WARNING: If you haven’t seen Twin Peaks, and believe spoilers do just that, proceed with caution; if you have never watched and agree with Flannery O’Connor that fiction is better enjoyed when you know what’s going to happen, read on!)
With “Season 3” of Twin Peaks airing, I’ve been reading a lot of websites and just began reviewing the original series/first two seasons. This will be my fourth viewing of the series since its original run–once on DVD about 15 years ago and on Netflix about 5 years ago, after the Psych tribute episode.
Before the show was “put on indefinite haitus” by ABC–Whovians, Trekkies and Star Wars fans have nothing on Twin Peaks fans in terms of waiting–there was an outline written for season 3. As with many cult shows that have been continued in comic book and/or novel form, some fans who were comic book writers approached David Lynch about 10 years ago to try and convince him to let them turn that outline into a comic book series. Lynch famously declared Twin Peaks dead.
Whether he changed his mind or actually intended to surprise everyone for the show’s 25th anniversary (“I’ll see you again in 25 years”), had that comic book been made, we might not have gotten an actual show. Amazingly, of the characters who were not already killed off, five cast members have either passed away or refused to participate.
Ironically and problematically, two of those five play characters who are immortal: the late Frank Silva, who played the immortal demon BOB, and the living Michael J. Anderson (“Man from Another Place/Dwarf/MIKE’s arm”). The other actor who passed away (though a Warren Frost, Miguel Ferrer and Catherine E. Coulson died shortly after filming of The Return was completed) was Don S. Davis (1942-2008), who played Maj. Garland Briggs. A veteran sci-fi actor, he played Capt. William Scully on The X-Files, and IMDB quotes him saying he enjoys playing science fiction characters because it’s one of the few genres where you are still able to have flawless good guys.
Rolling Stone (in an article I just found) lists him as the show’s 8th best character, noting that he is the inversion of its “you can’t tell a book by its cover” theme. I’ve seen at least two websites (possibly from the same person) calling him not just the greatest character on Twin Peaks but one of the greatest TV characters ever.
The scene that introduces Maj. Briggs is a family dinner. His son Bobby, Laura Palmer’s “official” boyfriend, has just been released from jail after being held for fighting and for suspicion of being Laura’s murderer. Family dinners, whether at home or at the homey RR diner, are a recurring motif of the original series (which could be contrasted to the motif of Roadhouse and barroom dinners in the new series/third season). Whether it’s the Haywards who are set as the model of the loving, wholesome family yet the parents are clueless about their daughters’ lives, and two of the daughters show up only a couple times, the Palmers and their horrible secrets, or the Hornes and their facade of respectability amid mental illness and infidelity, the dinners usually have the same dramatic function as Ewing family dinners on Dallas.
The first time I saw the scene, it seemed like Maj. Briggs was being presented as another example. Sitting in his USAF uniform, he starts the meal saying grace–the only character who does so, IIRC, though the Haywards go to church. He then proceeds to calmly but formally lecture his son (“Robert”) on the value of teenage rebelliousness but his job as a father to guide Bobby’s rebelliousness within the standards of society and their family.
Bobby doesn’t speak, leading to a talk about the various meanings of silence. He pulls out a cigarette, and his father reaches across the table, slapping it out of his mouth. The cigarette lands in Mrs. Briggs’s meatloaf, and she barely reacts. Maj. Briggs says that he is very tolerant but has his limits. Again, at first sight, he seems to be another example of hypocrisy, and a seemingly wholesome family covering up abuse that leads to the child’s reckless behavior. As time goes on, Maj. Briggs is revealed to be a very different character and becomes by the end of the second season, the show’s moral center. The first time the show aired, I puzzled in retrospect over that scene.
When I rewatched it the second and third times, I assumed that it was just an early scene before the character had been sufficiently developed. This time, it struck me as very well-planned. As Rolling Stone put it, they want us to see him as a seemingly authoritarian and abusive father. But just as the seemingly loving and gentle Leland Palmer (spoiler alert) was possessed by a demon which drove him to molest and murder his own daughter, the seemingly stern and gruff Maj. Briggs is actually loving and gentle.
In the aforementioned outline for Season 3, the plan had been for Maj. Briggs to become the main hero. Whether it was resolved quickly or over the season, the plan was that (spoiler alert) Maj. Briggs would go into the Black Lodge and rescue Cooper. Though Cooper is superficially an innocent, we know that he is gluttonous, lustful and has committed adultery. When he invades the Black Lodge to rescue his girlfriend, he gets trapped there and replaced by BOB occupying his physical body because of his own sinfulness. Originally, had Don S. Davis not passed away, Maj. Briggs would have been the only character worthy of facing the Black Lodge without being corrupted, so whether it would have been a long or short storyline, Briggs would have been the one to bring Cooper back.
(Spoiler) On the new show, one of the mysteries is that his decapitated body was found in South Dakota, and, even though he was reported dead in a fire in 1989 (the events of the 1990-91 series all took place fictionally in February and March 1989), he was in his early 40s when he died. We recently learned on the new show that he had been in another dimension for 25 years–whether it was the Black or White Lodge has yet to be revealed.
Seen through those eyes, as well as the eyes of real world experience, that first scene looks very different.
Maj. Briggs, even though he refers to patience having its limits, does not lose his cool. His son, already in trouble with the law, does something completely disrespectful. It is a controlled and calculated gesture.
EDIT: Don’t know why I never noticed this before, Bobby Briggs standing before a huge crucifix/home altar: