In Praise of Janey-E Jones, The Best Character in the Twin Peaks Revival
The more aggravating David Lynch’s revival of Twin Peaks becomes, the better it gets. Every moment the show swerves into a seemingly random tangent or rambles on about insurance sales or dedicates several minutes to the sweeping of a floor is a glorious reminder of the freeing power of being utterly perplexed. When the goings-on in Lynch’s world become even too bizarre for its residents, their refusal to react in the expected way can infuriate, but then again, it’s always been that way in the mind of one of cinema’s true geniuses. We haven’t spent much time in the eponymous town, eight episodes in to the Showtime revival. For the most part, we haven’t really been with Dale Cooper either, as the beleaguered agent fights to regain control of his body and mind following his imprisonment in the Black and White Lodges. For now, he’s Dougie Jones, Nevada real estate agent, family man and gambling addict with debts to repay - the masculine ideal of suburbia, mundane yet chilling. The Dougie subplot has divided audiences, but it’s also offered the show’s best character so far, Dougie’s wife Janey-E, played by Naomi Watts.
In a show full of characters just trying to get on with their lives as madness descends, Janey-E does it with the most aggression. Whatever suburban dream she has been promised has been torn to shreds by a philandering husband who cheats with younger women and has locked the family into $50k worth of debt. Life as Mrs Jones seems to be an utterly thankless task even before her husband was swapped out of the planet in favour of Dale by forces unknown. When we first meet Janey-E, having spent time with Dale/Dougie being dragged around a Vegas casino and making bank in the process, Watts runs the gamut of emotions as the worried wife who quickly turns furious. The audience has seen the absurd journey of Dougie for so long and laughed at the awkwardness of it all, but there’s nothing funny about it to Janey-E - after all, he’s been missing for several days and the countdown to pay off his debts is still ticking.
Lynch has always known how to use Naomi Watts’s talents in the most intriguing and effective manner possible, which makes watching her work in this season all the more exciting, and just a touch disappointing to know that everyone else in the industry seems completely incapable of giving her good roles. In episode four alone, where her part is only a few minutes long, she does some of her best work in years, offering the emotional opposition to the seemingly aimless oddity of Dougie/Dale’s cluelessness. She’s relieved her husband is home, shocked that he’s accompanied by the police, angry he’s ditched her for days without a word, and exhausted by this cycle of spousal neglect she seems far too used to at this point.
To expect anything in Twin Peaks is a fool’s errand, yet the Las Vegas world of the Jones family, with its never-ending rows of matching houses burning under the harsh desert sun, is a peculiar world where nobody reacts that oddly to Dougie’s sudden catatonic state. Indeed, it seems to have only improved relations with him. At work, Dougie has gone from a coasting insurance salesman to an unwitting whistle-blower on in-company corruption, with Dale guided by omniscient lights that also lead him to the luckiest night of slot-machine playing the state has ever seen. It’s the most literal interpretation of the ethos that mediocre men will forever rise to the top. If every great man has a great woman behind him, every middling man failing upwards has a woman holding him upright, occasionally literally.
Janey-E is a woman with a job to do, and she has no qualms about letting the world know she’s not happy about it. With so many cryptic conversations going on, Janey-E cuts through the fog with unstoppable force. She knows this world is bizarre, and getting worse by the day, so you damn well better believe she’s not going to negotiate with the loan sharks her husband is in debt to. She barely lets them get a word in edgeways while she makes her offer, emphasising how dark the world has gotten as she berates the crooks like they’re petulant toddlers. Dealing with the infantilised Dougie/Dale has put her through the wringer: She’s the “straight woman” to the clown who has long stopped being funny to her.
There is an increasing tragedy to Dougie/Dale’s fugue state, and the obvious impatience it elicits in Janey-E. The domestic unease it creates becomes more and more chilling as the Joneses are forced to continue as if nothing has changed, as if the man Janey-E has been married to for at least a decade didn’t change height, weight and hairstyle in a flash and enter a semi-catatonic state. It is hinted at that Dougie, separate from the Dale situation, has suffered from “episodes”, meaning Janey-E is dishearteningly used to this exhausting process wherein she, and others including co-workers and local authorities, must shove him into the most basic activities. Nevertheless, she powers on, pushing aside the puzzlement etched on her face, and she becomes Dougie/Dale’s fiercest protector. She has a role to play and she’s going to do it with impeccable commitment.
Naomi Watts became one to watch in Hollywood after starring in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, where she played dual roles of sorts, not unlike Kyle Maclachlan’s array of parts in this season of the show. First, she was Betty, the bouncy Pollyanna starlet-in-waiting, the small-town girl who just knows she’s going to make it. The first time you watch the film, you can’t help but briefly wonder, as she bounces on-screen and talks like she’s reciting lines from a bad community theatre production, if Watts is actually a bad actress. It’s all too neat, too cutesy, and painfully naïve for a film drenched in unease. And then we meet Watts’s other character, Diane. She may be the reality to Betty’s pastel fantasy, or she could be what happens to Betty after too many years of crushing bitterness in the film industry. She’s frustrated, miserable, seethes with envy as the woman she idolises treats her like dirt, and has grown bored with pretending otherwise. The switch is jarring for the viewer. You wonder if something’s gone wrong somewhere, or if you’ve woken up from a dream. That’s when it hits you just how brilliant Watts’ performance is. Like the film itself, she’s monumental.
There’s a lot of Betty and Diane in Janey-E Jones, with the go-get-them drive of Betty mired in Diane’s smothering cynicism. Janey-E is the actress who got out of Hollywood before it poisoned her, but finds no satisfaction in the banality of domesticity. Dissatisfaction lies around every corner, but she persists, even if it means she has to drag her husband alongside her. With ten episodes to go, Twin Peaks could go literally anywhere, so predicting the fate of Janey-E and poor Sonny-Jim once Agent Cooper finally returns to our plane of being is a futile effort. Still, if Dale needs a cohort on his side once that happens, he would be smart to keep Janey-E Jones on hand.