Before most of us even knew it, we’d been snuck into Part 2 of The Return, and a nagging question remained once it was over: “Who was that guy in the cell who disappeared?”
Lynch’s fondness for incongruous details has many precedents, but this one was a doozy. A simple camera pan, away from poor Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard) to another cell in the Buckhorn Police Department. Here we find a hobo character, seemingly cast in monochrome from his filthy clothes and blackened face, staring bug-eyed, seemingly right at us. His gaze is as close as the show’s gotten to shattering the fourth wall. Then, silently, he disperses into nothing, his head disembodied and vanishing up into the ether. An inexplicable Houdini act with, seemingly, no rhyme or reason…
Give it time.
The ‘Dirty Bearded Men’ – as FBI Chief Gordon Cole will memorably moniker them – are perhaps the most iconic supernatural addition to The Return; a group of malevolent flunkies that look like a bunch of horrendous garden gnomes got trapped in a cave-in at a coal mine. They are minions of Judy, or BOB (or both), haunting the fringes of our reality, denizens of the eerie Convenience Store, which doubles as their home and mode of transport.
Y’know, describing this stuff sometimes sounds like madness… Beautiful, nightmarish madness…
Let’s put a pin in that and cover the meat of the scene for a bit.
We’re back in Buckhorn, and Bill Hastings is in a holding cell with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Interrupting his heavy woes, in comes Detective Macklay (Brent Briscoe) escorting Bill’s wife, Phyllis (Cornelia Guest) for a visit. Phyllis delivers the news that they’re not going to let Bill out on bail.
“I have to tell you something,” Bill says gravely, taking hold of his wife’s shoulders, “I wasn’t there, but I had a dream that night that I was in her apartment.”
Ah, Lynch and dreams. The middle ground between waking and sleeping is among his favourite places, I’m sure. This confession of Bill’s makes sense in a Twin Peaks kind of way. I can’t help but recall the sequence in Fire Walk With Me in which Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) falls asleep having placed the picture of the doorway – given to her by otherworldly entity Mrs Chalfont/Tremmond (Frances Bay) – on her wall. Laura is transported into the picture (which later in The Return we’ll learn is part of the interior of the Convenience Store). From there, Laura is able to travel to the Black Lodge – prefiguring later confirmations that the Convenience Store acts as a kind of hub, connecting the various realms. During the dream, Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) urges Laura not to take the Owl Cave Ring, which acts as a kind of key or conduit between realms. Laura wakes, scared as she now has the ring. She receives a soothsaying visitation from Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham) and then we discover this is another layer of dreaming. Laura wakes for real and the ring is gone, but the blurring of the lines between waking and dreaming has been fundamentally established.
Later on in The Return, Gordon Cole (David Lynch) will muse over the subject of dreams, continuing an overarching theme. There’s a sense – a flavour if you will – that the more psychically minded characters within Twin Peaks are aware that they’re just characters in a television show; layers hinted at by the recurrence in the first season of the Invitation To Love soap opera, which mirrored the events happening in Twin Peaks.
Or, is this questioning of dreams more elaborately a questioning of the existence god, of free will? Events in Part 8, for instance, heavily infer of more powerful beings guiding the fates of people on Earth. That this is the role of the Fireman (Carel Struycken), and that he represents a higher power in the universe of Twin Peaks. In which case the very birth of Laura Palmer is a case of divine intervention…
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…
Phyllis dismisses Bill’s dream, reminding him, “Your fingerprints are there.” Bill protests his innocence.
As we’ll see in a later scene in Part 2, Mr. C can exert hypnotic control over people. It’s possible that he did this with Bill Hastings, taking him there in a kind of sleepwalk. This would explain the fingerprints. It might also well explain Bill’s dream.
“I’ve known about this affair all along,” Phyllis tells him, bile in her voice, referring to Bill’s (guilty as charged) affair with Ruth Davenport. Bill gets angry. Lynch frames them tightly in profile. The animosity is rising and it prickles through the screen.
“Now you lookee here, I know about you and George,” Bill bites back, “And maybe somebody else too!” – this ‘somebody else’ seems likely to be Mr. C himself. Phyllis is complicit in what has happened to Bill. Her involvement also lends Mr. C opportunity to frame Bill.
Det. Macklay collects Phyllis who beams at Bill, mocking his sorry fate. He is aghast at her. It is here that we leave Bill, as he resumes cradling his head in incredulity and despair.
Cut to Phyllis exiting the Police Department. She encounters George (Neil Dickson); Bill’s lawyer and her lover. We fear Bill’s best interests will not be served. “He knows,” she tells him curtly, adding, “Don’t walk me out. I’ll see you later at my place.” This last comes with a little smile.
It is here, as George talks to Det. Macklay, that we return to Bill and the camera pans slowly. Two cells away sits the Dirty Bearded Man (Stewart Strauss, uncredited). His head is tilted back as if to suggest he’s been listening. He slowly fades away.
Why has he visited Bill Hastings? Later events will show us that the Dirty Bearded Men look out for BOB/Mr. C’s interests. One of their number will ultimately prove instrumental in silencing Hastings, once the FBI are involved. Why wait? Why not now? As mentioned they behave like henchmen, flunkies. This one may merely be doing some recon. They watch people from the sidelines.
Now, perhaps, their appearance and hobos becomes a comment from Mark Frost and David Lynch. Homelessness is their disguise. Why? Because they are unseen by many. Walked passed. Ignored. An old term for a homeless person was “a forgotten man”. What better way to spy? The homeless have appeared in narrative fiction before as spies. See the world-building of John Wick Chapter 2 for instance, or Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. The association is a wry one also, considering the nature of their home – the Convenience Store – which exists at no fixed address, or maybe even multiple ones.
Still, this Dirty Bearded Man is our first inexplicable glimpse into a greater lore coming down the track, and his placement here is perfectly in-keeping with Frost and Lynch’s delight in mystery.
Next time: Eye for an eye