“Aunt Natalie, I don’t mean to be impatient with you, but I think these questions are annoying.”
Josette is wearing a ring.
I’m making that super clear right up front, just in case anyone has a hard time processing the concept. It’s a hard ring to miss — it’s gold, with a big black onyx stone, and it’s usually seen in the company of a vampire. But now the ring is on Josette’s finger — Josette being the young woman you can see here, the one standing behind the enormous ring — and that is apparently a compelling dramatic situation.
You can tell that it’s important, because this is a five-minute scene, and Josette is under strict instructions to keep the damn ring in shot as much as she possibly can. This involves making several hand gestures which do not occur in nature.
Josette’s aunt, the Countess Natalie, is concerned about this, because she believes that the ring is connected to a witch’s spell, which will lead to Josette’s death.
Exasperated, Josette says, “Why do you persist in this ridiculous nonsense about witches?” which would be a perfectly reasonable question, except that’s not what Josette thinks, and therefore Ron Sproat is trying to kill me.
I’m serious. Ron Sproat wrote today’s episode, and I don’t know what the dude has against me, but he keeps trying to wreck my show.
I mean, I understand what he’s trying to do. This is basically a note-for-note repeat of the first scene in yesterday’s episode, which also opened with Natalie expressing concern, and Josette pretending that everything is just fine. Naturally, I would prefer it if you could tell one day’s episode apart from the next without examining it under an electron microscope, but it’s a soap opera and these things happen.
My issue is that two weeks ago, we had several episodes that were entirely based on Josette’s unshakeable belief that Vicki is a witch bent on destroying the Collins family. They talked about it a lot.
So if Josette doesn’t believe in witchcraft now, then that means she’s become one of the Goldfish People. She forgets everything that happened more than a week ago, and she needs constant reminders to help her keep track of her own life and opinions. But it’s easy to do this with Josette, because she really doesn’t have much of a character.
Josette Du Prés Collins is basically a human Rorschach test; you see in her whatever you want to see. Barnabas sees a devoted lover; Natalie sees an independent young woman; Ben sees a noble lady; Angelique sees a selfish, pampered child. She’s really just an open canvas for other people to write on.
So when the witch cast a spell on her that made her fall in love with Jeremiah, it didn’t actually feel like it was that much of a violation, because she said exactly the same things to Jeremiah that she’s said to Barnabas.
We don’t actually know what originally drew Josette to Barnabas, rather than any other guy that she’s met. (Psst, Josette — keep the ring in shot, that’s a good girl.) What does she even like about him? Why is her connection to Barnabas so special and important?
She keeps saying variations of “I love you, all that matters is being with you,” using an increasingly urgent tone of voice. But Josette’s “love” is really just a MacGuffin — something to fight over and try to possess, but having no intrinsic value of its own.
So without any relatable emotional content, we’re left with a standard Dark Shadows dread scene, where people stand around and talk about how worried they are about something. The only difference between this and a dozen other scenes just like it is that this one is a little more focused on the accessories.
Of course, once you determine that you’re concerned about someone that you care about, the next logical step is to post a servant outside their bedroom door. There’s a lengthy briefing scene where Natalie gives Riggs his instructions not to let Josette out, or anybody else in. I’m not sure I would entrust Riggs with any task that’s more mission-critical than light housekeeping, but what do I know. I’m not even a Countess.
So do you remember when I said that Ron Sproat has a thing about locking up women and children? He loves that; he can’t stay away from it. This is his go-to plot point, just banging on doors and begging people to unlock them.
It’s not a great way to treat your female characters, and it’s not even that good for the doors, which have a tendency to wobble and come unstuck at inopportune times, as this one does halfway through the scene.
The episode ends with Barnabas entering the room through the secret panel, which we already knew was there, because he used it for exactly the same purpose two episodes ago. And Natalie knows that Barnabas is able to enter Josette’s bedroom, because she saw him there last week.
This is why, if you’re going to hold somebody captive, it’s probably a good idea to keep eyes on the prisoner at all times. Keeping her on the other side of a door is just giving her the opportunity to get up to all kinds of mischief while you’re not looking.
Honestly, this isn’t a train wreck of an episode, and it doesn’t completely deserve the shellacking that I’m giving it. But there’s nothing surprising about it, and that’s the fundamental purpose of Dark Shadows. They are in the surprise industry, and today they don’t deliver.
Happily, in the next episode we get to leave the house, and all Hell breaks loose. Let’s meet back here tomorrow, and see if we can stir something up.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In act 1, Natalie tells Josette, “You forget that when we were getting ready to leave Collinwood, I helped you make an inventory of your jewelry.” She means ready to leave Martinique.
Josette comes downstairs to the foyer, and tells Natalie and Joshua that she wants to for a walk. Natalie stammers, “I thought you were having some sleep!”
When Josette pounds on her locked bedroom door, the door shakes and starts to open. She slams it shut again.
When Joshua enters the secret room in the mausoleum, the door closes automatically behind him. Usually, you have to push the door closed from the inside. Also, he doesn’t seem to notice that there are lit candles in what he assumes is a sealed, deserted room.
— Danny Horn