“What have I become? How can I do things I do?”
Overall, it’s been a tough week for the women of Dark Shadows. Angelique was killed, Vicki’s in jail, and Josette probably shouldn’t be making any long-term plans.
1968 was the year they coined the phrase “Sisterhood Is Powerful”, which is good because these girls could use all the power they can muster. Today’s episode is practically a nature documentary about the lust, greed and hunger that’s making the pre-liberated ladies of Collinsport an endangered species.
For example, here’s young Sarah Collins, who’s being methodically stalked by the curse of a witch who actually died several days ago. Frustrated in love and perforated in the shoulder, Angelique cursed her wayward husband Barnabas, turning him into a vampire and decreeing that everyone who loves him will die.
Angelique is dead now herself, but the curse is still going strong, apparently powered by pure narrativium. In yesterday’s episode, Barnabas’ little sister Sarah was lighting a candle in Josette’s window, and saw her missing brother out on the lawn. Following him to the graveyard, she stumbled into the family mausoleum, where a magical gust of wind slammed the gate shut.
It’s hard to say exactly how the curse arranged all of this, because it had to line up a number of events simultaneously, starting with Riggs teaching Sarah how to make a candle. Unless Riggs is in on it. I’m not super familiar with how this kind of thing works.
Then we move to part two of today’s nature film, featuring bubble-headed heiress Millicent Collins, the eldest child of the New York branch of the family. While the rest of the family was occupied with other things, Millicent fell under the spell of the dashing, handsome and unscrupulous Lieutenant Nathan Forbes.
Like the small mammals who ducked out of the way when the asteroid strike killed all the dinosaurs, Millicent has a good chance of surviving the ongoing Collins extinction event. Her natural-selection advantage is that she never stops talking, which is essential for soap opera characters. Also, she’s really funny.
Millicent: I enjoyed the eclipse of the moon very much. It is something I shall tell my children —
She stops suddenly, realizing that she might be saying something presumptuous and improper.
Millicent: I mean — so few people see eclipses. So few people are up this late. I mean, people one knows. I understand that other people stay up later, somehow. Good night.
Nathan: I’m staying for a few minutes.
Millicent: Oh, no, no — you mustn’t. Remember the night cousin Barnabas discovered you here so late?
Nathan: Yes, well, he’s on his way to England now.
Millicent: Yes. An odd fact in itself. I mean, he never mentioned his going, and I saw him just a day or two before. To leave for England in the middle of the night… Wasn’t it lucky there was a ship!
She’s fantastic. I adore Millicent, as do all right-thinking people. It’s a Sam Hall script today, and you can tell, because it’s witty and the B-plot is even more entertaining than the A-plot.
Nathan is watching Millicent like a hunter stalking his prey. He’s been at this for a little while, and he knows exactly how to tease and flatter her into striking range.
Millicent: I think you frighten me, sir.
Nathan: Oh well, then, tell me how, and I will stop.
He leads her over to the couch.
Millicent: Oh, no, please don’t! I — I mean… you make me do things I should not do.
Nathan: Like watching the eclipse?
Millicent: Yes. I realize it is not your fault that eclipses occur late at night. It’s… it’s what you make me do that frightens me.
He leans back, and baits the hook.
Nathan: Well, you could be slightly more modern in your approach to life. Ah, but then I expect you’ll learn to be. After we’re married.
And there you have it; she’s done. At this point, all he has to do is come up with a plausible rationale for why he plans to quit the Navy and live off her money.
By the way, with Barnabas and Jeremiah dead, and Sarah trapped all night in a drafty mausoleum, it turns out that this is the future of the Collins family. That problem kind of snuck up on us while we weren’t looking.
Which takes us to stage three of Dark Shadows’ war on women. The bored-looking young lady in the red dress and the feathery hat is Ruby Tate, a woman of uncertain virtue spending a quiet night out on the docks.
She spots a dim figure in the distance, and calls out to him, thinking it’s a regular client.
But something else steps out of the fog.
So now we’ve got another one of those Sam Hall narrative collisions, where he takes a different story and drops it into the show, just to see what happens. In this case, it’s Jack the Ripper, the notorious serial killer who slaughtered prostitutes in Whitechapel.
This is another anachronism, obviously, because they never do anything else. The 1795 storyline is taking inspiration from both the 1690s Salem witch trials and the 1880s Jack the Ripper murders, which is kind of like setting a story in World War I, featuring guest appearances by George Washington and Neil Armstrong.
But as always with the narrative collisions, you can’t fight the power of combining these images. A dark, foggy night, a streetwalker and a guy in a cape with a twisted need for blood; there’s only one place this is going.
Just to trace the inspiration a little more specifically, this is how the 1959 film Jack the Ripper starts out — a tipsy prostitute stumbling home in the fog, guy in a cape gets busy with the knife. This was actually the first film to dress Jack up in a top hat and cape, turning him into a cultured aristocrat. This in turn was inspired by the 1958 Hammer horror film Dracula, and at some point you can probably trace it all back to Bela Lugosi, just like everything else on Dark Shadows.
By the way, note the feathery hat on this girl. Those must be bad luck or something.
Anyway, let’s get back to Ruby, who doesn’t have a lot of time to waste at this point. Unfortunately, she makes what must be a n00b mistake for a lady of the evening, namely: recognizing your prospective client. Barnabas is the heir to the most important family in town, and Ruby coos over how delighted she is to meet him.
She keeps saying, “Wait until I tell the girls at the Eagle about this!” and generally does everything she can to shorten her projected life span every time she opens her mouth.
Amazingly, Barnabas still thinks he can pull back from what he’s about to do. But she’s a pro in the temptation industry, and he can’t resist playing with his food.
Barnabas: I really should be going.
Ruby: Oh, c’mon, you don’t want to go now, do you?
Barnabas: It’s what I should do.
Ruby: Well… don’t do things you should do. That’s the way I live my life. You should try it.
Barnabas decides to take her advice, but he’s a newbie in this area too, and he botches it. He takes too long in the wind-up, giving her time to pull away.
Then they do something peculiar. Realizing that Barnabas is the guy who’s been attacking women around town, she backs away — and falls off the dock, into the water.
And Barnabas just stands there on the dock, watching her drown.
So this is a dark place for the narrative to go, because this scene — and many like it to come, over the course of the series — is based on the idea that prostitutes are expendable.
In the early days of Barnabas’ storyline in 1967, when Barnabas was fully positioned as a villain, people talked about all the attacks on girls in town. We didn’t see those girls, apart from Maggie, and there was no mention that they were anything other than normal, law-abiding citizens.
But now, when the story is going in the direction of “I can’t help it, I need blood in order to survive,” the victims have to be prostitutes, because the audience is much more likely to accept those deaths with a shrug.
Having her die by falling in the water is also expected to cushion things for the audience, as if her death wasn’t entirely Barnabas’ fault. It’s actually kind of a comedy ending for the scene, with a funny pratfall as a tag.
We’re not really expected to care about the death of this young woman. We don’t see her take her last breath, and we don’t see anyone grieve for her. She’s a fallen woman, and once she falls, we’re done with her.
Obviously, some of that is just the difference between a minor role and a regular character like Sarah or Josette, but that’s class-based as well. The show focuses on the happiness and tragedy of the richest family in town. Lower-class people like Ruby are just the day-players, and we can murder them whenever we feel like it.
Like I said, it’s been a rough week for women on Dark Shadows, and I get the feeling there’s more of the same coming up. Females of Collinsport — you might want to consider taking an alternate route to work in the morning. It’s a jungle out there.
Tomorrow: Closing the Loop.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Nathan assures Millicent that he can leave his Navy post, saying, “I’m not promised to them to life — for life.”
In act 2, Naomi forgets whether Vicki is singular or plural.
Millicent: Miss Winters is very, very cruel.
Naomi: No. Miss Winters were telling me so we could stop it from happening.
When Barnabas approaches Ruby on the wharf, the fog machine starts making horrible cranking noises. This lasts throughout the scene.
Behind the Scenes:
Ruby Tate was played by Elaine Hyman, in her only Dark Shadows appearance. She’d previously been on TV in East Side/West Side in 1964. She also played a role in a 1974 episode of the anthology show The Wide World of Mystery, in an episode called “The Spy Who Returned From the Dead”. In 1975, she appeared in the Broadway production of Alan Ayckbourn’s interlinked trilogy The Norman Conquests.
Hyman returned to TV in 2002, when she was 68 years old, to play roles on The Sopranos, Broad City and several Law & Order series. She’s got a small part in a James Franco movie, Black Dog/Red Dog, that’s currently in post-production. A few weeks from the day this is posted, she’ll celebrate her 80th birthday.
We’ll see Ruby’s ghost in June; in that appearance, she’ll be played by Natalie Norwich.
Yesterday, a date in the Collins family history book established that the last half of this week’s episodes are taking place from January 24-26, 1796. Coincidentally, there was actually a penumbral lunar eclipse on January 24, 1796, but it was invisible to the naked eye.
Also, there wasn’t a good place to write this in the post, but when Millicent and Nathan are in the woods searching for Sarah, they hear dogs howl. In the show’s chronology, this is the earliest example of Barnabas inspiring dognoise. We’ll hear some more tomorrow.
Tomorrow: Closing the Loop.
— Danny Horn