Sunday, January 03, 2010

Yes, More Twin Peaks

Don't bother with this one unless you've watched the whole series, because I spoil the shit out of the Martell-Packard storyline.

There's a point in the series where Deputy Hawk remarks that Josie Packard was "powerful woman" because of how she managed to affect the Sheriff. It was one of two points in this show--with all it's utterly horrifying gender dynamics--that I had to yell at the screen. Seductive ability isn't real power. It is the illusion of power, because the actual choice ultimately lies with the seduced who can throw you away at any time. Josie herself was all too aware of this.

Josie Packard begins the story as a woman with fair amount of power and influence from her inheritance. She's in a tenuous position, though, as her sister-in-law Catherine has a greater hold and she has a past that could tear all of it from her fingertips. She's in the middle of a subtle game of politics with Catherine Martell and Ben Horne, and she's the underdog here. So she plays at being too innocent to wield any of the influence she inherited, and defaults to the role of hapless damsel when in the presence of White Knights Pete Martell and Sheriff Harry (Yes, he's serious) Truman.

Now, I will say to Josie's credit that she is a really clever and willful woman. She know she doesn't really have any substantial power, and much of what she does is an attempt to get some substantial power from Catherine. She knows she's starting from the disadvantaged position. She's got age, gender, and racial expectations aligned against her. She's the outsider in the town. So she starts from there and lowers everyone's expectations so much that no one will believe she's actually playing this game. That's not to say there's no truth in her body language or her accent, but her behavior with Pete and Harry as well as her steeling herself against Hank shows that she's considerably stronger than she lets on. She knows she's the underdog, and she's seizing the advantage there. She's playing the Princess side of the chessboard to Catherine's Dragon Lady, and she's a formidable opponent. Ultimately, though, Catherine checkmates her and strips her of everything. She further humiliates Josie by making her become her maid. Still, it would be a disservice to the character not to acknowledge she played a good game.

But she is truly in over her head, and has way too much to lose, and Catherine is just older and better at this. Not to mention that her husband never actually died, so the small amount of power and money gained from her inheritance isn't really hers. That power's an illusion too.

So once she loses, she goes from simply being panicked from time to time to being panicked all the time. Her focus shifts from attempting to amass and solidify substantial power to trying to keep from losing every bit of personal power she possesses as Thomas Eckhardt, her old boss, comes to claim her as a wife or a mistress. No amount of manipulating Harry can seem to save her from this as Catherine and Andrew close in on her. She describes Eckhardt as seeing her as "property" and is terrified of returning to him. At least one of the four murder attempts in which she's implicated was so that she could escape him. It could be argued that all four are her attempting to wrest free of his control.

After Josie's end, Harry is so distraught at losing her that Deputy Hawk makes the remark about her being powerful. Josie's character arc only proves him wrong. Power attained through seduction is only an illusion, and she knew this. The second the seduced loses interest or feels wronged, they can yank any influence back because the power had always been theirs alone. This happens to Josie with three men. Andrew tosses her aside after discovering her complicity in the murder attempt. When Harry discovers too much evidence of her criminal acts, he joins Cooper to confront her. Most severely of all, Thomas Eckhardt's physical attraction to Josie leads him to put her under his power, making her charms more of a liability than a tool and fueling the greatest fear of her life.

In the end, Josie's spirit merges with the nightstand in Eckhardt's room in the Great Northern Hotel, literally turning her into a piece of furniture that belongs to a powerful man (Ben Horne). Given that so much of her character arc is dedicated to avoiding that, this seems an especially horrible fate.

The woman with the real power in the storyline was and always had been Catherine. Catherine had seniority, Catherine had experience, Catherine didn't need to gather protectors to consolidate power. She could be the biggest bitch in town and not lose for it. (Even Josie's sweet-natured ally Pete would never turn against Catherine for her, he loved Catherine because she was an exciting woman.) She had her wits and wealth to support her. Like Josie, there's a point where Catherine gets wind of the gathering clouds and forces (Ben and Josie) aligned against her, but she recoups to take a terrible revenge. This is the character who had all the cards all along, which is probably why I felt terrible for Josie even knowing she was the one who shot Cooper. She was severely outmatched and facing some terrible options.

There's an extra shade of troubling in that Josie--who never gets any real power and ends up with the worst punishment for crimes no worse than much of the rest of the cast--is the only woman of color in an almost-entirely white cast. She's the demure Asian woman sought after by colonizing white men. She gets objectified and ultimately crushed in the power games between rich white people. I'll note for fairness that the character was originally intended to be Italian, but the final result is pretty unsettling.


  1. I'm a bit older and watched the show during its run, and then again (sadly most recently) on VHS in its entirety, so my memory is a bit shakey here. I do agree with the points made in regards to Josie.

    Two things:
    1) The writers didn't know what to do with more than a few storylines once they were in play. This becomes very, very clear in Season 2, and only the final episode or two shows the slightest sign that the show could have ever been righted.
    2) The show also ended prematurely. I was fairly certain Lynch would have ensured some sort of justice for Josie.

  2. I tend to think the Song of Ice and Fire novel series does a particularly good job of showing the limits of seduction and I believe does so intentionally.