Lost in the Movies: Sonny Jim Jones (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #59)

Sonny Jim Jones (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #59)

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.

A boy in search of a good dad (even one he has to take care of himself), Sonny Jim is delighted by the turn his own father has taken.

Monday, September 26, 2016
After his mother calls for him, Sonny Jim enters a hallway in his family home and faces a man in a room down the corridor. This must, of course, be his father but his hair is shorter, he's slimmer, he's more verbally incommunicative and, at the same time, he seems more interested in interacting with the boy. Sonny Jim points a playacting finger pistol in his dad's direction, and the older man responds by grinning and offering a thumbs' up before turning in a circle. Sonny Jim giggles and continues downstairs, where his dad eventually joins him for breakfast, staring limply at a chair near the kitchen table and only sitting down when Sonny Jim pulls the seat out for him and practically drags him down on to it (he pours syrup on the barely functioning adult's pancakes too). His mom's back is turned as she moves about the kitchen, leaving Sonny Jim alone to assist his father and chuckle at his foibles. When she sends the child into their station wagon upon leaving the house, Sonny Jim's expression becomes more somber; his dad, staring at him in this position, begins to cry. That night, Sonny Jim is reading by nightlight in bed when he hears the doorbell ring; a few minutes later his dad trudges in to sit on the bed and offer a potato chip. Finally Sonny Jim speaks, responsibly informing his dad that he can't eat now because he brushed his teeth. He claps a lamp on, his dad promptly claps it off, and then he laughs as they keep clapping back and forth - until his angry mom shouts upstairs and demands the father come down. Disappointed, Sonny Jim lies down to fall asleep.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016
With his dad home from work on a sunny day, Sonny Jim shoves him into the backyard and - baseball gloves ready - tosses a ball which hits his dad's shoulder. The father makes absolutely no response and Sonny Jim slumps as he realizes this game of catch is not going to work out. That night, the boy is awoken by his mother screaming his father's name in another room. Alarmed, he looks around in confusion.

Thursday, September 29, 2016
The next morning both parents seem pleased as Sonny Jim leaves the house with them.

Friday, September 30, 2016
A brand new, colorful jungle gym set has been constructed in the Jones' backyard and Sonny Jim is racing around and around to play on it. To the tune of a music box version of "Swan Lake", with a spotlight illuminating the gym set on this dark evening, Sonny Jim's parents watch as he swings from monkey bars, jumps on a trampoline, runs across a bridge, and pulls himself up climbers.

Saturday, October 1, 2016
The joyous week comes to a disturbing end when Sonny Jim hears an electrical explosion accompanied by his mother's scream downstairs; worried, he shouts back to ask what's happening.

Sunday, October 2, 2016
Sonny Jim and his mom sit by his dad's hospital bed and wonder when he'll come out of his coma, apparently caused by a severe electric shock. His dad's boss and a couple of his dad's friends - the Mitchum brothers, accompanied by female helpers in poufy pink dresses - show up to offer support and provide food. Sonny Jim thanks the Mitchums for the recent gift of the gym set. Eventually he has to go to the bathroom with his mom and when he returns his dad is awake and much more alert than usual. After being sent out of the room again to get a doctor (who will offer permission to check out), Sonny Jim observes that his dad is talking a lot, and his mom agrees. The boy cheerfully takes note of his dad's driving skills on the way to a casino, where he and his mom are taken aside and given some upsetting news. Sonny Jim's dad informs them that he has to leave, briefly, but will return. Both mother and son get the sense that maybe this man isn't actually who they thought he was, and Sonny Jim fights this feeling by declaring, "You're my dad, you're my dad!" And indeed, the suited man agrees and embraces them both before departing.

Monday, October 3, 2016
The next morning, Sonny Jim's mom answers the door and discovers that her husband followed through on his promise to appear at their doorstep. Sonny Jim races towards his dad and the whole family hugs the man who warmly proclaims, "Home."

Characters Sonny Jim interacts with onscreen…

Agent Cooper

Janey-E Jones

Bushnell Mullins

Mitchum Brothers


Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Sonny Jim
Far from Twin Peaks itself, Sonny Jim's world is decidedly suburban rather than small town. The only previous part of Twin Peaks to sink into such a setting was Fire Walk With Me, replacing the implicitly isolated little homes of the series with Laura Palmer's house on a tight neighborhood block. The Jones house, however, is part of a more cookie cutter layout - as generic as their own name. There's little sense of community; the setting we're presented with consists primarily of climbing into the family car to go from the family home to whatever functional location is next on the itinerary. We don't get to see Sonny Jim at school or anywhere else he'd interact with other characters his own age. Even on his own brand new gym set he's alone, without any peers to play with. On that last point, this is another way Sonny Jim indicates a variation on the familiar Twin Peaks template. The original series featured almost no pre-adolescent children even as extras - only the otherworldly Tremond grandson and the possibly devilish Little Nicky come to mind as exceptions. The big exception in Fire Walk With Me - a school bus full of screaming kids whose driver is being arrested along with a couple prostitutes - suggested why: this is a narrative too fraught with danger and criminality for innocents to inhabit. The Return reinforces this sentiment when it does bring children into the fold; around the time Sonny Jim himself is introduced, one child is nearly blown up and another is run down in a horrific car accident. Later, a girl will swallow a demonic frog bug and a boy will run crying from his house when his father is gunned down. No wonder many viewers worried for Sonny Jim's safety! Nonetheless, he remains an exception among exceptions, reflecting Cooper/Dougie's inner warmth and ability to create a kind of protective bubble around himself and his loved ones in the previously harsh environment of Las Vegas.

Sonny Jim’s journey
While Sonny Jim obviously longs for a figure like Cooper (or even, maybe especially, the "diminished" Dougie-Cooper), Cooper also benefits from Sonny Jim's presence. Both make each other smile right away. This is not something we've seen the placid but hardly joyful Cooper do much in The Return until he meets his supposed son, and while we haven't encountered the young boy until this moment we get the sense that he hasn't been smiling much lately either (the character first comes to our attention, offscreen, when we learn that the real Dougie stood him up at his birthday party). Sonny Jim remains largely consistent throughout: he's a thoughtful, responsible little kid who seems used to taking care of others as much as being taken care of himself. However, there is an arc of emotional openness - signified in part by the boy's tardiness in talking - as he learns that a father figure can be there for him after all, something he's unlikely to have experienced much until Cooper arrives. If the usually quite active and protective FBI agent is in no condition to play a conventional authority figure, he nonetheless provides an amusing companion and kind presence for the boy to bask in, comfort enough even if he can't catch a baseball. By the end of (the initial) Cooper's stay, Sonny Jim is even shown enjoying himself under the gaze of his parents but without their direct interaction. Obviously, the series is only showing us a narrow slice of his life but what it shapes out of this material demonstrates a blossoming throughout the Jones family which spreads in multiple directions at once. His last words are to welcome a loving parent home, this time with an exclamation point rather than a question mark.

Actor: Pierce Gagnon
A breakout child actor during the early 2010s, Gagnon made his name in a recurring role as Logan on One Tree Hill, as the young version of George Clooney's character in Tomorrowland, as Zach Braff's and Kate Hudson's son (and Joey King's brother) in Wish I Was Here, and as astronaut Halle Berry's son in two seasons and twenty-six episodes of the Steven Spielberg-produced Extant. His biggest breakthrough, however, was as the seven-year-old future warlord "Rainmaker" in Looper. Director Rian Johnson commented, "I'm kind of terrified that I hinged the success of the backend of the movie on finding someone like Pierce," noting that he could hold his own in scenes with Emily Blunt and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The Playlist cited Gagnon as one of the twenty best actors under twenty in 2014, even speculating that he might follow Johnson into the Star Wars universe; instead, Gagnon shifted almost entirely into voice work after Twin Peaks - including fifty episodes of The Boss Baby: Back in Business. (film pictured: Looper, 2012)

Part 4 (Showtime title: "...brings back some memories.")

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

*Part 6 (Showtime title: "Don't die." - best episode)

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

Part 12 (Showtime title: "Let's rock.")

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

Part 15 (Showtime title: "There's some fear in letting go.") - voice is heard offscreen

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

Part 18 (Showtime title: "What is your name?")

Sonny Jim is onscreen for roughly nineteen minutes. He is in fifteen scenes in nine episodes, taking place over about a week. He's featured the most in part 16, when he watches his father wake up from a coma. His primary location is the Jones house. He shares the most screentime with Cooper. He is one of the top ten characters in parts 4 and 6, and one of the top five characters in part 16.

Best Scene
Part 6: The boy bonds with his father before bed, speaking out loud for the first time since we met him.

Best Line
“Dad can drive! Really good!”

Sonny Jim Offscreen

Part 4: Janey-E scolds Cooper - who she knows as Dougie - for missing his son's birthday party, mentioning Sonny Jim by name before he's introduced.

Part 6: After a security guard drags Cooper home, Janey-E tells him to go upstairs and say goodnight to Sonny Jim.

Part 7: When she appears in the office to pick up her husband and is met by a trio of police detectives questioning him, she defensively informs them that they left their son home with a babysitter because they are not negligent parents.

Part 11: The Mitchum brothers are shocked to discover that their new buddy "Dougie" doesn't own a gym set for his son to play on (how they learned this information from the near-mute parent is not explained).

Part 13: Janey-E gasps in disbelief as a fancy new car and gym set are delivered to her house, the latter for Sonny Jim to play on.

Additional Observations

• Though anyone reading this will surely know already, it's worth establishing that - of course - the man Sonny Jim thinks of his father is not, technically, his father - although he does presumably have the same genetic material. Rather, he's FBI Agent Dale Cooper, misdirected on his return to the world so that he ends up living another man's life far from his destination. Sonny Jim's actual dad, the Dougie whom Cooper replaces when he comes out of an electrical socket after a quarter-century in the Black Lodge, is a tulpa - a copy manufactured around 1997 as a sort of placeholder to eventually trap Cooper on the doppelganger's behalf. Moreover, the real Dougie wasn't even a direct copy of Cooper himself but rather of that doppelganger (this may explain why Mr. C seems so much colder and less gleeful than the double we met at the end of season two; did he pass his more voracious qualities onto the corrupt, self-indulgent but not particularly violent tulpa he created)? The final Dougie who arrives in front of the Jones' red door in Part 18 is also not the Cooper that Sonny Jim grew close to during the previous week, although in this case, at least, he's a tulpa created directly from Cooper himself.

• The timing of the "playing catch" bit is confusing; on the series it aired, impossibly, between two episodes with chronologically back-to-back Mitchum sequences. So we're left to our own devices to re-locate it in the narrative. Costumes aren't a great help; Sonny Jim wears the same t-shirt he did Monday morning but Cooper is wearing his black slacks and tie rather than his own colorful Monday get-up. I'm going with Wednesday because that's a day Cooper already appears to have off from work; maybe Sonny Jim just got home from school and wants to take advantage of this rare opportunity to play outside. Of course, this could also take place on Saturday (then again, the Anthony poison scene takes place that day, suggesting Cooper works through the weekend).

• When shown in the backseat of the car, as his father cries, Sonny Jim blinks in what appears to be a backward manner. Why? Is an uncanny, otherworldly vibe breaking through as Cooper momentarily feels deep emotion? Are we meant to think that all of this is unfolding inside of an illusion, a Lodge-inflected dream? Or did the take just look better for some hard-to-pin-down reason when flowing in the other direction (there are several other incidents of curious editing tics, including subtly reversed clips, in The Return)? Is the backwards blink just an optical illusion, something overeager fans discovered and expanded into a clue? Sonny Jim's storyline doesn't contain many esoteric mysteries - at least not on the surface - but this one lingers.

• Sonny Jim's amusing attempts to make his out-of-it dad at home, inviting him to share in a world that the boy finds familiar but the stranger finds, well, strange, always reminded me of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. There's a significant difference, however, from that film's eagerness to populate Elliot's home with eclectic pop culture signposts...

• The bedroom is filled with objects and decorative motifs that might very well be found in any child's bedroom in 2017 - dinosaurs, rocket ships, airplanes, and (maybe a bit more anachronistically) cowboys. Notably, however, there's nothing that wouldn't also be present in a child's bedroom fifty years earlier. No video games, Pokemon cards, and action figures connected with twenty-first century or even late twentieth century franchises - the newest tech is a 3-D Viewfinder and even the book Sonny Jim reads appears to be some sort of Hardy Boys hardcover. Clearly David Lynch is evoking his own childhood here rather than attempting to capture the present zeitgeist (similarly to his portrayal of teen life in Blue Velvet and the original Twin Peaks).

• Viewers of Part 5 observed that Sonny Jim's playful pointing outside Cooper's bedroom recalls Josie aiming a very real gun at Cooper when he stood in a similar position in his hotel room in the season one finale. This parallel is reinforced when Cooper touches his stomach in the spot where he was shot way back when. And speaking of tonally-reversed connections to the older material...

• After seven minutes of screentime, Sonny Jim finally talks. His first line in The Return provides a spooky and thought-provoking echo to the evil Cooper doppelganger's last line in The Missing Pieces (and thus the final words we hear from any version of Cooper until twenty-five years later). The sinister double protests, "But I haven't brushed my teeth yet," while the innocent boy refuses a potato chip by asserting, "I already brushed my teeth." These two worlds couldn't seem further apart - nor could these two Coopers - and these lines provide both a connective reminder and a reinforcement of that distance. There is one other spawn of Cooper in the third season and he's as much a nightmarish contrast with Sonny Jim as Mr. C is with Dougie. The home that some version of Cooper returns to at the beginning of Part 18 is a glowing oasis surrounded by brooding darkness, no less real for that exception and all the more to be cherished.

Next (available now): Jean Renault
Previous: Charlie

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 #58 - 42)

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