Episode 642: Mind Over Manners

“There’s not much point in being both rude and mysterious.”

Over the last couple of weeks, Christopher Jennings has murdered at least two human beings — I know they were only day players, but even day players are God’s children, presumably — and yet we like Chris, and we let him get away with being really quite skilled at covering up for his ongoing murder spree, because he’s sexy and polite and interesting, and what does that say about us? Probably something terrible.

642 dark shadows carolyn chris date

And yet here we are, the Dark Shadows audience, accessories before, during and after the fact. We know the guy’s a monster — literally, an actual monster — but look how adorable he is with Carolyn.

This relationship came together ridiculously quickly — this is only their second episode together, and two weeks ago, she was admitting to Vicki that she was starting to have feelings for Adam. By all the rules of serialized narrative, we should resent this forced pairing. We should be using phrases like “forced down our throats.” And yet.

At the beginning of the episode, they’re coming home from a date; observe the technique.

Carolyn:  Please come in.

Chris:  Well, I — I shouldn’t.

Carolyn:  I wish you would.

642 dark shadows carolyn chris frightened

He takes her hands, and looks into her eyes.

Chris:  You’re frightened.

Carolyn:  The house seems so gloomy tonight… or maybe it’s just me.

So he takes her inside, and helps her off with her coat. Carolyn is amazingly skilled at this. I’ve used the “gloomy house” line myself; it’s sure-fire.

642 dark shadows carolyn chris appeal

Part of the appeal is that the writers have been playing a trick on us. Chris is a loner with a big secret, and he basically spends every single scene he’s in trying to leave the room. It doesn’t matter whether he’s talking to his date, his sister or the hotel clerk — he wants nothing more than to get away.

So every scene with Chris is structured around somebody begging him to stay in the room, and on the show — and he’s cute, and friendly, and he’s got the most interesting current plot point, so we want them to win. By now, the audience has been trained to desire nothing more than for Chris Jennings to stick around long enough to finish a conversation.

Carolyn:  That poor girl at the Blue Whale. I didn’t really even pay much attention to her when she was serving us drinks yesterday. What a terrible way to die.

Chris:  Carolyn, I — I really should be getting back to town.

Caroyn:  Would you like a drink? A brandy?

Chris:  No… no, thanks.

She reaches out for his hand.

Carolyn:  Just stay, until someone comes. I really don’t want to be alone.

So he stays. You have to hand it to Carolyn Stoddard; she’s got a system.

642 dark shadows chris carolyn listening

Unfortunately, she follows up with more talk about the girl at the Blue Whale who was killed by a werewolf, which is not exactly a panty-melter. Chris gets nervous and looks out the window, and she calls him on it.

Carolyn:  Chris, you’re not listening to me.

Chris:  Well, I think I’m just, uh, just more upset about the girl than even you are.

Carolyn:  Did you know her?

Chris:  Oh, no, I didn’t. I didn’t know her.

642 dark shadows chris carolyn try

She stares at him.

Carolyn:  You’re certainly very difficult to figure out.

Chris:  Don’t even try.

And then he smiles, and he looks in her eyes, and — wow. That’s actually fairly spectacular. If he can keep that up for a minute, we might get somewhere.

642 dark shadows carolyn chris rude

Carolyn tries to move things another step, but he’s doubling down on the hard-to-get.

Carolyn:  Are you challenging me?

Chris:  No… I’m not. Good night, Carolyn. Oh — I said I’d stay. I’m being rather rude, I guess.

She sighs.

Carolyn:  Well, there’s not much point in being both rude and mysterious. They amount to the same thing. Chris, you just don’t want anyone to know you. Why?

So that’s kind of a bombshell, the thing about rude and mysterious being the same thing. That calls the entire premise of the show into question. If being mysterious is rude, then Dark Shadows has a lot to answer for.

642 dark shadows vicki astral manifestation

For example: the five-alarm crazy that’s unfolding upstairs.

Girl governess Victoria Winters is upset this week, because her new husband Jeff fell backwards into the past, and turned into a wristwatch. Liz is trying to support Vicki, and they’ve called in local occult expert Professor Stokes, because that’s what you do in this house when you have a problem. If there was a fire at Collinwood, they wouldn’t have the first idea what to do about it, but they’ve got a witch doctor on speed dial.

Jeff hasn’t shown up in person yet, but he’s currently appearing as an “astral manifestation,” which is one of the shoddiest pieces of spectral showmanship I’ve seen in a long time. If that’s the best that Mr. J. Clark can scrape together after 170 years of preparation, then I’m sorry but I think Vicki can do better. I hate to be rude and therefore mysterious about it, but that’s just how I feel.

642 dark shadows stokes setup

Happily, Professor Stokes is on the case, and he dispenses his usual prescription — they should have a seance, to contact Jeff and find out what this is all about.

Stokes is a very useful character to have around, because now they have someone who can arrange some kind of necrobabble hoodoo at a moment’s notice. He does this every single time that he appears. It’s marvelous.

642 dark shadows chris carolyn candles

So let us speak, for a moment, of the Fox sisters.

In 1848, the Fox family of Hydesville, New York moved into a new house, which was reputed to be haunted. The two younger sisters — Kate, age 12, and Margaret, age 15 — were clever and strange, and they played a trick on their parents and older sister, pretending that they could communicate with the spirits in the house.

The big moment was when Kate snapped her fingers, and instructed the spirit to snap along with her — and the spirit did. Then they asked the spirit to rap out the girls’ ages, and it could do that too. This became something of a sensation in Hydesville, where I guess they didn’t have a lot of entertainment options.

They worked out a code to translate the spirit raps into letters of the alphabet, and soon they were open for business, answering questions and making predictions, and that’s how the Spiritualist movement began.

It was a trick, of course, and in 1888, Margaret confessed that the sisters had created the raps by cracking the joints in their toes and ankles. But it was too late. By then, there was a whole industry of ghost whisperers across the country, with increasingly extravagant techniques and manifestations — D.D. Home, and Florence Cook, and Anna Eva Fay, and the rest of the wretched hive of scum and villainy known as Spiritualists and mediums.

642 dark shadows seance

So all of the classic elements of mediumship that we see on Dark Shadows are based on techniques that the Spiritualist grifters used to scam the impressionable rubes.

For example: there’s no logical reason why a ghost would need you to turn all the lights off before sending somebody into a trance. It’s a ghost; why would it care how bright it is? The medium wants the lights off so that she can bang on the table, and pull the string that operates the floating trumpet of judgement that she has hidden in her magic cabinet of wonders, which must never be touched by unbelievers, or it will interrupt the psychic resonance of whatever.

Here, ask me another. Q: Why does everybody have to keep their hands on the table, so that their fingers are touching? A: Because it keeps everyone focused on their own hands and the surface of the table, while the medium cracks her toes and clangs the hidden cymbals attached to her shins.

Okay, one more. Q: Why is everybody told to clear their minds and focus only on the spirit that they’re trying to reach? Incredibly depressing A: Because people are so gullible that if you look them straight in the eye and say, “I am about to tell you ridiculous lies, and it would be great if you could convince yourself to ignore any suspicious thoughts you might have,” then they will just go ahead and do that.

642 dark shadows chris seance

Happily, this all translates perfectly into a television show, because the seance is already designed as a piece of theater, and it’s super low budget. All you need is candles, fingers and shouting.

You don’t even need to hire a day player to be the ghost; the characters can just posit sensations. At one point in today’s exercise, Liz gasps, and says, “Someone turned my head — a hand, as if to see me! I could feel eyes staring at me!” And then everybody acts impressed. It’s that easy.

642 dark shadows carolyn trance

Then Carolyn goes into a trance, and now we’re talking to a ghost. This is atmospheric, but light on practical value.

Carolyn:  Ahhhhh… I heard the widows wailing! You must… you must…

Stokes:  What must we do, what?

Carolyn:  You must — stop him!

Stokes:  Who must we stop? Who?

Carolyn:  He must not — come back!

Stokes:  Are you talking about Jeff Clark?

Carolyn:  No… no…

Stokes:  Who, then? Tell us!

Carolyn:  You must — stop them! He must stay where he is!

642 dark shadows carolyn chris curse

Naturally, this is making Chris antsy; he doesn’t really want to be around if people are sharing dark secrets.

Stokes:  Can you tell us who you are?

Carolyn:  Magda!

Stokes:  Magda — what is your last name?

Carolyn:  My — curse — my curse —

Stokes:  What is your curse, Magda?

Carolyn:  My currrrrrse!

And then Chris gets up and shakes her, which is always helpful when somebody’s in distress.

642 dark shadows chris stops

So now, everybody gets mad at Chris, because apparently his curse is that everything that he does is rude.

But it’s not really his fault. Magda managed to emit 37 words, and not a single one of them was helpful. If I were Magda, I would have gone easy on the pronouns, and concentrated on getting some of those antecedents out the door, like “the children” or “Quentin” or “the west wing”.

This is an irritating ghost habit, that the dead can say anything they feel like, as long as it doesn’t actually move the story along in any way. We saw this a year ago with the ghost of little Sarah, and it’s going to come up again.

I mean, I could understand it if ghosts have limited power, and can only appear as a glowy blue light. (Actually, I can’t, but I don’t want to fight about it right now.) But if Magda can actually say words through Carolyn’s mouth, then why does it have to be a puzzle?

In fact, ghosts are going to be pulling mysterious/rude stuff like this all week — writing on mirrors, knocking over furniture, composing chart-topping hit songs. But by the end of the week, the grown-ups will be just as befogged as before.

642 dark shadows stokes stopped

So we never do hear from Jeff, or his astral manifestation, either at this seance or anywhere else this week. Magda kind of nudges Jeff offstage, and that’s the end of him; we don’t hear from him again for another two weeks.

But that’s the problem with holding open mic night for spirits at Collinwood — the sheer number of potential entrants is fairly staggering. Just imagine the number of dead people in this house who have some kind of unfinished business. They should order a pizza; this could take all night.

Tomorrow: Interceding with Oscar.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In act 1, as Vicki starts to cry, a lightning flash reveals the top of the set and a boom mic hanging above them.

Vicki is supposed to react when the astral manifestation disappears, but she says “No!” a little early, before anything changes.

When Stokes is looking around the drawing room for a seance table, they cut to a camera that’s partially blocked by something — maybe another camera. It’s hard to tell what it is, because it’s just a silhouette.

Professor Stokes says, “Miss Winters, will you sit at the end of the table?” but the table is round. Also, Vicki’s last name is Clark now.

Tomorrow: Interceding with Oscar.

642 dark shadows stokes blockd

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

25 thoughts on “Episode 642: Mind Over Manners

  1. So, this is the episode that introduces Magda and “her curse.” It seems like some link between Quentin and Chris was planned before the former even “appeared.”

    It’s an interesting connection upon reflection because making your ghost a former werewolf is a lot of bang for your buck. Thinking about it, Quentin could have been killed and walled up for any reason — and the series even hints as non-supernatural explanations for his untimely death.

    The discussion of seances reminds me of the theory that people crave complexity. It’s why conspiracy theories are so popular. Ghosts who speak in riddles and aren’t very helpful make for better theater. I certainly prefer this scene with Magda’s spirit than the later one, months from now, when Beth explains to Julia precisely how Quentin died. It’s an info-dump and not as much fun.

    1. I know that I am getting ahead of myself and future plots, but I think that when Barnabas went back in time and kept Quentin alive, he might have caused not just one werewolf, but a whole army of them. If werewolves are because of Quentin’s hereditary curse, and Quentin was alive all those years, you can bet on 2 things: He did no stay celibate and he did not use protection. Thus a whole lot of Quentin’s descendants doomed to become werewolves…

    2. Certainly at this point in the show they like to have a stronger connection between storylines and characters than they did say in the first year. So it’s very likely they always meant to connect Chris and Quentin – though at this point they may not have been thinking more beyond Amy’s involvement.

      There are definitely some hints pre-1897 – the crib in Quentin’s room, Quentin trying to kill Chris, Beth actively protecting Chris and Amy, the infant coffin – though I don’t think there’s anything that hints Quentin himself may be a werewolf. That could very well have been decided later on once the character started to increase in popularity.

      Still, all in all, it’s a very well thought out and plotted storyline, a far cry from the erratic mish-mash of 1968.

      1. You’re right. It’s hard to look at the pre-1897 storyline without knowing what comes next. I think Quentin trying to kill Chris would be similar to the attempt on Roger (removing parental influences). And Beth trying to help fits with the “kinder spirit” concept (though she will invariably be referred to as an “evil” spirit along with Quentin). There are some lines that allude more to the family opposing Quentin and Beth’s relationship. Although I don’t think it’s clear that she’s a maid at this point (given her clothing). She might have been a governess — hence the connection to the kids.

        But once you find the dead baby with the pentagram, the connection becomes clearer.

        1. Adding to it, there’s a definite sense of misdirection with the Quentin and 1897 storyline ie. the writers want you to think a certain thing before leading you in another direction. Which I think was deliberate so makes it harder to pinpoint when exactly they decided certain things.

          When I first saw it, I knew Quentin would become a major character and I knew he was a werewolf – so it was easy for me to assume there was some kind of connection between him and Chris. But beyond that, I knew nothing. So Beth for example – had no idea who she was. Assumed it was Quentin’s wife/lover/mother of his children/servant/Chris’ grandmother – kept me guessing.

    3. “Ghosts who speak in riddles and aren’t very helpful make for better theater.”

      It’s true; if a medium were to tell you that the ghost wants you to know you should absolutely sign the contract with Pacific Western and not General Holdings, you’d be all “well this is clearly a scam”. But if they say “they have message – the man of peace must triumph over the man of war. Does that mean anything to you?”, suddenly it becomes more believable – a cryptic clue only you can unravel. (I may have been cutting my Dark Shadows with a little Jonathan Creek.)

      I get really, really impatient with this irritating willingness some people have to tie themselves in knots looking for ‘signs’. Recently a friend gave me and an acquaintance a lift to a rehearsal, and the acquaintance starts telling us about her ex-husband’s dad who recently died. He spent the last few years of his life carefully restoring a classic car that was the spit of the one he and his wife went on their first date in; I forget the type, I’m not really a car person, but it was very specific. He didn’t have a thing for classic cars – it was this particular type that meant something special to him.

      After he died, this acquaintance apparently kept seeing old cars all over the place. Not that specific car; not even classics. Just… old. And this was apparently a sign.

      I asked how, exactly, he was sending this sign. Were they ghost cars that he was somehow manifesting on the motorway beside them? Or was he possessing the owners of old motors, forcing them against their will to drive alongside his ex-daughter-in-law? And if he had that kind of power, why couldn’t he just write her a nice card, or get one of his possessed motorists to give her a quick call? What was the sign supposed to mean, anyway?

      She told me I just didn’t get it, that she felt sorry for me, and that I was actually being kind of a dick.

      Which is true, but at least that means I was also being kind of mysterious.

    1. Yes, I hope we can spend some time mapping the “road to 1897.” I’m interested also in how much influence the upcoming flashback to 1796 had on the decision to return again to the past for a longterm storyline. 1795, while ambitious, was ultimately a “flashback” to explain Barnabas’s origins. There is some handwaving about Vicki’s trip being intended to accomplish something but it’s not clear what. However, when Barnabas returns to 1796, it does so for a reason (to save Vicki) and he achieves it. DS starts to become a show about time travel, and I think 1795 and 1897 are distinctly different as a result.

      Tangentially,1795 will remain the series “backstory” for the rest of its run. We return there after 1897 and the events play a role of sorts in 1840. However, despite its popularity, 1897 is rarely mentioned after Quentin is “settled” into the present day. In fact, aside from some references to his portrait and his appearance in 1995, Quentin’s background is not discussed much. He could very well be a modern-day Collins who happens to know Barnabas’s secret.

      1. The worst part is that story-wise Quentin is living off his past reputation. Apart from the Olivia Corey plot, he basically hangs around, with no goals, or plans of his own.

        1. He basically replaces Chris, who is now left as just the town monster, rather than a core part of the Barnabas/Julia/Stokes team.

          They tried to use his infatuation with Daphne to return him to the “not quite trustworthy rogue” but he was just lovesick and possessed, as opposed to having true agendas of his own.

          Quentin was more interesting as the PT 1970 and later 1840 master of Collinwood than he was in RT 1970.

    2. Though they only discussed at writers’ meetings how precisely to fill out the following two weeks of episodes, I’ve no doubt that general story and character arcs were plotted even months in advance. There was a hint of this earlier in 1968 when Cassandra shows up at Dr. Lang’s office introducing herself as “Miss Blair” (episode 475), when Nicholas Blair wouldn’t be showing up at Collinwood for quite a while yet (episode 521), more than two months between episode recording dates.

      1. That’s also a bit of a chicken and the egg question. Does Nicholas use the name “Blair” because he’s posing as Cassandra’s sister? Or does Cassandra use the name “Blair” when she meets Stokes and Rogers (presumably she would have to provide a last name) because she knows that at some point Nicholas would show up at Collinwood? The latter seems less likely than the former. But I still think the Nicholas who first appears to rescue Cassandra was intended to be the Devil himself, so using a complete pseudonym is not unusual.

        1. I think they used the name “Cassandra Blair” because Cassandra needed a last name, and when they decided later to bring in a character pretending to be her brother, they used the name.

  2. Peter Jeff Bradford Clark truly is a lost soul. Even in death he doesn’t know what to do with himself. In the spirit world he should be joyous and blissful, or whatever it is one feels when no longer tethered by a central nervous system, because at last he is free, but is instead drawn back to the material world still fraught with desire and desperation. What Professor Stokes told Adam is proven correct: Death is no better than life. The only real freedom a soul can enjoy is a few tall drinks on a Friday or Saturday night, when one can really float above it all.

    In his pure astral form, Mr. Bradford Clark resembles a magnified version of one of those Palmolive dishwashing liquid bubbles that float above the sink when you’ve got the pots and plates in a good thick lather, and I rather prefer him this way.

  3. “I knew him by another name.”

    The Devil has many names, and nicknames, one of which is Old Nick. Not to be confused with Saint Nick. I figure that had something to do with the choice of the name Nicholas. There’s also the devil’s violinist, Niccolo Paganini, and Niccolò Machiavelli.

    Anyone know anything about the name Blair? Did The Blair Witch Project get its name from Dark Shadows? Is there an association between witches and the name Blair that goes back even farther, or did it begin with Dark Shadows?

  4. What they missed here in the foreshadowing, would be the fiveshadowing of Nancy Barrett doing a Grayson Magda Rakosi Hall impression.

  5. Interesting moment here. The seance is supposed to be about Peter Bradford, but no one really cares.

    The first volleys are being fired by the 1897 characters, who are starting to shove the 1795 players and their concerns off the stage.

  6. Sort of a blooper/continuity thing: Even though Chris is anxious to leave when he returns with Carolyn, it seems odd that he would not visit with his sister, Amy, especially since she has been at Collinwood for only a day or so. No one mentions Amy throughout the entire episode despite Chris’s presence there.

  7. Did you guys notice that Chris looked like he had snot running down his face that he was smearing in Carolyn’s hair after he man-handled her so roughly?? Gross!!

    Vicki was truly irritating in this episode. It’s a great consolation to know she won’t be around much more.

    1. I agree. I always liked Alexandra Moltke Isles; her scenes with David are not only the only things that work in the first two hundred episodes, they are also the purest example in the whole series of performers overcoming weak writing. Even when the scene begins with David accurately describing something that we, and Vicki, saw happen a few moments before and Vicki replying “That’s! Not! True!,” the two of them still manage to display deep enough emotions to carry us through. Her relatively quiet style doesn’t give her much scope as the show goes on and the “Go back to your grave!” school of acting becomes mandatory, but she always makes the most of whatever chances she has.

      Betsy Durkin, though, merciful heavens, she’s just irritating. It will be a relief to see her go.

    2. Yes, it was indeed gross. And he was pressing his open mouth on the top of her head. Ewww. Also yes to Vicki being irritating. Even more so than in the last episode, which I wouldn’t have thought possible.

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