Lost in the Movies: Detective Dave Macklay (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #43)

Detective Dave Macklay (TWIN PEAKS Character Series #43)

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.

Concerned but seldom alarmed, Macklay carefully navigates a case unlike any he's encountered in his corner of the world.

Friday, September 23, 2016
Dave Macklay, a middle-aged detective in Buckhorn, South Dakota, begins his weekend with a crime scene. Arriving at the apartment of Ruth Davenport, he makes sure to let his colleague Constance Talbot (in charge of forensics) know that he's wearing proper gloves before lifting the bedsheet concealing the body hidden beneath a bloody head on a pillow. Everyone in the room is astonished to discover that, while there's a body all right, it clearly doesn't belong to the same victim.

Saturday, September 24, 2016
A database hit confirms that the head is Ruth's while the large male body remains a John Doe - but Constance has a much bigger surprise for Macklay when she calls him into her office. A third set of fingerprints was found all over the apartment belonging to beloved local principal - and Macklay's fishing buddy - Bill Hastings. Greeting Macklay at their door, the Hastings don't seem perturbed at all. They assume this is a social call and are confused when Macklay informs his friend that he's under arrest, cuffs him and leads him to the cruiser. While Hastings nervously waits in the interrogation room, Macklay speaks to Harrison - a state cop who says he's just there to help and encourages Macklay to question Hastings (the local seems hesitant, but recognizes he may be able to get more out of the distressed man than a stranger would). The interrogation begins calmly but Hastings grows more agitated when Macklay presses him on whether he knew Ruth (the local librarian), where he was Thursday night, and why it took him so long to get home from a school meeting. When it's finally revealed why the police have taken him into custody, Hastings appears astonished; he has no defense, no comment, no reaction other than wild-eyed disbelief that this is really happening to him. He asks if his wife can be brought in, and later - after searching Hastings' car with Harrison and discovering a bizarre piece of flesh in the trunk - Macklay escorts Phyllis into her husband's cell to have a talk. When he returns to end their session, Phyllis is smirking and Hastings looks even more desperate than before. If Macklay notices this strange tension, he does not have anything to say about it; asked later by Hastings' lawyer how the couple are doing, he simply acknowledges that Hastings is "pretty shook up, I have to say" while Phyllis has "had a really rough day, I believe." Macklay's own day is not over yet; that night, Constance calls him and Chief Boyd into her office once again to reveal more startling information. The computer search to identify the body in Ruth's bed has been blocked by the military.

Sunday, September 25, 2016
During an autopsy of that corpse the next day, Constance is feeling buoyant but neither Macklay nor Harrison are in the mood for her corny jokes. They're more interested in what she discovered in his stomach: a gold ring inscribed "To Dougie, Love, Janey-E."

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
After an eventful weekend surrounding the case (a couple deaths - Phyllis and Hastings' secretary, whom he'd been using as an alibi - plus the arrest of Hastings' lawyer on suspicion of murdering Phyllis), Macklay is no closer to actually solving this increasingly strange mystery. An officer, Lt. Knox, arrives in Buckhorn to question him about the prints that were blocked by the Air Force; she is stunned to learn that they weren't simply lifted from the scene but from an actual body. Macklay and Constance show Knox the headless corpse and she's further amazed for reasons she won't explain (although she does ask how old he was, to which Constance responds, "Late forties"). Stepping out into the hallway to make a phone call, she returns to inform Macklay that "I don't think this is going to be your investigation for very much longer."

Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Sure enough, the FBI arrives at this morgue the next morning for Macklay and Constance, and now Knox as well, to show off the body again. (Three of the agents go with them; one of their associates, Diane, stays behind to smoke in the waiting room, hurling expletives at the Buckhorn detective when he tries to tell her it's a non-smoking area.) Macklay explains the recent drama swirling around Hastings to the detectives - one of the more sardonic agents, Albert, scoffs, "What happens in season two?" - and he tells them what the police have discovered since Hastings was first taken in. Apparently, the principal and the librarian were having an affair while conducting amateur paranormal investigations which they documented on a blog. They reported making interdimensional contact with someone they called "the Major", and the FBI confirms that this dead man was indeed an associate of theirs named Major Briggs. The leader of the group, Deputy Director Gordon Cole, asks to see Hastings himself. As they all watch behind a one-way mirror partition, Agent Tammy Preston questions the prisoner, who is now in the midst of a complete breakdown, and Macklay watches quizzically as the once solid citizen breaks down into sobs and begs them to believe that a group of hostile spirits attacked him in an abandoned lot, cutting Ruth's and the Major's heads off, holding Hastings down, and demanding that he provide them with coordinates they'd uncovered for the Major. Hasting confirms the Major as Briggs based on a photo Tammy provides.

Thursday, September 29, 2016
By now, Macklay has little to offer the investigation outside of being a chaperone, so he takes a cuffed Hastings to the area where he and Ruth had their supernatural encounter. They both stay in the car while the FBI agents explore the derelict, fenced-in area full of abandoned homes. They find Ruth's headless corpse but before Macklay can get a good look from the driver's seat, Hastings' own head explodes right behind him. Covered with blood and screaming "Oh my God!" the detective has finally, completely lost his composure. He leaps out of the car, looks around in a panic with his gun drawn, and then radios for backup. Diane, watching nearby, mutters, "There's no backup for this," and Gordon simply comments, "He's dead." Back at the station, Macklay and Tammy bring coffee and donuts to the rest of the puzzled crew. No evidence of snipers was found in the area, and Macklay is taken aback to hear Diane (whom he finally grants permission to smoke) suggest that a dirty bearded man might have approached the vehicle when he was in it. She's not certain what she saw; indeed, everyone is at a loss to explain what just happened. The FBI will stick around for a few more days, but Macklay's role in this whole screwy affair is coming to an end.

Characters Macklay interacts with onscreen…

Bill Hastings

Gordon Cole

Albert Rosenfield

Diane Evans

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Macklay
Detective Macklay's patient befuddlement in Buckhorn parallels Frank Truman's similar demeanor in Twin Peaks, but both Macklay and his surrounding location provide contrasts as well. If Truman has an air of the West to him - the weathered, stoic man in a cowboy hat - Macklay feels singularly Midwestern. This is part of The Return's expansive project, allowing the tendrils of the supernatural (as well as the very human quirk of the small town original) to interact with all sorts of regional characters and physical environments. David Lynch and Mark Frost initially considered setting the original series in the Dakotas (North rather than South) before deciding it was too barren, but both the shooting locations and Macklay's particular demeanor craft a vision of comfortably mundane Middle America far from both the windswept plains the creators once considered and the misty woods they settled on. Despite his unassuming air and homey connections to the subjects of his investigation, which are a far from the swarming big city splash of most crime shows, Macklay's matter-of-fact demeanor does evoke a certain quality of a Law & Order-type detective series. His ubiquity in the season premiere - encouraging us to believe we're watching a procedural that is "serious" and "realistic" in a way that old Peaks often eschewed - is one more way that the old series updates its televisual frame of references for the twenty-first century. Nonetheless, Macklay's homespun delivery and earthy perspective do take on a particularly Lynchian quality at times, especially once he is entrenched with the eccentric FBI ensemble.

Macklay’s journey
When he arrives in Ruth's apartment, the detective is the top man on the case. For the next couple days, he runs the show - even when a state cop shows up too, he defers to the local (albeit a bit high-handedly). But this investigation perplexes Macklay: a beloved community figure, his fishing buddy, implicated in a brutal murder; a series of other deaths and intrigues unfolding in Hastings' social circle while he's locked away; a headless John Doe gruesomely swapped with the other victim's body, and the military blocking their search for fingerprints. Halfway into his screentime and the season, Macklay has just about reached his limit, which is when an Air Force officer followed by FBI agents relieve him of his primacy. Nonetheless, the solid cop sticks around to relay information, utilize his resources when possible, and witness - eventually out of sheer curiosity - what the hell is going on with this bizarre crime. Macklay's penultimate scene places him on the outer periphery of what was once his own investigation, and yet he's also right at the center of the bloodshed. By the time he gathers with the equally stumped feds for coffee and donuts, he no longer even feels the authority to tell one of them not to smoke. Macklay has been stripped of any relevance and culpability at this point, but this isn't exactly a humiliation because the FBI is almost as lost as him. All they can do is enjoy "the policeman's dream" to avoid the detective's nightmare.

Actor: Brent Briscoe
A Missouri native, Briscoe spent many years working as an actor in the South; in the eighties, he was part of Burt Reynolds' fascinating, unusual celebrity dinner theater experiment in Jupiter, Florida, which may have led to a variety of small roles (and a writing gig) on Reynolds' early nineties show Evening Shade, which took place in Arkansas. After performing in road show productions of the Greater Tuna plays about small town Texas, Briscoe had his breakthrough year in '96, when he appeared in the much-buzzed-about Arkansas drama Sling Blade and the play he co-wrote with Mark Fauser, The Right to Remain Silent, was adapted as an award-winning Showtime TV movie with Robert Loggia and Lea Thompson. Briscoe moved to Hollywood and worked steadily over the coming decades, with character parts or walk-ons in big films like U Turn, The Green Mile, Man on the Moon, The Majestic, Spider-Man 2, In the Valley of Elah, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and The Dark Knight Rises, and guest spots on TV shows like Days of Our Lives (before settling in L.A.), ER, Deadwood, 24, J.A.G., House, Grey's Anatomy, Bones, Desperate Housewives, C.S.I., NCIS: Los Angeles, and Brooklyn Nine Nine. And shortly before his work on Peaks, he appeared in five episodes of Parks and Rec as JJ. Perhaps his most prominent big screen role was in the acclaimed A Simple Plan, where he was cast alongside Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Paxton as one of three brothers finding a stash of money in the woods. Lynch fans would recognize him going into Twin Peaks as the droll partner of Robert Forster in Mulholland Drive; the duo were intended to continue as main cast members if the film (originally a TV pilot) got picked up by ABC. The Return reunites them as cops although they never share screentime, with each character nibbling at the edge of a larger mystery in different parts of the country. Unfortunately, this was Briscoe's last hurrah. At just fifty-six, he badly injured himself in a fall and died from complications in the hospital soon afterwards. Amidst the tsunami of untimely passings in the wake of season three (some even during the production itself), Briscoe was one of the earliest to go, barely a month after the finale. (film pictured: Mulholland Drive, 2001)

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

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

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.")

Macklay is onscreen for roughly twenty-nine minutes. He is in fifteen scenes in seven episodes, taking place over a week. He's featured the most in part 1, when he arrests Hastings. His primary location is the Buckhorn police station. He shares the most screentime with Hastings. He is one of the top ten characters in part 11 and second only to the Sam and Tracey pairing in part 1. And he is the seventh-highest ranked character introduced in the third season (eighth if we include Diane despite original series dialogue addressed to her).

Best Scene
Part 11: Macklay finally loses his cool when Hastings' head explodes in the back of a cop car, splattering the flabbergasted detective with gore.

Best Line
“Oh - there's a body all right.”

Additional Observations

• I wonder if Constance's banter with Macklay about his plastic gloves is an in-joke on the part of the writers (particularly Frost). Many viewers over the years have griped about the inconsistent crime scene behavior of the cops on the old series, particularly their haphazard use of gloves when handling evidence. The original Twin Peaks Podcast often made these observations around the time that The Return was first being conceived, and Frost was a guest on their show, so it's fun to think that perhaps fans' good-natured gripes fed back into the series in a winking manner.

• In addition to the major characters mentioned among Macklay's interactions, he spends a lot of time with characters who have less than ten minutes of screentime: Constance, Knox, Phyllis, Harrison, and Boyd. Indeed, Macklay is a rarity among the Part 1 Buckhorn crew who seemed like they were going to play a bigger role in the story before quietly slipping away. Although he ends up with enough screentime to rank him higher than the Log Lady and other more famous Peaks characters, Macklay belongs to a set of "misleading" characters who prepare us for a very different show: a more straightforward procedural about a small town on the periphery of some dark cosmic forces - sort of like the original Twin Peaks but a bit colder and less eccentric. This is, of course, eventually subsumed into the more familiar Blue Rose mythos and it's fascinating to watch Macklay slowly fade into irrelevance and eventually no presence at all. He too slips away in Part 11, never heard from again with seven episodes still to go. Lasting longer than most, he's the last vestige of what was the major story of the premiere.

Given how the season ends, it's hard to project a real world trajectory for any of the supporting characters. But if there is a timeline in which Macklay continues with his work over the coming years (hopefully longer than poor Briscoe himself did), I wonder how he processes everything that happened? I'm guessing the case is closed with Hastings' death, with the innocent principal's reputation entirely besmirched - but would Macklay make any effort to clear his name? What happens to George, the attorney now charged with Phyllis' murder? Do the woodsmen just squeeze everyone's brains out until all the direct witnesses are eliminated? For a plot that begins so methodically, Macklay's investigation ends up as shattered as Hastings' head - loose ends everywhere that are impossible to clean up. Like the detective Briscoe plays in Mulholland Drive, Macklay is there to tell us that someone sturdy and reliable is on the case...and then to tell us that it doesn't matter at all.

Previous: Ray Monroe

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 #46 - 30)

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