“I adjure thee, thou serpent — by the Judge of the quick and the dead, by thy Maker and the Maker of the world, by Him who hath power to put thee into Hell — that thou depart in haste from the flesh of this woman. Go out, thou seducer! Go out, thou transgressor, full of deceit and wile! Enemy of virtue! Persecutor of innocence! In the name of the Lord, I command thee to cast thyself back into the darkness from whence thee came, and where thy everlasting destruction awaits thee!”
For the last four weeks, we’ve accompanied Victoria Winters on an uncertain and frightening journey into the past, back to the year 1795. Sort of.
Because it certainly hasn’t been the 1795 that we expected, has it? We thought we were going to visit the 1795 where Jeremiah married Josette when he was an old man. Or the one where Josette and Jeremiah were very much in love. Or the one where Barnabas would have destroyed Jeremiah if he’d had the time. Or even the one where Barnabas gave Josette a special music box. Whatever happened to that music box, anyway?
So there have been a lot of inconsistencies piling up, impossible little gaps in time and logical sequence. It’s almost as if a really stupid and annoying person had traveled through time, and then done a lot of idiotic things, screwing up the timeline so badly that history isn’t working properly anymore. I wonder who that could possibly have been?
On the bright side, if there really are several alternate-timeline Jeremiahs hanging around loose, that would be great, because we’re going to need a spare. The Earth-616 Jeremiah just got shot in the face yesterday. Anthony George has already cleaned out his dressing room, so the outlook is fairly grim.
Nathan tells Natalie the latest news from the sickroom — Jeremiah is still unconscious, and the doctor isn’t optimistic about his chances.
Gritting her teeth, Natalie grips the bannister and insists, “Someone in this house wanted that duel to take place. Someone wants Jeremiah to die.”
Now, call me crazy, but I think she’s onto something. I’d suggest starting the investigation with the guy who shot him in the face.
But there’s no time for fancy police work; there’s a knock at the door. Nathan answers, and here comes trouble.
This is the Reverend Trask, who was invited by Abigail Collins to expose and exorcise the witch who’s been tormenting the Collins family. Here he is, and he’s everything that you could possibly want him to be.
So far, the 1795 sets and costumes have brought a whole new color palette to the show — warm reds and vivid greens, extravagant hats, jewels and embroidery. But Trask is dark and severe, dressed all in black, with heavy eyebrows and a deep, commanding voice. He’s clearly marked as different, and dangerous. Something new has been added to the menagerie.
Nathan is surprised to learn that Abigail has invited a witch hunter to the house.
Nathan: Countess, may I ask by whose authority this gentleman has come here?
Trask: By the authority vested in me by the Almighty!
Nathan: The Almighty… Forgive me, Mr. Trask, but what church do you represent?
Trask: I have my own congregation, in Salem.
Salem, of course. This would be one of those narrative collisions that the show’s become so fond of lately, where we grab somebody from another story and throw him on screen, just to see what happens. Reverend Trask is visiting from the famous Salem witch trials, by way of Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible.
We’ve already seen one of the Crucible characters; she’s been tearing the place up for weeks. In the episode that introduced Angelique, her first passionate scene with Barnabas was a note-for-note paraphrase of a pivotal scene from The Crucible, a heated confrontation between the protagonist, John Proctor, and the manipulative and dangerous Abigail Williams.
Abby’s mischievous fingerprints are all over this storyline — Abigail Collins got her name, and Angelique got the scalding-hot need for vengeance in her soul.
Now, I’ve been reading up on the Salem witch trials lately, in preparation for this storyline, and I might as well warn you that I plan on being completely insufferable about it. That’s just how things work around here.
So here’s a quick thumbnail of the Salem chronology. The trouble began in January 1692, when young girls in the village started having fits, and claimed that they were being attacked by unseen forces. The hysteria spread to more girls living nearby, who grew into an unruly mob known as “the afflicted children”.
The girls started accusing people in the village of being witches, who sent their spectral forms to torment the girls and win them over to Satan. The trials began in May, led by prosecutors dedicated to finding and destroying the devils in their midst. More than a hundred people were imprisoned, and twenty people were executed between June and September.
Some of the people who were convicted and hanged were respected members of the church, and by October, support for the witch hunt started to drain away. The remaining prisoners were released by January 1693, and the people of Salem began to rebuild their shattered community.
It’s a well-known story, with lots of drama and shouting, and thrilling accounts of supernatural horrors — the perfect inspiration for a Dark Shadows storyline.
Unfortunately, it happened in the 1690s, and they’d already established that Barnabas came from the 1790s. Trask is a hundred years too late. In fact, a witch hunter from Salem walking into Joshua Collins’ house makes about as much sense as Don Draper from Mad Men enlisting in the Civil War.
But here’s the thing that really doesn’t make sense: Nathan tries to warn Vicki that she’s in danger, and Vicki laughs it off.
He’s actually being very sweet here — last week, he warned her that she might need a friend one day, and now he’s come to help her out. He tells her that Abigail and the Countess are taking their accusations of witchcraft seriously, and they’ve called in a witch hunter to investigate.
And Vicki thinks this is hilarious. She actually giggles. She says that she’s not a witch, and she has nothing to fear.
There’s the paradox: Vicki is a governess, teaching history to a ten-year-old boy in New England. Obviously, she knows the story of the Salem witch trials, and she knows that innocent people were accused and hanged. She also knows that she’s alone in the wrong century, and even if the only result of this boondoggle is that she’s dismissed from service, she literally has nowhere else to go.
So either this is a universe where the Salem witch trials happened in the 1690s, and Vicki feels safe because she knows the witch hunts have been over for a century — or this is an alternate universe where the witch trials happened in the 1790s, and Vicki is an idiot. Actually, Vicki’s an idiot either way, but the point is that something is wrong with time.
Downstairs, Abigail is having her own chronological issues.
Trask: We must have tangible evidence of an act of sorcery.
Abigail: We have all the evidence you need; the signs are unmistakeable!
Trask: Tell me about them.
Abigail: My brother Joshua was standing right there, over a week ago, and Jeremiah was in the room with him, when suddenly, Joshua disappeared in thin air, and in his place was a large black cat.
Oddly enough, everything about that lunatic statement is true, except for the phrase “over a week ago”. By my calculation, Joshua was a cat for four days, tops.
The episode after Joshua turned into a cat took place later that night, and Josette aand Barnabas’ wedding was planned for the next day. Josette and Jeremiah’s honeymoon at the Collinsport Inn lasted a little over two days, and then Joshua reappeared on the day that the newlyweds returned home. At the time, Abigail told Joshua that he’d been missing for a week, but it can’t have been more than four days.
That’s really common, though; soap operas always do strange things with time compression. Soap characters are always saying that something in a previous episode happened “the other day”, when it was actually earlier that morning in story time.
It’s not surprising that Abigail is extending the narrative time to fit the audience’s experience — we saw Joshua disappear a week ago, so it’s a week for Abigail.
But then Trask asks her how long Vicki’s been in the house, and Abigail says, “She was employed about two weeks ago as Sarah’s governess.” If anybody feels like calculating the number of days in story time, then go ahead; I’m pretty sure it’s been more than two weeks.
So, again, we’re seeing the chronology stretching and compressing, simultaneously. This storyline is destabilizing time; I’m actually getting a little worried about this.
I think Jerry Lacy’s in on it, too, because he says more words in this episode than it’s possible to fit into twenty-two minutes. Reverend Trask is just unbelievably great. I loved Jerry Lacy when he first appeared a couple months ago as hard-boiled lawyer Tony Peterson, and he’s even better here. He just talks, endlessly, and his delivery is so commanding that you can’t take your eyes off the screen.
Trask: How long have you been in league with the Devil?
Vicki: Now, you just stop this, because I’m not in league with anyone; I’ve never done a thing to harm anyone in this house!
Trask: You have tried, and you have succeeded! You have carried out the Devil’s instructions since the day you arrived here!
Vicki: That’s ridiculous!
Trask: You have used your spells, and potions, and incantations to inflict bodily harm and cause mental aberrations!
Oh, it’s just marvelous. I could quote Trask all day, and I think I will.
Vicki: I’ve done no such thing! Why won’t you listen to what I’m saying?
Trask: You caused the disappearance of the master of this house through an act of black magic!
Trask: You have used your trickery to sow the seeds of deception and hatred among the members of the Collins family — a God-fearing people who would never willingly do the Devil’s bidding!
One of the great things about Trask’s dialogue is that you keep thinking that he’s about to finish a sentence, and then he just tacks on another clause. That last line sounded like it was supposed to stop in three different places, and it just kept going.
Here, have some more; there’s plenty.
Trask: You cannot resist the will of God for long, girl! You cannot hide your evil ways from me. I have seen too many others like you — poor, wretched creatures, their bodies alive with an evil spirit that is beyond their control!
Trask: You cannot help what you are. You have lost your free will. It is not you we must punish.
Trask: It is Satan — for he has reached out and taken wanton possession of your body! Satan possesses and commands, and poor earthly flesh obeys.
Trask: But the hand of God will intervene. The hand of God will cleanse your body of the seeds of evil Satan has planted there! Get down on your knees, and pray to the heavens for your salvation!
It’s fantastic. Jerry Lacy is single-handedly inventing a new style of Dark Shadows acting, which is like regular acting but six times louder.
And then — somehow, somewhen, in an alternate timestream that cannot possibly be our own — the episode ends with Trask tying Vicki to a tree, and spending a full minute performing an exorcism at the top of his lungs, shouting so loud that they could probably hear him on The Edge of Night, two channels over.
It’s a trick. It has to be. This couldn’t possibly have happened. There’s no way, even in 1967, that they could broadcast this on afternoon television as a Friday cliffhanger, and the network still let them come back on Monday to make another episode.
And that trick — this impossible chrono-synclastic infundibulum, rippling backwards and forwards through time, mashing up history and culture and common sense — it’s still just as powerful today.
Because here I am, on a Friday in May 2014, writing about the 1967 version of the 1795 version of 1692. And when I hit publish a minute from now, this blog post will embark on its own uncertain and frightening journey through time, to catch up to you — on Saturday, or next week, or next year, or however long it takes to make contact with you. And that’s finally happened, right now.
It’s time travel, that’s the only explanation. This show, and this blog, traveling together every day, compressing and expanding the days and weeks and decades, all at the same time. It’s no wonder that the linear course of events has collapsed; I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
Truly, these are the end times. And, lucky for us, they’re just beginning.
Monday: Make Like a Tree.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
During Trask’s interrogation, he repeats part of a line. He tells Vicki, “Get down on your knees, and pray to the heavens for your salvation!” She objects, and he says, “Don’t you understand, girl, you must not resist, you must pray to the heavens for your salvation!”
Abigail ties a handkerchief around Vicki’s head as a gag. She has a hard time getting it tied around the back, and the dialogue between Abigail and Trask slows down when it’s clear that it’s going to take her a minute to finish. Finally, Vicki obligingly bites down on the gag to make sure it stays in her mouth while Abigail fixes the knot.
While everyone is engaged in gagging Vicki, Natalie stands up and says, “Why must you take her out of this house?” Trask responds, “Her presence will still be felt, if she remains here!” Natalie hesitates, and then says, “I — I don’t understand!” There’s no response from Trask to this line; Natalie has skipped ahead in the script. After four seconds of silence, Natalie moves on to, “Where will you take her?” Trask replies, “To the woods, away from those she could bring harm to! Then I will put her to the ultimate test!” Now Natalie’s back on track, and she says, “But I do not — I do not understand!”
The tree that Vicki is tied to shakes and wobbles.
Also: How did Trask tie Vicki to the tree all by himself? There’s no way he could have done it single-handed, unless Vicki was extra cooperative.
Salem Witch Trial Trivia:
The character of Reverend Trask is modeled on two important figures from the actual Salem witch trials. Reverend Samuel Parris was the reverend in Salem Village, and the “afflictions” started in his house — his daughter Betty and his niece, Abigail Williams, were the first children who started having fits and accusing people of witchcraft. Parris was an active participant in the witch hunt, and encouraged it in his sermons.
Cotton Mather was an influential Boston minister whose 1689 book Memorable Provinces, Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions was an important source of inspiration for the 1692 witch hunt. When the “afflicted girls” would go into their fits, they would identify the witch’s spirit that was attacking them. When local ministers were asked to advise about the appropriate way to conduct the trials, Mather encouraged the use of this “spectral evidence” as grounds for presumption of guilt, even if the accused witch was a good Christian actively denying the charges while the girls screamed their accusations. Mather wrote quite a bit about the trials in the years after, and never apologized for hs role in convicting innocent people.
Trask’s line to Barnabas in this episode echoes Mather’s defense of spectral evidence, even when it’s used against apparently innocent people: “The Devil does not always appear to us in the face of evil, Mr. Collins. He sometimes appears in the guise of innocence and purity.”
There’s another Salem reference when Trask first questions Vicki in her room. She tells Trask that she knew he was coming, and Trask asks how she knew. She doesn’t want to get Nathan in trouble, so she says she doesn’t know. Trask seizes on this as evidence of diabolical clairvoyance.
A similar situation actually happened in March 1692. Ann Putnam accused Martha Corey of sending her spectre to torment her. She was asked what the spirit was wearing, but she couldn’t describe the spectre’s clothes. When the authorities visited Corey, she challenged the accusation, saying, “Did she tell you what clothes I have on?” This coincidence was taken as evidence that Corey’s spectre had really been there when Ann was being questioned.
Okay, one more. There actually was a Trask peripherally involved in the Salem witch trials — John Trask, who testified against Bridget Bishop in April 1692. Trask’s wife Christina had killed herself in June 1690, by cutting her own throat with a pair of scissors. Bishop was accused of bewitching Mrs. Trask, and forcing her to commit suicide. Bishop was the first person executed during the witch hunt.
Monday: Make Like a Tree.
— Danny Horn