‘Twin Peaks’: 7 Powerful Moments When Kyle MacLachlan Barely Moves
Kyle MacLachlan is giving one of the best performances in television history, and he’s barely had to move a muscle.
Recently, Seth Meyers imagined what his NBC talk show might look like if it was set in The Red Room. Despite the opportunity for easy potshots at the preposterousness of “Twin Peaks,” the two-minute segment played it pretty straight.
The original opening titles were reincorporated along with the 4:3 framing of the original seasons. There were stand-ins for Laura Palmer and The Man From Another Place, while Meyers took over the role of Agent Dale Cooper. For anyone familiar with the series, the video homage was quite fun. For anyone else, it would’ve been quite weird.
But one thing stood out above the rest: Seth Meyers was moving too much.
Now, that’s not a slight against Meyers. His take on Agent Cooper was about as physically restrained as possible, barring any lessons from the robotic on-and-off acting of the “Westworld” cast. But there was still too much movement.
That’s how extraordinary Kyle MacLachlan has been in “Twin Peaks: The Return.”
Despite the timing of the sketch, Meyers was drawing from the scene in Season 1, Episode 3, “Zen, or The Skill to Catch a Killer,” not Agent Cooper from “The Return.” The performances are different. In Season 1, he was a first-time, part-time visitor to The Red Room. In “The Return,” he’s been trapped there for 25 years. The former is a little more expressive; a little more fluid. The latter is stoic and stunted; trapped in a cage barely restraining his true spirit.
As fans have come to accept in Season 3, Dale Cooper is different. He’s a man of many names; almost as many as the characters MacLachlan plays. He’s Dougie Jones to everyone in Las Vegas, but he’s still Dale Cooper to those in the know (viewers, mainly). For a brief time, MacLachlan played the real Dougie Jones, too, and he’s still playing the mysterious Mr. C — Agent Cooper’s doppelgänger and Dougie’s creator — in addition to Dale Cooper.
But above all else, he’s still. MacLachlan has achieved so much by barely moving. Let’s celebrate that, shall we?
1. Dougie is Scared (“Part 3”)
We don’t know much about Dougie, and most of what we do know is bad. Dougie cheats on his wife with a prostitute. Dougie racks up huge gambling debts instead of spending time with his son. Dougie is friends with the insurance dirtbag Anthony Sinclair (Tom Sizemore), but not that good of friends since Tony turned on Dougie at the drop of a hat.
Dougie doesn’t last long, but the empathy viewers have for him in the moment above has quadrupled since it first aired. Dougie is just having an ordinary Tuesday with Jade, banging in an open house near his actual home, when he keels over and disappears. Confused and in pain, Dougie is transported to The Red Room so Mr. C can roam freely. He only sits with MIKE (Phillip Gerard) for a second, but in that brief amount of time, MacLachlan gives Dougie his humanity.
He struggles to turn his head, but it’s unclear whether he’s held captive in his chair or too scared to move. What matters is the fear in his eyes: MacLachlan takes Dougie from wide-eyed confusion to beleaguered anxiety in just a few lines. He never understands why he’s there or what’s happening to him. He’s just a construct, and even when MIKE tells him so, he doesn’t understand. He never realizes he’s not a real person. MacLachlan informs all of that, and gives Dougie his dignity right before he disappears.
2. Cooper Sees Himself (“Part 4”)
There’s a lot to admire about Cooper’s first morning as Dougie Jones, but MacLachlan’s deft blending of absurd comedy and true poignancy is outstanding. After being ushered into the bathroom clutching his crotch, the audience is prepped for an outlandish first foray with the family. Janey-E is impatient. Sonny Jim is amused. Cooper, well, we don’t know what Cooper is feeling.
But he’s feeling something, and that’s what matters. Evoked in a brief, basic motion, the shot above is simple and speaks to the series’ ongoing fascination with duality. MacLachlan moves less than the camera does, staring intently at his own image and then the lack of connection between his hand and its mirror image. Cooper is still searching. He’s still a seeker. He’s still himself, but “Twin Peaks” has changed, and MacLachlan is adapting with it, ever so patiently.
The brief scene shreds the idea that Cooper is now just someone to laugh at; that we’re just waiting for him to “snap out of it” and go back to his old self while he can barely control his bladder and wears a tie over his head. MacLachlan makes the above moment stick by giving Cooper as much pathos as piss jokes.
3. Mr. C Sees Diane (“Part 7”)
Please don’t make me watch this scene again. MacLachlan is so unnerving in his unblinking intensity — and Laura Dern, as Diane, so angry, hurt, and unsettled — that it’s a difficult moment to revisit. Much of Mr. C’s intimidating presence stems from this moment. We know what he’s capable of because of the authority he conveys even when handcuffed behind bars (well, bulletproof glass).
His brown jumpsuit, restricted positioning, and the generous space between Mr. C and his interrogators should all dwarf his imposing presence. MacLachlan arches his back, stares straight ahead, and — of course — doesn’t move an inch, and all of these choices make Mr. C as threatening as ever. He’s one scary dude, and — thankfully — makes this scene memorable enough that we don’t have to go back and re-watch.
4. Cooper Hears Music (“Part 11”)
One could easily argue “Part 11” is Cooper’s most revealing episode to date — and exemplifies MacLachlan’s best work. For one, the last half-hour is entirely Cooper’s story. The funniest scene since “Mr. Jackpots” kicks things off (see below), but it’s the ending that really hits home. After Cooper survives another death threat, this time from the Mitchum brothers (James Belushi and Robert Knepper), they take him out for celebratory pie — the dessert that just saved his life.
But in between a toast to Dougie and serving the pie, a piano change draws Cooper’s attention. Suddenly he’s transfixed, his head quickly pivoting and his eyes remaining on the pianist until the pie arrives. Even a surprise greeting from a grateful elderly patron — the woman who followed his advice and won thousands at the casino — can’t take Mr. Jackpots’ mind off the melody.
MacLachlan looks past her while she thanks him, unwavering in his focus. He’s still listening to Angelo Badalamenti’s “Homecoming,” and he’s still remembering a time and place long past. He’s looking through her as an event that already transpired. He wants to go back to that place; he wants a homecoming. As she leaves and he bites into the cherry pie, it’s as though Cooper is saying goodbye to Dougie’s past and moving ever more consciously toward his future: When MacLachlan says the iconic line, “damn good [pie],” his slight shift in inflection provides a faint hint of nostalgia and the slightest of hope.
Cooper will return. He won’t be trapped as Mr. Jackpots forever.
5. Cooper Chases Coffee (“Part 11”)
OK, this is perhaps the most movement MacLachlan does outside of taking down The Spike, but look at how restrained he is! Viewers get so much out of this brief comedic bit: For a moment, he looks annoyed. On the way in, he just looks eager. By the end, he’s back to the status quo, as if coffee is the only thing in his life that keeps him alive. And that’s the beauty of it: An immeasurable number of texts, tweets, and posts undoubtedly used this .gif and a message equivalent to, “This is me every morning.” MacLachlan captures the universal need for your morning Joe without abandoning Cooper’s stilted state. In short, it’s funny because it’s true.
6. Mr. C Wins an Arm-Wrestling Match (“Part 13”)
This entire scene is based around specificity of movement, so, this entire scene epitomizes Kyle MacLachlan’s intricate understanding of his characters’ physicality. Not only does he account for the visual intrigue of his choices, but his movements are built from Mr. C and Cooper’s spirits.
Nothing changes about Mr. C during his arm-wrestling match. He’s the same imposing force he’s always been. But as MacLachlan challenges his opponent to best him, again and again — “Let’s go back to starting positions” is still the most badass line ever uttered during an arm-wrestling match — his absolute control over Mr. C’s movements becomes all the clearer.
Just look at the way he shifts in his chair to approach the table. Then watch as his face, head, and neck as they remain motionless while his arm operates like a pulley on a string. Even when MacLachlan is called on to speak (gasp!) and move (wow!), he keeps Cooper and Mr. C as precise as possible: Real Cooper is a little looser; pliable in mind and body, but Evil Cooper is rigid because he knows exactly what he wants and what he needs to do to get it.
7. Cooper Hears the Name “Gordon Cole” (“Part 15”)
Listen, there’s no telling what exactly got Cooper to do what he did near the end of “Part 15,” but it was hearing Gordon Cole’s name that forever altered his pleasant evening of eating cake and pushing buttons. As “Sunset Boulevard” popped on the TV, Cooper took note. His neutral perspective shifted into a state of bemusement, but no more so than usual. It’s when Cecil B. DeMille says the fateful words, “Get Gordon Cole,” that MacLachlan’s expression changes entirely, Cooper gets down on the ground, and crawls toward an electrical socket making too much noise.
As proposed in Sunday night’s review, this could be the end of Cooper’s impersonation of Dougie. Right after he electrocutes himself and collapses, a dying Margaret explains how death “is just a change, not an end.” The version of Cooper oft-referred to as Dougie could die via the same household device that transported him there in the first place, and “Twin Peaks” will be on to the next iteration of its hero. If so, his time in the Jones’ household was given a fitting end: a few jerky movements, some subtle adjustments in expression, and a bevy of emotional weight laid down. MacLachlan has done this with Cooper, Dougie, and Mr. C throughout “Twin Peaks” Season 3, and each part has been deepened by the star’s contribution to it.
MacLachlan hasn’t created one new character in “The Return”; he’s built three brand new individuals from the ground up. And he barely had to move a muscle.