Miriam Sullivan. Lover of pies. Teacher of children. Writer of letters.
And dealer of drugs?
Wait, whoa—what?! Ah, see, this is why I thought she might deserve a closer look. Miriam is a new character to Twin Peaks, but she feels like she’s been part of the town forever. And no one in this town is what they seem on the surface, right?
Miriam (Sarah Jean Long) is in four parts of Season 3, starting with Part 6. To put that into perspective, other characters who only appear in four parts include the detectives Fusco, Audrey and Charlie, Steven and Becky, Beverly, Freddie, and The Fireman. That’s a good list to be on. At first glance, she seems little more than a bit part, but she plays a pivotal role in the fall of two of Season 3’s chief bad guys, Richard and Chad. She was also at the center of several mysteries that played out on social media during the season’s initial airing.
Part 6 – Don’t Die
We start with Miriam at the RR Diner, joking around with Heidi about the magic of Norma’s pies. She gets two coffees to go, as you do in Twin Peaks, one for her and another for “one of the moms.” This is our first sign that something is wrong with Miriam, because she orders hers decaf. (I’m only half joking.) While Shelly gets those coffees, Heidi asks:
- [HEIDI] How is school, Miriam?
- [MIRIAM] Oh, the kids this year are so cute.
- [HEIDI] Aw. [giggles]
Remembering that this season is set in late September, we’ve just been given our first clue that Miriam is a school teacher. The schools were first brought up in Part 4, when Bobby runs into Sheriff Frank Truman and brings him up to speed on “another” drug overdose at the high school. They agree that probably “it was Chinese designer drugs again.” Drugs were the topic of conversation between Red and Richard in a scene just prior to Miriam’s introduction:
- [RICHARD] Ah, shit. [startles] Ah. [sharp exhaling] Whoa. That is whoo!
- [RED] [chuckles] That’s right, small-time. You can, uh, you can pick the rest of it up at Mary Ann’s.
- [RICHARD] [sniffs] How’d you know that name? You know the area?
“Mary Ann?” Hmm. That sounds a lot like “Miriam.” Here’s social media mystery #1. Did Red maybe get the name wrong? He’s only been in the area a couple of weeks, after all. Or did Richard maybe hear him wrong and think he said “Miriam?” He had just snorted up a good quantity of sparkle, after all. Could the closed captioning have gotten it wrong? (It wouldn’t be the first time.) Or maybe “Mary Ann” is just Mary Ann. Why are we even questioning this? Let’s table that thought and get back on track for now.
As Miriam departs the Double-R, she leaves an apparently large tip for Shelly and Heidi. Heidi proclaims to Shelly, “She can’t afford to leave a tip like that.” Further clarification that she’s a school teacher living on a small-town school teacher’s salary perhaps. They both agree to treat Miriam next time she is in.
Flip back to Richard, all drugged up and pissed off after being put in his place by Red, and his fateful encounter at the intersection of 21 and Sparkwood. (The location of many fateful encounters in Twin Peaks). As he drives away from the scene of the crime, he passes by Miriam walking back with coffees in hand. It’s not clear if Miriam witnessed the actual hit-and-run, or just heard the screams and put two-and-two together afterwards. The important thing to note here is that she recognizes Richard, and Richard recognizes her. They make solid eye contact with each other.
Part 10 – Laura Is the One
Skip ahead to Part 10. We open on Miriam’s trailer. Turns out she really can’t afford that tip. She’s living below even what we might expect for an underpaid small-town school teacher. This isn’t the Fat Trout trailer park though. She appears to be living in a pretty idyllic location out in the country. There are several old barn/shed type buildings around her like this is maybe an abandoned farm where she’s been allowed to park her trailer. For her part, Miriam seems to be trying to beautify her little hovel with a small fence and various lawn decorations.
Miriam has a visitor. Richard rolls up in the Black Lodge-mobile. He just wants to talk to her, but she’s having none of it, yelling at him through the closed but extremely flimsy screen door. She tells Richard that she already called the police, but that doesn’t seem to bother him. In fact, that’s probably why he’s here. She probably talked to Chad, Chad talked to Richard, and Richard came out here to pay her a visit.
Richard just needs to know if she told anyone else. No, but she wrote a letter—to Sheriff Truman. (Uh oh.) Just sent it today? Why yes, she did. (Perfect, because now he can have Chad intercept that letter.) Well then, nothing left to do crack his neck and go kill Miriam.
This scene builds on what we saw in Part 6 and establishes a definite level of familiarity here between Miriam and Richard. They’re on a first-name basis right off the bat:
- [RICHARD] Miriam.
- [MIRIAM] Go away, Richard!
These two know each other.
After Richard leaves Miriam for dead, he calls up Chad. Here again, everyone’s on a first-name basis. He relays to Chad that “that little bitch Miriam” sent a letter to the Sheriff. Chad doesn’t ask, “Miriam who?” He already knows who. Now, as I said above, that’s probably because he and Richard just talked about Miriam’s phone call, prompting Richard’s little house call. She must not have known that Chad was on his payroll, but finally started suspecting something when Richard continued to not be arrested.
For his part, Chad actually does manage to intercept Miriam’s letter. In the most obvious, ham-fisted way imaginable, arousing the suspicions of both Lucy and the mail carrier, but he does accomplish the task. However, here’s social media mystery #2. We get a nice close-up of Chad’s chewed up fingernails (ew) as he flips through the mail and finds Miriam’s letter. However, it’s not from Miriam Sullivan, as we know her name to be from the credits, but rather it’s from a Miriam Hodges. Aha, the internet declared, Chad screwed up! Sheriff Truman will get the real letter, Richard will be arrested, and the good guys will win the day.
Except that’s not what happened. Almost as soon as Chad’s error was discovered and being celebrated, sources within the production staff took to Twitter to squash our hopes. It turns out that this was just a prop department error, they said. Pop Apostle reports that producer Sabrina S. Sutherland has also acknowledged this as well. That letter should have been addressed from Miriam Sullivan, our Miriam in the show. Chad had actually succeeded.
OK, so it’s a prop error, but is it a David Lynch error? Lynch reportedly spent months editing Season 3. Given his usual attention to detail, it seems highly unlikely that he personally would have missed this. The zoom-in on Chad’s hands flipping through the letters seems like it could have been reshot with relatively low expense. Did Lynch leave this in on purpose?
Later, in Part 12 after Sheriff Truman leaves and Ben Horne is directing Beverly to call the hospital, he can’t remember her last name. There’s just so much weirdness around Miriam’s last name; it makes you wonder if it all wasn’t done on purpose. This would imply that the letter was not a prop mistake, but more like one of Mark Frost’s “unreliable narrator” type puzzles. Intended to do just what it did, drive the obsessive theorizers crazy.
On top of having the wrong last name for Miriam, the envelope also clearly features two different sets of handwriting. The addressee is written in print with a slight left-leaning slant. The return address is written in cursive with a distinct right-leaning slant. Both addresses are weirdly incomplete as well, with no street listed for Miriam and no address number or zip code for the Sheriff Station. It’s like this prop was made by someone who had never written, or perhaps even seen, an actual letter in their lives.
Regardless, the ultimate irony here is that most of us left the episode thinking Richard had surely killed Miriam, and Chad had surely screwed up and swiped the wrong letter. When in fact, it was the other way around. Richard was the screwup, leaving Miriam alive, and Chad was intended to have intercepted the letter properly.
Part 11 – There’s Fire Where You Are Going
Back-to-back, we start another episode with a Miriam scene. Not only is she not dead, but she’s managed to drag herself through the woods to be discovered by some boys playing catch. She’s not in good shape though. Most notable of her wounds is that her left eye is injured, possibly even missing. Left eye injuries are kind of popular in Twin Peaks. Dr. Jacoby would have more to say about that.
Part 12 – Let’s Rock
Our final image of Miriam is of her lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to various machines and monitors. This image also presents us with social media mysteries #3 and #4. There are two discrepancies on the monitor above her head that were picked up by careful internet sleuths. First, the date on the monitor reads “September 24 15.” It should have been September 30, 2016—one day before the Sheriff Department trip to Jack Rabbit’s Palace. Second, in another name game quandary, the monitor shows the name of the patient as “Henry Lawson.” This set off a minor explosion of all kinds of wacky theories, the least wacky of which was that it could just be the name of the doctor, not the patient.
The obvious explanation though is that this scene was *filmed* on September 24, 2015. Which actually lines up pretty well with what we know of the filming schedule. This scene was probably filmed on location in a real hospital room, to save them the expense of generating an entire set for this 10-second scene. As part of that, they probably borrowed several machines that go ping for use as scene dressing. Thus the monitor reflects the current real-world date, and the name of whatever previous real-world patient was last hooked up to it.
Following that scene, we get our last mention of Miriam when Sheriff Frank Truman visits Ben Horne at the Great Northern. He tells Ben that Richard tried to kill Miriam, and now she is in intensive care and in desperate need of an operation. We get confirmation of her full name, Miriam Sullivan, and we also get confirmation that she is a school teacher, albeit a nursery school teacher.
Dealer of Drugs
So let’s circle back to where we started. There is, I believe, a lot here to implicate Miriam as being part of the drug trade in Twin Peaks. There are both plotty Frostian elements that point to this and subliminal Lynchian elements that point to this. Let’s start with the Frost side.
Miriam lives in a trailer in Washington state, right up against the Canadian border. Unless you are a 20-something snow bum, this is not a life goal for most folks. Shelly and Heidi know she can’t afford to be leaving them large tips. The poor thing is already shelling out for the pies she cannot resist. So where has her sudden affluence come from?
We established earlier that Richard and Miriam already knew each other before their confrontation. When she first called the police, she told them “it was [Richard] who ran over the little boy.” OK, that makes sense with her being nothing more than a witness to Richard fleeing the scene. When he doesn’t get arrested though, she apparently guesses at corruption, or at least incompetence, in the police force. So she writes a letter directly to the Sheriff himself. In this letter, she tells him “everything” she knows.
Now that’s an interesting turn of phrase. That implies she one-upped what she reported over the phone. Like she thought that the reason he hadn’t been arrested yet was that there wasn’t enough damning evidence against him. So she gave them more. This would almost necessarily have to be about his involvement in the local drug trade, and that means she has inside information on those activities.
She knows Richard personally too; knows his penchant for violence. She tells the Sheriff in the letter that if anything happens to her, it was Richard. She’s expecting his visit, and she’s anticipating it might end with violence (if not begin with violence, as well).
The drug trade was linked to the high school earlier in Part 4. Given that Richard has cops on his payroll, it wouldn’t be a stretch to find out he was distributing his product through teachers. Slightly smarter than Leo using students to sell to students. However, in the discussion between Frank and Ben in Part 12, he calls her a “nursery school teacher.” That makes her comment about the kids being “so cute” this year make a bit more sense. Those two worlds don’t necessarily intersect, so she’s probably not the one who sold to little Denny Craig at the high school.
Maybe that’s more of what I’m calling a Lynchian connection — just something for our subconscious mind to ruminate on and make connections. Schools and students are also tied to the prostitution in the area, with Jean Michel Renault’s phone call at the Roadhouse in Part 7, after the infamous sweeping scene. As another example, right after Red performs his magic trick for Richard, we get Miriam talking to Heidi about the “magic” of the bakery having a cupcake with her name on it. Miriam lives on a farm, and farms and farmers are strongly associated with the criminal elements in Season 3. In the hospital, she has blue roses by her bedside.
In the introduction, I said that Miriam was instrumental in the downfall of both Richard and Chad. Her role in Richard’s downfall is fairly obvious, as the “only witness” to his hit-and-run accident. Less obvious is what she added when she told the Sheriff “everything” she knew in her letter. Chad is arrested shortly after arousing Lucy’s suspicions as he intercepts that same letter. Granted, Truman tells him that they had been watching him for months when he’s arrested, but the timing sure makes it seem like this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I also implied she was part of Richard’s “small-time” (per Red) criminal enterprise. I believe the clues are there for us, both subliminal and otherwise. If you’re not paying strict attention, you might walk away from Twin Peaks Season 3 thinking she was just another innocent victim of Richard’s rampage. Victim? Yes. Innocent? Hmm. Maybe not so much.
Miriam Sullivan. Miriam Hodges. Mary Ann. Or even Henry Lawson. However you name her, she is a woman of several mysteries, and at least one secret.