“I’m their mother; they’re as much a part of me and everything I feel as they are of you.”
Nora is absolutely thrilled to see her mother, which makes one of us.
“I knew I would find you here!” she says, hugging Laura.
“You had a dream,” Laura nods, and when Nora asks how she knew, her mother chirps, “I had the very same dream!”
Nora says,”That’s so strange!” And Laura just smiles, and says, “I know,” and that’s the end of that particular topic of conversation.
As you know, there are no secrets between us, so I’m just going to put this right out on Front Street: in my life, Laura Murdoch Stockbridge Radcliffe Collins means precisely nothing. I don’t like her, I don’t care about her, and as far as I’m concerned, she’s the Cybermen.
Here’s what we know: It’s 1897. Jamison and Nora’s mother disappeared a couple years ago, and their father has been telling everybody that as far as he’s concerned, she doesn’t exist. But Nora’s been getting weird communication from some desert otherworld, telling her that her mother is coming home. And here she is, Laura Collins, hanging around in the graveyard, and looking at the teleprompter pretty much once per line.
Now, if you’ve watched the early episodes of Dark Shadows, which you probably haven’t, then you know that Laura is actually a Phoenix, a mythical creature who dies in fire and is then reborn, every hundred years or so. Back in early 1967, Laura was introduced as Roger’s missing wife, and she tried to get her son David to join her in the flames, so that he could be a part of the endless cycle of death and regeneration. He decided not to.
So if the Laura who married Edward in 1897 is the same person who married Roger in 1967, then that means she married her own grandson. This is hands-down the most interesting thing about Laura, so it’s a shame that nobody ever brings it up.
Anyway, Nora wants her mother to come home, but Laura confers with the teleprompter and decides that she can’t.
“There is something I must do before I can return to Collinwood,” she says, but then she shows up at the door literally ten minutes later, so I don’t know what she was trying to be all cryptic about.
One of the problems that I have with Laura is that she does not attempt to connect to the other actor in the scene in any way.
“Aren’t you going to ask me to come in, Edward?” she says, giving him a blank stare. “Please, say something!”
Edward puffs through his mustache and proclaims, “I think the most appropriate word I can think to say to you, Laura, is goodbye.”
And then she just drifts past him and comes right on in. “Well, if you wish to be unkind, I’m not going to stop you, I know I deserve it,” she says, which gets her practically all the way to the drawing room while Edward is still shutting the front door.
And then she just kind of wafts about the room, mostly looking at nothing in particular and saying things like, “In spite of everything I’ve done, this is where I belong.” She delivers each line as if it were individually gift-wrapped, and then she listens to the incidental music until it’s time for her to talk.
At one point she says, “I’m their mother; they’re as much a part of me and everything I feel as they are of you,” and it’s a complete toss-up whether that line ever made sense or not. I suppose it’s too late to ask now.
So Edward is just acting away, all on his own. She says that the children will want to see her, and he bellows, “How they feel is quite beside the point!”
“How can you say that?” she pouts, and then she stops acting until he’s done and it’s her turn again.
Now, as regular readers know, there are three steps to getting the audience to like a new character: make a joke, make a friend, and make a plot point happen.
Laura’s already got the friend part down, thanks to Nora, but she’s absolutely hopeless on the other two. She has no discernible sense of humor, unless the “part of everything I feel” thing was meant to be sarcastic, and she’s already on record as being opposed to Nora and Jamison attending Reverend Trask’s school. This is a serious mistake.
So far, the 1897 storyline has managed to successfully introduce new story threads on a weekly basis, and each time, the new idea is more interesting than the previous one. They went from the secret to the will, and then to Angelique, to Jenny, to Zombie Quentin and finally to Reverend Trask. At the beginning of this week, it looked like we were headed towards Trask’s school, which according to Nicholas Nickleby is going to be something pretty special, but then we got sidetracked on this Laura thing, and here we are.
Nobody minds if you interrupt a dull story and start up a more interesting one, but if you interrupt an interesting story then you’d better deliver. I know that there are a few things in this world that are more interesting than Reverend Trask — for example, one of them is furry, knows how to use doorknobs and starts with a W — but Laura is not on that list. Therefore, she is actively trying to derail plot development, and I have no patience with her.
I mean, come on. This is how she looks the entire time! Just completely blank. She might as well be Zombie Quentin; maybe we should burn some cypress and myrrh and see if it makes her go away.
At the end of the scene, she’s trying to make like she’s sad, and she’s just indicating all over the place. “I’ve been through so much suffering, so much misery,” she says, dabbing at her eyes. “I have no one else to turn to, nowhere else to go!” And then she closes her eyes and makes sniffy sounds. I can’t even.
But some fans really like her, and they get excited about this story, because Laura is a returning monster, like the Cybermen on Doctor Who.
The Cybermen, as I’m sure you know, are the number two monster after the Daleks, who are actually worthwhile. Cybermen used to be people back in the day, but they all had total body transplants, and now they’re big metal not-officially-robots. There have been dozens of Cybermen stories in every conceivable medium over the last five decades, and if you survey their entire history, you will find, at most, one good one.
But they keep coming back, with the justification that people must like them, because otherwise why would there be so many Cybermen stories?
One reason why the Cybermen get more interest than they deserve is that they were introduced in the old black-and-white days, and most of their early appearances are in “missing episodes” that were wiped by the BBC and lost forever.
Missing episodes of Doctor Who do turn up every now and then, and for many years, the number one item that everyone hoped for was The Tomb of the Cybermen, a 1967 story that’s basically The Mummy’s Hand in space, with an archaeological expedition uncovering the fabled Tomb, and waking up all the sleeping Cybermen. People who’d seen it back in 1967 said it was the most thrilling and atmospheric Doctor Who story of all time.
Then in 1991, they found The Tomb of the Cybermen in Hong Kong, and it was released on video. Turns out it was okay. The sequence with all the Cybermen waking up looks pretty cool, but they don’t actually do anything; they just mill around for a while, and then go back to sleep. They hardly even get upstairs. Why didn’t we notice this when we read the novelization?
But there’s nothing so sweet as the thing you can’t have, and it’s exactly the same with Laura. She’s from 1967 too, back when Dark Shadows was black-and-white.
These weren’t “missing episodes” in the Doctor Who sense — the tapes were still sitting there, if anybody wanted them — but they might as well have been lost forever, as far as the fans were concerned. The reruns always started with Barnabas coming out of the coffin, just a few weeks after Laura’s original storyline went up in smoke. Everybody who’d seen the episode where Vicki saved David from the fire said that it was the most thrilling and atmospheric Dark Shadows story of all time. Apparently 1967 was a big year for atmosphere.
So Dark Shadows’ inaugural monster was a mystery, always just out of reach, at least until 1995, when MPI released the Laura episodes on video and it turned out they were okay.
So when Dark Shadows fans say that they like Laura, they’re not really talking about the Laura that appeared in 1897, or even the Laura that appeared in 1967. They’re talking about the legend of Laura, the pre-1995 version that we all imagined — the crafty and powerful Laura who could lure us all into the flames.
And so she keeps coming back, resurrected on DVD and Hulu, always half-lit by the halo of legend, the returning monster from the missing episodes. The returning monsters will always return, no matter how disappointing and terrible they always turn out to be. This is, and will always be, their Revenge.
Monday: Mrs. Burns.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
There’s a moment in the first act where Laura decides that Nora isn’t doing the correct blocking, so she grabs Nora’s shoulders and spins her around to face the camera.
When Quentin finds Jamison and Nora, there’s the cutest teleprompter moment ever. Jamison jumps up, grabs Quentin’s coat, and yells, “Quentin!” — and then forgets the rest of the line. He has to turn almost all the way around to see the teleprompter, and he makes a face and pulls on Quentin’s coat in frustration. It’s adorable.
There’s a squeak from the studio after Edward says, “How dare you come back to this house!”
Laura says that Edward’s looking well, and he says, “Spare me your flattery, Lawyer — Laura.”
In the final scene, Quentin hurries downstairs, looking at the scarab. As he gets to the bottom of the stairs in the foyer, his foot knocks into the stair post, and it sounds like something cracks.
Monday: Mrs. Burns.
— Danny Horn