Episode 762: Dark Shadows’ Agents of THEY

“Who are ‘they’, Mrs. Trask?”

Let’s start at the middle, and work backwards from there.

Mrs. Minerva Trask — devoted wife and helpmeet of the celebrated Reverend Gregory Trask of Worthington Hall — arrives at Collinwood with a jar of damson plum preserves, and proceeds to make herself comfortable — or, at least, as comfortable as Mrs. Trask ever allows herself to get.

She’s come over to give the preserves to Judith Collins, because that’s what you give to a multi-millionaire who lets you operate a for-profit business in her back yard rent-free. But instead, she ends up talking to Judith’s dissolute brother Quentin, who’s currently dissolving in the drawing room.

762 dark shadows minerva quentin couch

Minerva thought she’d find her husband at Collinwood — he’d told her he was headed this way — so she’s slightly put out to find neither Judith or the Reverend on the premises. Still, there’s the preserves to think of, so she settles on the settee, prepared to stay all night if she has to.

And Quentin, who has stressful life choices of his own to deal with, just can’t help messing with her.

My sister admires your husband a great deal,” he says, perching on the side of the couch.

We both admire her a great deal,” she nods.

Are you sure you won’t have a brandy with me?”

I told you,” Minerva says, “I do not drink. The Reverend Trask does not approve of drinking, especially in women.”

“Oh! Now, isn’t that strange.” Quentin cocks his head. “Dear sister Judith nips away at the brandy quite frequently, and you yourself said that you both admire her tremendously.”

762 dark shadows minerva murmur

“They always do drink,” Minerva murmurs. “They go to the theater…”

Then she catches herself, and looks away.

Intrigued, Quentin raises an eyebrow. “Who are ‘they’, Mrs. Trask?”

This is a good question, but it’s not the right question. It’s not “Who are they,” it’s “Who is they.”

637 dark shadows jeff vicki night

Once again, we catch a glimpse of the mysterious “they”, that dark and shadowy group of power players on the margins of this fictional universe, arranging for convenient occult occurrences that cannot otherwise be properly explained.

“They” brought Peter Bradford forward through the centuries and gave him a new name, and “they” pulled him back, dragging Vicki back with him. “They” wouldn’t let Laura take Jamison and Nora to Egypt. “I’m afraid of them,” Amy said, when she and David were cosplaying as Quentin and Beth, and David/Quentin told her, “Don’t be afraid. They can’t do anything to us.”

So far, that’s all that we’ve known about “they” — just the faint traces of their footsteps as they tread silently through time. But somewhere, there has to be an answer to some of the unsolved mysteries of Dark Shadows, like for instance:

Who were Victoria Winters’ parents?

Why does Barnabas remember Phyllis Wick as Sarah’s governess, instead of Vicki?

What caused Burke’s plane crash?

And why does Charity Trask have blue eyes?

762 dark shadows minerva gregory they

We’re not going to learn the answers to those questions today, but we get a lot of they-related intel. Already, thanks to Minerva’s slip, we know that they drink and go to the theater, and she expands on this theme. Minerva Trask is basically the Bob Woodward of they.

Minerva:  I was so humiliated! I waited and waited, and you never came.

Trask:  I never said I would meet you at Collinwood!

Minerva:  You said you were going there!

Trask:  I changed my mind.

Minerva:  You’re lying!

Trask:  May I remind you, Minerva, that lying is a sin.

Minerva:  Then you’re a sinner! In several ways, I imagine.

762 dark shadows minerva trask sin

Trask:  Just what is that supposed to mean?

Minerva:  That means that old lady in Providence whom you admired so, and the other one in Boston whose husband died, and left her so lonely and so very rich!

Trask:  Those ladies were merely instruments. They could have helped me with the school.

Minerva:  You never cared anything about the school!

Trask:  How dare you say that!

Minerva:  I dare, because it’s the truth. What you cared about was going with them to the theater, and to fancy restaurants! Yes! And to planning with them, trips around the world! Well, fortunately, “they” were not foolish enough to take you seriously!

Trask:  Because there was nothing to take seriously! You and your hysterical charges are a constant embarrassment to me, Minerva, and I warn you — I will see an end to them.

762 dark shadows minerva trask they

So: wow! In one scene, we learn more about “they” than ever before, yet it still raises more questions.

The old ladies in Providence and Boston: Who are they, and what do they want? How old is “old”? What kind of theater did they take Trask to, and why the fancy restaurants? Why did they plan trips around the world that Trask never took?

And most importantly: Are these old ladies they?

440 dark shadows candles trask

All we can do right now is speculate, obviously — that’s all anyone can do, about anything — but I have a couple of improbable theories.

Let’s start with a basic question: what happened to the Trasks?

The Reverend Trask that we knew in 1795 was not actually the hypocrite that Barnabas accused him of being. He wasn’t a nice man, but he was sincere. When we saw his lodgings, he had meager possessions, just a couple of books and a black suit. He didn’t drink, he didn’t curry favor with the wealthy, and he never had a single doubt that he was pursuing the righteous path to the very limit of his abilities.

And he wasn’t even wrong — at least, not in the historical Salem Witch Trials sense of “wrong”, where witches don’t really exist, and the prosecutors were obviously imprisoning and executing innocent people for no reason other than they felt like it.

The 1795 Reverend Trask actually lived in a world with witches, and most of the things that he interpreted as witchcraft were actually supernatural events — Vicki arriving from nowhere wearing futuristic clothes and carrying a book published in the 1960s, the mysterious deaths at the docks and in the woods, Joshua Collins turning into a cat, Vicki’s reaction to the Old House exorcism. Trask didn’t catch on to Angelique’s role in all this, but he wasn’t wrong to finger Vicki as a disruptive influence. Plus, once he found the witch and put her on trial, his investigation was over — he didn’t move on, Salem-style, to accuse an endless litany of follow-up witches.

762 dark shadows minerva preserves

So what if “they” made some adjustments, that old lady in Providence and the other one in Boston?

What if Reverend Gregory Trask began his career as the same pious, righteous man as his ancestor, until they got ahold of him? Taking him to the theater, and to fancy restaurants, exposing him to pleasures and power… What if they turned him into the monster that we know?

After all, at one time in his life, Gregory married Minerva — this severe crabapple of a woman, with her plum preserves. Minerva Trask is clearly the living embodiment of the spinster aunt. Just imagine young Gregory looking at this handful of sharp objects, and saying: I will love you until the day that I die.

Does that sound like the kind of guy that we see today? A faux-pious gigolo making escape plans with wealthy widows?

742 dark shadows charity

And why does their daughter Charity have blonde hair and blue eyes? Gregory and Minerva both have dark hair and deep brown eyes. Are we supposed to assume that straightlaced Minerva had a random Swedish grandmother passing on some recessive genes? We know that Gregory’s genetics are so doggedly persistent that he’s basically the perfect double of his 1795 ancestor. Where’s the beach-party blonde in his family tree?

There is only one possible answer to this question, which is that “Charity Trask” was switched at birth with another child. That’s not as far-fetched as it sounds, because this is a soap opera, a genre where baby-switching happens approximately once per live birth. And who does the baby-switching on Dark Shadows? They does, that’s who.

Five months ago (or “the other day”, in soap opera jargon), I explained my crackpot “lost princess” time travel conspiracy theory. The theory involves governess Phyllis Wick being stolen from her 18th-century cradle, and switched with 1940s orphan Victoria Winters — creating a stretched rubber-band link between the two girls that snaps in late 1967, hurtling Vicki back in time so hard that it knocks Phyllis right out of her carriage and all the way into the 20th century. This is obviously the only possible way to understand anything that Victoria Winters ever does.

But now we have another orphan changeling — this “Charity Trask”, a genetic anomaly with such an unstable grasp on her identity that she allows a music-hall singer to take up pretty much permanent residence inside her head.

And looking at Charity — who does she resemble, exactly? Certainly not any member of the Trask family. Charity looks like Carolyn Stoddard — so much like her that you’d think Carolyn and Charity were twins.

What if they were?

271 dark shadows liz poker

After all, Elizabeth’s story about the night she “killed” Paul never quite rang true. A normally rational and intelligent woman was so upset about her husband leaving Collinwood, she grabbed a fireplace poker and struck him on the back of the head with lethal force.

She said that she was angry that Paul was taking money that belonged to Carolyn. But is that really enough for Elizabeth Collins Stoddard to almost kill a man?

But we only have her testimony on what happened that night. What if there was something else that Paul was taking with him — something that Elizabeth would kill to protect?

365 dark shadows phyllis wick

What if Paul knew some terrible secret that must never be revealed? What if he was heading for the Hammond Foundling Home, to retrieve his infant daughter Phyllis before the old lady from Providence could get her hands on the kid?

Is it possible that Paul wasn’t motivated by greed, as Elizabeth claimed? What if his motivation was something else? Mercy, perhaps… or charity?

233 dark shadows fireplace carolyn vicki

Four children, four impossible girls — Carolyn, Charity, Vicki and Phyllis. Where do they really belong?

Perhaps the answer to that question would help us to figure out the other unsolved mysteries of Dark Shadows, like for instance:

What’s wrong with all the clocks?

Why did Laura follow Quentin to Egypt, and why did the police in Alexandria turn her over to the fire priests?

What did the eleven women in Fort Wayne see?

What happened to Adam, when Barnabas used the I Ching?

Who interceded with Oscar?

Who are the six women that Jonathan Frid admires the most?

Who wrote the Collins family history?

What did they do with Tony Peterson?

What is the Great Unwinding?

And — most of all — what really happened to Dr. Julian Hoffman?

Tomorrow: The One Where Magda Finds Out.


The previous mentions of “they” cited above are:

Episode 637: Bury Me a Little   (Jeff and Vicki)
Episode 668: The Aristocrats   (David and Amy cosplaying)
Episode 735: The Punishment Book  (Laura)

For more information about my crackpot lost princess time travel conspiracy theory, and other crucial areas of concern:

Episode 465: The Best of All Possible Worlds
Episode 622: Heated Arguments on Somebody Else’s Lawn
Episode 659: Gone Girl

Also, the plot point about Tim and his hypno-juice book is similar to the way a character is poisoned in Alexandre Dumas’ 1845 novel La Reine Margot, which I don’t really feel like learning any more about at the moment.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

At the end of yesterday’s episode, the shadowy figure at the window wasn’t wearing a hat or a coat; today, it’s revealed to be Trask, who is.

At the beginning of the episode, it’s still 7:00 at Evan’s place, and the clock at Trask’s school is stuck at 3:10. In the sequence where Nicholas is slowly hypnotizing Tim, they fade to a clock several times — first to Evan’s clock, which has advanced to 8:10, and then the clock at Trask’s school, which still says 3:10. It’s one of the most baffling sequences they’ve ever filmed.

Tomorrow: The One Where Magda Finds Out.

461 dark shadows hanging phyllis

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

31 thoughts on “Episode 762: Dark Shadows’ Agents of THEY

  1. Poor Minerva Trask, plum preserves in hand, soon to be the third member of the Dead-Wives Club.
    Oh, Quentin, you bastard. playing such devilish mind-games with the mentally unqualified Mrs. Trask, shame on you!

    As nasty and bitter as Minerva is, Clarice Blackburn does a fantastic job of adding just hint of pathos to a generally unlikable character. I do find myself feeling strangely sorry for her.
    If only she had said “yes” to the brandy, everything might have turned out differently. Perhaps she was a “jolly” drunk, and never got to find out.

    1. I really like Minerva in this episode. She stands up for herself, she speaks truth and she brings over plum preserves, which is more than any other Collinwood guest ever brings. I bet it’s delicious.

      I liked this character last year too, when she was called Abigail. She was a crazy loose cannon who improved every scene she appeared in. She also happened to be the only person on the great estate with the ability to step back and look at what was really going on. Like Trask, her only real mistake was picking out Vicki as the perpetrator rather than Angelique. And even then, she had the instinct to lock up Victoria Winters, which is a great idea on its own.

      1. I also like that Minerva and Judith are “rivals” as Judith has a lot in common with Abigail (the pious spinster sister). Of course, Minerva herself highlights the differences between the characters — I couldn’t see Abigail falling in love or believing even for a moment that Trask’s interest in her wasn’t simply financial.

        Regarding why Trask would marry Minerva, I presume that was also purely financial and social. It wouldn’t surprise me if the school itself (or the money to found it) came from Minerva’s family (Trask mentions being a “young teacher” in today’s episode). And even if Trask had money of his own, it wouldn’t do for him to marry even someone like Dorcas Trilling.

        Oh, and when I re-watched this episode before reading this blog post, I was stunned by how much STORY there is in it: Trask walks in on Evan and Quentin, his fractious relationship with Minerva and possible interest in Julia is explored, he blackmails Evan, and manipulates Tim into being the instrument for his wife’s murder. This would quite literally be three weeks of story on DS two years ago. DS is officially no longer a “daytime soap” by traditional standards. This episode counted. If you missed it, you’d have a lot to catch up on and the show isn’t going to hold your hand.

        1. I agree. Trask always makes a move for money and doesn’t have a loving bone in his body. I imagine poor Minerva might have been expecting a happier, religious life and turned into a sourpuss when she discovered she was married to an opportunistic hypocrite. By the way my great- grandmother was named Minerva and was Nora’s age in 1897.

      2. I think Minerva has had just about enough.

        Clarice Blackburn is one of Dark Shadows great “secret weapons”, like Thayer David, or John Karlen.

        Blackburn is so serious, and yet, much of what’s funny comes from her
        I love it when Mrs Johnson says “I’m not one to gossip, but…”

  2. On the TV show Angel, “they” were referred to as “The Powers that be”.

    Perhaps it’s the same principle in operation here, some god like figures amusing themselves by swapping babies and changing the sex of Vampire hunters at the last minute.

    I mean Collinwood is obviously built right on a Hellmouth, there must be some reason why so much supernatural power is focused around that property over the course of 300 years.

    1. On the soap chatboards, “they” are referred to as the idiots in charge.
      Really though, if you won’t party with Quentin, you’re pretty much dead from the neck up.
      Or the waist down – Minerva missed her one shot at gettin’ wild with the handsomest man on TV. No wonder she’s so annoyed.

  3. Whoever THEY are, THEY have my gratitude, since it can only be through the machinations of a supernatural cosmic conspiracy that a TV show as improbable as DARK SHADOWS could even exist.

  4. Hey, that’s a great question about what happens to Adam when Barnabas uses the I Ching. Well, most likely Adam went back in time to 1897 as well, and then probably three things happened:

    He shows up at Sam Evans’ cottage only to find another painter, Charles Delaware Tate, in residence there. Frustrated, he knocks over Tate’s easel, says “No, not friend!”, and then storms off.

    Later he passes by Collinwood, hears music coming from the drawing room inside, so he wanders in to listen more closely. Quentin is passed out on the settee from brandy as his theme plays on the gramophone. Frustrated yet again, Adam topples over the gramophone, says “No, not music!”, and walks out. Because everyone else is asleep and Quentin is passed out, no one bothers to take note of Adam’s presence there. When Quentin awakes, he assumes he merely knocked it over himself as he stumbled over to the settee to pass out.

    Dejected and tired, Adam eventually arrives at the apartment of a graduate student by the name of Tom Everett Stokes. Adam says “Food!”, and out of pity Stokes takes Adam in, and Adam stays there for a while, sipping sherry, reading books, and playing games of cards and chess and generally having not too bad of a time, until Barnabas at last returns to 1969–though Adam’s sudden disappearance at that point puzzles and mystifies T. Everett Stokes so profoundly that he switches his major from archaeology to focus instead on the study of occult practices and metaphysics, during which time he manages to acquire a set of I Ching wands, which will eventually be handed down to his descendant, T. Eliot Stokes.

    1. Yes, phenomenal. I am a big believer in the idea that Adam leads a puzzling existence over the next couple years, drifting back and forth between time periods and dimensions, completely screwing up his otherwise successful adjunct professorship. Inspiring Stokes’ ancestor is exactly what Adam should be doing.

      1. I have a weakness for almost happy endings, so I’ve pictured Adam like this: Stokes helps Adam fly off to Europe to make all the nasty scars go away. Then on to a successful career back in the states, as a mysterious, charismatic motivational speaker and author, with an almost cult-like following.
        Adam doesn’t go anywhere when Barnabas times trips, but occasionally sees parts of it, in his dreams.
        He finds it “enlightening”, in his Sunday afternoon phone conversation with Stokes.

        Or maybe Adam goes back to 1897, and gets in a great big giant fight with Quentin, when the moon is full, ’cause, you know–

  5. Before I forget:

    They call up The Devil.
    They get Reverend Trask,
    a “man of the cloth”, or so he appears.
    Is it possible they got what they were asking for, after all?
    It’s quite hilarious, if you think about it.
    Did the censors say anything?

    And Quentin does a beautifully timed “pass-out”, and hits the floor.

    1. DS had a stunningly cynical view of religion – at least its so-called advocates anyway. There isn’t a decent one in the bunch. Just another reason DS was the most dangerous show of the 1960s. And nobody ever noticed.

        1. The bland Reverend Bland.
          I guess all the dastardly ones were named Trask.
          They were the bad seed, the bad penny.

      1. Unfortunately, phony religious people are one of those things that have gone to the other extreme, and they’re now a great big cliché in entertainment. But, yes, when Dark Shadows was on, it could still be considered bold to show that kind of character.

      2. Note that everyone who impunes a Trask on DS makes a point of saying that they doubt he is a “real” clergyman. That was necessary to say in those days. In the movie “Night of the Hunter” from the mid 50s, at the outset of the movie, the self-styled preacher played by Robert Mitchum is arrested for stealing a car, and the judge – the ultimate shirt-tucking authority figure – tells him, “You’re no preacher!” They could show a bad cleric, but they had to say he was a fake one.

  6. All this talk of clocks that don’t work properly reminds me of a short film my friends and I made back in school. It was a film noir parody, and it ended with the detective and the client getting drunk together. We tried to show the passage of several hours of boozing by zopming in on the clock, fading out, moving the hands, and then fadong back in and zooming out to drunk-acting actors. But, we moved the wrong hand in the wrong direction, and it ended up looking like they had only taken 14 minutes to get absolutely stinking sloshed out of their skulls.

  7. Tony Peterson is obviously the grandson of Charity/Pansy.

    And Minerva is the perfect wife for Gregory Trask: she believes the crap he spouts, she looks exactly the way the wife of person he pretends to be should look, and she prevents the old women he bilks from getting any permanent ideas about him.

  8. I’m impressed that they got away with including all of this occulty jib jab on a TV show with a young audience. I doubt that this would be allowed today — remember all of the Christian parents who were trying to get Harry Potter banned from libraries because the books were teaching the kids how to become witches and warlocks?

  9. and i’m so impressed that Danny made the correlation to La Reine Margot on the poisoned book!

    There is a beautiful 1994 French film based on the Dumas novel that features a fabulous cast, opulent costumes and gorgeous sets depicting Renaissance France when the royal family lived at the Louvre. The scheming Queen Mother, Catherine de Medici, played by an amazing Virna Lisi, tells her private apothecary/perfumer to paint the pages of a book with arsenic, then instructs that it be given to her son-in-law, Henri of Navarre, husband to Margot. It is a book on hunting: Henri is an avid hunter. Unfortunately, so is her son King Charles IX, who finds the book first. The ensuing ordeal is a blood bath, as is pretty much the whole movie. Poor Charlie 9 proceeds to sweat blood in a slow agonizing death.

    i tried to find an image online of French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade reading the book in the very same fashion as our own dear Tim Shaw: lick finger/turn page. In the film, Charles IX licks his finger in an attempt to separate the sticky pages infused with the dreadful potion.

    In a mirror image of La Reine Margot, the Dark Shadows audience is also aware the book is poisoned and can only watch in horror as life unravels for the hapless victim.

  10. Paired with yesterday’s ending, today’s reprise constitutes a great two-part entrance. As Richard suggests, the irony that Evan was summoning the Devil when Trask appeared is delicious. It is also differently ironic to the viewer from what it is to Trask who seems to think that the irony is that he is the opposite of the Devil. We, on the contrary, know that Evan more or less got what he was asking for.

    The scene between Minerva and Quentin reminded me of a man I met in San Francisco in the 1980s. He told my wife that when he was a teen he had done something similar to what Quentin does to Minerva (he was not talking about DS, though) only he did it to several of his mother’s friends. He would ask them about their beliefs and then he would sow doubt by asking subtle but probing questions. He claimed he succeeded in unnerving several of these poor women. A smart guy, not necessarily using his smarts for Good.

  11. Minor blooper: Evan mispronounces précis, getting the vowels the wrong way round.

    I’m amazed at how far this show has come – gone are the days of pussyfooting around with “the dark lord” and “Diabolos”, now it’s straight-up chanting for Satan.

    Tim reads really fast. I don’t know why that seems like such an attractive quality, but it does.

  12. I would have loved to have seen a story in which Barnabas goes back from 1969 to, say, 1865, to solve yet another Collins family riddle that involves Judith and Quentin’s parents, and finds there…lo and behold…fellow time-traveller Victoria Winters, who has traveled ahead in time, from 1797. They meet and form an alliance to protect to the Collins family from a new, mysterious and terrifying supernatural enemy.

    1. I liked Vicki a lot and was sad to see her go. But it’s hard to imagine how they could have done anything good by bringing her back after she and Peter Jeff go west.

  13. “They” drink, go to the theater and eat at fancy restaurants. They sound French to me. I bet Josette is one of They. She did keep taking over Vicki during those seances.
    Also, why do the Collinses open their own doors? At some point I think Quentin tells someone a maid will answer the door, though why he should expect that I have no idea! Beth and Rachel open the door several times, but it’s just as likely to be Judith, Edward or Quentin. They’re supposed to have money. Why don’t they have a butler?
    As to the stopped clock at Trask’s school, my guess is that Minerva usually winds the clocks. Currently, she has decided her husband can wind his own damn clock.

  14. Maybe it’s because we just endured 2 years of COVID, but Tim Shaw licking his finger after touching each page of that dirty manuscript left me kind of queasy. On the bright side, we got to look at Don Briscoe for a while, although I don’t care for his dorky schoolteacher costume.

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