Episode 442: Cask Party

“Death is a valid reason.”

TRUE! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? Writing about Dark Shadows every day has sharpened my senses — not destroyed — not dulled them. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

Well, not the whole story. There’s, like, 800 more episodes; we’d be here all night. But let’s see if we can focus on the next twenty-two minutes.

442 dark shadows haunted trask

That first paragraph is stolen, of course, from the opening of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1843 short story “The Tell-Tale Heart”. I figure it’s okay for me to borrow stuff from Poe, because Lord knows the Dark Shadows writers sure did.

We’ve heard faint echoes of “The Tell-Tale Heart” several times so far, starting with the pounding heartbeat sound that startled Willie Loomis when he unchained Barnabas’ coffin back in episode 210. The latest outbreak was just last Friday, when Reverend Trask was plagued by a spectral voice that only he could hear, mocking him and accusing him of persecuting the innocent.

442 dark shadows dream trask nathan

Today, we’re doing an even more direct lift from Poe’s 1846 story, “The Cask of Amontillado”. If you don’t know the story, it’s basically a cautionary tale about hanging out with people who talk about wine all the time. I live in San Francisco, and you have no idea how helpful Poe’s warning has been for me.

The thing that’s interesting about both “Cask” and “Telltale Heart” — and the thing that makes them particularly relevant for Dark Shadows‘ appropriation — is that they’re character studies of insanity, told from the point of view of a cold-blooded, calculating murderer.

These aren’t mystery stories — you know right up front that the narrator is planning to take his revenge on the victim, although in both cases the specific motive for the crime is shadowy and unclear. The horror that the reader feels comes from the unsettling experience of sharing the maniac’s point of view, as he develops and executes his plan.

442 dark shadows plans trask nathan

And boy, does that sound familiar; we’ve been doing ride-alongs with Barnabas for months, as he plots to destroy practically everyone he comes across. Today, it’s Reverend Trask’s turn in the role of victim.

This is somehow vaguely related to Trask’s successful conviction of governess Victoria Winters on charges of witchcraft, but it’s a tenuous connection. We’re really just doing this because torture is fun, and we didn’t have anything else to do today.

442 dark shadows warning trask nathan

Trask tells Nathan about a dream that he had last night, where he saw the spirits of  Abigail and Maude, and he was told to go to the Old House on the Collins estate to learn some terrifying secrets. Nathan’s been developing some theories about what’s been going on at the Old House, and he tries to warn Trask, leading to some extremely Dark Shadows-y dialogue.

Nathan:  If I were to tell you that to go there would mean your certain destruction… would you still go?

Trask:  What do you mean?

Nathan:  Certainly you understand the meaning of the word “destruction”.

Trask:  Are you sure you’re not the one who’s imagining things, or is there something you know that you’re not telling me?

Nathan:  I just wouldn’t go there, if I were you.

Trask:  But you give me no valid reason!

Nathan:  Death is a valid reason.

442 dark shadows death trask

And yeah, I guess it is at that. But obviously Trask isn’t going to follow Nathan’s advice, because this is a story, and if characters listened to sensible and cautious advice, we’d never get anything done. Warnings in horror stories are basically just a kind of sound effect that establishes atmosphere, like thunder, or dogs howling, or a Michael Giacchino score.

422 dark shadows prep barnabas ben

Over at the Old House, Barnabas is making complicated preparations for the evening’s entertainment, including writing a lengthy note about tombs and death and clocks, for Trask to read before he descends into the cellar.

The note’s a bit weird and time-wastey, but the “Cask of Amontillado” narrator goes on and on about his preparation too, so at least it’s true to the source material. Also, we’ve got 22 minutes to fill, so why not.

442 dark shadows time trask

Trask is lured by Abigail’s ghostly voice, calling for him to come to the Old House. This is actually more Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion than Poe, but again, you have to do something.

At this point, they try a completely new kind of sound effect. Abigail’s voice is calling, “Trask… Trask…” He yells “No!” and the sound of his voice echoes, getting louder and more discordant until it suddenly cuts out. It’s not easy to describe this, because it really doesn’t sound like anything else on television. I have absolutely no reference point that I can use as an analogy.

They do the same sound effect later on — Trask cries out when he understands the fate in store for him, and you get the weird, loud reverberating echo effect. I don’t remember if they ever do this particular effect again; this may have been an experiment that didn’t quite work, so they dropped it. It’s definitely weird and distinctive, but it draws attention to itself as an artificial sound effect construction.

442 dark shadows coffin trask

Trask makes his way to the cellar, where he finds Barnabas’ coffin, and they do the pounding heartbeat again, for bonus double Poe points. Can I get a Nevermore?

422 dark shadows mercy trask barnabas

Barnabas finally appears, and gives Trask one of those lifetime performance reviews that he’s been offering his victims lately, as a kind of pre-death exit interview.

This is actually a departure from the “Cask” model. In Poe’s story, the victim doesn’t know that he’s walking towards his gruesome death. In fact, a great deal of the murderer’s pleasure comes from tricking his prey into participating in his own destruction without realizing it.

442 dark shadows cellar trask barnabas

But let’s get to the main event, which is securing Trask to a brass ring in an alcove, and then building a brick wall to trap him inside.

This is the big visual set piece, and actually there’s not a lot else to Poe’s story. Once the last brick is in place, there’s only two more sentences, and one of them is in Latin. Really, the point of the story is over once the murder plan is complete.

442 dark shadows brick trask barnabas

So it turns out that throwing an Edgar Allan Poe tale into Dark Shadows creates a memorable moment with a fun visual hook, but it isn’t really very story-productive. There’s no second act to “The Cask of Amontillado”, no police investigation or stealthy cover-up. The killer is triumphant, Fortunato is punished, and that’s all.

Other literary influences on the show — Jane Eyre, Dracula, Frankenstein, even Varney the Vampire — are complete, full-length narratives, offering lots of room for surprise twists and ongoing story development. But it turns out that Poe’s stories are too limited in scope to offer more than a day’s worth of story.

It’s worth doing, because it gives the show a satisfying way to destroy Trask, and Dark Shadows will return to both “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado” later in the series. We’ll also see ideas borrowed from “The Pit and the Pendulum”, and “The Premature Burial”. Poe has definitely left some fingerprints on the show, but it’s not the perfect fit that you might expect.

Tomorrow: Fan Club.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In the Trask/Nathan scene, there’s a moment when both actors lose their place in the script. It happens while Trask is sitting on his bed, right after he says “Lure me?” It’s hard to tell which one of them slips first, but there’s a long moment when it’s clear that neither one knows who’s supposed to talk next. They sweat through it, and get back on track.

When Barnabas appears in the cellar, Trask gasps, “Barnabas Collins! But — you’re dead!” How does Trask know that? The cover story was supposed to be that everyone thought Barnabas went to England. It appears to be the worst-kept secret in Collinsport, but a lot of Nathan’s current story depends on him thinking that Barnabas is alive, and hiding in the Old House.

Tomorrow: Fan Club.

442 dark shadows goodbye trask barnabas

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

21 thoughts on “Episode 442: Cask Party

  1. This really was a horrible thing for Barnabas to do to Trask, this would be a really horrible and slow way to die. But I enjoy it because Trask so had it coming. He’s probably the one character (well his descendent Gregory and his son Lamar also) I most love to hate. I enjoy the walling up of Trask both now and in 1897 when Judith and Tim do it, and feel Lamar got off way too easy, since he walled up Barnabas, I sort of feel cheated that Lamar didn’t die the same way.

  2. Wow, I thought this was a Friday episode for some reason. This is what the show is giving the audience on Tuesday now! Though the actual Friday cliffhanger, it seems, is even better.

    Barnabas’s thirst for blood (literal and metaphorical) often sabotages any positive goals he might have. A prosecutor signing a rambling, incoherent confession before vanishing into thin air tends to arouse suspicions rather than freeing the defendant. Keeping him alive and under his control (supernaturally or just under fear of death) would be far more effective but efficiency is not Barnabas’s strong point.

    What I like about Lamar Trask in 1840 is that he’s sort of the Hamlet of his own story. He’s out to destroy the man who killed his father and (in his own blundering way) killed the woman he loved (Roxanne would have arguably lived a full life if she had never met Barnabas Collins). Barnabas later murders him for killing Angelique and the audience is meant to sympathize with that act but Angelique was directly responsible for Roxanne’s death.

  3. Couldn’t Nathan MAYBE mention to Trask that his ‘sister’/wife died under mysterious circumstances at the Old House or did Trask possibly know this already. Also one of the most spine chilling scenes I remember is just before Willie went to open Barnabas’ tomb the heartbeat was also accompanied by the ‘glowing eyes’ on Barnabas’portrait at Collinwood – very unsettling..

      1. I think Nathan doesn’t care a whit that Suki’s dead, was probably thinking of strangling her himself, & although momentarily horrified at the sight of her dead body, has actually been quite relieved over the whole thing. In addition, it kept his own hands clean. If he can use the death later, he will keep that under consideration, but I’m pretty sure I felt his palpable relief once she was gone.

    1. No, we don’t know anything about Trask’s past except that he was a witch hunter in Salem. We know that there are other Trasks in the world in 1840 and 1897, but I forget if they say that they’re direct descendants or not.

      1. Lamar mentions that Rev Trask was his father. Gregory states he was his great-grandfather (or great-great, can’t recall off the top of my head).

        However, Rev Trask also said “physical pleasures” were “unknown” to him, so…LOL

    1. It’s hard to say, but Abigale did send for Trask. It’s possible that she wrote to Salem telling them there was a witch in Collinwood and the witch hunters in Salem simply decided who would be the best to send. Trask drew the short straw, as it were.

  4. The way the chandeliers rang like bells reminded me of “A Cask of Amontillado” too, even though in the story the bells are on the character’s outfit. The jingling of bells is such a huge and memorable part of the story, though; I wonder if consciously or unconsciously it prompted the writer to write in this unusual sound effect.

  5. Barnabas doesn’t mention it, so I’m not sure it actually occurs to him, but he does kind of have a legitimate beef against Trask. As a witch hunter, it kind of would have been Trask’s duty to stop Angelique, who was responsible for Barnabas’s condition.

  6. Since becoming a vampire Barnabas has taken on a kind of Charles Bronson in federalist breeches quality. He’s now a revenge-fueled avenging angel, unless you’re a lady of the night going for a turn about the docks. Then he’s just Jack the Ripper who scares you to death (which absolves Barnabas from being a literal murderer of prostitutes). He’s taken out Abagail and now Trask. And since they are pious bores, the audience is none too concerned.

    But Trask hasn’t done anything wrong, really. Yes, he is falsely trying Victoria, but he’s not a hypocrite and he has no ulterior motives. And if a woman came to you with a book from the future and everyone kept dying around her, you might think it’s not the craziest leap to make. If protecting Vicki was his only aim, Barnabas could surely have used his ever growing magical/vampire powers to reveal Angelique as the true witch. In fact, Trask is MORE grounded in reality than those characters who don’t believe in any witchcraft. They’re the real idiots: Collinsport is hips-deep in witchery.

    So why does Trask deserve such a gruesome ending? Is his piety really so vile?

    1. Trask blackmailed Forbes into committing perjury against Victoria Winters, among other things. That’s not something a pious man would do. He may be sincere in his belief, but he used unscrupulous means.

    2. Yes. Sure, he’s sincere, but it’s the sincere persecution, torture and murder of people he deems less worthy than himself, which is definitely on the wrong side of decent. Obviously he exists in a reality that features actual witches, but he manages to get it hopelessly wrong and clearly takes a great deal of personal satisfaction in pursuing Vicki (whose general stupidity and eagerness to discuss her time traveling shenanigans mostly occur after he’s already decided she’s a witch), which makes you wonder how many other non-witch people he’s sent to an early grave.

      Admittedly walling him up for a slow, terrifying death is going a tad far, but I’d say he deserved some kind of comeuppance.

  7. I love the riffing on Poe. I remember reading “The Tell-Tale Heart” when I was a 16 year old boy and completely enthralled by it. I went on to read every single work ever written by Edgar Allan Poe years later. I would even visit the Poe Cottage when I was in New York City a few years ago.

    It’s always been rather difficult to adapt Poe because his short stories describe a mood rather than than go into many specific plot details. The more famous adaptations of Poe by Vincent Price and Roger Corman in the 1960s expanded greatly on the source material by making up an additional 60 minutes of storytelling to support the 20 minutes of screen time it would actually take to tell Poe’s original story.

  8. Quite a satisfying end to Trask. And he does deserve a grim ending, more than most of the recent deaths. Between his McCarthyistic behavior to his blackmailing, suborning perjury and threatening.

    I, too, have been puzzled by the fact that lots of people seem to know that Barnabas died despite it being covered up (cause plague!), although a handful of people still seem to think he went to Europe (eg, Millicent).

    I would think Victoria would be especially puzzled by Barnabas’s death, since in her view, Barnabas lived on to sail to England and had a child (a descendant of which she met after he supposedly traveled back over the sea of familiar faces… umm, I mean over the ocean)

  9. “Three can keep a secret if two are dead.” Ben Franklin printed that saying if he didn’t make it up. Too many people know that Barnabas did not go to England. Maybe Abigail saw no harm in telling Trask the truth.

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