Episode 703: The Problem of Beth

“The problem with you, Judith, is that you hate the fraudulence of gypsies.”

Okay, let’s review what it means to be a “couple” in fiction.

The mistake that people sometimes make is that they think that a couple needs to be romantic. Obviously, there are lots of love stories with a romantic pairing at the center, but there’s a deeper definition that’s more useful if you’re trying to figure out how stories work.

A couple is two people that you want to see on stage at the same time, because they have chemistry together. A scene with both of them is funnier, or more exciting, or more romantic, or more interesting, or the plot moves faster. It doesn’t matter exactly why that pairing makes the scene better, as long as the structure of the story bends around putting them together.

Sulley and Mike from Monsters, Inc. are a couple. Bertie and Jeeves are a couple. Holmes and Watson, Starsky and Hutch, Laverne and Shirley, the Doctor and Amy Pond, basically any two characters who are best known as “X and Y”.

In fact, sometimes giving one member a love interest can be a distraction. Buzz Lightyear has a romantic subplot with Jessie in Toy Story 3, but the main story beats are Woody/Buzz, because a Woody/Buzz scene is more interesting than a Buzz/Jessie scene. (Except for the Spanish dancing scene, obviously, but that’s an outlier.)

This is why a “will they/won’t they” relationship can be so compelling — Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, Sam and Diane, Jim and Pam, Clark and Lois, Kermit and Miss Piggy. It’s an evergreen structure, because it’s fun watching those characters interact, whether they happen to be officially “together” or not.

If the couple doesn’t appear on screen together very much — because they’re separated, let’s say, and they’re trying to find their way back to each other — then they don’t really count as a couple. In the lit crit biz, we call that a “Princess Peach” — a kiss at the end of a story that wasn’t really about the kiss after all. You can always tell what the important relationships in a story are, even if the characters pretend otherwise. The important characters are the ones they point the camera at.

This goes double for Dark Shadows, because it’s a soap opera that’s not really about romance most of the time. They don’t have time for the common soap tropes like weddings and babies — instead, they use ideas and plot structures borrowed from a mix of genres, including gothic romance, monster movie, film noir, door-slamming farce, avant-garde black box theater and the Doors’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

So the idea of a romantic couple on Dark Shadows is almost irrelevant. The couple that everybody talks about on the show is Barnabas and Josette, but they hardly appear together, even during that brief window when Josette is alive. Most of the action in 1795 centers around Barnabas and Angelique; Josette’s love is just the MacGuffin that they play for.

But the most important relationship in Dark Shadows is Barnabas and Julia, who are paired together because they’re just fascinating to look at. Their chemistry is so powerful that it even works when Julia puts on brown makeup, and pretends to be somebody else.

703 dark shadows magda bat

Which brings us to the show’s latest supercouple, Barnabas and Magda.

Here’s the recap: Barnabas is desperate to confront Quentin Collins, the mad ghost who’s been terrorizing the family in the late 60s. To do this, he’s used the ancient Chinese secret of I Ching, which has propelled him backwards through time to the late 90s, back when Quentin was terrorizing the family in person.

Barnabas has just been released from his coffin by grave-robbing gypsy Sandor Rakosi, and now he’s at the Old House, meeting the missus.

Naturally, Magda immediately recognizes that Barnabas is a vampire — an obvious fact that eludes the other 100% of people that he ever meets — because gypsies are like Native Americans, elderly black people, lunatics, children and all the other low-status characters in fiction who are closer to the primitive, and therefore in touch with the ancient truths that we gringos have forgotten, what with all our civilization and cell phones and book learning.

Under normal circumstances, you’d expect Barnabas to kill Magda and move on with his day, but she’s played by Grayson Hall and is therefore indispensable. The writers have taken the correct approach, which is to put Grayson Hall in the same house as Jonathan Frid and just let them do their thing.

From here on, the best measure of whether a period of Dark Shadows is good or bad is the amount of time that the Jonathan Frid character and the Grayson Hall character appear together. I will now demonstrate.

703 dark shadows magda barnabas concern

Cowering, Magda asks, “Why did you come here? What do you want?”

Barnabas pauses, because he’s forgotten what he’s supposed to say. He looks at the teleprompter.

703 dark shadows magda barnabas teleprompter

And that’s when Magda opens her eyes even wider — as if the fact that he’s pausing and looking over her shoulder makes him even more menacing.

He finally gets his line out, “That is your… concern for another time. But your concern now is to protect me during the day.” And she just goes on as if that was a totally normal way for the conversation to proceed. This is half of Grayson Hall’s job, and nobody can do it as well as she can.

703 dark shadows magda jewel

The other half of her job is to make us accept the lunatic plot contrivances, by being so interesting to look at that the audience doesn’t bother to ask questions.

Barnabas buys her silence by promising her a small but valuable selection from the Collins family treasure. He holds out a ring, and she snatches it from his hand, examining it in the light and then rubbing it across her lips. “This is all we get, just one jewel?” she says, not taking her eyes off the ring. She’s fantastic. Barnabas and Magda forever.

646 dark shadows beth quentin pose

Now let’s turn to the other important couple in the current storyline: Quentin and Beth.

As I’m sure you’ll recall, Quentin and Beth were introduced several months ago as ghosts, in a Dark Shadows version of The Turn of the Screw. As in the original story, there are two kids and two ghosts, one apiece.

In The Turn of the Screw, the male ghost was a servant, and the female ghost was a governess, and they apparently died because they had sex, or fell down a well or something off screen.

On Dark Shadows, servant Peter Quint became troubled ancestor Quentin Collins, and governess Miss Jessel became Beth. We didn’t learn much about Beth’s backstory, except that she lived in the servants’ quarters and that her last name, believe it or not, is Chavez.

So it’s obvious that the original intention was that Beth, like Miss Jessel, was the governess. I guess this is what dead governesses looked like in the late 19th; I couldn’t say.

But now that we’re actually doing a whole storyline in 1897, producer Dan Curtis wants to start with a new governess arriving at the house, and she’s got to look like Josette, because apparently we’re just going to keep on doing Jane Eyre until we get it right, and Barnabas gets to be Mr. Rochester this time.

So Beth got downgraded from governess to maid, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that Terry Crawford got upgraded from silent day player to cast member, and she’s terrible.

703 dark shadows beth quentin mirror

When the ghosts were introduced, there was no plan to head for another time travel story. It just happened, because it turned out that David Selby was amazing as Quentin, and they couldn’t think of anything else to do. So Terry Crawford kind of bobbed along in Selby’s wake, and now she’s a main character too.

This is her only major screen role; most of the other parts on her credits list are for roles called Nurse, or Friendly Woman, or 2nd Woman at Party. She has one facial expression, and I’m sorry to say that this is it.

703 dark shadows beth terrible

In today’s episode, Quentin — a member of her employer’s family who has previously expressed sexual interest in her — suddenly enters her bedroom, and closes the door.

Beth’s response to this alarming situation is to say, “Isn’t it customary to knock before you enter a lady’s room?” and then she just keeps on tying up her shawl.

He smiles, and swaggers. “I’ve never been a prisoner of custom.”

“How well I know,” she pronounces. When Beth speaks, she delivers each individual word as if it has been translated from the Albanian for her personal use. She is terrible.

703 dark shadows beth quentin albanian

Quentin, faced with this dreadful scene partner for the foreseeable, decides that he’d better keep acting, and hope that something turns up.

“And I might remind you,” he says, looming, “as a member of this family, I have the right to go anywhere in this house.”

She doesn’t move. “You are not the master of the house,” she says, sticking with her default acting choice, which is sulking.

“You never can tell,” he says, waggling an eyebrow or two. “I may be someday.”

She says, “Ha.” Just like that. And then she keeps on tying up her shawl. This must be the most complicated shawl in the history of the dramatic arts.

703 dark shadows quentin beth mirror

And so it goes on, like every Quentin/Beth scene that ever was or ever will be. He’s alternately flirty, threatening, teasing, childish, romantic, bossy and angry. She is standing in the room while all of that happens.

703 dark shadows beth quentin compliment

Here’s a particularly bad moment, in a scene that’s chock full of bad moments:

Quentin:  I think you stole this money.

Beth:  And I think you’re contemptible! (She takes the money from him, and puts it in her bag.) Now, get out of here and leave me alone.

(She tries to leave, and he grabs her and spins her around.)

Quentin:  You know what I like about you, Beth? You have my kind of spirit.

Beth:  I don’t consider that a compliment.

And you know what? She doesn’t. Her dialogue is full of lines like “I don’t care” and “It’s none of your business,” and Terry Crawford decides that the best acting choice she could make would be to play it as if Beth sincerely means every word that she says. This is different from what a good actor would do in every respect.

She should be fencing with him, half-flirting and half-angry and half-guilty. Yes, she should be playing three halves right now; that’s the point of the scene. But Terry Crawford gives you what’s on the page, because somebody explained the concept of “subtext” to her once, while she was thinking about something else.

703 dark shadows beth quentin anger

So this is the problem with the 1897 storyline; they’ve got a phenomenal new lead villain, and he’s paired with an actress who is fundamentally miscast. Quentin and Beth should be the throbbing heart of the next nine months of story, but it’s tough to get a throb out of this dame.

But we can’t complain about it, because this is what happens in serialized narrative — a developing sequence of ideas and adjustments and accidents, happening in real time. If the creators are smart and attentive, then the good parts stick around, and the bad parts fade away. You don’t get Barnabas and Magda and Quentin without the occasional Beth. It’s just part of the game.

Tomorrow: It Just So Happens.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Barnabas tells Magda, “I don’t intend to harm you… unless you’re not going to uphold your end of the bargain.” (I’m not 100% sure that’s a blooper, but there’s a triple negative in there that makes my head spin.)

Magda steps on Barnabas’ line:

Barnabas:  Don’t let your greed get the better of you.

Magda:  We will —

Barnabas:  Be happy with what I’m going to give you.

Magda:  We will not betray you, don’t worry.

Magda asks what will happen tomorrow night. Barnabas looks at the teleprompter, and then says, “I will be at Collinwood. And they will be… seeing a strange visitor, a distant cousin from England.”

Judith tells Quentin, “I’m sorry you came back, Quentin. I’d forgotten what — how peevish and boring you can be!”

After Magda leaves Collinwood, you can see by the shadow behind Judith that the door has swung open again.

There are a lot of shuffling footsteps in the studio when Judith asks Barnabas to wait in the drawing room. This is followed by whispers when Barnabas is left alone in the room.

During the credits, Barnabas walks into the shot, carrying his clothes. He realizes his error and quickly ducks out of the frame. This means that Barnabas joins Professor Stokes (in episode 510) as the only two characters who are aware that sometimes names appear in midair. See the posts about episode 531 and episode 637 for more on this subject.


Behind the Scenes:

The colorful afghan shows up in a new time period, on Beth’s bed. The afghan was last seen in the present day, in Chris’ cottage.

Tomorrow: It Just So Happens.

703 dark shadows barnabas credits

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

27 thoughts on “Episode 703: The Problem of Beth

  1. Terry Crawford is a huge weak spot in this storyline. I understand why she was cast originally. She’s tall and impressive when she’s totally silent. However, she really couldn’t carry the weight of the role when it became a main part of the action. They really were stuck. She had played Beth for so long that they couldn’t recast and they had to keep her around long enough to get through the entire story (meaning the entire story before they decided to extend this time period).

  2. I can recall at least twice and probably more, scenes where Terry Crawford goes up, and you see genuine fear in her eyes, as she can’t read the prompter, and she desperately tries to improvise, failing miserably. Co actors in the shot try to “help” but she falls apart…..and yet, she still comes back to play Edith. I guess she worked cheap.

  3. When Danny talks about subtext, I’m reminded of an upcoming scene between Judith and Edith when Judith suggests that Edith tell her the family secret in the event that Edward does not return in time. The expression on Joan Bennett’s face is wonderful — you see her go from childish delight in being “naughty,” almost as if she’s surprised that she’s capable of not being the good girl, and then a mature darkness, when you realize that she has no intention of sharing the secret if Edith tells her.

    So, yes, unfortunately, we never get much of that from Beth, and without exploring any potential subtext or motivations underneath Beth’s words, she winds up an otherwise dull character amongst extremely exciting ones.

  4. Joan Bennett really seemed to be having the best time of her life as Judith. She seems liberated in a role that allows her to be more than a goldfish or a saint. There’s so much energy and life to her performances as she discovers she’s the new mistress of the estate and gets to stick to her brothers and the servants. Some great stuff ahead.

    1. Totally agree – Joan Bennett is so much fun to watch as Judith. those scenes with her waving Grandmama’s Will in Edward, Quentin & Carl’s faces are especially entertaining. Judith’s a tough dame – which makes it kinda hard to explain why she falls for Trask’s total bull so easily.
      One thing I’ll say for Beth – she’s a good screamer. Poor Joan B. is probably the worst screamer of all the ladies – comes out more like a holler.

      1. I think Joan and Jerry sell Trask’s seduction of Judith, and it is a seduction — not just flowery romance but also an undercurrent of off-screen physicality. There is a scene where Trask rubs a finger along Judith’s neck that is especially icky.

        Yes, he appeals to her pious nature, but he overcomes her rationality in… other ways.

        1. I don’t know – maybe it’s just my feminist viewpoint kicking in but, I don’t see the strong willed, aggressive, fairly ruthless Judith who is kicking butt at the beginning of this story line EVER being seduced by the likes of that stiff, trask.
          She wouldn’t be impressed by his fake piety or his debatable masculine charms.
          True, she’s a 60 year old spinster but hey – she’s the new mistress of Collinwood. She’s in control, baby. Why would she hand her newfound authority over to that fake Bible jockey?
          She wouldn’t – except the writers needed to farm her off to the nut house so, there ya go.

          1. Ah, but there is evidence that she grew up in her grandmother’s shadow and under her control. She even moves into her grandmother’s room when she inherits everything. So I can buy the potential crack in her iron facade that Trask exploits.

            Oh, slight tangent, but your comment reminds me that Joan is playing a character significantly younger than Naomi and Elizabeth. She is possibly in her mid-30s and it’s Trask (played by the much younger Jerry Lacy) who is the older man.

            There are consistent references to Edward as the eldest family member, and while that could be argued to mean the eldest “son,” there are far too many references to Quentin “growing up” with Judith.

            1. Yeah, she’s playing Judith as a younger woman but not mid-30’s I don’t think. Judith is definitely menopausal!
              I really would have preferred that they kept Judith strong and focused on ruling Collinwood with an iron fist. She waited her whole life to get into the power position and threw it away on the first “player” that played her.

              1. Yeah, I guessed mid-30s for Judith based on the references to Quentin and she as being children around the same time. But I suppose it is possible she’s a few years younger than Edward (so early 40s, which would certainly be spinsterhood in those days).

        1. Yes i liked Judith as Flora. She was upbeat and bubbly. I liked her as trask wife as well, where she bricked his ass in the room. That was cool.

  5. Beth is one new character too many…While 1897 is good storytelling it seems like there are too many plots thrown in simultaneously, resulting in a dilution of some stories which would have been much more effective (i.e return of the ‘Phoenix’) if there wasn’t so much going on at once..

    1. I didnt like Beth’s part. They had her too defensive. I guess if you were jilted like she was by Quentin, then to be on the defensive is okay, but I just thought she overdid it.

  6. A few posts back Kevin wrote the following in addressing Dark Shadows’ continuity paradoxes, “It’s watching DS with a contemporary perspective that invites confusion.” How true. I was reminded of Kevin’s statement after reading Danny’s most enjoyable and on-spot post on the lackluster Beth Chavez. And perhaps Terry Crawford’s characterization of Beth faded from my young mind so very quickly precisely because of the reasons Danny mentions here. I simply do not recall this character from the days when I viewed the original broadcasts. And this is an intriguing admission given that the 1897 storyline is the one that hooked me on this show back in March 1969. I really don’t have a much of a clear memory of DS before the episode that features Grandmama Edith’s hand plunging through her freshly dug grave. That episode, a favorite, involves Quentin’s worst nightmare and should be coming up any day now. This is the episode that hooked me and if Dark Shadows is a crack pipe then I took my first hit during that episode.

    I mentioned in an earlier post that I was a ten year-old fourth grader in spring 1969; however, what I did not mention is that I recall standing, not sitting, in front of our old black and white television, completely mesmerized by all the fantastic, creepy and outlandish things that were being broadcast. Perhaps at times I did sit and watch DS in those days, but what I recall most about this period is me running half a block from the school bus drop-off, opening our front door and throwing my books down before turning on the TV and standing completely still, or pacing, waiting a minute, an eternity, for the television to “warm up” and receive its signal and broadcast a picture – and please dear God, none of that horizontal or vertical line BS to contend with – and of course, most television signals came with ghosts whether you wanted them or not. Anyway and at best, I’d catch the last eleven minutes of the show and would depend on recaps from classmates who actually viewed daily episodes from the very beginning; classmates who did not rely on a school bus to get them home. Dark Shadows recaps were the topic of every school cafeteria luncheon conversation with classmates Jacquelyn Timmons and Timothy Wyckoff designated experts on all matters related to DS. For sure, I was very aware of the show before the 1897 story and recall a summer day in 1967 when a next door neighbor, Melinda, a young married woman in her mid-20’s with a small baby ran into our house screaming that she couldn’t be home alone because Barnabas Collins had just bitten someone. Initially we may have believed that Barnabas Collins was a neighbor that none of us had met (nor wanted to meet), but then Melinda explained that Barnabas was a character on Dark Shadows. Unimpressed, my mother and older sister remained committed to “The Edge of Night” and never gave DS a second thought. However, I certainly filed this information and moment of fear away for future reference so that months later Melinda’s reaction to Barnabas’ fangs suddenly made sense. To my impressionable mind, all DS characters were fantastic and spellbinding; all actors and actresses were kings and queens. They were royalty to all who sat at a shared lunch table eating fish sticks, mashed potatoes and fudge or banana flavored ice cream bars for dessert.

    To paraphrase Kevin, it is watching DS with a contemporary perspective that allows us (me) to see just how anemic Terry Crawford is as Beth Chavez. But in 1969 I didn’t know uninspired acting from a hole in the wall and this realization and admission causes me to remember a favorite episode of “Frasier” with guest star Derek Jacobi. In the episode, Frasier Crane and his younger brother Niles are provided an opportunity to reintroduce a brilliant Shakespearean actor to a new audience unfamiliar with the greatness of their childhood idol. However, they quickly come to see just how terribly deceiving childhood memories can be. And if Mr. Jacobi wasn’t nominated for an Emmy for that guest role, he should have been.

    It is a miracle and testament to time that in spite of all that we know to be true today about uninspired acting, set mishaps, boom mic shadows, missed cues, and Craig Slocum as Harry Johnson that the rapture and love affair continues. As I said earlier, I don’t remember Beth Chavez from back then; but today, I remember her well along with Randall Drew, Damian Edwards, and the entire Leviathan period. Yes, somehow, I repressed the Leviathans too.

    Thank you “other” Danny for this blog.

  7. Didn’t realise Beth was so reviled! Considering that…maybe they SHOULD have made her the original governess, and killed her earlier on…and Rachel could take her place. But they needed Beth for the Jenny/Edith scheme.

    I guess I’m kinder to Beth/Terry because by the time I started watching, her screen time was greatly reduced, and Trask/Judith were the front burners. I definitely see/hear what you’re all seeing/hearing, though. 🙂

  8. This is such a great line, Danny. “The important characters are the ones they point the camera at.”

    Unless it was for contract reasons, I don’t think they would really be stuck with Beth. People were recast all the time with the advantage nobody could look back at old scenes. For instance, for an earlier example, Charita Bauer (the amazing Bert Bauer on “Guiding Light” was a recast for someone who had been on a couple of years).

    Barnabas in the coffin is really starting to bother me though. So original Barnabas remembers being in the coffin. Trip back in time to save Vicki Barnabas apparently was in the coffin and now this version. Were there the spirits of 3 Barnabases there all at the same time? Even if you buy the timeline changing changed things shouldn’t there have been at least 2 of them in there at this point?

    1. DS had stopped recasting roles with Victoria Winters, and arguably, they’d had such a lousy track record with it (John Karlen being the inarguable exception), it wouldn’t surprise me if Dan Curtis swore off doing so ever again.

      Also, as I’ve mentioned in another comment, 1897 officially marks the point for me where the series functions more like a prime time drama that happens to air five days a week during the afternoon. Along with the change in pacing, there’s also a change in audience expectations. Recasting a character on prime time series (Other Darren syndrome) can be jarring — far more so than on a daytime soap.

      But I do agree that Terry Crawford’s presence wasn’t because of some obligation to keep the character Beth front and center. She’d already been marginalized during the haunting of Collinwood — that became predominately about Quentin and David. She made some random appearances but they were just that — random.

  9. I have to respectfully disagree with the characterization of Beth. Terry Crawford may not be the best actress in the world, but my take on it is that she’s playing Beth here as her character is fucking disgusted with Quentin and moreso with herself because she’s attracted to him. She is absolutely as coldly as she can trying to shut him down. She knows his total backstory; the abandonment of Jenny, the goings on at the cottage, the implied affair with Laura, and probably a good deal about the occult interests he pursues. She knows if she lets him in she’s dooming herself as well. She’s fighting herself and by the time she finally gives in it ends with murder and a curse and a bunch more murders. That’s some pretty heavy stuff. The poor girl never gets a break.

  10. I completely agree about Joan Bennett as Judith. The time travel plots seem to bring out the best of JB in general; I liked her more in 1795 too. Maybe it’s the ridiculous costumes, but something seems to remind Joan Bennett she’s an actress—and a pretty good one—and she’s here to do her job well. Maybe David Selby’s charisma amps things up, or the fact that Judith hits the ground with more complexity than Elizabeth had. But I’m loving it, whatever spurred it on.

    In some ways this make Terry Crawford all the more lamentable as a casting choice. In killing or writing off so many characters they seemed to separate the wheat from the chaff, cast wise. Seeing Quentin, Sandor, Barnabas, and Magda in one delicious scene felt like mainlining the best DS has to offer. But I guess someone had to come in and Vicki it up.

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