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Twin Peaks 2017: The Phantom of Phillip Jeffries

by James Giles 5 years ago in tv / review
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Haunting the show's mythology since Fire Walk With Me, Jeffries continues to be a potent unseen presence in The Return.

Between Two Worlds

Although it's the story of Laura Palmer first and foremost, Fire Walk With Me's show is arguably stolen by the disturbing first (and so far only) appearance of FBI Special Agent Phillip Jeffries. Played by legendary pop-culture icon David Bowie, Jeffries appears from thin air at the FBI headquarters, only moments after Coop tells Cole he's concerned about this day because of a dream he had. Coop leaves to check the security monitors, as Jeffries materialises from an elevator, seemingly pausing time as he does; he enters Cole's office where Albert, Gordon and Coop look on stunned as Jeffries goes on a bizarre, no-sequiter leaden rant, making many reference to a woman named Judy. The lines between worlds blur as static crackles and Jeffries' words become images; above the convenience store BOB and The Man From Another Place have cryptic, cackling exchanges across a dinner table as a white masked, red suited imp jumps shrieking around them, while two woodsmen, Mrs. Tremond and her grandson look on impassively - the nightmare ends with a close up of a monkey howling in the darkness. Before they have a chance to question him, Jeffries disappears back into the ether, gone as quickly as he arrived. The cacophonous sound effects, sinister imagery and Jeffries' manic narration combine here to create one of Twin Peaks most terrifying and unforgettable moments.

An absurd amount of questions are left in his wake - who is Judy and why can't we talk about her? Why does Jeffries question 'Who do you think that is, there?' while pointing at Cooper? Where did Jeffries come from and where has he been for two years? And most importantly, just who is Phillip Jeffries and what is his relevance to Twin Peaks' story? In one 15 minute scene, Lynch was able to expand the scope of Peaks' otherworldly happenings and create as much intrigue in their significance as the TV series did in two seasons and 30 episodes. It was a savvy move in way - he understood that Twin Peaks' core fans loved diving down that rabbit hole of unknown, and they way to keep the franchise alive was to keep them guessing. Unfortunately, Fire Walk With Me did not resonate with a broader audience, who stayed away in droves, nor critics who poured scorn in their reviews, and plans for further Twin Peaks films were shelved. Perversely this served the enigma of Jeffries well, as the longer the questions remained unanswered, the more his status as Peaks paragon of mystery grew.

Around The Dinner Table, The Conversation Is Lively

Now that Twin Peaks is alive and well again, gradually revived through The Missing Pieces, The Secret History and of course The Return, Jeffries has returned as significant presence in all three, and some of the above questions can begin to be answered. Documents presented as part of The Secret History's dossier fill in some early detail on Jeffries and immediately connect him to Gordon Cole; in 1968 Jeffries attended the FBI Training Academy in Quantico alongside Cole and they graduated as the top two agents, subsequently becoming partners. After Project Bluebook was shut down by the Government in 1969, a new joint Military/FBI task force, later known by code name 'Blue Rose', was set up to continue its work; at the recommendation of Gordon Cole, Phillip Jeffries would lead this team. There are several other references to their work together, notably an account of them visiting Twin Peaks in 1983; ostensibly there to investigate the secretive construction of a new military facility (Major Briggs deep space monitoring post), at the behest of concerned residents, their subsequent report was actually part of a cover story to keep prying eyes away from it.

This developing of an early connection between Cole & Jeffries is interesting in the context of how David Lynch handles certain male relationships; in Twin Peaks we frequently see two men, similar in characteristics, that start out as friends but hit a divergent point in their lives that sends them on down opposite paths. Big Ed and Hank were friends and counter parts in the Bookhouse Boys, before their vying for Norma and Hank's descent in to criminality sent them opposing ways; Windom Earle befriended Dale Cooper and partnered with him in the FBI, their brilliant minds virtually equal, but their shared love of Caroline and Earle's pursuit of dark power drove them into direct conflict. Maybe Cole and Jeffries are two men more similar than we realise, and at some point their paths split in conflicting directions? And could 'Judy' be something to do with it? There still plenty more to be revealed about both men, so only time will tell on that one...

We're not gonna talk about Judy...

In 1987, four years after he and Cole visited Twin Peaks, The Missing Pieces shows Jeffries arriving at a hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina, presumably on a Blue Rose investigation. He enquires whether Miss Judy is staying there and the receptionist hands him a note that she left. A porter leads Jeffries to his room and on the way Jeffries vanishes into thin air. Two years later, he reappears from an elevator in the FBI headquarters and has his bizarre encounter will Cole, Cooper and Albert; thanks to the extended cut of this scene from The Missing Piece's (which are considered canon, and essential viewing by Lynch) we get a bit more info from Jeffries' speech. As Cole shouts that he's been missing for two years, Jeffries says he attended 'one of their meetings, above a convenience store'; he doesn't respond directly to Gordon's questioning but when Albert ask who's meeting, Jeffries becomes distant and replies, 'It was a dream...we live inside a dream'.

When Albert responds with some sarcastic comment, Jeffries snaps out of it and says he was 'in Seattle, at Judy's' and, '...there they were...they sat quietly for hours...I followed...', before breaking down in tears and then mumbling, 'the ring...the ring...' Gordon tries to calm the situation but the lights begin flickering wildly; he attempts to call for help on the intercom, saying, 'MAYDAY. MAYDAY' (the same as Briggs last archive entry) but the device has gone faulty with the other electrical's. Cole's bellowing triggers Jeffries to check the date and realise it's 1989; when Cole turns back to check on him, Jeffries has disappeared again, - 'He's gone. He's gone'. A distressing close up of BOB's face laughing in the dark is briefly seen, before it cuts back to Buenos Aires; Jeffries reappears in a flash of fire and smoke on the same staircase he'd vanished from, seemingly in agony and terrifying some hotel staff. It's the last known time that Jeffries has been seen in the flesh.

This is Phillip Jeffries isn't it?

The next time Jeffries is referenced again it's 25 years after the events of the season two finale, when we catch up to Cooper's evil doppelganger, Mr C, in South Dakota. Shortly after dispatching Darya, one of a pair of hit-men sent to kill him, Mr C places a 'phone call' on some strange computerised device:

Mr C - "Phillip?" Jeffries - "You're late."Mr C - "Couldn't be helped."Jeffries - "I missed you in New York, but I see you're still in Buckhorn."Mr C - "And you're still nowhere, is that correct?" Jeffries - "You met with Major Garland Briggs."Mr C - "How did you know that? Phillip?"Jeffries - "Actually, I just called to say good-bye."Mr C - "This is Phillip Jeffries, right?"Jeffries - "You're going back in tomorrow, and I will be with Bob again."Mr C - "Who is this?"
Twin Peaks: The Return - Part 2

Immediately the seeds of confusion are sown; the voice seemingly refuses to confirm that they are Jeffries, despite being asked several times, and they never directly reply to the name. They do reference New York, likely referring to The Box, a project that's clearly been in place sometime and it's later confirmed Mr C has visited; whilst in prison later, Mr C also says he been working undercover with Jeffries for the past 25 years. The connectivity between Cooper and Jeffries at this point, when viewed in the light of Fire Walk With Me, becomes very intriguing; it's strongly suggested that Coop had a dream vision of the day Jeffries appeared at the FBI, yet at the same time Jeffries questioning of Cooper - "who do you think that is, there?" - implies Jeffries was somehow aware of Coop's doppelganger, and his fate in The Red Room.

Is it possible that Jeffries has had a similar experience to Cooper at some point? That the Jeffries we hear on the phone is in fact his own doppelganger, and both his and Coop's doubles have been playing some twisted version of the Blue Rose task force investigations, but using their knowledge of it to gain more and more dark power? Have the Black Lodge forces realised that this group of agents would make the perfect conduits for their thirst for garmonbozia?

A further suggestion of Jeffries presence comes during Mr C's all-too brief stay in prison; when Mr C get's his phone call, he sends the coded message, 'The cow jumped over the moon', before hanging up, and the next shot takes us directly to Buenos Aires, the last place Jeffries was ever seen. A poorly lit room is seen with no occupant, but a wooden table, on which there is bowl containing a small 'black box' like electronic device; diodes blink twice before is transmutes into an even smaller round object. Perhaps the creative solution to a lack of David Bowie physically could be that Jeffries has transcended physical form and has become pure energy in our world. What form he would take in other dimensions is another question altogether. But the next time we hear about Jeffries could well support that thought.

The cow jumped over the moon.

When Mr C catches up with Ray at The Farm, more about Jeffries is revealed. After tormenting, brutalising and then finally murdering Ray's gang leader, Mr C has the upper hand on him and extracts what info he can from Ray:

Mr C - "Somebody hired you to kill me. Who is it? [scoffs] I can make you tell me."Ray - "I know it. It came through a man named Phillip Jeffries. At least that's the name he gives. I never met him. I only talked to him on the phone."Mr C - "Keep talking."Ray - "He set the whole prison thing up with Warden Murphy. Jeffries says you were gonna kill me. He said I could get out and stay out if I killed you first."Mr C - "Why?"Ray - "He said that you got something inside that they want."

Ray seems to confirm Jeffries lack of physical form, saying he only ever spoke to him over the phone; he also states Mr C has something inside of him they want, suggesting Jeffries is working with a collective of some kind, possibly other entities in the Black Lodge. As the conversation goes on, Ray reveals his possession of a familiar artefact:

Ray - "I got to show you something." [breathing heavily] "Jeffries said I was supposed to put this on you after I killed you." (Ray produces the Owl Ring from his pocket)Mr C - "Where did you get that?"Ray - "It was given to me right before I walked out of my cell and saw you."

This would suggest that Jeffries has an influence within the Lodges, specifically the Red Room; the last we saw of the ring, MIKE placed it back on the pedestal after it returned with Dougie, so it was presumably retrieved in the interim. When it disappears from Ray's finger, we once again see MIKE pick it up and return to it's stand. The last part of Mr C's interrogation seems to confirm Jeffries' ethereal nature:

Mr C - "Ray, where is Phillip Jeffries?"Ray - "I don't know."Mr C - "Ray, where's Phillip Jeffries?"Ray - "Last I heard, he was at a place called The Dutchman's, but it's not a real place."Mr C - "I know what it is."(shoots Ray in the head, killing him)

That Ray heard Jeffries was somewhere he doesn't believe is a real place, but Mr C immediately knows of suggests the Dutchman is probably another dimension, or at least an access point to one. It's worth noting that Mr C never stops referring to the character as Jeffries; it seem clear Coop's doppelganger has good reason to believe its him.

All the evidence so far points to Jeffries' not having a conventional physical appearance in the show, in all likelihood due to the death of David Bowie. But for me, that far from means Jeffries' character is not what it seems; the connections between him and Cooper, while a way off from being clear, seem too strong when looked at all together. Fire Walk With Me planted many narrative seeds that have come to fruition in The Return, Laura's dream of Annie for example, and Cooper & Jeffries relationship (as well as Cole & Jeffries) has threads that have remained unravelled for so long it seems like now is the perfect time for them to come together.

And why should Bowie's passing be any limiter on Jeffries' role - we've seen with both Major Briggs and BOB, played actors Don S Davis and Frank Silva who passed away in 2008 and 1995 respectively, characters can still have a major purpose and impact on the story-line without physically appearing; the ingenious use of photographs, stock footage and digital effects, and thoughtful scripting has enabled them to feel present. I personally hope that 'Jeffries' is indeed the man himself, and he's not just a mask for another player; it would be a disappointing end for a figure that has provided the series with some of it's most enduring mysteries.

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About the author

James Giles

Writer, confessed geek and pop culture enthusiast, loves film, TV and video games. Blogged and written for various websites on all the above.

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