Episode 731: Mrs. Burns

“You saw me die? What a bizarre thing to say!”

Okay, get this: There’s an urn.

Inside the urn is an endlessly burning flame, obviously, because that’s what you do with fire, you put it inside an enclosed space and then it just keeps on going forever, without oxygen or any material to burn. But listen to me, trying to explain how fire works.

731 dark shadows laura quentin touch me

Okay, let’s take this from the top, and see if we can make any sense out of it. Edward’s wife Laura has returned to Collinwood, after running off with her dashing brother-in-law Quentin. Now she’s back to reclaim her children and her place in the family, which makes Quentin all kinds of nervous, mostly because he saw her die in Egypt. Oh, they were in Egypt, by the way. Also, it’s the nineteenth century.

I’m sorry, I’m trying to get this straight in my head, but when you actually write it down, it sounds kind of weird.

So Laura and Quentin went to Egypt together, not sure why, and they did not have an ideal travel experience.

“I know what I saw,” Quentin says, coming across her unexpectedly in the middle of the carpet. “You were sacrificed, on a burning pyre in Alexandria! You’re dead!”

Laura takes issue with his story, but only the part about her being dead. The idea that there were Egyptians in the late 1890s performing human sacrifice kind of whizzes by, unchallenged.

731 dark shadows laura quentin burning

I want to drill down into this concept a little bit, so I’m going to jump forward to tomorrow’s episode, because it’s not like there’s a rule against it.

In tomorrow’s episode, Laura finds Quentin in the cottage, and he tries to murder her, because Quentin’s reaction to everything he sees is to either kiss it or kill it. Suddenly, he’s seized with a supernatural fit of pain, represented here by a harsh spotlight and a slow-motion heart attack. Don’t worry about him, he’ll be fine.

But this is the moment that Laura decides to dig into the backstory. He begs for her help, because he feels like he’s about to die.

“Do you think I wanted to die in Alexandria,” she says, “when the fire priests dragged me to the sacrificial altar, screaming?” He tries to tell her not to change the subject, but you know how women are.

“‘Quentin!’ I cried,” she continues. “‘Help me, Quentin!’ I remember the priest dragged me to the flames. ‘Why are you crying to Quentin for help?’ he asked. ‘Who do you think betrayed you? WHO do you think BETRAYED you?'”

That’s the end of the anecdote. Personally, I don’t think it’s funny, but maybe you had to be there.

731 cybermon fire priest

But the point is: What in the world is a fire priest?

“Do you think I wanted to die,” she says, “when the fire priests dragged me to the sacrificial altar?”

So apparently there’s something in Egypt that’s called a fire priest, and there’s more than one of them. I don’t think we ever get any more details on this particular postcard from the infinite, so we’re left to work out the rest of it on our own.

Why did the fire priests need to sacrifice somebody? Why did they choose Laura? And, most important: Is the answer to her question supposed to be “No”?

730 laura black and white

Because, yeah, I do think you wanted to die when the fire priests dragged you to the sacrificial altar. THAT IS YOUR WHOLE THING.

I mean, the premise of a lady phoenix walking through time and screwing with the Collins family every couple generations is already shaky.

But if they insist on showing me a make-believe fire lady who all she wants is to immolate herself and her children, then the thing that she’s not supposed to do as soon as she walks through the door is complain about somebody burning her alive. That is your deal. How do you not get that?

731 dark shadows nora fire

And another thing: Why do you marry people and have children with them, abandon them for a couple of years, and then come back when they’re ten years old so you can burn them alive?

And even if that’s a thing that you do: Why do you try to do it within the same family? I mean, if you succeed in bringing Jamison and Nora into the fire with you, then who are you going to come back and marry 70 years from now, when you want to do it all over again? Doesn’t this process cut down on the number of available descendants? And how do you even come up with that, as a lifestyle?

731 dark shadows laura sun god

And then the urn; don’t even get me started with the urn.

There’s a sequence in tomorrow’s episode where Laura suddenly feels faint and collapses into a chair. We hear an urgent thinks monologue, as she prays for survival.

Laura (thinks): Great Sun God Ra — bearer of warmth and fire! — grant your daughter the gift of life! Fill her veins with fire! Hear me, I pray you! Without you, I cannot LIVE!

Then a little Chromakey urn appears on the screen, moves towards her and then slowly fades away, and that’s it. That’s where we leave Laura for the day, unconscious in the drawing room. The next time we see her, it’s Wednesday, and she’s fine.

So I’m trying to engage with these concepts, I really am — but if she serves the Great Sun God Ra, then why do the fire priests have a problem with her? Are the sun priests different from the fire priests?

And why would the Great Sun God Ra want his loyal servant to invest more than ten years in a scheme that, at best, is going to result in the fiery slaughter of a couple of rich kids from Maine? What kind of return on investment is that supposed to be?

And if that’s your plan, then why would you run off to Egypt two years early with your reckless, sexy brother-in-law? I mean, I get why you’d run away with him — that is the only piece of this backstory that I understand — but how does random infidelity figure in to the larger cycle of pointless death and even more pointless rebirth?

So, to sum up: I do not need to hear your head-canon theories explaining why there are so many overlapping Lauras, and why they seem to be obsessed with the Collins family. This is not a continuity problem. The problem is that there is not even a single element of her entire storyline that makes sense. She just says things and does things, as the world burns.

Tomorrow: Rules of Engagement.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Edward stutters on a word: “You could never be that, even if you w-w-welcome here!”

Rachel tells Tim, “I don’t believe Mr. Collins would send his children back to that place!” The children have never been to Worthington Hall, so they’re not being sent back.

Rachel asks if Tim killed Simon, and Tim answers, “Trask says he can prove I can.”

Tomorrow: Rules of Engagement.

720 dark shadows angelique barnabas scream

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

43 thoughts on “Episode 731: Mrs. Burns

  1. The best explanation is probably a writers’ meeting where Dan Curtis says something like….

    Dan Curtis: Okay, look, here’s something I want you all to do for me. I just got a call from Diana Millay, and she wants to come back on the show. As the Phoenix.

    Gordon Russell: You mean, she’s coming to visit Collinsport from Phoenix?

    Dan Curtis: No, Phoenix, the legend. Violet, explain to Gordie what a Phoenix is.

    Violet Welles: [Explains legend to Gordon]

    Dan Curtis: So, yeah, Gordie, you know how to drive plot ideas the best here, so I’ll let you work this in and handle her arrival.

    Gordon Russell: So, I just have her arrive to tuck the kids in, say goodnight a couple times, and then she burns them alive, right?

    Dan Curtis: Ah, no, Gordie, we’ll need a little backstory first. We want to keep her around a few weeks before she tries to burn the kids, alright?

    Gordon Russell: But what happened when Laura first arrives at Collinsport in the original storyline, how did that unfold?

    Dan Curtis: Oh, Christ, I don’t even remember. I was worried about getting cancelled, I had parties to go to, and dinners, and we were all getting drunk, I don’t remember… Now, I understand you guys—oh, sorry Violet—you folks weren’t around for the original storyline, so here’s the gist. She’s all about fire. Fire is life to her. Only, keep the fire scenes down to a minimum. We got in a heck of a lot of trouble with the fire department that time the fishing shack set caught fire… Oh, wait, we have Chromakey now, what was I thinking? Okay, never mind, yeah, we’ll Chromakey some flames over some props.

    Gordon Russell: The god Ra… Egypt… fire priests! Scarabs, urns!…

    Dan Curtis: Yeah, that’s… something I guess. Okay, Gordie you work on it and get it started. I’ve got to meet this exec down at the course for 18 holes. See you guys—oh, sorry again Violet—see you folks down the pub later!

  2. Remember a while back when Quentin was recruiting Jamison to spy on Barnabas for him? I think Jamison managed to steal B.’s cane so Quentin could use it in a voodoo ritual to kill off B.
    Anyway – J. told Q. “You don’t know anymore about spying than I do” and Q. said yeah – I WAS a spy – in Egypt. I worked for the police as a spy.
    So – he was what? Spying on Laura?? If so, how did the fire priests get ahold of her and burn her if the cops were investigating that cult?
    Sounds like Quentin went off to Egypt with “Mrs. Burns” and got the shat scared out of him and ran to the police for help.
    Maybe that was part of Dan Curtis & the gang’s brain storm meeting on how to handle a Phoenix. Which really does explain why it’s all screwed up.

  3. The sacrifice to Ra in 1890’s Egypt was improbable enough; it was even more out of place in the late 1980’s when ‘General Hospital’ did a similar storyline in Port Charles, NY. One otherwise ordinary dude worshipped Ra, and chanted to Ra while attempting to sacrifice an ingenue. Fortunately Scorpio thwarted his plans.

    Diana Millay is a fascinating person to talk to. Here are three things I’ve been present to hear her tell her fans:

    a) Laura is a Good Mother. She genuinely believes she is doing the best possible thing for her children to take them into fire and have them reborn in the Phoenix afterlife

    b) I was miscast as David Henesy’s mother. I’m really only 10 years older than he is.

    c) I have written my autobiography, but my ex-husband told me that if I published it during his lifetime, he’d have me killed.

    She said all three with equal conviction and sincerity. I think she believes them all.

  4. The defining sentence for all this mess:

    “Are the sun priests different from the fire priests?”

    Lol.

    What a writers meeting it must have been.

    A gratuitous story, maybe written after imbibing a case of vodka.

  5. in 1903, the famous/notorious British occultist Aleister Crowley went to Egypt on his honeymoon. He and his wife Rose began channeling ancient Egyptian deities, and the result was The Book of The Law, the basis of his new religion of Thelema. The Beatles had released their Sgt. Pepper album the year before, with Crowley on the cover, so it’s likely that the DS writers were aware of him. Could it be that the Laura story is a crazy mashup of Crowley and Rose in Egypt with the Phoenix legend? Fueled, as suggested by Chris, by a case of vodka?

    1. Influences for the DS storylines usually end up being popular movies (especially Universal Monsters), classic novels and short stories that you’d read in freshman English, and New York theater.

      I suspect the Egyptian stuff here comes from Universal movies like The Mummy’s Tomb, which they referenced pretty directly a couple weeks ago.

      1. I wonder if this was the point where the writers were trying to lay the groundwork for an actual mummy story. Allegedly Dan killed the idea as he couldn’t see how a slow-moving mummy could ever be a threat to anyone. Given how the writers threw everything else at the screen in 1897, a mummy just would have been crypt dressing.

  6. I don’t think a secret Egyptian cult performing live sacrifices in 1890s Egypt is any less ridiculous than Nicholas Blair performing a Black Mass in 1968 – it’s not representative of the culture at large just some whackadoodles. And we know Quentin has an interest in the occult so maybe he sought them out.

    When I first saw the storyline I thought Laura’s experiences in Egypt would serve as an origin of sorts (despite contradicting 1967) – but then they introduced her connection to Barnabas and that theory went out the window.

    1. Yeah, that’s pretty much what I was thinking too.

      I’m sure the “Fire Priests of Ra” were just a secret religious cult in Egypt, much like the Thuggee cult was presented in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, not something that was happening out in the open in 1890’s Egypt.

      I’ve always imagined Laura’s story went like this. Laura was always born a normal human who knew nothing of her fiery destiny growing up, then, as an adult she would marry and have children and eventually die by accident in a fire. (I assume all of this was pre-ordained, but as I said, “human Laura” knew nothing of it)

      Then, after she was reborn, she was now a supernatural creature who was fully aware of who she was and what she had to do. Then she would return to Collinwood to claim her children and be all weird and kind of a bad actress.

      The only Laura’s we’ve ever seen are the reincarnated ones. I’m sure the pre fiery death “human Laura” was a splendid actress that Quentin, Edward, Roger and Jeremiah could certainly fall in love with.

      1. But how do you get from human Laura to phoenix Laura? What experience would this person have to go through in order to become a supernatural creature when she dies?

        There’s a behind-the-scenes origin story — I can’t quite remember the details, but this is the gist: Art Wallace wrote a standard soap opera plot in the series bible — David’s mother returns home, and fights for custody. Dan and the writers found this inexcusably dull, and they were starting to rely more on ghost stories, so somebody asked, “What if Laura was actually dead?” And then it kind of built from there.

        Like everything on Dark Shadows, nobody sat down and said, what is the life cycle of this creature? They just wrote whatever they needed to get through the next episode.

        1. One of my favorite “horror” novels is FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (anyone laughs, I’ll slap ’em silly), which I find compelling because there’s nothing scarier to a child than the idea that your mother would betray you (evil stepmothers, sure, but evil mothers are awful).

          The mother in FITA betrays her children — who you get the sense she genuinely loved at one point — for unimaginable wealth. I’d probably find Laura Collins more interesting if there were some indication of a similar Faustian bargain: She sacrifices her children to Ra for immortality, maybe, and eternal youth. I don’t mind the fire theme because fire is primal and terrifying to most children and adults (it’s high up there on the list of ways I don’t want to die).

          Unfortunately, Laura as a Phoenix isn’t that dramatically compelling. What does she want? Killing her children is certainly a sinister goal but the motivation of “just cause” is not engaging. Nora and Jamison were in far more relatable danger to the audience from Rev. Trask, so Laura doesn’t add much so much as derail a more interesting storyline.

          Drama is about choices, and Laura seems to have no “choice.” She’s just a perpetual Phoenix machine.

          1. I think the only reason she goes after her children in 1897 is because she did in 1967 and they decided to use the same plot point. Except, it works in 1967 because the story places a lot of focus on the relationship between her and David (and I think Laura comes across as a more complex character as a result) and as wonky as the Phoenix logic is, it works within the context of that storyline.

            I think the 1897 Phoenix would have worked better if she had another motivation/goal in mind – perhaps focused solely on Quentin. Her children could have been placed in danger as a result but as it is, due to the whirlwind pacing of the era, they’re almost an afterthought when they’re supposed to be her ultimate goal.

            All of which is to say I agree with you and the 1897 Laura is lacking the drama of the 1967 version. Plus no Dr. Guthrie.

        2. Well, it’s true, my “In Universe” reasoning, does not explain why this happens to her.

          Perhaps her phoenix biology just lies dormant until after child birth, then she’s suddenly compelled to fire, (like a Vulcan is compelled to mate during Pon Farr).

          I’m just spit balling here for fun. As you said, the writers had no plan, just get through the next episode.

          1. You could go the other direction and say it started out as a phoenix, and she takes the form of a human woman? But I’m still not sure why she’d put this much energy into getting one kid, and she can’t even do that right. Has she ever succeeded?

            1. Perhaps the ‘Murdoch Stockbridge’s were placed under a curse at some point in the past, and their descendants are destined to play out this scenario every hundred years or so.

              Or, maybe it’s more like on Buffy and Angel, and some Demon is doing all this to fulfill some prophesy. But they keep failing, and keep burning up in fire, because they actually aren’t very good at fulfilling prophesies. 🙂

            2. In 1867, Laura Murdoch Radcliffe and her son David burned in the fire together. Laura’s 1767 incarnation as Laura Murdoch Stockbridge did not have any children. The wonderful Big Finish audio “Blood and Fire” focuses on the story of Laura Stockbridge and gives some background about the phoenix. “Blood and Fire” was a full cast anniversary release celebrating “Dark Shadows” 50th anniversary and is one of the very audios concerning “Dark Shadows” the Big Finish had released. Angelique plays a very important role in the story. I highly recommend it.

          2. Yeah, I’m not sure there needs to be a “Why is she this way?” any more than there needs to be a “why are they that way” for any other supernatural creature. They are that way because it’s their nature. Laura has children, dies in a fire, then comes back to life with a sudden desire to sacrifice herself and her children in another fire. There’s no indication that that desire for sacrifice occurs before the first death.

            I assumed she kept coming back to the Collins family because she kept failing in her mission with them and needed/wanted to get it right before she could move on. She failed to have children with Jeremiah, so she tried again with Edward. She failed to kill her children with Edward, so she tried again with Roger.

        3. While sitting in my doctor’s waiting room this afternoon, I spotted several copies of a magazine called “RA & You.” I thought this publication might provide definitive answers to these questions about becoming a Phoenix and incinerating children for their own good, Alas, all I could find in it were a bunch of articles on Rheumatoid Arthritis.

          1. HAAAAAA! That’s a good one!
            If nothing else, the Phoenix story line was educational. I had no idea what a Phoenix was back in 1967 but after seeing Laura Collins burn screaming, I knew. AND I’ve never forgotten.
            Dan Curtis taught us all a lot – stuff we wouldn’t learn watching Secret Storm.

  7. According to imdb, Diana Millay was born in 1935, while David Henesy was born in 1956, so 21 years apart. 🙂

    I also notice David Henesy was born in Glen Ridge, NJ, likely at Mountainside Hospital – same as me!

    1. Actors often fudge their ages but children make it very difficult, especially as they get older. Let’s say Millay could pass for 60something in 2005. Fine in a vacuum but how do you explain being the obvious adult mother of a now middle-aged man?

  8. I love this plot line in part because they are the only lovers ever to go more than 100 miles from Collinwood, yet, see where it got them.

    Am I the only one shouting out, “Leave town! Take a trip, at least! Go someplace warm with actual rain!”

  9. How did the 1969 audience respond to the Laura storyline? Was there a ratings dip… even a small one? My (unsupported) mad theory is that the writers didn’t go into 1897 with the intent of revealing that Quentin was a werewolf and ancestor to Chris Jennings. This plot line comes up during the middle of the Laura storyline. Is it an attempt to introduce their cool 1969 monster in 1897 as a shot in the arm? Like I said, that’s an unsupported theory, so I’ll be interested in reading Danny’s thoughts as we continue through the next month or so (one of the slower parts of 1897, I think — whenever I rewatch it, I find myself marathoning through everything else but the Laura episodes).

  10. There was also a very notorious affair between Horatio Nelson and Lady Hamilton and they ended up in Egypt together. Several movies were made where this was a very romantic place where Lady Hamilton abandoned her husband for her affair with Nelson. They could have been stealing from them too.

  11. I haven’t read all the comments here so it might have come up already, but the question about the religious rituals is like one of the small complaints about so many of the mummy movies, and that’s that they act as if all of 19th or 20th Century Egypt still practices the earlier religion. Like those scenes where the helpers at the dig all act afraid of what the archaeologists find. So maybe you’re expected to go along with that idea in this case. Or maybe as Mike says, it’s supposed to be seen as a “secret cult.”

  12. Well, in the 1890’s most Egyptians were Muselms and some were copic Christians. Few were into the old gods. Alexandria is a city founded by Ptolemy the first, a general of Alexander the Great. In fact in the Ptolemaic period from the 4th century BCE to the 1st century BCE Ra would have been worshiped just like Isis was by the last Ptolemy Cleoparta and also in Roman Times the Egyptian gods would have been worshiped in Egypt but not that much in the 19th century because of the Islamic conquest of Egypt in the 7th century CE.

  13. Laura’s backstory always bugged me too. I always assumed there was a secret cult of Ra that Quintin got entangled with, causing Laura to be sacrificed at their alter and returned as the Phoenix.

  14. I’ve always assumed what Mike explained: Laura is born as a human. Dies in a fire. Comes back to take her children and herself in a second fire.

  15. I think I can answer the question of why Laura comes back to this same family in the 1960s… It’s because they’re of her blood. Why does she come back to take the children in 1897? Because they are her children– they are of the Phoenix blood. All they need is to be taken to the Desert Dimension to make them fully-fledged phoenixes like her. Because the Phoenix isn’t just a BIRD, it’s a CUCKOO– it lays its young in the nest of another species and makes that species raise it until the young are old enough to fly.

    So, foiled in 1897, why does Laura come back to her grandson 70-odd years later to have another kid? BECAUSE THE FAMILY IS DESCENDED FROM JAMISON, AND JAMISON IS HALF-PHOENIX. The magical blood is still strong. It’s why the whole family is weird. (Except Chris Jennings and Amy Jennings, who are descended from gypsies. So that’s why THEY’RE so weird.) So she probably figures to herself, “Jamison and Nora were half-phoenix, but David is like at least 55% phoenix, surely I’ll be successful this time.” (And she probably would have been right, but she didn’t know to factor in the immutable law of the universe known as Vicki Ruins Everything.)

    But yeah, anyway, that’s what’s up with phoenixes and the post-1897 Collins family. So always remember: Liz, David, Roger, Carolyn… and maybe Vicki (or maybe Phyllis Wick, given Danny’s theories?): all descended from a phoenix.

  16. But on top of what I just said above: also, incidentally, part of the point of Laura Collins is THE BEETLE, the Victorian novel by Richard Marsh that in its day was as big as Dracula. Then, nothing, because Dracula was a lot easier to make a decent play or movie about, and THE BEETLE was rather harder to make a decent play or movie about. But yeah. Egyptology, secret god-cults that exist to this very day, scarabs, kidnappings… it’s very possibly a narrative collision with THE BEETLE. (Part of the reason it’s in all caps is that every time anyone in the novel says “THE BEETLE!” thunder happens, or the lights flicker, or some other thing that’s standing in for a dramatic music sting happens.)

    P.S. THE BEETLE was published in 1897.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beetle_(novel)

  17. I only want to know why Tim Shaw’s hairstyle changed from what we see in today’s show to that dorkwad center part; is Briscoe wearing a wig?

  18. I’d like to share a few belated comments here on what I perceive to be the life-cycle of each iteration of the phoenix Laura as expressed on Dark Shadows.

    The pattern seems to be this:

    (1) Laura is born into any given generation as a human. She is the reincarnation of the phoenix, but she isn’t aware of it at this point in her life. She grows up an essentially ordinary human being without any special powers, falls in love, gets married, and (if all goes well) has one or more children.

    (2) At some point, while her offspring are still young children, she dies by fire. Precisely how she dies by fire varies, but it’s indeed fire that kills her.

    (3) Some time not too long after, she is resurrected. Now she knows who she really is — a human phoenix — she has supernatural powers and a mission that she must fulfill beyond all else: to immolate herself once again, but this time with her children. (Whether her children are simply sacrifices to Ra or whether they will then also become phoenixes is unclear.) But she has only a limited amount of time to do this before her powers ebb and she must die again by fire.

    (4) Regardless of whether she succeeds in burning her children with her, she dies by fire.

    (5) At some point, a generation or two later, she is reborn again, and we’re back at Step 1. The cycle resumes.

    This would explain why 1897 Laura is terrified of being burned in Egypt (Step 2) — she doesn’t yet realize she is a phoenix. That realization will come to her only after her resurrection in Step 3.

    1. This would explain why 1897 Laura is terrified of being burned in Egypt (Step 2) — she doesn’t yet realize she is a phoenix. That realization will come to her only after her resurrection in Step 3.

      I think most people would have the same reaction. 🙂

  19. P.S. – Note that this pattern is pretty much the same in the 1960s, the main difference being that in the 1960s she first dies in a fire in a hotel room in Phoenix, Arizona (clever, that) rather than on a sacrificial pyre.

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