Episode 386: Make Like a Tree

“I am defending the right of this girl to be judged innocent until she is proved innocent!”

In the Salem witch trials in 1692, the case for the prosecution mostly relied on what they called “spectral evidence”, which means basically that they believed whatever the screaming girls said. Other techniques included the “touch test” — i.e., having the witch touch a screaming girl, to see if she stops screaming — and looking for a “witch’s teat”, which is just as grim as it sounds.

But you know what they didn’t do in Salem, or in any other witch trial in history? They didn’t tie the accused witch to a tree and leave her there overnight, expecting that the tree would be dead by morning.

They didn’t use this technique for two reasons. For one thing, it’s pretty unlikely that the tree would hold up its end of the bargain. The other reason is that it’s a completely bonkers thing to do, even by the generally loose standards of witch trial sanity.

I’m bringing this up because Dark Shadows is a daytime soap opera, and so obviously a discussion of the Puritan justice system is going to come up at some point.

386 dark shadows trask vicki hear

Today’s episode begins with a reprise of Friday’s cliffhanger, just as witch hunter Reverend Trask gets over-excited and starts tying governesses to the landscape.

A reprise of the previous episode’s cliffhanger isn’t actually the standard way to open an episode during this period of the show, but they absolutely have to repeat Trask tying Vicki to a tree and doing an exorcism, because otherwise the audience would assume that they’d dreamed the whole thing.

386 dark shadows natalie paces

Now, it was partly Natalie’s idea to call a witch hunter in the first place, to investigate all of the unexplainable malarkey surrounding Barnabas and Josette’s aborted wedding plans. But now that Trask’s here, she’s experiencing buyer’s remorse.

On Friday, she was uncomfortable with how physical Trask got with Vicki — pushing her around, gagging her, smacking her in the face, and finally bundling her out of the house to points unknown. I’m not sure what Natalie expected; a witch hunt tends to be a full-contact sport.

But this is good character-building for the Countess. Abigail is supposed to be the real religious fanatic in the cast, so it makes sense for Natalie to take a more moderate position, just to make sure everybody has something to do.

386 dark shadows natalie explains

Still, after that first delirious reprise, the show slows down quite a bit. Natalie paces around the room, says good night to Angelique, and then fusses with her tarot cards until it’s time for a real scene to start. There are a lot of weird pauses like this today. At one point before a commercial break, the whole show comes to a stop while we watch the clock strike twelve.

But you tend to get pacing issues in an episode like this, where they have a great idea for the cliffhanger, but it’s going to be twenty-two minutes until we get there, and they only have sixteen minutes worth of plot.

So Natalie kills a little time by filling in Barnabas and Nathan about the evening’s entertainment.

386 dark shadows trask panther

Then the door opens and Reverend Trask walks in, and the threat level instantly escalates from Guarded to Severe. This tends to happen when Trask is around; he enters a scene like a panther that’s trying to quit smoking.

I suspect it may be impossible to make a boring scene that has Trask in it. I mean, I’m sure they’ll try, but that’s my current hypothesis.

386 dark shadows barnabas trask finger

Worried about Vicki, Barnabas tries to step up to Trask. In general, this is not a winning strategy.

Barnabas:  Now, what have you done with her?

Trask:  I must caution you, Mr. Collins, not to interfere with God’s fight with the Devil.

Barnabas:  God’s fight with the Devil, indeed. Don’t you realize you’ve committed an injustice? This girl is not a witch!

386 dark shadows trask barnabas curious

Here’s the move that puts Trask squarely in the heavyweight class.

Trask:  I find your concern for the defense of this girl most curious, Mr. Collins.

And then he steeples his fingers. It’s never good when a witch hunter steeples his fingers.

Trask:  You don’t know where she came from. You know nothing of her background. She arrived here, in fact, as a total stranger. You must have some reason for defending her so strenuously.

Barnabas tries a counter-move.

Barnabas:  Reverend Trask, in your zealous pursuit of non-existent witches, it perhaps has escaped your memory that we have just fought a war recently — a war to establish certain rights.

And then he loses it, right at the five-yard line.

Barnabas:  And I am defending the right of this girl to be judged innocent until she is proved innocent!

Oh, well. It was worth a shot, anyway.

386 dark shadows trask natalie tarot

Barnabas and Nathan leave the house to search for Vicki. At a loose end, Trask prowls around the room, looking for something else to pounce on.

Trask:  Are these your tarot cards, Countess?

Natalie:  They are.

Trask:   I was under the impression that you are a religious woman.

Natalie:  I am. I rely on the cards to tell me what the future will be.

Trask:  Then you can lay no claim to being religious. God, and only God, determines what the future holds for each of us. It cannot be done with tarot cards, or any other of the Devil’s playthings.

386 dark shadows natalie steepling

Natalie rolls her eyes. “With all due respect,” she sighs, as she settles into a chair, “I am capable of pursuing my religion my own way, without any advice from you.”

And that is the end of that conversation. Poise, ladies and gentlemen. That’s how it works.

386 dark shadows vicki tied up

Meanwhile, Vicki’s still tied to the tree, sobbing and calling for help. The tree wobbles amusingly, as she tries to stay terribly still and not knock it over. This requires the smallest possible unit of struggling in the history of peril.

386 dark shadows barnabas vicki struggle

Barnabas and Nathan show up and release her — which in this case is more like Vicki just stops holding the rope around her body — and Barnabas says he’ll take her back to the house.

On the verge of panic, Vicki insists that she can’t go back to the house, if Trask is going to be there. It looks like she’s finally starting to take this uncertain and frightening journey into the past seriously.

386 dark shadows angelique emerges

Once they clear the set, Angelique emerges from the underbrush. She was following Barnabas and Nathan, and she knows about Trask’s test.

386 dark shadows angelique bonsaid

Reaching around the back of the tree, she breaks off a branch, which somehow becomes a little bonsai voodoo doll sapling. She sets it on a nearby boulder.

386 dark shadows angelique burns

Grabbing a lit match from essentially nowhere, she sets fire to the branch, which goes up nicely.

386 dark shadows angelique chromakey

And then the world lights up, in technicolor Chromakey. This was actually a fairly cutting-edge special effects technology in 1967, and I’m sincerely impressed with what they’ve managed to do with it so far.

Anybody else would have ended this scene by just showing a close-up of Angelique’s face, while they used crackling sounds and some lights on her face to suggest flames. Actually, I take that back — nobody else would ever think of ending a scene like this in the first place. The purpose of Dark Shadows is to make things happen on your television screen that you’d never expect, and this scene delivers.

386 dark shadows vicki new house

Barnabas and Nathan bring Vicki to a hiding place — the new house, which is still under construction. She says, “Must I stay here alone?” which feels a little ungrateful. You don’t want to be tied to the tree, you don’t want to go back to the house, and now you don’t want to be here either? We’re running out of sets.

Vicki:  The sun is coming up. Reverend Trask will be on his way to the tree by now.

Nathan:  I’d like to see the look on his face when he discovers you’re not there.

Vicki:  I wouldn’t. I don’t ever want to see his face again, as long as I live.

Okay, Vicki, damn. Dial it back slightly. You stood next to a tree for like an hour.

386 dark shadows tied trask natalie

As dawn approaches, Natalie follows Trask out into the woods, and challenges him to prove that his test was worthwhile.

They approach the spot where Vicki was tied up, and Trask is triumphant.

386 dark shadows tree

“She was tied to that tree, Countess,” he says. “Last night, it was a vital, living thing. Now, look what has happened!”

And, oh, it’s gorgeous. Just look at that. The moral of the story is that witch hunters are always right. You might want to check and see if you’ve got a receipt for those tarot cards.

Tomorrow: Truth or Dare.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

I mentioned it above, but that “innocent until proved innocent” line is one of my favorite dialogue flubs. Pure Frid magic.

Besides the wobbly tree, the forest also features a rotating bush. When Angelique hears Barnabas and Nathan approaching, she ducks behind a tree. Her cloak brushes against a bush, which spins around.

When Angelique sets the little branch down on the boulder, she should have turned it so that the firelighter attachment was hidden from the camera, rather than just leaving it right out there in view.

Towards the end of the Collinwood scene, Barnabas tells Vicki, “Now, you are not to worry about him anymore.” In the studio, someone coughs. You can also hear a cough in the next scene, after Natalie says, “Of course that is all.”

Natalie bobbles a line in her scene with Trask in the woods:

Natalie:  Are you afraid that perhaps the test has failed, and I will go back and tell everyone that you have been a fool?

Trask:  No.

Natalie:  Then what — why are you afraid of anything?

Tomorrow: Truth or Dare.

386 dark shadows tree burning

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

15 thoughts on “Episode 386: Make Like a Tree

  1. Jerry Lacy is an actor I don’t remember from watching the show in the 70’s but the more I see him now the more I like him. Just memorizing these long rants is a nod to his ability to learn and remember his lines (which as everyone knows is not commonplace on this show). Even Barnabas never had that much dialogue to spout in a single scene.

  2. Speaking of running out of sets….

    I know this is completely random, but one of the small pleasures of 1795 is that we actually get to experience the Old House as a mansion – and not just a creepy parlor, a creepy dungeon and creepy Josette’s room (seriously, did they change the linens in 150 years in there?)

    Barnabas, Jeremiah, Naomi, Josette, Abigail, Angelique and Vicki all have quarters. In 1968, when Quentin runs out the family straight into the Old House, I remembered at the time thinking, are they all staying in Josette’s room? But no. The accommodations are much bigger. We just never see them after this story.

    1. Oh, yeah, I hadn’t thought of that. You’re right, I really like the servants’ quarters that Angelique and Vicki have. There’s a clear difference in the quality of furnishings between the servants’ rooms and the family rooms, which highlights some of the “class struggle” themes.

      1. Also did you ever notice how they ‘recycle’ sets from one storyline to another? I think that Roger’s old office at the Cannery became Vicki’s dream house which later turned into her jail cell in the upcoming witchcraft trial episodes. I’m always looking at the sets and trying to remember in which storylines I’ve seen them before.

  3. This whole storyline would make more sense if somehow Victoria had told Angelique something that set her off, so she did have a role in setting things off.

    Also, the way they mess around with history, I’m surprised a tribe of local native americans didn’t show up to grab Victoria when she was tied up to the tree. It gives me a capture narrative vibe and it would make more sense location wise than voodoo. 🙂

  4. If they didn’t treat Angelique as a piece of movable furniture, and stopped discussing sensitive family issues when she is in the room, she wouldn’t be able to do nearly as much mischief.

  5. Although I laughed out loud when I heard the “judged innocent until proven innocent” line, I actually think it works better that way, since Barnabas is sure that she will be proven innocent.

    I do wish there were more of an explanation for why Angelique was so set on pinning things on Victoria. It’s one thing to be glad she’s a convenient scapegoat, but she goes well beyond that.

    I wonder what Trask had done if Victoria hadn’t been rescued and Angelique hadn’t destroyed the tree.

  6. I don’t understand Angelique’s motivation in burning the tree. I would think that she would more invested in proving Trask to be a fraud and make him go away, than in confirming his accusations and giving him a reason to stay.

  7. I will say this for Trask – in a house where everyone is looking for witches, he is the only one to raise to questions about the lady with the Tarot cards.

  8. I’ve got questions to yell at TV! (or in this case laptop screen)

    Why is it green? Why are there live crickets chirping? How did Vicki survive multiple hours outside without a coat? … It’s supposed to be winter in Maine!

    exhale Okay. I guess it’s just magic.

    I cannot help but notice that even though it has been mere days since Barnabas lost love of his life to his uncle, he seems to have moved on. He’s teamed up with a womanizing Nathan and is busily rescuing the damsel in distress. Which of these two men keeps putting his hands all over said damsel despite social conventions that say that such familiarity should not taken with a single young woman who is not a family member?

    It’s Barnabas! C’mon. He’s on the make (rebound?) more than Nathan is. If Vickie hadn’t already been friends with his “identical descendant” thereby causing her sense of caution to short out she’d be trying to avoid his touch. Normally she’d be reacting negatively to a man she barely knows being so handsy and presumptive. She has no trouble resisting Nathan. (Trust me, good girls in the “modern” 1960’s were not in the habit of letting strange men move them around like mannequins.)

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