“You told me that hand was the most magical hand in the world!”
There are moments in life when you have to step back and ask yourself: How did I get here? For example, Grayson Hall. She moved to New York City to pursue an acting career when she was 19 years old. She studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. She was in a Broadway revival of Six Characters in Search of an Author. She was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her work in The Night of the Iguana. She’s done Pinter and Shaw and Chekhov.
And today she’s on network television at 4:00 in the afternoon, blacked up like a Universal Monsters gypsy, and she’s locked in a life-or-death struggle with Halloween Express.
It’s astonishing, actually, how successful Dark Shadows has been over the last four weeks in turning this Halloween decoration into the main antagonist of the show. You wouldn’t think it was possible, but here we are.
If you’re just joining us, this is the Legendary Hand of Count Petofi, a magical artifact with a mind of its own. Various characters have tried to use the Hand to perform tasks, and it’s responded in mercurial ways that nobody can explain or predict.
So far, the Hand has done the following: By request, it removed the vampire bite marks from Charity’s throat, and released her from Barnabas’ thrall. It then mushed up Evan’s face in a way that made him unrecognizable, just because he was holding the Hand and being a dick about it. That damage was later healed off-screen, and it’s not clear whether the Hand cured him or if it just got better on its own.
People have tried to use the Hand twice to cure Quentin of his werewolf affliction, to no effect. The only result of the Hand’s power on Quentin is that the first time it mushed up his face, and the second time it unmushed him.
So honestly, now that I think about it, it seems like the Hand’s powers mostly take the form of mushing and unmushing people’s faces without their consent. Oh, and it can fly. Stay tuned for updates as this story develops.
But I love the little guy. You know? I love his little box, and I love his attitude. So far, he feels like the antihero in a teen rebel movie. Everyone’s trying to push him around and tell him what to do, and he’s not taking it anymore. He’s got his own plans, and his own dreams. And as soon as he learns the one-handed version of American Sign Language, the sky is the limit.
So I’m trying to figure out why I like the Hand so much right now. There are three steps to making the audience like a new character — make a joke, make a friend, and make a plot point happen — and now that I think about it, the Hand has pretty much nailed all three.
I mean, you have to be a little generous with the definitions. I’m interpreting mushing up Evan’s face as a joke, on account of it was hilarous. Evan is a jerk, and it was funny to see him with an eyeball hanging out. So that’s one point for the Hand.
I can’t say that the Hand has a friend, per se — unless it’s the corresponding left hand that we haven’t met yet — but there are definitely a lot of people anxious to make its acquaintance. For a character, having a friend means that you’ve got a connection to somebody in the story, which gives you value and means that you’re not just an interloping day player. The entire show for the last month has been a struggle between several different factions, all trying to get the Hand for themselves, which is basically the same dynamic.
But it’s the “make a plot point” step where the Hand really excels. I’ve referred to it derisively before as a MacGuffin — an object with no inherent function in a story that motivates the characters to make decisions and take action. The nuclear codes hidden in a microchip are a MacGuffin, especially if the story ends without anybody actually using those codes to launch warheads. That microchip could just as easily be Swiss bank account numbers, or a prize-winning chocolate chip cookie recipe, and it wouldn’t really change the story. That’s how a MacGuffin works.
But the Hand is actually more than that. Yes, it’s a coveted object of desire, but it’s also an active participant. So far, it’s mostly been mushing and unmushing, but those are plot points that had real impact for at least a few episodes. And obviously, as we continue this long-form game of high-stakes Keepaway, there’s the promise that the Hand will really start shaking things up.
And that’s how they’ve tricked us into liking a body part. For now, at least, I would rather watch an episode with the Hand than an episode without the Hand, and that’s all there is to it.
With all that in mind, yesterday’s cliffhanger was really interesting. Magda is now blaming the Hand for everybody else’s problems, so she went to the basement and got a hatchet, and then picked up the Hand and gave it a stern talking-to.
“You take my husband away!” she spat. “You kill a good man. The child died — but you don’t do nothing, no more!”
Then she raised the hatchet, ready to strike…
And that was the end of the episode. Putting a character in jeopardy is typical for a Dark Shadows cliffhanger — but I can’t recall if they’ve ever tried to get us to come back tomorrow because we’re worried about the well-being of one of the props. I mean, if somebody was about to bump into the Ralston-Purina lamp, I’d be concerned about it, but I think that’s a special case.
At the top of today’s show: WHAM!
She goes through with it, and chops the Hand into pieces. This is like torture porn for Thing from The Addams Family.
Magda wraps up the mess in a soggy little bundle, and throws it into the fire, and it’s gone forever. If anybody knows a body part that’s interested in a career in show business: I hear there’s an opening.
But, as they might say on The Addams Family, Magda’s got another Thing coming.
She goes over to Collinwood to tell Quentin that she’s fixed everything because that’s how you typically solve problems, with a hatchet and a fireplace. Quentin congratulates her by clutching her around the throat and yelling at her, because now he’s decided that the Hand is his only hope for getting rid of his werewolf curse. It’s not Magda’s fault that she didn’t understand the prevailing mood; Quentin’s been flip-flopping on the Hand for weeks.
Anyway, they’re talking it over when suddenly the Hand floats into the shot, rising up from the bottom of the frame like Jaws. And it just kind of hovers there for a while, basically saying, what up fools, you thought you could stop me? Well, guess what, I AM UNSTOPPABLE!
Magda screams, “It’s going to kill me!” But then it just fades away — and, oh, if it had only planned ahead a little, that would have been the ultimate mic drop.
“I’m really happy for you,” the Hand says, “Imma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time!” And then: BOOM. Would that have been so hard?
Then there’s more Hand shenanigans, that’s all the show is these days, and I love it. Tim Shaw comes by and overhears them talking about the Hand, and he tells Quentin that Aristede wants to talk to him about it, and it just goes on and on.
Quentin meets Aristede at the Blue Whale, and just look at what the Hand does to people. Aristede knows about Quentin’s werewolf curse, and he has an offer. Quentin pulls out his pocket watch.
Quentin: I’ll give you two minutes.
Aristede: And then what?
Quentin: Two minutes! That’s all.
Aristede: Have you got a knife, or a gun in your pocket?
Quentin: Fifteen seconds have gone by.
Aristede: Look, I was wrong! I said that, didn’t I? Wrong, not to tell you certain facts about myself.
Quentin: Thirty seconds.
Aristede: Look, this is difficult to explain, but there’s a cure for what you suffer. There is a cure!
Quentin: Forty seconds.
Aristede: Aren’t you listening to me? Don’t you want to be cured?
Quentin: I don’t believe you.
Aristede: Look — if you do what I say — next week, when the moon is full, if you’re not cured, you won’t have to give me what I want.
Quentin: The Hand, of course.
Yes, you heard that right, ladies: Aristede has a one-time offer. If you’re not cured of lycanthropy in one week, you get a full money back guarantee.
Quentin: Do you know the cure?
Quentin: If you would’ve said yes, I would have killed you, because I would have known you were lying. Now, who knows the cure? Tell me!
Aristede: I can’t. But if I come to Collinwood tomorrow night — if you just show me that you have the Hand, I’ll take you to someone who knows. You can put it anywhere you want, afterwards. Because we can help you.
Quentin: We? Who else knows about me?
Aristede: Someone who understands the moon better than you or I.
Quentin: That doesn’t make any sense!
Aristede: Look, does any of this, Mr. Collins? I mean, the way you are, what we’re sitting discussing here?
And this is why I love the Hand, just like I loved Leona Eltridge, and Joshua turning into a cat, and the werewolf rushing to the mirror to check if he’s a werewolf, and all of the other Silliest Moments in Dark Shadows. This plot point is so outré that even the characters know that they’ve crossed a line into pure fairytale.
This isn’t Jane Eyre, or Nicholas Nickleby, or Dracula. It’s not even The Monkey’s Paw anymore. We have left the Western literary canon altogether, and are now floating downstream towards the Arabian Nights. This is an older, deeper kind of magic that we’ve never seen before.
The closest we’ve come is Angelique’s version of West Indies voodoo — saying that a toy soldier is Aristede, and then choking it with her handkerchief. That’s taking a symbol and connecting it to a person, and then what happens to the symbol also happens to the person.
But this magic is even stranger, because there’s no witch to guide it, and no handkerchief to direct its focus. This is the symbol itself, running amuck. You can’t control it, you can’t kill it, and there’s no way to negotiate with it. It is the raw stuff of nightmares, and it wears a huge black ring because it’s fashion forward. I’m a severed hand, it sneers, and I’m still better dressed than you.
Also, by the way: “You can put it anywhere you want, afterwards.” Right? God, I love the Hand.
Tomorrow: Sitting in a Tree.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Magda says, “No, Quentin, that Hand is bad, it is evil! It is the hound — hand of Count Petofi!”
Quentin is talking to Magda in the drawing room. When he suddenly gets up from the chair, we can see the foyer through a gap in the set, with a camera in view. When the shot moves to correct this, the boom mic pokes into the shot.
When Tim hands Quentin a note, the camera pulls back, and the boom mic is at the top right of the shot.
Tim tells Quentin that Aristede thinks there’s some misunderstanding between them. “Misunderstanding?” Quentin says, through gritted teeth. “Yes, I suppose you could put it that way.” Tim’s response: “Look, I don’t know about anything like that.” I’m not sure this is a blooper, but I don’t understand that as a response.
When Quentin leaves the room, the camera pulls back and there’s the boom mic again. Also, the front doors are hanging open for no reason. It really is just a mess of a scene.
Aristede tells Quentin, “I suggest that you take your hand out of the pocket, sit down and listen.”
Behind the Scenes:
That’s our regular hand man Timothy Gordon playing the Hand, today and tomorrow. He’ll be back to wave goodbye next week.
Tomorrow: Sitting in a Tree.
— Danny Horn