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[This story contains spoilers through the first two seasons of Twin Peaks, as well as the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.]
Josie Packard (Joan Chen), Doctor Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), Ed (Everett McGill) and Norma (Peggy Lipton), Nadine (Wendy Robie) … these are but a few of the people who were tragically excluded from The Hollywood Reporter‘s official list of the 20 best Twin Peaks characters.
OK, maybe it’s not so tragic in the case of Nadine, but for everyone else! Our sincerest apologies. There are arguments to be made for most of the folks who populated the world of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s surreal series, an already vast cast set to expand to more than 200 players in the upcoming Showtime revival. You try narrowing it down to an even 20 without snubbing someone!
With that in mind, Twin Peaks is subject to taste, if nothing else; some figures are bound to resonate more than others. In this case, certain main characters were omitted if their stories didn’t quite satisfy, like Catherine Martell (Pipe Laurie) and James Hurley (James Marshall), whose season two stories did them no favors here. Likewise, others who appeared in only a handful of scenes and episodes landed on our list if they were iconic, or if they delivered an especially moving performance, or the simple fact that they were and remain nightmare fuel all these years later. A certain backwards-speaking somebody is the beneficiary of that last qualification.
In reality, deciding on the best Twin Peaks characters is an exercise not unlike throwing rocks at glass bottles to hone in on a murder suspect: a little bit ridiculous, a whole lot of fun and an experience that’s always going to change depending on your aim. Ahead of Sunday’s Twin Peaks return on Showtime, read on to see where our rocks landed.
20. The Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson)
Even those who have not laid eyes on Twin Peaks in years, if they laid eyes on it at all, are likely to recognize this eccentric character — if only because she’s fueled more than a few Halloween costumes over the years, not to mention Windom Earle’s (Kenneth Welsh) own disguise at the Miss Twin Peaks contest.
19 & 18. The Brothers Horne (Richard Beymer and David Patrick Kelly)
In truth, Ben and Jerry were absent from earlier versions of this list, ultimately securing their spots after our very own Twin Peaks episode ranker Chris E. Hayner brought their disturbing sandwich-eating habits back into the spotlight. (Kidding. Mostly.) Brie and buttered baguettes aside, the Horne brothers were often on the edge of the show’s more important stories, with their bizarre fraternal banter cutting through tension with much-needed absurdity.
17. Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie)
When it comes to the family at the heart of the series’ tragedy, Sarah often gets the short shrift, overlooked in favor of murder victim Laura (Sheryl Lee) and murderous victim Leland (Ray Wise). But Zabriskie’s heart-shattering performance in the first few episodes alone more than warrants Sarah’s inclusion in this list, a howling portrait of unimaginable grief.
16. Gordon Cole (David Lynch)
THERE AREN’T ENOUGH CAPS-LOCKED WORDS IN THE WORLD TO ACCURATELY DESCRIBE GORDON COLE’S GLORIOUS VOICE, SO LET’S JUST PLACE THE REGIONAL BUREAU CHIEF IN THE SIXTEEN SPOT AND CALL IT A DAY.
15. Tommy “Hawk” Hill (Michael Horse)
Among the most competent characters on the series, Hawk boasts a deep connection with the spiritual side of Twin Peaks, filling Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) in on some of the show’s most mysterious and compelling secrets, including the White Lodge and Black Lodge. He’s also one of very few characters to appear in promotional material ahead of the show’s return; the mere sight of Old Man Hawk (pictured above) is enough to fuel excitement for the new season.
14. Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz)
Like many others in the world of Twin Peaks, Deputy Andy is an acquired taste. It takes some time to stop looking at Andy the way Agent Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) does, as a hapless human equivalent of a dog, and to see instead the sensitive soul who doesn’t always have the stomach for his line of work. Like the Horne brothers, Andy’s antics alleviate the show’s darkest sides, a welcome dose of relief.
13. Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson)
Another one who falls under the category of “acquired taste,” and another one who is essential to the Twin Peaks viewing experience. As with Hawk, Lucy’s very brief appearance in promos for the new season offers a shortcut to feelings of unbridled nostalgia; it’s hard to imagine how we’ll feel once her drawn-out drawl returns to the mix.
12. Denise Bryson (David Duchovny)
Before there was Fox Mulder, there was Denise Bryson … and before there was Denise, there was Dennis. The X-Files leading man David Duchovny’s role on Twin Peaks as a transgender federal agent was ahead of its time, words that are often connected with this character, but words that are no less true. Despite appearing in only a handful of episodes, Denise was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak midseason two stretch.
11. Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer)
If Agent Cooper is a creature of pure optimism, then Agent Rosenfield is his opposite number: brilliant, but cynical. With that said, while he will admit to a certain cynicism … well, let’s let him finish the thought: “The fact is that I’m a naysayer and hatchet man in the fight against violence. I pride myself in taking a punch and I’ll gladly take another, because I choose to live my life in the company of Gandhi and King. My concerns are global. I reject absolutely revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. I love you, Sheriff Truman.” A strange and difficult path, indeed. More difficult still, Miguel Ferrer passed away in early 2017; he will nonetheless reprise his role as Rosenfield on the new season of Twin Peaks, having filmed scenes before his death.
10. The Giant (Carel Struycken)
“It is happening again.” A key figure in what’s very likely the most harrowing sequence in Twin Peaks, the Giant appears before Agent Cooper during moments of utmost importance. Intriguingly, his human counterpart — a room service waiter at the Great Northern — is involved in what’s very likely the show’s most drawn-out comedic sequence. He ranks this high for both reasons, not to mention his critical connection to the greater supernatural mythology.
9. Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook)
We could sit here and meditate on the many reasons why this misunderstood jock deserves his fair share of props, including his tearful reaction to hearing his father’s proud vision of their peaceful future. (Still regretting the fact that Major Briggs isn’t on this list, for what it’s worth.) Instead, we will remind you of the time Bobby barked like a junkyard dog during an overnight stay at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Station, and leave it at that beautiful memory.
8. Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle)
The late Laura Palmer’s best friend, and James Hurley’s subsequent girlfriend, was arguably the most emotionally relatable character during the first season of the series, caught between mourning the loss of her dearest friend and falling (falling falling) in love under cosmic circumstances. Moira Kelly replaced Boyle in the role of Donna for the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and, as it stands, it appears that both actresses declined to appear in the revival. Maybe a third actress will be the charm?
7. Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn)
Even if Donna doesn’t return, at least Ben Horne’s other (and official) daughter is making a Twin Peaks comeback: Audrey, a character who literally and figuratively danced at the outskirts of the show’s central stories more often than not. With that said, her connection to Cooper and the whimsical way in which Fenn played the character makes her a decisive fan-favorite. Here’s hoping she’s all recovered from that season two explosion when the series returns.
6. The Man From Another Place (Michael J. Anderson)
If this backwards-speaking, smooth-dancing, creamed corn-eating personification of an evil arm isn’t still haunting you in your nightmares, then more power to you. For our money, the mysterious Man From Another Place more than earns his status as one of the most chilling characters on Twin Peaks, which is a heck of an achievement considering his relatively few appearances.
5. Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean)
Good news: There’s more Twin Peaks on the way. Bad news: It won’t involve Sheriff Truman, as actor Michael Ontkean retired from the business years ago, and declined to return for the revival. It’s a shame, because his turn as the earnest Truman was among the show’s highlights. The thought of seeing Cooper, Andy, Hawk and the rest battling the forces of darkness without Truman at their side is almost unfathomable.
4. Killer BOB (Frank Silva)
In an interview with THR, MacLachlan described Lynch’s reliance on “happy accidents,” saying: “If there’s something that happens that’s unexpected or accidental, as opposed to rejecting it outright, he often welcomes it in.” When it comes to Twin Peaks, there is no happier accident than Lynch capturing crewmember Frank Silva’s mirrored image in a shot, and subsequently casting the man as BOB, the killer spirit responsible for destroying Laura and Leland Palmer. The genius casting decision speaks for itself, with BOB standing out as one of the single most iconic villains in television history, let alone on Twin Peaks. Silva passed away in 1995, and it’s very difficult to imagine new episodes of the series without his involvement.
3. Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee)
Here, how’s this for stating the obvious: Without Laura Palmer, there’s no Twin Peaks. She’s the catalyst that kicks everything off, the inspiration behind Angelo Badalamenti’s mournful score, the centerpiece of the riveting Fire Walk With Me. Really, her inclusion on this list goes without saying, and her placement this high in the rankings despite her relative lack of screen time (Fire Walk With Me and Lee’s turn as Maddy Ferguson notwithstanding) speaks at a volume so loud that even Gordon Cole couldn’t match it.
2. Leland Palmer (Ray Wise)
No actor on Twin Peaks was tasked with a more emotionally turbulent role than Wise, who stepped up to the plate and slugged it out of the park as Laura Palmer’s father and unwitting killer. As Killer BOB’s most consistently used human vessel, Wise was tasked unleashing unholy horror on numerous occasions, from seemingly innocuous song-and-dance routines to blatantly brutal acts of violence. (“It happened again,” and oof, was it rough to watch.) Wise’s astonishing outbursts of grief throughout season one, punctuated by Leland’s heartbreaking final breaths in the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department, added further dimension to the most complicated character in the series. It’s such an iconic performance that Wise would forever arouse suspicion as soon as he entered the frame of any subsequent project, a reputation that was used to great effect during the fifth season of Fox’s 24, as one example. There’s little question that Twin Peaks lost its way after the Leland reveal (even if it rediscovered its footing by the end of season two), but Wise’s unforgettable performance made every dispute between brothers worth the cost.
1. Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan)
If Wise as Leland Palmer represents Twin Peaks at its disturbing high point, then MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper represents Twin Peaks at its most hopeful. The frequent Lynch collaborator brought wide-eyed wonder with every sip of damn good coffee, every bite of Double R pie, every whiff of the Douglas firs. Cooper’s optimism is the reason why the final scene of the series as it stands — Killer BOB possessing Cooper, howling with laughter as he smashes his face into a mirror — is one of the most devastating cliffhangers in television history. Cooper and Twin Peaks will both have their chance to make things right when the series returns on Sunday, with its very best character once again at the helm.
Sound off with your character rankings in the comments, and keep checking back for more Twin Peaks coverage ahead of the season premiere.
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