I’m not going to recap Twin Peaks: The Return or go down the rabbit’s hole of problematic-or-not classifying the role of violence against female characters in Lynch’s overall body of work (up to and very much including The Return). I just want to focus on 21 amazing women who made this incredible, towering work of art what it is, and who contributed materially – some to an unquantifiable degree – to the galaxy-swallowing mystery that is Twin Peaks: The Return.
Laura Kenny as “Woman in Car”
Just as the show’s eleventh episode had emerged from the other side of strange (diner drama, shots fired, dull-eyed tykes), Kenny’s one-off character, an extremely irate motorist, soon beset by a young boy with (a) digestive issues, (b) a horrible sense of humor, or (c) something weirder altogether, grabbed the episode by its shoulders and gave it a good, loud tirade worthy of the late Anne Ramsey – or Lost Highway‘s Robert Loggia. Kenny’s nameless character, whose origins are unclear and whose (probably un-serious) fate is unknown, made for one of Lynch’s strangest pit stops.
Charlotte Stewart as Betty Briggs
Stewart had a substantial acting resume – including a long stint on Little House on the Prairie – before Eraserhead made her immortal as the put-upon mother Mary. So when she reprised her role as Betty Briggs, wife of the mysteriously deceased Major Briggs, mother to now-reformed Bobby, she drew on multiple kinds of histories, giving her short scene great weight. Without saying so explicitly, Betty – rarely foregrounded in the original series – made the mysterious quest somehow about family, doing what’s right, and being a part of something eternally good. She was a kind of golden light in the earthly dimension, not unlike a counterpart to the fireman’s wife, in the beyond.
Monica Bellucci as Monica Bellucci
Lynch’s hard-of-hearing G-Man Gordon Cole practically turns to the camera in the fourteenth part of Twin Peaks: The Return to say “And now for something that looks like an arty American Express commercial, featuring your dream actress and mine.” Heaven knows what the Italian goddess was doing – hang on, we know what she was doing in Cole’s dreams – but in terms of the Peaks mythos – if only from a structural point of view – given Lynch’s past work with high-end advertising – Cole is a depraved horndog – there’s a slender chance she’s Judy – and then the – because – well – oh to hell with it. Monica Bellucci, everybody.
Sarah Jean Long as Miriam
Miriam so resembles the unfortunate, collateral victim of Mark Pellegrino’s luckless hitman in Mulholland Dr. both in shape and voice, that, for a time, you were right to fear the worst for the only eyeball witness to Richard Horne’s unconscionable hit-and-run. Her survival, not without cost, was revealed in one of the most magically plain – yet Stephen King-esque – sequences Lynch has made since The Straight Story, with some neighborhood kids playing ball near the trailer park.
Nafessa Williams as Jade
Lynch took a minor shellacking on social media by introducing Jade early on, as Dougie’s first human connection to the real world: a prostitute. But Jade is beautiful, credible, dignified, and in control. And she give two rides. Thanks Jade.
Kimmy Robertson as Lucy
There isn’t much new to say about the wonderful Kimmy Robertson, whose Lucy has always been and always will be one of the moral anchors of Twin Peaks. She was and is an object of humor but never derision, permitting the welcome intervention of slapstick into a fictional realm that’s got plenty of darkness and pain. Lynch also deployed Lucy on The Return to reinforce connectivity with the old series, and she served as a prism through which we felt many crucial moments that touched the Sheriff’s Station. With her, we mourned the passing of Margaret Lanterman (the erstwhile Log Lady) and gathered evidence against the corrupt deputy Chad. And, in a possible homage to the climactic scene in Jackie Brown, she may have actually saved the universe.
Linda Porter as The Lady Who Calls Dougie “Mr. Jackpots”
The incredible character actor Linda Porter is made up to look only a little better than “the thing behind the dumpster at Winkie’s” when she first appears, shooing away catatonic Dougie from her favorite slot machine. Hair, makeup, and costume combine to make her look like an oversized piece of lint that’s been rejected by a choosy vacuum cleaner. The creep factor dials back by about 8% when she begins winning, thanks to Dougie’s super-sense for picking winners. Then, later in the series, her reemergence as a back-on-track human lady caps off the long, miraculous arc that describes the incredible change of heart on the part of the Mitchum brothers. Her transformation turns this part of the story into something like the end of Murnau’s The Last Laugh, a demonstration of blind(ing) optimism, the belief that the right amount of cash will make everything okay, for everyone, forever. It’s fairytale bullshit but we’ll take it, with thanks.
Amanda Seyfried as Becky
I haven’t yet been able to make room in my heart for Caleb Landry Jones – he seems to get cast exclusively in roles requiring him to play a kind of leech-boy, or outsized bacteria, harmful to the touch. I don’t know, maybe he’s one day going to surprise everybody with the definitive Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams and all that. In the Peaks-verse, Jones’s no-account Steven is first spotted cluelessly trashing a job interview in a rumpled shirt and tie, looking like something that had been trapped beneath the refrigerator for the past eighteen months. He’s next seen snorting coke with his girlfriend, Becky, who – in a hoary cliche that subsequently gains traction through repetition – is about 10000x too good for this loser. Thus we arrive at what many would name their first favorite digression in The Return, Becky’s druggy, musical flight in the open-top convertible, an interlude that was as unbridled in its elation as it was troubled by its inception. Go Becky, go.
Ashley Judd as Beverly
One of the crucial charms of The Return is that Lynch often simply let actors do their thing. Without much of a foothold on the plot (such as it is), Ashley Judd only appeared in a handful of scenes. My favorite is the deceptively pointless one Beverly shares with Ben Horne, late at night, at the Great Northern. Under dim lights, on a sparse set, the first scene of Beverly and Ben amusing themselves by trying to figure out the source and nature of some mystery music in the walls resembles nothing more than, well, two actors shooting the shit on a dusty, unused stage. You can say there’s sexual tension, you can say there isn’t any at all, that’s part of what makes this pause in the series – which isn’t exactly a race, anyway – so enjoyable.
Amy Shiels as Candie
Never let it be said that Lynch doesn’t have an odd sense of humor – you can practically hear him and Mark Frost cackling as they devise this minor character of an airhead wallflower who, on the hunt for a pesky housefly, clubs her favorite guy with the remote control, giving him a grapefruit-sized welt on the side of his face. At first incapacitated with guilt, we subsequently see Candie physically on the job but mentally (spiritually?) sailing away on unknown clouds. Glacially slow to respond to simple prompts, is Candie high? Or has her guilt unlocked some higher rhythm that she alone is permitted to groove with? Whatever her deal is, The Return is a story of some souls that can never get clean, and some hearts that will never get stained, and Candie’s heart is as pure and golden as her city has ever seen.
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Chantal
In a surprise, albeit limited, Hateful Eight reunion, Leigh and Tim Roth emerge from stage left and stage right to lend Bad Cooper a hand in getting him back on his destructive path. Leigh’s Chantal is a bit of a stock character bad hombre, a callous assassin who talks up the pleasures of torture. And Leigh is nothing if not overqualified. Be that as it may, Leigh makes Chantal the more credible of this gruesome twosome, and her “Go fuck yourself!” is potent enough to end lives, and if those lives happen to be hers and her beau’s, so falls Wichita Falls.
Chrysta Bell as FBI Agent Tammy Preston
At first blush, Agent Preston seems to have accompanied the boys (Gordon and Albert) as nothing more than eye candy for the oft-remarked-on skirt-chaser Gordon. Bell is, in life, an accomplished musician who’s collaborated with Lynch in music and video. As Preston she’s the target of one of Diane’s earliest and most poisonous “fuck you”‘s. Bell doesn’t seem to be the strongest thespian in the Lynch stable, and her lithe, fairy-like poise dwells just on the far side of plausibility for a federal agent but I enjoyed her presence precisely, and paradoxically, for those qualities.
Grace Zabriskie as Sarah Palmer
One of serial television’s greatest questions (“Who killed Laura Palmer?”) was and was not answered when her father, Leland Palmer, confessed. For Twin Peaks is a universe burdened by the Black Lodge, and with “extreme negative forces” beyond imagining. Leland killed Laura not alone but at the behest of the otherworldly BOB, and not even that solution is cut and dried. For the Palmer residence is not un-haunted 25 years on, the house still occupied by the surviving matriarch of none, Sarah Palmer. One of the unforgettable faces and voices of Lynchiana, Grace Zabriskie made her true arrival relatively late in The Return with a subplot of strangeness that suggested that she was possessed still by an insane malevolence not of this world. Attempting to drink in peace in a trucker bar, she was gifted one of the show’s top “Oh shit” moments, and given how many there are of those, it was a major-league “Oh shit”.
Jane Adams as Medical Examiner Constance Talbot
Point blank, Jane Adams is and has long been one of the most wonderful actors in the world, so even if Lynch saw fit to give her co-credit and equivalent screen time with Kyle MacLachlan, it somehow still wouldn’t be enough. But Adams’s chipper m.e. Talbot, sloshing gloved hands through fetid corpse innards, is a plum part, our ambassador both to Lynch’s affinity for gallows- and dad-humor. Of course she and Albert are kindred spirits – and Cole, once again not a long way from serving as Lynch’s onscreen surrogate – delights in finding sparks fly between two porcupines.
Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne
Another latecomer in the chronology, Audrey’s reprisal sparked some of the most heated debate among Peaksians. Her dialogue across several episodes was with one other actor (Clark Middleton), and they talked almost exclusively about characters we’ve never (to our knowledge) met and never (in our best estimate) will. Fenn’s acting here feels overly demonstrative and blocky, as if she’s trapped in some daytime soap opera. Through revelations inchoate, cryptic, and tinged with violence, it dawns on us that there’s some nightmare upholstery giving form to an arc that would have been, on its own steam, strange styrofoam. Audrey, seen in the second season finale having chained herself up in a Tati-esque bank vault, was the victim of a bomb attack, fate unknown. Tragically she seems to advanced down the field not a single yard, and an unforgettable smash cut reorients all that we’ve seen as the cloth of a great sadness.
Wendy Robie as Nadine Hurley
Peggy Lipton as Norma Jennings
Don’t be fooled that this co-ranking diminishes either party. Distinct now from the original series, Peggy and Nadine are two badass and beautiful older women, and while an epic course-correction made by one clears the path for the happiness of the other, and while one might reasonably ask, “What in blazes took so long?”, may we ask you, dear reader, to look upon love not as a vector adhering to a temporal graph, but as a point, everywhere and always? We cheer for Big Ed, not forgetting that his salvation is the result of the agency of the two strongest women he knows.
Catherine Coulson as Margaret Lanterman
The Log Lady often served the original series as a trademark of Lynchian eccentricity, a woman who carried the outside inside, and spoke in riddles. Lots and lots of characters died on Twin Peaks: The Return (like, lots and lots), but Margaret was one of the only ones for whom we took off our hats and shared a moment of silent reflection. Her conversations with Deputy Hawk are, perhaps, the heart and soul of Twin Peaks, pointing to something larger even than the dimension-hopping, and the long looks into the past. The Return once showed Dale Cooper plummeting through the cosmic infinity, but Margaret – and Coulson – really saw it.
Naomi Watts as Janey-E Jones
However you cut it, the women in Lynch’s world deserve better, and Lynch knows it. In a world of doubling, Naomi Watts’s Janey-E Jones shared a reflection with Sheriff Frank Truman’s wife Doris (the legend Candy Clark), a woman who is introduced in a state of seemingly perpetual rage, only later to have the story justify and deepen her every ounce of intense feeling. Janey-E directed against much of the world a lightning strike of impatience, disgust, and incredulity. The world deserves it. What we didn’t expect was to begin, if slowly, to side completely with Janey-E’s struggle, and to want her victory (to stabilize her home, to get help from a good husband, to protect her son) more than anything else in the world. In Dale Cooper’s long, strange trip, the Jones home was but a way station, not “significant” in the Peaks mythology. But when Cooper regained clarity, he correctly snapped to a sense of duty to the Jones house that few could fully understand.
Laura Dern as Diane (?) / (Linda?)
As many writers have observed, Laura Dern means a lot in the great, grand Lynch-verse – as much as anybody. At the risk of diving into recap mode, her character on The Return represents one of the great whatzits of the entirety of Twin Peaks – never appearing on the original, only spoken of, and whose very existence we can now freely question as we comb through The Return for the tiniest clues. Without getting into all that, Dern’s Diane represented an incredible display of female strength and empowerment, sleeping with whomever she chose, smoking wherever she liked, and telling everyone – even transdimensional beings – “fuck you”. Her sex scene with (?) in the series finale, scored to The Platters, enters a realm we were not entirely prepared to face, even if we think we’ve earned our degree in Lynch Studies: something approaching Kundera. Lynch captures (Diane?) in prayer, all right, pushing in but away from a form that may be Dale Cooper and may be no one, who mustn’t/can’t/shouldn’t see her. She’s gone from that shabby motel before morning.
Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer / Carrie Page
Sheryl Lee received credit for all eighteen episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return but only acted in a few of them – a resident (or phantom?) of the Red Room, in a substantial amount of footage from the original series (a good deal of it manipulated by postproduction and special effects), and, in a stretch of Lynchian fiction that will inspire discussion for years to come, in The Return’s slowly disintegrating finale. In Peaks terms, the murder of Laura Palmer was nothing less than a tear in the fabric of the universe on par with the detonation of the first hydrogen bomb. Kicking off the original series un-witnessed, it was the collision of absolute good and absolute evil, a cataclysm so unspeakable that Lynch could not depict it or refer to it except through multiple layers of symbolism. In the final stretch of The Return, Lynch confronts us with the facts: that the rupture can never be healed – in fact, we can hardly even clean around the wound. It’s also a radical inversion of the famous final scene in The Searchers – another story of a righteous man who rescues a woman from a wilderness that signified for her only death – in which sanctity, once lost, can never truly be restored. It’s the old “you can’t go home again”, this time because it isn’t home and you are not you. In both the seventeenth and eighteenth episodes, Lynch uses repetition and an elongated sense of time (slow motion that isn’t slow motion, more like stopped time and deceptive momentum) to imprint upon our brains the overarching significance of who Laura Palmer once was, and who she is (not?) today. Cooper is reduced almost pre-verbally beyond rudimentary law enforcement interview questions, transmitting “What’s your name?” and “What year is it?” almost as afterthoughts. Laura Palmer is at long last reduced, rudderless, to the status of stowaway in the conveyance of her own saga. We can accept that she rests with angels, as we saw in Fire Walk With Me, or we can ponder mournfully the nullifying purgatory that emanates from what ought to have been the Palmer house. Laura…