Episode 717: Mommy Weirdest

“They’re dolls! Plain ordinary breakable dolls! She has dozens of them, and can’t tell the difference between them.”

Mad Jenny Collins is loose in the haunted corridors of ABC daytime television, eyeliner askew and ready for adventure. She’s been locked up in the tower room for god knows how long, and from the looks of her, it hasn’t been a soothing experience.

She keeps breaking out of her cell and setting fire to people’s bedrooms, which isn’t a productive use of her time, and at the moment she’s got hold of a pair of scissors that must be left over from the Jurassic era. You know how they tell you not to run with scissors? You shouldn’t even walk with these. That’s a pair of scissors where you close the door and turn the lights off and hope it goes away.

It’s not easy to explain just how insane this situation is, so let’s see how Charlotte Brontë described it, in Chapter 20 of Jane Eyre:

What crime was this that lived incarnate in this sequestered mansion, and could neither be expelled nor subdued by the owner? — what mystery, that broke out now in fire and now in blood, at the deadest hours of night? What creature was it, that, masked in an ordinary woman’s face and shape, uttered the voice, now of a mocking demon, and anon of a carrion-seeking bird of prey?

Well, I mean. You have to give it up to Charlotte B for that. I can’t speak for anybody else, but in my opinion I think she nailed it.

717 dark shadows jenny laughing

Although in this instance, Jenny is not so much masked in an ordinary woman’s face and shape, as much as she’s masked in Marie Wallace’s face and shape, and Marie Wallace is no ordinary woman. Last fall, she played Eve, the mad science Bride of Frankenstein camp diva femme fatale, who greeted each new day with an evening gown and an eyeroll. Her arrival was the last straw in a storyline that had run out of straws weeks earlier, and had by that point become an out-of-control downhill skiing event. She was the tree they ran into.

Now she’s back and they’ve given her this pair of elevated threat-level scissors, which I hope she’s not doing method acting or there are going to be some serious OSHA violations at ABC Studio 16, just perforated cameramen everywhere you look. Marie Wallace is a lot of fun.

717 dark shadows jenny scissors

And as long as we’re literally giving props to dangerous women, I’d also like to acknowledge Violet Welles, a Broadway press agent who has recently joined the Dark Shadows writing team and raised their game considerably. I posted an interview with Violet a couple days ago from an old Dark Shadows fanzine, and here’s how she described her style:

“Mine was a little more sentiment, a little more subtext. I responded to different things about the characters… I was a terrible plotter, awful plotter! It’s because I was writing into characters, not into story.

“You know what the characters sound like and look like, and you just write for that person. The character more than the person, they become the same thing. Certain characters can sustain certain kinds of speech.”

So here’s an example of the kinds of speech that Jenny can sustain:

Jenny:  My name is Jenny Collins. I am your sister!

Judith:  Jenny… Give me those scissors!

Jenny:  That’s what you said, isn’t it? When he brought me home? You kissed my cheek, and said we would be sisters!

Judith:  Jenny, please!

717 dark shadows jenny judith sing

Jenny:  Did he tell you I was a singer? Or is that one of the many things he kept from you?

Judith:  You used to sing for us. Remember?

Jenny:  No.

Judith:  Grandmother always liked it. “My love is like a red, red rose.”

Jenny immediately bursts into song: “Oh, my love is like a red, red ro –”

717 dark shadows jenny judith scissors

And then she stops.

Jenny:  There was one person… when I came, she never smiled! She always wore dark dresses. She hated me! Who was that?

Judith:  No one hated you.

Jenny:  She did! She was JEALOUS!

She turns to Judith, baring her teeth.

Jenny:  I remember who it was…

Judith:  Who?

Jenny:  You! It was YOU!

Judith:  That’s not true!

Jenny:  That’s why you keep me here — I know it! Because you’re JEALOUS!

717 dark shadows jenny staring

Jenny raises the scissors again, and Judith cowers, wishing that she’d worn something  less reflective for this away mission.

Judith:  Jenny, you don’t understand! You’re here for your own good, believe me! Only for your own good!

Jenny:  When I came, you stared at me! You just kept staring!

Judith:  You’re so pretty — you wore a green dress, a pale green dress!

Jenny:  And you were jealous! And you whispered! And you waited! And then you locked me HERE!

Judith:  No, it wasn’t that way at all!

Jenny:  Yes, it was! And I know it! (She raises the scissors and snarls.) I’ve been waiting too.

717 dark shadows judith jenny dress

Judith tries to scurry out of reach.

Judith:  You’re kept here so I can take care of you!

Jenny:  You said we were sisters, didn’t you? When I first met you?

Judith:  Yes, I did!

Jenny:  If we’re sisters, why do I have to stay here? You can go anywhere in this house! You go walking in the gardens! I watch you! I watch you all the time! And sometimes you wear MY GREEN DRESS!

717 dark shadows jenny green dress

So that’s a marvelous little writer’s trick, introducing a throwaway detail and then bringing it back around a moment later for maximum impact. In the interview, Violet said, “We were all very literate writers,” and that’s your key example, right there.

I have taken exception in the past to other writers on the show who always wrote every character in the same bland voice, with whole scenes of incidental dialogue like Where are we going? Is Amy in here? You’re supposed to  be in bed.

But Violet Welles is taking a minute to think about the characters’ history, and how it would feel to be imprisoned in the tower, staring out the window at the family that locked her away. And then Jenny expresses that, in short sharp sentences that get more emphatic just before she raises the scissors: “And you whispered! And you waited! And then you locked me here!”

Jenny doesn’t sound like anybody else on the show; she’s not just Vicki after she’s been locked in a closet for a while. This isn’t Oscar-winning Best Original Screenplay or anything, but it’s written by someone who doesn’t want to be just a stereotypical soap opera hack, and you can tell the difference.

717 dark shadows beth jenny judith cradle

Jenny doesn’t actually stab Judith in the face, if you were worried about that. Beth comes in, and she’s clearly the one who’s been feeding the animals at this zoo enclosure, because she knows exactly how to handle things.

Beth says, “Jenny — listen!” And then she pretends she hears something. This distracts Jenny for long enough to get the sharp objects out of her hands, and then Beth directs her attention to the baby dolls lying in a cradle. She says, “They’re crying! Go to them now, Jenny!” and then ushers Judith out of the room, as Jenny whispers to her babies.

717 dark shadows jenny babies

This is another clever writer’s trick. Once you’ve built up to a high level of tension, it’s hard to defuse it and get the hostages out of the room without feeling like a total letdown. But this scene accomplishes that by transitioning to a moment that is much quieter, but even more thrilling for the audience than a stabbing would have been.

Jenny rocking the cradle helps to pay off several little mysteries. There was a lot of business last week with Rachel catching Beth bringing a new doll into the house, and we also heard a rocking cradle when Rachel was listening outside the tower room door. You don’t remember things like that when you’re in the middle of a high-energy scissor attack, so Beth directing our attention to the cradle makes those pieces slot into place in a surprising way that feels immensely satisfying.

And then they go ahead and set up another little mystery right away, so they’ve still got a way to hook us until next week.

“I’m a good mother,” she says to Beth, cuddling her babies. “No one thought I would be. After all — where I came from? What I did? When my babies came, suddenly it was all different.”

So now we want to know what she means — where did she come from, and what did she do? Why would prim Edward Collins marry a toxic mess like this? Because obviously, this is the answer to another storyline mystery — the two dolls are Edward’s two children, Jamison and Nora, which makes Jenny the missing mother.

At least, that’s what it looks like from here. Although, if it turns out that’s not the case, then that’ll be another clever trick from a show that has suddenly become much more clever than anyone expected. If there are any audience members left out there, after the kids at home have grabbed the kitchen scissors and gone on a stabbing spree, then I bet they’ll be very impressed.

Tomorrow: Other Than My Wife.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Thanks to Violet Welles, everybody in today’s episode has a ton of complicated lines, and everyone stumbles at least a couple times.

Judith tells Rachel, “I think you imagine and hear things that don’t exist at all.”

Judith yells at Beth, “Plain ordinary breakable dolls! She has dozens of them, and can’t tell the difference. Between them.”

Rachel tells Barnabas, “Once she told me that she’d been — hadn’t been to the tower room.”

Barnabas tells Rachel, “You see… you really can’t… trust anyone here.”

Judith tells Rachel, “Grandmother’s in her grave. She doesn’t need her room, or bed, anymore.”

Judith invites Rachel to have a glass of sherry. She pours one glass, puts the stopper in the decanter, and then remembers she need to pour a second glass.

Also: Jenny dropped the tower room key down the stairs yesterday, and then Dirk kicked the door in. Why does the door still need to be locked, and where did Rachel find the key?

Tomorrow: Other Than My Wife.

717 dark shadows beth jenny sisters

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

15 thoughts on “Episode 717: Mommy Weirdest

  1. Don’t mean to pick on Marie Wallace, but what’s up with the capped teeth? Is it a type of mouth guard? I remember other actresses on the show wearing it too (e.g., Diane Millay). Was it the norm for daytime TV in the late 60s?

  2. The line flub from Joan that you mention reminds me of the famous one from Selby (“Barnabas Cousins… Barnabas Collins”). In the actual scenes, both Judith and Quentin are flustered from scissors attacks and grandmother hauntings, and if these characters were real, their “Fridspeak” would be perfectly believable.

    I’ve noticed, though, that it’s very rare for writers to do this — even “naturalistic” writers. Perhaps a character “flubbing” a line, even if it’s something we do all the time in real life, risks puncturing the suspension of disbelief.

  3. Well, to be honest, Joan Bennett and Jonathan Frid were always the leading line flubbers among cast members, no matter who was writing the show. Perhaps it was that live taping was something Bennett, as a movie actress, never really got used to. And as Dan Curtis once commented–before a live audience of fans at a special event to honor the show–“Jonathan Frid would go up in the middle of his name!”

  4. You would think Dan Curtis would have been less critical of Jonathan since it was his portrayal of Barnabas that not only saved the show from cancellation but has immortalized Dark Shadows and made it into the classic we all love.
    I bet it didn’t help frid’s nervousness to have Curtis glowering at him every time he flubbed, either.

  5. My only beef with the Jenny part of 1897 is it didn’t last longer and had to share the spotlight too often with all those competing storyline threads. The whole set-up is wonderful.

  6. I thought Jenny was Quentin’s wife, not Edward’s as you say here. Easy mistake in such a busy overall storyline, but it does get emphasized, as things go on, that it was Q who brought Jenny to Collinwood as his wife. Hence, those are Q’s children being fostered in the village, and one will no doubt become the ancestor of the Jennings brothers. Nice detail that the children are twins as are the Jennings brothers – the tendency to have twins is hereditary.

    As to why flubs that could happen in natural speech are eschewed in drama, I think it becomes obvious that if it were overdone it would a) confuse the audience and b) take up too much time without advancing the plot.

  7. I love Marie Wallace. She’s game for anything. That wig is an architectural marvel.

    I think there was also an incident in the Adam storyline where he busted down the door to his room and then it was magically restored a short time later. Maybe Collinwood is a self-healing house.

  8. When Barnabas is looking at Rachel’s neck, it occurred to me that of he bit her, her personality and will would vanish. Which would be a win for everyone, most definitely including her, so why he didn’t do it I can’t imagine.

  9. Uh oh, Jenny showed up in a green dress, she was doomed from the start. It appears that green has transmogrified from the color of evil to the color of victimhood.

  10. The key to the tower room clearly respawns whenever a character needs it. After all the business about Rachel stealing the key and giving it to Barnabas, we then see Judith and Beth with the key as they lock the door…

    My other favourite little detail in this: after Jenny’s meltdown about Judith stealing her green dress, when she opens the wardrobe as they dash around the room… the green dress is right there in front.

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