“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.
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.”
“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.”
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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:
For more information about my crackpot lost princess time travel conspiracy theory, and other crucial areas of concern:
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.
— Danny Horn