Lost in the Movies: FBI Agent Phillip Jeffries (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #80)

FBI Agent Phillip Jeffries (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #80)

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.
indicates passages added or revised since 2017, if you want to skip directly to fresh material; this is a revision of an earlier piece written before the third season.

Clad in a leisure suit, sporting a pompadour, and eventually whispering through a tin machine, the rambling Jeffries appears to be traveling through space and time.

Tuesday, February 16, 1988 (maybe...or 1986 - 87? 1989?)
Jeffries enters a hotel lobby in Buenos Aires. He asks the desk clerk if “a Miss Judy” is staying there, and is told a young lady left a note for him. A bellboy escorts him out of the lobby, where various couples are dancing a tango. And then suddenly…

An elevator opens at FBI Headquarters in Philadelphia. Jeffries exits, walking down the hall into his supervisor Gordon Cole’s office. Gordon announces that the “long-lost” Jeffries has “been gone damn near two years.” Jeffries confronts Gordon, a skeptical Agent Albert Rosenfield, and a distressed Agent Dale Cooper (whom Jeffries points out accusingly, asking, “Who do you think this is there?”). After telling them “we’re not gonna talk about Judy,” Jeffries babbles for several minutes, saying that he’s been to a meeting above a convenience store and that “we live inside a dream.” Did this all happen immediately after the previous scene? Jeffries doesn’t talk about Buenos Aires but about “Seattle at Judy’s” where he “found something…and then there they were!” He lays his head on the desk, and mutters about a ring and “February…1989!” Gordon tries to get other agents in the room, but the communication device isn’t working and the lights start to flicker and then…

In a flash of light, Jeffries reappears on a staircase at the hotel, with a scorched, smoking black mark on the wall behind him. The bellboy and the maid are horrified and Jeffries can only wail in distress with his arm outstretched.

Twenty-five years later, between two worlds...

A voice penetrates the ether, identified - hesitantly, and perhaps incorrectly - as "Phillip Jeffries" by Cooper, or a dark version of Cooper, as he attempts to communicate with it. Lacking Jeffries' Southern lilt, the voice stonewalls Coopers' inquiries, refusing to answer a single question about its own identity, location, or sources of knowledge. Instead Cooper's correspondent taunts him with assertive statements like, "I missed you in New York...", "You met with Garland Briggs", and "I just called to say goodbye," adding "You're going back in tomorrow. And I will be with Bob again." Then the voice disconnects.

That same Cooper, a shadowy doppelganger, enters a grungy motel room deep in the spirit world and is met by a bell-shaped cone with a steam-sewing spout which makes it look like a giant kettle. Through this monolith, Cooper speaks to Jeffries without getting a clear answer about the nature of that previous conversation. ("I don't have your number," is all Jeffries will say when asked if he was the one who called.) Cooper also accuses Jeffries of sending Ray Monroe after him, which Jeffries does not quite confirm or deny. When his visitor reminds him of that run-in in Philadelphia - although Cooper places it in 1989 rather than 1988 - Jeffries seems convinced for the first time that "You ARE Cooper!" Asked about Judy, Jeffries provides a series of numbers which Cooper jots down, apparently coordinates where she can be found. But he declines to answer the increasingly forceful inquiries about who Judy is, stating only, "You've already met Judy" before a ringing phone in the corner of the room ends their discussion.

When Cooper returns to this room, it is - it appears - the "real" Cooper, in a black suit rather than leather jacket, hair trimmed rather than long and scraggly, with good rather than bad intentions (or so he believes). This Cooper, accompanied by the spirit Mike in the form of the one-armed Phillip Gerard, is more confident and sure of his mission. He makes requests rather than asks questions, providing a date - February 24, 1989 - where he wants to go. Now it is Jeffries who seems a bit lost, wondering "Did you ask me this?" and offering "There may be someone there," when the steam produces an Owl Cave symbol which transforms into an "8" or an infinity symbol with a ball on its right side. When this number rotates around, the ball rolls back to the right side and Cooper is told he can "go in" as electricity flashes.

Characters Jeffries interacts with onscreen…

Gordon Cole

Albert Rosenfield

Agent Cooper...

...and Agent Cooper ("Mr. C")

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Jeffries
(The following was written for the original character series; obviously it doesn't apply to this line-up with preceding characters like Phil Bisby who exist entirely in Las Vegas.)
Until now, we’ve studied characters whose personal paths were clear and simple. They spent all their onscreen time in Twin Peaks (or just across the border), floating around the periphery of the story’s core mysteries and interacting with Cooper and the FBI only at a distance. Jeffries represents a radical shift from these perspectives. His scenes are by far the most obscure – we’re barely able to discern who he is or what he’s doing; they cover the greatest distance without ever once setting foot inside Twin Peaks; and perhaps most importantly, they offer us a startlingly frank glimpse of the supernatural. Jeffries’ appearance in Philadelphia ambiguously suggests paranormal phenomena, but his return to Buenos Aires is unequivocal: he was not there and then, in a bright flash, he is. So we can say with certainty at this point that the Twin Peaks universe subverts the laws of physics as we presently understand them. Jeffries shows us a Twin Peaks that isn’t at all tied to “Twin Peaks” (invented for the prequel film, this character’s scenes all take place before the series itself has even begun). This is a quantum leap from the characters we’ve observed thus far, but to call it a “greater understanding” would be misleading…if anything we’re more confused than we were before.
Come season three and Jeffries still hasn't appeared in the town of Twin Peaks (at least not onscreen); indeed, he probably no longer even inhabits the same physical universe as Twin Peaks. As such, the Blue Rose agent arguably represents the deepest human voyager into Peaks' unknown and uncanny, more so than even Cooper, who retains a corporeal presence and rooted human consciousness despite twenty-five years in the Red Room. That very difference in location is telling; if Cooper's disappearance into Lodge space is represented by constriction, entrapment in a curtained prison, then Jeffries' dissolution grants him more movement than he can handle - at least initially and, offscreen anecdotes suggest, for a good deal of time after that Philadelphia encounter. Despite communicating with the two Coopers through a solid, seemingly immobile object, we sense that Jeffries himself is not there, that he is elsewhere, everywhere, and/or (as Cooper's doppelganger puts it) nowhere, slippery as ever. As a brief Fire Walk With Me character woven deeply into the texture of a show which once merely dabbled on the outskirts of the supernatural and interdimensional, Jeffries represents the new series' full embrace of a fantastical, even sci-fi spirit.

Jeffries’ journey
Tracing Jeffries' chronological trajectory can be bewildering - to him no less than to his observers. Much of what we're able to piece together in a relatively orderly fashion is delivered via exposition when Jeffries himself isn't present; and even this information can become murky. Watching the character unfold in film/episode order, however, the arc takes sharper focus: from the completely anchored character entering a South American hotel, a detective on the hunt for clues, to the disembodied voice linked to a mystical machine, a spiritual presence dispensing information. This is also a journey from light into dark. The character's hallucinatory experiences in Fire Walk With Me unfold in bright daylight, surrounded by other people in familiar, even comforting locations: a bustling hotel, a quiet office. By season three, he's only encountered in the corner of a dim room surrounded by eternal night. Finally, there's the shift in his characterization - obviously spurred by David Bowie's absence and passing - from a single individual to a series of disjointed representations: at least three different voices and a couple different forms. The biggest celebrity involved with all of Twin Peaks is ultimately one of the few to be at least partially replaced (at his own request as it turns out; embarrassed by his accent, Bowie denied the producers use of his voice in archival clips). Jeffries' journey is certainly an evolution, but it's less an expansion than an explosion. Martha Nochimson has eloquently described how the Lynchverse exposes chaotic energies beneath society's constructed surfaces while also pointing toward a deeper, more harmonious order underlying all existence. In an ominous amplification of Cooper's less extreme and more sharply defined crises, Jeffries has gotten caught in that chaotic middle stage, and there's little sign he'll make any progress toward the unified field.

Actor: David Bowie...
You may have heard of this guy: wherever there's a top ten list of all-time rock artists, the creator of Ziggy Stardust is probably on it. By far the most famous person involved with Twin Peaks, Bowie’s role is also one of the smallest – and most random. One of David Lynch's assistants was a huge Bowie fan and kept pestering the director to find a place for him in the story; finally he did. The superstar apparently enjoyed the work, stating “I highly recommend working with David. He’s delightfully and dedicatedly bonkers.” While better-known for his musical rather than cinematic endeavors, Bowie had memorable parts in Labyrinth and The Last Temptation of Christ (as Pontius Pilate). One of my favorite Bowie appearances was a cameo as himself on Extras, showcasing his songwriting talent in hilarious fashion.

...& Nathan Frizzell (added in December 2023)
Hired to voice Jeffries in the new material (and even re-dub Bowie in the flashbacks), the actor relied on his Louisiana upbringing for that Southern twang. He made his TV debut on Veronica Mars (in an episode I reviewed here), starred in the web series Bloomers, and had guest roles on CSI and CSI:NY. His last credit - shot pre-pandemic - was as Brian on four episodes of Alexa & Katie. (series pictured: Bloomers, 2011)


Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (feature film)

Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces (collection of deleted scenes from the film)

Part 2 (Showtime title: "The stars turn and a time presents itself.") - voice is heard offscreen...maybe

Part 15 (Showtime title: "There's some fear in letting go.")

Part 17 (Showtime title: "The past dictates the future.")

Conceived by David Lynch and Robert Engels (who loves to discuss the paradoxes and conceits involved in that film sequence), Jeffries really gets the Mark Frost treatment in season three. Frost was impressed by his slightly more lucid yet still elusive presence in The Missing Pieces and cottoned to the mystique of an agent who's trespassed too far onto the other side. This conceit fits Frost's literary appetite and spiritual sensibility, lending the one-off cameo a more integral function in the overall narrative. With Lynch's direction, however, Jeffries retains a certain level of abstraction and obscurity.

Jeffries is onscreen for roughly twelve minutes if we include the ambiguous "I will be with Bob" voice in this screentime, which would mean he has six scenes in the film/Missing Pieces and three episodes, taking place in the span of...well, who can really say. He's featured the most in Fire Walk With Me and its deleted scenes, when he is transported to Philadelphia. His primary location is the otherworldly motel room and he shares the most screentime with Cooper.

Best Scene
Fire Walk With Me: Jeffries’ babbling Philadelphia encounter best explores the character while keeping his circumstances murky (actually, I prefer the even murkier montage in the feature film to the more extended sequence in The Missing Pieces).

Best Line
“Well now…I’m not gonna talk about Judy. In fact, we’re not gonna talk about Judy at all, we’re gonna leave her out of it.”

Jeffries Offscreen

Fire Walk With Me: After he disappears, Gordon and Cooper check the surveillance footage to confirm that he was indeed there in the first place.

Part 4: Jeffries is referenced so often in The Return that he may be the most present-yet-absent character this side of Laura Palmer. If I miss anything, let me know. The first mention of Jeffries after his ambiguous introduction in Part 2 (which could itself actually belong to this "offscreen" category) is when Albert informs Gordon of a dark episode from his past. Confessing that he was contacted by Jeffries (probably in the nineties) who requested the identity of "our man...in Colombia," Albert admits that the agent was killed a week later. Although the focus is on Cooper the implication is that, at this point at least, Jeffries was collaborating with the doppelganger, being manipulated by him, or perhaps simply being impersonated by someone else (any relation to the more hostile-to-Mr. C voice in Part 2?).

Part 5: Lorraine, whom we eventually learn is coordinating the attempted hits on Cooper, begins to text the word "Argent" (presumably "Argentina") into a Blackberry. We are then shown a black box in a wooden bowl in what appears to be a Buenos Aires cellar. Two red lights blink. Later, immediately after Mr. C requests his prison phone call and says "The cow jumped over the moon" into the receiver, the box spontaneously crumples into a tiny ball. Given the location, as well as Jeffries' role as a communication/transportation hub throughout the series, the box is easy to associate with the character.

Part 8: After shooting Mr. C and witnessing the Woodsmen arrive to retrieve Bob and resurrect the host, a panicked Ray Monroe calls Jeffries from his car (calling him "Phillip" as do most characters in season three), telling him what happened and saying he thinks he knows where he's headed next.

Part 12: As Tammy is initiated onto the Blue Rose Task Force, Albert tells her that most of its agents - including Jeffries, who co-founded it with Gordon - have vanished.

Part 13: After Mr. C shoots him, a wounded Ray says that Jeffries gave him a ring to put on a dead Mr. C's finger. Ray begins to describe where Mr. C can find Jeffries at "The Dutchman's" but Mr. C kills him and says he already knows.

Part 14: Albert tells Tammy the story of how the Task Force got its name, which involves Jeffries and Gordon discovering a woman who'd just killed her own double. Gordon then tells them about a dream he had which reminds him of Jeffries' visit to Philadelphia, something both he and Albert had apparently blocked out until now (or at least forgotten crucial parts of). We are shown black and white (and re-dubbed) footage of Jeffries from The Missing Pieces.

Part 15: To reach Jeffries, Mr. C is re-directed from a "room above the covenience store" space to a motel courtyard and then the room where he speaks to the machine. During their exchange, the black and white Philadelphia clip plays briefly.

Part 17: Gordon tells Tammy and Albert about Jeffries' discovery that "Judy" actually refers to "Jou-dei," a powerful negative force that Cooper made secret plans to track down. He also says Jeffries doesn't really exist anymore.

In the original entry, I wrote that "It's worth mentioning that Mark Frost included some additional information about Jeffries in his recent novel The Secret History of Twin Peaks (suggesting that the agent had visited Twin Peaks in the early eighties with Gordon Cole, to investigate/cover up for a secret military operation involving paranormal forces)." Jeffries ends up featuring much more heavily in Frost's follow-up The Final Dossier, getting his own two-page file alongside entries on Judy and Ray, both of which continue to focus on Jeffries. Tammy, the book's narrator, mostly emphasizes and summarizes what we already learned on the series although Frost makes sure to underscore Jeffries' proclivity toward the spirit realm from the very beginning. Gordon observes, "This world wasn't enough for him," and the entry describes Jeffries' interest "in a variety of esoteric and occult subjects." Where it provides the most new detail is in the run-up to his disappearance, which is tied to his obsession with "Joudy," a name he scratched into a wall near a telephone. We're also told the backstory of The Dutchman's Lodge where Mr. C meets Jeffries, and Tammy speculates that Jeffries found the same portals as Major Briggs and has ben ping ponging around this and other worlds ever since.

Additional Observations

So is it Jeffries who Mr. C speaks to in Part 2? The general consensus appears to be "No." In fact, Frost is outright definitive. "It was someone pretending to be Phillip Jeffries to gain access to more information about someone else's location. I'll leave you to guess who it might be." Pretty cut and dry, right? That voice is not Jeffries' and therefore has no place in this entry. How can I justify its inclusion here? Well, I'm not entirely sure I can, but I do have enough reservations to let my initial editorial decision stand. For one thing, there's really nowhere else that dialogue can safely go. There is much compelling speculation about the identity of the impersonator (though it's worth noting that despite Frost's description of his own scene, the voice never actually does claim to be Jeffries - maybe he just means that they hijacked the frequency?). Since nothing locks it down, it's arguably even more presumptuous to shift this material into, say, the spirit Mike's or Sarah Palmer's or even the spirit/force Judy's entry. Moreover, if any character can accommodate the accretion of other characters' content, it's Phillip Jeffries, a man whose ego has endured so many stresses and stretches that several people nonchalantly describe him as not existing or being nowhere. Why not add a dissociated imposter to the rolodex of confused and contradictory personas? Anyway, as a curio, if I did concede that fifty-five-second passage, Jeffries would be demoted to #81, slightly behind Emory Battis with about eleven minutes.

This was my original "Jeffries' journey" section in 2017: Hoo boy (or should I say “Hell God baby damn”), this one’s hard to pin down. First of all, when do Jeffries’ scenes in Buenos Aires take place? Gordon's comments suggest that Jeffries may have disappeared from that hotel in early 1986, leaping across time to emerge in Philadelphia. However, we see Jeffries returned to that exact place and time a few moments later – making it unlikely that Gordon is referring to his disappearance from the hotel. For the purpose of this write-up, I’m making the controversial assumption that Jeffries is in Buenos Aires and Philadelphia on the same day and that he travels across space, but not time. Instead, I would guess that Jeffries stumbled across the mysterious meeting in Seattle two years earlier and ever since then, he’s been out of touch with his superiors, obsessively hunting for Judy on his own personal initiative. I’ll save other observations and deductions for the notes near the end of this piece; for now, all we can say with (near-)certainty is that one day Jeffries is seized by a force beyond his control and hurled over five thousand miles in an instant, materializing and dematerializing to deliver a rambling account of something he witnessed in the past. This is what Jeffries himself seems to experience when he’s onscreen; the assembly of deleted and extended footage from The Missing Pieces presents this most clearly, rendering his brief arc in somewhat legible form (it’s that presentation that I’m focusing on in this entry). However, it’s worth noting that in the theatrical cut of Fire Walk With Me, which for years was our only vision of this character, there is no before/after in Buenos Aires, and the Philadelphia footage is intercut and overlapped with a surreal gathering of ghoulish figures in an otherworldly space. Naturally, we can assume that this footage shows the “meeting above a convenience store” that Jeffries witnessed, offering us further (and exclusive) insight into his traumatic history, helped especially by recognizing some of these creatures from the show and knowing what they represent. The nature and meaning of Jeffries’ journey can only be pieced together from multiple sources and even then it remains enigmatic.

Problematically if we presume both Fire Walk With Me and The Missing Pieces are canon (a word neither Lynch nor Frost enjoys), Jeffries never says “We’re gonna leave her out of it” in the take used in The Missing Pieces. Instead he ends the line with “we’re not gonna talk about Judy at all” before staring right at the camera. Make of that what you will.

Compounding the confusion, the flashbacks in season three use the Missing Pieces takes, which also have Jeffries asking, "Who do you think *that* is there?" instead of "Who do you think *this* is there?". Many viewers assumed that Lynch was subtly re-writing the lines given the overdub, but in fact he was just matching Bowie's original lip movement. The question, if there is one, is why was that version of the delivery selected in the first place?

When Jeffries says he “found something” in Seattle that allowed him to witness the convenience store meeting, many fans assume he’s talking about the Owl Cave ring. He later mutters “the ring…the ring” which can be heard very faintly in the Fire Walk With Me version of the scene, and more audibly in The Missing Pieces. This reinforces the common conception that this talisman is a conduit between two worlds.
(Obviously, Lynch and Frost leaned heavily into that interpretation in season three, with Jeffries - or someone Ray believes to be Jeffries - providing the ring to place on Mr. C when he's dead; placed on Ray's finger instead, it does indeed transport a corpse to the Lodge.)

Though more pertinent to Cooper’s perspective than Jeffries’, it’s worth noting that in Fire Walk With Me we see surveillance footage of Jeffries passing Cooper in the hallway. Peculiarly, this footage is being watched live…by Cooper himself! Is he in two places at once? Maybe this does tell us something about Jeffries as well…

• Many fans assume that Jeffries has traveled through time – and this was likely Lynch’s and Engels’ original intention. In the script, inspired by Gordon shouting “Mayday!”, Jeffries mumbles, “May…1989” and then turns to see a calendar revealing that it is, indeed, 1989. In the footage shown in The Missing Pieces, we see that on set Lynch and Bowie changed the line to “February…1989?” (probably to make it clear that Jeffries was referring to the current date on the calendar – since the scene was never supposed to take place in May). Jeffries says this as he’s looking at a desk calendar. The implication (repeated by sources like Twin Peaks Wiki) is that Jeffries must have disappeared around 1987, and is now shocked to see that two years have passed in an instant. There’s two problems with this; first of all, we see Jeffries reappear in the hotel so if he disappeared at an earlier date, it wasn’t for very long. More importantly, when Lynch and editor Mary Sweeney cut Fire Walk With Me they moved the Philadelphia sequence to before the “One Year Later” marker – meaning that it now takes place in February 1988, before Cooper is dispatched to Deer Meadow. This despite the fact that the scene was scripted and shot to occur in 1989. Understandably, they cut the already rather confusing “February…1989” line altogether. Now The Missing Pieces has restored the line, but it can no longer mean what was originally intended to mean. Jeffries is not in February 1989 when he says this, he’s in February 1988. So perhaps he’s having a psychic moment but time travel as any sort of motive seems pretty superfluous and entirely irrelevant to his dialogue. Unless, of course, the new series reveals we’re dealing with alternate timelines. To quote Albert (in a line cut from every existing version of the scene), Tylenol is mandatory.

Well, there's a lot to say now, after writing the above passage in early 2017. First of all, I was obviously wrong to doubt time travel; in season three, Jeffries is not only a traveler himself, he's a conduit of travel for others. That said, ironically The Final Dossier actually confirms my skepticism that Jeffries jumps through time in this particular instance - Tammy states that Jeffries was spotted in Buenos Aires at the same time in the same attire as in Philadelphia. (Even more ironically, my emphasis on Jeffries re-appearing in the hotel is rendered irrelevant when Tammy brusquely explains that he disappeared a second time immediately afterwards and was never seen again.) More problematic is that "1988 vs. 1989" issue. Season three and Frost's Dossier double/triple/quadruple down on the insistence that Jeffries was in Philadelphia in 1989. Unfortunately for those assertions, Fire Walk With Me - which actually shows the incident rather than merely recalling it - is the authoritative text on these matters and it unambiguously positions the sequence in '88, as described above.

Who is Judy? Other than Diane at the top of my “hidden character” runners-up, I haven’t included any unseen figures in this series. There are all kinds of rumors and speculations about her identity – Josie’s sister, Jeffries’ own Laura figure, an upcoming character who would have been played by Sheryl Lee in future movies, perhaps in a red wig (consider that in Vertigo, Kim Novak’s two characters are named “Madeleine” – an explicit inspiration for Laura’s cousin Madeleine, played by Lee on the show – and “Judy”). John Thorne offers my favorite reading of “Judy”, not least because it acknowledges how Fire Walk With Me evolved during production and asks why “Judy” remains in a finished film that is pared down to focus on Laura’s tragedy. That said, now that Lynch and Frost have the opportunity to expand her story, I suspect we’ll find out more about Judy in 2017. Until The Missing Pieces, her name was the last word spoken in Twin Peaks (very faintly, by a monkey – ! – in the final minutes of the movie). And if we hear more about her, or even meet her, perhaps we’ll hear more about Jeffries too.

Again, there's a hell of a lot to say about the above passage after The Return. But I've already addressed some of that in this entry and will save the rest for other entries like Sarah Palmer and the Spirits.

When I published my initial entry on Jeffries I wrote the following in the "Showtime" section: No, Bowie is not on the cast list for 2017. That’s some of the saddest news I have to share in this whole series. Apparently, Jeffries was written into the script but they were unable to film any sequences with him before his untimely death in 2016. That said, there are rumors of secret characters who aren’t on Showtime’s published list. Catherine Coulson, who also fell ill with cancer as the new series was being prepared, was apparently able to shoot something before her death – perhaps the same is true of Bowie? It seems much less likely, however (Coulson was lifelong friends with Lynch and the Log Lady meant a great deal to her, to the point where she made time for it as she was dying). I will be surprised if we see Jeffries again. Considering how difficult it is to suss out what the character’s up to even when he’s onscreen, I won’t speculate what happened to Jeffries after his last appearance in Twin Peaks. Hopefully, though, Lynch and Frost will be able to share whatever they had in store, ideally by adapting the material to these unfortunate conditions (and maybe by incorporating old footage somehow).

 For more about Phillip Jeffries and the link he provides between season three and Fire Walk With Me, check out his entry in my sprawling 2018 essay on the connections between the two works.

My original description read, "Clad in a leisure suit, sporting a pompadour, the rambling Jeffries appears to be traveling through space (and maybe through time, though I have my doubts)." Although as noted I turned out to be right in my doubt about time travel in Fire Walk With Me, I scrapped that last parenthetical for obvious reasons.

Next (active on Friday, February 3 at 8am): Gersten Hayward
Previous: Emory Battis

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 #79 - 52)

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