“This hand, it is not my servant. I tell it what to do, yes, but it has powers that I do not possess.”
If you think about it, it’s almost like this is a real soap opera. For months, the odious Reverend Gregory Trask has been slowly building a relationship with Judith Collins, the current mistress of Collinwood. He admires her virtue, her generosity of spirit, her strength of character, and (most of all) her enormous family fortune. If you admire somebody at close range like that for long enough, it’s going to make an impression.
Then a couple weeks ago, he arranged for his wife Minerva to be killed, and after a barely suitable mourning period, he laid his heart, such as it is, at Judith’s feet.
Now, looking at the structure of the other current storylines, it’s obvious that they’re just being made up from day to day — all this King Johnny Romano nonsense, and everybody suddenly knowing about the legendary hand of Count Petofi. Last week, Magda said that Julianka was dead, but she’s going to show up two weeks from now, alive and temporarily healthy. Barnabas’ fake “engagement” to Angelique, Edward becoming a vampire hunter, Jamison’s dream that had clues about Quentin’s death — remember that one?
All of those supernatural stories are just drifting onscreen and then off again, bumping into each other with no rational plan. But underneath, the writers have been carefully crafting this Trask/Judith seduction story, one story beat after another. There’s been an actual soap opera storyline just sitting there all this time, hiding in plain sight.
And so today, against all odds, we have a real soap opera scene, and under these circumstances, it’s actually more baffling than anything else.
Edward enters Collinwood, wearing a top hat and gloves. Quentin asks how Bangor was, and Edward grumbles, “I loathe these quick trips,” removing the hat and tugging at his gloves. “Has everything been all right here?”
Everything has not been all right. Their brother Carl was killed a week ago, just another in the long series of gruesome murders happening within easy walking distance of the spot where they’re currently standing. And just a few days ago, Edward was standing guard at the Old House with a revolver, waiting for his undead ghoul of a cousin to return to its resting place. I don’t know what could possibly be so interesting in Bangor all of a sudden, but I guess sometimes you just need to get away.
And this is a nice break for everyone, because now — for the duration of one scene — we’re in a different show that happens to take place on the same set.
Quentin says something about “enjoying the dubious pleasures of the village,” which connects to nothing at all, and then they go into the drawing room to tease Judith for a while.
Judith has some news to share, but she says, “I’d hoped that dear Gregory would be here by the time you both got back, but he’s at the school.”
“Where he should be, I might add!” Edward bellows. “I can’t understand how Trask has become so important in this family. ‘Dear Gregory’, indeed. The fellow’s simply a schoolmaster.”
“He’s more than that, Edward,” Judith smiles. “He’s my husband.”
Naturally, Quentin the Discordian trickster thinks this is the funniest thing he’s ever heard. It’s an unexpected surprise that kicks off a whole new generation of family squabbles, and there’s nothing he likes more than when everyone around him is fighting over something he doesn’t care about.
But Edward has other views.
Judith: Edward, you like Gregory.
Edward: As my son’s tutor, yes.
Judith: But you admire him, I’ve heard you say so.
Edward: That doesn’t mean I want him in the family.
Judith: You don’t want anyone in the family! No one I could bring here, at least. You never wanted me to marry.
Edward: Frankly, I never thought anyone would have the courage to ask you.
Judith: Well, Gregory did!
Edward: And why, do you suppose? Why? For your money!
Judith: Don’t say that!
And Judith hauls off and slaps Edward in the face: WHAM! Hail Eris, all hail Discordia!
But there is a serious problem here, even more serious than Edward realizes. After Judith, the money is supposed to pass to Edward’s young son, Jamison — the future of the Collins family name. Now, Judith is giving Trask control, and we’ve already seen how he behaves when there’s money at stake.
With no fanfare, just quietly trotting along in the background, this story has set up a nice, juicy threat to Edward, Jamison and the Collins family that we know. Trask marrying Judith and potentially diverting the inheritance away from Jamison is a cataclysmic threat to the entire premise of the show, and nobody’s paid any attention.
We’ve already seen an unscrupulous, fortune-hunting husband plotting to murder a Collins child — that’s what Nathan Forbes did, back in 1795. Trask murdered his own wife to get his hands on the money; he’s probably got the nightshade on hand, just waiting for a private moment alone in the pantry with Jamison and Nora’s box of Strawberry Quik.
And if Trask succeeds, then the Collins family that we know in the 1960s will never have existed. Plus, Carl’s dead, Quentin and Edward are penniless — there isn’t much hope for any more Collins children. Collinwood will belong, now and forevermore, to the Trasks.
As you know, long-term serialized narrative is natural selection for stories — a process that tests out new characters and story ideas, and allows the strongest to thrive. But Dark Shadows, more than any other serial I can think of, is actually a battle for supremacy between different kinds of stories. This is a program where “what is the genre of this television show” is an ongoing, active concern.
That question really is important, because our ability to follow the story depends on our understanding of what kind of story we’re watching. If this is a murder mystery, then we need to pay attention to everybody’s motives, and threats of reprisal. If it’s a bedroom farce, then we’re waiting for stuffed shirt Edward to get his hilarious comeuppance. And if this is a nonstop five-alarm Universal Monsters spookshow carnival — and that is exactly what it has become these days — then this scene should not even exist.
The only other TV show that I can think of which plays with genre to this extent is Doctor Who, which literally moves the main characters from one planet to another every single episode. Dark Shadows is doing the same kind of Discordian narrative experimentation, and the whole show basically takes place in one house.
It doesn’t last, of course, nothing truly beautiful ever does. In a couple minutes, Judith will be haunted by the furious ghost of Minerva Trask, which is followed by a noisy argument between a werewolf, a gypsy and the smushed-up remains of a Satanist lawyer. And then Dark Shadows is back to normal, or whatever the equivalent is when you’re so far away from normal that you forget what it looks like.
But for a moment, at least, Dark Shadows was a soap opera again, where people have families and relationships and important business words written down on pieces of paper. And as much as I love the nonstop spookshow, it would probably be better for the long-term health of the show to pull back from the chaos a bit, and try to focus on normal human story beats once in a while.
If they keep going in this direction, I’d expect them to run out of productive story ideas in — oh, I don’t know, maybe a year and a half from now. And that would be awful, wouldn’t it?
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Magda tells Quentin that Barnabas told him to bring the deformed man to the Old House. Quentin asks, “Why did he tell you that?” and Magda waits too long to respond. Quentin follows with, “Huh?” just as Magda starts her line.
When Magda leads Evan from the Old House drawing room to the cellar, and Quentin looks at the Petofi box, you can see the top of the set.
Edward reminds Judith that Edith’s will guaranteed that he and Quentin would always have a place to live at Collinwood. Actually, when they read the will, Quentin was the only one mentioned.
During the end credits, you can see a little patch of green carpet around the tree, and it looks like there’s an extension cord there too.
— Danny Horn