Episode 773: The Persecution and Assassination of Minerva Trask as Performed by Tim Shaw Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade

“My father won’t let her be dead!”

Okay, quick recap: Reverend Trask wants Evan Hanley to get Tim Shaw to kill his wife. No, not Tim’s wife, Trask’s wife. Tim doesn’t have a wife. Apparently, Evan does have a wife, but we never see her, so who knows. Look, it doesn’t matter whether Evan has a wife.

The point is that Reverend Trask has future plans that do not involve Minerva Trask as an active participant, so he needs her out of the way. Enter Satanist lawyer Evan Hanley, who’s worked up some kind of weird juju where he can hypnotize a guy into killing somebody by licking his fingers. I mean, the guy licks his own fingers, and then they play cards, and whoever plays the Queen of Spades gets poisoned. End of recap.

773 dark shadows minerva tim useless

So, yeah, this is not one of Dark Shadows’ all-time coherent user-facing plot points, but today’s the day it all pays off. Tim’s got some nightshade, Minerva’s playing solitaire, and it looks like it’s going to be one of those magical evenings.

As usual, Minerva is crabby and dismissive, berating her employee and making excuses for herself. Minerva runs this Dickensian nightmare punishment school, and Tim is no longer her star employee.

Until recently, Minerva had wanted Tim to marry her daughter, so that they would be stuck at the school forever, permanently under her control. But the Trasks have recently made the acquaintance of the wealthy Collins family, and Minerva has revised her expectations upwards. Seeing an opportunity for Charity to ensnare soft-brained bachelor Carl Collins, Minerva has no further use for Tim, and she makes no attempt to conceal her contempt for him.

Naturally, Tim has every reason to despise Mrs. Trask in return, plus he’s spent the last several weeks being painstakingly trained as a deep cover assassin, ready to murder her when he sees the Queen of Spades.

Now he’s standing by, watching her solitaire game, and waiting for the signal to put an end to her miserable life. What we’ve got here is a literal case of player hating.

773 dark shadows minerva tim bow

Now, the interesting question is: what are we waiting for? Neither of these characters are particularly likeable, and we’re not rooting for either of them. But the show has successfully set up a situation that generates suspense, and that has value of its own.

Suspense is that pleasurable sensation of knowing that something in this story is going to change, but not quite knowing what the change will be, or how it’s going to play out. It’s basically a trick that writers play on the audience, building up expectations and then delaying the resolution just long enough to keep us interested. If the resolution takes too long, we’re going to lose patience and realize that we don’t really care what happens to these imaginary people, so timing is everything.

In this case, there are two options for how this scenario is going to go: Tim will successfully poison Minerva, or something will get in the way and interrupt them. Both options are equally likely — we know that Tim’s got the nightshade and is ready to roll, but we just saw Charity leave this room a few minutes ago, and there’s no reason why she couldn’t walk back in and derail the assassination.

773 dark shadows evan tim poison

But there are several cues outside of this particular scene that shape our expectations about what’s going to happen. For one thing, over the last couple weeks they’ve spent the better part of four episodes on Tim’s hypno-training. We’ve seen Evan and Tim doing a series of trial runs, sometimes twice in the same episode, to the point where we simply cannot wait until this is over.

If Charity comes in and interrupts the current poisoning, then we’ve wasted a lot of time, and there’s a non-zero chance that we might have to sit through more training sessions, which would be intolerable.

773 dark shadows tim nightshade

Also, Tim handed Minerva the poisoned tea at the end of yesterday’s episode, which marks this moment as a cliffhanger that we’re supposed to care about. Yes, that was a Tuesday, and what are the odds that somebody’s going to die first thing Wednesday, but Minerva’s a secondary character at best, so it’s plausible. If the resolution is that Minerva spills the tea and we have to start over again, then that would be a boring waste of a decent cliffhanger, and it might impair our trust in the show’s thrilling cliffhangers.

Note that the critical threat is not to Minerva herself. She’s a make-believe person, and not even a main character. The real tension in this moment is the threat to our patience, and our continued enjoyment of a show that we like. That is the only suspense that actually matters.

773 dark shadows minerva tim thanks

So let’s watch this play out for a minute.

Tim sees Minerva play the Queen of Spades, so that’s his sleeper-agent barista cue to serve her a piping hot venti nightshade.

She gives him a grudging “thank you,” sets the cup down on the table, and continues her game.

773 dark shadows minerva tim hover

Noticing that he’s still hovering around her, she says, “You may go now, we have nothing further to talk about.”

But he can’t take his eyes off of her. He says, “I want to be sure that the tea is all right,” enunciating each word to make sure the audience knows exactly how thrilling this customer service moment really is.

773 dark shadows minerva drink

So she takes a sip, very exciting, big crescendo, and that’s the end of Tuesday.

773 dark shadows minerva tim oh fer

When we return, she’s basically brushed her mouth against the tea, and she makes a face. “Oh, it’s so bitter!” she complains. “I shouldn’t have let it steep so long.”

Then she puts down the cup and resumes her solitaire game. And Tim is just standing there, making a hand gesture that basically translates as Oh, for Pete’s sake! What does a guy have to do to poison somebody around here?

773 dark shadows minerva tim pouring

He offers some sugar, but she says no, it just needs a little more hot water, and she gets up and helps herself.

773 dark shadows minerva tim watching

Settling herself back down at the table, she takes another sip. Tim is agog, as if he’s never seen a human being drink tea before, and it’s a captivating spectacle.

773 dark shadows minerva why

Minerva gets a couple sips down her gullet, and then turns to her entourage.

“What are you staring at me for?” she snaps. “Why don’t you go to your room and finish that work you’ve been neglecting?”

Tim doesn’t move, and she says, “Well, what are you waiting for?”

773 dark shadows tim waiting

That turns out to be a very good question, and it applies to us as well. What are we waiting for?

Tim is watching Minerva carefully — and so are we, following along with every tiny step of this process. Excited when she picks up the cup, disappointed when she puts it down, wondering when it’s going to happen.

In this moment, we are Tim, eagerly watching so that we don’t miss a second of this crabby old woman’s excruciatingly painful death. We’re not waiting anxiously and wondering when the cavalry will arrive — there’s no tracking shot of another character sprinting down the hallway, ready to intervene. It’s just Minerva, and Tim, and the nightshade, and us. Nobody is leaving this room until we watch this lady breathe her last, on camera.

We are the unwitting killer now, dragged into this through no conscious act of our own, just hypnotized into watching and waiting for the first sign of success. And we’re smiling, as Tim is smiling, knowing that it’s about to come, and sharing in the grim pleasure he takes in this act.

773 dark shadows minerva tim stab

The first stab of pain hits. Minerva says, “What’s wrong with you?” as Tim leans in for a close-up, directing our gaze to her anguished expression. And that’s another excellent question — what is wrong with us, that we take pleasure in this moment?

We watched Minerva take her first sip at the end of yesterday’s episode, and we waited a whole day, excited to see what would happen next. We specifically tuned in today, making sure that we were in front of the TV at 4pm sharp, to watch this lady choke and scream and die. What is wrong with us?

773 dark shadows minerva tim concern

She clutches her chest, and starts to gasp.

“Reverend Trask has told me not to get too excited,” she pants. She’s finding it hard to catch her breath. “I have very high blood pressure, you know.”

“Why, no, I didn’t,” Tim says, taking everything in.

773 dark shadows minerva tim pain

Our victim sinks back into her chair. “Oh!” she breathes. “I have this — pain!”

Turning to Tim, she snaps, “Why don’t you leave?” which is another good question.

773 dark shadows minerva tim help

The dead woman struggles to her feet, and Tim urges her to sit back down. “Phone! Doctor!” she cries, fighting for her life.

“No, no, sit here,” Tim murmurs. “I’ll do that for you.”

773 dark shadows minerva tim glide

He glides to the phone, as the condemned woman chokes out a few last words.

“I don’t — I don’t know what this is! I’ve — never — had anything like this — ohhh!”

And then Tim picks up the phone and taps at it for a while, clearly not calling anybody. “Operator?” he chirps. There’s no reason why he has to dick around like this, she’s clearly not going to pull through. He’s just amusing himself with a few more moments of tantalizing false hope.

773 dark shadows minerva dark

“It’s — it’s dark!” she whispers. “The light — it’s — it’s getting so dark!”

And yeah, it is. It’s been getting dark for a couple minutes now. There’s no hope of saving her at this point; even if Charity burst through the door with an entire hospital in her reticule, we’re clearly watching the final moments, in detail.

They could cut away at this point, if they wanted to. They could go to a different scene, and spare us the gruesome sight of watching every individual organ shutting down, one by one. But that’s the point, obviously. They want us to see every step, because they know that we’re taking pleasure in her slow and painful demise.

773 dark shadows minerva story

This is the way that people respond to stories. When someone is telling you a story, your only loyalty is to your own patience. You want something interesting to happen, and interesting things are better than boring things.

So, picture this: Tim hands Minerva a cup of Sleepytime Nightshade. She takes a sip, puts it down and returns to the solitaire. Tim stands there and watches. She takes another sip, and keeps on playing solitaire. Then another sip, and another. At some point you realize that you’re just watching an ordinary evening, and sooner or later she’s going to ask for a refill.

Imagine how you would respond to a scene like that. You’d be going out of your mind. What the hell? you would say. When is this bitch going to start dying?

773 dark shadows minerva tim why

And there you are: an accessory. Even worse, you’re eager about it. You can’t wait. You have specifically chosen to turn on your television and watch this woman die.

Now, I actually like Minerva, as a character. She’s bossy and crazy, and she shouts a lot, and I don’t think she’s ever had a boring scene. She’s a lot better than Tim, who’s just lame and brings nothing to the table. Wouldn’t you rather watch Tim drink poison? That would be a way better scene.

Except it wouldn’t, and what is happening to your values? It’s not funny to poison somebody; it’s evil and sad. You’re not the kind of person who walks into a room, and chooses the person you’d like to see drink poison. Except for right now, of course, when you absolutely are.

773 dark shadows minerva tim last

Minerva actually looks directly at us, right through the screen, and in a last rattle of breath, she screams, “Why are you just STANDING there? WHY DON’T YOU HELP ME?”

Feeling another wave of pain break over her, she reaches out to us. “HELP ME, PLEASE!” she begs.

And we don’t, obvously. We just watch, and she suffers, and she dies.

773 dark shadows minerva cry

There is something powerful and amazing and unbelievably dangerous about the way we process stories. The structure of a story, the preparation and promise, the way that a scene plays out — it can make you want things that in other circumstances you would absolutely not want.

A story can make you watch a woman die, and enjoy the spectacle. A story can make you take pleasure in other people’s suffering.

It’s even possible for a story to make you fall in love with a serial killer. There are a surprising number of stories like that. One of them is called Dark Shadows.

And a story can make you hate people, too — hate them so much that you want them to lose their job, or go to jail, or get deported from your country. Just imagine the terrible things that a story could get you to do. Then go watch the news.

Tomorrow: What’s Up Dirk.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In act 1, when the scene shifts from the Queen of Spades to Charity drinking from her teacup, there’s a lot of whispering and footsteps from the studio.

There’s more studio noise a few minutes later, when Evan picks up the Queen of Spades and re-hypnotizes Tim. It’s kind of a rhythmic tapping sound, possibly hammering, and it goes on for about 15 seconds.

Dark Shadows Wiki says that you can see Minerva blink after she’s dead. I’m sure that’s true, but I didn’t notice it, and I don’t really have the patience to go and look for it, so you’ll have to locate that on your own.

Rachel reminds Tim of the abandoned house that they hid in the first night that they escaped from Worthington Hall — Peabody’s Farm, on the Collins estate. But Worthington Hall was nowhere near the Collins estate then; it was at least a lengthy carriage ride away. The school only moved to Collinwood a month ago.

At the start of act 3, Evan is knocking on Rachel’s door, and he calls out, “Miss Shaw…” A minute later, when Rachel gasps, “Mrs. Trask?” Evan says, “Ho ho, you do that very well, Mrs. Drummond!”

Evan throws his gun on Rachel’s bed when he starts manhandling her, and then he forgets all about it. A minute later, he leaves and locks Rachel in, with the gun still on her bed.

Behind the Scenes:

Here’s a note on the sets from friend of the blog PrisoneroftheNIght:

Did you notice something familiar about the room in which Minerva Trask is poisoned? The doorway–and the adjoining wood paneling that makes up the inside corner of the far wall–is the one piece of stage redressing that appears completely unchanged in 1897 from when it was first shown in episodes from 1966 and 1967: it’s the doorway from the Collinsport Diner. The hallway outside resembles the lobby and front door of the Collinsport Hotel as well, with the front door of Worthington Hall placed exactly in the same position and at the same distance as the Collinsport Hotel front entrance was from the doorway to the coffee shop.
What made the set designers decide on this particular piece of set redressing, considering that it is only used for a scene where someone is poisoned and then the aftermath? We never see this room again, do we? A bit of black humor, intentional or unintentional, to use the doorway and inside corner of the Collinsport coffee shop for a scene in 1897 where the only thing on the menu is deadly nightshade.
I just love Dark Shadows!

Tomorrow: What’s Up Dirk.

773 dark shadows tea

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

27 thoughts on “Episode 773: The Persecution and Assassination of Minerva Trask as Performed by Tim Shaw Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade

  1. Considering the kind of show this is, there aren’t that many drawn-out death scenes. Two of the best are played by Clarice Blackburn, first as Abigail, and now, as Minerva. A death scene by a lesser actor can sometimes come across as silly, but Blackburn is a great actress, and this is her cup of tea, (pun intended, and unintended).

    There are a few Hitchcockian aspects at work today, (especially with the supernatural not being involved).

    Hitch didn’t like to have death come easily, he liked it to be awkward and clumsy and ugly. Hitch didn’t like guns, too impersonal; you could kill a person from across the street. That’s not very nice.
    Murder is an intimate affair. Hitch liked things like knives, or great big scissors, because you had to be up-close, and personal. Strangulation also counts, and possibly pushing someone off Widow’s Hill.
    I think poisoning your boss and standing around to watch is fairly personal, and Minerva’s death was certainly slow, ghastly, rude and perfect.

    Hitch used to love playing around with the whole “reassignment of guilt”, making the killer sympathetic, even likable, getting you on their side, turning you into a guilty party.
    I think Tim makes for an interesting, subtly sinister villain, and it’s true, we find ourselves wanting him to get away with it, and not get caught.
    The funny thing is, Tim is innocent, and this is really the work of that son-of-a-goat, Evan Handley. No wait, it’s actually The Devil, I mean Gregory Trask, who is the real killer here.
    Through the miracles of blackmail, and drug induced mind-control, the Hot Potato of Guilt has been passed around, quite literally.

    1. I really liked this subplot from 1897, and I think you just explained why to me. Plus, it was kind of nice to get a brief break from the were folk/vampire/witch/fire lady menagerie.

      I liked DS best when it mixed supernatural events with mere mortal skullduggery.

    2. I’m glad you brought up the Hitchcock-like feeling of this episode. I thought exactly the same thing when I watched it the first time! It reminded me of a few Hitchcock scenes, most notably the sustained murder scene in “Torn Curtain”, so chilling on so many levels. This DS scene is made even greater by the incredible acting of Clarice Blackburn. She is brilliant here.

      1. You got me. Of course I was thinking about Torn Curtain, the ultimate textbook example of the slow, awkward Hitchcock murder. Paul Newman and Julie Andrews having to kill the bad guy without making any noise, and the guy refuses to go quietly.
        It’s as if Chico and Harpo Marx had to kill someone, only scarier, and with a Bernard Herrmann score.

        1. I believe that is Carolyn Conwell as the farmer’s wife who helps Paul Newman kill Wolfgang Kieling by sticking his head in the oven.

          I did see Clarice Blackburn’s eyelid flutter slightly. It isn’t a big deal, especially by DS standards.

          BTW, I am noticing vast improvement in the special effects dept. In a subsequent episode, we’re going to see Dirk in Judith’s bedroom disappear by Chromakey. It works. He is the right size and everything.

  2. Evan Hanley has a wife with expensive tastes. That’s one of the first things Quentin says when we meet Evan. I remember this only because I literally just watched the episode. 🙂

  3. Yes, it’s despicable to watch an innocent person die, but I admit that I took pleasure in knowing that Tim would take total blame for it. If his was a more likable character, this would be a doubly depressing episode but he’s so tedious and pathetic (and what a waste of Don Briscoe!)

  4. One thing I don’t get (well, one OF the things); why does Evan tell Tim to forget he killed Minerva? Wouldn’t it be easier, prosecution wise, to make Tim believe that he is guilty, he hated Minerva, he needed to kill her? (Like Lionel Atwill did to Lon Chaney Jr. in “Man Made Monster” from 1941.)
    Okay, maybe I’m just disappointed that Evan’s wasting a perfectly good hypno-zombie. A programmable Tim-bot? Just think of the possibilities! We could start with losing that nerdy hairstyle and the whole ‘licking his finger to turn book pages’ thing, and go on from there…

    1. Two of the things that make THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE work so well are that we don’t see any of Raymond Shaw’s training, and that when he sees the Queen of Diamonds he goes into a trance that strips him of all personality.

      The training scenes here show why the first of those was so important. Not only are the scenes tedious, they force us to realize that the very idea we most have to take seriously is in fact preposterous. Whatever power you might imagine hypnosis or drugs or other conditioning techniques to have, they obviously couldn’t turn a human brain into a digital computer.

      And Tim’s talkativeness while in his trance shows why the second element is essential. Raymond might do absolutely anything when he’s in his hyper-suggestible state. A bartender mentions the phrase “Go jump in a lake” and Raymond jumps in the nearest lake. That’s terrifying, because it is terrifying to think of what people might do who had no mind or will controlling their actions from moment to moment. But Tim’s endless chit-chat doesn’t suggest a soulless automaton. There seems to be a mind in there, it just isn’t a very nice or very interesting mind.

      Don Briscoe’s performance doesn’t add much to this unpromising material. I can’t think of anything he might have done to make it work, and neither could he. Anyway, I’m glad it’s over.

  5. If you ever have to rely on closed captions to watch DS, you will be disappointed to know that the captioners are generally terrible. Whoever captioned this episode is particularly in bad form, incorrectly transcribing many words and phrases.

    1. Yes, sometimes I watch DS late at night with the sound low enough that I can’t always hear what’s being said if the actors aren’t shouting, so the captions are a must, but most of the time I just sit there shaking my head in disbelief at the poor captioning. I can understand mishearing a line or two but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Rachel says “I told her I would fail her if she didn’t finish the bonnet”, not “I told her I wouldn’t fail her if she didn’t finish the bonnet”. One of these sentences makes sense in the context of the scene and the other one does not.

      1. We have the captions on every night, and it’s just appalling how bad they get. Makes me glad I still have my hearing, and think how frustrating it must be for deaf people to follow captions.

  6. Watching Minerva die of poisoning really bothered me, more than any other killing on the show.

  7. I think Evan Hanley put the hypno-drug on the pages of the Latin text that Tim was translating. Every time Tim licked his fingers to turn the page, he ingested the drug.

  8. What I liked about this ep was the smooth, melodic intonation of Tim’s dialogue, and the way he leaned over her as if straining to catch a whiff of her scent. He was as attentive as a lover to Mrs. Trask, and I could have watched a bit more of the comedy of their last moments together- and comedy it was, though black, of course.

    It would have been even more amusing if Mrs. Trask had started to feel flattered and began to “flirt” back. A nice little twist of the knife just when the poison kicked in. In the end, it was Mrs. Trask’s obdurate entitlement and snobbishness that made us all take due satisfaction in her brief but not painless demise.

    Also, perhaps the best title for one of these entries in the entire blog.

    1. Seems it had been generally treated as a kidney ailement until about 1896: “hypertension as a medical entity really came into being in 1896 with the invention of the cuff-based sphygmomanometer by Scipione Riva-Rocci in 1896, which allowed blood pressure to be measured in the clinic.”

  9. I just have a problem with Minerva playing a card game during her leisure time. She seems more the type to read an Improving Text, or make preserves or knit scratchy wool long johns for the students.

    1. I think this “hobby” was used to show her as hypocritical beyond what we have been aware of up to this point. Card playing was very frowned on and considered sinful by some denominations and still is. The other activities would be more righteous and not show her as a villain so much.

      Dan, thank you for this blog! I started watching again two years ago and found you. I wanted a lit crit/media studies thing to read along with my viewing, and your blog was exactly what I was looking for—and hilarious too! This is where I am reading, but I’m in the 1140s watching the Coffin Set, so I’m behind reading, but at least everything is pretty fresh in my memory and not just what I remember from the “I ran home” days! I realized that I missed a lot of 1970PT because I was sick with pneumonia during that April and hospitalized for 10 days but I remembered Cyrus/John (thanks to Chris Pennock of blessed memory). I also didn’t see much of 1840 because I had a nice boyfriend by that time and missed too much to follow it properly (I do remember bits and pieces). Almost all of this is new to my husband, so he’s really loving it a lot. We’re having a great time! Thank you for being part of our enjoyment!😊✊

      1. oh, i was unaware we lost chris recently. appreciate the chance to send some prayers his way. he sounds like a righteous dude

      2. I thought the same thing about the cards. If it was her guilty pleasure she wouldn’t be playing in front of Tim. So my theory is that she has lived so long in her own religious realm that she’s made her own rules to suit her temperament and tastes. And it’s not like going out to theaters, so there.

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