Without a doubt, the biggest and loudest talking point from the most recent hour of Twin Peaks is the scene finally featuring the return of Audrey Horne, a moment teased and withheld for 2/3 of the current series. Upon watching it for the first time, my initial thought was “oh boy, this is gonna be divisive,” and then the internet followed suit.
What exactly happened here? Audrey Horne — confident and cool teenage sexbomb, girl power hero, and overall sassy sleuth — has apparently grown into a shrill, selfish, demanding middle-aged bully of a wife. Worse, the scene plays out for ten minutes while Audrey and her put-upon husband Charlie discuss a seemingly neverending list of people we’ve never even heard of before: Billy, Tina, Chuck, Paul. The conversation ends with no resolution, and we know almost as much as we did before the episode aired . . . maybe even less, if that’s possible.
HAS THE WORLD GONE MAD???? (Actually yes, but that’s a different article).
Well, first of all, just to get this out of the way, this is Twin Peaks, so complaining about a subversion or denial of audience expectations is almost pointless, because if we’ve learned anything this season it’s that David Lynch and Mark Frost aren’t particularly concerned with fan service. That could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your take, but speaking strictly in matter of fact terms, that’s just how this Twin Peaks operates. That being said, Audrey is an iconic figure from the original series, and Lynch & Frost clearly designed this story to delay her appearance, so they’re very much aware of the anticipation swirling around her character.*
*(Apparently there were some issues between Sherilyn Fenn and Lynch/Frost/Showtime that may have impacted her amount of screentime — and I’m sure more of that will come to light as time goes on — but I’m trying to disregard what’s outside of the image on my television and just focus on whatever is happening on the screen and how it fits into the larger experience of Twin Peaks, because that’s all that matters. Besides, what we’re watching is ultimately how Lynch and Frost chose to tell this story, regardless of factors relating to the production).
The scene is certainly bizarre even by Twin Peaks standards. Lynch abruptly cuts to Audrey standing in a drab home office, absolutely no fanfare. She and Charlie engage in melodramatic soap opera dialogue about random, abstract supporting characters. No mention of Richard, who is presumably Audrey’s son and on the lam for both hit-and-run and attempted murder. The whole thing is jarring, weird, and even off-putting.
But I would say that’s probably the intention. While I’m not one to ascribe every awkward moment as being a deliberate part of Lynch and Frost’s grand design from day one, it seems fairly clear that Audrey’s reintroduction was staged this way on purpose. After all, though she’s mostly gone unmentioned (apart from Doc Hayward describing her condition following the bank explosion), Audrey has been repeatedly alluded to. We’ve already seen Ben, Jerry, Sylvia, and Johnny, and therefore Audrey is suggested by her very absence. We know Richard is Ben and Sylvia’s grandson, so by process of elimination Audrey has to be his mother. And the discussion of Audrey’s comatose state after the events of the second season finale very directly asks us to wonder where she is now.
The natural trajectory for the viewer to imagine Audrey Horne, based on how she was presented in the first Twin Peaks, is that she’s living a grand life of adventure and glamor. So by showing that her existence is actually fairly drab and unremarkable, and that she herself has been negatively impacted by that experience, we are supposed to be disappointed.
There are moments in this scene where Audrey is not particularly likeable. After all, she’s berating her husband because he’s not in a rush to help locate her extramarital lover. That seems almost abusive. But Charlie proves himself to be just as horrible, especially as the scene goes on. He flutters between bored and uninterested in his spouse’s well-being and almost violently passive-aggressive by withholding vital information from her after he speaks to Tina. He’s doing that to hurt Audrey because, like she says, he’s a spineless shit.
In other words, these two people hate each other. They’re obviously married out of convenience, not love, and it should have ended a while ago. Their life together is hellish . . . not in an over-the-top way, but in a boring, painfully drawn out, every-interaction-loaded-with-malicious-transgressions kind of way.
None of this is the life we imagined for Audrey Horne, but part of the whole fabric of this new Twin Peaks is how life doesn’t turn out the way people thought it would. Cooper didn’t mean to spend 25 years in an alternate reality only to return with the mind of an infant. Sarah sure as fuck didn’t imagine her husband would rape and murder their only child and die soon after, leaving her to devolve into a paranoid alcoholic shut-in. And Audrey had no intention of ending up like this, but here she is. While some of the writers on the old series had discussed the idea of jumping ahead a few years and showing Audrey as the mayor, this isn’t the old series and that concept didn’t come to fruition. She didn’t end up with handsome Jack or dashing Dale. She ended up with milquetoast Charlie, and banging some guy named Billy on the side. Audrey’s life sucks right now.
The original Audrey Horne was always a damaged person. Her flirtatious, demanding sexpot veneer actually disguised a scared, insecure, and lonely teenaged girl. There was even a part of her that occasionally came across as detached and manipulative, suggesting she could turn out like Laura if she wasn’t careful. Back then, the Horne family was completely dysfunctional, headed by an unaffectionate, corrupt murderer. One of the most moving aspects of the new Twin Peaks has been seeing how Ben Horne has grown; a highlight of this episode is his genuine concern and disgust in response to Richard’s actions. But at what cost has Ben’s family suffered in the years it took him to find his soul? Why does Audrey seem like barely a part of his life?
Audrey evolved as a character in the second season, when she let go of her fantasies of Cooper and became more socially conscious. She even improved her relationship with her father, at least for a time. While, again, there were behind-the-scenes issues that forced these developments, that’s what made it onto the screen, so they’re forever part of her arc. Sadly, something happened to Audrey along the way since we last saw her, and a big piece of that something is probably the walking curse that is Richard.
David Lynch has a propensity for pointing out the absurdity of everyday conversation by using strings of generic names — Bobby, Billy, Susie, Jack, etc. — and having other characters discuss them in maddeningly vague ways. (A made up example: “Did Buddy ever find that thing? The one he was looking for the other week?” “No. Janey says he’ll never find it. Janey told Jack it’s Wednesday all over again (laughs).” This could go on for hours if someone doesn’t stop Lynch). Pretty much the entire Audrey/Charlie scene is that type of dialogue, though it does at least peripherally appear to connect to recent events, as Billy’s stolen truck may very well be the truck that Richard was driving, and the character of Bing was looking for a Billy at the RR Diner a few episodes ago. So this conversation very possibly isn’t just a hermetically sealed moment, as Audrey’s son being responsible for her boyfriend’s disappearance would set some serious events in motion.
As for the conclusion of the scene, we as the audience are meant to feel Audrey’s frustration when Charlie refuses to divulge what Tina told him. Whether or not that information is pertinent to the overall plot, this moment demonstrates Charlie’s way of inflicting emotional damage on Audrey, showing that he really can be as petty and spiteful as Audrey claims. Her accusations against him are entirely founded, even if she’s being histrionic and somewhat of an asshole herself.
Episode 12 seems particularly concerned with scenes that go on for a long time and feel like they have little to do with anything: Gordon’s girlfriend taking two full minutes to leave the room, Audrey’s argument with Charlie, the closing conversation at the Roadhouse (which features more characters we’ve never met before, talking about still other people we don’t know). At this point in Twin Peaks, it has become fairly certain that most of the characters from the old show are not involved in actual storylines with forward momentum. While there are story arcs on the revival, a lot of what’s happening in Twin Peaks itself are vignettes, little glimpses into small town life. This gets at another idea that has been floating around throughout the entirety of the new episodes: the melodramatic soap opera that is life in Twin Peaks has continued unabated for the last 25 years, but that’s not the show we’re watching.
Instead, we’re watching a show about Dale Cooper split in two and trying to return to the world, with hints of that other series interspersed throughout. Therefore, Audrey’s scene is the equivalent of suddenly switching the channel and finding yourself in the middle of Audrey’s life. Twin Peaks never stopped running; we just stopped being able to see it. BUT, every episode shows us more and more of Twin Peaks, and all signs point to a convergence there of these many plots. We’re witnessing Twin Peaks slowly (very slowly) reassemble itself, and by the end, I imagine what seems fragmentary at the moment will feel much more whole.
I’d be remiss not to mention the acting in this scene. Sherilyn Fenn and Clark Middleton take some very difficult, nebulous, awkward dialogue and turn it into one of the most discussed moments of the new series, no small feat. Not everyone has found the scene successful — some are theorizing that Audrey is literally on a show within the show, they found it so artificial — but I think it works, and I think more people will feel that way as they acclimate to the episode, just as it took many viewers a few episodes to settle into the rhythm and cadence of this season. I do hope Fenn gets to do more with her character; it’s impossible to have a final assessment of the new Audrey until we’ve seen all 18 hours, but I’m sure whatever happens will make sense within the context of this story that Lynch and Frost are telling.
I also appreciate seeing Middleton again, well known to many genre fans for his brief but creepy role in Kill Bill and his recurring appearance as occult bookstore owner Eddie Markham during all five seasons of Fringe. (If you think Charlie is cringeworthy in his boringness, please watch Eddie go into full “m’lady” mode in Fringe’s final season).
I know that Audrey’s characterization will add to the argument about this season’s presentation of women, and whether those characters have been treated unfairly by this new material. It’s somewhat difficult to discuss Twin Peaks in these terms, because this is a world where no one actually behaves the way real people behave, so it can be hard to discern a real-world statement in the chaos. Lynch is not and has never been one for overt social messages — social satire, yes, but not politicizing— and as I’ve said before, expecting him to make some kind of blatant nod towards feminism is likely a mistake. He’s just not thinking along those lines.
However, I do believe there’s some acknowledgement on his part that the men of Twin Peaks, particularly the FBI agents, represent a bygone era. Gordon Cole is charming but outdated, and the show has kind of tipped its hand to the fact that he’s a horny grandpa; his conversation with Denise especially played to that fact, as she was expressly concerned about his past behavior. Yet he’s also adorable in his ridiculousness. The hilariously endless scene of Cole’s French paramour taking her sweet time in absconding to the downstairs lobby — Albert’s frustration displayed across his blank face as Cole fawns over his girlfriend’s every single move — reminds us that yes, Gordon can be a creepy old womanizer, but there’s also a goofy innocence to him. There’s something simply preposterous about a perpetually shouting 70-year old FBI supervisor investigating supernatural casefiles while drinking fancy red wine and picking up women across the country.
Gordon is a far cry, though, from characters like Mr. C, Leo, Jean Renault, the old Ben Horne . . . very powerful men who frequently abuse women and get away with it, and of whom the show is sharply critical. After all, the heart and soul of Twin Peaks is Laura Palmer, a young woman who’s been mistreated her entire life, and who’s portrayal has been nothing but empathetic. Audrey Horne is a part of that empathetic portrayal of women and always has been, even if it doesn’t resonate as strongly in her one scene so far.
This is just my personal takeaway, but I don’t think that Audrey was done a disservice in her return. Yes, it was vexing and even disorienting, but intentionally so. While it was fun to imagine her for the last 25 years as a risk-taking secret agent, odds are that was never going to happen. Audrey knew more than most that people are liars and the world isn’t fair, and she wanted to imagine a romantic life where she could expose secrets and right the wrongs that have been done by men like her father. Instead, she’s in a failed and emotionally volatile marriage while her murderous son is on the loose. This does not paint a reassuring picture. Her life is the exact opposite of romance.
But there are six hours left, and a lot can happen in those six hours. We simply don’t have a complete picture of Audrey yet. (And keep in mind she’s not the only member of the original main cast who feels currently sidelined: Big Ed still has yet to appear, and James, Nadine, and Norma have pretty much only had cameos).
So no, this isn’t the Audrey we remember, and she comes across almost hopeless compared to her character on the original series. But Twin Peaks wants to believe that people can fix their hearts. I’m willing to bet that, somewhere, Audrey still believes that too.
A Few More Non-Audrey Thoughts That Happened:
- It’s pretty rad to have confirmation on what we all suspected for the past 25 years: Blue Rose cases are investigations into metaphysical mysteries, and a continuation in some fashion of Project Blue Book. I love all the UFO/conspiracy lore that Frost throws into Twin Peaks, so it’s a thrill to have these ideas revisited.
- Albert says that he, Cooper, and Chet were all chosen by Jeffries for the Blue Rose Task Force. That’s awesome but also kind of weird because FWWM makes it pretty clear that Coop and Phillip had never met before. I guess Jeffries selected people without personally meeting them, or perhaps Lynch and Frost didn’t rewatch anything before writing this script. Who can know these things? Either way, congrats to Tammy for making the BRTF. I’m such a sucker that I totally cried for her.
- One gripe: this was the perfect opportunity to at least give Windom Earle a shout-out, but his name was very conspicuously not dropped. I know Lynch isn’t a huge fan of the character but some of us would at least like a passing mention of our favorite scenery-chewing mad wizard FBI agent.
- Grace Zabriskie continues to mesmerize as Sarah. That fan is running again in the Palmer house, and something is in the kitchen. I don’t like this. I don’t like this one bit.
- Carl Rodd really is the Jesus of Twin Peaks. It’s settled.
- Kudos to Ashley Judd’s performance in this episode. The subtle tear streaming down her face while Ben tells her a story about his childhood is incredibly effective. She’s been a great addition to the cast.
- This season of Twin Peaks is weirdly shaping up to be quite the reunion of Quentin Tarantino alums: Middleton, Tim Roth, Tom Sizemore, Robert Forster, Russ Tamblyn, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Not to mention that Sizemore, Balthazar Getty and Ashley Judd were all in Natural Born Killers.
- I’m relieved to see that Scott Coffey made it in time for his requisite random appearance in a David Lynch movie.