Twin Peaks: How the Insurance Man explains everything, maybe
I cherish how much Twin Peaks confuses me. Not just the plot, not just the overarching mythology: I love how individual sequences seem designed to puzzle. Sometimes key moments are built from throwaway bits of long-ago plot. Sometimes scenes seem purposefully obtuse, requiring clarity from a scene that won't happen until many hours later.
The Showtime revival has mysteries, and we could have guessed that. After all, the original series built one burning question into an inferno-sized existential inquisition: From "Who killed Laura Palmer?" to "What's wrong with this town?" So, of course, the revival's two-hour premiere back in May launched a fusillade of enigma missiles. There was one dead body that was actually two dead bodies, and there was a glass box playing host to at least two different species of supernatural traveler, and there was a charred man evaporating in a prison cell, and there was Balthazar Getty flirting with bullet-fingers.
Co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost love big questions with impossible answers, so the show has trended macro all summer. Last month, there was an episode about the birth of the Atomic Age, or the birth of evil, or the birth of David Lynch's creative spark. (Local Twin Peaks scholar Jeff Jensen has put forward the possibility that episode 8 is about Elvis.)
But the joy of the series isn't just the mystery. It's the frustrating impossibility of knowing what is a mystery, and what isn't. Characters introduced for no apparent purpose become important several episodes later. Other characters who seem like they should be important have barely appeared. (Where's Audrey? Oh, there‘s Audrey, talking about Billy and Angela and Paul and Chuck.) There are long scenes with nothing obvious happening, filmed so meticulously that you feel the burning need to speculate madly. An old man spraypaints his shovels gold: Is he burying something? A young woman stares into the sky, her face a symphony of druggy ecstasy: Is she the next Laura Palmer? A dude spends two minutes sweeping the floor of an empty bar: Um, metaphor?
RELATED: Hear the latest from EW's Twin Peaks podcast <iframe src="https://art19.com/shows/e744e1c0-95b7-4c13-a6b0-30d09dab7a32/embed?playlist_type=latest" scrolling="no" width="100%" height="460" frameborder="0" class="" allowfullscreen="" resize="0" replace_attributes="1" name=""></iframe>
What fun! Most TV dramas now have trended epic, fantastical, a series of punctuated big events. And so it seems to me that this season of Twin Peaks is recoding any perception of what is and isn't important, what constitutes eventful. And you notice this more when you rewatch previous episodes, with some vaguely firm idea of where things are going. Even the smallest, most throwaway moment becomes imbued with tremendous power.
Which brings me to someone who is either the least important or most important character in this whole season. Let's call him the Insurance Man.
That's not his real name, of course. The end credits call him "Man in Suit." The actor is Allen Galli, one of the least famous (but most memorable) faces to appear in the sprawling ensemble. You might not even remember him. He appears in the sixth scene of the premiere, and you'd be forgiven if you forgot he even existed. The other scenes in the premiere were weighted with weird significance: Agent Cooper and various supernatural entities, Dark Cooper and his weird crimes, skullduggery in Buckhorn, and exploding skulls in New York.
Compared to all that, what happens in this scene seems hilariously minor. Eternal receptionist Lucy sits at her desk. A man walks in. "Hello, I'd like to see Sheriff Truman," he says.
"Which one?" she asks. And when the man doesn't respond, she says again, "Which one?"
"Sheriff Truman isn't here?" the man says, answering a question with a question.
"Well, do you know which one?" Lucy says. "It could make a difference."
"Uh, no, ma'am," says the man. He looks confused…and scared?
"One is sick, and the other one is fishing," Lucy explains.
"Uh…" the man says. Literally, out loud, a comic-book expression of befuddlement.
"It could make a difference," Lucy says again.
The man finally seems to settle on a key subject: "It's about insurance."
Lucy looks at the man. Her expression is blank, or maybe it's searching; it's hard to tell with Lucy. "I'm not sure I'll be able to help you," she says, that last word singing upward like she's asking a question or pausing mid-thought.
"I'd like to see Sheriff Truman," the Insurance Man says again.
Lucy stares at him again, perplexed, sensing something wrong.
"I'll leave my card, and call in another day," says the Insurance Man.
He hands over his business card. "Thank you," says Lucy, "I'll keep the card, but unless…"
She doesn't finish her sentence because she's talking to no one. The Insurance Man has backed away, like the business card is a grenade he just pulled the pin out of. If you listen closely, he seems to audibly gulp before his quick exit.
"What the heck just happened?" is a common response to a scene on Twin Peaks. The Insurance Man scene leads into the reboot debut of Mr. C, the dark doppelgänger of Agent Cooper, driving through a dark wood to a strange house full of strange people and the scent of supernatural skullduggery. Other things that happen in the two-hour premiere: A monster explodes two people's brains mid-coitus; Dale Cooper meets Laura Palmer and a talking tree. So it has been easy to assume the Insurance Man was an easy narrative device, a way to reintroduce a familiar setting. "Here," Lynch and Frost could be saying, "Is the good ol' Twin Peaks Sheriff's Department, and here is good ol' Lucy, and here is a typically bizarre way to introduce the fact that there's a new Sheriff Truman in town."
But what a reintroduction! Look at this establishing shot:
There's a strangeness in this image, rooted in Twin Peaks history and perhaps suggestive of the new visual tactics that director Lynch has learned in the two-and-a-half decades since Peaks went off the air. Just for comparison, here is a fairly typical establishing shot of the Sheriff's Department from the middle of the show's second season:
Actually, this re-establishing shot of the building has just as much in common with another shot from the middle of the second season: A moment of tantalizing supernatural horror, set deep in the mysterious woods around Twin Peaks.
Doesn't this "re-establishing" shot suggest a blending of those two images – as if whatever monstrous force lingers in the woods has moved closer over the decades, a weird light shining right outside Sheriff Truman's window? I think the strangeness of the establishing shot is a hint, a sign that the most normal and seemingly purposeless moments in the story contain mysteries within mysteries.
So take a closer look at this strange Insurance Man. He asks Lucy for Sheriff Truman but seems completely undone by her questions. His facial reactions seem wildly out of line with the information passing between them. He comes in with a big confident smile, and then looks a bit scared:
The amount of times he repeats the phrase "Sheriff Truman" makes you think he's been coached; the fact that he doesn't know Sheriff Truman's name throws his supposed purpose out the window: What insurance salesman wouldn't know the potential mark's first name?
Lucy tries to explain the situation to him more – there are two Sheriff Trumans, we will learn: Harry and Frank. But this seems to add further confusion. Seriously, look at this guy! He has the face of a man hearing bad news from a doctor, practically flop-sweating.
When he says "it's about insurance," it sounds like something he's making up on the spot. Not "I'm here to sell him insurance," not "I'm an insurance salesman."
I argue that the "insurance" line is a tell, but before we theorize, let's analyze. Here is a man who walks confidently into the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Department believing he knows exactly what to say. He is immediately confused, even frightened, by a revelation: The man he is looking for is actually two men.
Is this an oddly helpful, buried explication of the journey we are about to take through the season? Even the most casual Twin Peaks viewer assumed going into this revived series that we were rejoining the story of Agent Dale Cooper, noble FBI truthseeker and defender of the good heart beating within the carcinogenic ruin that once was America. And like the Insurance Man, we received some strange news: There are two Dale Coopers. "One is sick," Lucy says, and isn't that an accurate description of what our Dale Cooper will become, trapped in Las Vegas with amnesia, in a life that doesn't properly belong to him? "One is fishing," Lucy says, and isn't that a vague-but-purposeful description of the dark Agent Cooper, an antichristal fisher of people catching a whole country of characters in his net?
Perhaps it sounds like I am fishing, too, and surely there will come a wonderful reckoning after this season is over, when a summer of fan theories meets whatever curious (and almost certainly ambiguous) final act that Frost and Lynch have conceived for us. But one thing keeps drawing me back to this scene. "Man in Suit" says, "It's about insurance."
Where has Dougie spent the vast majority of this season, working tirelessly in pursuit of a certain kind of justice? The Lucky 7 Insurance Agency.
There has been much talk among eagle-eyed viewers about the timelines of this season, and in recent episodes there's been explicit clarity that Dougie/Cooper's adventures in Las Vegas are taking place sometime previous to the events in Twin Peaks.
It seems possible, then, that this scene with the Insurance Man – one of the first scenes of the show! – is actually taking place somewhere in the middle of the story. And that the Insurance Man has walked into the Sheriff's Department at the behest (or command) of another character: Someone who could not show their face inside of a law enforcement office, for fear of capture or worse.
Subscribe to A Twin Peaks Podcast: A Podcast About Twin Peaks – on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts – to unwrap the mysteries in EW's after-show every Monday during the Showtime revival.
Who could that be? Who would want to speak to Sheriff Truman – but wouldn't think to clarify that he had to speak with Harry Truman? It would have to be someone who doesn't know there are two Trumans. And this same someone would need to hide in a car outside of the Sheriff's Department – perhaps bribing Mr. "Man in Suit," perhaps even holding him hostage. This person would say, "Walk in there and ask to see Sheriff Truman. Deliver him this message, and only him." A simple request that would run right into the Great Wall of Lucy, and her curious explanation that Sheriff Truman has split asunder.
Doesn't this explain the Insurance Man's strange reactions – his fear, his anxiety, that way he gulps as he backs quickly out of the door? I propose to you that we will see this scene from another angle, sometime in these final six episodes. The Insurance Man will run outside and explain that there seem to be two Sheriff Trumans. (Sheriff Trumen?)
This would be confusing to anyone. But it won't be confusing to the man in the car. Because I'll bet one cup of coffee that man will be Agent Dale Cooper, the knight errant returned to Twin Peaks. He's on the run from the law (who believe he is his dark murderous doppelgänger.) And that business card that the Insurance Man leaves for Lucy?
I predict we'll see it again soon. And this time, we'll finally see the name on that card, an artifact from another life (and another man with Cooper's face).
The card will say "Douglas Jones, Insurance Agent."
With any luck, Sheriff Frank Truman will call him. Soon.