“Does something evil change to good for no reason?”
Okay, time to hit the books again. The new Dark Shadows writing team has decided that it would be cool to introduce a new subplot every week, just to see what happens, and they’ve gone back to the library for material.
They’re not content to just do a simple Turn of the Screw time travel sequel starring Count Dracula, like normal people would. Over the last six weeks, they’ve also introduced characters and plot points from Jane Eyre, The Crucible, The Telltale Heart and Nancy Drew.
And just when you think you’ve got a handle on what’s going on, there’s a knock at the door, and who walks in but a deluxe combo of Mr. Brocklehurst from Jane Eyre, and Mr. Squeers from Nicholas Nickelby. It’s like freshman English all over again; we should get course credit for this.
His name is Reverend Gregory Trask, a descendant of the witch hunter who brought Victoria Winters to justice back in 1795. This Trask runs a school, Worthington Hall, and he’s come to Collinwood to collect the children. And in a fortunate coincidence, he’s discovered that the children’s governess is already doing the story of Jane Eyre, but with Dracula and in the wrong order.
So, a quick lit review: Jane Eyre is an 1847 novel by Charlotte Brontë. So far, Dark Shadows has taken inspiration from chapters 20 and 26 — the mad woman living in the attic and setting people’s beds on fire, who turns out to be the wife of Jane’s employer and love interest. Now we’re skipping back to chapter 4, and plucking somebody out of Jane’s childhood.
Jane is an orphan, raised by an aunt who dislikes her. The aunt decides to get rid of the headstrong girl by sending her to Lowood Institution, a school for orphans and poor children. Here’s a passage from Jane’s first meeting with Mr. Brocklehurst, the proprietor of the establishment; see what it sounds like if you read his dialogue in Trask’s voice.
“Well, Jane Eyre, and are you a good child?”
Impossible to reply to this in the affirmative: my little world held a contrary opinion: I was silent. Mrs. Reed answered for me by an expressive shake of the head, adding soon, “Perhaps the less said on that subject the better, Mr. Brocklehurst.”
“Sorry indeed to hear it! She and I must have some talk;” and bending from the perpendicular, he installed his person in the arm-chair opposite Mrs. Reed’s. “Come here,” he said.
I stepped across the rug; he placed me square and straight before him. What a face he had, now that it was almost on a level with mine! what a great nose! and what a mouth! and what large prominent teeth!
“No sight so sad as that of a naughty child,” he began, “especially a naughty little girl. Do you know where the wicked go after death?”
“They go to hell,” was my ready and orthodox answer.
“And what is hell? Can you tell me that?”
“A pit full of fire.”
“And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for ever?”
“What must you do to avoid it?”
I deliberated a moment; my answer, when it did come, was objectionable: “I must keep in good health, and not die.”
Jane is awesome, by the way. Seriously, if you’ve never read the book, she’s fun.
So let’s compare that with Reverend Trask’s meeting with Jamison. Trask is talking to Judith about sending the boy to Worthington Hall, when Jamison bursts into the room, declaring, “I’m not going to your school, or any other!”
Trask throws the kid a crocodile smile, saying, “Now, Jamison, your aunt is certainly not going to send you, if you don’t want to go! Why, I wouldn’t let her do that. Miss Collins, have I your permission to speak with Jamison alone?”
Judith says yes, and Trask proclaims, “You will learn, Jamison, at Worthington Hall — if you decide to come — that we always discuss everything. Would you take me back to your room? I would like to talk with you there.” Judith says that Jamison would be delighted.
“Well, then,” Trask smiles, putting an arm around Jamison’s shoulders, “come along. What a nice chat we’re going to have!”
So that’s the “she and I must have some talk” part of the conversation, and now we get to the “naughty children fall into the pit of fire” part.
Up in Jamison’s room, Trask tells the defiant child, “I think that you and I should pray. Yes, pray that the Almighty sees in his infinite judgment that you need his help in changing your mind.” Jamison refuses, and Trask turns on him.
Trask: Do you want to grow up to be the disappointment to your father that you’re going to be?
Jamison: I’m not going to be a disappointment!
Trask: You’re disappointing him now!
Jamison: I don’t care!
Trask: Yes, you do! You MUST!
Jamison: My father loves me!
Trask: DOES he?
Jamison: Yes! I know he does!
Trask: Your father is very worried about your soul! And with some reason! You must be SAVED! Do you WANT to be saved?
Frightened, Jamison shouts, “Yes!” and falls to his knees in front of Trask, a super creepy image that we’ll come back to in a little bit.
When we return to the scene post-prayer, the mask of civility has slipped a bit; Trask is now barking orders at the kid. “Now, you know what you’re going to say,” the Reverend glowers. Jamison just stands there, anxiously twisting the sash of his robe. Trask barks, “Well, DO you, boy?”
Jamison doesn’t want to say it, and Trask says, “Stubbornness can be a sin, you know. Come here.” The boy doesn’t move.
Standing, Trask announces, “I give each of my boys one chance. Remember that. Now, then, what are you going to tell your aunt?”
Jamison stays silent, and Trask looms over him, screaming, “WE JUST WENT OVER IT! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO TELL HER?”
The terrorized child says, “That I want to go to your school! That I want to leave tonight! That I think it’s best!”
At this, Trask smiles again. “What a fine, sensible boy you are,” he says, leading Jamison from the room.
Now, Jane’s experience at Lowood Institution is bad — the kids don’t eat much, their clothes aren’t warm enough, Jane gets mocked and shamed, and there’s a typhus epidemic — but it’s got nothing on Dotheboys Hall, which is basically built on a Hellmouth. The students at Dotheboys could only dream of being treated as well as the girls at Lowood.
Dotheboys Hall is from Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens’ 1839 serial, and it’s one of the notorious “Yorkshire schools,” which according to Dickens were an absolute nightmare.
Dotheboys is where you send any inconvenient kids you might have lying around the house. They’re mostly illegitimate children or step-children, who the parents or guardians want out of their way. Here’s a scene from chapter 4, where the proprietor, Mr. Squeers, is talking to a prospective client about the two little boys he’s brought to the train station.
‘Each boy is required to bring, sir, two suits of clothes, six shirts, six pair of stockings, two nightcaps, two pocket-handkerchiefs, two pair of shoes, two hats, and a razor.’
‘A razor!’ exclaimed Mr. Snawley, as they walked into the next box. ‘What for?’
‘To shave with,’ replied Squeers, in a slow and measured tone.
There was not much in these three words, but there must have been something in the manner in which they were said, to attract attention; for the schoolmaster and his companion looked steadily at each other for a few seconds, and then exchanged a very meaning smile.
‘Up to what age do you keep boys at your school then?’
‘Just as long as their friends make the quarterly payments to my agent in town, or until such time as they run away,’ replied Squeers. ‘Let us understand each other; I see we may safely do so. What are these boys;—natural children?’
‘No,’ rejoined Snawley, meeting the gaze of the schoolmaster’s one eye. ‘They ain’t. The fact is, I am not their father, Mr. Squeers. I’m only their father-in-law.’
‘Oh! Is that it?’ said the schoolmaster. ‘That explains it at once. I was wondering what the devil you were going to send them to Yorkshire for. Ha! ha! Oh, I understand now.’
‘You see I have married the mother,’ pursued Snawley; ‘it’s expensive keeping boys at home, and as she has a little money in her own right, I am afraid (women are so very foolish, Mr. Squeers) that she might be led to squander it on them, which would be their ruin, you know.’
‘I see,’ returned Squeers, throwing himself back in his chair, and waving his hand.
‘And this,’ resumed Snawley, ‘has made me anxious to put them to some school a good distance off, where there are no holidays—none of those ill-judged coming home twice a year that unsettle children’s minds so—and where they may rough it a little—you comprehend?’
‘The payments regular, and no questions asked,’ said Squeers, nodding his head.
‘That’s it, exactly,’ rejoined the other. ‘Morals strictly attended to, though.’
‘Strictly,’ said Squeers.
‘Not too much writing home allowed, I suppose?’ said the father-in-law, hesitating.
‘None, except a circular at Christmas, to say they never were so happy, and hope they may never be sent for,’ rejoined Squeers.
‘Nothing could be better,’ said the father-in-law, rubbing his hands.
So that’s where the “what are you going to tell your aunt” bit comes from; the kids at Dotheboys Hall are threatened with beatings if they tell anyone how they’re actually being treated.
Nicholas Nickelby is one of the lighter Dickens novels, but Dotheboys Hall is about the darkest place you can imagine; it’s basically a gulag for unwanted children. The boys are starved, beaten and put to work. Any money or clothes sent by the parents is used by the Squeers family; the boys dress in rags. And after months of this treatment, they’re so terrorized that they can’t even dream of freedom. Seriously, this part of Nicholas NIckleby is scarier than all the vampire, Frankenstein, werewolf and zombie movies we’ve discussed combined.
So where does Nicholas fit into this scenario? Well, he’s duped by his wicked uncle into taking a job as an assistant teacher at Dotheboys. He discovers the school’s true nature when he arrives, but by that point he’s far from home with no money in his pocket, and he can’t leave. He’s horrified by the cruel treatment of the children, and tries to give them some relief. He takes a special interest in Smike, a young man who was dropped off at the school when he was a child, and then forgotten. Smike’s guardians stopped paying, so he’s trapped, forced to work off an endlessly escalating debt as an indentured servant.
Like Mr. Brocklehurst, Reverend Trask is pious and hypocritical; like Mr. Squeers, he’s mercenary and savage, with a mean-spirited wife and a crazy daughter. It’s not a great combination as far as the students are concerned.
So the Dark Shadows version of this story combines three characters into Rachel, the governess at Collinwood. Like Jane, she was an orphan, sent to an institution by her foster aunt. Like Smike, she was abandoned, and forced to work at the school to pay off her debts. And like Nicholas, she was a teacher who couldn’t bear what was happening to the children, and left the school with a friend to find her way in the outside world.
This sudden accumulation of backstory is an incredible gift for Rachel’s character. When she first arrived at Collinwood a few weeks ago, she was an empty-headed innocent — just a pleasant girl that happens to resemble Josette. Now she has a past, and relationships with other characters.
This is what narrative collision can do on Dark Shadows. It makes the stories richer, borrowing experiences and subtext, and then using them for different purposes.
And now, at last, Barnabas has a romance that makes sense. He was supposed to be stuck on Vicki for a year and a half, but those characters basically had nothing to do with each other. She fell in love with two different men during that time, neither of them named Barnabas, and he was never anything more than an intruder. They spent most of 1968 in completely divergent storylines, and only occasionally referenced Barnabas’ enduring passion for her.
But now Barnabas has a romantic partner who doesn’t just want to be friends, and he’s an important part of her story. The initial attraction was kick-started by her resemblance to Josette, which I was not impressed with, but the narrative collision is helping them to build a better story.
Rachel is being threatened by a deep bench of villains at the moment — Angelique, Jenny, Quentin and now the Trasks — and Barnabas is the only person she can turn to for help.
And the best thing about it is that Barnabas’ involvement is fueled by a sincere desire to help another human being, with no intention to kill her and turn her into somebody else. I know that it sounds ridiculous to say that a character is maturing because he’s not trying to kill his girlfriends anymore, but that’s Dark Shadows for you.
And there’s a part of this backstory that’s unique — not borrowed from Brocklehurst or Squeers. Gregory Trask is a sexual predator.
There are several creepy moments — regular human being creepy, not fake zombie creepy — where it’s implied that Trask is sexually interested in the pretty girl that he raised since she was a small child.
The clearest example is the first thing he says when he gets her alone in today’s episode. “What beautiful hair you have,” he purrs. “That is what I remember so well. When I thought badly of you, which I was often tempted to do, I thought about how you looked that last day, in my offiice.”
Then he suddenly frowns, and turns away, snapping, “You stole money from me!” It feels like he’s making a deliberate effort to break the spell she has on him, reminding himself that he should be angry and businesslike.
But there’s clearly something more going on than just a professional relationship. He’s thrilled when his daughter Charity discovers that Rachel is here, exulting over the opportunity to bring “the lost lamb” back to the fold. This isn’t just about work and money, there’s something weird going on.
And then there’s that upsetting Jamison sequence. They end the “do you want to be saved” scene with Trask putting his hands on Jamison’s shoulders, and saying “I think I can help you.” Then he pushes Jamison down to kneel on the floor in front of him.
The next time we see them, Jamison’s hands are twisting up the sash of his robe. They make a big deal of this, it’s the first shot in the scene. While we’re looking at that, Trask says, “Now, you know what you’re going to say? Well, DO you, boy?”
And then Jamison keeps messing with the sash for the entire scene, even keeping it up as he follows Trask out of the room, to go downstairs and tell his aunt that everything is totally fine.
Now, I can’t say for sure that director Lela Swift actually wanted to imply what I’m implying she wanted to imply. Nobody talked about priests sexually abusing kids in 1969, and it’s a weird thing to want to put in your vampire soap opera. But that’s what it looks like to me.
Naturally, Trask isn’t the only sexual predator on the show, and to prove it, here comes the main character, who closes today’s episode by sneaking into Charity’s bedroom and sucking body fluids out of her, in order to gain control over her. So there’s also that.
That’s what’s happening on the soap opera spook show this afternoon, as they pile even more layers onto this already complicated narrative. It’s amazing to think that this is a show that used to stall like crazy, because they didn’t have enough story to fill up a week. Now they have so many stories to tell, and all at the same time.
Tomorrow: The Pacer.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the teaser, when Barnabas interrupts Trask’s prayers, the boom mic can be seen at the top of the screen.
Rachel confides in Barnabas, “I was looking forward to it, really. I’d never — I’d always looked forward to being with other children.”
Barnabas tells Trask, “There’s nothing I can’t hear that you’d tell Rachel.”
Tomorrow: The Pacer.
— Danny Horn
17 thoughts on “Episode 727: Nick and Jane”
When Barnabas attacks Charity, it feels strongly like sexual assault. There’s no implication that Barnabas must feed to survive — and certainly it would be “wiser” to go down to the docks . This is clearly written as a sexual urge that Barnabas can’t control, and given how quickly it occurs after he’s spent time with Rachel, that implication is even stronger.
It’s one of the ways that Quentin comes across as a “healthier” less creepy character. He doesn’t try to hide what he is. His scene with Rachel is charming and seductive and yet genuine — sure, he might not stick around for longer after he’s been with the lady he’s smitten with at the moment but there’s no doubt the feelings are real.
Trask as sexual predator is a prominent thread in the storyline. He’s a sick bastard, and yes, on a 1969 daytime soap opera, the reverend is the villain and the vampire is the hero.
I’m watching these episodes for the first time (if I saw them as a kid, I have no memory of them). My sense was not that Barnabas was attacking Charity for the typical vampiric/uncontrollable urge/sexually suggestive reason (though that’s always there), but for strategy reasons. My sense was that he wants to control her as a way to get to Trask and save the children and Rachel from him.
Let’s not forget Mr. Squeers’ full name: Wackford Squeers. Yes, some might giggle, and people like to make fun of Dickensian names in general, but it’s up there with Uriah Heep on names that in and of themselves make the skin crawl.
Also very appropriate given his favorite form of physical activity.
Re Stephen’s point, I wonder if doing so in a past storyline with the gothic trappings even more Gothic made it more acceptable (villains with religious occupations or obsessions were expected there, after all, if not necessarily the vampire hero).
Also, has Danny made a “Traskmaster” joke yet or have I just missed it?
Yes, that’s a good point about the setting allowing more creative freedom. It’s sort of like what Rod Serling said about THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
Oh, and I should add that I’m always impressed by Lacy’s acting as Trask. When he’s in a scene with Charity, Rachel, or Tim Shaw, I legitimately believe he’s decades older rather than the same age. Just as I believe he’s Minerva and Judith’s contemporaries.
Maybe I’m the only one who sees it this way but, I was glad when Barnabas bit Charity and took control of her. She was creeping me out even more than Trask with her Holy roller arrogance and self righteousness.
I don’t think he’d have done it if Charity wasn’t clearly preparing to menace Rachel – all in the name of the Lord.
I agree about the scene with Trask making Jamison kneel before him followed by the child’s obvious distress – DS should never have gone that far. Trask was already loathesome enough without that.
I always had the impression that Barnabas bit Charity as a way to help him fight Trask, even though at this point he just hates Trask on principle.
I always had the same impression. Charity was targeted because of her enmity toward Rachel, and her connection to Trask.
Never looked at the robe scene that way, but there it is.
While there’s definitely some sexual implications in the scene between Trask and Jamison (and after) there may be a simpler and more common explanation – Trask may have given Jamison a few whacks on the backside with his belt. This type of corporal punishment was certainly not unheard of and prevalent on movies and TV shows of the time – so they may have been going for that.
On the other hand, innuendo was a commonly used device in those days to get around restrictions of what could not be given a more explicit treatment. Then again, maybe nothing at all happened, neither a beating nor something far worse. It could have merely been a nervous gesture on the part of Jamison. But the fact that someone might think that something–anything–happened based on that one camera cue is a bonus for the writers and producers, because it means that fans will think of Trask in the very worst possible terms, which also means that this version of Trask could very well be the most evil character on the show at the moment, more so than any of the supernatural characters could possibly be.
I’ll agree with you there – I think Trask is the most evil character on the show not only at this moment, but possibly ever. A liar, a hypocrite, a murderer, a manipulator, a child abuser (mentally and physically), a sadist, an opportunist, a blackmailer – the list goes on and on. Heck, even Nicholas Blair showed some kind of affection towards Maggie (as warped as it was) and at least the original Trask actually believed in his own righteousness. This Trask? Not one redeeming quality.
Don’t forget slavemaster. He sentenced Rachel and Tim to indentured servitude.
and i thought i was disturbed by Quentin involving a child in his black magic rituals. That kneeling scene was brutal and the close up afterwards of Jamison’s compulsive hand twisting was clearly meant to show a child with post-traumatic stress. i kept telling myself that a predator would not take a chance of discovery shortly after arriving in the Collins’ home, where he is trying to garner favor; that it must have been psychological abuse that took place. He would wait until he had the child in his lair to inflict something as heinous as was implied. Besides, Trask can see Jamison is strong-willed; wouldn’t he be fearful that Jamison would immediately rat him out? The writers wanted us to be repulsed and shocked.
I also think Barnabas is so appalled watching it unfold, his protests falling on deaf ears, that he resorted to inflicting trauma of his own in order to strike the Trasks before things got out of hand. Nancy Barrett’s character was repugnant from the moment she walked in the door.
thank you danny for the great analysis and comparison to Dickens, one of my favorite authors. I had forgotten the story line with Nicholas Nickelby. Your research and insight never cease to amaze me.
My BIG problem with the entire Trask arc in this storyline is that it was entirely avoidable. All Barnabas had to do was bite him and take control of him. Boom. Problem solved.
They really should have had some lines here and there explaining why Barnabas doesn’t just bite and enslave everyone who inconveniences him. For example, the first hundred and fifty episodes he was on the show I kept wondering why he didn’t bite Burke Devlin. Not only would that have got Devlin out of Barnabas’ way, but Devlin also had the connections and the money to set up a fake history for Barnabas, with identity papers, bank accounts, a business or two in his name, etc.
Was thinking along those same lines, Dandru. I suppose the writers didn’t want to have any scene that might have been read as homo-erotic, more’s the pity.
Trask is seriously gross and I agree, he is the most evil being on this show.
It appears I need to read “Jane Eyre” and much more Dickens. I just finished re-reading “A Christmas Carol” and was reminded how much I enjoyed Dickens.
Nancy Barrett is such a great actress! Charity seemed to be in on the evilness of her father and therefore I feel Barnabas was justified in attacking her, though he really should’ve just bit Trask and got it over with.
That comment about staying in good health and not dying leaped right to my mind, too! I love Jane Eyre. 🙂
The storyline with Charity is one of my favorites: that repressed girl becoming sexually obsessed with her new vampire master.