2:3 – Middle management

Right before Betty Elmes (Naomi Watts) steps off of the plane for her Hollywood adventure in David Lynch’s 2001 neo-noir nightmare Mulholland Drive, a series of cryptic phone calls spread ominous chatter across Los Angeles.

It begins with Mr. Roque (Michael J Anderson; formerly Twin Peaks‘ own Man From Another Place) placing a call to advise, “The girl is still missing,” referring to Laura Elena Harring’s amnesiac damsel in distress. Underscored by a sinister note from Angelo Badalamenti, a round robin between unknowable or unseen men takes place. One only says, “The same”. Another uses his phone very strangely. It’s an eerie, fascinating little sequence, one that infers a syndicate of organised crime controlling the studio system. These mystery men are its enforcers. Middle men accountable to Mr. Roque and who knows who else, higher up.

Existing in a similar sphere of influence and control is Mr. Duncan Todd (Patrick Fleischer), found here in the first of many excursions to Las Vegas. Patrick Fleischer will also be familiar to those well versed in Mulholland Drive; it is his character who has a fateful, heart-stopping run-in with the blue-box gatekeeper; the ‘Man Behind Winkies’ – played, in actuality, by a woman, Bonnie Aarons, who is also famous for playing The Nun in the Conjuring franchise.

In keeping with the nature and trends of the show, the exact role Mr. Todd plays is kept elusive at first. We meet him in a high-rise corner office at night. Badalamenti softly plays us in with a light jazzy piece of score, serene and inscrutable. Still, the space brings to mind another depiction of middle management in the criminal underworld from recent cinema history. It recalls Stephen Root’s office in the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men (2007). This idea of the shady occurring in ‘plain sight’ amid legitimate businesses runs through true crime as steadily as it does through the movies, right back to the classic noirs of the 40’s and 50’s. More recently on the small screen, the Coens’ Fargo TV series made magnificent hay from this fertile source of illegal intrigue for its impressive third season, which also aired in 2017, overlapping with the broadcast of Twin Peaks: The Return. In terms of TV, the office of crooked lawyer Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad is another famous example.

Mr. Todd uses an intercom to call Roger (Joe Adler) into his office. When Roger dutifully arrives, Mr. Todd hands him two wads of cash.

“Tell her she has the job,” he says. The ‘her’ in this sentence seems most likely to be a woman named Lorraine (Tammie Baird) who we will meet briefly in Parts 5 and 6. Lorraine in turn employs a group of low-level mercenary types who are entrusted with taking out Dougie Jones in Part 3. As we will eventually see, they’re low-level for a reason. The passing of cash in this scene helps us understand a) this is to be an untraceable transaction, off books and hush-hush and b) Lorraine is nearby, i.e. in Las Vegas (Ike ‘The Spike’ sure finds her fast enough…).

Roger is nervous, looking at the money and then back to Mr. Todd. He asks, “Why do you let him make you do these things?”

The emphasis lands squarely on the implications of “him”. Even at this stage, with very little to go on, viewers will safely assume the man being referred to is Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) – the chief antagonist of The Return. With this simple question a great amount is inferred. Mr. Todd’s position as middle management for Mr. C seems certainly not to be mutually beneficial. Mr. C is squeezing him, has something on him, or has already threatened repercussions or proved himself threatening in some way. The relationship, therefore, is a little like that between Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) and Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) in Blue Velvet. Mr. Todd is not an associate of Mr. C’s, but another victim. Todd as much as confirms this with his response.

“Roger, you better hope that you never get involved with someone like him. Never have someone like him in your life.”

Todd looks reflective and defeated. Roger, sensing that this is as far as his boss wants to go down this path, makes for a hasty exit. Mr. Todd pinches the bridge of his nose, tired, world-weary… and that’s all we get.

For now.


Next time:  Need vs want

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