Lost in the Movies: Becky Burnett (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #74)

Becky Burnett (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #74)

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. A new character study will appear every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday although patrons will have immediate access to each entry a month before it goes public. There will be spoilers.

Inheriting her mother's judgement and her father's temper, Becky holds a mirror up to parents who love and fear for her in equal measure.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Becky enters the peaceful, pleasant RR Diner and receives a warm greeting from Norma, the owner. She's there on business - delivering bread from a local bakery - but after cheerfully handing her basket over to the elderly cook, her mood subtly shifts. When she speaks to her mother, a waitress behind the counter, even Norma across the room can hear whispers about money and looking for a job. Becky's mom dutifully hands over a few bills and she and Norma watch out the window as Becky joins her husband Steven in a white Thunderbird convertible. Noticing their concerned expressions, Steven pulls away and the two park nearby to kiss, snort drugs, and unwind after a stressful day. Becky is doubtful that her mother will ever see that $72 again and upset that Steven already used up most of their narcotic stash in between job interviews. His confidence seems an unearned front for incompetence; she is initially aloof and discontented. As the high kicks in, and Steven gently teases and flirts with her, a smile emerges on Becky's face which melts into sheer bliss once they hit the road and crank up the radio. Hair blowing in the breeze, eyes alternating between wide open and dreamily closed, mouth agape in wonder or grinning ear to ear with ecstasy, the weary, annoyed young woman enjoys a moment of pure release that feels like a small slice of eternity.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016
That euphoric crescendo is long gone the following morning, as Becky is immersed in another form of emotional intensity. A red mug flies out of her trailer window, dismaying (along with the sound of Steven's angry shouts) the park's proprietor Carl Rodd. Inside the trailer, Becky cowers on a couch as her furious husband lets loose with curses and spittle in equal measure, insisting that she not ask him where he goes and what he does while accosting her for not making enough money to provide for them. He raises his fist, grabs her arm, and yells inches away from her face without quite following through on an actual physical blow; perhaps the point (if he's thinking about it at all) is to instill terror rather than inflict pain...if so, mission accomplished. That terror soon dissolves into Becky's own pure rage, however; later in the day she receives a phone call with some information about Steven's whereabouts. After calling her mother at the diner to bring her car over for an emergency, Becky races past the frightened women and grabs her keys, a gun clearly in other hand. Alarmed, Becky's mother leaps onto the hood of the car and hangs on for dear life (her daughter's as much as her own) until Becky hurls her off by whirling around. Arriving soon after at an apartment building and banging on the door with the butt of her handgun while demanding her husband open up, Becky is informed by a neighbor that the residents just left. Screaming and swearing furiously, she fires the gun several times at the (hopefully) empty room.

That night, a family conference is in order; her father, a local cop, tells her she must pay for the damage and that he'll lend her the money to do so (Becky refuses her mother's offer, mumbling that "he spends everything you give me anyway"). Mom and Dad alike worry that Steven is abusing her, which she denies, and want her to leave him, which she both considers and rejects (several times in the space of a few seconds). Making excuses for Steven's difficulties and good nature, she's met with the firm promise/threat that if he hurts her again in any way he'll be arrested and locked up - implicitly for suspected crimes beyond domestic violence. As she shifts between defensiveness and vulnerability, Becky exchanges a glance with Norma, who nods encouragingly, and she apologizes profusely to her mother while embracing her. This reconciliation is interrupted by a man knocking on the window near the table, at which point Becky's mother races to the front door and kisses this mysterious figure outside. Shocked, Becky looks with concern and empathy at her even more distraught father. No one says a word when the bubbly mother returns to their table and then a gunshot through the window brings the entire moment to a crashing halt.

Friday, September 30, 2016
A couple days later (that stray bullet, an accidental discharge from a stranger's nearby vehicle, did not harm anyone), Becky calls her mother at the diner once again. In tears, she explains that she hasn't seen Steven in days and she's worried. Reassuring Becky before saying that she has to get back to work, Becky's mom suddenly reconsiders and invites her weeping daughter to the diner for a heart-to-heart and a warm slice of pie. Becky can't resist, smiles for the first time in days, and races out the door to see her in person after exchanging "I love you" with the thoughtful parent.

Characters Becky interacts with onscreen…

Norma Jennings

Shelly Briggs

Steven Burnett

Bobby Briggs

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Becky
For the second but not last time in this character series, we encounter a new character descended from familiar favorites: in this case, Becky is the child of Bobby Briggs and Shelly Johnson. Wally Brando was discussed more briefly amongst the season's runners-up, warranted by his single cameo scene; if the comedy of his situation is how little he resembles either parent (while fitting in his own way with their absurd vibe), the tragedy of Becky's life is that we can see her repeating their mistakes as well as making some unique ones of her own. The third Return child we'll meet - Richard Horne - has no scenes with his mother and only meets his father shortly before he dies at said father's hands, so Becky offers a unique opportunity to observe the intertwining of two generations, through both genes and guidance. All but one of her sequences involves a parent (usually her mother, at least in passing), and the diner conference offers a sustained study of their fractured family dynamic. Ironically, given the whirlwind of chaos and danger that swirls around her, Becky is the one who brings Bobby and Shelly together in the narrative, offering an updated view of one of Twin Peaks' central relationships which we wouldn't get otherwise. In her messy trailer with its violently broken window, Becky also represents a socioeconomic step down from the cozy, middle-class Briggs homestead and even the precarious, half-finished but wholly owned Johnson house - perhaps an indication of the town's overall decline. And along with the other young characters of the town, including strangers we meet fleetingly in the Roadhouse, she keys us into the unsettled, excited but misdirected energy circulating right on the surface of twenty-first century Twin Peaks, as distinguished from the more hidden dangers and passions which once simmered beneath the calmer facade.

Becky’s journey
Becky rides an emotional roller coaster over her relatively modest screentime: frustrated, giddy, terrified, enraged, confused, empathetic, sorrowful, and relieved. Initially she holds herself in reserve, both towards her mother and her husband, before succumbing to a pleasure that is entirely self-contained. Dressed for work, her blonde locks brushed and worn down to her shoulders, she seems both professional and low-key glamorous: a figure who fosters longing and concern by withholding. But Becky withholds very little in the following sequences - indeed, she appears to be completely incapable of self-control. By her final scene, she's totally disheveled, slouched on a couch and blubbering to her mother about her husband, comforted only by the promise of pie and maternal embrace. Since much of our view is shaped by what we already know about her family, the more time we spend with her, the more we recognizes the imprint of Shelly and Bobby. The Return assures us that, although Bobby and Shelly seem to be sadly separated, they at least made it out of their tumultuous youths in one piece. We can't be so sure about where Becky ends up, although the evidence for a possibly dire fate is only provided when Becky herself is offscreen. From her first appearance, many fans were primed to see Becky as the new season's Laura Palmer: a striking, mercurial "young woman in trouble" in the classic Lynch mode, but the narrative runs a similar trajectory in reverse. Rather than opening with a character's certain demise and working backward to explore all the possibilities, Twin Peaks presents Becky's life in warts-and-all, up-and-down detail before leaving us with the ominous, mysterious possibility of her death.

Actress: Amanda Seyfried
Considering one of Seyfried's breakthrough roles, it's no wonder that viewers identified Becky as a potential "new Laura" right way - even speculating that she'd soon be dead and wrapped in plastic. Perpetually a bridesmaid rather than a bride in her early career, the actress was considered for the starring roles of both Mean Girls and Veronica Mars before taking memorable supporting parts instead; in the case of the latter show, she was cast as Lilly Kane, the popular, troubled, tempestuous teenager whose death fuels to entire season-long mystery that Veronica would investigate. Sound familiar? Indeed, as with Sheryl Lee and Laura, Seyfried's presence was so strong that writers kept bringing Lilly back for flashbacks and ghostly appearances. Seyfried went on to carry one of the nine short films composing Nine Lives and become a core series regular on HBO's Big Love for four seasons, as the daughter of a polygamous Mormon family. She starred with Channing Tatum in the Nicholas Sparks adaptation Dear John, with Megan Fox in the thriller Jennifer's Body, as Meryl Streep's daughter in the smash hit Mamma Mia!, and as Cosette in another big Broadway adaptation, Les Miserables.

By 2015, Seyfried was one of the bigger stars signing on to join the Twin Peaks ensemble and speculation swirled right away that she would be someone's daughter (some even speculated Lucy's and Andy's, though most noticed that Michael Cera would be a better fit for that). Following Peaks, Seyfried continued to earn acclaim, including for her portrayal of famous individuals like the tech world con artist Elizabeth Holmes in the miniseries The Dropout and William Randolph Hearst's longtime companion Marion Davies in the behind-Citizen-Kane biopic Mank. That last role in particular produced a cascade of awards and nominations, contributing to an overall haul so enormous that by her mid-thirties, the actress required a whole separate Wikipedia page just for accolades. These include an Emmy win for The Dropout, an Oscar nomination alongside twenty-six other groups (four of which she won) for Mank, and five separate nominations (two wins) from the MTV Movie Awards; overall, she's racked up fourteen wins amidst fifty-three nominations in the past seventeen years. (series pictured: Veronica Mars, 2004)

Part 5 (Showtime title: "Case files.")

Part 10 (Showtime title: "Laura is the one.")

*Part 11 (Showtime title: "There's fire where you are going." - best episode)

Part 13 (Showtime title: "What story is that, Charlie?")

Becky is onscreen for roughly fourteen minutes. She is in seven scenes in four episodes, taking place over four days. She's featured the most in part 11, when she shoots the apartment and meets with both parents. Her primary location is the RR Diner. She shares the most screentime with Shelly. She is one of the top three characters in part 5 but, surprisingly, only one of the top ten characters in part 11 (which has more competition among characters with a sustained presence).

Best Scene
Part 5: Becky shifts from glum to elated in the front seat of a Thunderbird.

Best Line
“Fuck you, Steven!”

Becky Offscreen

Part 2: We hear about Becky before we see her, as Shelly tells friends at the Roadhouse that she's worried about her daughter - "She's married to the wrong guy." They assure her that everyone likes Steven, and Becky has to live her own life.

Part 11: After Becky ditches her, a distressed and injured Shelly is able to jump into Carl's van and radio the sheriff's department, telling Bobby that Becky stole her car and is armed. Later, the police dispatcher receives a stream of calls reporting Becky's gunfire.

Part 15: High together and huddled under a tree, Steven and his mistress Gersten ramble in cryptic terms that could involve Becky ("I did it" - "No, she did it!"). When Carl is informed that Steven was seen in the woods with a gun, he glances over at the Burnett trailer and sees what looks like a bullet hole through one of the windows. Did Steven kill Becky?

According to Mark Frost, the answer is apparently no. The Final Dossier mentions Becky briefly a couple times. First she's introduced by her full name (Rebecca McCauley Briggs) in the "Shelly Johnson" chapter establishing her upbringing; "As the saying goes," narrator Tamara Preston quips, "it takes a diner to raise a child." Becky comes up again in a paragraph ending the "Donna Hayward" chapter, which reports that while a narcotics-related warrant was issued for Steven, "The timely intervention of her mother Shelly, and her father, Deputy Sheriff Bobby Briggs, appears to have spared Becky any lasting legal trouble." It's probably safe to conclude that this means Becky is still alive when the series ends, considering that the book takes note of Steven's and Gersten's disappearance, that this drug bust is not alluded to in the series beyond Chad's arrest, and that the dossier is supposedly written a few days after the scene in the woods would take place (although it's noteworthy that it doesn't mention Steven's body being found under a tree). Of course, Lynch and Frost aren't necessarily on the same page about all of their ambiguous plot developments - especially those offscreen - and Steven's final scene leaves us with a sense of foreboding about Becky which is hard to shake.

Additional Observations

• An illuminating game to play when watching or re-watching Becky's scenes is "Spot the parental influence." Shelly of course comes out when Becky quietly contemplates her depressing living situation, crouches in fear of a spouse whom she'll later wield a gun on, and seeks the soothing caress of a mother figure - in her case, an actual mother although like Shelly, she is also reassured by Norma. Bobby too emerges in Becky's moments of blinding, tantrum-like fury which can bleed into a kind of righteous indignation, her jealousy and bravado masking deep wounds, the way that she'll lash out even at those who love her most if they find themselves in her way. There's a wonderful reaction too, when Shelly tells Becky "we know you're a grown married woman" and Becky's half-sarcastic "uh, yeah, thanks" expression reads as pure teen Bobby.

Next (Friday, February 17 at 8am): Betty Briggs

To immediately read a month of upcoming entries, updated weekly to stay a month ahead...

(at the time of publication, this includes full entries on new or revised characters among #73 - 52)

No comments:

Search This Blog