On Sunday, May 21st, Showtime will take us back to the small logging town of Twin Peaks. In anticipation, Consequence of Sound will be reporting live from The Great Northern Hotel with some damn good features all week. As excited as we are to catch up with some old friends, let’s face it: Some characters we’d just as soon not bump into again.
There’s is one simple truth on which all Twin Peaks fans can agree: Twin Peaks is not perfect. That’s a product of circumstance more than anything, if we’re being honest. The network interference, the tonal shifts, the lack of clear leadership — much of this wouldn’t have been an issue had the show premiered in our era of “peak TV,” where risk-taking television is becoming as much a norm as sitcoms and procedurals. Nobody had ever seen a show like Twin Peaks before, nor had anyone dealt with the particular type of frenzy it ignited in pop culture. It was doomed from the beginning because, at that time at least, there was no way to sustain the curated oddness and evocative storytelling of its early episodes.
In terms of quality, the show’s enduring mystery and inimitability have aged well, but its incorporation of soap opera touchstones and the sloppiness of season two’s storytelling now resonate as both silly and amateurish for viewers versed in the likes of Game of Thrones and Mad Men. What’s so disappointing about Twin Peaks’ dip in quality is how it rippled throughout the show’s ensemble, nearly all of whom played a pivotal role in the early episodes before dripping into irrelevance in the morass of season two’s world building. That said, not everything can be blamed on that rough second season; in retrospect, certain characters that captured the zeitgeist upon its premiere went on to prove themselves as nothing more than a curious bit of set dressing, good for a glance but little else.
We’re obviously big Twin Peaks fans here at Consequence of Sound, but we figure it’s best not to let nostalgia dictate which denizens of this dark town are our favorites. Who are we happy to be without in David Lynch’s upcoming season? And, if they’re coming back, what can Lynch do to salvage them in the eyes of wary fans? We’ve got some thoughts (and plenty of criticism) below. Here are the worst characters in Twin Peaks.
Margaret Lanterman, a.k.a. The Log Lady
Why? Because she’s pointless. Despite Deputy Hawk’s assertion that her log “holds many spirits,” her contributions tend to be vague and evocative, writerly bits of drivel that serve only to obscure the central mystery that much more. Nothing she reveals is all that revelatory, nor does it impact the story in a meaningful way. Simply put, there’s no method to her madness. One of the main criticisms of Twin Peaks’ second season is that much of it is weird for the sake of being weird; that’s true, but such a distinction also applies to this standout of the first season, who resonates in the bigger picture as an oddity with only a glimmer of true character. That she went on to become the face of the show at awards ceremonies and in commercials just goes to show this that much more: She’s nothing more than an amusing bit of digestible weirdness; while that may have been fun at the time, it does little for the story itself.
Worst Moment: When, while impersonating her at the Miss Twin Peaks pageant, Windom Earle inadvertently reveals just how cartoonish the character truly is.
Can She Be Salvaged? Here’s the thing: The Log Lady finally begins to take on a little dimension in the second half of the second season when it’s revealed that she also visited whatever alternate universe Major Briggs did (The White Lodge? Or just aliens?). This revelation helps clarify her obsession with owls, as the owls seem to serve as a vessel to that dimension. Furthermore, The Secret History of Twin Peaks adds even more curious wrinkles, revealing that she disappeared alongside Carl Rodd, the offbeat trailer park owner we meet in Fire Walk with Me. If, in the new season, the Log Lady’s purpose is to help illuminate this unexplored portion of the Twin Peaks mythology, then her weirdness may end up being earned, after all.
Why? Because he’s obnoxious. And because he’s part of one of season two’s worst story lines: The Saga of Little Nicky. If you blocked it out (and no one would blame you), it found Tremayne and Deputy Andy Brennan trying to prove their worth to pregnant Lucy Moran by caring for a foster child named Little Nicky. The story line wedges a sophomoric, sitcommy vibe into a world that was already suffering from a tonal imbalance, working to establish a buddy comedy out of the pair’s attempts to both support and subvert each other. Unfortunately, the actors had minimal chemistry, nor was there any pathos to be gleaned from their antics. Tremayne’s greatest offense, however, is in distracting Andy from his journey of becoming a true asset to the Twin Peaks Police Department, which has always been the character’s most intriguing arc.
Worst Moment: Getting his nose bit by the endangered pine weasel during a hoity-toity fashion show, a moment that many might cite as the true nadir of Twin Peaks’ second season.
Can He Be Salvaged? Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ian Buchanan isn’t listed as being among the cast of Twin Peaks’ new season. I actually feel a touch of sadness at this, as I believe the show began understanding how the character fit into the town during its final episodes. In those, Tremayne retreated to the sidelines of the story and became a larger part of the fabric of the town itself, where he essentially served as the town dandy. There’s a place for such an archetype; as a judge in the Miss Twin Peaks pageant, for instance, Tremayne’s high-society instincts complemented the rustic town’s stab at upper-crust class.
Dr. Lawrence Jacoby
Why? Because he couldn’t stand on his own as a character. It’s pretty clear that the show went into a tailspin after Leland Palmer was revealed to be Laura’s killer, having to rebuild itself from the ground up with new mysteries and mythologies. Few characters suffered as much for that as Jacoby, who, in season one, resonated as a troubled, eccentric quack who held some key insights into Laura’s psyche at the time of her death. There was a danger to him, a menace; just consider how much pathos his aggressive, unsettling analysis of Bobby and Laura’s sex life reveals about those characters.
Once Laura died, though, Jacoby became a chameleon. If something “weird” was going on, he was there to “treat” it. This placed him at the center of some of the series’ worst story lines, from Ben Horne’s Civil War recreation to Nadine’s mental break to the Milford marriage saga. As he pings between these story lines, his quirks become his defining characteristics, his character defined solely by Hawaiian shirts and glasses with multi-colored lenses. A shame, that.
Worst Moment: Jacoby’s recreation of the surrender at Appomattox, where he tweaked history to depict a surrendering General Grant.
Can He Be Salvaged? Absolutely. As the first season showed, a psychiatrist is an essential cog in a mystery show about the darkness lurking in the human psyche. He’s slated to play a sizable role in the next season, so here’s hoping his role transcends that of local quack and instead taps into how the death of Laura Palmer fundamentally changed the way he practiced medicine, a sentiment he expressed in the first season. A curious wrinkle in The Secret History of Twin Peaks, however, reveals that his medical license was eventually revoked and that he returned to Hawaii to work on his memoirs. What, pray tell, will bring him back?
Why? Because he’s a dweeb. There’s absolutely room for an agoraphobic florist and writer in the world of Twin Peaks, but Harold is such a tender, goodhearted goober that he resonates more as the creation of a doe-eyed writer than a real person. By the time you meet Harold, the list of “secret men” in Laura’s life is already comically large, so the reveal of his relationship with her feels both absurd and far-fetched. Surely, there was another way to hide Laura’s secret diary, either through a special hiding place or the incorporation of another, more interesting character from the universe. Harold is useless, but what’s worse is that he’s boring. So, so boring. So, so, so boring.
Worst Moment: When he cuts his face with a gardening tool, a moment of menace that’s so unearned it reads as comical.
Can He Be Salvaged? Probably not considering he kills himself the moment the diary is no longer in his control (a relief for the fans and writers alike, I’d imagine). It’d be fun to see him in the Black Lodge, I suppose, but it’s fun seeing anyone in the Black Lodge.
Why? Because Twin Peaks never told her real story. Nadine is depressed. She’s fiery and filled with potential but married to a man who she knows doesn’t love her. Ed married her while half-drunk and mourning the loss of his high school sweetheart; he only stays with her out of the guilt he feels for having caused her to lose her eye on their honeymoon. In season one, she reveals how she feels she doesn’t deserve him, that he’s too good for her. This is a woman who married the high school stud and still can’t come to terms with it. She’s so fragile that she attempts suicide after getting a patent rejected.
That’s a beautiful story, but instead of exploring it honestly, the show afflicts her with a condition that both gives her super-strength and convinces her she’s still a teenager. Or something. With Dr. Jacoby’s help, she starts attending high school again, joins the wrestling team, and begins dating hunky Mike Nelson. What this story line does is allow Nadine to thrive as the cool kid at school, something she never was. There could be some emotional resonance there, but it’s swapped out for lame physical gags and the hilarity of a grown-ass woman banging a high school boy. The much-hated story line is remembered as being a toss-off, but the truth is that the bones of an affecting story are there; they just never had the chance to flesh out.
Worst Moment: Anything with her in the high school.
Can She Be Salvaged? Nadine will definitely be back for the new season, and much of her character’s direction will likely be tied to whether or not she’s still married to Ed. Truly, her complicated relationship with him forms the crux of her character, and it’ll be interesting to see how her trip back to high school 25 years previously will have any bearing on who she is now. During her run on Twin Peaks, Nadine rarely got to exemplify anything beyond shrill eccentricity; here’s hoping that’s not the case this go around.
Why? Oh, dear. Where to begin? First and foremost, let’s acknowledge that Twin Peaks was always conceived as an amalgamation of thriller and soap opera elements and that, at least in its early going, the show was aces at finding an unlikely commingling between the two, with characters like Dale Cooper, Audrey Horne, and Bobby Briggs embodying archetypes of both genres. Josie and, well, pretty much everyone involved in the mill story line (outside of Pete Martell, though that’s mostly due to the casting of Jack Nance) never transcended their status as soap opera characters, all heightened, inconsistent emotions, and overly wrought treachery. Josie is the epitome of this, a character that seemingly existed with no forethought, a shape-shifter at the whims of writers in search of a character.
To read her full history on the show is to invite a headache: With whom is she in league? Catherine, Ben, Harry, Hank, somebody named Thomas Eckhardt? How pure are her intentions? She’s played by Joan Chen — in an impossible role for any actress — as a vessel of confliction and good intentions, but her past, as revealed both in the latter half of the second season and in The Secret History of Twin Peaks, posits her as a bloodthirsty crime boss on par with Kill Bill’s O-Ren Ishii. It was impossible to ever get invested in the character because her character bred more frustration than intrigue; furthermore, her relationship with Harry was all breathy, romance novel theatrics, built on a flimsy foundation.
Worst Moment: Her death, an inexplicable thing involving BOB and the Man From Another Place, was welcome, but, almost fittingly, frustrating. It felt like a half-hearted attempt to both weave her into the Black Lodge mythology, as well as another stab at performative weirdness, what with her spirit being banished to a doorknob (???).
Can She Be Salvaged? It’s been confirmed that Joan Chen won’t be returning for the new season, which is a very, very good thing. It should be said, however, that the show did at one point have plans for her to play some role in the Black Lodge. Frank Silva, the performer behind BOB, revealed in an interview that a scene in the finale showing Josie’s body in the Black Lodge was filmed but never aired. Richard Beymer even provided set photos of her body double. While her presence there could’ve finally given her character some intriguing mystery, Lynch has since decided to abandon the story line.
Why? Because you don’t even remember who this is, do you? Seriously, no one’s judging you if you don’t. Let me break it down: Andrew Packard is the ex-husband of Josie Packard, a local bigwig who was presumably killed in a “boat explosion,” but was later revealed to have faked his death and lived in hiding for two years for … reasons? Honestly, Packard might be the most pointless character in the entire series, the reveal of him still living resulting in some built-in tension that evaporates due to low, low, low stakes and a subsequent dearth of forward momentum. It’s nearly impossible not to start scrolling Facebook the moment he steps onscreen.
Worst Moment: SHOWING UP AT ALL.
Can He Be Salvaged? Well, the character died in a bomb explosion in the finale (that also took Pete Martell for some godforsaken reason) and actor Dan O’Herlihy passed away in 2005, so it’s safe to say we won’t be seeing him again. Even if we were, however: No, there is no salvaging this character.
Big Ed Hurley
Why? Because he never lived up to his potential. Everett McGill is an inimitable character actor, a heavy who in Twin Peaks was allowed to play against type as a high school jock turned hometown do-gooder. Despite cheating on his wife, Nadine, with Norma Jennings, Ed still exuded a good-hearted nature that belied the kind of weary melancholy that comes with a life defined by the split-second decisions of youth and booze — Big Ed may as well live in Our Town’s Grover’s Corners. Outside of Norma, Ed found meaning as a member of the Bookhouse Boys, a group of local vigilantes that allowed Ed to put his size to use. This allowed him to function as both an emotional center, but also a physical force of good.
Unfortunately, after the death of Jacques Renault, the Bookhouse Boys become an afterthought, thus stranding Ed in a love triangle that becomes undone by Nadine’s devolution into high school strongwoman. McGill, an actor not suited to zany comedy, is then forced to spend most of his scenes in season two playing off the peppiness of his ill wife, all while trying to convince Norma he still loves her. It’s a conflict, sure, but it feels rehashed after the first season, stale and uninteresting. Ed’s the kind of character we want to see in action, not relegated to the sidelines to play second fiddle to a comedic B-story.
Worst Moment: Though Ed’s trip to One-Eyed Jack’s at the end of season one was one of the character’s finest moments, that wig and fake mustache most certainly wasn’t.
Can He Be Salvaged? Easily. Everett McGill’s been shown in the new trailers, and his gaunt, severe look is pure Lynch. The bones of the character are already in place, and McGill is an amazing actor; with Lynch at the helm, it’s doubtful the character will be sidelined into an ill-fitting subplot as he was in the second season.
Encountering a character like his 25 years down the line lends itself to any number of resonant themes: Aging in your hometown, losing strength, grasping for the explosive emotions of youth, and, not least of all, preparing for death.
Why? Because, guys, James is just the worst. It’s important when discussing James, however, to try and remember the first time he shows up. He was shrouded in mystery, seen by many in the early episodes as the missing link to who killed Laura Palmer. We knew so little about him, and James Marshall’s performance hinted that the kid was carrying secrets. He was sort of a thrilling character in those early episodes.
The problem is that the more we got to know James, the more we realized that he was really sort of a total wuss. The writers went to such great pains to underline his saintliness (something they never stopped doing, even throughout his many season two misadventures) that they stripped him of all the mystery that made him so intriguing. Soon, he was another Josie Packard, a vessel for soap opera shenanigans that did nothing to complement or enhance the show’s central mystery. Just look at his infamous B-story with Evelyn Marsh, the worst in the show’s history, which finds him involved in a chintzy, high-society murder plot that serves no purpose except to cheapen his romance with Donna, which the show presents as one of the show’s most pure pairings.
James is all soft edges, doe-eyed, apple-cheeked, and completely, utterly predictable. His actions have no consequences, his journey no surprises. There is no worse character.
Worst Moment: Boning Evelyn Marsh. A complete betrayal of character.
Can He Be Salvaged? Good question, if only because James is one of the few characters for whom there’s no lingering story threads. His story is effectively finished, meaning that Lynch can start fresh with him. And with Lara Flynn Boyle’s Donna not returning, it’s safe to say his return won’t be centered around their relationship. His journey in the new season is a true blank slate, and I can’t wait to see where he ends up. Hey, maybe he’ll sing another song.