Lost in the Movies: Bill Hastings (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #51)

Bill Hastings (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #51)

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.

Hastings is a high school principal swallowed up by a strange (to him) yet all-too-familiar (to us) nexus of a criminal investigation, love affair, and supernatural encounter.

Saturday, September 24, 2016
On a sunny weekend afternoon, Detective Macklay arrives at the Hastings household with several other officers in tow. Neither the pleasant Bill Hastings nor his friendly wife Phyllis appear alarmed when they see their old friend at the door but this is the last moment of happiness Hastings will ever experience. Macklay shifts the mood by handcuffing the perplexed man who insists he did nothing wrong, advising his wife to call their lawyer George. At the station, Hastings nervously rubs his head; the police are standing on the other side of the one-way mirror but he cannot hear them talk about him. Patiently, he responds to Macklay's inquiries when the detective joins him in the interrogation room but he begins to falter when pressed about Ruth Davenport, a local librarian whom he claims to barely know, and the events of Thursday night when he attended a faculty meeting and gave his secretary a ride home. Increasingly nervous, Hastings freaks out when Macklay finally informs him what's going on: "Ruth Davenport was murdered and your prints are all over her apartment." In his cell, Hastings receives a visit from his wife, who sneers that she knows he was cheating on her with Ruth and that he's going to spend his life in prison. He retorts that Phyllis and George have been an affair ("and maybe somebody else too") and says he dreamed about being in Ruth's apartment the night she died.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Five days into his imprisonment, Hastings is an absolute wreck. His wife, lawyer, and secretary have all mysteriously died since he was locked away, and when FBI Agent Tammy Preston enters the interrogation room to question him more deeply about what he and Ruth were really engaged in, Hastings lets it all out. Two weeks ago, the couple traveled to another dimension where they encountered a "hibernating" man known as "the Major," who asked them to hack into government files and retrieve coordinates for him. (Tammy presents Hastings with several photos, one of which he identifies as said Major.) On the Thursday when Ruth was killed, they were bringing these numbers back to the Major when they were attacked by numerous "others." Hastings is overcome with emotion as he describes the scene as both beautiful and terrible: the Major "started to float up, and he said some words, 'Cooper Cooper', right before his head disappeared..." Whimpering that neither Tammy nor anyone else can understand because they weren't there but insisting that they must believe him, Hastings declares his love for Ruth and weeps while remembering their plans to escape to the tropics for a life of leisure, now out of reach forever.

Thursday, September 29, 2016
Several FBI agents escort Macklay to the location where he and Ruth met the Major - a derelict lot where they slipped through a hole in the fence though Hastings has trouble remembering what else happened, and shudders when he glimpses a spectral figure in the distance. While one of the older agents wanders around and waves his hands in the air, Hastings continues to look confused and overwhelmed in the back of a parked cruiser (Macklay sits in the driver's seat). Eventually Hastings begins to shudder and then his head simply explodes, splattering the detective with blood. The shattered corpse slumps as officers of the law gather around and stare in horror, with one bluntly declaring, "He's dead."

Characters Hastings interacts with onscreen…

Detective Macklay

Tammy Preston

Spirits who appear with/to him

Spirit Woodsmen (his killer)

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Hastings
For a character whose story unfolds entirely in South Dakota, Hastings' plot is redolent not just of the original Twin Peaks series but also the particular flavor of the Twin Peaks town, with its mix of intrigue, absurdity, and ethereality. Yet Hastings' world also stands in contrast to the feeling of old Twin Peaks/Twin Peaks: his surroundings are clinical and gray, he has no context (no local lore, no esoteric investigative experience) for any of the strange things happening to him, and until well into his screentime he interacts only with fellow new-to-The Return characters whose staid personalities - like his - seem far from the eccentric lovability of the original series ensemble. This duality makes Hastings a fascinating figure in the third season, both a touchstone and a deviation as we situate ourselves in a new story world, especially since he is one of the primary characters in the early parts which feature so few familiar faces. Comparisons were immediately drawn to Leland; was Hastings another possessed soul, killing without quite remembering what he'd done? Once the FBI arrives in Buckhorn, Hastings' story grows clearer and more poignant: he's fundamentally peripheral, offering a grunts' eye view into a cosmic battle we usually experience from a higher elevation. That martial metaphor is particularly relevant given the commands Hastings receives from Major Briggs, and was popular at the time these episodes aired (I seem to recall podcasters referring to Hastings a foot soldier, and certainly he's in way over his head compared to the people we're used to relying on for guidance in this spirit world). Much like the ensemble in the then-recent Rogue One - which provides a similarly low-in-the-pecking-order perspective on the grand events of Star Wars - Hastings' narrow, confused point of view only makes the universe seem more vast and intimidating.

Hastings' journey
On the surface, Hastings' arc is one of the most radical and transformative on the series: he's introduced to us as a solid, mild-mannered citizen certain he's being wrongly arrested and he ends up handcuffed and with his head exploded by supernatural forces in the back of a police car. In between, two interrogations - three perhaps, including his wife's blistering attacks - break him so thoroughly that there's barely a nub of the good old Bill left inside the shell that the Woodsman crushes. Curiously, though, the most significant events in Hastings' life take place before we even meet him; the journey that brought him to his bloody demise mostly unfolded offscreen. He isn't merely someone to whom things happen, he's someone who makes things happen - but now that's all in the past, and it's the process of that discovery which constitutes the narrative action (for us, if not for him). As viewers we also experience a shift in perspective and, arguably, tone given how restrained he is at first and then how flamboyant his behavior becomes by the time Tammy gets to him. Although we know less about him in the early scenes, his initially warm personality and expressive face (contrasted with the detective's clipped reserve), plus the initial lack of any characters from the old series, encourages us to identify with the murder suspect more than the cops. Then seven episodes pass and when we return to Hastings in the jail, our old friends in the FBI are present to observe. He has degenerated into a blubbering miss and while we may regard him with pity, he's now more object of attention than Hitchcockian subject. By the time he's extinguished, poor Hastings almost become an afterthought - a literal art object with his sculpted skull.

I've often wondered to what extent David Lynch and Mark Frost fully sketched out who Hastings was and what his plot purpose was be before writing his first scenes. From the way the process has been described, Frost conveys an impression that those two initial hours were written in isolation and with a sense of exploration. Perhaps - as with the original series pilot - the creators were discovering this world themselves in the first few episodes and didn't know where it would lead. Obviously the entire script was completed long before shooting - indeed, Hastings' first scene was the big interrogation with Tammy, unnerving for the actor when he realized this tremendously difficult moment was his scene partner's first performance ever. But a sense of exciting uncertainty hovers over Hastings' early episodes anyway, even on repeat viewings. There's an impression of evolution, bittersweet since our first encounters with Hastings are charged with such nervy, infinite possibility.

Actor: Matthew Lillard
Choosing which image to use for Lillard's bio is a toss-up which can reveal fissures between and within generations. For Gen Xers and older millennials, the obvious choice is probably the actor's hyperactive, mugging performance as Stu in Scream (1996), a sarcastic teen enjoying (and then some) his role in a real-life slasher flick. For zoomers and younger millennials, however, Lillard will always be known for lighter if still spooky fare. As the live-action Shaggy in Scooby-Doo (2002), the rubber-faced actor made the part so thoroughly his own that he went on to voice the animated character (and occasionally resume his live-action portrayal) in five more video games, thirty-six direct-to-video movies, and one hundred sixty-eight episodes of television. (Things I just now learned while researching this project: the man whom Lillard replaced as Shaggy's forty-year voice was the legendary radio personality Casey Kasum.) Although his run appeared to come to a premature end in 2020 - much to his public disappointment - the actor has been tapped to reappear in the video game MultiVersus as well as in some other, non-TV projects. In light of all that, the younger crowd deserves to choose his crown: Shaggy is clearly the more iconic role. Of course, Lillard has plenty of work outside of those two characters; like so many Peaks alums - especially those who debuted on the original series, which Lillard never watched before shooting his scenes - his career has been quintessentially Gen X (up to and including his part in perhaps the most beloved artifact of X childhood alongside other X icons like Sarah Michelle Gellar).

Born mid-generation in 1970, he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena with Paul Rudd before continuing his studies at New York's Circle in the Square Theater School; early roles include hosting the Nickeloden show Sk8-TV and prominent parts in Serial Mom, Hackers, If These Walls Could Talk, and She's All That with the lead role in SLC Punk! one of his proudest nineties achievements. Later films include Thir13en Ghosts, The Perfect Score, The Descendants, Trouble with the Curve, Match, and Grace while he's turned up on a wide range of TV shows including Nash Bridges, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, House, Criminal Minds, The Good Wife, State of Affairs, Halt and Catch Fire, FBI, American Dad!, and Bosch, as well as twenty-five episodes of The Bridge as Daniel Frye and fifty episodes as Dean Boland, husband of series star Christina Hendricks, on three seasons of Good Girls. Lillard has also branched out to direct Fat Kid Rules the World and will appear soon in yet another comic horror franchise, the big screen adaptation of popular video game Five Nights at Freddy's. For more, check out Lillard's IMDb quotes page (apparently drawn from a 2012 interview for the most part) which provides an assembly of amusing anecdotes and honest observations from his three-decade (and counting) career. (film pictured: Scooby-Doo, 2002)

*Part 1 (Showtime title: "My log has a message for you." - best episode)

Part 2 (Showtime title: "The stars turn and a time presents itself.")

Part 9 (Showtime title: "This is the chair.")

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

Hastings is onscreen for roughly twenty-three minutes. He is in five scenes in four episodes, taking place over six days. He's featured the most in part 1, when he is arrested and questioned for the first time. His primary location is the Buckhorn police station - specifically the interrogation room. He shares the most screentime with Macklay. He is one of the top ten characters in parts 2 and 9 and one of the top three in part 1. Hastings is the first character on this list to appear among the top twenty characters in season three.

Best Scene
Part 1: Initially confused but determined to keep his cool, Hastings breaks down under Macklay's questioning as he realizes just how far in over his head he truly is.

Best Line
“We were gonna go to the Bahamas. We were gonna scuba dive and drink mixed drinks on the beach!”

Hastings Offscreen

Part 1: Forensics expert Constance Talbot runs fingerprints from the Davenport crime scene and is shocked when they get a local hit. "He's my kid's principal," she marvels while showing Hastings' ID to Macklay. Later, while Hastings is onscreen but behind a glass partition, three cops discuss his case out of earshot and Macklay is encouraged to handle the case because he was Hastings' fishing buddy and might be able to get more information from him. (The state cop and local chief also discuss Hastings out of earshot as they await a warrant and, like Constance, shake their heads at his occupation.) Macklay then leads a search of the Hastings home and finds a lump of flesh in the trunk of the suspect's car.

Part 2: At a nearby diner, the Cooper doppelganger (Mr. C) discusses a woman that his criminal associate Ray Monroe will be getting information from. "She's Hastings' secretary," Ray says. "She knows what he knows." The next day, Mr. C watches Jack the mechanic close a garage door which later dialogue leads us to believe may be housing the secretary's car. And after leaving her husband trembling in his cell, Phyllis runs into his lawyer (and her lover) and says with a smirk, "He knows" (about their affair, though this echoes the language in the other scene about the secretary). When George asks Macklay how Hastings is doing, the detective reports, "Well, he's pretty shook up I have to admit." Mr. C shoots Phyllis in her home in a subsequent scene (she appears to recognize him before realizing he's going to kill her, leading to speculation among viewers that he was the other lover her husband alluded to).

Part 8: Mr. C and Ray discuss numbers, implicitly the coordinates that Ray got from Hastings' secretary.

Part 9: FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole receives a call from an Air Force colonel directing him to Buckhorn, where Macklay explains the Hastings case to him while leading them to the morgue to see the Major's body. He includes some new-to-us information: the police suspect George for Phyllis' murder (he's also in custody). Furthermore, Hastings' secretary died the day after his wife when her car exploded. "It turns out that William Hastings," Macklay tells them, "along with the help of Ruth the librarian, was researching and publishing some strange little blog about some alternate dimension." "That's from the principal of your local high school?" FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield inquires. "Not to mention marble champion of the sixth grade," Constance replies. "When did he lose his marbles?" Albert asks playfully. "When the dog got his cats' eyes," Constance parries as Albert smiles. Albert then continues, "About a week ago, Hastings ended his blog entry with this cryptic sentence: 'Today we finally entered what we call the Zone. And we met the Major.'" After discovering some more details about the Major's corpse (which was placed in Ruth's bed alongside her head), Gordon insists that they speak to Hastings. Albert's only response after Tammy questions Hastings is, "Fruitcake, anyone?"

Part 11: Inside the abandoned lot, before Hastings' head explodes, the FBI discovers Ruth's headless body with numbers written on her arm. After Hastings dies, Macklay reports that no suspects were found in the area nor is there any evidence of a shot fired. "No bullet did that to Hastings," Albert mutters. Gordon reveals that he and Albert saw a shadowy figure in the area, and Diane recalls seeing a dirty bearded man approach Hastings' car before he died (we witnessed this too, although Hastings himself did not see the Woodsman spirit).

Part 13: After being shot and interrogated by Mr. C, Ray chuckles, "You want the coordinates I got from Hastings? Or rather, his pretty secretary Betty?" He then reveals that they are in his pocket and hands them to Mr. C before he dies.

In one of the most clever Twin Peaks spin-off gestures (one entirely in keeping with the many books whose framing conceits keep them in-world), an actual website was created to replicate Hastings' blog. With a starry background design, colored comic sans font, Web 1.0 award icons, and cryptic guest book, "The Search for the Zone" dates itself back to 1997, when Hastings would have been a sci-fi geek just out of college (certainly not a high school principal yet, but maybe an English or science teacher). The site perfectly captures a whole era of online culture which pre-dates The Return but dawned only after the original series' cancellation. This is one more way the third season affectionately reflects the poignant passage of time: here's an already ancient artifact whose novelty and relevance came and went inside the massive twenty-five year span separating the two shows. The contents are mostly pretty sparse: links to other writings, brief statements, and indications that perhaps some other information - journal entries, images, even lo-fi videos - had been scrubbed (the links to Hastings' past work lead to a fuzzy video with the show's opening song playing). Most hauntingly, someone named Tom Vogel writes on September 8, 2015: "H.V. ... and B.H. ... great video... but not the good quality. I couldn't tell - was that light really fire? Was the boy burned? His face looked burned. When will you do the 'thing'?" "B.H." obviously addresses Bill Hastings, while "H.V." refers to Heinrich Viegel, described in the sidebar as an occasional contributor to the site - one more mystery to fold into Twin Peaks' universe of mysteries. While the site, operated by Rhino Records to promote the soundtrack music, went offline around 2020, its contents can still be found here.

Additional Observations

• Though I only listed interactions with other ten-minute-plus characters above, obviously one of Hastings' most significant encounters is with his wife Phyllis. As they thrust their strained faces back and forth, bickering about infidelity and prison time, they strike a soap operatic note that recalls the old series albeit in a harsher tone and with a supernatural bent that used to keep its distance from the social machinations of characters like Catherine and Ben.

• Although the date of Hastings' arrest is fairly well-established, when he dates the photo of Major Briggs he both writes and says aloud, "9...20...", eight days earlier. Continuity in the third season is already somewhat fast and loose (although this mostly appears to be a matter of editing rather than on-set script supervision and costuming), but if we're making excuses perhaps Hastings is so stressed out he can't remember what day it is (that said, you'd think Tammy would be concerned.)

• Hastings is mentioned on several pages of Mark Frost's follow-up novel The Final Dossier, but nothing new is revealed so a separate "Books" section isn't warranted in this case. Tammy describes what we witnessed on the show and adds a little editorializing. Dismissing Hastings' and Ruth's sleuthing skills - "who were these people," she cracks sarcastically, "Russian sleeper agents?" - she concludes that prior to his disappearance, the Major must have placed some important information in an easy place for "these two Buckhorn rubes" to access. Tammy also reports that "Hastings indicated that [the Major had] cautioned them to put nothing on paper," information we don't actually receive during Hastings' breakdown (he just says that Ruth wrote the coordinates "on her hand" so she'd remember). And Hastings is tangentially linked to the documents that make up Frost's previous book, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, although Ruth is given primary stewardship. "[O]ne has to assume," Tammy concludes, "Briggs also gave [the dossier] to Hastings and Davenport at their first meeting...which Davenport had concealed in a basement storage locker in her apartment building."

Next (active on Friday, April 7): Anthony Sinclair
Previous: Eileen Hayward

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 #50 - 36)

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