“We just pretend things, that’s all.”
Let’s review the current state of affairs. The children have been spending time with an older relative, playing a mysterious game. The kids were excited when this began, but now they’re scared and confused. What they do with the older man is a secret, and they know that he’ll hurt them if they tell anyone about it.
So what we’ve got is a surprisingly intense storyline about fantasy-metaphor child sexual abuse. If these characters had feelings, I’d be really worried about them.
It’s been two months since David and Amy found that old telephone in the west wing, and established communication with Quentin Collins, the angry ancestor with a heart of stone. He’s been possessing them, on and off, and getting them to do unsavory things.
At the beginning of this plotline, David and Amy were swapping Executive Child responsibilities back and forth, each of them having a turn at saying “Quentin won’t like that,” and “You know we have to do what Quentin says.” But now they’ve settled into an actual conflict to focus on, which puts David in that role full-time.
Quentin — for some dark-matter reason that even the writers don’t understand yet — has decided to put all of his resources into killing Amy’s brother Chris. Naturally, this is upsetting to Amy — or supernaturally, if you want to get technical about it — and she wants to call the whole thing off.
So Amy’s going to go tell a responsible adult, if she can find one, and it’s up to David to talk her out of it. He opens negotiations by twisting her arm behind her back and putting his hand over her mouth, as she struggles and tries to scream for help.
This is what we’re broadcasting on daytime television these days, full-contact girl-wrestling. It’s not often that you see the cycle of abuse perpetuate itself with this kind of turnaround time.
But at Collinwood, you can only get away with this kind of thing for maybe eight weeks tops, nine at the outside. Eventually, somebody’s bound to notice.
David’s aunt Elizabeth comes charging out of the drawing room, rescues Amy, and sends David upstairs to his room, to go be angry or scared or puzzled or however he’s supposed to be feeling right now.
Liz brings Amy into the drawing room for a heart-to-heart, and Amy finally gets the chance to blow the whistle on the whole sordid affair. She does this exceptionally badly, even by the low standards of a soap opera child.
Amy: It’s just since we started playing the game.
Liz: What game?
Amy: I mean, the game isn’t really bad, except last night — well, after my dream — I knew why David wouldn’t let me play the game any more. It was because of Chris.
Liz: What has Chris got to do with it?
Amy: Oh, a lot! He was in the dream! I never knew he would be.
So this is getting off to a rough start, but you never know, Amy might be able to pull this together if she really buckles down to it.
But then who should show up but the sinister specter himself, apparating quietly in the corner and sending Amy into new freak-out iterations.
Now, on the one hand, you could see this as an exciting development. We’ve seen Quentin in the abandoned west wing, and in the caretaker’s cottage, but this is the first time he’s just shown up in the drawing room like a regular person. This is a real violation of the ancient truce between the living and the dead, so credit is due.
On the other hand, the reason why he’s here is to shut down a potential plot point, and maintain the status quo. Amy takes the hint and clams up, Liz remains as befogged as before, and we’re back where we started.
A glimpse of Quentin is still exciting — he’s gorgeous and weird-looking, with dark eye makeup and an icy stare — but you either contribute to story progression, or you don’t. Dumping strychnine into Chris’ cocktail the other day was a step forward; this intervention just slows things down. The worst thing that could happen to Quentin is for him to become a storyline speed bump.
And then something even more upsetting happens. Liz heads up to David’s room, and demands to know what kind of games he’s been playing with Amy. David, still in Executive Child mode, dissembles.
David: Did I ever tell you about my friend Lars? He’s a giant, who lives in the house by the sea.
Liz: No, you didn’t, and you’re too old to believe in giants!
David: He calls me on this phone. He’s being held captive by a wicked old witch.
Liz: David, I’m surprised that a boy of your age would depend on imaginary people to keep amused.
Yeah, I’m surprised too; there’s a lot of that going around. What I’m surprised about is that Liz doesn’t react to the mention of a wicked witch.
Because early last week, Elizabeth was talking about witches too. She’d just emerged from three weeks in a casket, held in suspended animation by a witch’s curse. And when she came out of the trance, she told everybody that she’d been under Cassandra’s spell. She knows that there are wicked witches, real ones, who do terrible things to people in her family. She was literally talking about it the last time that we saw her.
Now, I’m totally okay with your average storyline sleight-of-hand, using some misdirection and a judicious use of the history eraser button to move things along, but the rule is that you can only use that trick if it makes the current story more interesting.
There’s a larger problem here, which is that the four members of the Collins family have become full-time goldfish. Liz knows for a cast-iron fact that Cassandra was the witch who put her under a magical spell, but that experience has had absolutely no effect on her. The dialogue that she says today about David could have been written two years ago, with no problem at all. That means that story events don’t really matter, at least when they happen to a Collins.
This wasn’t a minor thing you could brush off, like Roger does after every seance he attends. If he wants to handwave and say that he still doesn’t believe in ghosts, then fine — you could rationalize a weird evening.
But for Liz, this was a full-on supernatural experience. She was locked up at Windcliff all summer, and then entombed in a casket for three weeks. That would be a monumental moment in a person’s life; you’d always remember things in terms of “before Cassandra” and “after Cassandra”.
So if Liz is shaking that off a week later like it never happened, then that’s our cue to stop thinking of her as a character. I can accept the possessed children exchanging personalities every couple episodes, but the rest of the Collins family is going to need to show up for work and remember what just happened to them. I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist on that.
Tomorrow: The Room.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Liz tells Maggie, “I think David can be as serious — I mean — David can be a very serious problem.” She also says, “Originally, his flights of fancy were very amusing, but now they’re not. Now he’s hurting that — not that he’s hurting that little girl.”
Tomorrow: The Room.
— Danny Horn