Kyle MacLachlan has always possessed a wonderful screen presence. His face is a wonder of God’s creation – perfect bone structure, framed by that mane of flowing, dark hair, with warm, soft eyes that always convey a sense of compassion. His earliest roles came courtesy of David Lynch, who cast the then complete unknown in his Dune (’84) adaptation as Paul Atreides, son of a slain Baron and leader of desert warriors against a tyrannical emperor. Then came Jeffrey Beaumont in Lynch’s Blue Velvet (’86), a veritable lone Hardy Boy investigating the cruel life of lounge singer Dorothy Valens (Isabella Rossellini) and her vicious keeper, Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). Blue Velvet was the perfect utilization of MacLachlan’s boyish charm, as it gave way to a sexual curiosity that lead him down the darkest alleys of his seemingly idyllic hometown.
MacLachlan’s stiff, affected delivery was perfect for Lynch’s preferred performance style. Just as the auteur is intoxicated by the poppy artifice of Americana, he molds many of his characters so that they almost seem unreal and exaggerated until the sun goes down. Then their true faces and motivations are revealed. The best example of this in MacLachlan’s work with Lynch is Jeffrey, who presents himself as a Boy Scout to his parents, grandparents, and community leaders, but then hides in Dorothy’s closet after breaking into her home, and proceeds to watch her undress. The affectation acts as a guard, and once its let down, Lynch’s performers allow their vulnerability to consume them.
The creative partnership between Lynch and MacLachlan peaked with Agent Dale Cooper on the ABC murder mystery soap, Twin Peaks (‘90 – ‘91). Over the course of two seasons, MacLachlan became the perfect avatar for the FBI, his slicked hair and simple black suit announcing Dale’s dignity whenever he entered a room. Cooper arrived in Twin Peaks to investigate the death of prom queen Laura Palmer, and was willing to let the strange forces of this sleepy Washington municipality suck him in, as the agent discovers that many of the area’s mysteries may be completely unsolvable. When Lynch left the series after ABC forced he and Mark Frost to reveal the identity of Laura’s killer midway through the Second Season, MacLachlan was devastated, to the point that he essentially relegated Cooper’s role to a cameo in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (’92). The two wouldn’t work together again for twenty-five years.
When The Return was announced and MacLachlan’s involvement confirmed, it was fascinating to watch the duo’s reunion. Like a power couple who split and then decide to show up at a party together, all eyes were on Dale Cooper and Gordon Cole (Lynch’s FBI Director alter ego). But beyond that collaborative flame being reignited, there were still grand questions that’d been left unanswered at the close of Season Two. Was Dale Cooper still in the Black Lodge after all these years? And if so, was BOB (Frank Silva) now in the world, wreaking havoc and destroying the very fabric of Twin Peaks’ goodness?
The answers, as we probably should’ve guessed, weren’t going to be so simple. Yet what we definitely couldn’t have known was that Kyle MacLachlan’s essentially playing three separate roles throughout the eighteen-part magnum opus David Lynch and Mark Frost designed. In the First Part of The Return, Cooper is still in the Lodge, and a nefarious doppelganger (known as Mr. C) has been setting himself up as a master criminal across the United States for the past two and a half decades. To go along with that dark enterprising spirit, its revealed throughout the course of The Return that Mr. C has also been emotionally destroying and creating doubles for characters like Diane (other consummate Lynch/MacLachlan collaborator, Laura Dern), who discloses the true extent of Mr. C’s diabolical evil in Part 16.
Then there’s Dougie Jones, who’s been a point of contention for many of the show’s fans. After Cooper is briefly released from the Black Lodge, he becomes trapped inside the schlubby form of a New Mexico insurance agent, whose appetites for hookers and gambling are legendary amongst his peers. By all accounts, Dougie is a shitty husband to his beautiful wife, Janey-E (Naomi Watts), and absentee father to his cute kid, Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon). But once Cooper invades his body, it shrinks down to the FBI man’s fit form (his ugly lime sport coat and Size 44 pants hanging on Cooper like a rack) and completely robs Dougie of his consciousness (as the actual Mr. Jones is transported to the Black Lodge). Now the husband, father and insurance employee is a drooling half-wit, having to be shuffled around by everyone surrounding him, as he becomes strangely attracted to pieces of Coop’s previous existence (coffee is everything now to Dougie). For a while there, it seemed like we’d never see the old Cooper again, even as his cognizance started to peek out from behind the doof’s orbs.
Many viewers began to get frustrated with Dougie, complaining that they wanted their Coop back, but what they were missing was some of the best comedic acting of the last decade. MacLachlan is hilarious, allowing his young son to improperly dress him, before chugging hot joe and spitting it out when the black liquid burns the roof of his mouth. MacLachlan is clearly having a ball with his own personal Mr. Hulot, discovering the world around him like a child, and reacting to it with bizarre wonder. He even gets to experience sex with Janey-E, as she can’t help but get turned on by her husband’s new body (which somehow shrank and toned out of nowhere). Dougie even becomes an unknowing hero at work – exposing a fraudulent colleague (Tom Sizemore), and makes friends with casino gangsters, the Mitchum Brothers (Jim Belushi and Robert Knepper), who operate as the invalid insurance man’s patron saints after he wins them back millions of dollars in claims money by scribbling haphazardly on a form. The whole thing is utterly ridiculous, but totally works because MacLachlan treats Dougie as his own character – full of complex, beautiful emotions that slip out when no one is looking.
At the same time, MacLachlan’s turn as Mr. C is equally impressive, mostly in how it’s a complete 180 from the jokey goofiness he’s putting in as Dougie. Sporting a long black mane of hair and a bronzed tan (this writer almost thought he was doing some sort of problematic Native American brownface at first), Mr. C speaks in monosyllabic bursts and challenges thugs to arm wrestling matches. He commands a duo of hick assassins (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tim Roth) with an iron fist, and destroys nearly everything that comes in his path. As diverting as MacLachlan is as Dougie, he’s doubly ferocious as Mr. C, surviving car crashes and leading his evil “son” Richard out into the middle of nowhere to disintegrate him. MacLachlan is having a different sort of fun here, digging into the villain and delivering this new Twin Peaks a big bad worthy of its sprawling nature.
But then Part 16 delivered the greatest dream of all: the return of Agent Cooper. Awakening from his coma and discussing his next moves with Mike, the Eagle Scout cadence and tenor were right back in MacLachlan’s voice, as if they’d never left over the last twenty-five years. Seeing him diligently chart his course back to Twin Peaks (with the help of the Mitchum Brothers, who are totally impressed with Dougie’s new sense of diction) was a delight for viewers who’ve been eagerly awaiting this moment. And when Dougie’s boss asks Cooper, just as he’s exiting the hospital room, “what about the FBI?” MacLachlan turns and delivers a line that will forever live in the hearts of everyone who’ve cherished this gift Lynch and Frost have delivered: “I am the FBI.”
Kyle MacLachlan has always been a wonderful screen talent, but with The Return, he’s become a genuine miracle worker, picking this seemingly impossible endeavor up and placing it on his broad, handsome shoulders. To juggle these three characters and keep them separate while still soulfully connected is quite the task, and to see him pull it off over the last sixteen hours has been remarkable and thrilling. There will probably be no rewards in it for MacLachlan, no golden statutes to place on his mantle. But we should recognize that his acting is one of the most enchanting elements in a piece that’ll go down as one of the greatest events in filmed history. Thumbs up, Mr. MacLachlan. You are our hero.