Episode 540: Mission: Inscrutable

“I don’t want to understand about those things; they scare me.”

Okay, here’s what’s going on: I have entirely no idea.

I know that Angelique, spurned lover and secret sorceress, is currently in residence at Collinwood, posing as Roger’s innocent new wife, Cassandra. She’s come to wreak a terrible slow-motion vengeance on reformed vampire Barnabas Collins, and she’s spent weeks and weeks lobbing a hex that never quite landed. And that is pretty much the beginning and the end of the list of things that I understand about what Cassandra’s doing right now.

It’s not just me, either. The writers have had the better part of three months to figure out what they were going to do with Angelique after the Dream Curse storyline. They have not used that time effectively.

540 dark shadows nicholas cassandra amateur

So now we get to watch one of the great spectator sports of Dark Shadows, as Ron Sproat struggles to figure out who these people are, what they’re doing here and why we’re looking at them, as he types the dialogue on pieces of paper that are hand-delivered to the set just in time to throw them up on the teleprompter.

All right, that’s an exaggeration, but not by much. Soap operas work pretty close to the edge, because they have to react to events that are always just outside their control — an actor decides to leave the show, a romantic pairing that looked promising turns out to be a dud, or the entire country suddenly goes bananas over a vampire character who ran out of storyline four months ago.

Even for a daytime soap, Dark Shadows was spectacularly under-resourced, because they only had three writers, and they were expected to produce spectacular visual surprises every couple of days. These three guys had to produce two hundred and sixty half-hour scripts per annum, each one using a maximum of six actors and four sets a day, without a single break all year except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and the occasional assassination.

540 dark shadows cassandra nicholas idea

So they’d skid around corners, with no particular goal in mind except to get through the day. It didn’t much matter where the runaway train actually went, as long as they kept stoking the engine.

For example: Here’s Cassandra, discussing recent events with her demonic supervisor, Nicholas.

Cassandra:  And then — there was Barnabas, taunting me. I don’t understand.

Nicholas:  That’s obvious. It is also obvious that you’re an amateur, Cassandra. And that sort of thing can not be tolerated.

Cassandra:  Nicholas, please —

Nicholas:  There are no pleases about it; it’s gotten to be too big a game for you. It’s time it was taken out of your hands.

540 cassandra nicholas bargain

They’ve been doing this dance for a month now, with Nicholas helping, insulting and threatening Cassandra at regular intervals. And we still don’t actually know who he is; the only thing that we know for sure is that he’s not her brother. That’s playing it pretty close to the chest, for a guy who’s clearly becoming the show’s leading antagonist.

Luckily, they’ve got Humbert Allen Astredo in the role, and he is exactly nine and a half percent more charming and hilarious than he even needs to be. In the early 50s, Astredo was a comedian performing in USO shows, on the front lines of the Korean War. He is scared of exactly nothing on this earth, and he is giving a master class in how to keep the audience’s attention.

Every line that Nicholas delivers is an individually-wrapped performance. He whispers, and growls, and purrs, and does everything he can think of to keep the scene lively.

540 dark shadows cassandra nicholas force

They can use all the distractions they can muster right now, because I’m pretty sure that they haven’t the faintest idea why he’s standing in this room right now.

Nicholas:  Find that “intervening force,” as you put it. Now, for someone of your talent, that should be child’s play. I’ll give you ’till midnight.

Cassandra:  Wait! That’s not nearly —

Nicholas:  You will call me when you discover why your idiotic plan went wrong. If I don’t hear from you, I’m afraid our little bargain — our “pact” — is off. We’ll have to dispense with your services.

The introduction of the word “pact” is helpful here. We don’t really know anything about the relationship between Nicholas and Cassandra so far, except that he’s more powerful than she is, and he granted her the opportunity to come back from the dead and pursue her vendetta against Barnabas.

Calling it a pact doesn’t give us any real information, but it implies that there’s something back there, behind the curtain.

540 dark shadows cassandra nicholas pact

And this is pretty much the moment when they need to muster up a reveal somehow. You can get away with the “mysterious stranger” wheeze for as long as you like, as long as he’s fun to watch, and there’s an actual lead storyline in progress. So far, we’ve been happy to allow Nicholas to stand around smirking on the sidelines, because he hasn’t had to carry the storyline yet.

But this week, the Dream Curse story finally shattered into a thousand disappointing pieces, just like we always figured that it would, and Nicholas finds himself front and center on a show that doesn’t actually have that much else to offer right now.

That means it’s time for a certain young Ronald Sproat to ante up, and let us know who the hell this guy is, and what he wants, and why we should care.

540 dark shadows cassandra bones

He doesn’t, of course, because it’s Sproat, and nobody trusts him to make the big decisions. Instead, he gives Cassandra a skeleton hand, which I suppose will have to tide us over for the weekend. Wave goodbye to the folks, Cassandra. See you Monday.

Monday: Death of a MacGuffin.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In act 1, Cassandra tells Nicholas that Willie “must know everything that happened after my Dream came — Curse came to an end.”

When Cassandra dismisses Willie, she says, “All right, Willie, you can go back to Collinwood now.” They’re already at Collinwood; she means the Old House.

After Willie leaves Cassandra on the terrace, the camera shudders as it follows her.

On the terrace, Nicholas tells Cassandra, “When the clock strikes nine, I shall return to you. If you have been able to un — if you have been unable to obtain the information… I will destroy you.”

When Cassandra tells David to go to bed, the camera bounces and up and down while it’s on a shot of David.

At the end of the episode, David takes the tape recorder with him when he leaves the drawing room. Cassandra and Nicholas are going to need it at the start of Monday’s episode, so when they repeat the last scene in Monday’s teaser, David leaves the tape recorder behind.

During the end credits, the fountain has been moved right up to the railing, beside the terrace stairs.

Monday: Death of a MacGuffin.

540 dark shadows cassandra nicholas trust

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

17 thoughts on “Episode 540: Mission: Inscrutable

  1. Recently it has come to my attention that the Drawing Room podcast has come to a end. Is there anything you can do to help or any advice on how to save this DS related content. This is a quality show and explores the entire run of DS. Please help.

    1. Oh, that’s too bad; the Drawing Room is very good. Many of the podcasts that I listen to are hosted on Libsyn.com, which charges $15/month for hosting. Obviously, that’s more than free, but it’s not astronomical — I pay about $100/year for this WordPress site, and it’s only text and pictures. Hopefully they can find something that’s either free or fits their budget…

  2. Still, one has to credit Ron Sproat for attempting to move things forward by putting pressure on Angelique/Cassandra as Dark Shadows does its very own version of Beat the Clock. Malcolm Marmorstein has revealed in interviews that when Dark Shadows writers gathered for staff meetings, only the next 10 episodes would be discussed. With such an intricate chain of events involved in the Dream Curse storyline, perhaps the limitations of a half-hour show got in the way of resolution with all the other elements of plot playing out as well.

    Given that the Dream Curse ultimately resolves in the same way as the original 1795 curse, with a bat showing up to attack Barnabas, one has to wonder why such an elaborate roundabout path was taken, since it didn’t take more than 3 minutes in 1795 for the bat to show up once the curse was put in play. The shortest distance between two points being a straight line, in 1968 Angelique/Cassandra takes a trip around the world just to get across the street.

    I like it that we still don’t know who or what Nicholas is. Is he the devil himself or just a warlock who’s slightly higher ranking in the hierarchy of witches and wizards? This air of mystery makes him seem all the more menacing, because with Angelique/Cassandra under his thumb and so easily toyed with, any next move he makes could be a major plot accelerator, and we will never find out who he really is and his place in the scheme of things until he becomes susceptible to human folly.

    1. My personal ‘fan fictional’ account of Nicolas is he was actually the warlock Barnabas met in Barbados (remember that ‘key to the universe’ schlock that Barnabas told Carolyn back when she was his ‘special’ helper while they were trying to drive Julia insane. Anyway since Barnabas was in Martinique he somehow linked up with Nicholas over mojitos at a beachfront cantina. Nicholas gave him some pointers in astral projection, a copy of ‘Warlocks for Dummies’ and some smudge sticks for good measure. He then ‘clouded’ Barnabas memory so that Barnabas would remember the experience but only have hazy recollections of Nicholas himself. I believe in one episode Barnabas does ask Nicholas if he’d ever been to Martinique and Nicholas responded ‘yes.a long time ago’..

    2. From what I remember from the episode where Angelique launches the Dream Curse – and my own interpretation thrown in – I think the Curse became more powerful with every dream, getting scarier and scarier. The point was Barnabas would experience The. Scariest. Nightmare. Ever!!!!! which would ultimately lead to him being cursed again (the implication being that the Dream Curse needed all that traction from other people’s nightmares to be effective).

      Unfortunately, the execution fell flat on its face. As Danny and others have mentioned, it would have worked better if every one experienced a nightmare based on their own personal fears instead of just opening doors willy-nilly. This would have made more sense – and been more dramatically – and would have then culminated in Barnabas’ own fear – being turned into a vampire again.

      1. The personal fear induced by the Dream Curse was only very obvious with Willy. He drew the snarling dog door. Afterwards he wanted to how many dogs Patterson has searching for Adam and made the remark about ” now we have to hear the howling dogs” again while Barnabas was dead again. He must have been traumatized by a jumping, barking dog as a small child. I think even a tiny dog could send Willy over the edge of left alone with one.

  3. The other thing it could be was the revenge just wasn’t the curse, but the worrying about the curse coming. Like Amy’s counting down in the “The Time of the Angels” episode in Doctor Who.

  4. What I noticed from this ep is how Nicholas and Cassandra seem to be having a rough day — lots of looking at the teleprompter. Nicholas’s eyes are just wandering, when the camera is just looking straight at him, and he’s supposed to be talking to Cassandra – they both seem to stage their blocking to look at the teleprompter. Plus Cassandra gets a giant boom mike shadow; it justs seems like a rough day for N & C and the crew…

    1. Might have been a last-minute rewrite of the lines they already learned, coming in on the train……

  5. More bloopers–it seems they were trying to have Nicholas appear magically from nowhere a couple of times. In the drawing room, Cassandra is alone, and then suddenly Nicholas is standing by the bureau where the brandy is. Except they awkwardly close in on Cassandra’s back, and you can see a part of Nicholas’s body at the bottom corner of the screen (and hear him) as he scoots into position before the brandy bureau. Same thing happens in the garden–he’s not there, and he’s supposed to magically appear sitting on the railing, but at one point you see part of him in the frame as he’s taking his position.

  6. So in 1795 Angelique was the all-powerful Queen of the Universe and now in 1968 she’s as helpless (and as stupid) as Vicki Winters, at least some of the time. Is anyone following this?

  7. I’d forgotten about Cassandra’s hand-aging bit, so that was a fun little surprise, So thanks for that I guess, Mr. Sproat. And I like that Cassandra is clearly holding the “hand” up with her other hand. Hee.

  8. I may have the wrong episode, but I’m trying to get my head around the instructions Nicholas gives Cassandra. It seems that he instructs her to call him if she runs into trouble, but then tells her that if he hasn’t heard from her by nine o’clock, he will destroy her. Which means if she doesn’t get into trouble, he’ll destroy her. Wha…?

  9. It would have been hilarious if Cassandra didn’t summon Willie Loomis, but summoned Death of a Salesman’s Willie Lomax instead. It would have been delicious to see Nicholas sneer at another perceived failure!

  10. I love David’s groovy safari jacket. Yesterday, I saw a Kolchak The Night Stalker repeat from 1975, and Lara Parker played a (Surprise !) evil witch. I guess she was typecast. She was just as beautiful but had light brown hair. I’ve always been surprised her career didn’t go further, like Kate Jackson.

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