“I’ve always thought the telephone an instrument of the Devil. Haven’t you?”
Two months ago, in the early days of the 1897 storyline, eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins went down to the Collinsport docks and attacked a young woman named Sophie Baker. Or was it Sophie Barnes? She said Baker, but the credits said Barnes, and it’s too late to ask her now. It’s just one of those gaps in the chronicles, another unsolved mystery.
Anyway, he was hungry and frustrated, and she was a day player, and you know how that story goes. He stuck his fangs in her, fed on her precious life essence, and then — what? Killed her? Spared her? Told her he would call? It doesn’t matter either way. He bared his fangs, they cut to commercial, and when we came back, Sophie Baker Barnes was no longer a factor.
And as far as I can recall, nobody’s mentioned that women are being attacked on the streets of Collinsport. There are no consequences to murder anymore, not on this show.
When Jenny stabbed Quentin a few weeks ago, the police showed up, but they didn’t do a very thorough job. Judith told them the murder was probably committed by a sailor that Quentin met in the village, and if they were quick, they still might be able to catch him. They scurried off obligingly, and Judith went back to scolding the survivors.
Not that we actually saw the police; that all happened off-screen, and we heard about it later. They don’t have police officers on Dark Shadows anymore, because they’ve figured out that investigations are tedious and take up valuable time that could be spent on further mayhem.
Law and order mean nothing on Dark Shadows now. There is no justice. This is what we have instead.
Rachel Drummond, ex-governess and current fugitive, is hiding out in the Collins family mausoleum. Reverend Trask has accused her of murder — not Quentin’s or Sophie’s, a different one — so that he can get her to come back to Worthington Hall, the boarding school prison camp where she was raised.
There’s no evidence that Rachel killed anybody, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Trask says she did, and he’s got a louder voice than anyone else, so that’s the end of the inquiry.
Anyway, the point is that Trask found Rachel in the mausoleum, and things are about to get kind of Freudian.
“Now, my dear,” he says to the orphan girl that grew up in his care, “tears will not move me. Only reason does… calm reason.” And then he reaches out a hand to touch her arm.
So: yikes. She pulls away, and Trask makes a big show of praying for divine inspiration, apparently for our benefit, because Rachel is looking the other way and I’m pretty sure God is doing the same.
“Oh, Rachel,” he purrs, “such hatred you feel, such needless hatred. I feel only compassion for you.” And then he tries to touch her face. The mausoleum is getting him in a weird mood; he’s come over all tactile.
She recoils again — the count is currently two strikes and no balls — and says that she wants to go back to Collinwood.
Trask: And what is there for you? The children are with me. You could help us with them.
Rachel: Even if I were there, you wouldn’t let me!
Trask: They miss you.
Rachel: If I were kind to them — even human — you’d stop me.
Trask: Perhaps our maker has chosen you as some strange instrument of change for me.
Rachel: You don’t believe that any more than I do.
Trask: Perhaps we were meant to change each other.
And then more with the hands! He really thinks he’s got a shot here.
So I guess Trask is running his own version of the story in his head, where he’s Mr. Rochester, and Jane is going to redeem him with her love. But everybody seems to be auditioning for that role in 1897, just heaps of Rochesters everywhere you look. You can’t all be Rochester, gentlemen; some of you will have to settle for being someone else.
The interesting thing for our purposes today is that this is the second time this week that we’ve heard this “you’re going to change me” line. That’s actually the core of the whole Rochester / Darcy / Sawyer / Edward Cullen / Damon Salvatore / Danny Zuko misunderstood bad-boy rebel fantasy that’s so damaging to the self-respect of the young ladies in the audience.
The idea is that the vampire con artist secretly-married sexual predator from the wrong side of the tracks will go on doing terrible, terrible things until he is purified in the furnace of a young woman’s love, at which point he will look into her eyes and talk about feelings for as long as she wants to. This very rarely happens in real life, so encouraging young women to attach themselves to dangerous predators is probably not the smartest idea we’ve ever had.
The other person who tried this move on Tuesday was Angelique, when she told Barnabas, “I’ll be sweet, and tender, and gentle, if that’s the kind of woman you want your wife to be.” We weren’t supposed to believe her, either. The Dark Shadows writers must be as troubled by that trope as I am.
Over at Collinwood, there’s another villain asserting herself. 1897 is overstocked with villains right now; it’s actually hard to keep track of them all. This one is Laura, Jamison and Nora’s mother, and she’s some kind of make-believe Egyptian fire demon. By the way, I tried to find out if this phoenix fire thing has anything to do with Egypt’s sun god, to no success. The ancient Egyptians are not returning my calls.
Anyway, Laura’s casting a spell right now — at least, the “casting a spell” music cue is playing, which amounts to the same thing — and it begins with a remarkable little special effect.
She’s got three candles, and she reaches out and touches each one with her index finger. When she touches the candle, it springs into flame. And then she looks at the audience, as if to say, is THIS your card? It almost makes it worthwhile having Laura on the show.
But she needs a strong opening act, because this is Angelique’s territory, and she knows it. Laura’s not a witch, and this is technically an unauthorized use of candles. But what the hell, we’re here and we might as well hear her pitch.
“Nora, darling,” she says, looking into the camera with a glazed expression, “you must come to me. I need you, Nora. I’m so alone without you and Jamison! You’re the reason I came back! Nora, can you hear me? You must find the flame, Nora!”
The upshot of this appears to be that she wants to make contact with Nora, who’s away at punishment school.
So we transition over to Worthington Hall, where Nora comes downstairs in a nightgown and a daze. There’s a cheery fire burning in the hearth, and Laura gently draws her daughter’s attention to it, with the light touch of a Comcast representative trying to convince you not to cancel your account.
“In the fire, darling,” she says. “Come to the fire. Look into the fire. You will see my face in the flames. Look into the fire, Nora! If you love me, come to the fire!”
Meanwhile, Nora’s got her own rhythm going. “Where are you, Mummy?” she yells. “Mummy, why do I hear your voice? Why can’t I see you? Mummy?” Calling Laura “mummy” is cute, because of the Egyptian thing, but Nora’s hammering on it pretty hard.
Then there’s a cryptic bit of dialogue that I can’t quite explain. Laura says, “Oh, do you think I wanted to leave you? That night — that night in Collinwood, I went to your room, and I saw you there, sleeping. They wouldn’t let me take you, you and Jamison. They’d have taken me — they’d have taken you away! You and Jamison!”
It’s not clear what night she’s talking about or who “they” are, so it must be the mysterious they, that dark and shadowy organization that’s manipulating events from behind the scenes. It’s just like they to get mixed up in a situation like this; they can’t leave well enough alone.
Anyway, the problem with Laura is that it’s super unclear what she’s trying to do here. “Come to the fire”? I mean, I guess she wants Nora to immolate herself and join her mother in this weird immortal fire activity, but why does that have to be now? She was talking to Nora at Collinwood a couple episodes ago; why didn’t she just shove the kid into the fireplace when she had the chance?
I’m not asking for a concise, logical explanation here; after all, this is Dark Shadows, where nothing is bulletproof except the werewolves. But even in the context of this scene, I don’t actually know what she’s trying to do. The writers expect me to feel something about this — scared for Nora, presumably, and fascinated by her mother’s wickedness — but it’s hard to relate to this. As far as I’m concerned, they can both go into the fire together, and good luck to them.
Her plan doesn’t work, obviously, because this is Laura; she’s spent centuries returning from the dead over and over, and has never managed to achieve a single thing, so we might as well go spend some time with one of the effective villains.
Reverend Trask is upstairs in his office, sitting quietly, when he decides to get up and go to the bookshelf. With a grim smile, he chooses a book and walks to his desk.
As he sits, the camera pulls in so that we can see that it’s a journal marked Punishment Book, which, I mean, come on. How great is that? Punishment Book! He opens it, and it turns out to be a ledger where I suppose he keeps track of all the punishment.
I love the Punishment Book very, very much. He might as well wear a T-shirt that says I’m a Mean Old Man. Oh, how I love Trask.
And I guess that’s why I think Trask works as a villain, and Laura doesn’t — he’s always coming up with new material. He is currently terrorizing five different characters, each in their own individual way, and he still has time left over to record entries in his Punishment Book.
But Laura comes over, and all she can say is the same old thing — I want my children, you can’t keep them from me, come step closer to the fire. There’s just something about her that I can’t relate to. By the end of the episode, she actually sets the entire school on fire and burns it to the ground, and I still find her boring. Is it me?
Monday: All About That Vase.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
The Worthington Hall set includes the main classroom, the closet, the corridor and about one-third of a staircase. When Nora walks downstairs to the fire, we’re basically looking at a tiny number of steps with an unpainted flat next to her, and nothing behind her but the darkened studio. As she comes down, the camera comes close to showing two of the studio lights. It stops just short of actually getting them in frame.
Early on in the ritual, Laura stumbles and says “Norma” instead of Nora.
Just after Nora opens the schoolroom doors, we cut to a shot of Laura, and she’s looking away, waiting for her cue. She gets it, and then turns her attention back to the spell.
When Tim interrupts Laura’s ritual, her three candles are supposed to blow out all at once. But only two blow out on the first try, they have to blow again to get the third.
When Nora and Rachel sit down to talk, there’s a scraping sound from the studio.
The grandfather clock outside the schoolroom is stuck at 6:25. It’s first seen at the beginning of act 2 when Trask and Rachel enter, and it’s still at 6:25 when Nora talks to Rachel in act 3. There was a clock stuck at 7:20 in Wednesday’s episode; these clocks need to make up their damn minds.
Monday: All About That Vase.
— Danny Horn