“It’s got to stop now! It’s gone on for too long!”
It’s another trial day for Victoria Winters, who’s currently in custody on suspicion of witchcraft. As usual, she’s hanging out in her cell with Peter, her lawyer and boyfriend. He seems to spend a lot of time in these unstructured jailhouse discussions, just racking up the billable hours.
“Peter,” she says, “do you ever have nightmares?”
“Of course I do,” he replies. “I’m on Dark Shadows. Most of my scenes are with you. My whole life is a nightmare.” But he only says that in my imagination.
Vicki’s spent the last several months on this uncertain and frightening journey into the past, traveling to 1795 to witness the events leading up to Barnabas Collins becoming a vampire. Or, at least, the audience has witnessed those events. Vicki talked her way into a prison sentence six weeks ago, and now she’s well on her way to an execution.
“It’s got to stop now,” she says, trying to shake herself awake. “It’s gone on for too long! It’s got to stop now! It’s got to stop!”
Amen, sister. It’s been 437 episodes, and Vicki finally says something that I agree with.
So let’s assess the situation. She’s female, she’s in a stressful situation, she’s expressing how she feels, and it’s 1968. What do you think happens next?
That’s right! He smacks her across the face. This is a time-honored medical treatment that helps people to relax and focus. A good stiff slap in the kisser is often the key to achieving a healthy emotional balance. That’s why you see EMTs slapping people who’ve had heart attacks. It’s basic first aid, really.
Seriously, smacking women in the face to help them calm down is one of my least favorite things about television. I’m pretty sure this doesn’t happen on TV any more; I don’t know what we do with hysterical women now. Maybe we’ve finally learned how to stop making them hysterical in the first place.
And this isn’t the only example of Peter getting alarmingly hands-on with his client. Last week, Joanne — one of the blog’s awesome regular commenters — pointed out that this actor has a habit of getting handsy with his female co-stars. I’d never noticed this before, probably because I’m a dude, and therefore the suffering of women doesn’t register with me, the way it does with normal people.
But now that Joanne’s mentioned it, holy cow, yeah, that’s a problem. When they’re in the courtroom, and Peter calls Vicki to the stand to testify, he actually grabs her arm and pulls her across the room. I think we’re supposed to interpret this as tender and reassuring.
Here’s another intimate moment, where Peter tells Vicki that he’s terribly afraid that if her testimony doesn’t convince the judges, she’ll be convicted and hanged. He illustrates this point by reaching out and gently grabbing her throat as if he’s throttling her. This is not a point that cries out for illustration.
But the weirdest example is the lengthy sequence while they’re waiting for the judges to announce the verdict. Peter’s actually in a good mood for some reason; he seems to think it’s possible that they’ll let Vicki go, despite the overwhelming evidence that she’s a clear and present danger to herself and everyone around her.
So he’s optimistic, a feeling that he expresses through the medium of gripping her forearms and telling her not to worry.
She cries, “Peter, I don’t want to die!” His response is to spin her around to face him, and then tell her how much he loves her.
She breaks away, and moves to the other side of the room, still talking about her feelings. He comes up behind her. Total time elapsed without putting his hands on her: 11 seconds.
And this time he seriously goes for it. He starts squeezing her shoulders, and rubbing his face on the back of her head. It’s hard to explain how weird this is as an acting choice, except to say that there’s more face-rubbing than you would think was absolutely necessary in the situation.
Now, I’m all for actors expressing themselves artistically, and making interesting choices. Obviously, if you’re playing a scene where the woman that you love is waiting for her imminent death sentence, you’re going to want to comfort her.
But he keeps making the same choice, and after a while, it gets super distracting and unsettling.
And then he goes and spins her around again. I don’t know what to say. Is he going to keep doing this for, like, the whole rest of the series? Cause I’m not sure you can get a restraining order on your own lawyer. That would definitely make things awkward during the appeals process.
At one point, Vicki yells at Nathan during his testimony, and the judge tells Peter, “Mr. Bradford, please control the prisoner.” Yeah, like he ever does anything else.
Tomorrow: Drag Me to Hell.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Peter loses his way as he’s questioning Nathan: “At that time, you told him that, uh, you had, uh, something that… something…” He checks the teleprompter. “A weakness. Yes, a weakness, that’s what you said.”
A few moments later, Peter says, “Your honor, in my last defense, I call Victoria Winters.” He means “for my last witness.”
Behind the Scenes:
The jailer who unlocks Vicki’s cell is Peter Murphy, who we’ve seen a lot of lately. He played the recast Caretaker in October, and a bunch of body double roles as Dr. Woodard’s ghost, Burke’s dead body and the back of Barnabas’ head. We saw him as a jailer a couple weeks ago. He’s got one more episode coming up, as a Gravedigger.
The Bailiff is Anthony Goodstone, who makes three appearances on the show over a period of a year and a half. He was a background Blue Whale customer in episode 199 (April 1967), a Bailiff in today’s episode (Feb 1968) and then a reprise of the Bailiff in episode 664 (Dec 1968). Besides that, he was in a 1977 episode of Starsky and Hutch, and that’s everything I know about him.
Also, Hal White fills in as one of the non-speaking judges today, taking the chair in place of Hansford Rowe. This is White’s only appearance on the show.
Tomorrow: Drag Me to Hell.
— Danny Horn