“Neither Mrs. Collins nor I have any desire to influence the judges emotionally.”
Today, Nathan Forbes — the only really cute guy on Dark Shadows right now — is alone in his bedroom, and then another guy bursts in and starts getting physical with him. You’d think that this would be, like, my favorite scene ever, except that it’s Peter, who’s just angry and scowly and depressing.
Yesterday, Nathan promised that he’d testify on Vicki’s behalf at her boring old witchcraft trial, but then he turned around and testified for the other side instead, because the prosecutor promised to put in a good word for him with the Collins family.
Nathan is a liar, and a coward, and an opportunist, and he probably cheats at cards and doesn’t wash behind his ears. None of that matters. Didn’t you hear me? He’s the cute guy. They only have one.
So here comes Peter, all eyebrows and anger.
Peter: Miss Winters never said she would kill Abigail Collins.
Nathan: Did the court grant you a recess just so you could tell me that?
Peter: Why did you lie?
Nathan: I told you what I remembered!
Peter: You couldn’t have remembered that, because it never happened! You had another reason for saying it, and I want to know why!
Then he walks around to the other side of Nathan, and tries the same line from the other direction.
Peter: I want to know what it was! Why did you lie? Why?
Okay, Peter, I think we’ve identified the piece of information you’re fishing for here. Nathan lied. You want to know why. That question doesn’t get more interesting just because you’ve moved to the other side of the room.
We break for the opening titles, and when we come back, this is where we start:
Nathan: Victoria Winters told me that she would kill Abigail Collins. Why would I lie?
Peter: That’s what I want to know!
And oh my God are you kidding me right now. Because the thing is: I already know why Nathan lied, and it’s not even that interesting of a plot point.
So there’s no way for the audience to be on Peter’s side in this scene. They’re trying to establish him as the crusading hero in this storyline — the determined young man who’s willing to put everything on the line for the truth, to save the woman he inexplicably loves. But if they want us to root for Peter, they’re doing it backwards. He’s not the audience identification character here. He’s just the shouty, squinty guy who keeps yelling the same question.
It’s actually ridiculously easy to get the audience to like a new character — so easy that it’s amazing any TV show ever gets it wrong. The new character needs to make a friend, make a joke, and make a plot point happen.
That’s it. It’s a three-step process. Julia’s first episode was a perfect example, and so was Tony Peterson’s introduction. They were witty and smart, they each established an alliance with a regular character right away, and they instantly changed the story just by walking into the room.
As for Nathan, it took him a little while to gel, because he didn’t seem to have a big story impact at first, but he was super cute and funny, and he was already a family friend.
And then there’s Peter. To his credit, he’s scored one out of three — he’s friends with Vicki, a core character — and that’s better than nothing.
But he’s not funny. I don’t think he’s said a single amusing thing this whole time. He had one cute scene a few weeks ago, with the “bird planes” line, but besides that, he’s never even cracked a smile. Even crazy, ranting, black-clad Reverend Trask has a light moment now and then. Peter is a non-stop rage machine.
And he’s not even making a plot point happen. He’s basically just a shadow of Vicki, shouting and scowling on her behalf. If Vicki had been representing herself in court this whole time, she would be in exactly the same situation as she is now. Peter hasn’t changed a thing.
That’s another reason why this scene is so annoying. The audience knows that Peter isn’t going to learn anything, because there’s nothing for him to learn. Nathan’s storyline has nothing to do with Vicki and Peter. This is a snipe hunt.
So it’s clear that if the soap opera magazines and internet forums existed in 1968, the Dark Shadows fans would be complaining that the producers are trying to force Peter down our throats. That’s the phrase that soap fans always use when a new character starts getting a lot of air time, and they haven’t made a joke, a friend and a plot point.
Dark Shadows is clearly trying to present Peter in a heroic light. We’re supposed to find him romantic and exciting. But he’s a petulant little creep, and he doesn’t do anything. The signal to noise ratio is all wrong.
And then they go and do something that’s just unbelievably crass — they start a fight between Nathan and Peter, and Peter wins.
I call no way. Nathan is at least a couple inches taller than Peter, and he’s clearly stronger and more physical. Plus, this is a guy who fights dirty.
You simply can’t be Lieutenant Nathan Forbes — roguish charmer with an eye for the ladies — without pissing off the occasional husband or boyfriend. The fact that Nathan is still alive and unscarred is proof that he can handle himself in a situation like this.
But Peter smacks him in the face, and Nathan goes down, and stays down. He just sits there and rubs his face, instead of punching Peter in the crotch, which by the way he is in exactly the perfect position to do.
It would be so easy for the show to fix this. Unfortunately, it requires telling Peter that he’s fired, and nobody wants to have a conversation with the guy. Maybe they could write him a letter or something.
Tomorrow: Next Stop Kansas.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In act 3, Nathan trips over a line: “Mr. Collins, I honestly loved… loved your niece.”
At the start of act 4, Naomi tells Joshua, “Peter Brandon was here.” She means Peter Bradford.
At the very beginning of the closing credits, you can see a person’s shadow on the right side of the screen. The shadow quickly moves away.
Behind the Scenes:
A note from resident prop-spotter Prisoner of the Night: Joshua’s office at the shipyard is a redress of a set that’s been used several times, including Roger’s office at the cannery, Barnabas’ first bedroom at the Old House and the interview room at the Collinsport Gaol. A couple of props have migrated from Barnabas’ old room: “The barometer is hanging between the two windows of the far wall. Above the fireplace, there’s a model ship mounted on the wall, a three-masted sailing ship with four sails on the main mast and two sails each on the foremast and mizzen mast (not to be confused with the model ship that rests on the mantlepiece of the Collinwood drawing room of the period, which also has three masts, but with five sails on each — the one that rests atop the armoire cupboard behind the sofa in the Collinwood drawing room of the late sixties. In Roger’s office and Barnabas’ first room, the main entrance was through the door at stage right, but in the Collinsport Gaol and Joshua’s office, the main entrance is through the door at stage left.” I keep telling you how amazing PotN is.
Tomorrow: Next Stop Kansas.
— Danny Horn