Lost in the Movies: Bushnell Mullins (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #41)

Bushnell Mullins (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #41)

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.

Curious and protective, tough but fair, Bushnell is eventually proud to call himself Dougie's boss.

Monday, September 26, 2016
After sifting through papers at his own little desk while employees gather around a conference table, Lucky 7 Insurance President Bushnell Mullins finally claps his hands and takes his seat at the head of the table. Asserting control of the grumbling ensemble, he's annoyed when one green jacket-clad man - returning after several days of absence - refuses to sit down. Bushnell incredulously demands, "Cut the shit, Dougie!" as loyal assistant Phil Bisby nervously lowers Douglas Jones into his chair, where he stares blankly and sips coffee. He only speaks up in the middle of a back-and-forth between Bushnell and his top sales associate, Anthony Sinclair, about a claim that Bushnell suspects was arson (Anthony insists it was cleared). Here Dougie intercedes, gazing straight at Anthony: "He's lying." This shocking outburst provokes Anthony and upsets (but also mildly intrigues) Bushnell, who asks Dougie to come to his office after the meeting. A couple other employees have to escort the near-catatonic figure into Bushnell's lair, where he pounces on Dougie's cryptic repetitions and refusal to elaborate on the earlier accusation. Shoving a massive pile of case files into Dougie's arms and warning him that "what you come back with tomorrow will have a whole hell of a lot to do with you future in this company," Bushnell seems doubtful that that the future will last much longer than a day.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
The next morning, Bushnell calls repeatedly to Mr. Jones, who only responds to a furious "Dougie!" Phil has to gently push Dougie into Bushnell's office once again and there the boss sifts angrily through the scrawled pages that have been brought before him. Staring, bewildered, at rough sketches of what appear to be ladders, stairs, and otherwise incomprehensible lines and dots, something starts to click; before long, Bushnell is flipping back and forth with intense absorption, furrowing his brow as he compares various pages and begins to deduce a pattern. Finally, he puts them down on his desk and congratulates the intrepid agent for bringing something so important and disconcerting to his attention. He tries to shake Dougie's hand, but Dougie turns sideways, as if his arm is around a dance partner. Bushnell, still baffled but more appreciative now, calls him an "interesting fellow." Visiting Dougie's office later to further explore the matter, Bushnell is surprised to see a trio of cops questioning him and his wife, who's arrived to pick him up. They are curious about a stolen car and Bushnell, sensing that they're hiding something, forces them to reveal that they've found the vehicle and it was destroyed in an explosion. After being told off by Janey-E Jones, they agree to postpone further questions for later and Bushnell genially lets Dougie go home to avoid his own confrontation with the impatient wife.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Bushnell appears at the police station the following morning, following a near-deadly assault on Dougie in the plaza outside Lucky 7 the night before. He explains to the Fuscos that they've worked together for twelve years, following a car accident which had some lingering effects on the "slow and steady" worker. He presses them for information once again, recognizing that somebody must be after Dougie (given the car bomb and later assassination attempt) but the detectives are stonefaced. In the waiting area, Bushnell gives Dougie the day off and tells him they'll talk about all of this tomorrow.

Thursday, September 29, 2016
Doing push-ups on his desk while he awaits Dougie's arrival, Bushnell is in a great mood when Phil opens the door and lures the otherwise immobile insurance agent into the office by holding aloft a tray of coffee. Bushnell informs Dougie that he's discovered massive fraud implicating the police as well as crime bosses. Ironically, two of the most notorious "alleged" gangsters in Vegas - the Mitchum brothes - were actually the victims of this fraud and are owed a $30 million payout. Bushnell is delighted to reveal that he took out a second policy on his own company's policy as protection, and will not suffer any losses by reversing the former decision. He then provides Dougie with a check for the Mitchums and sends him off to meet them at an Italian restaurant, where the limo driver outside promises they're headed. (Along the way, Dougie becomes distracted by a bakery in the office building's foyer and emerges with a large cardboard box to take with him.)

Friday, September 30, 2016
Sure enough, the Mitchums are ecstatic when they arrive at Lucky 7 the next morning, dancing in a conga line with Dougie and three women clad in pink tutus. One of the women presents Bushnell with lavish gifts, and Bushnell laughs while reminding Dougie to call his wife.

Saturday, October 1, 2016
Present in the office on a weekend, Bushnell adopts a less playful tone. He listens to a tearful confession from Anthony, who reveals background on the scam that Bushnell mostly already knows (aside from the fact that Anthony just tried to poison Dougie before having a change of heart). Offering qualified compassion through gritted teeth, Bushnell demands that Anthony agree to testify against the gangster Duncan Todd and the detectives who assisted in the fraud. The second prospect terrifies Anthony much more than the first, but he breaks down and submits as Bushnell reminds him, "I'm not really asking you."

Sunday, October 1, 2016
The eventful week closes when Bushnell visits a hospital room in support of Janey-E and Dougie's son Sonny Jim. Their husband and father lies in a coma after electrocuting himself by sticking a fork into a socket. Bushnell is confident that Dougie will be okay, and happy to introduce the Jones family to the Mitchums when they arrive with food and presents. Phil - in the office on a Sunday for some reason - calls Bushnell to inform him that the FBI just showed up looking for Dougie and are heading for the hospital. Hearing a strange humming noise, Bushnell leaves the room and when he returns, Dougie is wide awake and rearing to go, suddenly quite talkative and assertive. A stunned Bushnell hands him his suit to change into and even offers up "that .32 snub nose you keep in the shoulder holster under your left arm" that Dougie mysteriously appears to know about. Dougie also tells him that a man named Gordon Cole will call soon, and he wants Bushnell to read him a written message. Then he proclaims, "You're a fine man, Bushnell Mullins. I will not soon forget your kindness and decency." Confidently exiting the room where he was minutes ago in a coma, he pauses only momentarily when Bushnell calls out, "But what about the FBI?" With a newfound but deep-seated confidence, the man Bushnell thought was his employee proclaims, "I am the FBI." Not long after, Bushnell returns to this room to find two FBI agents on the phone with, sure enough, Gordon Cole. Bushnell asks to speak with the stranger and reads Dougie's note aloud: "I am headed for Sheriff Truman. It is 2:53 in Las Vegas and that adds up to a 10, the number of completion." Asked who he is, Bushnell identifies himself and mentions he was the recent patient's boss. "And that makes two of us," Gordon mysteriously replies.

Characters Bushnell interacts with onscreen…

Agent Cooper

Anthony Sinclair

Phil Bisby

Janey-E Jones

Detectives Fusco

Mitchum Brothers


Sonny Jim

Gordon Cole (over phone)

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Bushnell
Bushnell serves as a test case for just how far "Twin Peaks energy" can expand beyond the town's physical and spiritual borders in The Return. When we first meet him, a gruff, sharp old man running a tight insurance company meeting in a sleek Las Vegas high-rise, we marvel at the distance Cooper has put between himself and the familiar environment of the original Twin Peaks. Back then, we never saw anyone employed in a conventional white-collar workplace (the oddball FBI headquarters in Fire Walk With Me may come the closest). While Lucky 7 is a bit too 2010s and/or high-end to indulge in familiar touchstones like the cubicle, copy machine, or water cooler, it still unmistakably belongs to the world of Dilbert, The Office, and myriad other variations on that theme. Bushnell isn't particularly eccentric, he's no lovable small town archetype, and unlike Twin Peaks' most famous businessman, Ben Horne, he doesn't appear to be a sinister villain either. But he does harbor several qualities we know and love in the town's more benevolent authority figures: he's old-fashioned but open-minded, loyal if you earn his loyalty, and, after a rough introduction, deeply impressed by Agent Cooper (or rather, the new Dougie Jones). As is also a Twin Peaks trait, his judgement may not always be the most sound even if his heart is in the right place - as when he foolishly sends Dougie into the lions' den with an unannounced gift in his coat pocket which almost gets a bullet through it. For better or (occasionally) worse, Bushnell has earned the right to inadvertently declare himself an equal to Gordon Cole during his last moments onscreen.

Bushnell’s journey
Does the presence of "Dougie" open up new avenues for characters, or simply reveal who they always were? There's a sense that Cooper in this form is magically, subtly transforming the world around him and Bushnell is a prime example of this tendency. His shift from irritation to benevolence is not quite as dramatic as the Mitchums' turnaround and Janey's awakening but it's noticeable nonetheless, and arguably has the biggest and broadest impact of any Vegas character's journey. The collapse of a massive, multi-million dollar web of crime and corruption hinges on Bushnell's unexplained and amusing ability to understand what he initially calls "childish scribbles" on his employee's case files. This is the mercurial moment when something changes inside of the impatient boss, opening him up to a whole new way of seeing. And his demeanor changes too, or rather becomes more multifaceted. With the man he knows as Dougie, and those in his circle of approval like Janey and the Mitchums, Bushnell is kind, bemused, and inspired. With Dougie's antagonists, he resumes the former curt, pressing manner that he took at that morning meeting. Anthony receives a stern if ultimately redemptive lecture, the Fuscos are greeted with polite but skeptical pushback, and the FBI agents who reluctantly lend them their phone are brushed off with the same disrespect they show him. Bushnell doesn't exactly lose his edge, and in a sense he actually sharpens it; think how distant he is in his first scene, both literally and figuratively, as he sits in the corner of the room while his underlings gossip and backstab and then he seems shocked to hear even a whisper of Anthony's mendacity. There can be little doubt that Agent Cooper makes Bushnell a better boss. We also come to suspect that he's made him a happier man.

Actor: Don Murray
Although he never appeared in a David Lynch project until he was in his mid-eighties, Don Murray's connections to the Lynchverse are extensive. They begin when Lynch himself was just ten and Murray played opposite Lynch's icon Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Thirty years later, Murray's ex-wife Hope Lange was cast as Laura Dern's mother in Blue Velvet (itself part of an intricate web of "darkness in a small town" connections - or coincidences - spanning back to a Laura Palmer-like character Lange played in Peyton Place, whose mother was played by an actress who had been cast as a Laura Palmer-like character in Kings Row). And to top it off, several episodes before Bushnell is introduced, Murray's and Lange's son Christopher appears as a policeman in Twin Peaks' Buckhorn scenes. The elder Murray returned from screen retirement to play Bushnell (his last film had been in 2001) but did not stop there; at the age of ninety-two he was cast in the Western Promise. Even prior to those late entries, Murray's career spanned a half-century including Broadway (he broke through in The Rose Tattoo) and lots of early work in live TV - he very much came out of the same fifties theater/TV/cinema pipeline as Mark Frost's father Warren (one of Murray's early movies, The Bachelor Party, was Delbert Mann's and Paddy Chayefsky's follow-up to their own smash TV/film everyman drama Marty).

The Western genre became a mainstay for Murray in the sixties on screens both big and small; in The Outcasts he played an ex-Confederate bounty hunter uneasily partnered with an ex-Union officer (Otis Young) who was also an ex-slave. The show ran for one season and episodes were later re-assembled for the film Call Me By My Rightful Name. Other films include A Hatful of Rain, Shake Hands With the Devil, Advise and Consent, Escape from East Berlin, One Man's Way (where he sports a very Lynch-like tuft of hair as famed minister Norman Vincent Peale), The Plainsman, The Viking Queen, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and Peggy Sue Got Married (in which he was cast as Sofia Coppola's father). A prolific player in TV movies of the seventies and eighties, he had recurring parts on a couple shows that ran at the same time as Twin Peaks - as Roger Gibbons on A Brand New Life and Bing Hammersmith on Sons and Daughters - and guested on series like Police Story, T.J. Hooker, Matlock, Murder, She Wrote, and Wings over a longer span. His biggest role of all, however, was as Sid Fairgate in thirty-four episodes of the immensely popular nighttime soap Knots Landing, in which his apparent death at the end of the second season became a summer-long cliffhanger.

Beyond all this (and aside from a nonexistent music-engineering career which Wikipedia mistakenly credits him for, confusing him with another Don Murray), the actor also has a significant offscreen legacy. A conscientious objector to the Korean War due to his membership in the Church of the Brethren, Murray volunteered to serve with refugees in Europe instead of combat in Asia, building homes and helping found businesses in Sardinia to restore wartorn communities. Years later, he was tapped to introduce the Democratic vice-presidential nominee Estes Kefauver (famed for wearing a coonskin cap on the campaign trail), and when the candidate ran late, Murray was pressured to fill the time by sharing Hollywood anecdotes. He didn't have many - he'd been abroad for much of the fifties - so instead he shared his poignant experience in Europe. Senator Hubert Humphrey was in the audience, and seized upon a public version of what he proceeded to call "Murray's plan" when pitching it to U.S. presidents. Kennedy eventually took this project up under a new name: the Peace Corps. (film pictured: Bus Stop, 1956)

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

Part 6 (Showtime title: "Don't die.")

Part 7 (Showtime title: "There's a body all right.")

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

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

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

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

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

Bushnell is onscreen for roughly thirty-three minutes. He is in fifteen scenes in eight episodes, taking place over a week. He's featured the most in part 16, when he visits Cooper in the hospital. His primary location is the Lucky 7 office. He shares the most screentime with Cooper. He is one of the top five characters in parts 5 and 16, and among the top ten in parts 6 and 13. And he is the sixth-highest ranked character introduced in the third season (seventh if we include Diane despite original series dialogue addressed to her).

Best Scene
Part 11: Proud as a peacock, Bushnell announces to Dougie that they've uncovered a massive scandal and are about to pay the Mitchum brothers back.

Best Line
“Nobody keeps Battling Bud on the ropes for long!”

Additional Observations

• The photo of "Battling Bud" was created from a composite of a young Don Murray and Rocky Marciano; this in-depth write-up documents the process and various historical details. Quite likely this background for Bushnell came from Mark Frost, whose own literary career is replete with loving depictions of athletes aging gracefully after retirement, displaying the values they learned in competition throughout their subsequent personal lives and/or business careers (or in a few cases, like Pete Rose in Frost's riveting Game Six, very much not).

• If Frost filled in Bushnell's biography, Lynch chose the name. His artistic mentor Bushnell Keeler always held a dear place in his memory, displaying tenderness as he encouraged the talented youth to pursue painting as a passionate vocation and toughness when he forced Lynch to try again after a couple failed attempts at an art education. (He gave the nineteen-year-old a place to stay, then shunned him when he got too comfortable, hurting his feelings but surprising him with a letter of recommendation to art school in Philadelphia.) Perhaps uncoincidentally, the real Bushnell died in 2012 a few months before Lynch and Frost began writing together again, eventually creating this character in tribute.

Next (active on Friday, July 28 at 8am): Mike Nelson

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 #40 - 28)

No comments:

Search This Blog