“Someone now dead lived in this room.”
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight, our feature bout is a winner-takes-all cage match between the savvy psychic, Madame Janet Findley, and the sinister specter, Mr. Quentin Collins (deceased).
Quentin has been quietly haunting the halls of the great house at Collinwood for seventy years, lurking in his sealed-up chamber in the abandoned west wing. Lately he’s been reaching out to the two children of the house, urging them to visit his room, plot against family members, scatter tarot cards around the house, and listen to his hit song, not necessarily in that order.
Earlier this week, under their ancestor’s malign influence, David and Amy tricked Roger into falling down the stairs in the foyer. Concerned, Elizabeth has called in Madame Janet Findley, an exterminator for the already exterminated.
Madame Findley is one of the craziest dames that we’ve seen on Dark Shadows, and that’s getting to be a crowded field. She says surprising things, makes extravagant hand gestures, and goes into a trance at a moment’s notice. I will miss her terribly.
This evening is not going to go well for Madame Findley, which is weird, because she’s not even the one wearing the red shirt.
The doomed investigator is an emerging archetype on Dark Shadows, beginning with Dr. Peter Guthrie back in February 1967. Dr. Guthrie was a Dartmouth professor of parapsychology, which must have come as a terrible shock to the Dartmouth faculty, who didn’t realize that they had any. If it helps, they don’t have one anymore.
Dr. Guthrie spent six weeks on the show poking his parapsychological nose into the private affairs of Laura Collins, David’s mother. On the basis of several lengthy conversations with a ten-year-old, an alcoholic, an ex-con, a governess and a ghost, Guthrie concluded that Laura was an immortal undead fire demon, at which point his car crashed and burst into flames, to the delight of all.
Several months later, with a recently unboxed vampire wreaking havoc, Dr. Julian Hoffman was called in to investigate, and he was expected to follow the same path — spend six weeks doing all the legwork, and then drop out at the last moment so that the governess and the ghosts can swoop in to close the case.
Of course, due to some still-unexplained circumstance, Julian turned out to be a changeling named Julia Hoffman, and she escaped from the storyline trap using a mixture of intelligence, charm and facial expressions. The redshirt in the white coat was spared, and Dr. Dave Woodard obligingly stepped in to complete the ritual sacrifice of the doomed investigator.
And now, for a limited time only, we have mad medium Madame Findley.
Our contestant steps bravely into the lion’s den, crawling through the secret panel in the west wing storage room, wide-eyed with excitement. At least, I think it’s excitement. She’s naturally wide-eyed, so it’s difficult to tell. That’s her in the back, by the way, behind the world’s largest gramophone.
As soon as she walks in, she shouts, “I can sense your presence!”
Gazing around the room at nothing in particular, she says, “Someone now dead lived in this room,” which is a pretty safe assessment.
The door slams shut, and Madame Findley rushes to rattle the doorknob.
She wheels around, and clutches the mantel indignantly. “Whoever you are,” she roars, “you’re trying to KEEP me here! WHY?”
It’s not super clear why this upsets her. She came here on purpose, and she’s only been in the room for forty-five seconds. But it sets a nice shouty tone, and she’s the professional. I don’t want to backseat drive the exorcism.
Clearly aware that she’s going to spend the entire episode chatting with the invisible, Madame Findley is determined to make this scene as interesting as possible, rushing around the tiny set and snapping at shadows.
She shouts, “You must make your presence KNOWN!” and Quentin does, playing his theme on the gramophone.
“Whoever you are,” she urges, “I’m here to help you! Do you understand? I want to HELP you!”
The music suddenly stops, which pisses her off for some reason. She whirls around and snaps, “Why did that music STOP?” Then she takes a more conciliatory approach, which lasts about a second and a half. “We made contact for a moment… You want my help! And you NEED it.”
She offers her hand. “Allow me to help you. Hmm? Allow me to help you rest. To give you peace. To return to your grave.”
Nobody answers, which is unsurprising, since nobody’s there.
“Well, if you won’t let me help you,” she growls, “allow me to leave this room! ALLOW me to LEAVE!”
She tries the doorknob, irate. “Why do you keep me here, when you won’t accept my help? What do you want of me?”
What I can’t communicate in text is the amazing variety of tones that Madame Findley spins through from one second to the next. She’s alternately comforting and stern, cycling through emotions in the middle of a sentence. It’s mesmerizing.
That’s critical for television, especially for a low-budget show with cramped sets and a small cast. At least half of this episode’s running time is Madame Findley, standing in a dark room and asking a silent, invisible presence if there’s anything she can do to help. Even with occasional effects like the door slamming and the gramophone turning itself on, this should be one of the most boring scenes in television history.
So she needs to fill in all of the gaps herself, turning a time-wasting throwaway into a dramatic scene using nothing but her own performance. This isn’t great acting by normal standards, but it’s great Dark Shadows acting, and I love it. I could watch her bossing ghosts around all day.
Now, you’d think that if anybody was upset about this situation, it would be Julia, the resident crazy dame and secret protagonist of the show. She’s the one with a flair for eccentric line reads and dramatic facial expressions; that’s how she survived the doomed investigator obstacle course. This Findley woman is poaching on her territory.
So when Liz confides that she’s worried her new pet has wandered off somewhere, Julia is utterly unbothered.
Smiling, she says, “Wasn’t she going to investigate every room in this house? Mrs. Stoddard, this is a huge house.”
“Yes, but she’s been gone for hours!” Liz says, and Julia shrugs, “I wouldn’t worry about her. I’m sure she’s all right.” Or not. Maybe she was bitten by a cobra, or fell into a crevasse. La Findley’s well-being is of no concern to Julia.
Upstairs, Madame Findley is becoming increasingly cross. The ghost isn’t talking, and she’s getting bored. She shouts, and rattles the doorknob, and bangs on a table. Pretty soon she’s going to grab an axe and start smashing the place to smithereens.
When she lights a candle, the crib in the corner starts rocking by itself. It’s a huge cradle; I have no idea how David and Amy squeezed it through that little opening in the wall. The baby must have been a full-grown golden retriever.
Then the antique telephone rings; she’s really getting the full Quentin’s room experience. Candle, cradle, telephone and gramophone — but still no Quentin, which is frustrating.
Unfortunately for Findley, they’re saving Quentin up. This haunting needs to go on long enough for the writers to figure out what all these little clues mean, and that could take weeks, so they’re keeping him in their back pocket for a while. We got a good look at him on Monday for 42 seconds, and then he took what is apparently a one-way trip back to the aether. Viewers who missed the beginning of Monday’s episode must be kicking themselves by now. That’ll teach ’em.
And so, like all doomed investigators and assorted redshirts, Madame Findley is just a distraction. She’s a noisy, unpredictable and over-emotional distraction, which is exactly the kind that I like best, but she’s only there to fill up time between plot points.
Because the flame that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.
Madame Findley is magnificent, and she is thrilling, and she is temporary.
“Whoever you are,” she tells us, “I’m here to help you.”
“Do you understand? I want to help you.”
“We made contact for a moment,” she says, as she begins her descent.
“You want my help! And you need it.”
The screaming begins. “Allow me to help you,” she says.
“If you won’t let me help you…”
“Then allow me to leave this room.”
“Why do you keep me here?”
“I just want to help you.”
“Allow me to leave.”
Tomorrow: Happily Ever Before.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Janet picks up the candle, she says, “Someone lived in this house… and someone died here.” She means “this room”. Then she walks with the lit candle over to the desk, and you can see a studio light at the bottom left of the screen.
Liz tells Julia, “I can’t imagine where she — what could have happened.”
Behind the Scenes:
That’s Alex Stevens, Dark Shadows’ stunt coordinator, tumbling downstairs in Findley drag and a black wig. Watching it now, you can kind of tell that it’s a dude, but for the original audience, it was a total surprise and they couldn’t rewind, so it must have been amazing. Alex joined the cast two weeks ago, playing Chris Jennings’ werewolf side. He only has two non-werewolf appearances — Madame Findley, and a stand-in for Claude North in 1970 Parallel Time. There’s no end credits for this episode — just the Dan Curtis Productions slide — so unfortunately his work goes unrecognized today.
Also, one of the green lamps is in Chris’ room at the Collinsport Inn. We’ve seen these basically everywhere.
Tomorrow: Happily Ever Before.
— Danny Horn