David Lynch & Friends: My Favorite Lynchverse Appearances in The Return

Twin Peaks: The Return (I still refer to it as The Return and will continue to do so until the day I die) is many things: a benchmark in both prestige television and TV revivals as a whole, an artistic triumph for David Lynch, Mark Frost, and just about everyone else involved, and a damn fine season of television (or a damn fine film, depending on which side of that debate you fall on.)

But, above all else, it felt like a celebration, both of Twin Peaks‘ return to television to show the rest of the world how it’s done, and of Lynch’s career as a whole—and like any good celebration,Lynch decided to invite several of his friends to join us. Throughout The Return, we see a number of familiar faces from Lynch’s wider filmography making an appearance, and in honor of The Return‘s anniversary, I figured it’d be fun to look back on this particular niche of performances and rank my favorites.

6. Trent Reznor – Himself (Original “Appearance”: Lost Highway)

Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, onstage, screaming into a microphone with a drummer in the background

This one was the subject of much internal debate, namely over whether or not he should be on the list or should instead be relegated to honorable mention status. But, despite only appearing as one of The Roadhouse’s many musical performances, music and sound design has been an important part of Lynch’s career, and Reznor’s contributions feel no less important than those of the actors on this list.

While Trent Reznor never physically appeared in Lost Highway, his presence was felt throughout the film’s sound design and several of its songs, both his original compositions and tracks from artists like Marilyn Manson and Rammstein, that were used at his suggestion. As a Rolling Stone interview from that timeframe described, “His thick, ambient drones—during the film’s mysterious video sequences—give the fated house where the film’s two main characters, Fred and Renee, live a life all its own; it’s as if the walls were breathing and murmuring, or trying to whisper horrid secrets.”

Reznor and his band The Nine Inch Nails—as they’re introduced—show up in the now legendary Part 8, giving an intense performance of “She’s Gone Away,” a song written specifically for the show after Lynch rejected their original pitch and asked for “…something less Twin Peaks-y sounding, and more aggressive and ugly.”

Reznor and company certainly delivered on that front, and their performance serves as a fitting prelude to what we now know was the wildest episode of Peaks—and likely of the last decade of television altogether.

5. Balthazar Getty – Red (Original Appearance: Lost Highway)

Balthazar Getty as Red, striking a pose and standing in front of a man with a gun in the background

One of the more surprising returning faces seen in The Return, Balthazar Getty’s role might have been a small one in the relatively vast Peaks universe, but it was undoubtedly a delight to see.

Getty’s performance as Red feels almost like an older version of Lost Highway‘s Pete Dayton—with a little bit of Mr. Eddy thrown in. Once again, he’s running around with a woman seemingly well out of his league, but this time around there’s a distinctively nasty streak to his character, one that Getty seems to have a lot of fun with in the few moments he appears.

His most memorable scene comes when new resident sleazebag Richard Horne pays him a visit to try and get in on Red’s drug dealings. Red, in true Lynchian fashion, thoroughly humiliates and rejects Richard—while still finding time to ask him about The King and I and perform a physics-defying magic trick for good measure.

Red might have been a fairly small fish in the grand scheme of things, but nonetheless, Getty made the most of his brief appearance and gave us yet another one of Lynch’s distinctive weirdo villains.

4. Chrysta Bell – Tammy Preston (Original “Appearance”: Inland Empire)

Chrysta Bell as Tammy Preston, left, sitting next to Miguel Ferrer as Albert Rosenfeld, right. Both are sitting in front of an elaborate FBI computer setup in the background

Chrysta Bell is another interesting one—she’s a singer by trade, with The Return being one of only about three acting roles she’s actually had, but she’s had a musical collaboration with Lynch going all the way back to 1999 including a song the pair of them wrote together that featured in the final moments of Inland Empire.

Here, Bell appears as Agent Tammy Preston, the new blood on the Blue Rose Task Force, joining Miguel Ferrer’s Albert Rosenfeld and Lynch’s Gordon Cole on the trail of both the long lost Agent Cooper and his doppelgänger. Tammy almost becomes an audience surrogate of sorts, in many cases serving as a sounding board for theory after theory regarding what’s going on and who’s who, while at the same time being present for several important reveals regarding the history of the Task Force.

Bell consistently holds her own with Ferrer and Lynch, and Agent Preston consistently impresses with both her knowledge and an openness to the idea of supernatural happenings and investigations. When Rosenfeld gives her the details on the first Blue Rose case, Preston barely misses a beat before not only knowing the question Rosenfeld was looking for, but the answer to the riddle of Lois Duffy’s final words.

The character of Tammy Preston might not have been for everyone, but Bell certainly did a more than capable job, serving as both an excellent foil to Ferrer and Lynch and a whip-smart agent truly worthy of joining the Blue Rose team.

3. Robert Forster – Frank Truman (Original Appearance: Mulholland Drive)

Robert Forster as Frank Truman, holding a phone in his right hand

Robert Forster’s time in the Lynchverse was unfortunately brief—he only made a small appearance as a detective in Mulholland Drive, a role that never got to be further explored when the production morphed from a TV pilot into a film, and while he was the first choice to play Sheriff Harry S. Truman in the original Twin Peaks he had to turn the role down due to a prior commitment. It wound up being for the best, as it’s impossible to imagine anyone but Michael Ontkean as Harry S. Truman, a perfect foil for Cooper and a beloved character in his own right, but it’s with no small amount of irony that Forster’s role in The Return is as Sheriff Truman—Frank, that is.

Forster arguably had the most difficult job of anyone in the Twin Peaks revival—stepping in to fill a role similar to that of a beloved character who wound up not returning from the original series—but Forster stepped up and did a more than admirable job. Frank Truman isn’t a replacement for his brother, nor does Forster try to replace or replicate Michael Ontkean’s performance.

Instead, his portrayal of Sheriff Frank Truman is as someone who clearly had the same core values and strengths as his brother—dependability, natural leadership, trustworthiness, and warmth—while at the same time being different enough to match the tone of the new season. Frank Truman is older and wiser than Harry was, but at the same time lacks the immediate familiarity with both the Palmer case and the White and Black Lodges that his brother did, forcing him to trust the expertise of Hawk, Bobby, and Andy when the case is reopened.

Sheriff Truman had many memorable scenes throughout the series, but if I had to pick a favorite moment it would have to be the one with him and Hawk in Part 11 where Hawk is explaining his ancient map. Forster doesn’t say much in this scene apart from asking questions, but he still manages to sell us on the pull between his lack of knowledge regarding Lodge related affairs mixed with a bit of skepticism and trust he has in Hawk’s wisdom—and, the shock when the Log Lady calls Hawk and warns him that—just as the two of them had just been talking about—there was indeed fire where he was going.

No one could ever truly replace Sheriff Harry S. Truman, but Forster proved that Frank was more than capable of holding down the fort in his absence.

2. Naomi Watts – Janey-E (Original Appearance: Mulholland Drive)

Naomi Watts as Janey-E Jones, standing facing two men in the foreground with her arms folded

In case it wasn’t clear by now, Naomi Watts is one hell of an actress, and just like she did with her breakout fire-and-rain performance in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, she completely owns the role of Janey-E Jones in The Return, delivering Lynchian humor and intensity in equal measure.

Watts shines in almost every scene she’s in, whether it’s facing down a pair of Vegas crooks to her almost inexplicable ability to simply roll with…whatever is going on with Dougie in his near-catatonic state. But the defining moment for Janey-E comes the very first time we meet her, after Dougie/Cooper has been retrieved from the Silver Mustang and brought back home. In about five minutes, Watts takes us through a whirlwind of emotions, from outrage and concern over his disappearance, to a strange sense of relief and almost joy when she hears how much money he had won and how they’d finally be able to pay off Dougie’s gambling debts.

The Vegas storyline was one of the weirder ones in The Return, and Watts’ Janey-E is the glue that holds it all together, getting Dougie/Cooper where he needs to go with a sense of…almost insane normalcy, as though Dougie barely being able to speak or function on his own was just another day in the life of the Joneses.

To this day I still don’t fully understand just what was happening in the Vegas storyline, and I couldn’t tell you who or what Janey-E actually was (apart from possibly being Tulpa Diane’s estranged half-sister) but what I can say with absolute certainty is that the role was another triumph for Naomi Watts’ work with Lynch.

1. Laura Dern – Diane (Original Appearance: Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Inland Empire)

Laura Dern as Diane, holding a cigarette

Could it be anyone else? Not only is Laura Dern arguably the First Lady of the Lynchverse, the role she takes on is none other than the previously unknown face on the other side of Agent Cooper’s many, many voice recordings: Diane Evans, formerly of the FBI.

Safe to say, Diane was almost nothing like how we imagined her, and it turns out that’s for good reason. For starters, she’s not actually the real Diane, but one of the many tulpas created by Mr. C during the twenty-five years he’d been on the loose. The real Diane doesn’t show up until after Mr. C is back in the Black Lodge—and even that might have just been a dream.

But this revelation takes away none of the depth or power of Dern’s performance, painting a rich portrait of the trauma that Diane went through and how she went from the person we imagined she was to who she is now, with bitterness and cynicism covering up her true pain. Her story of the last time she saw “Cooper” is one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in the series; Dern’s performance is almost unbearably raw as she shakily recounts the horrors of that night and what Mr. C did to her.

The idea of bringing Diane to life on screen was always going to be a daunting one, given her legacy from the original series, but Dern brought her to life in an unforgettable, unlikely way—and with her appearance, finally brought in one of the last few missing pieces of the Lynchverse into Twin Peaks.

Twin Peaks: The Return was full of excellent performances from actors both old and new, but there was something special about seeing residents of the Lynchverse appearing in the show, as though the worlds of Twin Peaks and the wider Lynch canon were slowly converging in subtle ways. Each appearance felt like a mini Easter egg, subtly calling back to another one of Lynch’s films while still feeling like an essential piece of the show. 

Written by Timothy Glaraton

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  1. I enjoyed this a lot! I probably would have included Patrick Fischler. Loved him in The Return and of course his scene in Mulholland Drive is scorched in my memory from the first time I saw it.

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