“Shall I tell him the real meaning of the little games you’ve taught him, how you seek evil in the darkness for your heartless schemes?”
“You’re trying to kill me,” she whispers, and he just smiles.
Laura Collins is some kind of an Egyptian fire demon, and her brother-in-law Quentin has found the urn containing the eternal flame that keeps her alive. He doused the fire, and the life is slowly draining out of her. Now he’s come to her room to watch, and smirk, and gloat about it.
“I’ll make you pay for this, Quentin,” she hisses.
He shoots her a crocodile smile. “I doubt it. I don’t think you have that much time left.”
Trying to rally, she shouts, “Get out of here!”
“Oh, no, we mustn’t exert ourselves, my dear. You don’t have energy to spare, do you?” He chuckles. “Now, don’t look at me that way. It almost compels me to feel sorry for you.”
Strutting around the room, he says, “I recall an incident, at the cottage the other evening. We both thought that I was dying. I asked you to help me, and you refused. You left me there to die. Now, I do believe that one bad turn does deserve another.”
And then, bending down and holding her chin in place, he kisses her on the lips. So there’s that.
So the question — for this week, and for the next several months — is, how do you get a character from here to pinup heart-throb?
Cause this scene feels like pre-Comics Code EC horror comic level sadism. This is one of those stories where a man poisons his shrewish wife and then stands around and makes ironic wordplay while he watches her die.
It’s the kind of thing that gets you dragged before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency and accused of corrupting the morals of American youth. At least, that’s what happens if it’s 1954. If it’s 1969, you can apparently broadcast it on television at four in the afternoon, and then sell trading cards with pictures of the sadistic psychopath and a stick of chewing gum. That’s how things work now.
But there are a few redeeming features to be considered, which take some of the sting out of the situation — not legally, or morally, but in the court of public opinion as presided over by the housewives and teenagers watching the show.
For one thing, Quentin is great and Laura sucks. David Selby is gorgeous and funny and always surprising. He’s constantly auditioning for the role of everybody’s favorite, and he takes that competition seriously. Meanwhile, Diana Millay feels stiff, and disconnected from the other actors. That’s because she’s a competent actress in a show that has left competence behind, and become something bigger and more dangerous.
That’s not the most logical way to judge a person’s character, but a television audience is not logical. If we were, we’d do something more productive with our time, like work on our science fair projects. We are creatures of emotion and instinct, and our gut feeling is that a scene with Quentin is more interesting than a scene without him.
But if we have to resort to actually paying attention to the script, then there’s also the fact that Laura is a terrifying monster. She’s not just a shrewish woman that Quentin wants to get rid of because he feels like it. She is an enemy combatant, and his reminder of what happened in the cottage is a fair point.
And then there’s his nephew Jamison, the one person that Quentin truly loves. This relationship is crucial for the audience’s developing affection for Quentin, because his interactions with Jamison show a side of him that is entirely sincere. He always has time for Jamison, and their scenes have a familial warmth that you don’t see on Dark Shadows very often anymore, not in these cynical times.
While Laura is expiring upstairs, Charity Trask brings Jamison back from school, explaining that the boy had a bad dream, and woke up screaming.
Quentin: Hey, what’s the matter with you? You’re shaking like a leaf!
Jamison: I’m so frightened!
Quentin: Now, now, there’s no need to be. Nothing can harm you here, with me.
Jamison: I’ve got to go to her!
Quentin: To who?
Jamison: My mother!
Quentin: Oh! Wait a minute. You — you can’t go to your mother.
Jamison: Why not?
Quentin: Well… because.
Oh, right. Yeah. That’s a tough one. The correct answer is “Because she’ll tell you that I’m killing her,” which is a tricky thing to explain.
And you can tell, right here — with a flicker of doubt and pain crossing his face — that it really didn’t occur to him that the woman he’s so eager to kill is also the mother of the nephew that he loves.
All he saw was the monster, the enemy combatant. In his mind, there’s a sharp line between the kaiju world and the domestic world, which he’s allowed to cross but thinks that nobody else is able to see. In this moment, Jamison is reminding him that those worlds are not separable, that his kaiju wrestling matches have consequences in the here and now.
And then things get worse. Laura pulls through, thanks to the Great Sun God Ra and associated McGuffins, which means that she gets to tell her son some inconvenient truths.
Laura: Jamison, Quentin is the person who’s trying to hurt me!
Jamison: (chuckles) I can’t believe that.
Laura: I know you don’t want to believe it, darling, but you must, or he’ll hurt me again! Oh, Jamison, you don’t want that, do you?
Laura: Darling, you didn’t have a dream tonight. You had a vision! You saw me dying — because Quentin wanted me to die.
And with that, Laura has just fired a weapon aimed directly at Quentin’s heart, and she didn’t have to break a sweat. He loaded the crossbow; all she has to do was pull the trigger.
And here’s Jamison, delivering the bad news.
Jamison: Do you know what I want you to do?
Quentin: What? You tell me what it is, and I’ll do it.
Jamison: I want you to get out of my sight, and STAY out of my sight!
Quentin: What? Why?
Jamison: I’ll tell you why. Because I HATE you!
Quentin is shocked. It takes a lot to shock Quentin Collins, but this qualifies.
Quentin: Jamison… don’t be silly.
Jamison: Don’t you call me silly.
Quentin: You couldn’t hate me. You couldn’t hate Quentin.
Jamison: Oh, yes I could!
Quentin: But — at least tell me why!
Jamison: Because you hurt my mother!
Quentin: I hurt — she told you that.
Quentin: But — it just isn’t true, Jamison. I wouldn’t hurt your mother.
And bless David Selby and his expressive eyebrows, because he’s making it clear, in a sincerely heart-tugging way, that he means it. “I wouldn’t hurt your mother,” he says, with stress on “your”, because he wasn’t thinking about Laura that way.
Jamison is part of the real world, the everyday Collinwood that his family lives in. Coming at it from that direction, Quentin is telling the truth. If he thought of Laura as Jamison’s mother — if they were all normal people, and she was just the sister-in-law that he doesn’t like anymore, then he wouldn’t have tried to kill her. Smirk at her, sure, threaten her, blackmail her, try to drive her out of the house somehow. But he wouldn’t try to kill Jamison’s mother. He was trying to kill a monster.
I think it was Nietzche, or possibly Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who said, “Beware that, fighting monsters, you do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” And here comes Laura to drive that point home.
Laura: I told him you hurt me, and that you’d hurt me again. Is that a lie? Oh, no — that’s the truth!
Quentin: Then what about the rest of the truth, huh? About us being together, you and I?
Laura: And shall I tell him the real meaning of the little games you’ve taught him, how you seek evil in the darkness for your heartless schemes?
Quentin doesn’t have an answer for that one, because she’s right. This isn’t the first time that Quentin’s carried Jamison over that line that he thinks separates the real world from his black magic kaiju world. He’s performed dark rituals with Jamison, used the boy’s innocence as bait to hook something that Quentin needs for a monster fight.
Jamison can’t remember those ceremonies very well after they’re over, so Quentin can still tell himself that it doesn’t matter, that the boy isn’t harmed, that he can still be the playful favorite uncle.
But it turns out that those aren’t two worlds after all, just two rooms, with the same people passing between them. If this is a game, then it’s a game Quentin can lose.
So how does this help us explain Quentin’s transition from psychopath to beloved teen idol? I have no idea. Are we sure that even happens?
Tomorrow: Another Weird Afternoon.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
The blocking for the teaser is entirely different from the way they ended yesterday’s show. Like, standing up instead of being unconscious on the carpet kind of different.
When Quentin is talking to Jamison in the foyer in act 3, there’s a nice long shot of Quentin and the boom mic together. The camera switches to Jamison for a moment, and then back to Quentin and the mic.
When Dirk tells Barnabas that he’ll find a room for Charity, he turns around and bumps into a light fixture.
Tomorrow: Another Weird Afternoon.
— Danny Horn