Speeding along the open road atop a Harley-Davidson motorcycle is a man. He is stony-faced and wears a pair of rectangular black shades. The chug-a-chug-a-chug and twang of an Angelo Badalamenti guitar instrumental—appropriately named "Americana"—soundtracks the scene. Heeee-yaww! This is him, baby. The corniest motherfucker to have ever ripped up the road. Off he goes, bailing on responsibility, as he will do numerous times in the show.
His name is James Hurley, and he's in Twin Peaks. Despite all signs pointing to the contrary, he is not born to be wild; James Hurley is, in fact, utterly sad to the bone.
A sopping blanket. An emo baby. A self-centered, destructive, whinging little swine. Hurley is without a doubt the worst character in David Lynch's great masterpiece. Arguably more hateable than drug trafficker and domestic abuser Leo Johnson. More detestable than BOB, an entity of pure evil from an alternative reality who possesses humans, killing in their host bodies—also sometimes moonlights as an owl. I don't think there's been a bigger plonker on TV since Hurley. He is the ultimate Sad Lad parody and a disgrace to emotional men everywhere.
But who is he, really? This neutered 16-year-old James Dean pastiche is every brooding schoolboy who told you he'd die for you then had a change of heart four weeks later after falling for a plain Sally in your class. As far as he's concerned, this whole show is about his irritating personal journey for love and understanding.
Everything we need to know about him can be found in the pilot episode.
1. When we first meet him, he's sitting on his bike, telling his Uncle Ed that Laura Palmer—the recently murdered girl who he was seeing, and whom the entire show is centered on—was "the one." By the end of the hour and a half episode, he is making out with Laura's best friend, Donna. Together they must work out who Laura's murderer is. He has quite a few women he believes to be "the one." More on that soon.
2. Outskirts of Twin Peaks, Hurley sits alone. In the background are pine trees. In the foreground are the twin signifiers of Hurley's fragile masculinity: a motorcycle and a leather jacket. Cut to wide shot: Hurley, a tiny insignificant leather blip in a sweeping mountainous forest scape. He is Man. This man carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. It's very hard to be James Hurley.
Yet, what is this weight made up of? In an effort to learn why he is so troubled, we only need look to some of Hurley's drippy quotes. Here, I present a selection of the most typical:
"I'm only quiet on the outside."
"I guess I'm not so interested in how my bike looks as in where it can take me."
"When you love someone it's like this bright light is shining on you all the time."
"I want to make the way my heart feels last forever."
"It doesn't matter if we're happy and the rest of the world goes to hell."
"Sometimes I think I should just get on my bike and go."
"I went for a ride this morning. God, the engine sounded like a thousand people singing."
The writers wanted Hurley to be hated—that much is clear. In the original scripts, he is described as "wiping the tears from his eyes, covering up his total emotional destruction." At other moments, he is on his motorbike "cutting through the wind with reckless abandon." These are his two states of being, both of which are annoying. Despite being a teenager whose daily efforts involve merely going to school and riding home to get fed, he will repeatedly say he needs to "just start over."
After bulldozing through Donna, the most annoying woman on the show and a fitting partner, Hurley predictably doesn't take long to find the next girl. This leads us onto one of the more troubling scenes in the show: a stripped back three-way sing-along on a living room carpet (because of course James Hurley plays the guitar,) which is being recorded for some reason.
Cooing like a couple of doves, Donna and Laura Palmer's cousin, Maddy, stare at James like he just grew an extra dick. They're hypnotized until Donna notices Maddy and James staring at each other with come-to-bed eyes and subsequently storms off.
How Hurley manages to draw in two women at the same time is unbelievable. Let's look at a flashback of him with Laura Palmer to understand the plane of seduction he operates on:
Laura Palmer: James, do you know why I'm so happy today?
James Hurley: Because your hair is so soft and it smells so good?
This is on a level with a man saying, "Have you ever kissed a rabbit between the ears?" before pulling his jean pockets out and following up with: "Now you can." This is emotionally, spiritually, morally, sexually abominable, and this is the best game James Hurley has.
James Hurley is every guy whose favorite author is Bukowski; who uses Jack Daniel's bottles as candleholders; who smokes Marlboro Reds even though each and every toke makes him feel physically ill and do a little gag-burp. James Hurley definitely says "panties" and giggles, and after sex, he cries about his alcoholic mother, who he hates for sleeping with random men.
And there it is: the crux of why it's so hard to be James Hurley. His mother is an embarrassment to him. All these girls—just like his mother—never live up to his expectations; they never do enough; they're always dying on him. "Seems like the whole town's falling apart," Donna says at Maddy's funeral, adding that James has left her to go out alone. "Somehow James thinks it's his fault." The world revolves around our romantic hero 365 days a year. Everyone else is dealing with the trauma—James Hurley certainly is not.
Hurley regrettably comes back to tell Donna over a picnic she's lovingly handmade that he's going again, and then for the last few episodes is truly gone. Bliss.
But he is not gone forever. He appeared—thankfully briefly—in the first two episodes of this new series. I hate to think what state we will find James Hurley in as the series unfolds. Has he, against all odds, matured and become less of a sniveling prick? Has he, heaven forbid, convinced long-suffering idiot Donna into matrimony and a life of coughing on his exhaust fumes? Is he still—I beg, no—wearing a fur-collared leather jacket? Whatever the answer, one thing is certain: Life is still very hard for James Hurley.
The new series of Twin Peaks premiered on Sunday the May 22 on Sky Atlantic, and is available on catch-up now.
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