“Maybe nobody took it! Maybe wherever it is — it wants to be there!”
When Aristede reaches the rendezvous point, his supervillain boss is already waiting for him.
“Why are you late, Aristede?” Victor grumbles. “You know that waiting always makes me fretful.”
This is something of an understatement. When Aristede admits that he doesn’t have the magical artifact he was sent for, Victor lashes out, smacking him across the face three times. “You are stupid! And incompetent! And clumsy!”
Aristede cowers, and makes excuses. Quentin was supposed to bring Aristede the Legendary Hand of Count Petofi in exchange for a cure for lycanthropy, but Quentin said that he lost it.
Victor thunders, “And you believed him?”
“Yes!” Aristede squeaks, as his boss pulls him close and glares at him. “Well, there’s no reason for him not to give me the Hand!”
“Yes, there is,” Victor sighs. “He has a brain in his head — something which you, who have nothing behind that lovely face of yours, can not possibly understand.”
So… hold on. Did he just say that Aristede is lovely?
So I’m just going to admit this straight up: there is a super obvious gay subtext with Victor and Aristede that I absolutely one hundred percent missed.
Now, I’ve done lots of posts before about how gay I think Dark Shadows is (answer: a lot gay). I’ve invented specious lit-crit jargon off the top of my head just to explain why I have feelings about the way that Chris and Joe are looking at each other in that one scene. And yet for the last two weeks, Victor and Aristede have been blatantly sitting in a tree, and I didn’t even know it was happening. All I can do is apologize.
Because this isn’t an isolated incident. Aristede orders drinks for Victor, and eagerly lights his cigarettes. Victor calls him “my boy,” and says “I’m aware of your charms, my dear Aristede.” Victor claims that he’s a collector, looking for the unique and the beautiful — and it’s pretty obvious that he considers Aristede one of the beautiful things that he’s collected.
And I watched all of those episodes. Took notes, too. Escaped me entirely.
In fact, the only reason I’m talking about it now is that I read the comments people left on the episode 794 post, where they were discussing it as a super obvious fact that everybody already knows. So now I know things.
Wayne, Carose59, Adriana and Richard: You are awesome, and I like the way you watch TV. I will now devote the rest of the post to expanding on what you said and adding quotes and pictures, because if I just link to your comments then I have to come up with something else to talk about.
So let’s go back to last week, for Victor’s introduction. The first thing we find out about their relationship is that there’s a huge power imbalance, and it’s physically abusive.
When Victor enters the scene, Aristede has already claimed the Hand, and then lost it again to the mad witch Angelique. Victor finds Aristede unconscious on the Collinsport docks, choked out by Angelique’s voodoo. He basically kicks Aristede awake, and then smacks him in the face, shouting, “You didn’t get the Hand, did you?” There’s a lot of slapping in this relationship.
But that’s not a strike against reading this as gay — unfortunately, it’s the opposite. Until approximately fifteen minutes ago, the portrayal of gay and lesbian relationships in popular culture was generally on the slappy side. As an apparently wealthy, powerful man, Victor is well within his rights to smack his pretty boy-toy around.
Victor backs Aristede up against a wall, and demands answers. “Which was it, Aristede? Liquor? A woman? An assailant? Or a combination of all three?” When Aristede admits that it was a woman, Victor gets even more angry.
Aristede: She was no ordinary woman, Victor. She possessed powers! She almost killed me!
Victor: She SHOULD have killed you, and spared me your ineptitude!
As the scene ends, Victor is moving on to the next stage of his plan. “I will go to Collinwood at once, as soon as you answer a few questions, particularly about –” and here, his voice is dripping with bitter sarcasm — “the WOMAN you met.”
Victor’s concern about Aristede and the women appear to be well-founded. He’s had three seduction scenes so far, with Angelique, Julianka and — in a weird, hard to interpret Blue Whale scene — Tim Shaw. The Julianka scene is a business assignment; he’s trying to get information for Victor. But his interest in Angelique is entirely freelance, and that’s the one where he attempts to get physical.
Again, that heterosexual interest doesn’t rule out the gay subtext; it just makes things more interesting. There’s a complicated dance going on between Victor’s desires and Aristede’s, and it doesn’t lend itself to a simple definition.
But, as I said, I missed the whole thing, especially the Kitchener reference. This comes up when Victor presents himself at Collinwood, wangling an invite by pretending to know Edward’s friend, the Earl of Hampshire. The English aristocracy connection is completely counterfeit, so Victor throws in some details for local color.
Victor: By the way, there’s something that I should explain. My voice. I can barely speak above a whisper. I served with Kitchener in the Sudan. The knife of a tribesman caught me just above the shoulder blade. The tip pierced my throat. Almost gave me up for dead.
Edward: Good heavens.
Victor: Splendid man, Kitchener. Integrity. Pride. A bit too much pride, perhaps, but still — a man among men, if you know what I mean.
In my post, I admitted that I didn’t know what he meant, but in the comments, Wayne explained it: “As for the Kitchener business, many historians believe that Kitchener was a deeply repressed Victorian homosexual of the military variety, so having Victor mention him by name may be code-speak to the well-informed.”
Now, as the well-informed know and the rest of us look up on Wikipedia, Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener was a well-decorated British Army officer who led campaigns in the 1880s and ’90s to establish British rule in Africa. He was also apparently extremely busy in the boy-liking area. I’m going to quote from the “Debate on Kitchener’s sexuality” section from his Wikipedia page, because it is hilarious.
The proponents of the case point to Kitchener’s friend Captain Oswald Fitzgerald, his “constant and inseparable companion”, whom he appointed his aide-de-camp. They remained close until they met a common death on their voyage to Russia.
From his time in Egypt in 1892, he gathered around him a cadre of eager young and unmarried officers nicknamed “Kitchener’s band of boys”. He also avoided interviews with women, took a great deal of interest in the Boy Scout movement, and decorated his rose garden with four pairs of sculptured bronze boys. According to Hyam, “there is no evidence that he ever loved a woman”.
Patrick Barkham, a contemporary journalist, remarked that Kitchener “has the failing acquired by most of the Egyptian officers, a taste for buggery.”
Four pairs of sculptured bronze boys! That’s the telling detail as far as I’m concerned. Anybody could have one or two pairs, but it does take a buggery-minded person to invest in four.
Okay, back to Aristede, who’s obediently lighting Victor’s thin, suspicious cigarette.
Aristede: You went to Collinwood?
Victor: Yes. I found your young lady.
Aristede: Did you get the Hand from her?
Victor: No. But I can almost forgive your blunder. She is a beautiful creature.
(Aristede’s face lights up.)
Victor: I said, I can ALMOST forgive you.
Desperate to win back Victor’s favor, Aristede insists that he can get the Hand back from Angelique, but Victor asserts his dominance.
Aristede: Let me try to get it back from her. Now that I know what she is…
Victor: No, my boy. This is a job that calls for careful planning, finesse… You will remain here, in the village.
Victor: It’s to our advantage that no one know of our relationship. You will do nothing until you hear from me. Is that quite clear?
Yeah, it sure is. Let’s jump ahead to their secret tryst at the gazebo, where Victor and Aristede are having an extremely intense conversation.
Aristede: The fact that you killed Julianka has nothing to do with me.
Victor: I would not have had that emotional reaction if you had gotten the Hand and kept it.
(Victor grabs Aristede by the lapels, and holds him.)
Victor: We should have been out of here by now!
Aristede: Julianka must have had the Hand somewhere — why didn’t you get it from her?
Victor: Are you criticizing me?
Aristede: No, no, no!
(Victor releases him, petulantly.)
Victor: See that you don’t.
Then Victor whispers a threat that should be on the list of all-time most perplexing threats.
Victor: Can you imagine what it’s like to go to bed at night, and fall into the deepest sleep you’ve ever known? When you awake, the first thing you see is blood on your pillow. You rush to the mirror, and what do you see? Not that face you love so well, Aristede — but another face. A gift from the unicorn!
So there we are again, with the face. Then more of this.
Aristede: I just want to get out of this place — get out alive!
Victor: So you shall, as soon as you’ve talked to Quentin Collins.
Aristede: I don’t know how to begin!
Victor: I will tell you. I wouldn’t have it otherwise. I’m aware of your charms, Aristede, but I know only too well that conversation is not among them.
After he gives Aristede his instructions, Victor has one more request.
Victor: Aristede, smile. Before you go — do smile. Think of the day when we get the Hand. Think of the power we will have!
Aristede: (sulking) You will have.
Victor: Yes… and I will be extremely greedy.
Aristede turns to face Victor, and the conversation takes an unbelievable turn.
Aristede: And me?
Victor: You? My dear Aristede, you will be the most elegant gentleman in the world. Even the pockets of your suits will be lined with the finest silk!
Victor leans in, very close.
Victor: Where shall we have your clothes made, Aristede? London? Paris? I think — London. Think of London, when you talk to Quentin Collins.
And I bet he will. We all will, I think. We might have trouble thinking of anything else for weeks.
So the particular brand of super gay that we’re looking at here is the Oscar Wilde aesthete, who values beauty above all things, and finds that beauty in the sight of a handsome young man in a silk-lined suit.
Later on, Victor reveals his true intentions to Quentin.
Quentin: You want the Hand.
Victor: Very much so, Mr. Collins. I have wanted it for a long time.
Victor: Because it is unique in the entire world. Because I am a collector of the unique. Because I pursue anything that meets the standards I’ve set myself. That is why I am the one person in the world who should have it.
This is the aesthete’s creed, that there’s no such thing as morality — the only things that matter are sensation and appetite. Victor believes that he deserves the Hand because his tastes are so refined, and because he wants it so much.
Victor wants the Hand because it will give him the power to whisk Aristede off to Bond Street and buy him more handkerchiefs. Aristede is one of the unique and beautiful things that Victor collects.
So the question “Do Victor and Aristede have a sexual relationship” is actually not very interesting. The pleasure that Victor takes is a visual pleasure, and always expressed in terms of ownership. He doesn’t value Aristede for conversation or competence. He likes watching Aristede — his vain and elegant young man, looking at himself in the mirror. He may also have a taste for buggery; it’s hard to say.
Oh, and also it turns out he’s Count Petofi. Damn it, I miss everything!
Monday: Time Travel, part 6: One Giant Leap.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the teaser, when Tim finds the Hand on the floor in the Old House, you can see the studio lights.
Magda moans, “I knew that Hand was evil, but I did not know how evil! Oh, if I only knew what it would do for me! What it would take from me!”
Tim asks Evan, “You must admit this Hand is unique, isn’t it?” Evan says, “I don’t know,” and Tim smiles. “You don’t know,” he grins. Then he looks at the teleprompter, and says, “You do know.”
At the start of Victor and Aristede’s scene in the woods, the camera moves too far to the right, and you can see Aristede waiting for his cue.
Monday: Time Travel, part 6: One Giant Leap.
— Danny Horn