Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) wasn’t the only victim of Leland/BOB (Ray Wise/Frank Silva) on that cold night in February of 1989. Though it was her body washed up on the bank of the river near the Martell homestead that brought the attention of the FBI, the shell-shocked visage of Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine) crossing the railway bridge having been beaten and abused remains one of the many indelible images from the Twin Peaks pilot.
Ronette’s plight was always secondary to Laura’s – Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and the show really only needed one cause – but her arc in the show is not insignificant. Through her distressed state we got a flavour of the horrors that occurred that night; a living reminder of the evils outside the edges of the frame. Look beyond damned fine coffee and cherry pie and the world of Twin Peaks is and was a scary place. The last time we saw her (chronologically), in the season two finale, she was still suffering from the memories of her experiences.
Fire Walk With Me gave Ronette backstory; filled in blanks; placed her association with Laura and her divine method of escape that night in greater context. Ronette received clemency from an angel. A second chance. Laura wouldn’t receive the same until after her death.
Returning down the ladder from his encounters on the fringes of space, Agent Cooper discovers that it is not only the outside of the Fortress that is open to significant structural reconfiguration.
Though it appears similar to the crimson room in which he first encountered Naido (Nae Yuuki), it is not the same room. It is differently lit. There is a warmer glow than previously. The fuse box on the wall is a different number; it is now box number 3.
In numerology, 3s are associated with luck; can we call what happened to Cooper here lucky? We can assume that, by pulling the lever, Naido has altered the interior dynamics of the Fortress in an effort to help Cooper to escape from the sinister pounding entity.
Cooper approaches the sofa where a woman is sitting. From behind she might be Naido, safe and sound (dark hair, similar dress), but when she turns it becomes clear that this is somebody new… or somebody old.
The character before Cooper now is credited as ‘American Girl’ and is played by Phoebe Augustine… who played Ronette Pulaski. Unlike Naido, she is able to speak and is not disfigured.
Augustine’s appearance here is curious. She is pointedly not portraying Ronette Pulaski. Or, at least, not the Ronette we knew. Two possibilities spring to mind.
- In the intervening 25+ years, at some point, Ronette died. Following her close encounter with the beings from the otherworldly dimensions of Twin Peaks, she has wound up, similar to Laura, intrinsically tied to these realms in the afterlife. Ronette has become the more anonymous ‘American Girl’. There’s power in names. If she’s a prisoner similar to Naido, then Mr. C/BOB may have removed her name from her. She doesn’t know who she was in her former life.
- Augustine was simply cast as a nod from Mark Frost and David Lynch. Though there’s no place in the overarching plot of The Return for Ronette Pulaski, they wanted to keep another of their company within the fold and thus Augustine became the ‘American Girl’.
Personally, I feel like possibility #2 is the more likely one. Still, there’s no harm in indulging possibility #1, aside from how it continues to protract the suffering of a character who has, frankly, been through enough.
The American Girl looks at her digital watch (so time is measurable here…) which shows the time as 2:52. In Part 2, The Arm told Cooper the significance of 253, which is one minute away. Less, in fact. As the American Girl looks at the watch it flicks to 2:53.
On cue, the fuse box on the wall starts to make the same low yodelling sound that the one in the previous room made. Cooper turns to it. There is a slowly rising, oscillating sound and crackling coming from the ‘speaker’ set in the middle of the box.
We abruptly cut away from Cooper and the former Ms Ronette Pulaski…
Next time: Transitions