Episode 691: The Bechdel Test

“But you don’t understand — he was more than a man! He’s something evil, sinister!”

There is a God of Fire and Rage.

Thousands of millions of burning spirits line the bone-charred stairs, kicking and scratching. Every unrepentant soul in Hell fights for the chance to return to the surface world, and drench the Earth in warm, rich blood.

It is here now. The children call it Quentin.

691 dark shadows quentin maggie choke

The angry ancestor advances on Maggie, gripping a curtain sash taut between his hands. He is going to choke the breath out of her body.

Behind him, the children shout their futile objections. “No, Quentin! You promised!” they say. “You said it was only a game! Please, Quentin! You don’t have to teach us a lesson! We’ll do anything you say from now on, honest! Oh, Quentin!”

681 dark shadows quentin maggie amy shut up

As Maggie utters a terrible screech, Quentin gets distracted, and he actually turns around and glares at the squealing kids so they shut up.

This is what happens when your show gets this noisy. The murderous avenging refugee from the netherworld has to pause mid-murdering, to say For Christ’s sake will you two keep it down I’M TRYING TO MURDER SOMEBODY!

691 dark shadows liz johnson yelling

This week, the point of Dark Shadows is for writer Sam Hall to finally put his money where his mouth is, and write the biggest, craziest story that he can. He’s been telling the rest of the team for months that they need to stop sending the characters in circles just to help the audience keep up, and now he’s the guy in charge.

Dark Shadows has been a full-time spook show for a year and a half now, and it’s time for the characters to quit denying that ghosts exist. After this week, that will no longer be possible. The day of the goldfish character is drawing to a close.

But you have to build up to a plot point like that, so the next few days are all about earning the right to change the narrative status quo. They do that the best way they know how — with confusion and noise.

691 dark shadows david mrs johnson shout

Maggie faints, and Elizabeth and Mrs. Johnson run into the study to find out what all the racket is about. The housekeeper catches a glimpse of Quentin just before he vanishes, and she makes sure that everyone within a five-mile radius knows about it.

Mrs. Johnson:  THAT MAN! THAT MAN! He was here! In this room! That man that I saw down at the cottage! He was in this very room! That man that I saw before!

Liz:  Mrs. Johnson, that’s impossible! We came in together! You’ve only been here five seconds! If there were a man, I would have seen him!

Mrs. Johnson:  But you don’t understand! He was more than a man! He was something evil, sinister! Mrs. Stoddard, if you don’t believe me — here! Ask the children! David, Amy! You must have seen him too! This time, you can’t deny it!

David:  We didn’t do anything! It wasn’t our fault!

Mrs. Johnson:  I’m not talking about what you did! I’m talking about what you SAW! Tell your aunt you saw him too!

David:  Mrs. Johnson! You’re hurting my arm!

Liz tells them to go upstairs, and David yells, “I don’t want to go to my room alone!”, and Mrs. Johnson yells, “I’m not going anywhere with that man about!” But Liz insists, and the housekeeper leads the shrieking children away, and at that point, Liz can attend to the unconscious governess obstructing traffic on the carpet. The whole episode is like this.

691 dark shadows david amy mrs johnson howl

Upstairs, Mrs. Johnson says, “There IS a man, isn’t there!” And Amy says, “There ISN’T any man, it’s all pretend!” And Mrs. Johnson says, “I’m going down to tell Mrs. Stoddard that you DID see that man!” And David and Amy scream, “No, Mrs. Johnson! You can’t do that! Please, Mrs. Johnson! Don’t leave us alone!” And then she leaves, and the kids just throw themselves against the door and howl.

691 dark shadows mrs johnson maggie liz that man

Downstairs, the conversation is proceeding along the same lines.

Maggie:  David and Amy — they’re possessed!

Liz:  Possessed by what?

Maggie:  By that MAN!

691 dark shadows mrs johnson maggie liz bechdel

Mrs. Johnson:  There! Now do you believe me? There IS a man!

Maggie:  But he’s not REAL! Not a real man! Not really!

Liz:  Oh, Maggie, you’re not making any sense! Either there was a man, or there wasn’t one!

Maggie:  There WAS a man, Mrs. Stoddard! What I’m trying to say is that it was something evil, sinister! He was something not REAL!

So this is something you don’t see every day — three women standing around, failing the Bechdel test at the top of their lungs.

691 dark shadows david amy quentin blind

Things aren’t any calmer upstairs. Quentin appears again and waves his hand in front of Amy’s face, and she collapses onto the bed, holding her hands over her eyes and screaming that she’s blind now.

691 dark shadows amy liz david shouting

By the time Liz arrives, the kids are having a full-on panic attack, pacing back and forth and screaming like they’re picketing a union-busting restaurant.

David:  Oh, Quentin! We did what you wanted! Please, leave us ALONE!

Amy:  Leave us alone, Quentin! You can’t make us HURT people!

David:  We HATE you! We HATE you!

Amy:  You’re making us hurt people and it isn’t FAIR!

David:  We can’t do what you say! It’s WRONG! It’s WRONG!

Amy:  Just go AWAY, Quentin! It’s not NICE to hurt all these people!

Honestly, I could go on, but this is what the show is today, just half an hour of pandemonium. They’re basically taking this phase of the story to its chaotic conclusion, so they can shut this down and move on. Stay tuned for more shouting and fury and fire, as the forces of evil destroy this house and everyone in it, once and for all.

Tomorrow: The New Mischief.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

One of the cameras is still broken, as it was on Friday, and everything shot with that camera looks crooked. It’s actually a great example of early television, something that just would not be acceptable broadcast standard today.

Just before Maggie enters the study in act 3, somebody runs across the set, in front of the camera. There’s a lot of footsteps off-camera as she dials the phone.

The end credits are crooked.

Tomorrow: The New Mischief.

691 dark shadows liz kids mrs johnson out

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

44 thoughts on “Episode 691: The Bechdel Test

  1. They should have included Roger Davis in this episode, since yelling and screaming all of his lines is his specialty.

  2. Has anyone else ever heard of the Bechdel Test or have I been living under a rock (on Widows’ Hill with the filigree pen that Roger hid — i.e., episode 83)?

  3. Mrs. Johnson is another suspicious character among the Collinwood residents who, like Julia, first appeared there with a secret agenda, having been installed by Burke Devlin to spy on the inhabitants of the house shortly after the death of Bill Malloy.

    I wonder when exactly Mrs. Johnson decided she liked working at Collinwood, was grateful for the job after all, and realized that her true loyalties were to the people who employed her, and also whether she missed those extra weekly bonuses from Mr. Devlin for the tidbits of gossip she would glean while dusting the drawing room furniture.

    Perhaps since Julia is such a major character, we need to have this resolved and made known to the people of Collinwood so that they can forgive and accept her, so that in turn we the audience can better identify with her and feel that she is only being deceptive to the people we aren’t supposed to like.

    In the case of Mrs. Johnson, however, it probably doesn’t matter regarding her original agenda of secrecy and deception, because she is merely there in a minor role and we don’t seem to mind her one way or another.

    I must say, though, that time in the foyer when she just waddles in and blabs away to Laura “the Phoenix” Collins about the seance that would be taking place over at the Old House later that evening, thus sealing the fate of the good and likeable Dr. Peter Guthrie, well, for a very long time afterward I would refer to Mrs. Johnson as Mrs. Dogshit.

    1. Mrs. Johnson becomes so established as Collinwood’s housekeeper, that by the 1995 Flash Forward, Carolyn has false memories of Mrs Johnson brushing Carolyn’s hair when Carolyn was a little girl.

        1. Perhaps the 1795 Crisis Vortex changed history, and when Vicky returns, she has always been the housekeeper (maybe her maiden name is Torrance?).

  4. This is ALL leading up to one of the best episodes of DS. THE end of the beginning… Or visa versa. I love it.

    1. Me, too. The wrap-up to this has been worth the wait. I actually like the way they slowly built up the tension — now Collinwood is going off the rails and Liz and Roger waited too late to accept the blatant truth. This is just as good as the build-up to 1795.

      I think some of their best moments are when they have a clear purpose of what’s ahead.

  5. This is another favorite episode: panic, hysteria, attempted murder, more panic, all the fun of a Cirkus!

    Things with Quentin have really gotten out of hand by the time Elizabeth Stoddard goes to David’s room to question David and Amy about what happened to Maggie, that left her unconscious on the floor. In desperation, the children try to pin the blame on Maggie. Doesn’t fly.
    When Elizabeth says she’s going to go get Dr Hoffman, David Henesy gives one of the best line readings of the entire show when he begs “Please don’t leave us alone!”. It’s so pathetic and desperate. Elizabeth insists on going to get Hoffman, but the children block the door.
    Then IT happens. The masks finally come off, when David and Amy are both so desperate and afraid that they start addressing Quentin by name, shouting to the air, beseeching him to leave them alone. They pace around in circles, out of their minds, begging, pleading. Elizabeth stands in the middle of all this madness, and is forced to realize “Oh, my god! Maggie was right! They ARE possessed!”

    After not finding Dr Hoffman at the old house, Elizabeth asks Maggie to call Professor Stokes for help, when suddenly, everything falls silent. Upstairs, the children are unconscious and Mrs Johnson is baffled, because the rain is still pouring outside, but you can’t hear anything. It’s as quiet as a tomb. Something bad is going to happen.
    Then, from out of nowhere, music. A syrupy little melody, dripping through the walls of Collinwood. A plaintive little ditty, that, in another time, might have provided it’s listener with sweet blissful escape, but here, it’s all wrong.
    It’s a ghost of a song, played by a ghost of a man, with a heart full of revenge. It’s creepy, it’s frightening, and most of all, it sends a clear and unmistakable message to Elizabeth Stoddard: YOU LIVE IN A HAUNTED HOUSE!.

  6. Now THIS is a scary episode! This is Dark Shadows at its best. (We were just talking about the Gérard possession story, which amounts to a cheap copy of this.) David Henesy continues to out-act everyone in this episode. I also love how Mrs Johnson is included, because Clarice’s performance is perfect when she’s in hysterical mode.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who analyses old TV shows using the Bechdel test.

    1. This episode is great, because it gives some of the cast a little more opportunity than usual to show off their acting chops. Not familiar with Ralph Ellis, but his writing is great. It’s what gives Blackburn and Henesy the opportunity to show what they’ve got.

      I once asked myself, what’s the scariest thing you can see on screen? My answer was: quite often, it’s well-acted fear. Alien is a perfect example. Part of what makes it so scary is that we are seeing people who are scared out of their minds. If it’s done right, it’s contagious.

      When Henesy says the line “Please don’t leave us alone!” there’s a strange quiver in his voice that brings a whole new level of “real”. It’s subtle, understated. It sounds like the kind of thing that could only come from actual fear. I don’t know how he did it. It’s one little touch, but it’s powerful.

      And then, in the final scene, as he slowly rises from unconsciousness, there is such a strange, strange look on his face. A mean, leering grin, followed by a weird burst of my old friend, Maniacal Laughter.
      He’s not David anymore, and he actually seems to look different. He’s Quentin, now. Nasty, evil, dirty-rotten-bastard Quentin, and he’s here to have hours of giggles, and strangles, and fall-down-the-stairs fun, with everyone.

    2. Agreed! I am loving this. And one more thing I love — it furthers the Collinwood story. Angelique and Barnabas may have sparked it, but I like how the show has become bigger than just them.

  7. Allison Bechdel, on with Seth Meyers Wednesday night, reiterated the test, then performed in a scene which answered all questions that I had about her.

    She’s no ghost from the past, that’s for sure.

    And I’m changing my major to Violet.

  8. The end of this episode, with David returning to life and gloating to Liz and Mrs Johnson “It’s too late. It’s too late to be afraid,” then laughing crazily (with Quentin’s laugh overdubbed on top) has got to be the scariest thing in Dark Shadows up to this point.

  9. I agree that David’s possession at the end of this episode is one of the scariest moments of all time in DS. (Honestly, I really don’t find the show very scary, and I don’t think I really did as a kid–I just loved all the spooks and monsters.) The other scariest moment for me–and I think is still #1 on my hit parade–is way back in episode 4 when Vicky hears Josette’s sobbing in the middle of the night for the first time. Now THAT is creepy and frightening!

  10. I’ve been reading Danny’s blog as well as the Dark Shadows Wiki all along as I’ve been watching the episodes. There have been lots of references throughout this storyline about how Quentin is trying to drive everyone away from Collinwood. That always puzzled me, since I don’t recall that specific idea being established…until just the last episode or two. Did I miss something earlier on? Or did this “drive everyone away from Collinwood” really only become explicit in the past few episodes?

  11. Four words: “Functional neurological symptom disorder”. I was impressed with David and Amy in the throes of possession; only thing missing was Winona Ryder in “Crucible” mode.

  12. “[Quentin] advances on Maggie, gripping a curtain sash taut between his hands. He is going to choke the breath out of her body.”

    ‘Maggie and Quentin: The Lover’s Refrain’, available now from Big Finish Productions…

  13. Henesy is knocking it out of the park. I wouldn’t say I’m an authority on soaps but I did watch them quite a bit in the ’70s and early ’80s (mostly the ones on NBC). I don’t ever recall a child or tween actor being asked to carry this much of the story. Lately Henesy has the most lines in almost every episode he appears in. Maybe that’s why they gave him so much time off during the Adam storyline – they wanted him to conserve his energy for the struggles to come.

  14. During that whole hysterical scene with Mrs. Johnson and Maggie and Mrs. Stoddard and the children, with all of their “the MAN” and “that MAN” who “isn’t REAL!” all I could think of was the rhyme “Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. Oh how I wish he’d go away!”

    And I wanted to shout at these fictional characters on the other side of my TV screen: ‘Have you never heard the word “ghost”? or “spirit”?,’ and then FINALLY Liz said, “You mean like a ghost?” but they ignored her and just went on babbling inanely about the man who wasn’t there. One of those unintentional comedic moments I guess (or maybe it was meant to be).

  15. We should mention that the opening teaser is almost six minutes of Maggie standing around doing nothing. They make up for it, but whoa that was a slow start.

    1. Yes, the beginning with Maggie wandering around, seemingly aimlessly, seemed off somehow. And she seemed to have the same reaction twice.

  16. This truly was a creepy episode! And I agree, the fear being displayed by the characters truly is contagious. I also really thought Mrs. Johnson was going to smash David’s fingers in the door.

    It was quite malicious of Quentin to make Amy think she is blind. Even more malicious of David and Amy to tell Liz that it was Maggie’s fault for their hysteria.

    All this hysteria reminded me of what happened to spur the Salem Witchcraft Trials – all the hullabaloo caused by hysterical children.

    When the storm stopped, that was truly frightening. When I lived in Baltimore for a bit, near John Hopkins University, when it became quiet, it was usually followed by gunshots. It would’ve been nicer to have Quentin’s theme play.

    David was truly spooky at the end.

    Just a truly great scary episode!

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