With their matching rockabilly haircuts and their love of 1950s’ Americana you can see why Chris Isaak and filmmaker/musician David Lynch ended up working together. Lynch used two tracks from Isaak’s debut album Silvertone on the soundtrack to Blue Velvet (1986) and an instrumental version of Wicked Game in Wild at Heart (1990). The latter helped bring Isaak into the mainstream and Wicked Game was re-released with a fancy new Herb Ritts video showing the crooner writhing about in the surf with supermodel Helena Christiansen.
Despite his promotion to best-selling artist status it was still a surprise when Isaak was cast in a prominent role in Lynch’s movie prequel to his hit TV show Twin Peaks (1990-1). The singer had appeared in small roles as a hitman disguised as a clown in Jonathan Demme’s Married to the Mob (1988) and as a SWAT team leader in the same director’s Silence of the Lambs (1991), but here he would be carrying the first part of the film in place of the show’s leading man Kyle McLachlan who initially turned down an offer to return as the eccentric FBI agent Dale Cooper.
To emphasise Chester Desmond is a very different special agent to Cooper he’s first shown putting two teenage girls in handcuffs in full view of a school-bus filled with weeping children. FBI Chief Gordon Cole (Lynch) partners Desmond with Sam Stanley, played by Kiefer Sutherland (cast against type as a dweeby twitching bundle of nerves) and sends them off to the small town of Deer Meadow to investigate the murder of a young woman found wrapped in plastic. It’s one of Cole’s “blue rose” cases, code word for weirdness.
Isaak’s music videos usually focused on his brooding good looks and he certainly has enough screen presence to hold the attention. All that’s required of him is to react to the unusual events going on around them and he proves more than capable. When something really out of the ordinary happens he tilts his head like a dog wondering if his owner is about to take him for a walk.
While the opening of Fire Walk With Me mirrors the pilot everything that happens is inverted. Cooper finds a vibrant community all of whom have been affected by the murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Desmond and Stanley find only hostility. Nobody cares about the victim. Unlike the overly friendly deputy Andy (Harry Goaz) and receptionist Lucy (Kimmy Moran) their counterparts at Deer Meadow police station are obnoxious. Sheriff Cable (Gary Bullock) is a thug with no interest in co-operating with the FBI.
Special Agent Desmond is different too. He’s colder than Cooper, and a bit meaner. He tricks Stanley into spilling scalding hot coffee onto his groin. Chester Desmond seems to expect the worst from people whereas Cooper looked for the good. Isaak’s physicality and his college background as an amateur boxer makes him a more imposing figure than McLachlan and Lynch uses this to great effect. First in a scene where the mouthy deputy Cliff (Rick Aiello) tries to block his path. Isaak calmly lifts his hand then grabs the guy’s nose and tucks him neatly under the receptionist’s counter. There’s even a sequence cut from the film which appears in The Missing Pieces showing Desmond boxing Cable in a brutal fist fight. “This one’s coming from J. Edgar” as he delivers a final knockout punch.
The most glaring disparity between Twin Peaks and Deer Meadow is the local diner. A drab empty place devoid of atmosphere with a snarling owner called Irene (Sandra Kinder) who chain-smokes while serving food and calls the customers “toeheads.” Teresa like Laura also worked as a waitress but unlike Norma (Peggy Lipton) her boss seems unmoved by the girl’s death. Laura’s predilection for drugs and sex were a well kept secret in Twin Peaks, but here Teresa’s lifestyle is known to her boss who writes her death off as a “freak accident” and seems to imply she brought it on herself.
The one likeable person in Deer Meadow is Carl (Harry Dean Stanton) even though he is an old grouch. “DO NOT DISTURB BEFORE 9AM – EVER!” says the sign on his door and Chet and Sam pull their badges straight away when they realise their error in waking him up. They bond over coffee though. Coffee is one of two things in Lynch’s world that can truly bring people together, the other being music. Though there is a broadly comic feel to the opening act there’s an underlying menace. Electricity crackles from pylons and lights flicker ominously. Carl is visibly shaken by the appearance of a tiny mute stranger holding a walking stick and clutching a cloth over their eye. “I’ve already gone places. I just want to stay where I am” says Carl. Though he must have changed his mind because Lynch/Frost relocate the trailer park to Twin Peaks for the third season.
Chet leaves Stanley to drive back to Portland on his own and returns to the trailer park just before dark. Carl directs him towards Deputy Cliff’s red pickup truck but Chet is drawn instead to a brightly lit small caravan. Nobody answers the door , but underneath he finds the unusual green ring belonging to Teresa Banks. As he reaches out to touch it the screen goes black and that’s the last anybody sees of Special Agent Chester Desmond.
Cooper follows up on Chet’s disappearance but finds only questions coupled with a strange feeling that this case is far from over. I hoped during the summer of 2017 when the new series aired that we might see a return for Isaak as Special Agent Chester Desmond but two missing FBI agents coming back from some other place was probably too much to hope for.
This post has been a contribution to Gil’s Pop Stars Moonlighting at her site Realweegiemidget Reviews