Four episodes in to “Twin Peaks: The Return” and one thing has become quite clear: David Lynch and Mark Frost are having no problem delivering some of the series’ most memorable scenes to date. From those vicious glass box murders to Agent Cooper, dazed from spending 25 years in the Black Lodge, making a fortune off slot machines at a Las Vegas casino (“HELLOOOO!” is already an instant classic “Twin Peaks” quote), the series is operating at the height of its powers right now. But while the revival has been an embarrassment of riches from scene to scene, one moment that has gotten lost in the conversation is the introduction of Janey-E Jones in Episode 4.
It’s frankly quite strange more people aren’t talking about Janey-E. The character is played by none other than Naomi Watts in her long-awaited reunion with David Lynch after “Mulholland Drive” and “Rabbits” 15 years ago. Watts is the most iconic Lynchian blonde, and Episode 4 has been available to stream for over a week now, but the buzz around Watts couldn’t be more muted. Perhaps Michael Cera’s absurdist Wally Brando stole all the cameo thunder in Episode 4, but it’d be a shame to overlook just how incredible Watts is in her “Twin Peaks” debut.
In about four minutes, the actress runs the gamut of emotions and provides the revival with one of its best introductions to a new character so far. Janey-E is the wife of Dougie, the third Cooper doppelgänger introduced in Episode 3. As much as we can know anything in “Twin Peaks,” it appears Dougie was created by Bad Cooper to replace him in the Black Lodge should original Cooper ever return. Those events are exactly what happened in Episode 3, and while viewers were left scratching their heads, Janey-E was left without a husband for several days as original Cooper, who took the place of Dougie in the real world, adjusted to his new circumstances.
Part of what makes Watts’ introduction to the series so amazing is how Lynch utilizes her. He puts her right in the middle of the most comedically absurd episode of “Twin Peaks” ever, but has her go full-blown dramatic instead. Her first scene directly follows the surreal humor of Cooper’s outing at the casino, and it affords Lynch and Watts the opportunity to really amplify the dramatic tension of her introduction. We meet Janey-E as she slaps Cooper, who she believes is her husband Dougie, and demands answers for where he’s been and why he missed their son’s birthday party. It’s “Twin Peaks” in soap opera mode, but Watts guides the tone into more frantic drama as her scene progresses.
Janey-E has a minor panic attack as she questions her husband’s whereabouts and his new appearance (Cooper’s slick hairdo and black suit are worlds away from Dougie’s longer locks and colorful blazers), and Watts owns every emotional beat. Simply put, she’s acting her ass off in a way her movie roles as of late haven’t let her. Watts’ hot-blooded anger slowly transitions into troubled confusion as she discovers Cooper’s earnings from the casino, and she caps it off with a sense of unnerving relief at the problems all that money could solve. She puts the drama in melodrama, both heightening the emotion and grounding it in a very relatable place for anyone who has ever been in a relationship, and provides the best kind of emotional whiplash there is.
The scene is only four minutes long or so, but it’s some of Watts’ best work in years. Just as he did in 2001, Lynch gives Watts so many beats to play with (only here it’s in a matter of minutes and not two hours) that it’s a miracle she’s able to master the scene the way she does. Not every actor can handle these tonal shifts and sell them in one package, but Watts does with ease. Given Lynch’s placement of the scene, it’s a moment that feels completely removed from whatever else is happening in the series, and it gives Watts the chance to leave a killer impression on the series.
After 15 years, it’s very clear that Lynch and Watts remain a powerhouse duo. We’ll hopefully get to see a bit more of Janey-E as the revival continues. But even if we don’t, we should all take comfort in the fact that Watts will be back on television in the lead role of Netflix’s “Gypsy.” As her “Twin Peaks” scene proves, she deserves to be front and center.