Episode 528: This Tawdry Affair

“My dear Cassandra, how commonplace you have become, like some suburban housewife with little human worries.”

Jeff and Vicki are in the drawing room at Collinwood, just chattering away about old business. Jeff can’t figure out whether he’s Peter Bradford or not, and he grumbles that Barnabas is in love with Vicki, and he doesn’t understand why Professor Stokes thinks this Dream Curse is so dangerous. It’s a pageant of every boring B-plot we’ve been looking at for months.

Meanwhile, out in the gazebo, Nicholas Blair is entirely over it. “All the time you have wasted, Cassandra,” he says, summoning her to the gazebo. “Weeks are minutes to you.” And we fall in love with Nicholas all over again.

528 dark shadows nicholas cassandra housewife

I’ve been having new-character crushes like this for a while now; this is the third character I’ve fallen for in a couple months. Adam showed up in May, and then Professor Stokes had that amazing run in June, and now it’s July, and I’m all about Nicholas.

This actually violates all the known rules about soap operas, where the fans are typically suspicious of newbies coming in and stealing the focus away from the established characters that we love — but this show has been turning out rock stars lately. It’s a weird thing to say about Dark Shadows, but I think they might be getting good at this.

So here’s Cassandra, all upset because her tedious Dream Curse storyline has stalled just short of the finish line. The dream was supposed to be passed from Sam to Vicki — and then from Vicki to Barnabas, the real target of the curse. But Sam died without telling Vicki about the dream, and now Vicki is planning to leave Collinsport.

Nicholas listens to all of this with barely-suppressed contempt. “My dear Cassandra,” he sighs, “how commonplace you have become, like some suburban housewife with little human worries. How much time and energy you have wasted on this Barnabas Collins.”

Stung, Cassandra snaps, “Don’t start that with me again!”

And — oh, dear. You don’t say things like that to Nicholas Blair.

528 dark shadows nicholas cassandra gazebo

He rises to his feet, reaches out, and grabs hold of her wrist. His voice is as smooth as the purr of a contented housecat.

Nicholas:  Don’t you talk to me like that.

Cassandra:  You’re hurting me!

Nicholas:  I am not Roger Collins. I do not care whether I hurt you or not.

Cassandra:  Let go of me!

Nicholas:  I will let go of you when you remember why you are here.

Cassandra:  I am here because — you allowed me to come.

He loosens his grip, releasing her.

Nicholas:  Exactly.

528 dark shadows nicholas cassandra pimp

So there’s my challenge for the day — to find a way to express how much I like that moment, without using the word “pimp” in a positive way.

Because obviously, as a citizen of the 21st century who’s generally well-disposed towards women, it’s not really okay for me to like this scene as much as I actually do. This is a guy with power, threatening a female underling with physical violence in order to bring her to heel.

Yes, he’s a villain, and villains are supposed to do scary and terrible things, so I don’t actually have a problem with Nicholas doing something objectionable. I’m just trying to figure out why it makes me so happy.

Part of the reason is that it’s Angelique, who’s been clearly defined in the narrative as an enemy combatant. This wouldn’t be the same if NIcholas was threatening an innocent civilian, like Carolyn or Maggie. He’d still be within his rights as a villain to do villainous things, but we wouldn’t admire him or think that he’s being cool.

528 maltese falcon

But this relationship is actually a reference to a genre that is the very definition of cool — film noir, and specifically The Maltese Falcon. This is Sydney Greenstreet making a deal with Mary Astor, a tough-as-nails dame who only acts like a helpless woman in order to lure someone into a murder plot. She’s chosen to live in a particularly harsh and dangerous world, so if things turn sour and violent, as they obviously will, then you’re not necessarily a monster for appreciating a little light misogyny.

I think the Maltese Falcon reference might be deliberate here. This is a Sam Hall script today, and he has a history with the hard-boiled. His first episode, back in November, introduced crusading lawyer Tony Peterson as a dead ringer for Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Hall’s powerful conspirator character is borrowing some moves from Greenstreet.

528 dark shadows nicholas cassandra teasing

So look at this scene through the lens of film noir, where a murderous femme fatale is called out by a heartless, charismatic crime boss.

Nicholas:  I listened to your pleas; it will take so little time, you said. He has escaped me, and that must not happen. You even pointed out what a bad precedent it set. But it has taken you so long.

He smiles.

Nicholas:  I think you like it here. I even think you would prefer to go on just scaring Barnabas Collins, teasing him.

Cassandra:  No! That’s not true.

Nicholas:  Why is he not as he was before, then?

Cassandra:  It’s not my fault that Sam Evans died. If he had lived, he would have told Vicki the dream, and she would have had it and told it to Barnabas.

Nicholas:  A little obstacle like death can stop you?

528 dark shadows cassandra nicholas before

Cassandra:  Vicki will have the dream tonight… if she stays at Collinwood.

Nicholas:  Then make her stay.

Cassandra:  I need your help.

Nicholas:  I have very little interest in this tawdry affair. I let you come back for your vanity’s sake, and it has undone you. You cannot even stop a girl from leaving a house.

528 dark shadows nicholas cassandra trick

So here’s Sam Hall doing the thing that we love the most about him — he’s analyzing what’s broken about the current storyline, and taking the appropriate steps to fix it.

It’s not Cassandra being criticized here; he’s calling out the entire storyline. She’s been in the present day since April, and so far, the only things she’s really accomplished are marrying Roger and making Sam go blind, neither of which are mission-critical. She kicked off the Dream Curse two months ago, and the only real consequence is that now it’s two months later.

Nicholas is looking at the woman who drove the 1795 storyline single-handed, transforming the entire history of the Collins family into an extended kaiju battle between Barnabas and Angelique. He is speaking for the audience when he tells her how disappointed he is in her recent performance.

528 dark shadows cassandra nicholas critique

Now, this metafictional critique wouldn’t actually be satisfying if he was simply sneering, and not presenting us with a strong alternative. You can’t just show up and declare the last three months a waste of time unless you have something to replace it with.

So the dialogue is studded with delicious little hints that there’s a larger game that we want to learn more about. This is the key to film noir suspense, a series of patient reveals where the audience learns that what they thought they knew was just a cover story, masking a much darker truth. The suspense is built on the audience knowing that something big is going to happen, but having only the vaguest idea what it could possibly be.

“I will let you go when you remember why you are here,” Nicholas said, and then they side-stepped with her response: “I am here because you allowed me to come.” There’s no real content to that as an answer; it just adds a little shading to the question.

Nicholas has a plan, and Angelique’s revenge plot — which has powered the entire storyline for the last seven months — is just an insignificant distraction from the actual story. The stakes are being raised, but we only have the smallest clues about what’s really going on.

528 dark shadows nicholas cassandra talent

This is the key line: “It will take so little time, you said. He has escaped me, and that must not happen. You even pointed out what a bad precedent it set.”

A bad precedent… for who? That word implies that there are entities that are watching this situation, a wider community of people like this. Who could they possibly be?

We’ve seen little hints that there’s a larger world of witchcraft out there — Bathia Mapes showing up to battle Angelique, Professor Stokes telling Barnabas that his talisman protected a family from witchcraft for five hundred years — but they were presented as individual, small-scale outbreaks of wickedness.

The word “precedent” means that witchcraft is like organized crime, an environment where you earn your reputation as a killer. Roger Collins is married to the mob.

528 dark shadows cassandra nicholas housewife

“Like some suburban housewife,” Nicholas sneers, on a show largely aimed at housewives, “with little human worries.” The story that we thought we were watching isn’t the real story at all. Nicholas has raised the stakes, and you know what a raised stake means to a vampire.

Tomorrow: Missing Adventures.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In the teaser, when Jeff tells Vicki, “Don’t go!”, we can hear something drop in the studio.

Tomorrow: Missing Adventures.

528 dark shadows cassandra flames

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

12 thoughts on “Episode 528: This Tawdry Affair

  1. I always disliked the Nicholas and Cassandra scene where she has to acquiesce to his power. She deserves a beat down because of the BORING Dreamcurse, but because she demurred so quickly and easily, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I kind of lost all respect for Angelique.
    I hated when Mary Astor begged
    Humphrey Bogart to spare her too. I guess I want my bad girls to go down fighting.

    1. I think it’s a control issue. I feel something similar. I HATE it when someone even in a story just quits, not quits in a strategic “he who quits and runs away lives to fight another day”, but a mealy mouth hopeless squirmy “I give up!” If a character wants me to like them, they don’t have to win or even live, but they DO have to keep trying to find a way until they actually die.

      1. Though, despite what Angelique says to Nicholas, she will continue to disobey him time and time again. She may appear to acquiesce to him, but really, she continues to do do what she wants. So I don’t think the Angelique character particularly suffers as a result of Nicholas. She does get knocked down a few pegs – and like I mentioned in an earlier post, this does tend to happen when a character becomes too powerful – but her to-hell-with-anyone-else attitude remains.

  2. This acquiescence of Angelique to Nicholas is a disturbing situation because it is somewhat of a pattern of diminishing some of the other female characters independant personalities as well (Vicki hanging onto Jeff even though he is a total jerk with no redeeming qualities and Julia jumping to please ‘Barnabas Barnabas’ – I don’t think Laura Collins ever succombed to anyone like Angelique did – she knew what she was there for and no man messed around with her and lived to tell about it.

    1. Nicholas is only defeated because of Angelique. She turned “demon’s evidence” on him in exchange for removal of her vampire curse. If she hadn’t done that, there’s no indication that Diabolos was monitoring Nicholas closely enough to know how badly things had gone. He could have forced Barnabas and Julia to redo the experiment with ample time.

      Like a good hero, a good villain shines best when their back is against the wall. Angelique was a chess master in 1795, but her status was still humble servant. Prior to Nicholas’s arrival, she is the most powerful person on the scene and no one can really stop her. The only obstacle to her goal is her own stupid dream curse.

      Thanks to the genre collision Danny noted Angelique is on course to become the femme fatale of the story, which is far more interesting than the role she played as Cassandra.

      And Angelique attacking Barnabas as a vampire, putting him under her spell, is far more compelling than the Dream Curse was.

    2. That’s what I loved about Diana Millay.

      No enemy could force her to do his/her bidding.

      Subdue, kill, vanquish, but…..

      She stayed the course.

      She was one cool diva.

    1. DARK SHADOWS is very much “noir.” When Barnabas and Julia killed Dave Woodard, the series shifted from “good” vs “evil” (Vicki vs. Laura, Burke vs Roger) to the more hardboiled world of “bad” and “not so bad.” Barnabas Collins has more in common with Mike Hammer than he does Dracula, which also draws clear lines between good and evil.

      1795 reverted somewhat to the “white” and “black.” It functioned as a Shakespearan tragedy. Even Barnabas the vampire was like Hamlet — a destructive protagonist who must be “destroyed” in the end.

      1968 resumes the noir progression, and by 1897, it’s at its peak. The modern-day Collins family had been bleached of any shadiness (too much time around dull Vicki) but there are no characters without an angle in 1897. Joshua in 1795 served as the moral guide for the storyline toward the end when he draws the line in the sand and argues that the monster who is his son can’t just roam around free. There is no such guide in 1897. Edward is more an antagonist. We are not intended to root for him to stop Barnabas. And even Angelique starts playing for our team, but that doesn’t demonstrate that she’s “good” so much that the lines of good and evil are blurry and complex.

  3. Maybe I’m reading too much into the set design, but in one of the photos Angelique and Nicholas are sperated by a statue of a Goddess (I assumed Venus). Wouldn’t it be awesome if it was Venus and that statue between them was to represent Angelique’s love for Barnabas blocking her efforts at villainy? More likely that the shot just looked better composed with the statue in the middle but how awesome if it was meant to be subtle symbolism! 🙂

    1. Agreed, just thought the set design was trying to support that idea. 😉 Enjoy watching the show and paying attention to details, almost done with the whole series now, it has been a fun journey.

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