Here's why David Duchovny's transgender FBI agent Denise Bryson in Twin Peaks was so groundbreaking. Twin Peaks was co-created by David Lynch and Mark Frost and the show's first season was a landmark event. The premise finds a quirky FBI agent named Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan, The House with a Clock in Its Walls) arriving in Twin Peaks to investigate the murder of teenager Laura Palmer. The show was a cinematic mix of melodrama, comedy, horror, thriller and just about every genre imaginable, and it took risks few shows before it had attempted.
The first season was a genuine event and would inspire later shows like The X-Files, Lost and Hannibal. Unfortunately, the series' popularity waned during season 2, where ratings declined following the reveal of Laura's killer. The show was cancelled on a major cliffhanger, where the evil spirit BOB possessed Cooper. Lynch later directed prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, depicting the final week of Laura's life. The movie was a good deal darker and more harrowing than the show, and despite being considered one of Lynch's most underrated works now, it was met with weak reviews and box-office upon release.
Lynch would return with most of the original cast and crew for the aptly titled limited series Twin Peaks: The Return. The filmmaker directed all eighteen episodes of this series, which in typical David Lynch fashion, delighted some viewers and totally bemused others. The Return also featured a cameo for David Duchovny as Denise Bryson, who appeared in a famous three-episode arc during Twin Peaks season 2.
Denise is a DEA agent who arrives in Twin Peaks to help clear Cooper's name when he's accused of being involved with a drug operation. In her introduction, she reveals to Cooper she now goes by the name Denise, and later explains she realised she was transgender during an operation that required her to go undercover as a transvestite. Cooper accepts this immediately, though Sheriff Truman and Hawk are initially quietly mocking and sarcastic, with Hawk refusing to shake her hand.
She soon helps Cooper prove his innocence and is revealed to be a talented agent. In contrast to most movies and TV shows of this era, like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective or Silence Of The Lambs, which either played trans characters for laughs or as creepy villains, Twin Peaks portrayed Denise as confident, funny, and great at her job. Cooper treats her with the utmost respect - including apologising when he accidentally calls Denise by her old name - and Truman and Hawk quickly revise their snarkiness when working alongside her.
Twin Peaks still has a couple of gags at Denise's expense, but on the whole, her portrayal is warm and dignified and Duchovny is great in the role. Sadly, Denise only made a quick cameo in Twin Peaks: The Return, where she's now the FBI Chief of Staff - which at least showed that being transgender was no obstacle to progressing in her career.