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In a series full of open-ended mysteries and narrative cul-de-sacs, maybe none was more contentious among Twin Peaks viewers than the story of Audrey Horne in The Return. Detached from the main cast, her scenes were full of confounding dialogue about characters we never saw, and she seemed in an emotional state that was hard for fans to swallow: angry, fragile, scared and possibly unstable. She never interacted with her on-screen family, including her son Richard, and there was no mention of John Justice Wheeler (YMMV on whether that's a good or bad thing), her love as of the end of Season 2. Most shocking was her final scene in Part 16, which seemed to cast serious doubt on the nature of her existence in new world of Twin Peaks.
I've struggled myself to draw meaning directly from what we saw and heard of Audrey in The Return, and it took me annoyingly long to realise that itself was part of the problem. As with much of what we experience in The Return, what the character was in the original, and what they meant to the narrative then, is as important to understanding where they are now—The Past Dictates The Future, after all. So let's start at the beginning...
Isn't it too dreamy...?
Sherilyn Fenn: "I don’t know if you know this but Audrey wasn’t in the pilot, and when he (David Lynch) met me, he decided to write this role of Audrey. So that was a very cool thing."
I News Interview, by Nick Mitchell, Sept 2017
Whatever you feel about the veracity of Fenn's above statement (Frost says that the character was there from the off, but didn't become fully formed until Fenn came aboard), it's hard to deny that the Audrey and Sherilyn are inextricably linked, and that Audrey wouldn't have developed quite the way she did without Fenn in the role.
From her first moment on screen, when the restless, attention-seeking young Horne uses her feminine wiles to spectacularly destroy a business deal of her father's, Audrey arrives fully formed. We immediately get the sense of a developing woman trapped in the role of bored rich girl, confined by her small-town setting, eager to grow up and forge her own way in the world. She is learning, one volatile situation at a time, how to get what she wants, whilst simultaneously figuring out exactly what that is. She isn't moved in the same way as the rest of Twin Peaks by Laura's death; she loved Laura for how she took care of Johnny, and hated her for how Ben seemed to love Laura more like his daughter, but for Audrey it is an event that is largely happening for other people.
That is until Agent Dale Cooper shows up to investigate:
Sherilyn Fenn: "Audrey was like every teenage girl, completely obsessed with her own life. She was a loner and did what she wanted to do. It was like, "Ugh, can I graduate yet?" With eyes on the future - in walks tall dark and handsome future. (laughs). Like everybody, at the core of what everyone wants is love, and she decided the special agent was it."
Reflections, by Brad Dukes (2014)
The chemistry between Fenn and MacLachlan, apparent from their first scene where Audrey introduces herself to Cooper over breakfast at the Great Northern, is magnetically charged, the dialogue is loaded with sexual innuendo—"...just as long as those grapefruits...are freshly squeezed", "...do your palms ever itch?" Their dynamic—Audrey appears aloof but uses displays vulnerability and sexuality to prod at Dale's defenses, while the case-focused Coop graciously and sensitively deflects—is established brilliantly, and proved massively enjoyable to watch.
Their interactions were an immediate hit, and the writers seized on Audrey's popularity, giving her a significant story-line in which she attempts to infiltrate the sex-worker ring being run through Horne's department store, hoping to learn more about Laura's demise and get closer to her Special Agent. This led to many memorable moments including the subversively filthy cherry-stem tying scene from Episode 6 (later humorously parodied in 90's mega-hit sitcom Friends), and her infamous dreamy dance at the Double R in Episode 2. Both of these in particular serve to illustrate the core characteristics of Audrey - the ingenue desperate to embrace the fullness of her sexuality; the girl who kicks the hornets nest; the independent spirit who literally and figuratively dances to her own rhythm. These scenes, along with her burgeoning relationship with Coop, did much to define who Audrey was, in the eyes of both the text and the audience.
By the time the first season had finished, Audrey was arguably the most popular character after Coop, riding a wave of adoration and acclaim that saw her appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine (among others) and be one of only three actors from the show nominated for an Emmy. Everything seemed set in place for the couple-to-be to take over the world together. But come the show's second season, things didn't exactly work out that way.
Real life writes the plot.
Harley Peyton (writer/producer, S1&2): "The major detriment for the storylines in that second season was the big switch after Kyle refused to do a love story between Agent Cooper and Audrey Horne. That was something we had been planning...it was something that everybody wanted to see. Kyle had very specific objections: he thought his character would never do that, he thought she was too young."
Reflections, by Brad Dukes (2014)
Sherilyn Fenn: "David (Lynch) and I had dinner. He said, "Sherilyn Fenn, are you in love with Kyle?", and I said, "God no, David!...But Audrey loves him. The characters work"...And that was the truth. They made a big fucking mistake. Because of that, the show got fucked up...Then they brought in Heather Graham who was years younger than me, which made it even funnier."
Reflections, by Brad Dukes (2014)
Things seemed to be going as planned at the start of season two; the main plot continued to expand and deepen the mystery of Laura Palmer and her murder, and Cooper and Audrey seemed on the course to romance. Finding herself in a perilous situation after getting way in over her head at One Eyed Jack's, it was down to Dale to rescue her, and likely attempt to send her down a more straight and narrow path. But a multitude of problems behind-the-scenes would end up crushing Audrey's momentum and derailing the trajectory of the whole show.
The first major blow was the ABC executives pressuring Lynch, Frost, and the production team into revealing Laura's killer; barely halfway through the season, the supporting structure from which virtually every plot hung was pulled away. The decision was made with narrow-minded insight, with only a view on immediate ratings; worried by a restless audience, the ABC execs didn't realise how important the mystery was as a driving force behind the other subplots, and many of the main characters were left floundering with out it. The writers though did believe they had a killer follow up, at one point—they'd introduce Cooper's nemesis, Windom Earle, and fully realise the romance between Dale and Audrey, with the two plot undoubtedly intended for a collision course. But back-stage shenanigans would soon put the kibosh on that too.
Harley Peyton: "Mark said to me, "Look, we're going to have Kyle come up and we're going to draw the line and tell him he's got to do this. It's important to the show." So I remember that my office was right next to Mark's and the walls were very thin, but you can't hear through them. There was no yelling or stomping of feet so I thought, "This is great, this is all going to be cool, we're going to get it and move on". (laughs)
They came out afterwards and said, "Ah, we're not going to do it!" They drew a line for Kyle not to walk across and Kyle walked across it rather effortlessly, and that was that. So when that story went away, we had to scramble a little to find the spine for the second season. In some ways I think we were successful, in other ways less so."
Reflections, by Brad Dukes (2014)
There are plenty of versions of exactly what happened that led to the shit-canning of the Audrey/Cooper romance, but the only thing we know for sure is that Kyle Maclachlan had his objections, refused to do it, and the story line was dead. The resolution (of sorts) of Laura's murder and the axing of the Coop/Audrey plot caused Twin Peaks to suffer a serious identity crisis; the once assured, expertly plotted show seemed to no longer who it was or where it was going. Cooper, a man commited to his job and his case, was suddenly suspended from FBI and goofily dressing like the locals; Ben Horne had a breakdown that nonsensically saw him reenacting the American Civil War (in revisionist fashion, no less); James & Donna's story-line moved away from the town, despite everything driving their tale existing in, and of, Twin Peaks.
And Audrey herself felt particularly rudderless. She was a side character during Ben's meltdown, but little opportunity was taken to explore their relationship. She then moved, uncomfortably, into a replacement romance with newbie John Justice Wheeler. Despite a warm and charming performance from the ever-reliable Billy Zane, their chemistry never felt very believable and the whole affair was rushed. He seemed to have left almost as soon as he'd arrived, only to never be mentioned in Twin Peaks lore again. Poorly received by most fans, who hated the idea of her falling for someone else so quickly, JJW was a sad footnote to end the story of Audrey Horne. The finale of season two brought Audrey back to herself somewhat—it was oddly heartening her last act on screen was one of civil disobedience—but her apparent death was a bitter pill to swallow for many who were already upset by the way her narrative had gone. Unfortunately fans were going to have to wait 26 years to discover her eventual fate...
What Is, And What Could Never Be
Audrey: "What story is that, Charlie? Is is the story of the little girl who lived down the lane? Is it?"
Twin Peaks: The Return, Part 13
So what happened to Audrey during the off-stage years in the interim before The Return? Mark Frost's The Final Dossier reveals that Audrey survived the bank blast, but in a coma. She seemed to make a full recovery in short order, but just two months later she discovered she was pregnant, and everything changed. In truth to her independent spirit, Audrey decided to raise the child on her own; she dropped out of high-school but completed her education through home study, before going on to community college, where she gained a degree in business and economics; she use the skills learned to open her own hair & beauty salon, which she owned and operated for many years. She never discussed the fatherhood of the boy, but it's known Audrey kept a framed photo of Dale in the office at her salon. Her relationship with Ben finally disintegrated after he sold the treasured Ghostwood land to private investors, and they seemingly never spoke again; her mother Sylvia remained in her life as Richard's grandmother, but Audrey refused all offers of financial assistance from her.
She largely withdrew from town life, only interacting with customers of her salon and a few close friends. Then out of the blue, shortly after Richard's tenth birthday, Audrey married her accountant (assumed to be Charlie) in a private ceremony; rumors persisted that it was a marriage of financial convenience more than anything else, and what was seen of their relationship in public seemed troubled. She eventually closed her salon and withdrew from public life altogether; she seems to have battled with alcoholism and mental health issues, one rumor even suggesting she checked herself into a private care facility. Once the lively centre-of-attention, Audrey gradually drifted away from those connecting her to Twin Peaks reality, eventually moving into total seclusion.
These details, more than anything we actually learn in the show, lend credence to my view of what we are seeing in The Returna representation of Audrey's internal battle with herself, as she struggles with the fears and anxieties that both the text, and real life itself, have wrought upon her. Let's explore.
The Absent Presence of Dale Cooper
Sherilyn Fenn: "Audrey was so in love with Agent Dale Cooper. She is certain this is one; this is her prince; "We're going to take over the world together."
Reflections, by Brad Dukes (2014)
Maintaining. This is the state in which Audrey has spent her time since the end of season two. From what Frost tells us of her, she is still the same Audrey in many ways—smart, driven, fiercely forging her own path in life. She does what she needs to do to survive, with maybe even more determination since the birth of Richard. But her ambition seems diminished somehow, her plans smaller in scale than you'd have imagined. Audrey has struggled to define herself in the intervening years, going from single mother to atypical business ventures to a marriage of convenience. It's clear something is missing, and that something is Special Agent Dale Cooper. The indelible image of him is still present in her mind; the photo she keeps hanging in her office is indicative. But what is actually left of him in her life seems... wrong. Audrey must, on some level, have intuited that Richard is Coop's—perhaps she heard, either from Doc Hayward or Peak's gossipy grapevine, of Mr. C's visit that dreadful night in the hospital. Yet everything she has likely experienced of Richard, from that very moment of conception, is completely at odds with what she knows of Coop—how could this untamable miscreant be the son of such an earnest and decent man? Could Richard's temperament somehow be her fault, a twisted evolution of her rebellious and mischievous nature? And how must it make Audrey feel to know the one, tangible embodiment of her true love union is this nightmare child?
On a more meta level, Audrey's anxiety about her situation also stems from her awareness of the text having shifted her destiny; her fated romance with Coop, which once seemed written in the stars, must feel like all but a dream. Did the past even play out the way she remembers? If so, why is she where she is now? Why is her only reminder a child that bears no resemblance to the man she knew? And without the fulfillment of her destiny, how does she define herself now? Unmoored from what anchored her to the past, which must feel like a dream, and with a present reality she does not wish to accept, what state does that leave her in?
Audrey Horne: "I feel like I'm somewhere else. Have you ever had that feeling, Charlie? Like I'm somewhere else and somebody else. Have you ever felt that?"
Twin Peaks: The Return, Part 13
Without Cooper, Audrey's life has stagnated into a kind of purgatory; she remains fundamentally herself but without a sense of direction. Her narrative no longer has a drive, a defining point that it is moving towards; it's reached a dead-end. This idea of the narrative dead-end is thematically critical to Twin Peaks: The Return; very little of what we see in The Return actually follows on directly from season two, with many story-lines left unresolved, and the plot of The Return at times feels like one long blind alley. But I do not believe this stems from disinterest in those stories, or an attempt to frustrate, on the part of Frost & Lynch; on the contrary, I believe they are fascinated by the idea of what happens to a character once the object that drives their narrative is no longer present. And for Audrey Horne, that object is Dale Cooper. Yet Audrey is not the only character for whom this is the case...
Frost explores this idea more fully himself in The Final Dossier, through another character deeply affected by absence of Cooper: Annie Blackburn. Unlike Audrey, who had personality definition and narrative purpose before the presence of Cooper, Annie was created specifically to fill a role in Cooper's story—a love interest whose life could be staked on the season two finale. She is the mirror image of Cooper's first love Caroline and exists as a physical embodiment of his vulnerability; she is there so Earle can expose Cooper's self-sacrificing nature, in the process denying his self-determination, and allowing BOB to take control of it. Once her role has been fulfilled, the narrative discards her. Frost makes it clear how dependent on Cooper her existence was when we learn that since Annie left the Red Room, she doesn't speak, move or interact with anyone; she is alive (as the narrative left her) and seemingly at peace, but with literally nothing to do. Her one indicator of being in any way present is that once a year, on the anniversary of that fateful night, she says two words—"I'm fine"—and even those are a response to Cooper's last consideration of her ("How's Annie?") It's a thoughtful, and desperately sad, exploration of what happens when a character's fate, their purpose, hinges so full of the presence of another.
"It's like Ghostwood here..."
Subtext aside for moment, where do we find Audrey, in a literal sense, in The Return? The final shot we see of her (above), while not a huge amount to go on, does support the "local rumor" from The Final Dossier that Audrey checked herself into a private care facility. For the purposes of what Lynch wants to explore with the character, it's makes sense that we're getting a visual manifestation of her internal struggles, rather than a literal series of events she's involved in. Ever oblique, I think Lynch deliberately layers Audrey and Charlie's conversation with ostensibly tons of exposition, to challenge the view to look further past, to intuit what is being said between the lines. I don't actually doubt any of the people they discuss are real; they are probably some of the last people Audrey interacted with before entering care, hence why her waking dream-like scenarios are framed by dialogue and events involving them. Whether they're a reflection of something that's actually happened, or happening, I'm not quite sure.
Audrey: "Who am I supposed to trust but myself? And I don't even know who I am! So what the fuck am I supposed to do?!"
Twin Peaks: The Return, Part 13
In many ways, Audrey's story in The Return is one of Twin Peaks boldest character explorations; her anxieties and fears are laid bare in way that is direct, yet completely allusive at once. She is aware that her narrative has been displaced, that the shifting of her story away from her destined romance with Cooper has left her adrift; more than that, Audrey is so confused about where she finds herself now, that she has started to doubt the past even happened the way it did. Overwhelmed by an unconscious sense of being untethered, Audrey has retreated into her own head, a space now perhaps less safe than the "real" world of Twin Peaks.
Life is stranger than fiction.
David Lynch: "She is giving him the business."
Sherilyn Fenn: "Like I gave you the business" (laughs)
David Lynch: (laughs) "Exactly!"
Sherilyn Fenn: "I know where you wrote it from, you brat."
Impressions: A Journey Behind the Scenes of Twin Peaks
Charlie: "Now, are you gonna stop playing games, or do I have to end your story too?"
Twin Peaks: The Return, Part 13
With Audrey's scenes existing in an internal space, it also gives Lynch the chance to explore how he and Fenn feel about the character. We know from anecdotes that there was friction between them about Audrey's role; in an ironic twist on the Audrey/Coop situation from season two, Fenn was initially extremely unhappy with what had been written for Audrey, and threatened to leave the production unless something was done. It hasn't been confirmed exactly what Audrey's role was before the re-write, but the most persistent rumor is that Audrey was originally in her mother Sylvia's place and the one being assaulted by her son Richard. Lynch relented though, and with Mark Frost's blessing, extensively re-wrote Audrey's part into what we eventually saw on screen. But it wasn't only her story-line that Fenn raged about—in October 2016, Fenn hit out at the show's producers, in a series of tweets that suggested serious backstage friction; although neither Fenn herself or Showtime ever directly stated when the issue was, there was apparently accusations of sexism, stemming from none of the main female cast members being invited to do press. Knowing this now, it's impossible to think these situations didn't have some impact where we find Audrey in The Return.
Charlie: "What? You mean you'd go back on our contract? Renege on a contract?"
Twin Peaks: The Return, Part 12
In a funhouse-mirror image of season two's production, behind-the-scenes events would again have a direct impact on Audrey's narrative. The frustration that Fenn had about her place in the story, and the uncertainty Frost/Lynch seemingly had about her too, is written all over the dialogue, and the often hyper-tense mood of her scenes feel evocative of back-stage friction. These problems have also fed directly in Audrey's anxiety; already unsure what the text holds for her now, Audrey's existential crisis is compounded by her author's ambivalence. This meta nature of Audrey and Fenn's story is most apparent for me in her final scene at The Roadhouse - the line between Audrey and Fenn herself becomes totally blurred, as they both seek solace in 'Audrey's Dance', a reliving of the moment that crystalised the character, as a free spirit, as one who dances only to her own rhythm. She exists so purely as herself here, free of the need for narrative definition, free of the burden of pre-destination. For one moment, Audrey is able to be some she recognises, someone the audience recognises again, before the violent discord in her mind brings her crashing back to reality. The past is but a dream, for Audrey and all of Twin Peaks. The final, heartbreaking shot of her, in a stark white room and hospital overalls, more confused and fearful than ever, may be the closest we get to seeing who Audrey truly is now - some one trapped in their own past. I'll leave the final words to David Lynch himself:
David Lynch: "Ladies and gentlemen, the beautiful and troubled Audrey Horne is a wrap!"
Impressions: A Journey Behind-the-Scenes of Twin Peaks.