Lost in the Movies: Charlie (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #60)

Charlie (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #60)

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.

Charlie watches and responds to Audrey's exasperation with the sense that he's a helpless observer, but does he actually hold the key to her destination? Who is he, anyway?

Who knows where or when...
Charlie, clad conservatively in a tie, shirt, and vest, sits behind a desk stacked with file folders and papers, facing his wife Audrey Horne who holds her red coat in her hands and stares at him demandingly. He claims that he can't accompany her to the Road House where she wants to go to find Billy because he has too much work to do and is too sleepy. Perhaps they could wait until morning? Audrey greets this suggestion with foulmouthed hostility and the assertion that she's sleeping with Billy and wants Charlie to sign some papers. He's shocked by her aggression and hesitates to follow through on the "fishy" paperwork she's given him, saying he wants to run it by a lawyer first. He is also dismayed that she appears ready to break a contract they share, so he concedes that he'll take her to the Road House but wants to call Tina first and see if she knows where Billy is (as Chuck alleges she does, although Chuck also apparently stole Billy's truck and has his own axe to grind). Charlie calls Tina and appears astonished by what she tells him although he refuses to share this information with Audrey. The couple move into a nearby room where Audrey expresses confusion about her identity and Charlie states that he always feels exactly like himself, characterizes her concerns as "Existentialism 101", and then threatens her in a cryptic fashion: "Do you want me to end your story too?" Soon he's standing by the door with her, even though she seems uncertain if she wants to stay or go, and as she insults him and says she prefers Billy and is seeing who Charlie really is for the first time, he takes his coat off and sits back down on the couch. Audrey leaps onto him in anger and begins strangling him. Nonetheless, they make it past this obstacle and wind up at the Road House after all, where Charlie buys martinis, proposes a toast to them (which Audrey converts into a toast to Billy), and then watches with uncertainty as Audrey dances to a tune the M.C. announces as "Audrey's dance." When a fight between two men breaks out, Audrey races toward Charlie and pleads, "Get me out of here," at which point his - if not necessarily her - story comes to an end.

Characters Charlie interacts with onscreen…

Audrey Horne

also present for the Musicians...

Edward Louis Severson

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Charlie
Charlie, more so than any other character in the third season - since Audrey at least has the original series - may never set foot in the world that other characters inhabit. Yet he feels among the most ensconced in old-school Twin Peaks. His home is furnished almost entirely in wood ("It's like Ghostwood in here"), and all of his decorations date to about the mid-twentieth century. No smartphones or desktop Apple computers inhibit the retro vibe. He (eventually) makes it to the Road House, hub of Twin Peaks old and new, and is the only character to interact with the quintessentially Peaksian Audrey, let alone accompany her throughout. And in his physicality and to a certain extent his size (although he's not as short as some viewers presumed) he reminds us of the Man From Another Place who is otherwise gone from the new material (or rather evolved into a brain-tree who later repeats one of Audrey's lines to Charlie). If Charlie more than almost any other new Peaks characters hearkens back to the familiar material, his sequences also reinforce the intensified strangeness of The Return; aside from the Red Room, there's nothing in the original quite like the surreal, disorienting dialogue that he and Audrey share nor is there a sense that certain characters are existing on an different plane of reality than the others. As such, Audrey and Charlie - and particularly Charlie as the new addition who may not even exist apart from Audrey - pave the way for Part 18 and its even more overt introduction of parallel, divergent worlds into the Twin Peaks narrative.

Charlie’s journey
Charlie doesn't change much in the time we see him. Indeed, he's a relative bedrock compared to Audrey's fluid, ever-fluctuating impulses. Still, his narrative arc certainly takes him places, from an entirely static, sedentary position behind his desk to a couch to a standing position at the threshold which he walks away from to, eventually, another location entirely. Despite absorbing Audrey's cascade of denigration, there's a sense in which he really holds the power in this relationship; Audrey may put him down but she seems deeply dependent on his own willingness to pursue her interests. On the other hand, scene by scene we observe Charlie going along with Audrey's initial wishes. He may obstruct her forward momentum in the moment but he makes it out from behind the desk, to the doorway, to the Road House, and eventually - in the moments after he himself disappears from the story that he once threatened to end (before Audrey herself appears to demand this conclusion) - facilitates Audrey's passage into another place entirely. Charlie exists in every second we see him onscreen as an obstacle course for Audrey to navigate. The sense develops, and eventually outright blossoms, that despite his flavorful personality and antagonistic distinction from his ostensible wife, he is ultimately a component of her own psyche. The embodiment of Audrey's own hesitance to confront her situation, he finally evaporates when she decides she's had enough of this trap...even if she doesn't seem especially enthusiastic about the reflection she observes once he's granted her request and disappears from her mind, leaving her alone to face herself.

Actor: Clark Middleton
By the time he appeared in Twin Peaks, Middleton had carved a distinctive space for himself in film and TV. Until middle age, however, his career was spent almost entirely in the theater. Struggling with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis from childhood, the actor was determined to incorporate the illness into his life's work rather than allow to overcome him; as he later put it, "By thinking of it as something you're fighting, you almost become a victim to it, and it has power over you. So I suggest reframing it, and thinking about befriending it, and learning to dance with it." Accordingly, after decades of performing onstage - he was bitten by the bug as a young man in California, and went on to study under Geraldine Page in New York - Middleton experienced a breakthrough in Miracle Man, a one-man off-Broadway show about his condition produced around his fortieth birthday. With just three screen credits under his belt before this, he shifted into a very active career in the medium: several episodes of Law & Order around the turn of the millennium, followed by five episodes of Fringe, three episodes of South of Hell, and memorable supporting roles in major movies like Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Sin City, and Snowpiercer.

In addition to one-off appearances on Louie, Gotham, American Gods, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Middleton scored a crucial recurring role as a cult's increasingly powerful psychoanalyst in sixteen episodes of The Path. Middleton's most famous role, however, was stretched over fewer episodes than that on The Blacklist: thirteen total from 2014 to his death six years later. As a DMV employee who joins the James Spader character's task force and can talk back to his boss as few other characters can, the actor found a memorable, even iconic part which the series creators honored by devoting an entire episode to his passing - even giving Glen Carter the same cause of death as the actor who played him. Middleton retreated to a very tight lockdown in 2020 with the onset of Covid, participating in Zoom theatrical productions but little else for fear of exposing his already vulnerable immune system to a worldwide pandemic. With a sense of grim irony, then, he eventually succumbed to an earlier epidemic - the West Nile Virus - likely after being bitten by a mosquito in his own backyard. A fitting New York Times obituary paid tribute to his career and sensibility, noting that he "seldom played lead roles, but was a scene stealer." (series pictured: The Blacklist, 2017)

*Part 12 (Showtime title: "Let's rock." - best episode)

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

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

Part 16 (Showtime title: "No knock, no doorbell.")

Charlie is onscreen for roughly nineteen minutes. He is in four scenes in four episodes, taking place in - apparently - a single night. He's featured the most in part 12, when Audrey first confronts him about taking her to the Road House. His primary location is the house he shares with Audrey who - of course - he shares not just most, but all of his screentime. He is one of the top five characters in part 12.

Best Scene
Part 12: Without moving an inch, Charlie holds his own against the fiery Audrey from behind his desk.

Best Line
“I'm so sleepy, but I'll go with you.”

Additional Observations

• Does Charlie appear in Mark Frost's novel The Final Dossier? Maybe. The book mentions, without naming, a "longtime accountant" whom Audrey married when her son was ten; later she visited a marriage counselor and "her own mental health care professional" but Tammy does not have access to those files. Is Charlie a reflection of her husband, or has the role of husband been projected onto the image of one of Audrey's therapists? Taken in isolation, the series implies that Charlie is "in Audrey's head" so to speak, but Frost implies that his presence bleeds over into the real world - or at least that the Charlie we see may be shaped by actual people Audrey has interacted with.

• One unseen character who hasn't been mentioned yet in this entry is Paul - the only person who seems threatening to Charlie (Tina is more Audrey's antagonist than his, Chuck doesn't quite earn his respect, and he shrugs off Audrey's constant attempts to make him jealous of Billy). When he says he'll have a lawyer look over the (divorce?) papers that Audrey has given him, she threatens to have Paul come over and take care of it - and, implicitly, take care of him.

• Who do these names correspond to? We'll save most of this discussion for an eventual Audrey entry, but it's perhaps worth mentioning that in addition to Billy and Tina, whom one-off characters in the Road House also reference, and Chuck, who shows up as Renee's husband kicking James' ass (before getting punched out by Freddie), random patrons at Audrey's destination also bring up someone named Clark, evoking the actor who plays her husband. Coincidence? Maybe or - given how many fans like to read "Billy" as a nod to Billy Zane, the actor who played Audrey's season two love - maybe not.

Next (active on Wednesday, March 22 at 8am): Sonny Jim Jones
Previous: Ronette Pulaski

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 #59 - 42)

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