“There was so very little meaning to our lives before tonight — and now there’s none. We exist, that’s all.”
Naomi runs into the house, and flies into Joshua’s arms. “I saw him,” she gasps. “He’s like an animal!”
She’s just come from the garden, where she saw her dead son bite his cousin Millicent on the neck. “Barnabas…” she cries. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why?”
Now, here’s the thing that she doesn’t say: “Help! Millicent is being attacked. Let’s all run outside and help her.” She doesn’t even mention Millicent until sentence five, at which point Joshua says, “Millicent — My God!” and rushes out to find her.
I mean, I get that Naomi’s upset — who wouldn’t be, under the circumstances — but she’s burying the lead here, to the detriment of grievously wounded family members. Can somebody remind me why we like her again?
Cause here she is, Naomi Collins — the last innocent left in 1795, the only surviving character that hasn’t realized that dark forces are living right upstairs. She’s kind of coasted through this whole story, without ever getting close to anything that matters.
I haven’t written much about Naomi, because frankly she doesn’t really do very much. There have been lots of episodes over the last few months when I’ve thought, I should take this opportunity to say something about Naomi’s scenes. But I end up focusing on other things, because she never really makes much of a difference.
Naomi was introduced as a neglected and put-upon wife, ignored by her husband and left with nothing to do but drink. She’s always wearing huge, heavy gowns that look fantastic, but they seem to weigh her down. She moves slowly, like a battleship coming into port.
Still, she does dazed pretty well.
Joshua: I took Millicent to her room. She’ll be all right.
Naomi: No. No one will ever be right again.
She gets up and walks a few steps, which for Naomi is the equivalent of an action sequence. She strikes a pose, and serves up some pained backacting.
Naomi: Before tonight, I’d always believed that tragedy was like anything else. It ran its course, took its toll, and died out — and we’d go back to our normal lives. But I don’t believe that anymore.
She turns to Joshua. This is what she tends to do in a scene, just plant herself somewhere and broadcast from that vantage point. When she gets tired of looking in one direction, she pivots, and keeps talking.
Over the last few months, Naomi’s had a few nice scenes here and there, where she stands up for herself — the scene where she smacks Trask in the face is a popular favorite. She’s also had one legitimately strong moment after Barnabas and Angelique’s wedding, when she gives Barnabas the deed to the Old House — defying Joshua, who wanted to disown them and run them off the property.
But the real estate transaction only restores the status quo — and besides that, she doesn’t make a single decision in the entire storyline that actually changes things in any way.
So why do we care about her? Why do Dark Shadows fans seem to like this overdressed, pivoting alcoholic?
As we’ve discussed before, if you want to make the audience like a character, there are three steps: Make a joke, make a friend, and make a plot point happen. Naomi has definitely made friends — she’s been openly affectionate with Vicki, Josette and the children, and she was kind to Angelique and Barnabas. She doesn’t have a sense of humor, but she does have those melancholy epigrams, which offer a kind of sozzled poignance.
But personally, I can’t get over how irrelevant she is, storywise. Her biggest moment in episode 434 — which I didn’t bother to write about, because who even cares — was when she stood up to Joshua, and told him she would testify at Vicki’s trial. Joshua said he would lock her in her room, and she told him that if he did that, she’d get out, and go to the trial, and then never come back. It was a great speech, and she nailed it.
But it didn’t lead anywhere. When we return to the trial in the next episode, Naomi has already testified, off-screen. Peter and the judge mention her testimony, but it doesn’t make any difference. The trial moves on, and Vicki is found guilty. Naomi had exactly no impact, on that or any other storyline.
So how does she react, when she learns that her son has become an undead monster? She pours herself a drink, and then mixes in a naturally-occurring packet of poison, because the Collins family always keeps an assortment of murder weapons on hand in every room in the house.
Now, obviously I understand that this woman has experienced horror and grief beyond any normal limits that a person should be expected to handle. But when Josette killed herself, she had to be lured to Widow’s Hill and assaulted with terrifying visions before she jumped. It feels like Naomi is committing suicide because she’s just not good in a crisis.
But we’re apparently supposed to be on the edge of our seats right now, because we spend a whole minute just staring at a close-up of her giant novelty tourist-trap margarita glass, before she finally chugs it down.
And then she goes and does the strangest thing — she walks upstairs to the tower room, and visits with her ghoul of a son.
Barnabas: You shouldn’t have come here.
Naomi: I had to see you one more time.
Barnabas: You saw me once tonight — you saw what I am — wasn’t that enough?
Naomi: Whatever you are… you’re still my son. You’re not as you were — but whatever has changed you has made you suffer, and feel a deep shame. And I can’t leave you until I know what it is.
We cut to the drawing room, where Joshua finds her suicide note.
Then it’s back to the tower room, where Barnabas has just updated his mother on current events. “And now you know everything that happened,” he says, which seems fairly unlikely. It’s been about forty seconds, and this is a story that’s taken almost four months to tell.
Plus, she’s cutting it pretty close, poison-wise. She must have taken the childrens’ aspirin formulation of whatever she put in that glass.
Naomi: Now I know everything. And I was right — you couldn’t help it.
Barnabas: Whether I could or not doesn’t matter.
Naomi: Yes, it does matter. Because… because…
She starts to get woozy; apparently mommy’s little helper has started to kick in.
Naomi: Barnabas… let me hold you, just one more time.
Barnabas: One more time? What do you mean?
Naomi: I want you to know… that no matter what you’ve done… that it doesn’t matter. Because I love you.
Huh. Okay. So here’s a question: why the hell did you just drink the poison margarita?
I mean, forgive me if I’m out of line, but if she forgives him for being a monster, and she loves him anyway, then what in the Sam Scratch is going on around here?
Barnabas: Mother, please… No, do anything, but do not love me! Don’t say that!
Naomi: Nothing can stop me… from loving you.
Then she collapses. And I can honestly say that I have no idea what’s happening in this scene.
I mean, I’m a Dark Shadows fan, so I’m pretty flexible about what I’ll accept coming out of my television; I can roll with the punches as well as the next guy. But I seriously do not understand this scene.
I don’t think there’s any explanation, even an illogical one, that explains why Naomi would drink poison lemonade, and then go upstairs and instantly forgive Barnabas. Those two things just don’t relate to each other. As far as I’m concerned, the dialogue renders this plot point entirely meaningless.
So if this has worked, for you — if you feel something about Naomi’s death besides head-scratching bafflement — then this episode is a victory of sentiment over sense.
That’s not a bad thing. In fact, from the point of view of the show, it’s a huge win. They’ve used Joan Bennett’s natural charisma to make you feel something about a character who’s really nothing special — and who becomes, ultimately, nothing at all.
Tomorrow: Nathan Forbes Must Die.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Joan Bennett isn’t really on her game today. Every scene involves many obvious glances at the teleprompter.
In act 1, Joshua delivers half of his line, and then says the other half as a separate sentence:
Naomi: Why is he like this? What happened to him?
Joshua: I’m not sure. I fully understand myself, I don’t know if it would help if I did.
Tomorrow: Nathan Forbes Must Die.
— Danny Horn