“I fear the séance didn’t put an end to what’s been happening here.”
The Turn of the Screw opens with a group of devoted thrill-seekers at a week-long house party, entertaining each other with ghost stories. Griffin has just finished telling the story of a young boy waking his mother up in the middle of the night, because a dreadful apparition had materialized in the bedroom, and he wanted her to see it. That is the beginning and end of that story, as I understand it, but it sounds like it was the hit of the evening, so hooray for low standards.
Unable to cope with his seething jealousy of the master raconteur, a guest named Douglas tries a bit of casual oneupmanship:
Before we scattered, he brought out what was in his mind.
“I quite agree — in regard to Griffin’s ghost, or whatever it was — that its appearing first to the little boy, at so tender an age, adds a particular touch. But it’s not the first occurrence of its charming kind that I know to have involved a child. If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to TWO children — ?”
“We say, of course,” somebody exclaimed, “that they give two turns! Also that we want to hear about them.”
Obviously, this is setting a bad precedent. It’s only a matter of time before Griffin comes up with a ghost story involving four children, and then Douglas ups the ante to a half dozen, until finally there’s a story about thirty-five children, each with his or her own personalized specter, and the bottom falls out of the ghost story market. This is not a scaleable business model.
But I have to say, there is something about a spooky kid that rattles the nerves. I wouldn’t call it another turn of the screw, necessarily, because I’m not entirely sure what that means, but if it involves pre-meditated patricide, I’m willing to give it a few minutes of my valuable time.
David and Amy are currently under the spell of an angry ancestor named Quentin Collins, who wasn’t happy with the family when they locked him up and starved him to death seven decades ago, and the passage of time has not improved his mood. Quentin has given the kids the following instructions.
#1. Stretch a wire across one of the stairs on the big staircase in the foyer.
#2. Open the front door.
#3. Wake Roger up in the middle of the night, and tell him you heard burglars downstairs.
And then I guess you just clean up the mess, and get started on the next member of the family.
Quentin’s descendant extermination program shouldn’t take very long to complete, because there aren’t that many members of the Collins family, possibly because previous generations locked up siblings and starved them to death. You don’t get much of a crowd at family reunions with that kind of policy in place.
David takes care of the wire-stretching, so Amy has the job of waking up Roger and getting him down the stairs. She tells him about the strange noises she heard, and he immediately goes to the roll-top desk right next to his bed and pulls out a loaded handgun, because obviously if your last name is Collins, then you have to maintain at least one murder weapon in every room of the house.
I swear to God, it’s amazing that there’s a single member of the Collins family left to take revenge on. I bet if Quentin just waits a couple months, they’ll wipe themselves out completely. This may be one of those problems that solve themselves.
Anyway, the plan works great for everybody, except for the guy trying to get a decent screenshot of the event. Roger takes a tumble, although he somehow manages not to fire the gun for a little ricochet bonus-points action.
Roger ends up on the floor, shattered into several pieces…
While his young son is standing by observing the wreckage, entirely unbothered. And there you have it: screw turned.
Now, the weird thing, spooky-kidwise, is that David was in charge of this conspiracy yesterday, but as we transition into today’s episode, he’s had a bit of an attitude adjustment.
Roger didn’t die, as it happens. He’s got a limp, some bruises, a dazed expression and the certain knowledge that somebody in the house is trying to kill him, but he’s otherwise perfectly fine, and David actually seems relieved about it.
You can handwave and say that seeing his injured father shocked young David out of his temporary hypno trance, but really the explanation is that Gordon Russell wrote yesterday’s episode and Sam Hall wrote today’s, and they didn’t really bother to synch up on David’s emotional throughline. It happens. This is the “good enough for rock ‘n roll” approach to soap opera dramaturgy.
This isn’t an isolated incident; we’re going to see a lot of this kind of thing over the next few months. The kids can’t actually be equally mesmerized in any given scene, because then there’s nothing for them to talk about, and we have all this time to fill between sponsorship breaks.
Basically, one of them has to be Executive Child for the day. One kid says “I don’t want to play the game anymore,” and the Executive Child says, “Quentin won’t like that,” and then tomorrow they can do it the other way around.
In the best spooky kid moment of the day, David says he’s going outside, and Amy takes that moment to tell him that Quentin has started calling him Jamison. David says that’s his grandfather’s name, and Amy says that Quentin thinks David looks just like his grandfather.
While she says this, she’s looking straight into the camera — maintaining eye contact with the audience for more than ten seconds, even while the camera’s moving. It’s a really compelling, creepy moment.
So you know what this means, right? They’ve finally weaponized backacting.
From here on, all bets are off; nobody’s safe. Watch your back, people, or somebody else is going to watch it for you.
Tomorrow: Astral Disturbances.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In her first line, Madame Findley says, “No, Mrs. Stoddard, you must tell nothing about this house, neither its history, nor your personal experiences.” She means “you must tell me.” Don’t worry; we’ll discuss her tomorrow. I don’t let something like Madame Findley slip by unnoticed.
Tomorrow: Astral Disturbances.
— Danny Horn