Episode 735: The Punishment Book

“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.

735 dark shadows rachel trask reason

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.

735 dark shadows trask rachel compassion

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.

735 dark shadows trask rachel change

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.

735 dark shadows trask rachel hands

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.

735 dark shadows laura candles

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.

735 dark shadows laura spell

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.

735 dark shadows nora fire

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.

735 dark shadows nora laura candles

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.

735 dark shadows trask book

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.

735 dark shadows trask punishment book

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.

735 dark shadows trask laura encounter

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.

735 dark shadows laura cue

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

29 thoughts on “Episode 735: The Punishment Book

  1. I never really got to see Laura in ’67, I was in school and remember only little bits of her from 1897, but not a lot. I mainly discovered her in the 1990’s.
    I’ve realized that in 1897, she’s mainly there to be funny and to be another “soap-opera bitch” who has catty, bitchy scenes with whomever is around.

    Her first appearance, in 1967, was the serious one, where she really is strange and deadly.
    Laura and Burke.
    I actually enjoy the first Laura story more, than the early days of Barnabas. Of course, it’s a great thrill when Barnabas joins the show, but for me, it’s a dry stretch, waiting for Sarah to show up.

    Today, there’s a wonderful scene where Laura has the rare privilege of being totally high handed and condescending towards our dearly beloved Reverend Trask, the world’s most sinister minister.
    She comes to get her children from the school, and says rude things to Trask, like:
    “Don’t be dreary!”
    “Surely, you know the word?”
    “Oh, what a trusting man you are.”
    “How odd, I though her a great gossip!”
    but the one that takes the cake, my choice for the funniest, snarkiest line on the entire show is
    “I’ve always thought the telephone an instrument of the Devil. Haven’t you?” as she makes him burn his hand on the phone.

    Laura is actually pretending to be “holier” than Trask is pretending to be.
    First time around, she was all mysterious and creepy. Second time, she’s here for eye-rolls and giggles.

      1. Me too – I really feel there are too many chefs in the kitchen around this time in the show – the early shows may have been at a slower pace but you were given a chance to savor the stories and characters – here everything races by in a flash – that’s why I personally think that the popularity of Barnabas was a double edge sword – everything from around episode 305/306 (when he shuts down Burke’s investigation by ratting to Vicki that he (Barnabas) is being ‘harrassed’ by Mr Devlin’s snooping and Vicki arbitrarily sides with Barnabas instead of the man she is supposed to love and trust above all else) – I wish they had continued to plot the stories more of a ‘one villian at a time’ like Matthew Morgan, then Laura, then Barnabas, then…not Barnabas/Julia, Barnabas/Adam, Barnabas/Chris..and ultimately Barnabas/everyone else.

      2. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that there’s more to enjoy about the filigreed fountain pen than the beginning of Barnabas. The way he would ramble on with those long and detailed, self-indulgent accounts of the past, like when he shows up in the Collinwood drawing room that night there’s a blackout and there are only Vicki and Carolyn there with the candles and the thunder and lightning but no rain outside and Bore-nabas proceeds to “entertain” them with a drawn-out story of someone jumping off Widow’s Hill long, long ago on a similar stormy night. I suppose in the beginning he was meant to seem distant and preoccupied, so that you wouldn’t become too attached to the character–after all, the show was going off the air, and Barnabas was only intended to be something fun for six weeks or so before they finally killed him off….

  2. Great summary.

    I’m on board with the Phoenix story being misplaced here, and detracting from the real action an drama.

    And I wish I had $10 for every time I or one of my lit-prof friends had to explain why Twilight sucks. I might borrow your 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.«) with credit to you for future discussions.

    1. Yes, please do. It is one of my life goals to educate the populace about Bella Swan, The Worst Character in Fiction. The scene in New Moon where a guy breaks up with her and she sits in a chair for three months pretty much says it all.

  3. 1795 Trask would have pegged Laura as a She Demon the second he smelled her Brimstone perfume.
    It is fun to watch Laura treat Trask like the gnat he is. My dream DS scenario was to have that Leviathan kid Alexander join Trask’s school but having Laura burn it down is pretty good, too.

  4. The Punishment book may be Trask’s equivalent of Santa’s ‘naughty or nice’ list.

    Perhaps Laura’s scheme is to incinerate both her children at the same time and that’s why she doesn’t push Nora into the fireplace.

    About 15 years ago I was discussing Dark Shadows with Diana Millay and the topic came up of the multitude of Bloopers that occurred on the show. Diana stated proudly: “I never Blooped.”

    Since then whenever I see her in a DS episode, I watch carefully for a Laura Blooper, but I’ve never caught her in one. You appear to have caught her Blooping twice in just this one episode. Good catches!

  5. Scotch-tape, appearing on Trask’s Punishment Book, wasn’t invented until the 1920s. Perhaps 3M consumer products are ‘instruments of the devil’.

  6. I liked the 67 storyline-
    But I never particularly liked Laura.
    I mean I love the concept but I have to agree- between the repetitive dialog and Dianna Malays deadpan/fussy performance- I find her screen time drags to agonizing levels. In 1897 it gets the final smack of being a superfluous and consequence free story arc- and then my patience just vanishes.
    If I could change anything it dark shadows it would be to thin out the Tim shaw/AmandaHarrige/Tate/Laura subplots that pop up in the middle of interesting story development- drag- and then just puff unsatisfactorily into the ether having stolen tons of screen time.

  7. Laura is not easy to like, unlike Angelique, but then, she makes no attempt to be. She is the most distant and unknowable villain on the show. She is the least explained, but then, we’ve all seen vampires and werewolves and witches before. When has there ever been a Phoenix? Maybe they got some ideas from SHE by H. Rider Haggard, but she’s pretty much one of a kind.

    1897 is Dark Shadows biggest banquet, but Jenny, Laura and Minerva are just three small entrees leading up to the main course, a big fat helping of Count Petofi, with a side of Aristede, after which, you fall asleep and have nightmares….

  8. I love this episode! The conversation between Laura and Trask is one of the funniest things the show ever did. They are clearly not in the same play at all. She knows it and is amused by it; he doesn’t, and just keeps getting angrier because he cannot touch her in any way.

    1. spot on, carose59. that’s why i like Laura’s second coming. when Rachel tried to assure her her relationship to Tim was moral, it wass the same thing – Laura mildly amused, completely above Rachel’s head. her ever so subtle asides of ennui are non-stop comedy. it may bore Danny, but the play on assumptions quite tickles me.

    1. You mean on the show? Writer Malcolm Marmorstein himself claims the credit, saying that during a writers’ meeting one day they were talking about how Laura Collins was going to be arriving from Phoenix, but Malcolm suggested, in a ‘Hey! Wait a minute!’ type of moment, that she should instead actually be a Phoenix. So it appears that in the end they did both: She was a Phoenix who was traveling to Collinsport after having last lived–and died–in Phoenix.

      If you mean the roots of the actual mythology in general, then I don’t know–the first Phoenix I ever knew of was the one on Dark Shadows.

  9. The phoenix – a great bird that is consumed in fire and then is reborn – comes from Greek mythology. And from religion to horror fiction, we’ve plenty of stories about people who die and come back to life. As for making a person a phoenix and actually calling himself/herself that, I don’t think I’ve ever seen another example.

    And the whole “coming back to bring her kids into the fire” bit, I think that’s just a melding with the normal, non-supernatural storyline already proposed: mother Laura comes back from Phoenix to claim her kid from Roger, prompting a custody fight. (There’s no mention of the mythical Phoenix needing to bring its chickies into the flames with it).

    1. Actually the phoenix is part of Egyptian mythology – they called it the benben bird, and his funeral pyre included its own sperm…

        1. Thanks everyone – so there does appear to be some kind of link then between Egypt and the Phoenix legend, so maybe the Dark Shadows writers weren’t totally crazy after all (then again….)

          The only other personification of the legend that sticks out is Jean Grey/Phoenix from the X-Men – though her M.O. is very different. Still, wonder if Chris Claremont was influenced by Dark Shadows in any way.

      1. Well, if you want to get technical, the concept of the creature that immolates itself and is reborn surfaces in a number of ancient cultures spread across the globe: Egypt, Persia, India, China, etc. The consistent idea is that it’s always a brightly colored bird. The “Phoenix” is the Greek names for it.

      1. There is a cure.
        My esteemed associate, Dr Strangemind, left behind an ancient prescription, to give to you. Some of it is in a language I can’t identify, and the last part is missing, but the legible part reads: “After 4:20, watch episodes 123-192. Do not operate heavy equipment while watching. You may smell jasmine in the air.”
        After that, it becomes incoherent, with words and phrases like “self-immolation”, “eternal damnation” and “a mother’s love” appearing intermittently, but I wouldn’t worry about that. I’ve tried the prescription repeatedly, and have to yet to experience any noticeable insegrevitites or toramugged cerebellusions

  10. All the various Trasks are so much fun to watch! There’s rarely much reason to pay attention to anybody else, as long as Jerry Lacy is on screen. But today, Tim and Rachel both managed to make me laugh during the first act, without saying a word.

    1st – Trying to get Tim to go back to Worthington Hall immediately, so he and Rachel can have some private time in the mausoleum), Trask says “We have many responsibilities to the little souls in our charge.” Tim purses his lips, snorts, and gives Trask the side eye, very effectively calling BS on him and all his fake piety.

    2nd – Just before Trask gets handsy with Rachel, he tells her “Now, my dear, tears will not move me.” But rather than crying, she looks like she’s hiding behind her hankie, trying not to laugh.

    Danny, you’ve noted several scenes where KLS was trying to fight the giggles. Has she talked about this? Sometimes it happened following a flubbed line, but lots of times there was no obvious cause. (at least, not that I could find.) Were there cast or crew members off-camera doing silly things, intentionally, trying to crack her up? Or does she just naturally find the humor in any situation?

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