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Lynch Mob: 30 Best ‘Twin Peaks’ Characters

From Laura Palmer to the Log Lady, these were the residents of David Lynch’s otherwordly series that turned ‘Twin Peaks’ into a TV landmark

twin peaks

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 10: TWIN PEAKS - Season One - 11/10/1989, Homecoming Queen Laura Palmer is found dead, washed up on a riverbank wrapped in plastic sheeting. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper is called in to work with local Sheriff Harry S.Truman in the investigation of the gruesome murder in the small Northwestern town of Twin Peaks, Washington. , (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

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"Let's rock!" When co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost announced on Monday that they were reviving their masterful mystery series Twin Peaks for a new nine-episode season airing on Showtime in 2016, fans reacted as though a murdered loved one had been brought back from the dead. The show's surreal imagery fueled parodies everywhere from Saturday Night Live to Sesame Street. its feature-level filmmaking paved the way for New Golden Age of Television standouts like The Sopranos and Mad Men, while the constant seeding of cryptic clues throughout episodes helped set a precedent for series like The X-Files, Lost, and True Detective.

But in the end, it's the characters that keep people coming back to this strange small-town saga: Laura Palmer, the homecoming queen with a dark double life; Agent Dale Cooper, the idealistic investigator sent to catch her killer; and the countless inhabitants of the both the town where she lived and the supernatural realm – the Black Lodge – lurking beneath its surface.

To celebrate the series' return, we narrowed down the sprawling cast of both the TV show and its feature-film prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me to a quick and dirty list of 30 – the characters essential to understanding the show's undying appeal. Pour yourself a damn good coffee and fire walk with us.

Agent Phillip Jeffries david bowie twin peaks

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27

Agent Phillip Jeffries

In a meeting of artsy icons named David, Lynch cast David Bowie as an FBI agent with a thick Southern drawl who suddenly materializes in the Bureau's Philadelphia HQ after going missing for years. The result: the best Thin White Duke cameo ever. Jeffries wreaks havoc on the office's security cameras, emphatically declares "I'm not gonna talk about Judy" (whoever that is), and describes a meeting of the demonic members of the Black Lodge before disappearing again. In one quick scene, Bowie gives us the saga's clearest, strangest look at the Lodge's inhabitants, and helped Lynch craft an unnerving haunted-surveillance-camera image that anticipated everything from The Ring to the Slender Man meme.

David Duchovny Agent Denise Bryson twin peaks

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26

Agent Denise Bryson

I want to believe! DEA Agent Denise Bryson provides a bridge to the Nineties other great network-TV supernatural mega-mystery, The X-Files, by virtue of the fact that she's played by none other than David Duchovny. She's also a respectfully treated transgender character in an era where that was extremely rare. Though her fellow feds knew her when she presented as male, their reaction to her arrival in Twin Peaks (to investigate bogus drug charges against Coop) is basically just, "Well, okay, cool. Hi Denise, glad to have you aboard."

twin peaks harold

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25

Harold Smith

"J'ai une âme solitaire." That's putting it mildly: Confined to his house by agoraphobia, this lonely soul's only joys were his hothouse full of orchids. And, of course, his vicarious experience of Laura Palmer's sordid life, first through her Meals on Wheels visits and, later, through her secret diary. When Donna Hayward's search for clues to her friend's death led her to try and steal the diary from Harold, whom she'd befriended, he saw it as a betrayal and hanged himself above the book's scattered pages. Fire Walk With Me may give an indication as to why: He got a split-second glimpse of the evil threatening to possess Laura, and life in a world like that surely has less of a hold on a lonely soul.

twin peaks

Chinese-born American actress Joan Chen (as Josie Packard) (fore) and American actor Jack Nance (1943 - 1996) (as Pete Martell) in a still from the pilot episode of the television series 'Twin Peaks,' originally broadcast on April 8, 1990. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

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24

Josie Packard

Something about Twin Peaks' resident foreign femme fatale never quite fit. For starters, she wasn't even supposed to exist – the role was rewritten to suit actor Joan Chen's Chinese heritage after Isabella Rossellini left the project. Her storyline involved so many double-crosses and fake deaths that it was hard to find its emotional center. And when Chen asked to be written out of the show, the result was the singularly batshit image of her dead soul inhabiting the knob of a wooden drawer (?!?) in a hotel room. But somehow it all worked: Josie was a fish out of water, equal parts player and pawn, never comfortable on either side of the line.

twin peaks lucy moran

Kimmy Robertson as Lucy Moran in the pilot episode of Twin Peaks, 1990. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

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23

Lucy Moran

Ah yes, the early Nineties, when curly-haired blondes with kewpie-doll voices were comedy's most valuable commodity. Fortunately, to the best of our knowledge, there's no Victoria Jackson-style right-wing meltdown to mar our memories of the Twin Peaks Sheriff Department's redoubtable receptionist. No matter how crazy things got, that face and that voice were always there to let a little much needed steam out, like when she recites the ridiculous series of calamities that befell the town while Coop was unconscious. Let's also note for the record that, thanks to the who's-the-daddy storyline involving Deputy Andy Brennan and his obnoxious romantic rival Dick Tremayne, it's a matter of public record that Lucy got way more action than sex symbols like Dale Cooper or Audrey Horne.

twin peaks Deputy Tommy "Hawk" Hill

TWIN PEAKS - Gallery - Shoot Date: November 29, 1989. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL HORSE

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Deputy Tommy ‘Hawk’ Hill

Imagine a one-man police department — one who can track anything that moves, kill a man with a hatchet at a distance of 20 yards, piece together the supernatural goings-on surrounding Laura Palmer's murder, powwow with members of the local benevolent White Lodge and its "shadow self" the Black Lodge, and date a nice veterinarian with a degree from Brandeis. That's Deputy "Hawk" Hill. Best of all, though he knows the lore, he's no shaman stereotype. Hill is the one Twin Peaks character you wish they made an action figure for.

shelly johnson twin peaks

American actress Madchen Amick (as Shelly Johnson) in a scene from the pilot episode of the television series 'Twin Peaks,' originally broadcast on April 8, 1990. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

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21

Shelly Johnson

Played by arguably the single best-looking human being on the show – and in a cast that included Sherilyn Fenn, Lara Flynn Boyle, Joan Chen, Peggy Lipton, Sheryl Lee, and Heather Graham, that's really saying something – Shelly Johnson was further away from the show's center than almost any of them. But that's kind of the point. Yes, she extricated herself from the high-school hell that consumed Laura by dropping out and getting married to brooding, drug-running trucker Leo Johnson. But that didn't save her from drudgery, boredom, betrayal, and abuse. It just moved the venue and raised the stakes.

twin peaks giant

ABC Photo Archives

20

The Giant/Room Service Waiter

What to make of this spirit of the Lodges and his doddering human host? Well, you can look at them just as visual gags, a level on which they work like a charm: the Giant showed up in The Simpsons' legendary Twin Peaks parody, while the Waiter's oblivious response to a critically wounded Agent Cooper in the Season Two premiere was one of the show's funniest bits. But it's the twosome's plaintive messages to Cooper when they bring him the bad news that Laura's killer has struck again that linger the longest. "It is happening again," says the Giant. "It is happening again," he repeats. And when it's over, the Waiter appears to console Cooper for a failure he doesn't even understand yet with three simple, devastating words: "I'm so sorry."

gordon cole david lynch twin peaks

TWIN PEAKS - Gallery - Shoot Date: March 22, 1990. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) DAVID LYNCH

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19

Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole

On paper, nothing about FBI honcho Gordon Cole should work. Co-creator David Lynch writing himself in as the lead's boss, with a comical hearing impairment that requires him to shout all his lines? Not even M. Night Shyamalan in his camera-hogging prime had that kind of chutzpah. But the director's insouciance sells it, whether he's crushing on Shelly Johnson at the Double R or unveiling clues with the help of a bizarre lady in red's interpretive dancing in Fire Walk With Me. When Peaks returns, he's a character a lot of viewers are gonna want to see — and HEAR!!!! — again.

Agent Albert Rosenfield

TWIN PEAKS - Episode 1.3 - Airdate: April 19, 1990. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) MIGUEL FERRER

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18

Agent Albert Rosenfield

When is an a-hole not an a-hole? When he's Agent Albert Rosenfield, of course. The moment this forensic expert shows up on the scene, he causes all sorts of jurisdictional jockeying with his constant barrage of insults aimed at the Twin Peaks PD. Sheriff Truman finally has enough and ends up cold-cocking him; the agent's response is a heartfelt speech about non-violence that earns his enemies' grudging respect and stands as one of the show's funniest, most unique character curveballs.

Maddy Ferguson

TWIN PEAKS - Gallery - Shoot Date: November 30, 1989. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) SHERYL LEE

ABC Photo Archives

17

Maddy Ferguson

One of Twin Peaks' many meta-references to network-television Velveeta of ages past, Maddy was The Patty Duke Show-style identical cousin of Laura Palmer. And her amateur sleuthing alongside Donna Hayward and James Hurley was pure Scooby Gang shenanigans long before Buffy the Vampire Slayer took a stab at it. But this dark-haired doppelganger is also an outgrowth of Lynch's obsession with blonde/brunette duality (see Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr.) and its obvious inspiration, Hitchcock's Vertigo.  Most importantly, she gave the formidable actor Sheryl Lee a living, breathing character to inhabit – and an on-screen death scene that remains the pinnacle of televised horror.

Andy Brennan twin peaks

Harry Goaz as Deputy Andy Brennan expresses distress while speaking into a telephone, from the pilot episode of the hit television show 'Twin Peaks', 1990. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

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16

Deputy Andy Brennan

Comic relief has rarely been so adorable. Deputy Andy may well have been the goofiest law enforcement agent in Twin Peaks, not to mention the dumbest. But he also had the decency to break down and cry when Laura Palmer's body was discovered, a crucial moment in establishing the pilot episode's balance of black comedy and uncomfortable, open emotion. At times, it's as hard to imagine the show without his sweet, droopy voice as it is to imagine it without Angelo Badalamenti's score.

log lady

CBS Photo Archive

15

The Log Lady

The Log Lady is all things to all Peaks people. She's a walking sight gag with those big Sally Jesse Raphael glasses, that humorless face, and, well, the whole log thing. She's an instantly recognizable symbol of the show's "you either get it or you don't" weirdness. She's a voice for the supernatural forces at work behind the scenes, a prophet of the forest like something from a fairy tale. And, in her brief cameo in Fire Walk With Me, she's an unexpected angel of empathy and understanding for an isolated, frightened Laura Palmer. "When this kind of fire starts, it is very hard to put out," she tells Laura in a voice that aches with sadness. Nothing silly about it.

sarah Palmer

American actress Grace Zabriskie (as Sarah Palmer) stands in a kitchen set in a scene from the pilot episode of the television series 'Twin Peaks,' originally broadcast on April 8, 1990. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

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14

Sarah Palmer

If you want to see how seriously this frequently odd and deliberately silly show took the murder of a child that drove it, look no further than the agony etched into the face of that child's mother. As played by Grace Zabriskie, Sarah Palmer is all wide eyes and frizzy hair — like the shock of losing her daughter was so profound it literally electrocuted her. But she also looked tired, sickly, like she'd  slowly been rotted away by the evil she'd unwittingly lived with all these years. Whether sobbing into a phone or screaming herself awake from a nightmarish vision of the killer, her pain was palpable.

Catherine Martell

American actress Piper Laurie (as Catherine Martell) in a scene from the pilot episode of the television series 'Twin Peaks,' originally broadcast on April 8, 1990. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

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13

Catherine Martell

Whatever else Twin Peaks was, it was a nighttime network soap opera — you can hear echoes of Dallas' "Who shot J.R.?" in "Who killed Laura Palmer?" And in Catherine Martell, you have the Pacific Northwest's answer to Joan Collins on Dynasty. Piper Laurie played her as an exercise in high bitchery, as if Catwoman had settled down and ran a lumber empire. Catherine made a convincing foil and lover for top creep Ben Horne, kept the tangential storylines fun to watch, and bore her second-season indignities (like going undercover as a Japanese businessman…WTF?) better than anyone else on the show.

mike

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12

Philip Gerard/’MIKE’

Everyone who saw Twin Peaks at a too-young age has their own personal nightmare fuel from their glimpses: perhaps yours is this mild-mannered, one-armed shoe salesman convulsing uncontrollably when the medicine that suppresses his routine demonic possession by an entity called MIKE wears off. But MIKE is a (relatively) benign spirit, who cut off his own arm rather than continue to kill alongside the brutal BOB, and has hunted him ever since. (Not for nothing did Lynch and Frost name his human host after the policeman from The Fugitive.) His traffic-jam confrontation with a terrified Leland and Laura in the prequel film Fire Walk With Me is one of the saga's most harrowing moments. And, of course, it was MIKE who first purred out the ominous poem that gave that movie its title: "Through the darkness of future past, the magician longs to see. One chants out between two worlds: fire walk with me."

Pete Martell

American actor Jack Nance (1943 - 1996) (as Pete Martell) talks on a telephone in a scene from the pilot episode of the television series 'Twin Peaks,' originally broadcast on April 8, 1990. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

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11

Pete Martell

"She's dead. Wrapped in plastic!" Twin Peaks' most terrible crime, discovered by its most lovable citizen – that's no accident. Despite his discovery of Laura Palmer's corpse, despite getting caught up in the war between his wife Catherine and his sister-in-law Josie, Pete remained a fundamentally kind-hearted, grandfatherly guy, or at least as close to one as you can get when you cast Eraserhead in that role. Like his famously random proclamation ("There was a fish in the percolator!"), Pete embodied the show's house blend of the normal and abnormal.

Ben Horne

TWIN PEAKS, Richard Beymer, 1990-91, (c)Aaron Spelling Productions/courtesy Everett Collection

Aaron Spelling Prods/Courtesy Everett Collection

10

Ben Horne

Forget all the second-season silliness – the Civil War reenactments, the Pine Weasel crusade. (It's a tall order, we realize.) Fact is, Twin Peaks would not have worked in that glorious run that ended with the killer's unmasking if Benjamin Joseph Horne hadn't made for such a compellingly sleazy red herring. Hotelier, department-store magnate, beloved brother to Jerry, neglectful father to Audrey and Johnny, best friend to Leland Palmer, pimp and predator to Laura Palmer: He was a human nexus of everything wrong with this small American town, and pretty happy about it to boot. Then he discovered there were much worse things out there, and it damn near broke him.

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TWIN PEAKS - Pilot Gallery - Shoot Date: April 11, 1989. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL ONTKEAN

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9

Sheriff Harry S. Truman

He's the very definition of a supporting character, which is why it always comes as a surprise to see Michael Ontkean billed second only to Kyle MacLachlan in Twin Peaks' iconic opening credits. But the good Sheriff meant way more to the show than just being Agent Cooper's backup. He was dependable, open-minded, possessed of a certain Springsteen-esque sexiness, and exhibiting none of the provincialism or authoritarianism we'd come to expect from small-town cops on TV; Truman also punctured the idea that Lynch and Frost were simply taking too-easy swipes at Main Street USA. There was goodness in places like Twin Peaks after all, even in positions of power — and Harry was Exhibit A.

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8

Major Garland Briggs

Briggs was the ultimate don't-judge-a-book-by-its-cover character on a show that reveled in never quite playing to type. With his cueball head, omnipresent uniform, and preposterously formal manner of speaking, the major seemed like a satire of authority figures – precisely the kind of tightass that a delinquent like his son Bobby would rebel against. But by the end of the series he'd become both a lynchpin [ahem] of the supernatural storyline and a voice of kindness in a terrifying world. If his dream about how much he loves his son doesn't move you, you may very well be from the Black Lodge.

donna twin peaks

American actress Lara Flynn Boyle (as Donna Hayward) stands at a locker in school hallway set in a scene from the pilot episode of the television series 'Twin Peaks,' originally broadcast on April 8, 1990. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

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7

Donna Hayward

Other images took a tighter hold on audience imaginations, but nothing conveyed the tragedy of Laura Palmer's death like her best friend Donna looking at her empty desk, realizing what it meant, and starting to sob uncontrollably right there in homeroom. Donna was the heart of the high-school-kids material on the show, the character who was the most square and reserved, and also the most cognizant that what happened to Laura could happen to anyone. She gave the dead girl her voice.

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ABC

6

The Man From Another Place

The dancing, the backwards talking, the cryptic messages, the red suit, the surreal supernatural strangeness: No single character embodied Twin Peaks' pop-culture profile more totally than this peculiar little man. There had never been anything like this character on TV before, which made him supremely useful; audiences knew to drop everything and pay attention whenever he appeared. As the mysteries deepend and we learned more about the Black Lodge he seemed to inhabit, his power only grew with familiarity – quite a feat for any story.

audrey horne twin peaks

American actress Sherilyn Fenn (as Audrey Horne) sits in a classroom set with her chin in her hands in a scene from the pilot episode of the television series 'Twin Peaks,' originally broadcast on April 8, 1990. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

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5

Audrey Horne

The pilot wasn't even over before young Audrey Horne danced her way across the lineoleum floor of the Double R Diner and into the annals of TV chic. Iconically glamorous and sophisticated, Audrey seemed to effortlessly inhabit a cool-girl role that Shelly, Donna, and Laura could never access, and was key to the show's crazysexycool pop appeal. But her dangerous investigations into the underside of Twin Peaks, and her crush on and admiration for Agent Cooper, revealed a person as vulnerable – and good-hearted – as anyone on the show.

twin peaks bob

TWIN PEAKS - Show Coverage (Off Screen) - Shoot Date: May 9, 1990. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) FRANK SILVA SEEN ON TV SCREEN

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4

BOB

The story is almost too good to be true: While shooting the pilot, David Lynch was so struck by the image of a crew member crouched behind Laura Palmer's bed that he insisted on filming it, despite having no idea what he could possibly use it for. Later, while shooting Sarah Palmer awakening from a nightmarish vision, he discovered he's accidentally captured that same crew member's reflection in a mirror seen in that very shot. The rest – the identity of Laura Palmer's murderer and the single most frightening character ever to appear on TV – is history.

twin peaks Leland Palmer

American actor Ray Wise (as Leland Palmer) speaks on a telephone in a scene from the pilot episode of the television series 'Twin Peaks,' originally broadcast on April 8, 1990. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

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3

Leland Palmer

You'd have to turn to James Gandolfini to find a performance of fatherhood as nuanced, heartbreaking, and horrifying as Ray Wise's portrayal of the Palmer family patriarch. Is he a decent man broken by grief? A victim turned victimizer despite his best efforts? A monster preying upon the powerless beneath a veneer of suburban sanity? He was all these things, and in Wise's wide-eyed face you can see each facet of his personality fighting to hide itself from the others. No matter where you see him show up now, the menace of Leland Palmer oozes off him like the stench of burning oil.

twin peaks dale cooper

American actor Kyle MacLachlan (as Special Agent Dale Cooper) holds a portable cassette recorder as he drives a car in a scene from the pilot episode of the television series 'Twin Peaks,' originally broadcast on April 8, 1990. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

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2

Agent Dale Cooper

Coop! Even though it's unlikely that the likes of Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Walter White, and Tyrion Lannister would exist without the creative example set by Twin Peaks, the show's leading man – who looks like Clark Kent and talks like Carlos Castaneda — is the antithesis of his many bastard sons. There's no "anti" in this hero — a man of boundless intellectual curiosity, emotional empathy, lust for life, and bravery in the line of fire. Antiheroes allow us to vicariously experience their thrilling indecency; Agent Cooper proves that decency can be just as thrilling, which makes his cliffhanger fate in the Season Two finale that much more devastating.

twin peaks laura palmer

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 10: TWIN PEAKS - Pilot - Season One - 11/10/1989, Homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee, pictured) is found dead, washed up on a riverbank wrapped in plastic sheeting. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper is called in to work with local Sheriff Harry S.Truman in the investigation of the gruesome murder in the small Northwestern town of Twin Peaks, Washington. , (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

ABC

1

Laura Palmer

She gave the show its central mystery, and its zeitgeist-conquering catch phrase: Who killed Laura Palmer? But even though her death is literally what made the story possible, it's her life that made it matter. Unlike the macabre MacGuffins of so many post-Peaks dead-girl mysteries, Laura was not a beautiful cipher, existing solely to inspire the male detectives investigating her murder. She was a vibrant, complicated character in her own right, the person who best embodied the small-town-secrets theme, and who paid the highest price for those secrets. Her life, and the suffering that ended it, were always foregrounded. And our glimpses of her in the series – a videotape, an audio recording, a diary entry, a visitation from Another Place – were all merely a prelude to her starring role in the prequel film Fire Walk With Me, featuring actor Sheryl Lee's tear-down-the-sky performance of a character coming to grips with the most profound cruelty imaginable. "She's dead, wrapped in plastic"? Yes. But she'll live forever.

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