Schitt’s Creek: The Tragic Backstory and Glorious Redemption of Twyla Sands
She may be a secondary character but Twyla is still one of the most heart warming members of the Schitt's Creek family.
Given the title is basically a Schitt pun, it’s perhaps surprising that Canadian sitcom Schitt’s Creek is one of the sweetest most nuanced shows around. Written by and starring father and son Eugene and Dan Levy it follows the Rose family, once extremely affluent, now entirely bankrupt after a tax scandal. The only asset they are allowed to retain is the town of Schitt’s Creek, which Johnny Rose bought for his son David as a joke.
If you haven’t seen the show – well go and watch it immediately (and also spoilers) but know that it takes a couple of episodes to really get into it. Once you’re in, you’re in.
Though there are many things to celebrate throughout the six seasons of the show – its incredible focus on inclusivity and how it handles its LGBTQ+ storylines, Moira and Johnny’s loving and supportive marriage, Alexis and Ted’s heartbreaking romance, David and Stevie’s friendship, Moira’s wigs and much more – there is one character who is often on the sidelines who very much deserves to be celebrated.
Twyla Sands, played by Sarah Levy – sister of Dan Levy, daughter of Eugene – is the manager of the Cafe Tropical, apparently the only diner in the town of Schitt’s Creek. She’s a woman with a semi-tragic backstory and a relentlessly sunny disposition – a twist on how the character was initially imagined, according to Sarah Levy.
“She was very nerdy and introverted and there was a sadness to her,” Levy explains on the Best Wishes, Warmest Regards: A Schitt’s Creek Farewell documentary. The decision to turn Twyla into a far more cheerful character brought much humor to the show, so although her brilliant one liners hint at a very dark past, her upbeat outlook allows us to laugh rather than be disturbed.
When we meet her, Twyla is dating Mutt (Tim Rozon) but it becomes clear quite early on that there’s chemistry between Mutt and Alexis. Mutt isn’t great at communication and it seems like he doesn’t appreciate the true brilliance of Twyla’s asides. During a dinner party hosted by Ted the two bicker when Twyla attempts to introduce one of her anecdotes:
Twyla: I had a best friend that hooked. She married one of her Johns on my birthday.
Mutt: It’s not the time, Twyla.
Twyla: You don’t talk all dinner, and now you’re telling me I can’t talk about Trixie?!
Mutt: I’m sorry, it’s just I think sometimes you have a tendency to say the wrong thing, that’s all.
Twyla: Is there a right time to talk about being a hooker?
Could this best friend be the same one she mentions in a later episode?
“My best friend in kindergarten ran away, and her parents didn’t notice, and she ended up getting adopted by this really rich Asian family in Vancouver, but then they had their own kid, so she kind of got neglected a bit, and I can’t remember whether she’s back on the streets now, or…”
Though Twyla is initially planning to write a song for Mutt for his birthday, Alexis learns that he’s planning to break up with her. Instead she encourages Twyla to get in there first and end things with him. It’s an act of kindness, although Alexis does then date Mutt herself.
It’s ok though. Twyla, who has a strong spiritual side (she can see ghosts who are usually angry, has an aunt who has a ghost in her house that keeps leaving dimes everywhere, can read Tarot cards given to her by one of her mum’s ex-boyfriends who predicted to when he would leave her mum, to the day), knows that Mutt was just a ‘placeholder’. Her tea leaves told her that the man she’s supposed to marry is Black.
Twyla’s dad, we learn, is in prison and it’s not clear exactly what for. We do know that he used to be a roadie for the band Fleetwood Mac, though, and that they took out a restraining order against him.
Twyla’s mum has a fairly terrible track record with men, and has had numerous failed relationships. She was engaged to two pizza delivery guys, she dated a magician and gambling addict and she was also engaged to a satanist whose snake ate her turtle dove on Valentine’s day. The gambling addict might be the reason why Twyla has been banned from numerous casinos for being an unaccompanied minor. We also know Twyla’s mum is still dating, but these days half the time she thinks Twyla is her cousin Angela. When Twyla’s end of show twist is revealed (more on that in a bit) we also learn that Twy’s mum spent the money Twyla gave her on “a lot of snow mobiles”.
At least Twyla’s mum always comes to her murder mystery nights, even if she does bring whoever she’s dating, and that person usually brings a young friend…
We also learn that one of her step siblings is probably dead, after she and Alexis swap jewelry and Alexis gets her step brother’s dog tags. We said it was dark.
Her extended family is messed up too
Twyla has aunts, uncles and cousins who have equally dark backstories. This is kind of Twyla’s schtick and it’s introduced in episode one when she offers cold comfort to Johnny Rose after his family has lost everything.
Twyla: I had a second cousin in Elmdale who did telemarketing, he made a ton of money. It turns out his entire business was illegal, and he lost everything.
Johnny: Hm. Not quite the same.
Twyla: Yeah, no, he went to prison, which is terrible, but… But he is learning Spanish, “No mas, le duele!” I think it means, “Stop, it hurts.”
Her uncle also has had problems with debt, she shares.
“Between you and me, I know how hard it can be to pay off debt. My Uncle Ken only has three fingers now, which is too bad, because he’s deaf, and he only speaks using sign language, but he made his choices.”
Is this same uncle who had a parrot that kept telling her to take her bra off?
Her cousins don’t seem to have much luck either. We learn that one was in Riverdance until she got trampled.
The Cafe Tropical
Though Twyla has run the cafe for a while and works extremely hard, the Cafe Tropical, despite apparently being the only place to eat out in Schitt’s Creek, isn’t exactly a culinary paradise, and at least part of that is down to some bad decisions on Twyla’s part.
There was the time she bought black market milk and a lot of people got sick. In hindsight it probably wasn’t even cow’s milk – is elk’s milk a thing?
Then there’s the meadow harvest smoothies, which are exactly what they sound like and change every day. And probably don’t order the soup to go – it comes double bagged with a spoon or straw.
Twyla’s glorious redemption
Fittingly, though, by the end of series six, we learn Twyla isn’t such a tragic character after all. In fact, before the Roses even arrive in town she won the lottery, splitting $92 million with one other person. She doesn’t work in the Cafe Tropical for the money, she just enjoys it. By the end Alexis has convinced her that it’s ok to use the money to treat herself to something that she wants. What Twyla wants is the cafe so she purchases it outright, with plans to rename it as Twyla’s Cafe Tropical. And why not?
It’s a perfect ending for a character who we have grown to love – she might be ditsy and prone to bad luck but she’s also emotionally intelligent and empathetic often offering good advice to Alexis, showing support and enthusiasm to Moira and bonding with Johnny even though they don’t necessarily always deserve it.
Twyla loves where she lives. She loves her life and loves where she works. Twyla is a wonderful example of a person who knows herself and doesn’t need attention but is a great success without having to shout about it. We should all be a little bit Twyla.
Like Twyla, Sarah Levy isn’t in the spotlight but she’s still a part of the Schitt’s Creek family, so to give her her own joyful denouement is just right. Twyla Sands, we salute you.