“I know your feeling. Everyone I love must die, too.”
“How dark it is!” says the unresting spirit of Julianka. “I do not like death at all!” She was only killed a few hours ago, so she hasn’t had a lot of time to get used to it, but here she is, already submitting her post-mortem Yelp review. I guess even dead people get impatient sometimes. That’s kind of comforting, in a way.
Julianka is a young gypsy girl — well, was, I suppose — who came to Collinsport to retrieve the Legendary Hand of Count Petofi, which everybody is super into these days. Magda stole the magical Hand from her tribe, so that she could remove the werewolf curse that she accidentally placed on Quentin.
But it hasn’t worked so far, and Julianka — apparently the only certified Legendary Hand interaction specialist — was killed in the woods by unknown assailants before she had a chance to help Quentin out.
So Julianka is dead, and she is super pissed about it. Barnabas and Magda call to her spirit to do an exit interview, and things turn ugly fast.
Julianka: I will go away and I will stay away forever, Magda Rakosi. But before I do, I will lay my curse on you! You, who stole the Hand from your own people. You deserve to die!
Magda: Then let me die!
Julianka: No! My curse will bring tears, and then more tears, and then more graves and then only loneliness.
Magda: What do you mean?
Julianka: This is the curse I put on your head, Magda Rakosi! First will come three knocks on the door. Hear them and begin to weep, for they will herald the beginning but not the end, the first but not the last. You will live, Magda Rakosi, but everyone you love will DIE!
Man, the gypsies really knew how to construct a curse in the 1890s, didn’t they? This one even includes instructions on how much to weep. You don’t get that kind of attention to detail anymore; it’s a lost art.
Anyway, now we have to go find another curse-removing gypsy to undo the mess that this gypsy left behind. I’ve had similar experiences with Comcast customer service technicians.
Three knocks later, Magda’s long-overdue husband Sandor staggers in, with a knife in his back. He falls to the floor, and Barnabas pronounces him dead — in fact, the body is cold, and he’s been dead for a long time. This must have been one of those retroactive curses, I guess. I hope Sandor’s okay with being dead; I hear it’s dark.
This continues the reign of terror that’s been going on for more than a month, killing off a big chunk of the cast because everybody thought they’d be wrapping up 1897 and going back to the present day. But now they’ve decided to stay in 1897 for another few months, which means they have to bring in some new characters to keep the story running.
In Sandor’s case, that “out with the old, in with the new” idea is even more direct than usual, because they’ve already introduced a new Thayer David character — Victor Fenn-Gibbons, another in Thayer’s long line of bossy eccentrics — and he’s filled with interesting secrets. That means Sandor Rakosi Must Die, because this actor is needed elsewhere.
Open-ended serialized narrative is natural selection for stories, and the Sandor/Victor switch is a perfect example of the process.
In terms of plot mechanics, Sandor was important at the very beginning of the 1897 storyline, because he was the hypnotized blood-servant that Barnabas needed in order to establish himself at Collinwood.
Sandor was also critical in setting up Magda as a likeable character. She was basically on bad terms with everybody else on the show, except for the old lady that she was planning to steal from, and a character needs at least one friend in order for the audience to trust her. Magda and Sandor were adorable together, a pair of comedy ethnics with funny accents and elaborate hand gestures who were constantly fighting because they loved each other so much.
That made it possible for us to fall in love with Magda too, and you can see the results all over the show these days. She puts the curse on Quentin, she tries to take the curse away, she steals the magical Hand, she’s cursed by Julianka. Magda is absolutely critical to pretty much everything happening on the show right now, just as much as Quentin and possibly more than Barnabas.
But that means Sandor is redundant. Magda has good working relationships with all of the other important characters now, so she doesn’t need an extra character on standby so she has somebody to make facial expressions at.
At a certain point, they just sent Sandor away on some mission — to find Julianka, I guess? — and then he just stayed away. I don’t think I even noticed that it happened, until he turned up dead at the doorstep.
Meanwhile, Victor arrived last week — another mysterious stranger with a secret agenda and lots of surprising things to say. Here’s a sample.
Quentin: Have you ever had your fortune told?
Victor: Don’t believe anything a gypsy tells you, Mr. Collins. They’re a vile lot. Where their heart should be, they have only a desire for revenge. I know a great deal about them. Yes, I’ve made quite a study of gypsies. So one of them has been frightening you with tall tales about your future?
Quentin: Three years ago, I was told I had no future. I didn’t believe it at the time.
Victor: Is it the one who lives at the Old House who read your palm? And she’s still there? How charitable you Americans are — and how foolish.
That conversation is winding down, so he instantly pivots to a different subject. A Thayer David eccentric always has something to say.
Victor: You seem fascinated by that moon, Mr. Collins.
Quentin: Well, watching the moon is one of my hobbies, Mr. Fenn-Gibbons. One I hate.
Victor: Perhaps you should get another one, then. Good evening, Mr. Collins.
Then Victor leaves the drawing room, closing the doors behind him, and turns to address the audience directly. The camera pulls in for a close-up, as we share a private moment with this mad, dangerous creature.
“Yes, yes!” he chuckles. “Perhaps that may be the way to proceed.” He gives us a smile as the camera fades to the next scene.
We don’t know what he’s talking about, but it’s thrilling, isn’t it? All we know is that he’s got some kind of sinister scheme in mind, and it’s going to involve Quentin, which is now mandatory for 1897 story threads. Sandor couldn’t get near this if he tried all day long.
Now, obviously I feel a little sentimental about Magda and Sandor — they were the couple that welcomed us to this crazy 19th century version of the show, the comedy gypsies with funny accents and quaint backstories. Besides, we like Magda now, and we don’t want her to be sad.
Except that we absolutely do want her to be sad, because it makes her even more interesting. Here’s how she behaves, after she and Barnabas bury Sandor’s body in the woods.
She kneels at her husband’s grave for a moment, and then she delivers the eulogy, with fire in her eyes.
“You… YOU!” she cries, glaring at Barnabas. “He let you out of your coffin, and what thanks did you give to him? You took a man, and you made a slave out of him! He died then, my Sandor — THEN, not now! Oh, my Sandor!”
And then, suddenly, she’s all business.
“One night,” she spits, “one night when you are in your coffin — I will KILL you, Mr. Barnabas Collins! I swear it! I swear it on Sandor’s grave!”
And then she takes a couple steps forward, and reaches up to expose her neck.
“All right,” she sobs. “Bite me! Bite me now! Let me be your slave too! At least — I will know then, I will know how Sandor felt, those last months!”
Barnabas shakes his head. “No, Magda. You will not kill me, and I will not harm you. We will grieve, together.”
So if that’s the kind of dynamite that you get when Magda is sad, then yeah, let’s get that curse rolling. It gives her lots of interesting things to do and say, and it’s creating an even stronger bond with Barnabas.
(Magda steps away from her crystal ball, in despair.)
Magda: For the first time, I ain’t got no interest in what’s going to happen — now, tomorrow, ever!
Barnabas: You will.
Magda: Oh, Barnabas, I cannot live without love! And whoever I love — will DIE!
Barnabas: I know your feeling. Everyone I love must die, too.
Which is amazing, just another conversation that could happen exactly nowhere but Dark Shadows. It’s also a helpful reminder that making soap opera characters sad is kind of the point.
Barnabas was cursed by Angelique in January 1968, and so far we’ve got a year and a half and counting worth of plot points out of it. This exact curse — that everyone you love must die — turns out to be unbelievably story productive.
Barnabas was sad when Josette died, but I wasn’t — partly because Josette was irritating to watch, but mostly because her death gives Barnabas endless opportunities for self-pitying monologues, which are often entertaining, and it gives him the license to make terrible decisions, which leads to plot development.
In fact, the sooner we can rid ourselves of Sandor and Rachel, it means we have more time to watch Jonathan Frid and Grayson Hall having agonized discussions, which is the core value proposition for Dark Shadows. That’s why it doesn’t matter if Barnabas and Julia are ever officially “in love” with each other. You just have to kill everyone else who might possibly get in between them.
This is a fairly ruthless way to look at things, except if you factor in that these are make-believe people who don’t actually have feelings. Serialized narrative is a ruthless art, and on a television soap opera, there is absolutely no room for sentimentality.
Tomorrow: When Halloween Decorations Ruled the World.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Quentin looks out the drawing room window, you can see the edge of the set where there’s usually more wall.
You can hear people walking around in the studio as the funeral scene begins.
At the funeral, Magda tells Barnabas, “One night when you are in your coffin, I will kill you, Mr. Barnabas Collins.” She means one day. He’s awake at night.
At the gazebo, Quentin’s mopey thinks monologue is supposed to end when he hears the thwack of Victor hitting Aristede. But they do the sound effect a line too early, and the final line of his pre-taped monologue is delivered after that.
Early in the third act, Quentin is holding a gun on Victor. Victor asks, “Has he come back to try again?” and Quentin snaps, “You tell me!” — punctuating the line by pointing the gun from Victor’s head to his own. Actors seriously never know how to act with guns.
Quentin asks Victor, “Do you see this gun? Well, oblioussy, you aren’t afraid of it.”
Behind the Scenes:
Thayer David appears in the teaser as Sandor, with heavy brown makeup all over his face. Sandor dies on the floor, there’s the opening titles, and then we see Thayer David as Victor Fenn-Gibbons, pale and bewhiskered.
Dark Shadows taped the show as if it were live, because videotape editing was difficult and expensive in 1969, so they would run through the show from beginning to end without stopping, just leaving in gaps for the opening theme and the commercials. That’s why all the bloopers are in the show; they couldn’t afford to stop and start over every time somebody missed a cue.
If it was just the clothes and the wig, I could believe that Thayer David could do a quick change during the commercial break and get to the right set — they’ve pulled off tricks like that before — but obviously they couldn’t get the brown makeup off and slap on Victor’s mustache and beard in time. They must have pretaped the teaser, which is impressive; they don’t do it very often.
On a different subject, I’m switching sides on the Fenn-Gibbon/Fenn-Gibbons issue. The credits say Fenn-Gibbon, but when people say the name out loud on the show, they mostly say “Fenn-Gibbons”. I haven’t actually kept track of that, and I’m not quite OCD enough to go back and actually check, so I don’t have hard numbers on this. But I think I’m switching to Team Fenn-Gibbons.
Tomorrow: When Halloween Decorations Ruled the World.
— Danny Horn