The Packard Mill Conspiracies: An in-depth study
A whisper to the reader: The saga of Josie Packard is one of the most complex and often misunderstood story archs in the whole of the Twin Peaks cannon. What makes this plot so daunting is a combination of the multitude of characters involved as well as the fact that it is the longest-running and most complicated plotline of the series. Even after the flagship of the show, the Laura Palmer murder, is solved and pushed to the back burner, the Packard lands property plot continues to brew. From the moment we overhear a hushed telephone conversation (“He’s here again.” “Let’s get together and talk about it.”) in the pilot episode until we read a hastily handwritten note stuffed into a safety deposit box (“Got you Andrew, love: Thomas.”) in the series finale, twenty nine episodes later, we are constantly unraveling layer after layer of the complex web of betrayal and deceit orchestrated by the main players. As we move forward, the schemes and plots begin to telescope; conspiracy fits into conspiracy, and just when we learn something that we think is the truth, it is revealed to be part of another, greater deception and conspiracy.
This is an attempt to put an end to the confusion. If you have any questions regarding certain aspects and how they fit in, feel free to post inquiries or E-mail them to me: email@example.com
-Geoffrey A. Johns. 1 February, 2003.
At the very beginning and center of this story is a man named Thomas Eckhardt. He was an American businessman whose business (whatever it is, we are not told) was based out of Hong Kong. Eckhardt was, by all accounts, a very shrewd, cruel man. In 1978, for want of companionship, or perhaps a domestic and sexual slave (we might toss a coin as to presume which desire outweighed the other), he purchased a then 16-year-old Chinese girl from her family and took her into his possession. This girl would later be Josie Packard. Their relationship was strange; Josie herself described Eckhardt as a father, a master, and a lover. There is little doubt he was very frightening in each of these roles. This is where the weight of the story lies: in order for us to understand Josie’s motives in doing all that she did throughout this story, we must understand the one constant truth in her life: that she was absolutely terrified of Eckhardt and what he might do to her if she displeased him.
Some time after purchasing Josie, Eckhardt formed a business partnership with Andrew Packard, another American businessman from Twin Peaks, WA. They were partners for a time, but then, according to Andrew, “I got the better of him in a piece of business, and he stabbed me in the back.” This was in or around 1983. The details are sketchy, but we can gather that after this backstabbing, an immortal hatred was fostered between the two, and Eckhardt began to plan Packard’s death. While this was going on (and presumably before his friendship with Eckhardt soured), Packard fell in love with Josie. After the falling out, he returned to the United States, taking Josie away with him to Twin Peaks, presumably as his idea of a “final insult” to Eckhardt. What Packard didn’t know at the time was that Josie didn’t go with him out of love; she went with him because she was to be instrumental in a complicated plot, devised by Eckhardt, to kill Andrew and shame him by stripping all the Packard land and property away from his family.
The first part of the plan was the easiest (or, at least, the least complicated): set up a scenario for Andrew’s demise. Josie, beginning her “job,” as Eckhardt’s lackey Jonathan Kumaguii would later refer to it as, offered local thug franchise owner Hank Jennings $90,000 to set up a boating accident that would result in Andrew’s demise. Part of this deal was that Hank should then commit some other erroneous crime so as to be incarcerated when the actual accident was to take place in order to avoid implication in the murder. In 1987, this plan is set into motion. Somehow (we never discover exactly how), Andrew and/or Catherine discover the attempt on his life is going to be made. They realize Eckhardt is orchestrating the whole thing and, wanting to buy themselves time to plan their own revenge, stage Andrew’s death in the accident as planned. There is a funeral service; everyone really believes that he is dead. In reality, he is hiding out in a town called Pearl Lakes, where his family owns an old cabin in the woods. Hank Jennings takes the fall for the killing of an unnamed vagrant, and is convicted of vehicular manslaughter and sent to jail. Leo Johnson, underling, takes over Hank’s drug and general thug-for-hire empire. Sheriff Truman and Josie hit it off and begin to date on the side. Things quiet down for a while.
Sometime during or before all this, Catherine begins to see Ben Horne on the side. They begin to plot the mill’s bankruptcy in order to force Josie to sell the land to the Ghostwood Development Project. Catherine does this in retaliation for the “murder” of her brother, but also because, working alongside Horne, she believes she can regain control of her family’s lands which were willed to Josie by Andrew& something that Catherine has long resented. She begins to keep a separate account ledger for the mill, one that hides the fact that it is sinking slowly into bankruptcy, for “public” consumption and to keep Josie from realizing the plot. Little does she know, but Josie has already approached Horne with an offer he finds more lucrative. He begins to double-cross Catherine and together, he and Josie plot her demise. The plan Josie proposes includes the sale of the mill and Packard lands cheaply for the Ghostwood Development Project “for a song” Horne says to Leland in the pilot episode at a price of $5,000,000 after the mill is devastated in a fire. For this, Horne helps her to arrange Catherine’s fiery end (a sort of “two birds with one stone” scenario) after setting up a life insurance policy, behind her back, naming Josie as her sole beneficiary& to the tune of $10,000,000. It can be presumed that Josie also intended on pocketing whatever insurance money from the mill fire she can get. We can assume that Horne goes along with this second plan because he would be rid of the influence Catherine would have or would try to attain after his acquisition of the mill if he went along with the original plan against Josie. Plus, the price Josie offered him was probably very cheap in relation to how much the land was worth, even after the mill fire.
At the same time, unbeknownst to her, Horne begins to assemble a dossier of Josie’s knowledge and/or involvement in Andrew Packard’s “demise” so as to have some insurance against the possibility of a “triple-cross” against him and/or for blackmail material, should he find something to gain from it. Similarly, Josie secretly assembles a dossier of her own, outlining many of Horne’s shortcomings and vices for much the same reason. It’s true: there is no honor amongst thieves.
On February 28, 1989, Hank Jennings is paroled.
On March 1, 1989, Insurance agent Walter Neff comes to collect Catherine’s signature on the insurance policy Josie and Ben have been brewing in secret. Catherine was never supposed to know about it, but we discover that Neff withheld last page with final signature blank because of the “irregularity” he felt existed with the client not wishing to handle the matter in person (obviously, a rouse created so as to handle the matter without Catherine’s presence or knowledge). Neff tells her that Horne offered to collect the signatures, and this tips Catherine off to the plot. Afterward, she discovers that the “real” account ledger has been stolen from her secret hiding place that only she and Horne knew about. She goes frantic looking for it, and is interrupted by a call from Hank Jennings. He tells her he has “what she is looking for” and instructs her to meet him at the mill. This is the final set-up for her intended demise in the fire.
Also on the Horne payroll, Leo Johnson sets fire to the mill, presumably trapping Catherine inside. Later, Horne instructs Hank Jennings to kill Leo, eliminating any evidence that might link him to the arson and hoping to incite the conclusion that Catherine instigated the fire, conspiring with Leo, in an attempt at insurance fraud.
Josie high-tails it to Seattle in order to “put some distance between her and the smell of smoke,” but not before plugging Cooper three times in his hotel room. She feared he would unravel her schemes and foil the plot. In the meantime, Catherine escapes the fire and heads to her brother’s hideout at Pearl Lakes. Both presumed dead, they lie in wait, developing a counter plot to regain control of Packard lands and to wreak revenge on Horne, Josie, and also Eckhardt, who they now realize was behind it all, when he comes to collect her.
An important point: because Catherine was tipped off to the phony insurance scheme and did not sign the policy, Josie does not become her sole benefactor and is out the $10,000,000 she was planning on. Also, because the nature of the mill fire is determined early on to be arson, her claim at any insurance money from that policy hangs in doubt.
Later that month, Catherine returns to Twin Peaks, disguised as Tojamura-san, and, acting as an Asian investor, offers Ben a phony $5,000,000 cashier’s cheque, purportedly as an investment in the Ghostwood Estates. She knows five million is the selling price Josie will expect for the Packard lands. By offering this exact amount to Horne in the form of a cashier’s cheque, she knows he will end up forking it over to Josie because it’s good and handy and same-as-cash (or, at least, cashier’s cheques are in theory). In this way, Josie, in addition to losing out on the $10,000,000 life insurance policy and the money from the mill insurance policy, will end up selling Horne the Packard land and getting nothing in return but a bogus slip of paper.
Some time later, Josie returns to Twin Peaks. While she was gone, Jonathan Kumaguii (one of Eckhardt’s men) has arrived to take her back to Hong Kong. She tells him she has to settle this last bit of business with Ben Horne before she can go back with him. This is allowed because the selling of Packard Lands out of the hands of the family is the last bit of insult-to-injury Eckhardt’s scheme entails. Josie gets Pete’s signature on the property titles and goes to deal with Horne. She refuses to leave without her money (because this is the last chance she’ll get to receive it since Jonathan and Eckhardt are pressuring her to return to Hong Kong). Horne senses her hastiness to close the deal and tries to stall the transaction. When Josie insists, he attempts to blackmail her with the information he has gathered about her plot against Andrew. She counters by blackmailing him with the aforementioned dossier she herself has compiled against him. There is a stalemate. Horne concedes. They exchange her land titles for his (phony, though he doesn’t know it) cheque he got from Catherine/Tojamura-san. Josie and Jonathan leave town.
A few days after, Horne is arrested for Laura Palmer’s murder. Catherine, no doubt taking great pleasure in witnessing his arrest and public shaming, seizes the opportunity to trick Ben into signing over the mill and Ghostwood to her in exchange for an alibi for the night of the Palmer murder, which she later refuses to give. Leaving him to rot in his cell, Catherine’s sense of retribution against Ben Horne is satisfied. It may seem cruel and heartless, but, as we learn later, he got off easy in comparison.
More time passes, and Josie returns to Twin Peaks. She is destitute, having discovered the illegitimacy of the cashier’s cheque, presumably after trying to cash it. Perhaps her plan was to use this money to escape from Eckhardt after returning to Hong Kong; but, now cheated out of this, the last bit of payoff from her legacy of deceit, she panics before even leaving the country. She kills Jonathan and escapes. She finally determines that the only person capable of defending her against Eckhardt is Catherine, who has since come out of hiding. She makes an appeal to her, asking to continue to live at the Packard family home. She asks this because not only is she completely penniless and can’t afford a place of her own, but because her other option, living with Truman, doesn’t offer her the protection from Eckhardt she feels living with Catherine would provide. Josie knows that wherever she can run, Eckhardt will find her. Only here does she feel she is safe because, unlike Truman, Catherine has some idea of what Eckhardt is capable of and might be able to guard against it. So Josie, downplaying her role in Andrew’s “death” and the mill fire, makes her proposition to Catherine, who accepts under condition that she work as her maid. Catherine knows the complete truth about Josie and is not fooled, taking this opportunity to twist the knife hatefully in Josie’s hour of need (and enjoying every moment of it). At this time, Andrew moves back into the Lodge with the family, but still remains in hiding from the public. He and Catherine resolve to “be ready” when Eckhardt comes to collect Josie himself, as they know he will.
Eckhardt finally does come to Twin Peaks after Josie. He calls her from the Great Northern Hotel shortly after his arrival and Catherine overhears the conversation. She invites Eckhardt to dinner. It is her wish in doing this both to make Josie suffer as much as possible and to set Eckhardt up for a fall. She and Andrew conspire in secret to do away with both him and Josie in one fell swoop. Catherine arranges a meeting alone with Eckhardt on Josie’s “behalf,” and ensures that Josie has a weapon at her side during the reunion. Andrew has revealed to Josie that he is alive, and Catherine uses this knowledge to further frighten her into dreading what Eckhardt will do to her when he finds out that “you betrayed him,” as she puts it. “But then again, you could always tell him the truth; after all, you really did think that Andrew was dead.”
In the meantime, Andrew also reveals himself to a surprised Eckhardt in an effort to provoke him to rage against Josie. He tells him that Josie warned him about the attempt on his life herself, and explains that she couldn’t see her “dear husband” endangered. This is probably not true, knowing what we know about Josie’s opportunism, but it is a selling point for Eckhardt’s jealousy to take over. Something Andrew did not expect, however: Eckhardt, after learning of Andrew’s escape from death, arranges with his assistant, Jones, to set an elaborate (again?) trap for him. Also jealous of the relationship between Josie and Harry Truman, Eckhardt and Jones prepare a similar bad end for him.
Eckhardt and Josie have their little rendezvous in which he is apparently threatening and abusive, insisting upon her returning to Hong Kong with him. He also is apparently trying to force her to consummate their reunion. She kills him with the gun Catherine provided her and then dies mysteriously, assumedly from fear. Truman is devastated by her death and plunges into a reckless debauch, leaving himself vulnerable for Eckhardt’s posthumous attack on him via his assistant Jones.
The last chapter in this tale of revenge and deceit involves a package sent to Catherine posthumously from Eckhardt, delivered by his assistant. This is basically Eckhardt’s last attempt to seek revenge against Andrew, and it uses the Packard family’s own inherent distrust of one another to its advantage. The skinny of the story is that Thomas knows that if he addresses this package to Andrew, he would immediately be suspicious of it; but by addressing it to Catherine, he knows he can bypass this suspicion and get Andrew vicariously, using his competitive nature and the sibling rivalry that exists between he and his sister against him. The trick works, as Andrew soon takes a safety deposit box key, which was found once the puzzle boxes were finally opened, without Catherine knowing. He and Pete go to the Twin Peaks Savings and Loan to open the safety deposit box only to find that Thomas has set a rather nasty explosive device to “greet” the first person to open the little metal door. Inside is a note inscribed with “Got you Andrew. Love, Thomas.”
So, there you go. More fifth act gore than Antony and Cleopatra, and twice as much duplicity and backstabbing as Hamlet. Shakespeare, eat your heart out; the Packards have got you beat.