“The letter M is very strong in this room.”
Yesterday, following Roger’s suspicious specter-assisted accident on the stairs, his sister Elizabeth found a tarot card on the drinks table in his bedroom. As everyone knows, discovering an unexpected tarot card is a sure sign of supernatural crisis, so she called Professor Stokes, the mad occult expert who is now making house calls at Collinwood on a weekly basis.
The Professor identified the card as the Tower of Destruction — the sign of the downfall of a great house. He agreed that this is extremely significant, and he promised to bring in a colleague who can investigate the unearthly events that have been piling up lately.
So here she is: Madame Janet Findley, the psychic sorceress on call. Apparently, things have gotten so bad at Collinwood that the occult expert is subcontracting with other occult experts.
Madame Findley walks into the drawing room, throws her hands in the air, and if there was ever a moment for somebody to say, is THIS your card? then this is it.
So I’m just going to put my own cards on the table, right from the get-go: I love Madame Findley. You know me and the crazy dames, and she is one of the all-time craziest. In fact, if they didn’t already have a Julia, then Madame Findley could have been their Julia. She’s at that level.
“No, Mrs. Stoddard,” she insists as she approaches the customer, “you must tell me nothing about this house — neither its history, nor your personal experiences. I do not want to know what to expect. Is that quite clear?” That’s how you say “hello” in Madame Findley’s world. That’s step one.
She drfts into the drawing room, and says, “This is the room where the séance was held?” Behind her, Liz and Professor Stokes share a look that must be the baseline reaction every time Madame Findley turns her back. Liz is asking, Are you sure that this is a good idea? and Stokes replies, I am absolutely not sure about that at all.
“There have been spirits here, in this room,” Madame F nods. “They are not here now… but they have left their mark.”
And then she makes with the hand gestures. That’s how you know when you’ve brushed up against something hot on Dark Shadows. Any character worth a damn on this show has their own personalized spooky tai chi routine.
“Their shadows — are still in the air,” she says, helping herself to an armchair.
And then she just goes ahead and settles into a goddamn trance.
She has been on this television show for a minute and a half so far. Attention, new characters: this is the correct approach. Everyone else has been doing it wrong.
So here’s how today is going to go: I’m going to describe something that Madame Findley does, and then I’m going to say that it’s amazing. That is literally going to be the entire entry today, and to be honest, it’s probably going to be tomorrow’s entry as well. It’s possible that I will never be able to write about anything else for the rest of my life.
I know that you come to Dark Shadows Every Day expecting a perfect little slice of mythopoetic postmodern lit-crit insight, and that is just not going to happen. Now pipe down, Madame Findley has something on her mind.
“Who are you?” she says, staring off into the infinite. Then she leans all the way over, and cries, “I cannot hear you plainly!”
I have to imagine that the spirit is saying, Well, yeah, I’m dead. I don’t know if that explains your reception problem.
“Are you in this room?” asks Madame F, raising her voice. “If you are in this room, speak to me more clearly!”
Lady, I’m trying, says the voice from the beyond. How many bars do you have?
Then Madame F starts swinging her head around, and gasps, “A battle! A battle! This house is a battleground! Yes… yes. I see that. Who — whom are you fighting?”
And there she goes again, throwing a curve ball. I expected the crazy trance talk; I did not expect the whom. I am deeply, deeply in love with this character.
Emerging from the trance with a face like a bad idea, Madame Findley announces that she will find “that room”.
Professor Stokes turns to Liz, and says, “Has she your permission to search the house?”
Liz immediately says, “Of course,” and there’s a moment where he looks at her, and thinks, Really? You’re going to let this run around loose?
But it’s too late now, Findley’s on the move. Everyone breaks for lunch, and when we come back, she’s already returning from her initial sweep.
“Oh, Madame Findley,” Liz breathes. “Tell me what you’ve found in the rest of the house.”
Madame F pauses, and says, “There are signs of astral disturbances upstairs,” which is one of those lines that takes a special kind of actor to deliver this casually. “Not as strong as here, perhaps. It’s terribly difficult! Two forces seem to be — battling one another!”
Liz frowns, and Madame Findley takes the opportunity to do something interesting with her hands.
She says, “You don’t really believe in the occult, do you?” and then she gives Liz a reassuring smile. This is what she does when she wants to reassure somebody.
And, man, don’t you wish the photographer from View-Master would come back and take some more pictures? Just imagine what this scene would be like in 3-D. It would have knocked the kids of 1968 sideways.
Then there’s more hand gestures, as she glides back into the drawing room.
“Strange,” says Madame Findley, “but I keep coming back to this room. There are vibrations here, that I feel nowhere else in the rooms I’ve visited.”
She gets that faraway look again. “Is there someone connected with your family, or this house’s history, whose first name begins with M?”
Liz says that there isn’t, which is true, except for Millicent, of course.
Madame Findley says, “The letter M is very strong in this room,” because she is determined to break new ground in dialogue.
Madame Findley says that she’d like to be alone, and Liz heads for the study. As she’s leaving, the seer announces, “There is a curse on this house. Knowing as little as I do, I am positive of that.”
This is kind of like a handyman telling you that you have dry rot. You can’t really do anything about it, except mentally revise the household budget.
Alone in the drawing room, she places a call to the other side. “You have helped me before. I need your help now.”
She reaches out to the entity that she calls “M”.
“Emmmm,” she urges. “Emmmmmmmm! Come to me — I will aid you in your fight against the spirit you oppose! But you must TELL — me — WHERE — to LOOK!”
This is the great thing about Madame Findley, she makes friends everywhere she goes.
After a while, she and M get a game of 20 Questions going.
Q: The spirits that are causing this unhappiness — are they confined to this house?
Q: Yes! Do you mean, they are?
Q: Are they confined to a single room?
Q: In the part of the house in which the family lives?
A: Knock knock.
Q: Can you lead me there?
A: Answer unclear — try again.
So Madame Findley heads off on another fishing expedition, while the other characters set up the next lunatic spectacle.
Young David and Amy are currently under the malign influence of Quentin Collins, the nasty spirit who’s been scattering sinister tarot cards around, and he’s given them instructions on how to deal with Findley and her psychic friends network.
Meanwhile, Joe’s come over to visit with his cousin Amy. The last time we saw Joe, his life was entirely falling apart — he lost his fiancee and his job, because he was hopelessly addicted to getting bloodsucked by a beautiful lady vampire, and he ended up in the hospital with a self-inflicted stomach wound and a bad case of the rams. But the lady vampire returned to the netherworld from whence she came, so now Joe is fine.
Sadly, Joel Crothers is going to be leaving the show pretty soon, which is a terrible shame. Until very recently, Joel was the only hot guy on the show, and he’s responsible for major innovations in the field of taking off his shirt and heaving decoratively, so he’s kind of my hero.
After he’s gone, Joel will tell interviewers that he left the show because there was so much emphasis on setting up special effects that the directors didn’t have time to work with the actors on character development. And I’m sorry to say, today is a good example of that problem.
They didn’t invite Joe over because they wanted to check in with his character arc, and help him work through the shame and grief he must be feeling over losing everything that he ever cared about. They have other things on their mind today.
So when Liz lets him in, she says, “I didn’t know you were out of the hospital; I hope you’re feeling better.” Then Joe says, “Oh, yeah, I’m fine, right back to normal,” and that is the end of that.
The reason they had Joe show up to work today is to get him to walk into the Collinwood drawing room and stand perfectly still on his mark, so that Amy can look at him and see an upside-down pentagram on his face.
The pentagram is a sign that a character’s about to get savaged by a werewolf, which is just another example of how great the show is right now.
So I want to feel bad about Joel Crothers; I really do. The story about Angelique wrecking Joe’s life was heartbreaking and sexy, and they had the opportunity to do something interesting with his character. Instead, they hit the reset button, and moved the focus to the next crazy item on the agenda.
And yet it’s hard for me to be upset about that right now, because this week, they’re doing things that no other soap opera could ever possibly do. Joel’s about to leave Dark Shadows and get a job on The Secret Storm, and they’ll be lucky to have him. But there’s a reason why we’re watching Dark Shadows and not The Secret Storm right now, and it’s standing right in front of him.
If we have to make a choice about whether we want consistent characterization or Madame Findley and werewolf attacks, then I’m sorry, but you can get responsible character-led drama somewhere else. Or maybe you can’t, it doesn’t matter. The point is, there’s going to be another werewolf attack.
So there’s no time to waste; we have to get Madame Findley upstairs for some ghostbusting. M doesn’t seem to be helping, so David moves the process along by accidentally on purpose getting caught coming through the secret panel. Madame F investigates, and follows the passage to the west wing.
To close the episode, we get one of Dark Shadows’ most underappreciated bloopers.
Madame Findley follows her nose through the west wing storage room, and she finds the entrance to Quentin’s room. That door is going to slam shut behind her in a minute, so there’s a wire attached to it.
She takes a step into the room…
And she trips over the wire, sending her sprawling into the room.
It’s lovely. If that chair hadn’t been there, she would have fallen on her face. If you haven’t seen this episode and you don’t have a DVD, you should buy this on YouTube. I mean, the episode is already worth watching for a lot of reasons, but seriously. You should see this.
And you know what? She pulls it off. She gets up and glares around the room like that was Quentin’s fault, and he’s being totally immature. Oh, I love Madame Findley. I hope that tomorrow, she decides to move into Collinwood and stay on the show forever.
Tomorrow: The Rise and Fall.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Liz starts closing the drawing room doors in act 1, somebody in the studio coughs.
At the beginning of act 3, the camera pulls in gently on Amy as she’s standing at the drawing room door — and then it hits something, and stops with a thud.
When Madame Findley is alone in the storage room, you can hear someone walking quickly across the studio, and then another cough.
The end credits run over a shot of David and Amy’s jacks. Towards the end of the credits, there’s a shadow of someone walking by.
Behind the Scenes:
Ms. Findley asks Liz if there are any parts of the house that aren’t used, and Liz says, “Actually, yes. The east and west wings.” That’s the first time they’ve mentioned the east wing that I can remember; I was starting to wonder if they’d made up the east wing in 1970, for the Parallel Time story. (Update, thanks to reader Gary in the comments: “There are two direct mentions of the east wing in the pre-Barnabas episodes. In episode 2, it is stated that east wing was closed off 50 years ago. The next mention comes in episode 98, where the closed off section of the house is stated to be the east wing.”)
Tomorrow: The Rise and Fall.
— Danny Horn