[Continuing my lengthy ramble about the first two seasons of Twin Peaks (1990-1991). Contains a mangled rowing-machine and SPOILERS!!!]
Regardless of the official credits order, first and foremost has to be ‘Margaret Lanterman’ (aka “The Log Lady”), played by Catherine E. Coulson, who’d worked with David Lynch in an off-camera capacity on his debut feature Eraserhead (1977), and also appeared in one of his earliest shorts (The Amputee (1974)). She doesn’t appear as often in the series as her popularity and prominence in the official merchandise* might suggest… but she does make a very strong impression, with her peculiar pronouncements and ever-present “pet” log. And her introductions to the individual episodes, originally produced (by Lynch) for Bravo’s 1993 re-airing of the series, are a highlight of the boxset… beautifully-written and delivered slices of mystical insight and/or befuddling nonsense. Tragically, Coulson passed in September 2015, and at this point it’s unknown whether she recorded any scenes for the new season, but she will be sorely missed, either way. Laura may have been the face of Twin Peaks, but Margaret was most definitely its heart and soul.
According to Wikipedia, Sheryl Lee was cast in the role of ‘Laura Palmer’ because she was local (to Seattle, where they were filming) and cheap. At that point, Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost hadn’t really figured out where the story would go after the pilot, so all they really needed was a pretty girl willing to play dead on a riverbank wrapped in plastic, then frolic in some silent (but incriminating) camcorder footage. While filming the latter, Lynch realised that Lee was vastly over-qualified for the role of a pale-faced prop corpse, and so, when the series was picked up, he created a living/breathing character for her to play: ‘Maddy Ferguson’, Laura’s nerdy brunette doppelganger… who slowly became more and more like her near-identical-cousin, until she met the same curse’d fate. Harsh. Looking back, it seems strange to me that Lee doesn’t rank among the cast members who’ve subsequently gone on to enjoy greater fame and fortune, because she’s clearly a very committed and capable actress… not to mention very beautiful and lively… and her “Homecoming Queen” photo is still one of the most recognisable images associated with the hit series, so it’s not as if anyone could forget who she was! I really hope it was her choice to retreat from the limelight, rather than a case of her being so strongly associated with that one role/show, that no one else knew what to do with her…?
In a similar vein to Maddy, the character of adulterous diner-waitress ‘Shelly Johnson’ was expanded to capitalise on Mädchen Amick’s abundant charisma and acting prowess, after she wowed the creators/producers during the casting process. And that decision definitely paid off, as Shelley was put through the emotional wringer by her abusive husband ‘Leo’ (Eric Da Re), and Amick ably straddled the line between the intense tragedy of her home-life and the breezy comedy of her work-life. I can’t really blame a besotted Lynch for wrangling an on-screen kiss out of her, in his role as FBI Regional Bureau Chief ‘Gordon Cole’… and I thought it was a very sweet and romantic notion that she was the only person in the world he could hear without the need for artificial aid (in one of the featurettes, Lynch jokingly admits it was “sick” of him to exploit his position like that, while Amick insists that it was an “honour” to work so closely with him!). On a side-note, one of the few bright spots of the second season’s let’s-all-enter-the-Miss-Twin-Peaks-contest-so-one-of-us-can-get-kidnapped storyline, was Amick’s mocking impression of a stereotypical “beauty queen”, with her forced Cheshire Cat grin.
Still, I think my favourite among the younger townsfolk has to be attention-seeking hotel-princess ‘Audrey Horne’, who (once again inspired by the actress’s own energy, as perceived by Frost & Lynch) was equal parts impish-femme-fatale and plucky-good-girl-sleuth. In-keeping with the show’s obsession with duality, Sherilyn Fenn was required to play both a sultry seductress and a virginal naïf, and she nailed both sides of Audrey’s persona perfectly… all the way up until the back half of the second season, when the writers shunted her off into a bullshit animal-conservation subplot (I mean, I’m a supporter of the cause in real life, just not in this particular context). I was particularly appalled by the fact that no one even mentioned her getting hooked on heroin during her undercover investigation/imprisonment at One Eyed Jack’s, once she’d been rescued and returned to the Great Northern… as if all it takes to recover from “Class A” drug addiction is a good night’s rest in your own bed! Tch!
Apparently, Frost & Lynch had intended to pursue the attraction between Audrey and ‘Agent Cooper’ (Kyle MacLachlan), which had been simmering since the first season… and Fenn was all for it, but MacLachlan objected because he felt it would be inappropriate for their characters, considering that Audrey was still (presumably) in high school at the time, and he was a straight-arrow law-man. Consequently, they were both given extremely-attractive-but-far-less-interesting (or established) alternative love interests, and barely even saw or spoke to each other for the remainder of the series. Feh! Although the accusation wasn’t included in any of the boxset featurettes, Fenn has been quite insistent in other interviews (such as the one she gave to The A.V. Club in 2007) that propriety wasn’t the only reason for her co-star’s resistance to the plot-development: “I’m not supposed to say it… [but] what happened was that Lara [Flynn Boyle] was dating Kyle [MacLachlan], and she was mad that my character was getting more attention, so then Kyle started saying that his character shouldn’t be with my character because it doesn’t look good, ’cause I’m too young. Literally, because of that, they brought in Heather Graham – who’s younger than I am – for him and Billy Zane for me. I was not happy about it. It was stupid.” Amen.
I also have to give an honourable mention to Piper Laurie, who played scheming saw-mill mistress ‘Catherine Martell’ (as well as her post-“death” alter-ego, the mysterious Japanese businessman ‘Mr Tojamura’)… to be honest, I didn’t really like her character so much, but I loved Laurie’s performance and playfulness. Her nemesis/sister-in-law ‘Jocelyn Packard’ was played by Joan Chen… though the part was originally written for an Italian actress (presumably Lynch’s gal-pal Isabella Rossellini), before the producers tailored it to suit Chen (an Asian-American actress) instead. Yay for them!
Meanwhile, sheriff-station receptionist ‘Lucy Moran’ (Kimmy Robertson), drape-obsessed cyclops ‘Nadine Hurley’ (Wendy Robie), and Laura’s bereaved BFF ‘Donna Hayward’ (Lara Flynn Boyle), all gave a good showing in the first season, before becoming increasingly stupid and cartoon-y in the back-half of the second season. In an interview included in the boxset featurettes, Robertson states that she thought the later episodes straight-up “sucked”… and while I don’t know if I’d go that far myself, some of the subplots were definitely verging on sucky, and the one with Lucy’s duelling baby-daddies mentoring a little brat who plays mean pranks on them was almost certainly the suckiest. So, I certainly understand why she’d feel that way, considering how her character was reduced to such a fuzzy sketch of her former self. Likewise Nadine went from being a raging “wronged woman”, who could inspire both sympathy and revulsion, to a super-strong “cougar” who happened to talk and behave like a high-schooler, after a failed suicidal overdose resulted in regressive amnesia, and the domestic tragedy of her life was overwritten with wacky slapstick and sex-comedy shenanigans. WTF!? At least the revelations regarding Donna’s parentage gave Boyle another opportunity to do some serious emoting, but somehow she ended up looking like the villain of the piece, just for wanting to know who her biological father was! And where the hell were her two sisters (half-sisters?) hiding out during that whole shebang? Sigh…
Other notable cast members included Grace Zabriskie as Laura’s distraught psychic mother ‘Sarah Palmer’… Peggy Lipton as loveable (but kinda boring) diner-queen ‘Norma Jennings’… Heather Graham as Norma’s sheltered sister ‘Annie Blackburn’… and Alicia Witt as Donna’s piano-prodigy sister ‘Gersten’. The latter was just a one-scene cameo (in ep #2.1) to showcase her musical skills, but Witt will be returning for the revival… and hopefully she’ll get some real dialogue to deliver this time, now that she’s an established actress!
* For example, Funko’s forthcoming set of action figures comprises four characters from the series: Dale Cooper, Laura Palmer, Bob, and The Log Lady.