“If I only knew how you died, maybe I would know how to banish you!”
Order in the court! The honorable Johnny Romana — King of the Gypsies! — presiding.
In today’s episode, the accused, Magda Rakosi, stands before a jury of her peers, charged with the theft of the Legendary Hand of Count Petofi, and the murder of Julianka, a miniscule gypsy witch who came to fetch the Hand back.
Magda actually did steal the Hand, but she was only indirectly responsible for Julianka’s death, so I’d call this a draw. As a tiebreaker, I’d like to point out that Magda is a major character played by Grayson Hall, one of the all-time most interesting actors to look at, so there’s no way she’s going to be executed by a crew of day players and walk-ons.
Still, having a gypsy trial in the secret room of the mausoleum sounds like a blast, so I’ll allow it. Proceed.
King Johnny and his bailiff, Istvan, march the accused into the Collins family mausoleum, where Johnny says that the trial will be held. “But I thought you was going to take me to Boston!” Magda says, and the King growls, “You thought wrong.”
She didn’t, as it happens — when Magda was first taken into custody, King Johnny said that he was taking her to Boston to stand trial, and it took so long to get to the caravan that they had to stop and make camp for the night. But the venue has moved, because they’ve realized that they’d have to build another set with a caravan in it, and that runs into money. As we’ll see later on today, they really only have two exterior options at this point — Woods and Cemetery — and we’ve already done woods, so cemetery it is. It’s probably better to keep this in-house anyway.
By the way, take a look at this phenomenal shot, which is filled with human interest. There are a lot of shots like this, through the whole episode. It is possible that Istvan exists above the shoulders, but there’s very little evidence in the archaeological record.
King Johnny and Istvan open the secret door and drag Magda inside, where they’ve set up some candles and props. There, Johnny makes an unexpected announcement about today’s setup.
Johnny: You remember Andras, the gypsy who strangled his wife twenty years ago? And you know about Marco, who killed his brother. They are your jury.
Magda: But — they’re dead!
Johnny: Yeah. They’re dead. The whole jury! Andras, and Marco, and three others just like them! Murderers all! They’re what you deserve. They’re what you’re gonna get.
And then he just throws his hands in the air and starts invoking the raven and the bat and all the dark creatures of nature, just like everybody else does on this tumultuous television show. The raven and the bat must be sponsors or something; there’s a lot of product placement for the dark creatures of nature.
Then there’s an incredible sequence where Johnny shouts the name of each juror, and they appear as translucent Chromakey ghosts at the top of the steps. Each spirit slowly walks down the stairs and across the room, taking his place in the jury.
There are five of them — Andras! Marco! Stefan! Pedor! Sergio! — so this intro takes more than a minute. It is entirely worth it.
Each gypsy has his own particular style — generally Pirates of the Caribbean themed, but with way more pink and green — and there’s an irresistible boy band quality about them that the teens are sure to enjoy.
They pan across the jury, so everybody can pick their favorite. Andras is the cute one, and Marco is the serious one. And look at tiny little Stefan! How adorable is he? He’s got an eyepatch and everything, cute little mans. Pedor is the one that’s planning a night out on Christopher Street as soon as filming is over. I think Sergio must be the munitions expert.
So this is what they’re doing, for the whole episode — just Johnny, Magda, Istvan and the ghosts, yelling at each other and running around in circles for half an hour. It’s unusual for the show to spend an entire episode on what is basically one confrontation, with only three speaking parts and a room full of Chromakey extras. It makes this feel like a special occasion, and it’s terribly exciting.
I mean, it’s rare to even have this many people in a room at the same time — generally, there’s a limit of about four people a scene, because the sets are small and everyone wants a clear view of the teleprompter. If you stuff more people onto the set, then the only real option for blocking is to have everybody stand in a line.
Happily, that actually works in this situation — the jury stands in a row, with Johnny and Magda strutting back and forth in front of them. Istvan has to stand with his back to the camera, but Istvan is basically a special effect anyway, and he looks good from behind.
And look how each gypsy has his own particular take on the role. Pedor has decided to do a zombie stare, while Sergio is going for super pissed off.
So this sequence delivers on a lot of what Dark Shadows does best. Interesting things to look at, interesting things to listen to, people lighting candles, people extinguishing candles, and a weird off-Broadway intensity that makes you want to believe.
King Johnny gets all the best lines, of course, because he’s the special guest star and he’s really good at shouting. Here’s a sampler.
“She stole the Hand of Count Petofi — our most precious possession! — to use on a gadjo, an outsider!”
“When I come looking for the Hand, she tried to fool me with a false Hand. She tried to pull the bajour on me — on ME!”
“You can’t have nobody who ain’t a gypsy at a gypsy trial!”
He’s fantastic; it’s a perfect Dark Shadows scene. I have zero suggestions.
Just when you think that you’ve seen it all, King Johnny calls on Magda’s dead husband, Sandor, to appear at the trial as a character witness.
That surprise appearance confounds all expectations. We know Sandor as a warm, gentle man, who was unnerved by the supernatural events around him, but fiercely loyal to Magda. Now he’s a dead thing, held up by invisible marionette wires, staring at a faraway, bleak landscape that nobody else can see.
And then he betrays her.
Johnny: Who wanted Julianka here, when she died? Who was that, Sandor?
Sandor: Magda Rakosi.
Johnny: Next question.
Magda: Sandor, tell them why I wanted Julianka here. I wanted her to cure Jenny’s children!
Johnny: Cure them of what?
Magda: The curse!
Johnny: Who put the curse on those beautiful gypsy babies, Sandor? Name her!
Sandor: Magda Rakosi.
Sandor: Magda Rakosi!
It’s brutal. The worst part is that Johnny is right; this really is Magda’s fault. She cursed Quentin, and stole the Hand. It’s her fault that Julianka is dead, and that Count Petofi is currently stomping through the halls of Collinwood like a radioactive lizard through Tokyo.
It was her fury and lust for vengeance that brought this devastation to town, and now — in an act of fury, and lust for vengeance — King Johnny sentences her to death.
Her sentencing is not a surprise, obviously, because the gypsies take the theft of a body part seriously. You could get away with a couple of fingers, maybe, but a whole hand? They have to draw the line somewhere.
But it’s not just any old execution, not with this many theater people around. King Johnny makes Magda play Hunt the Weasel, where she scrambles around in the woods, pursued by the ghosts of killer pirate gypsies. This is probably a first in network daytime programming, although I haven’t seen all of Love of Life, so I can’t swear to it.
Sergio is the first to pop out at her, and her response is absolutely perfect. She lights a match — which she pulls out of nowhere in particular, and strikes it on something just off-camera — and she casts an impromptu spell.
“Sergio!” she cries. “Go back to Hell, where you belong! You don’t belong here, not on this earth! Sergio Kodash — son of Alex Kodash! Murdered by fire! Murdered by you! Your crime is best kept in the dark!”
She continues to wave the match around, even though it went out five seconds ago, because they gave her quite a long speech to recite while holding a lit match. “When this light is out,” she says, which it is, “go back to the dark!”
And Sergio screams, as a blinding light is fixed on him, and he boils and bubbles all the way back to Hell. You can’t beat a good “go back to your grave” scene, it’s sure-fire.
The weasel hunt continues, and she ends up back on the cemetery set, because they really only have Woods and Cemetery. And now you can see just how small the cemetery set is, namely: too small to show four angry ghosts surrounding Magda.
The camera pulls back, and you can see the edges of the burlap carpet that we’re supposed to believe is the outdoors. You can see cables and wires on the bare studio floor, and when the lightning flashes, you get a glimpse of the set next door. It’s a live-theater moment, which is entirely appropriate considering what happens next.
Magda wipes a tear from her eye, and holds her palm out to the advancing circle of restless spirits.
In the name of the gypsy woman who wept for you and your crimes — I order you to go back! Back to sleep, without ending! Back to death, before the tears are dry on my cheek! Go! Walk the earth no more!
And it works, obviously, because it is the most theatrical thing that any human being has ever said, and that is the kind of show that Dark Shadows has become.
Tomorrow: A Cloud of Bats.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
As the teaser opens, the camera swings a little too wide, and you can see the lantern that Johnny is holding, well before he’s supposed to enter the shot.
In the first act, as King Johnny says, “Open the door, Magda,” there’s a flash of bright light and a loud bang — possibly a lightbulb exploding. The actors react a little, and then Johnny repeats, “Open the door, Magda.”
Johnny refers to one of the dead gypsies as “Andras”; according to the cast lists, his name is supposed to be “Andreas”.
King Johnny has a really hard time with all the dialogue in his opening argument; he has to turn around to check the teleprompter to start off his lines.
When Magda tries to ask Sandor about Julianka’s death, Johnny cries, “How should he know? He was in Boston when she died! Ask him something she kn– he knows!”
On Widow’s Hill, when the lightning flashes, you can see the black cloth that’s blocking out some studio lights.
Behind the Scenes:
There are nine actors appearing in this episode, but only three of them have dialogue and are listed in the end credits — Magda, King Johnny and Sandor.
This is Henry Baker’s third episode as Istvan; we first saw him last Monday, in episode 821.
According to The Dark Shadows Almanac: Millennium Edition, Andreas is played by Ray Von Orden, but IMDb says it was Joe Van Orden. The Almanac always wins a tie, for me. Either way, I don’t know what became of him.
Marco is played by John LaMotta. This is his first screen credit, kicking off a 30-year television career of mostly small supporting roles. His big credit is that he played the neighbor, Trevor Ochmonek, on the late 80s puppet sitcom ALF. Besides that, he had a small recurring role on ER in 1994, and everything else looks like a walk-on. His TV appearances include Baretta, Barney Miller, T.J. Hooker, Knight Rider, Cagney & Lacey, Hill Street Blues, Remington Steel, Lois and Clark and Frasier. He also played a Policeman in the 1984 breakdancing film Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Stefan, the littlest gypsy, is played by Vic Mohica, who also had a lot of small roles into the early 90s. His credits include The Young and the Restless, General Hospital, Little House on the Prairie, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Incredible Hulk and Hill Street Blues.
Pedor is played by Norman Riggins. His only other screen credit is in a 1980 down-home horror film called The Alien Dead, which starred Buster Crabbe in one of his final roles.
Sergio is played by Joe Della Sorte, who appeared in The Godfather: Part II as one of Michael’s hit men. He also had a lot of small TV roles, including One Day at a Time, The Rockford Files, CHiPs, Airwolf, Cagney & Lacey and Family Ties. All of my reference books list him as Sergio, but Magda says his full name, Sergio Kodash, as she uses the match to banish him.
Tomorrow: A Cloud of Bats.
— Danny Horn