Lost in the Movies: Sam Colby and Tracey Barberato (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #67)

Sam Colby and Tracey Barberato (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #67)

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.

Sam and Tracey are as curious about the glass box as they are attracted to one another, and both interests combine to provide their undoing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Night, New York City. Sam Colby, a young man with close-cropped hair and a focused gaze, stares at a large glass box with metal framing, surrounded by electronic equipment in a cavernous brick room. There's a beep, he checks his watch, and then he methodically proceeds to unload and replace a small hard drive in one of several cameras pointed at the box, securing it snugly in a locker filled with other drives, and finally returning to his seat. There's a sense that this procedure has been repeated over and over and over again for hours, perhaps days or weeks. In the distance, an elevator ascends up the old building and a voice on a buzzer announces that Sam has a delivery. In the hallway outside a young woman, Tracey, awaits his arrival. An impassive guard sits at a desk, refusing to engage (although eventually when Sam says that Tracey can't come into the room, he will affirm, "That's right"). Tracey holds a tray with two large lattes adorned with the letter "Z", offering one for Sam and one for herself if she can hang out with him. Informed that no one else is allowed into the secret compartment, she playfully responds, "Shoot," and soon adds, "Oooh, now I'm so curious, you're driving me crazy!" She offers both coffees to Sam and says maybe she'll come up again to deliver them the following night (it's suggested that she works at the cafe that brewed them and has just finished her shift). As Sam enters the code to the room, he catches Tracey watching him and they exchange flirtatious if cautious words.

Thursday, September 22, 2016
As Sam repeats his routine the following evening, the elevator ascends once again but this time no voice announces an arrival. Taken aback, Sam exits the glass box room to discover Tracey alone next to the elevator, no guard in sight. Looking around in the bathroom and discovering they're truly alone, Sam allows Tracey into the room with him although he wonders how she'll get out if the guard returns. "Let's not overthink this," Tracey suggests. Inside the big room, Sam explains that he gets paid to watch this glass box, rumored to be owned by a mysterious billionaire. He's supposed to be a witness if anything emerges inside, though he's not sure what he's supposed to see - the previous guy did see something but won't say what. Just looking for money to help pay for college, Sam hasn't asked too many questions. He and Tracey sit together on the couch where Sam usually observes alone but their attention shifts to one another when Sam kisses Tracey and asks if she wants to make out. Both remove their clothes. As they embrace, the glass box darkens and a shadowy figure emerges: a naked humanoid with a large hole where its face should be. Sam notices this apparition and halts Tracey, who cowers in fear when she too sees the creature. Nothing happens until in a quick, jerky motion, it leaps at the glass, banging against it several times before shattering the wall that separates it from its prey. Flying forward, the shape visciously rips into the screaming couple as blood flies all over the couch and wall behind them.

Characters Sam & Tracey interact with onscreen…

Spirits who appear with/to them

Experiment (their killer)

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Sam & Tracey
Like many characters in the third season, Sam and Tracey are far from Twin Peaks; more than most, their distance feels like a direct comment upon the town and especially on Twin Peaks the original series. Although several scenes precede Sam's introduction in the premiere episode, the first New York scene is the one that really feels like it's kicking off The Return. What a contrast with the old familiar Pacific Northwestern town... An overhead shot of Manhattan skyscrapers, the eerily sleek glass box sticking out from its brick surroundings, the state-of-the-art twenty-first century technology monitored by a young man who probably wasn't even born when the previous episodes took place...all of this distinctively sets the new series apart from the old, the sterile manmade environment of these sequences from the woodsy charm of Twin Peaks. While the series has always taken its time, as it shifts focus to the city that never sleeps, it slows down to the point where it feels like these we're sleepwalking. The pace is so glacial that Sam and Tracey ultimately wrack up more screentime than the Log Lady in the entirety of season one, season two, and Fire Walk With Me! If the two cryptic millennials don't feel particularly Peaksian, they - and their scenario - do feel deeply Lynchian, a fusion of elements from Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive. Not to mention their grisly death at the hands of a quintessentially Lynch image which may or may not lay at the heart of the Twin Peaks mythos. We may be a long way from home but we're hardly out of the woods. In one sense, of course, Sam and Tracey are very much of a piece with this world's long-established mysterious aura. They're full of secrets which they keep from one another as well as from us, and they're ultimately done in by a secret kept from them.

Sam & Tracey's journey
With just two (admittedly extended) scenes, this duo doesn't have much room for character development. However, the slow progress through their material does allow the audience time to get a grip on their relationship. Initially, we wonder if Tracey is a stranger, or at best a casual acquaintance - a barista at a local cafe whose interest in Sam and/or his assignment leads her to press her case for admission to his lair. Eventually, we suspect they have a prior romance, given how comfortably she asks him to let her in and how quickly their makeout session evolves into near-intercourse (before the Experiment interrupts). Ultimately, it's uncertain whether they're horny youngsters finding themselves in one another's arms on a whim or an established couple using Sam's job to get nookie; either way, their progression from stilted flirtation to nude embrace corresponds to their trajectory from curiosity about the empty box to horror at the creature inhabiting it. Sam and Tracey serve as guides into the strange world of The Return and it's difficult to say whether they trigger the revelation of the premiere episode or merely - and unfortunately for them - happen to witness it.

Actor: Ben Rosenfield
Although Rosenfield's big breakout role was on the stage, it had cinematic roots. In the 2011 Off Broadway adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's classic film Through a Glass Darkly, Rosenfield played opposite Cary Mulligan and Chris Sarandon. More prominent roles followed, including (while still a teenager) the title character in Greetings from Tim Buckley and a recurring part as Willie Thompson on Boardwalk Empire, becoming a series regular in the final season and sharing a SAG nomination with the whole ensemble. His other major TV appearance was as Phyllis Schlafly's son in the Cate Blanchett vehicle Mrs. America while his film work continued with the Great Gatsby update Affluenza, A Most Violent Year, 6 Years, Indignation, Mickey and the Bear, and as a romantic lead in the rom-com Mark, Mary & Some Other People. In addition, he's continued to act on stage and record music, releasing an album the same year that he showed up on Twin Peaks and entered Sundance with the film Person to Person(film pictured: Mark, Mary & Some Other People, 2021)

Actress: Madeline Zima
Zima launched her career as a toddler in late eighties TV commercials, breaking into film in the early nineties with the thriller The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and the Hulk Hogan comedy Mr. Nanny. She pivoted immediately from Hogan's supervision to Fran Drescher's that same year when she was cast as series regular Grace Sheffield in six seasons and one hundred forty-five episodes of The Nanny. Though Zima would later criticize the production ("they treated me more like a prop than a human being"), it served as a launching pad for a career that stretched into adulthood; she plays Mia Lewis in twenty-eight episodes of Californication (including as a series regular in the first season) and showed up for six episodes each as Gretchen Berg in Heroes and Jordan Alexis in Betas. Her film career continued through all the years she acted on TV, including 'Til There Was You, A Cinderella Story, Dimples, The Collector, Breaking the Girls, Crazy Eyes, and - set in Mark Frost's beloved town - Death in Ojai. (series pictured: The Nanny, 1997)

Part 1 (Showtime title: "My log has a message for you.")
(Footage from this episode is intercut with Cooper entering the glass box in Part 2)

Sam and Tracey are onscreen for roughly seventeen minutes. They are in two scenes in one episode, taking place over two days. They're featured almost exclusively in part 1 and their sole location is the glass box room in New York. They share the most screentime with the Experiment spirit. They are the primary characters in part 1 - the first time anyone in this character series has achieved the #1 spot in an episode (no one else will rival this placement for a very, very long time).

Best Scene
Part 1: Sam allows Tracey to accompany him into the glass box room and explains his assignment before they embrace and are killed.

Best Line
“You're a bad girl, Tracey.”
“Try me.”

Sam & Tracey Offscreen

Part 2: Although not technically "offscreen", the characters' appearances in this episode are just repeated footage of their earlier conversation in the corridor. This is meant to suggest that Cooper entered the glass box at precisely the moment the two were distracted outside, and thus no one saw him; the intercutting also implies that the Experiment appeared in the box not long after Cooper and may have been following him.

Part 3: The mangled corpses of Sam and Tracey appear in a photograph that FBI Agent Tammy Preston shows to Gordon Cole and Albert Rosenfield, clarifying the characters' gruesome fate and also demonstrating they are on the FBI's radar (although the Bureau knows less about their reasons for being there than we, the viewers, do). Eventually the show will confirm that the billionaire benefactor is Mr. C but Sam and Tracey are not mentioned; their role in the narrative is over. Unless...

Additional Observations

• Is the "Sammy" mentioned in Part 16, who Hutch says "passed away" (and to whom he owed money) this Sam? Fans have humored the idea - after all, both individuals work for Mr. C - but it seems hard to square with the two characters. One is a cleancut college student taking a mysterious job who has no contact with the mysterious billionaire funding this experiment; the other is a deadly assassin half a country away who knows his boss so well that he's in a menage a trois with him. And of course Lynch always likes to re-use character names, especially when one of the characters is just left as an offscreen reference (think Linda, Billy, and - in a way - Mike). On the other hand, if this bizarre buddy backstory is true, I'd love to see the "Sammy & Hutch" prequel miniseries.

• What are the secrets that Sam and Tracey harbor? Their enigmatic exchanges and removal from the rest of the plot has fueled much speculation. (Although I've already laid out in the "journey" section how even a straightforward reading of their interactions cultivates ambiguity: are they kindling a mutual interest for the first time, or is she his girlfriend dropping by his after-school job?) As noted, some viewers wonder if Sam - despite his protestations of naivitee - is actually a schooled member of the Cooper gang, tight with thugs like Hutch. More often, Tracey is the object of suspicion. The "Z" on her coffee cups ties her to Zawaski and sZymon's, interventions which disrupt the diabolical plans against Cooper. Her presence in the waiting area on the second visit does, as it turns out, distract from Sam seeing (the good) Cooper in the box; could the White Lodge spirits like the Fireman, or collaborators like Major Briggs, have sent her for just that purpose? If so, she gets a cruel payoff when the Experiment makes mincemeat of her. Or did spiritual forces, evil, good, or neutral, put her and Sam in place to be bait? Is that creature - whom many, perhaps most, fans assume is the negative entity known as "Judy" - just chasing Cooper into the box, its attack on these unfortunate young lovers merely a coincidence?

• Whether or not Sam and Tracey were purposefully placed near the glass box to coax Experiment/Judy out of Lodge space, a popular theory presumes that that's precisely what their presence achieved. Specifically, it's assumed that Judy is drawn out by a "sex ritual" - unwitting on Sam and Tracey's part (or at least on Sam's) but intentional when it's repeated without passion by Cooper and Diane in Part 18. (In their case, no creature emerges to attack them but the world around them apparently changes - with the name on the diner and the incident at the Palmer house suggesting they have entered a universe suffused with Judy.) The biggest spark for this idea is the spin-off novel The Secret History of Twin Peaks, released months before the season premiered. In it, Mark Frost writes - using the voice of Jack Parsons - about rituals performed near the atomic bomb test sites in the Southwest desert: "an attempt to summon into human form the spirit of a figure central to the Thelema pantheon, the goddess Babalon, known as 'the Mother of Abominations.'" Though he doesn't specify what these rituals entail, they require two people and one of Tammy Preston's footnotes mentions "using Satanic 'sex magick' to try and 'incarnate the living embodiment of an ancient being called the Moonchild.'" However, on closer inspection this thread seems surprisingly thin. Tammy's footnote is a brief aside with many degrees of separation: a supposition about what government officials might have threatened to accuse Parsons of doing. On the other hand, Parsons and Hubbard apparently did enact such rites in the desert - apparently by masturbating onto stone tablets (and Moonchild author/Secret History character Aleister Crowley went further, performing sex acts with other men to invoke spirits). If it's a long way from that to whatever's going on with Sam and Tracy or Cooper and Diane, nothing says this isn't what's happening, just that the whole phenomenon remains shrouded in uncertainty. To quote Sam: "Top Secret."

Next (active on Monday, March 6 at 8am): Deputy Chad Broxford

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 #66 - 42)

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