Episode 522: Brother From Another

“Angelique has no blood brother. But a brother spirit, a brother devil…”

Here’s where we are: Cassandra, the lunatic sorceress from Martinique posing as Roger’s new wife, has been cast into darkness by the spirit of Reverend Trask, an 18th-century witch hunter raised from the dead — or from the Old House cellar, which is more or less the same thing. She hasn’t been seen for a couple days, and Barnabas and Julia have just discovered that her magic portrait has turned white and faded. Ding dong, presumably, the witch is dead.

But things are never that simple, especially on this show. There’s a knock at the door, and a dapper man in a hat introduces himself as Nicholas Blair — Cassandra’s brother.

So the question for today is: Who the Hell is this guy?

522 dark shadows nicholas brother

This is Humbert Allen Astredo, a new cast member who’ll be with the show on and off for the rest of the run. He’s another in the long line of eccentric actors unleashed on the show in the last year, brought in to stir up trouble on a series that’s already pretty heavily stirred.

Executive producer Dan Curtis had a particular genius for casting, and recasting. The guy who played Matthew Morgan was replaced after three episodes by the marvelous Thayer David; the guy who played Willie Loomis was ditched after four episodes and replaced by John Karlen; and the original choice to play Dr. Julia Hoffman was let go before she was even on the air, and Grayson Hall was her last-minute replacement.

Basically, Dan’s approach was to keep throwing people at the show until you find the most interesting actor available, and then you hang on to them. Humbert Allen Astredo is one of the interesting ones.

522 dark shadows nicholas entrance

Nicholas invites himself in, and runs his eyes over the decor with a proprietary air, as if he plans to inherit it someday.

“I am glad to see Collinwood!” he smiles. “Cassandra has written me so much about it.”

Barnabas and Julia share a puzzled look. Cassandra is an alias for Angelique, a centuries-old evil spirit. Something wicked this way is.

522 dark shadows nicholas audience

Nicholas walks into the drawing room and comes to a stop in a corner — keeping himself at an awkward distance from the others, so they’re forced to turn and focus on him.

“I hope you don’t mind my late arrival,” he says.

Roger is quick to say, “Oh, of course not.”

“I thought you wouldn’t,” Nicholas purrs. “And it seemed a perfect time to surprise Cassandra. She isn’t asleep, is she?”

This is a well-known trick — invoking and taking advantage of social conventions, to coerce the rubes into letting you do whatever you want. It’s basically step #1 for fictional con men and mythopoetic trickster figures.

522 dark shadows nicholas wine

Here comes step #2.

Roger:  Could I get you a drink?

Nicholas:  Oh, no. No, thank you.

Roger:  Are you sure?

Nicholas:  I don’t have little vices, Mr. Collins.

And then he smiles, up to but not including his eyes.

This is a mischievous little Dracula tease borrowed from the 1931 Bela Lugosi film, when Count Dracula assures his guest, “I never drink… wine.” This is the signal — as if we needed one — that this man is not what he seems. Actually, I take that back; he’s exactly what he seems. He just isn’t the thing that he’s pretending that he wants Roger to think that he is.

522 dark shadows nicholas settle

Nicholas settles into a chair, calmly maintaining his grip on the scene.

This is Humbert Allen Astredo’s first role on television, by the way. Here’s what I know about him, from the excellent book Barnabas & Company: The Cast of the TV Classic Dark Shadows.

Astredo originally thought that he’d be a lawyer, but he was so terrified of the public speaking class that he dropped out of law school. To bolster his confidence, he took acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he studied the classics — Shakespeare, Shaw, Ibsen and Oedipus Rex.

He was drafted in the early 1950s, and served in the Korean War as a member of the USO, putting on live shows to entertain the American troops. He had a lively sense of humor, and he became the troupe’s comedian and MC. After the war, he came back to California and managed a theater in Los Angeles for a while. He moved to New York in 1963, where he appeared in Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park productions, and worked with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio.

So, yeah, it’s his first appearance on television. But nothing scares this man anymore.

522 dark shadows barnabas shuffle

Let the cat-and-mouse games begin.

Barnabas asks, “Where are you from, Mr. Blair?”

Nicholas says, “I’ve just come from Martinique, Mr. Collins,” and he shoots Barnabas a look. “Have you been there?”

522 dark shadows nicholas serpent

That’s another bit of “never drink wine” code, for faithful Dark Shadows viewers. Barnabas met Josette in Martinique, and had a shameful fling with her maid that has haunted him ever since.

Nicholas is absolutely still, watching Barnabas intently.

Barnabas:  Not… recently.

Roger:  Really, Barnabas — I never knew you’d been there. You’ve never mentioned it.

Barnabas:  I remember it very well.

Nicholas:  Yes. It is a hard island to forget.

Oh, he’s so cool. He’s been on the show for less than three minutes, and I like him already.

522 dark shadows nicholas roger sweat

Next, we get to watch him make Roger sweat.

Nicholas:  Oh, Mr. Collins — when you go to get Cassandra, don’t tell her that I’m here; I do want to see the expression on her face when she sees me.

Roger:  Well, um… actually, Cassandra is not here.

Nicholas:  Oh, dear. My timing is bad, isn’t it. When will she be back?

522 dark shadows nicholas artifice

Roger is forced to admit that Cassandra has disappeared. Nicholas takes this in stride, because obviously he knows that something has happened to her. That’s why he’s here.

He gets up and paces around the room, like a detective in an Agatha Christie mystery, casually questioning the suspects.

Nicholas:  Someone in this house didn’t like her, did they?

He turns, and focuses on Julia.

Nicholas:  Was it you?

Julia:  I beg your pardon?

Nicholas:  Did you like my sister?

Julia:  Oh, I… barely knew her.

Nicholas:  In other words, you did not. (He smiles.) Understandable. Cassandra is not well liked by many women.

522 dark shadows barnabas nicholas close

He moves to Barnabas, gliding to a stop just a little too close, and stares directly into his eyes. He speaks in a measured purr.

Nicholas:  And you, sir. You seem to be a man who knows his feelings.

Barnabas:  You think so?

Nicholas:  I know so, by the way you have been watching me. Did you “barely know” my sister, too?

522 dark shadows nicholas walk

It’s almost unfair. Nicholas has everything today — the intriguing mystery man with a wry sense of humor. Louis Edmonds and Grayson Hall usually get all the jokes, but not today.

522 dark shadows barnabas julia demon

Obviously, Roger has to invite the man to stay, and he brings Nicholas upstairs to find a bedroom. As they go, we hear Nicholas saying, “Such an interesting house, very European. I seem to sense all the secrets it must be hiding…” He talks like that pretty much nonstop.

Barnabas and Julia are left behind in the drawing room, trying to figure out what just happened. “Angelique has no blood brother,” Barnabas says. “But a brother spirit, a brother devil…”

522 dark shadows nicholas roger portrait

Upstairs, Roger babbles apologetically about Cassandra going AWOL, saying that he hopes Nicholas hasn’t gotten the impression that his sister was mistreated by the family. Nicholas has stopped listening.

522 dark shadows angelique portrait

He’s discovered Angelique’s portrait, which is magically connected to the witch herself. It’s faded badly, so that you can hardly see the figure.

Nicholas says that he’d like to try to fix it. He’s done restorations before.

522 dark shadows nicholas mess

Left alone with the portrait, Nicholas stares into Angelique’s eyes, reaching out through the spirit world.

“You’ve gotten yourself into a mess this time, my lovely Angelique,” he says. “Where are you? Whisper to me, if you can, where you are… Give me a sign that you still exist!”

We hear a snatch of theremin music, Angelique’s sorcery music cue — and he can hear it, too. His eyes dart around the room.

“How shall I find you? Here, in this house?”

The music cuts off, abruptly.

“Where Barnabas lives?”

And the music cue starts up again, indicating a yes.

So here’s a new character who can apparently communicate directly with the soundtrack. This is actually terribly avant-garde; it’s dialogue as musique concrète. Technically, everyone in the audience should be wearing a beret at this point.

522 dark shadows willie nicholas hat

Nicholas strolls over to the Old House and just walks right in, with his dapper suit and gloves and umbrella, fully the aristocrat.

Willie’s in the cellar, and Nicholas spots him through the grill in the basement door. Nicholas uses his command voice.

Nicholas:  You there!

Willie:  Me?

Nicholas:  Yes, didn’t you hear me knock?

Willie:  What?

Nicholas:  Come out here!

522 dark shadows nicholas willie backacting

And so, as Nicholas slips in and takes hypnotic control of both Willie and the audience, let’s dip into his Barnabas & Company biography one more time:

“Humbert’s agent lined up the audition with Dark Shadows producer Dan Curtis. ‘I went in and read for a part — I don’t recall which one. And evidently Dan was impressed,’ he said.

“‘I was later told by one of the writers that Dan said, “Write a part for this guy.” They put me on a “right of first refusal” contract, and six months later they wrote Nicholas Blair for me.'”

522 dark shadows nicholas trask cellar

The book doesn’t say which part Astredo tried out for, but six months ago, they were casting Reverend Trask — a part that you can easily imagine him playing.

Instead of casting a new actor in that role, they decided to go in-house and use Jerry Lacy, who had recently joined the show and didn’t have a part yet in the 18th-century time travel story. Lacy was absolutely perfect as Trask — another great moment of casting inspiration — but Dan was smart enough to keep Astredo on call.

522 dark shadows nicholas skeleton

So here he is, six months later, confronting the role he didn’t get. He sizes up the Reverend’s decayed skeleton, daring it to start something, and another piece of strange magic is loosed upon the world.

Tomorrow: The Devil You Know.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

When Willie is in the cellar preparing to fix the brick wall around Trask’s skeleton, a stagehand takes a step backward, and into the shot. He realizes his mistake, and quickly steps out of the frame again.


Behind the Scenes:

All the biographical info in today’s entry was taken from Barnabas & Company, which I really can’t recommend highly enough. It’s currently selling for four bucks on Kindle, and you will absolutely love it.

Tomorrow: The Devil You Know.

522 dark shadows nicholas eyebrow

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

16 thoughts on “Episode 522: Brother From Another

  1. I second the recommendation for Barnabas & Company. It’s not a book you would read in sequential order from cover to cover the way you would a typical book. The main cast bios are presented as short chapters and in alphabetical order, so you will likely choose your favorites first and go back and forth before you finish that part of the book. I have also discovered facts about the cast I never knew before: For instance, a small art house movie theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts (the Brattle Theatre), that I’ve been going to for decades was actually co-founded by a Dark Shadows cast member (Thayer David).

    As for Humbert Allen Astredo, he reminds me, both in voice and mannerism, of an actor who came decades later: Kevin Kline. Astredo has the same comedic flair and sense of timing, and his portrayal of Nicholas Blair is comically menacing without being camp. When he first shows up at the front door of Collinwood with that hat and umbrella, he looks as though he’s dressed for a Vaudeville routine. And when he just walks in and makes himself at home, it’s as if he’s saying, with that self-assured and calculating smile, “It’s alright, I’m here now, and WE’LL be taking over.” He is the first such houseguest/interloper since Jason McGuire–but unlike McGuire, he can’t be killed off for discovering the most guarded secrets that Collinwood has to hold.

  2. It’s interesting to watch the early indications that Blair might in fact be the Devil himself. This is quickly shifted to his being a “middle manager” from hell.

    Once Blair meets Adam, he becomes slightly less interesting, as his overall “plan” (master race loyal to the Devil — though, really, doesn’t that basically describe us?) lacks any grounding in physical or emotional reality. Revenge will motivate Judah Zachary/Gerard, and basic self-interest for Petofi. But their actual goals are at least somewhat tangible (mastery of Collinwood/destruction of Quentin Collins and an escape to the “future” respectively). Forcing the creation of a mate for Adam (with the unspoken but understood goal of their copulating and producing children) just sort of makes Nicholas an evil Neil Warren from eHarmony.. or, well, Neil Warren.

    I mentioned before that there’s a missed opportunity with Cassandra that the 2012 film, despite its other flaws, at least explores: Angelique goes after the Collins family. She is a supernatural Burke Devlin. But Nicholas bears no grudge against the Collins and has no material interests. It’s the same problem we have when he returns to the series.

    Yet, it’s the side plot with Maggie Evans that actually makes Nicholas a compelling villain to me. Here, he does a standard soap opera heavy move: Destroy the relationship of the “nice” couple and manipulate the mostly clueless ingenue into loving him. His “femme fatale” in this case is a vampire but the effect is the same. Watching Joe Haskell sink further and further, past any hope, is almost painful to watch but it’s riveting nonetheless. Perhaps right after Sara Collins, it’s the worst thing Angelique has ever done to anyone, and as she’ll later admit, she doesn’t particularly even care.

  3. Nicholas brings something to the show which is focus. The show has been running from storyline to storyline, leaving them half done, in a desperate attempt to try both to continue the 1967 storyline while making us forget about it. It lurches, it starts and goes nowhere, and it goes for the next shock.

    Nicholas can put it into focus. Alas, he gets lost into a silly “take over the world” routine… And does not even have a Pinky.

    1. I agree, Adriana, that Nicholas is a much more focused antagonist. Angelique’s only goal was to curse Barnabas — somehow in a longer and more convoluted way than before. Nicholas’s plans are larger and threaten everyone in Collinsport, It’s a shame that half his IQ vanishes when he moves into the House by the Sea — he keeps giving Angelique second chances and the only thing that ruins his scheme is his decision to create Eve with the life force of the “most evil woman who ever lived” (based in the faultiest logic possible — it’s sometimes difficult controlling Adam, who has the emotional maturity of a teenage boy, so somehow it’ll be easier to control a complete psychopath).

      1. What I really like about Nicholas is you’re never really quite sure what he’s going to do next. Angelique is great, but she’s somewhat predictable and it’s pretty easy to guess how she’s going to react to any given situation. Nicholas is far more of a wild card and this makes him a very interesting character.

      2. And said ‘psycho’ also was in a relationship with Jeff Clark (that in itself should have been a warning sign that she was nuts). Also why her after they fail with ‘good girls’ Carolyn (naive but well meaning) and Maggie (a despicable suggestion on Barnabas’ part after Adam killed her father – now ‘she’ is supposed to die in order to create a mate for Adam, all to basically keep Barnabas alive (as far as he is concerned). I think compared to this motive Nicholas’ plans are actually more easy to accept.

        1. Is it stated outright that Maggie would die during the experiment? Or that she’d only provide the life force, as Barnabas did? We never really see the experiment work as it should — Barnabas was a vampire and Leona Eltridge didn’t really exist.

          1. Not stated outright, but Julia cautions that this is a likely risk. In the original outline of the experiment, Barnabas was suppose to die and then “become” Adam. The only reason he didn’t die was because Julia cut the process short, thus animating Adam with only a part of Barnabas’ life force and leaving Barnabas intact. But if they try this again with Maggie, there is a chance that she would die and “become” the other being as the life force is transferred.

          2. I think it was alluded to that there was a chance Maggie would not survive the ‘procedure’. Thank goodness for Willy’s conscience in not wanting Maggie to go through any more suffering when he ‘kidnapped’ her. Also wasn’t there a story when ‘Eve’ goes back to 1795/6 (as part of a bargain she made with Angelique to reclaim her lost love Peter Bradford, after she saw his 1968 counterpart Jeff Clark?

  4. It’s too bad that Nicholas wasn’t in the 1795 story – it would make a lot of sense for the following reasons: he was around Martinique (as he alluded to Barnabas) – he could have very possibly been the ‘warlock’ who gave Barnabas the ‘key to the universe’ and then could have clouded Barnabas memory so he wouldn’t recognize him. Nicolas could have also been the one playing ‘tricks’ on Angelique (i.e. bringing Z-Jay back to life to annoy her) and Nicholas could have also been responsible for that weird ‘Jeremiah’ apparition that appeared to Barnabas during his search for his runaway bride Josette. Also Humbert Allen Astredo also reminds me of the late actor Jack Cassidy, mostly during his later appearahces in the the show where he appears ‘older’ …

  5. I’m pretty sure Nicholas Blair is my favorite character on the show. He has the suave self assuredness Barnabas projected during his first few episodes (before he started the “______ must die” stuff) with the added benefit of being smarter and two steps ahead of everyone else. And he’s funny as well! Of course, he didn’t make the best choices as the character progressed, but I still found myself wishing he would return multiple times…while Humbert A.A.’s other characters on the show were similar, none matched the original. Glad that others share my appreciation! 🙂

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