“I beg for your understanding and mercy! Please, grant me another life-giving flame!”
Laura Collins is dead, mostly. In fact, she’s died several times, up to and including just last year, but each time, she’s been revived by an Egyptian sun god, who keeps her alive using an eternal flame that she keeps in a magical urn. If the flame goes out, then Laura dies. Except now it’s gone out and she’s still walking around, so explain that.
I mean, this is the kind of thing that makes you wonder about Dark Shadows’ commitment to naturalistic drama. Quentin poured sand in the urn yesterday, quenching the fire and killing Laura, or at least that’s what they promised.
I mean, are we to understand that Laura is currently stumbling around on the lawn when there isn’t an eternally piping-hot ashtray nearby? What kind of sense would that make?
Actually, it would be kind of funny if it turned out that she wasn’t a supernatural creature at all; she’s just temperamental. I bet that happens all the time.
But last week, Laura assured us that this was all powered by the Great Sun God Ra. “Great Sun God Ra,” she said, “grant your daughter with the gift of life!” She’s his daughter, apparently. “Fill her veins with fire,” she said. “Without you, I cannot live!”
In response, Ra sent her this magical flaming urn filled with the gift of life, with every intention of filling her veins with fire, and then she goes and lets Quentin pour sand on it. This is why you never see Sun Gods laughing; it’s just one headache after another.
But I guess there’s an emergency backup plan, which involves attaching yourself to a passing servant and sucking the heat out of his body, so she nabs Dirk, the Collinwood caretaker, and gets to work.
“Please stay where you are!” she cries. “Just stand here. Oh, I’m so cold, I’m so terribly cold!”
And Dirk kind of rolls his eyes, thinking, Yeah, of course you’re cold. It’s April, and you live in Maine. Go inside.
But now she has a hot new strategy, courtesy of no one in particular. She tells Dirk, “You don’t know it yet, but it was very lucky for you that you came here tonight when you did. Because you’re going to be the one! Yes! It will be through you!”
“Mrs. Collins, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dirk says, in unison with everybody in the audience.
“You will help me,” she says. “You will come to me when I summon you.”
So I call no way; this is just moving the goalposts. Angelique told Quentin that if the flame was snuffed out, Laura would expire. She didn’t mention any loopholes like this. Laura is clearly snagging on to any passing dude because she is a drunk girl at a frat party. If this is the behavior of a dying fire demon, then every college kid in the world must have an urn somewhere.
So I think the question — besides what the hell are they even talking about — is, where does this come from? I don’t know anything that connects Egyptian urns to eternal flames or sun gods or phoenixes. Where do people get these ideas? Besides Mummy movies, I mean.
It turns out that pretty much everything in pop culture that involves mummies is the product of narrative collision, smashing together some unrelated stories to make something new and unexpected. In ancient Egypt, they didn’t believe that mummies would rise from the slab and walk around strangling people. Mummification was a religious ritual, to prepare a body for the soul’s trip through the afterlife. The idea of mummies as monsters actually comes from a collision with Frankenstein.
The first horror story about walking mummies was an 1827 book by Jane Loudon called The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century. This story was inspired by Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, and by inspired I mean it’s basically the same thing but with balloons.
In The Mummy! there’s a mad scientist named Dr. Entwerfen who decides he can revive a mummy by shocking him back to life with a galvanized battery, so he travels from England to Egypt with his friend Edric to break into the tomb of Cheops and try it out. The book takes place in 2126, so they travel there in a hot air balloon, obviously. The experiment works, and Cheops is brought to life. The naughty mummy leaves the pyramid and hijacks Entwerfen’s balloon, obviously, and then he flies to England. The balloon lands on the Queen and kills her, and then I’m not sure what happens after that, because there are no documented cases in history of anyone ever finishing the book.
In 1907, Bram Stoker got involved, writing a book called The Jewel of Seven Stars, which is about an Egyptian queen with seven fingers on one hand who the archeologists bring to life by positioning some lamps in the right way and then reuniting her with her spirit, which is stored inside a mummified cat. Bram Stoker had a lot of interesting ideas.
And then in 1922, archeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun, the most perfectly preserved pharoah’s crypt, which was a huge news story and stirred up the interest in Egypt and mummies like never before.
Fed on a steady diet of stories about hot air balloons and mummfied cats, the public decided that something terribly spooky was going to happen as a result of opening Tutankham’s tomb. So a rumor spread about the terrible Curse of the Pharoahs, striking down all the members of the expedition over the course of the next thirty-nine years. The best part of this story is that it begins with a cobra coming into Howard Carter’s house at the moment that he opened the tomb, and eating his pet canary.
None of this has anything to do with Laura or today’s episode, by the way. But I spent a lot of time looking up goofy mummy facts this week, trying to find some connection between these stories and magical fire urns, which I didn’t. Still, if I don’t tell you about this stuff then I’ve basically wasted a whole week on this, so you’re getting it anyway.
The thing that I find interesting about these mummy stories is that they presume that the gods of ancient Egypt are real, and still have power in the modern day. I guess when the future archeologists in the year 4015 discover the secret room in the Collins family mausoleum, then the Great God Jesus Christ will make a vampire rise from his coffin and kill Howard Carter’s canary.
Oh, and Laura hasn’t died yet btw, quelle surprise. Now she’s sitting by the fire in her bedroom, calling on the most powerful God in somebody else’s religion to spare the life of a rich white woman from New England.
She’s still yelling at the dude, which if it was going to work you’d think it would have happened by now. “Hear me, master, bearer of warmth and fire! I cannot die now! I’ve not finished what I came here to do!” This is in reference to her plan to immolate both of her rich white children, so they can all ascend to the skies in a hot-air balloon.
Ra does not appear to be amused, and she feels a cold wind rushing through her. But then she has another bright idea.
“Appear to me in human form!” she cries, referring to Dirk. “Through him, you can appear to me, and help me! I beg you — possess him, and answer my plea!” And that offer is apparently irresistible to the guy who rules the sky, the earth and the underworld. He must have wanted to get inside Dirk this whole time, and was just waiting for an invitation.
So I think what’s going on here is that Diana Millay called Dan Curtis, and said she wanted to come back on the show. Dan was very loyal to the people in his cast, so he tells the writers to bring Laura back. And the writers say, okay, what do we do with this? We’re currently in the middle of, like, six different storylines. We’ve still got Mad Jenny cooped up in the basement somewhere. It’s the kind of thing that would make Sam Hall crawl under a coffee table and say that he’s in China today.
So without much to go on, they just start grabbing things from pop culture to fill in the gaps. Dirk gets possessed by a Sun God, and starts saying a make-believe Egyptian phrase that I’m not sure I can transcribe properly.
It sounds to me like “Es-tu-ah Ah! Amen-Ra!”
I’m not sure what that first phrase is supposed to be, but “Amen-Ra” sounds familiar, thanks to my goofy mummy research. There’s a God from ancient Thebes named Amun who was combined with Ra, because in ancient Egypt they did narrative collision too.
So you remember King Tuhankhamun? His name means “Living Image of Amun”. He actually changed it from Tutankhaten (“Living Image of Aten”) when he ended the worship of Aten and restored Amun to supremacy, moving the capitol from Akhetaten to Thebes. He was 12 years old at the time; I guess teenagers have always been kind of a problem.
But Dirk clearly says “Amen” rather than “Amun”, so this is probably a reference to a whole other goofy mummy story — the legend of the Unlucky Mummy. It starts with a coffin lid that was donated to the British Museum in 1889, and identified as belonging to a priestess of Amen-Ra.
According to an urban legend spread by lunatics, the mummy (not actually a mummy) of Princess Amen-Ra (not actually a princess) was purchased by a journalist (it’s still in the British Museum) and brought on board the Titanic, and the curse (there isn’t a curse associated with this mummy, which is actually a coffin lid) sank the HMS Titanic. This is just as good an explanation for the sinking of the Titanic as any, except I guess for the one about the iceberg.
So Amen-Ra (probably the god, not the make-believe princess) is now inhabiting Dirk Wilkins, the Collinwood groundskeeper, so that he can revive his new girlfriend.
The idea of Amun-Ra (or possibly Atum-Ra) being inside someone isn’t new either, although in ancient Egypt, the God would inhabit a black bull called Mnevis (or possibly Mer-wer or Mnewer). The priests would find a completely black bull and bring it inside the temple, where it was worshipped, and used to predict the future. When the bull died, they’d go and get another one. If they couldn’t find a completely black bull, then they’d get a completely white bull, which was just as good. Honestly, the more you learn about ancient Egypt, the sillier it gets.
So that’s what’s going on here, apparently. Dirk is the new Mnevis. He brings Laura back to full power, and then she just goes on with the plan to kill her children. Thanks a lot, Great Sun God; so nice of you to drop by.
Tomorrow: The Little Games.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
At the start of act 2, after Laura tells Dirk, “You’re going to be the one!” the camera suddenly pulls back too far, showing the studio lights for a moment.
The boom mic can be seen when Dirk brings Laura into the Collinwood foyer.
When Judith closes the drawing room doors to speak to Dirk, there’s the sound of a chair scraping across the floor.
When Laura approaches the fire in her room to plead with Ra, you can hear people walking around in the studio.
There’s yellow blocking tape on the floor next to Laura’s unconscious body.
After I wrote this post, my friend Andrew Leal pointed out that there’s an 1867 H. Rider Haggard adventure novel called She: A History of Adventure, which was adapted for a 1965 movie starring Ursula Andress.
“Ancient Egyptian queen (now ruling over a small group of natives, with of course some acolytes and priests) is immortal after passing through the “Pillar of Fire.” an expedition finds her, and one young archeologist resembles her lover from thousands of years before, so he’s her male Josette. She convinces him to join her in the fire and immortality, he’s not sure it’s safe. To prove it, she walks through again…. undoing the effects, aging years in seconds, and dies, telling him not to forget her. The end.
“As with most DS borrowings, pretty loose, but I think it explains how the “fire priest” stuff got into the Phoenix thing (mixed with the Mummy stuff).”
You can see the trailer below. It does look a lot like Laura: The Motion Picture.
The comic book panel above is from Gold Key’s Dark Shadows comic book, issue #6: “Awake to Evil”. This 1970 comic also includes a werewolf attack, angry villagers with torches, and a woman shrieking EEEEE. The Gold Key comics are available digitally through the Comixology app. Volume 1 of The Complete Series has the first 7 issues, and is entirely bonkers.
Tomorrow: The Little Games.
— Danny Horn