Episode 685: A Fish Called Ezra

“Don’t get mad at me, Quentin. I just don’t like when you do terrible things.”

INT. COLLINWOOD — NIGHT.

We hear a young boy’s voice, as we pan across the foyer. “Are you sure that’s all you want me to do?” he wheedles. “Are you telling the truth?”

We move through the open drawing room doors to find young David, communing with an impossible shred of hatred and regret which has clawed its way out of the unseen, a forgotten trespasser bespoiling the surface of the earth. It’s just standing there, in the drawing room. It’s the damnedest thing.

685 dark shadows quentin david ghost

So it’s another one of these scenes where David, acting in his capacity as Executive Child, is pleading with the spirit of angry ancestor Quentin Collins, requesting a stay of execution for whoever it is Quentin wants to murder today.

Quentin isn’t really an active participant in these staff meetings; he just looms and sneers. A scene with Quentin is basically a monologue with awkward pauses.

685 dark shadows david amy meeting

After a while, they’re joined by Amy, because how long can you listen to an eleven-year-old volley questions at an imaginary serial killer. Quentin disappears as soon as Amy walks into the room, because he’s upset with her for being all judgmental just because he put strychnine in her werewolf brother’s whiskey. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks.

So now we do the traditional “Executive Child bosses around his reluctant underling” scene, where Amy stage-whispers, “You swear to me that it’s got nothing to do with Chris?” and David says, “Yes, I swear. He promised you that it didn’t. We just have to believe him.”

Do we?” Amy insists, and then suddenly she gets the feeling that Quentin is still in the room, which obviously he is, because he’s a ghost and therefore not really anywhere in particular.

So the kids both freak out and run from the room, closing the doors behind them, like that accomplishes anything. And that is pretty much the way that ghosts work at the moment.

685 dark shadows david quentin ghost rules

Dark Shadows is perpetually tinkering with the ghost rules, because when you think about it, having a ghost character as an active participant in an adventure story doesn’t actually make a lot of sense. A ghost is a metaphor for loss and memory, a way to talk about the continuing presence that someone can have in the minds and hearts of the people that they leave behind.

In The Turn of the Screw, the tedious novel on which this storyline is supposedly based, the spectres of a pair of nasty sex-having servants just stand outside the window and stare at the children, representing the pollution of the libertines’ influence on the previously unspoiled characters of Flora and Miles. They don’t show up in the middle of the afternoon and start interrupting people’s phone calls.

The ghosts are either part of the past, and therefore ethereal, or they’re part of the present, and you can sock them in the face and tell them to make themselves scarce. The metaphor isn’t designed to support the weight of Peter Quint as a mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash, sneaking around and poisoning people’s adult beverages.

But, what the hell. Quentin took the trouble to paste on the muttonchops and transcend the barrier between the living and the dead; we might as well see what he’s got in mind.

685 dark shadows ezra barnabas shop

Yesterday, Barnabas found a silver pentagram made in the late 19th century that he believes may be the key to understanding the mysteries that are currently plaguing Collinwood. Examining the pentagram, he found the mark of a local silversmith, and hurried into town to make inquiries.

At the silversmith’s shop, Barnabas spoke with comedy oldster Ezra Braithwaite, who grumbled amusingly about memory and young people and how nobody cares about fine things anymore.

685 dark shadows ezra phone

Ezra is played by Abe Vigoda, a comic actor who made his fortune playing grouchy old men. Starting in 1975, Vigoda played Phil Fish on the police-station sitcom Barney Miller, a world-weary detective on the verge of retirement, who suffered from a variety of physical ailments and was always on the phone with his long-suffering wife Bernice. Vigoda was so popular on Barney Miller that he got his own series, Fish, which aired for two seasons.

He’s a funny guy with a light touch, and Ezra is miles better than the senior citizen day players that we’ve seen before, like the Eagle Hill caretaker and the Collinsport Inn clerk.

He’s 46, by the way. If you do the math, Ezra is almost 90, with Vigoda trailing by at least four decades. Some people are just born to be old men.

685 dark shadows david quentin telephone

Anyway, later in the day, Ezra finds the records on who bought the pentagram back in the day, and he calls Collinwood to tell Barnabas that he’s on his way. But the ghost of Quentin Collins commits that most serious of supernatural crimes — he answers the phone for Barnabas, and doesn’t write down the message.

So that sets up our Snidely Whiplash at the Gates of Hell plot point, and now on with the show.

685 dark shadows ezra david name

Ezra brings his ledger over to the house, and has a little scene with David.

Ezra:  Now, what’s your name?

David:  It’s David.

Ezra:  David, is it! Well, I don’t remember a Collins being named David before. Now, my name is Ezra — and my father’s was, and his father before him. You find a name like Ezra, and you don’t give it up.

And then he looks around for his ledger, which he’d handed to David a minute ago. It’s adorable. You can see David Henesy giving him a genuine, delighted smile, which obviously makes the terrible thing that’s about to happen even more terrible than it would be already.

685 dark shadows ezra david glasses

Then Ezra does the thing that comedy eccentrics always do on Dark Shadows, namely walk around the drawing room, touching other people’s property.

As he examines a silver candlestick on the piano, he takes off one pair of glasses, and puts on another.

David:  Why do you have two pairs of glasses?

Ezra:  One to see people with, and one to see things.

David:  Are those your thing glasses that you have on now?

Ezra:  Well, I’m not looking at a person, am I? When you get to my age, you need two of everything.

685 dark shadows david blurry

They take a minute to establish that Ezra’s eyesight is blurry when he looks at David with his thing glasses on, because they’re setting up a farce sequence, and they have to establish the situation. Today’s script is by Sam Hall, who understands comedy and isn’t afraid to use it.

685 dark shadows ezra quentin panel

David leaves the room and closes the doors, promising to get Barnabas, and Ezra settles down at the desk to peer at his ledger and mutter to himself.

With that set-up carefully established, now we’re allowed to have a moment of pure delight, as actual ghost Quentin Collins enters the room through the secret panel in the wall.

685 dark shadows quentin ezra silly

It’s one of those moments of pure Dark Shadows silliness that I basically live for. This isn’t as sublime as the werewolf rushing to the mirror to make sure he’s turned into a werewolf, but it’s a close second.

At the top of the show, they established for the hundredth time that Quentin can appear and disappear whenever he feels like. He doesn’t have to sneak into the room through the secret panel, and then creep up silently behind Ezra. But Quentin has no time to worry about your fridge logic; he’s got his very first comedy scene, and he’s going to enjoy it.

685 dark shadows quentin ezra glasses

Quentin approaches, as violins trill anxiously in the background.

685 dark shadows quentin blurry

Seeing a vaguely Quentin-shaped blur, Ezra chirps, “Of course, you aren’t Barnabas Collins. You must be his friend.” Quentin smiles, and nods.

685 dark shadows ezra ledger

Ezra says that he made the silver pentagram himself; it was the first piece he ever made, when he was fifteen years old.

Bending low over the ledger, he reads the record: “One starred medallion, engraved with quotation: ‘To guard you from the wrath of Cerberus.’ Ordered by Beth Chavez, and charged to the account of Quentin Collins.”

Ezra chuckles; he’s sure that Barnabas will be very pleased to get the information he wanted so urgently. And then, inevitably, the bad thing happens.

685 dark shadows ezra remembers

“I don’t believe I got your name,” Ezra says, as he puts on his people glasses. Focusing on the other man’s smiling face, he recalls, “I know you! Oh, yes… only I — I just — Yes! You’re Quentin Collins!”

685 dark shadows ezra you're dead

“But — you’re dead!”

685 dark shadows quentin humor

And Quentin is smiling, as he reaches down to tear the life out of the old man’s shivering body. He’s been smiling the whole time.

Approaching through the secret panel, pretending to be Barnabas’ friend, listening as his victim rattles on, and waiting for the moment that the man recognizes him, before the murder begins — every beat in this scene is entirely unnecessary.

But Quentin is going out of his way to set up this sequence, because he thinks it’s funny. The furious engine of white-hot rage tearing its way through the Collins family has a sense of humor.

This week, we’ve seen a cycle of the Dark Shadows story come to a close, and now we’re watching this brand new phase spring to life — and it hinges on this moment, when they discover the real Quentin Collins.

Quentin is funny. That’s the second most important thing about him.

That’s the spark that Sam Hall brings to the show, the thing that Ron Sproat could never understand. The characters should have a sense of humor, especially the important ones.

So they’ve finally stumbled on the truth that they’ve denied for far too long. Dark Shadows is a comedy. Obviously. What else could it possibly be?

Monday: What Does Barnabas Say After He Bites a Girl?


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In the opening narration, Joan Bennett says, “Barnabas, aware that the medallion comes from a shop in Collinwood…”

When Amy says, “I wish he wouldn’t disappear. He listens to us,” the camera that’s doing a close-up on her suddenly zooms out for a two-shot. They should have cut away to another camera as this camera changed focus.

It’s not easy to tell when Ezra misses a line, because it could just be old man bluster, but this one seems to be a mistake: “Tell him I have the record that he wants, and, um — and, uh — yes. Tell him that. That I have the records he wants. Yes.”

When Liz puts her coat on, the hanger can be seen swinging back and forth behind her as she has a conversation with Amy.

At the beginning of act 3, when Ezra’s hunched over the ledger and muttering to himself, the boom mic comes into the frame at the top right, trying to make sure they can pick up Ezra’s words.

When Ezra tells Quentin that he made the pentagram himself, the camera pulls in tight on Quentin’s face, and you can clearly see the join where his fake muttonchops are glued to his cheeks.

Barnabas tells David, “You must help us with Amy. All you’ve got to do is tell us what’s wrong down here.”


Behind the Scenes:

Abe Vigoda appears in three episodes of Dark Shadows — yesterday and today as Ezra Braithwaite, and another episode in October 1970 playing Otis Greene, a man possessed by the spirit of Judah Zachery.

Vigoda’s had a long and varied career on stage, television and movies. He appeared in a bunch of Broadway shows in the late 60s and early 70s, including Marat/Sade, Inquest and Tough to Get Help. In 1972, he played Tessio in The Godfather, his most important film role.

After Fish, Vigoda never had his own series again, but he’s made guest appearances in dozens of shows, including The Bionic Woman, Vega$, The Rockford Files, The Love Boat, Supertrain, Fantasy Island, B.J. and the Bear, Harper Valley PTA, Tales from the Darkside, MacGyer, Murder, She Wrote, Law & Order, Wings, Touched By an Angel and Mad About You. His daytime TV appearances include One Life to Live, The Guiding Light and Santa Barbara.

There’s been a long-running joke about people thinking that Vigoda is dead, which began with an erroneous report in People magazine in 1982. After the issue was published, Vigoda posed for a photograph for Variety, sitting up in a coffin and holding the magazine. In 1987, there was another mistaken report of his death in a TV newscast in New Jersey, and it became a shared cultural joke. Vigoda made regular appearances in the 1990s and 2000s on Late Night with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Today Show, poking fun at his so far unsettled status. There’s a website at Abevigoda.com that was set up in 2001, and its only purpose is to tell you whether he’s alive or dead. As of press time, he’s still alive. I checked.

In 1997, my husband Ed and I saw Abe Vigoda at a Dark Shadows Festival in New York City. Vigoda seemed kind of bemused to find himself on a Cast Reunion panel with thirteen people who had actually been on Dark Shadows, including David Selby, Lara Parker, Louis Edmonds, John Karlen and Kathryn Leigh Scott.

It’s one of our favorite DS Festival memories. These cast panels always start by passing a microphone from one person to the next, and each person gets a chance to introduce themselves and say a little bit about their experience on the show, what it meant to them, and how they feel about it now. When the mic came to Vigoda, he growled amiably, “I’m Abe Vigoda, and I played Ezra Braithwaite in two episodes of Dark Shadows. I don’t really remember much about it.” And then he passed the microphone to the next person.

Monday: What Does Barnabas Say After He Bites a Girl?

685 dark shadows barnabas david ezra

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

24 thoughts on “Episode 685: A Fish Called Ezra

  1. I was at that convention, as well, and adored Vigoda’s recollection of the episode: “And, then, the kid… Selby… comes out and kills me.” The way he describes Selby, who was now in his late 50s, was hilariously endearing.

  2. “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”

    Abe “Fish” Vigoda guesting onstage with rock band Phish, who danced in a wombat suit for the song “Wombat”, Halloween 2013.

  3. Dark Shadows, a straight faced comedy, sounds about right. Whatever it is, it works, because they are so serious about it.

    That’s another thing that ruined TB”s Depp Shadows, it bonks you on the head and screams “Look at how funny we think we are! We are just so sarcastic ‘n’ stuff! Oh look, Johnny Depp is upside down!”

      1. How fitting for a John Cleese reference in a post that is a play on the title of a John Cleese movie. 🙂

        I also see traces of the straight-faced comedy you describe in the 1967 interactions between Barnabas and Willie. There’s the episode when it storms and so Vicki stays over at the Old House for the night and Willie is caught by Barnabas warning Vicki about staying over. Willie is afraid Barnabas will do to Vicki what he tried to do to Maggie, but when Willie asks whether he’ll be punished and Barnabas answers no and says instead that he just wants for Willie to stay there with him in the drawing room–“I want you to talk to me… Or better still don’t talk with me but just stay here”–so Willie starts talking to him, cajoling Barnabas about the true nature of his warm feelings for Vicki, until finally Barnabas just spits out, “Please! Oh, Willie, the sound of your voice is irritating me.” Then there’s the time when Barnabas is warning Willie that he should be careful, that his life is dangling by a thread and he shouldn’t put too much strain on it. Something about the delivery of the lines and the chemistry between the actors.

        There are as well moments of straight-faced comedy in 1966, the way Roger and Carolyn refer to young David as “the little monster” and how one time at the breakfast table the little monster himself, after warning Vicki that something might happen to her in the same way that something happened to Bill Malloy, David pauses before his next bite of toast and tells her, “You know what, Miss Winters? If you die, I won’t even go to your funeral.” This, of course, is from a nine-year-old boy whose very first words on the series, to his new governess, in the foyer in the vicinity of 3 a.m., were, “I hate YOU!” Or when Bill Malloy barges in through the front door of Sam Evans’ cottage while Sam is in a heated discussion with Roger and then Sam indignantly wonders if Bill ever knocks before entering a person’s house, to which Bill replies, “I did knock, but obviously you didn’t hear me. You want privacy, then lock your door. Now, how about a cup of coffee?” To say nothing about the Laurel and Hardy type comedy team of Jason McGuire and Willie Loomis, the faux gentleman and his tramp sidekick, like an absurdist comedy team straight out of Samuel Beckett. And then, of course, the droll mannerisms of Louis Edmonds’ post-1967 portrayal of Roger and Thayer David’s comical approach to Professor Stokes.

        There are a whole slew of similar moments of unintentional humor throughout the series, a number of which are collected in this YouTube clip of favorite moments, lines and bloopers:

        1. “Here you are,Vicky, take this. I take them frequently, they can’t possibly hurt you.”

          Buzz and Carolyn are having an orgy in the foyer, and Mrs Stoddard can’t get away from the ugliness and the horror of it all fast enough, but the door at the top of the stairs is stuck and she can’t get away.

          Those bats sure are squeaky. Maybe they need some WD-40 or some Squeak-B-Gone.

          1. That’s the one thing that bugs me about Dark Shadows, the sound of Bil Baird’s bats. To me they sound like magic markers scratching furiously over a sheet of paper. More than fingernails down a chalkboard, nothing irritates me more than the squeak that magic markers make on paper. I wonder if that’s actually the sound effect they used to give a voice to the bats of Bil Baird, as if they’d rather be drinking ink than blood.

              1. I love the bat sound. I love every single thing about the bat except that we don’t see it anywhere near as often as I would like. They could do a “Werewolf & the Bat” spinoff with Ezra Braithwaite and special guest star Leona Eltridge and I would watch it forever.

    1. That’s precisely the reason I avoided seeing Depp Shadows, though I was initially tempted because it would prove to be Jonathan Frid’s final screen appearance. But when it was revealed that they would be doing a comedy approach, I declined. Tim Burton must be one of those types who like to laugh at old movies, not because they were designed to be funny but because they’re old and therefore campy, because the Tim Burton’s of the world are just so [sniff] modern and sophisticated. Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows is not my Dark Shadows.

      But even more annoying, and what ultimately kept me away from attending a screening, was seeing on magazine covers Johnny Dipp’s face in that overly made-up cabaret take on Barnabas Collins. Jonathan Frid, on the other hand, with his courtly mannerisms and Shakespearean angst, you could actually believe that such a man had existed in the far-off world of the eighteenth century. But Johnny Dipp, smeared and garbed in his Burtonesque camp outfit, looks more like he’s been made up for a Munsters revival instead. And Tim Burton, if you’re reading this, you keep your campy hands off my Munsters!

      It makes me cringe to think of how many people there are as a result of the Burton Atrocity who only know of the title Dark Shadows through Tim Burton and Johnny Dipp. Just Google “dark shadows”–top of the list on page 1 is the Burton Atrocity; “image panels for dark shadows” likewise only show the Burton Atrocity. Google “dark shadows film” and all but one of the results on page 1, including the top link, are of the Burton Atrocity. [double facepalm] Oh, the horror, the horror….

      1. Ah, yes, the dreaded Burton Atrocities. Judah “Tim” Burton and his legendary dis-embodied elbow. It is said “the elbow of Judah T. Burton” will give great powers to some dumbass who was just sitting around waiting for evil to happen.

      2. This speaks to my earlier point that Burton positioned everyone in the film as noticeable freaks, especially Barnabas. The fact that Frid’s Barnabas was able to mingle with regular people and come off as a normal, albeit somewhat eccentric, man was key to his character (and his appeal). He’s hiding a dark secret beneath his normal veneer, and having to hide this aspect of his persona is one of the things that makes the character powerful and strikes a chord with the audience.

        Depp’s Barnabas is hiding nothing. He looks like a freak, he acts like a freak, he is a freak. Also the whole ‘fish out of water’ scenario is garbage. Not only has the trope been played to death, it does nothing for the character except yet again to show what an outcast he is (and add some more horrible comedy antics). There’s a reason the TV show didn’t go down this route when Barnabas was unearthed in 1966 – because it didn’t matter to him. Barnabas simply didn’t care about modern conveniences, content to recreate the past rather than trying to explore the present. Again, a key part of his character that was lost in the 2012 film.

      3. I used to like Tim Burton’s films. I think Ed Wood is gem. But then Burton got his hands on a property that I love. Not Dark Shadows in this case, but rather Sweeney Todd. I saw Sondheim’s masterpiece on Broadway during its first run in 1979 and have enjoyed various revivals since. But when Burton brought it to the screen (and therefore to the masses), he cut out all the subtlety and replaced it with Halloween-y imagery and silly camp. Johnny Depp is no more the rage-fueled barber Sweeney than he is the self-aware vampire Barnabas. And sadly, Burton’s version of Sweeney, like his version of Dark Shadows, is the only one many people are aware of.

        1. If it helps, I don’t think people know his version of Dark Shadows either. I talk about Dark Shadows and my blog a bunch, and I’ve never heard anyone say “oh, the Tim Burton movie?” They just say what’s that, and I say it’s a 1960s vampire soap opera, and they say that sounds weird, and play continues from there.

  4. “Quentin is funny.” That is key to understanding the character. It’s more important than “Quentin is a werewolf. Or an immortal. Or has sideburns.” I fear that if we’d seen Quentin on the 1991 series, we’d have only seen the last three traits.

    Burton’s Barnabas is “campy,” which is what many people think DARK SHADOWS is. However, I think there is actual a key camp trait missing from Depp’s performance. His Barnabas is a “screaming straight.” Whereas, Barnabas plays in many ways like a gay man (if you imagine that JOSETTE! is a Broadway musical, it even works when he goes on and on about her). Theres’ the element of him that’s keeping a secret but simultaneously knows he’s smarter than everyone else. He has a style and class. Also, in the 1960s, we still had movies with the vaguely English/vaguely gay villains (Vincent Price, for example).

    Barnabas, while often droll (Frid has a lot of great wry lines), is very serious. I
    Danny might be able to distill Barnabas to one word, as he does Quentin. I’d be interested in what he thinks that is.

      1. What can it be?

        Quentin lives a life of desperation?

        Quentin knows it’s all just a big joke?

        Quentin wants to be known as Caitlyn?

        Quentin has free cable in his room and won’t share with Carl or Edward?

        Quentin hides his actual humanity behind bad behavior?

        Despite appearing to be white, Quentin knows on the inside he’s half Chinese, half Lebanese?

        Quentin is allergic to werewolf dandruff?

  5. Abe Vigoda da vida, baby! (My passion for “Barney Miller” is not quite as great as Danny’s for Dark Shadows, but conceivably as great as his dislike for Ron Sproat).

    DS connections trivia: Florence Stanley, the voice of Josette’s sobs, played Fish’s wife Bernice (on both Barney Miller and his own spinoff).

    Also, dayplayer casting is always hit and miss, I think both because of budget and time crunches (a prime-time sitcom or drama, with just one show a week, has more time to cast and depending on the showrunners, be selective down to the bits; a daily soap by its nature is more apt to limit dayplayers to functional roles, as victims or exposition spouters; and by now a lot of the expository stuff they used to go to caretakers or doctors for, Julia and Stokes cover). Thus they often use the available, the affordable, or people Dan Curtis liked. I suspect for parts like Madame Findley and Ezra, they went the extra mile.

    In both cases, it helps. When you’re murdering a character outside of your core group, there’s usually three ways to go: they’re not just a non-entity (although as Danny noted, keeping them that way for Chris victims, and one of them doing the equivalent of “Inspector, I know something, but can’t tell you here. Meet me at midnight,” we don’t feel too bad for them). They’re someone so despicable you side with the killer (nearly every Trask) or someone just likable, amusing, and plain interesting enough that you’ll miss them. In case of either of the above extremes, hate or love, the audience has to feel like the death means something beyond another body; for both Madame Findley and Ezra, apart from being fun, they were actively trying to do something to help the protagonists. So that means more to us than the cows or ladies of negotiable affection.

    1. Addendum: Of course none of the above matters if the character (or actor) is just tiresome and boring. This is the Dr. Eric Lang Memorial Corollary.

      1. Oh! I’ve mentioned Florence Stanley in the episodes where her crying was heard, and I forgot that I actually know that name from Dinosaurs. Oh, that’s delightful.

        1. Right. So either Fish was always griping about Josette, or Ezra married Ethyl Phillips. However you want to cut it.

  6. Dr. Guthrie knocking on the door at the Evans cottage and Sam yells “Who’s ever there, go away!”. Guthrie walks in and says “Did you say ‘come in'”?

  7. “Dark Shadows” hit some home runs with limited-time characters: Suki Forbes, Bathia Mapes, Madam Finley, Ezra Breathwaite. (They also did a good job of coming up with memorable names for them).

    I still think one of the greatest missed opportunities of the show was not extending the run of Suki Forbes or bringing the actress back at least.

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