“We were just having a little family argument.”
This hasn’t been an easy week so far, either for the Collins family or for the Dark Shadows audience. They’re wrapping up this phase of the Barnabas/Josette storyline, and after all of the build-up, it doesn’t really feel like anything.
This week, we’re seeing two of Dark Shadows‘ less successful attempts at creating a soap opera supercouple — a pairing that endures for years and offers unlimited story potential, as they overcome obstacles and always find their way back to each oher. On Monday, the show officially unveiled Vicki and Peter as the brand new star-crossed, century-hopping romance, and now we’re heading straight for a pivotal moment in the epic story of Barnabas and Josette.
Now, I don’t know how you feel about the situation, but personally I couldn’t care less about those couples. They could jump off a cliff for all I care, and lucky me, guess what happens next.
But if Dark Shadows has a hard time with heart-tugging romance, they make up for it with lunatic plot contrivances.
As today’s episode opens, Natalie enters the Collinwood drawing room, and finds Joshua sitting on the couch with this expression on his face. She pays exactly no attention to it, but I suppose if you spend enough time at Collinwood, after a while you just stop processing other people’s stunned expressions. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.
But he’s got a good one this time. Yesterday, he went to the secret room where he’d buried his son Barnabas, opened the coffin and found that it was empty. That’s a fairly gripping anecdote, even for this show.
They’re baffled, especially because they’ve just noticed Barnabas’ ex-fiancee Josette walking around wearing the black onyx ring that he was buried with. Joshua says this has to be the work of grave robbers, but nobody knows where Barnabas was buried, and Joshua can’t explain how the ring ended up on Josette’s finger.
“There has to be a logical explanation,” Joshua moans, “there has to be!” As always, this line is the time-honored signal that they’re not going to figure that explanation out anytime soon.
And then who should stroll in but this week’s walking, talking plot twist, Mrs. Suki Forbes.
Suki is the estranged wife of Lieutenant Nathan Forbes, the handsome scoundrel who recently became engaged to Millicent, the ditzy heiress of the Collins family fortune. Suki’s a schemer herself, and she showed up last week to demand a small fortune from Nathan, or else she’ll let Millicent know that he’s already married.
She’s currently passing herself off as Nathan’s sister, and she’s wrangled an invitation to stay at Collinwood, because that’s the kind of thing that always happens in soap operas and door-slamming bedroom farces — two genres that are heavy on the lunatic plot contrivances.
Suki chases the old folks out of the drawing room, and then leads Nathan on an invigorating lap around the track.
Nathan: All right, Suki. It’s time to stop playing games. How much do you want?
Suki: You’re always very direct, aren’t you, dear? It’s a quality I admire in a man.
Nathan: I said it’s time to stop playing games; now, there’s a carriage leaving Collinsport. How much is it going to take to get you on it?
Suki: Ooh, you’re asking me to make a decision. And you know I’ve always been dreadful at making decisions.
Suki is a dream — a fearless, funny, camp spectacle of a character who runs entirely on bad news. She’s the perfect character to throw into a serialized narrative, because she’s a chaos engine, just like Angelique or Julia. Light fuse and get away.
Suki says that she wants $5,000, which is somewhere around $70,000 in today’s money — an impossible sum for Nathan to scratch up.
Nathan: You know I don’t have that kind of money.
Suki: Ah, yes. But fortunately for both of us, dear Millicent does.
Nathan: Oh, now, be reasonable. How can I ask Millicent for five thousand dollars?
Suki: I’m sure you’ll find a way. You’ve always had a way with words.
Oh, I love her. Check out the change of expression in the next exchange.
Nathan: Even if I could lay my hands on that kind of money, it would take time.
Suki: Take all the time you want. I’m perfectly willing to wait.
Nathan: But I want you out of here now!
Suki: Then get the money from Millicent. It’s that simple.
And look at the body language here. She’s a foot and a half shorter than he is, and she’s staring him down.
Nathan: If Millicent breaks off our engagement, then you won’t be able to get another cent out of me. You know that as well as I do.
Suki: That’s right, I do. But I also know that breaking up your little romance would give me a great deal of satisfaction. After all, Nathan, although you prefer to forget it, we are still man and wife!
She’s just great, that’s all there is to it. She’s like Heather Locklear joining Melrose Place, a weapon of mass destruction in heels.
Desperate to get Suki away from Collinwood’s central transportation hub, Nathan tells her to meet him at the Old House so they can discuss things in more detail.
Then Nathan gets held up, so Suki is left alone in the Old House, just her and the things that go bump in the night.
That’s when things start to go seriously awry. Suki’s been told that Barnabas has gone to England, the family’s cover story for his sudden and disturbing death. He’s got Josette upstairs, waiting for the moment when he’s ready to kill her and turn her into his eternal, undead bride.
As I said, Suki is fantastic — a made-to-order soap opera firecracker. But suddenly she’s in a situation that’s way above her pay grade.
Barnabas tries to scare her away, but Suki Forbes doesn’t scare easily. Assessing the situation, she decides that this is another blackmail opportunity, and she threatens to spread the word that he’s still hanging around the estate. This is what you might call a career-limiting move.
So, in these few final moments that we have with our fantastic new fan-favorite character, let’s consider: Why would Dark Shadows create a character like this, with so much potential for long-term storyline mayhem, and then murder her on camera at the end of her third episode?
The answer is: Because it’s Dark Shadows, that’s why. This show is in the business of creating surprises on a daily basis, half an hour every weekday. This is one of the most surprising things they’ve done in the last couple months, and on this show, that’s saying a lot.
Every cue that we’ve been given about Suki sets us up to think this is at least a medium-term character, someone who’s going to stick around for a while and cause all kinds of trouble. But she walks into the wrong house at the wrong time, and suddenly all of our predictions are shattered.
I wish she’d stuck around. Everybody wishes that. It’s impossible to watch these episodes and not want to see more of Suki.
But, damn it. Look at what this show can do. My favorite show.
Tomorrow: Pursued by a Bear.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Joshua shows Natalie the secret panel in Josette’s room, and explains that the house was planned “during the War”. But the Revolutionary War ended thirteen years ago, in 1783, and the house was just finished a couple months ago. I know Collinwood is a mansion, but could it take that long to build?
In act 3, when Barnabas finds Suki:
Suki: Why are you threatening me?
Barnabas: Don’t answer — uh, ask questions.
Nathan hears Suki scream, and pounds on the Old House front door to get in. The brick wall next to the door noticeably wobbles.
Tomorrow: Pursued by a Bear.
— Danny Horn