“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Quentin approaches, as violins trill anxiously in the background.
Seeing a vaguely Quentin-shaped blur, Ezra chirps, “Of course, you aren’t Barnabas Collins. You must be his friend.” Quentin smiles, and nods.
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.
“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!”
“But — you’re dead!”
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?
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.
— Danny Horn