Written by Eden H. Roquelaire for Twin Peaks Freaks.
Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers for Fire Walk with Me and The Secret History of Twin Peaks.
One of the most enigmatic scenes in all of Twin Peaks is the brief but memorable appearance of the “long lost” Phillip Jeffries (played by the late great David Bowie, R.I.P.). The scene sparked so many questions with the very little it showed us, and almost none of it is explained or even referenced again in the film. It’s a bizarre aside in the larger story, but there is undoubtedly great importance to it. It features many integral characters and motifs, yet it is so hard to fit in with the rest of the movie. What is Jeffries doing in Buenos Aires? Why has he been missing? Who is Judy? What is the relevance to the rest of the plot?
Jeffries’ appearance is one of the most hotly debated mysteries among Peaks Freaks everywhere, and, in this article, I will attempt to put the story as straight as possible for the benefit of both veteran fans, and the curious newcomer. First, we will go over the major points of interest from the main scene, then, in the end, we will construct the most coherent narrative we can from one of the most surreal moments in the film.
I’d like to cite that one of my major sources for this article is this enlightening post from the Above the Convenience Store blog, so go read it first. Also, I am drawing dialogue from The Missing Pieces, which contains an altogether different take of the Phillip Jeffries scene with bits of extra dialogue.
Phillip Jeffries appears, walking out of the elevator at and walking straight into Gordon Cole’s office. Agent Cooper spots him, along with what may be his own Doppelganger, on the security camera. He says he remembers this from a dream he had. Rushing into the office, Cooper meets up with Cole, and Albert Rosenfield, who have just come face-to-face with Jeffries, who seems anxious and confused.
“Cooper, meet the long-lost Phillip Jeffries. You may have heard of him from the academy.”
We’ll start here, as it is the only back story we are really given to Jeffries. Given the reference to him being talked about by the academy, it’s safe to assume he’s an FBI agent, while he’s never explicitly called one. He is also associated with Dale Cooper, Gordon Cole, Albert Rosenfield, Sam Stanley, and Chester Desmond in The Secret History of Twin Peaks. He’s been with the FBI much longer than Cooper, as he was apparently being talked about at the academy while Dale was still training there.
So Jeffries has been on the case for a while. But what case?
The reference to Jeffries being “long-lost” is the most intriguing part here, and actually gives us a good idea of what has happened to him. We know of other FBI agents who have been “lost” — Desmond and Stanley are both missing by the end of the film, and Cooper can be presumed to be in a similar state in the aftermath of season 2. These agents all have one thing in common: Involvement with the Black Lodge, and Gordon Cole’s “Blue Rose” cases.
“Listen to me carefully. I’ve been to one of their meetings. It was above a convenience store.”
Jeffries ignores all of the other agents’ questions and goes on a harried tangent about a “meeting” he witnessed, which we see overlapping Jeffries’ scene in Cole’s office. He says that this was a “dream” (and that we live inside a dream), and that he found something in Seattle “at Judy’s.” This “something” may be an opening to the Lodges, or it could be the secret meeting place of the Dugpa — the room above the convenience store. Or perhaps this “something” was an artifact related to the Dugpa, as he then babbles about “the ring,” before breaking down crying.
Jeffries also has some revelation or recollection about the date May, 1989, and subsequently disappears as if he was never there. What the relevance of this is is never elaborated upon, and the date is never reached during the course of the series. It was, however, important enough for it to warrant an appearance in the trailer for The Missing Pieces, and most likely has some connection to Major Briggs’ enigmatic “mayday protocols” mentioned towards the end of The Secret History of Twin Peaks. Could it be that Jeffries, Judy, and Briggs were all involved in some plot that was to take place on May 1st, “Mayday”? Are they all involved in the mayday protocols?
“I’m not going to talk about Judy. In fact we’re not gonna talk about Judy at all. We’re gonna keep her out of it.”
Judy is one of the most talked about mysteries in the fandom, and more has been said and hypothesized about her than I can include here (a very in-depth study on the history of Judy as a character can be found here). Suffice to say, it’s probable she was Jeffries’ informant or partner, who was involved in the case with him. She’s important enough for him to tell the other agents that “Judy is positive about this,” as if her opinion holds weight with them. Albert Rosenfield even scoffs “How interesting. I thought we were going to leave her out of it,” as if he knows Judy and doesn’t approve of her in some way. This supports the possibility of Judy being Jeffries’ partner. But why is he reluctant to talk about her? Why does he want to “keep Judy out of this”? Was there some point of contention between himself, Judy, and the other agents? Did they not think he should be involved with her? Could it be that she was a person of interest in a case, and Jeffries became romantically entangled with her, in keeping with the classic film noir trope? What is she so positive about, anyway?
“Who do you think this is there?”
Near the beginning of the scene, Jeffries points to Cooper and asks Cole, “Who do you think that is there?” No one has any idea what he is talking about, and Jeffries never elaborates. However, I have an idea. We might presume that for the past two years, Jeffries has been, like Cooper, lost in the Black Lodge, which as we know operates in nonlinear time. Just as young Laura was able to meet an old Cooper and transmit a message to the past through him, it is not far-fetched to believe that Jeffries, during his wanderings in the Black Lodge, came across Cooper’s Doppelganger, and now that he is out, believes that Cooper is still not who he seems. In effect, this is more or less a “foreshadow” of Cooper’s possession by BOB at the end of season 2.
Before anything can be done, there are electrical problems, and Jeffries vanishes. This is a pretty clear indication that the magic of the Black Lodge is at work here. He reappears at his hotel in Buenos Aires in a burst of flame, much to the shock of his bellhop. Now here, I’d like to bring up the subject of Buenos Aires and why Jeffries is there. If you watch The Missing Pieces, we find that Jeffries arrives at his hotel to receive a message from a woman, presumably Judy. This suggests that they were investigating something there together, or, that they had run away together. Possibly both. In either case, something strange is definitely happening to Jeffries, possibly as a consequence of wearing or proximity to the Owl Ring. It appears he randomly phases in and out of dimensions, possibly by way of the Black Lodge. I suggest that after disappearing in Buenos Aires, he briefly went through the Black Lodge and emerged in Philadelphia. This explains his panicked but determined demeanor: He understands that he has been given a chance to warn Cole, but also that he has little time before he phases out again. He tries to alert Cole about to the relevant points: BOB’s leaving the Black Lodge to go on a murderous rampage, the ring, and even “Evil Cooper.”
Well, I want to tell you everything, but I sure don’t have a lot to go on. But I’ll do the best I can to construct the most likely narrative:
Phillip Jeffries is an FBI agent, working closely with Gordon Cole, and possibly also with Major Garland Briggs. He takes on a “Blue Rose” case, which, most likely, marks the case as involving the supernatural. In keeping with the recurring motif in Twin Peaks, we might presume there was the murder of a young woman involved. Jeffries goes to Seattle to investigate and meets Judy, who is a person of interest in the case. He and Judy become romantically entangled, to the disapproval of Jeffries’ peers. He meets her at her house, and she shows him the Owl Ring and possibly gives it to him. He sleeps over that night and (“I found something… in Seattle, at Judy’s.”) has a dream, caused by the Owl Ring. In this dream, he sees Dugpas, and follows them to a meeting in a room above a convenience store. Upon waking, he discovers that he now phases through dimensions in a burst of flame, something which he has no control over. In order to help him, he and Judy investigate the ring and the Dugpas, an investigation that takes Jeffries away from his previous assignment in Seattle, and causes him to go off the radar for two years. This leads them to Buenos Aires, where they believe there is another opening to the Black Lodge. They plan to meet up at the hotel, but when Jeffries arrives, Judy is gone, and she left a note. He then disappears from the hotel, enters the Black Lodge, and re-emerges in Philadelphia, where he attempts to warn Cole of the horrors he has discovered before disappearing again in a burst of flames and reappearing in Buenos Aires.
There are still many loose threads and exact details missing, like the involvement of Windom Earle, who was allegedly in Buenos Aires with Jeffries and Judy, and the bizarre security camera phenomenon, but I believe my proposed scenario fits in well with the overarching story and helps explain some of the non sequitors that proliferate this scene. For sure, there are still more mysteries to be uncovered, and hopefully we will learn some of the answers when Twin Peaks returns this May.