents, presenting them to her lover as a dangerous, even violent threat. She kills that person by messing with the engine of the car the mechanic has been working on, implicating him in the process. Perhaps most obviously, the moment the victim climbs into the car, the camera closes in on the conspirator's quiet, vaguely excited expression as they listen to offscreen noises - and later react to the carnage. Interestingly, the femme fatales in both films are not purely manipulative schemers like Double Indemnity's Phyllis Dietrichson or The Postman Always Rings Twice's Cora Smith; both Evelyn Marsh and Jean Simmons' character in Angel Face (who bears the remarkably Twin Peaks-ian name Diane Tremayne) are torn between cold-hearted plotting and a genuine affection for their targets. That said, Evelyn falls much closer to the Phyllis/Cora prototype than younger, unstable Diane - and Diane also isn't part of a scheme with another man who is setting up her lover, the way Evelyn is with Malcolm. This may be a crucial difference; part of what makes Angel Face work is the poignant ambiguity of Diane's motivations. There is a sense that even she isn't sure where seductive homewrecker ends and naive innocence begins. Evelyn's uncertainty, on the other hand, is a function of her maturity and experience. She is a worldly cynic moved by James' guileless sweetness rather than a young woman caught in Oedipal confusion between being a daughter and a lover: Diane's victim is her stepmother and she is motivated by a jealous attachment to her father. Much more could be said about the telling differences between the two works, but those observations can wait for another entry.

SHOWTIME: No, McCarthy is not on the cast list for 2017. Evelyn is either still in prison or she's settled quietly somewhere else far from the events of the town she never lived in nor thought much of. Then again, there is another possibility (quasi-spoiler warning, if you'd apply that distinction to information conveyed by one of the actors to Entertainment Weekly) given the fondness for dramatic pregnancies on the part of Twin Peaks (Lucy and Andy), its creators (Ed and Nadine, apparently?!), and its viewers (theories about Jack leaving Audrey with a baby). Photos from the set of the new Twin Peaks show James with a young man who looks like he could be his son. The assumption would be that Donna, or maybe some later girlfriend, is his mother. But what if the boy was born in the state pen to a mother sent there by his father...

Next (active on Monday, July 17, 2023 at 8am): Margaret "The Log Lady" Lanterman
Previous (active on Wednesday, April 12, 2023 at 8am): Richard 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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