“And why do I do as I do?”
So let’s say, for the sake of argument, that in the fictional world of Dark Shadows, there’s no such thing as the supernatural, and everybody on the show is just terribly high-strung. Would that actually change the show in any way?
Take Kitty Hampshire, the gold-digging ex-governess who’s visiting Collinwood in a no-holds-barred attempt to snare a permanent invite to the master bedroom. At the moment, she’s under the impression that she’s being threatened by Count Petofi, a man who she believes is endowed with a magical right hand, and he’s forcing her to sneak into another man’s bedroom to steal an apparently enchanted portrait, which isn’t there.
When she’s discovered, as obviously she should be, she instantly pretends that she’s possessed by some force that she is not currently being possessed by.
“Kitty? Why do you call me Kitty?” asks Kitty, who swivels, and performs exaggerated eye rolls. “I’m not Kitty.” She is.
So Edward Collins, respected leader of the community, finds himself clutching a houseguest’s arm, reminding her of her own name.
“Let me go, please!” she sobs, not really trying to break free. “I must find it, he’ll be angry!”
“Who will be angry?” he asks, and she shouts, “You know as well as I do!” And then she falls into a swoon, entirely of her own volition.
So I know that the television show wants us to believe that Kitty is currently being haunted by spirits of the long departed, but if she was staying at your house, you would just say, that woman is dreadfully overtired, and then you’d ask her if she prefers Uber or Lyft, for her ride to the airport.
These unkind interpretations are particularly appropriate for Kitty, because half the time, she really is making stuff up. She plays the frightened faun for Edward, but as soon as she has a moment alone, she starts congratulating herself on her immaculate deceptions.
She doesn’t actually have the money or the social standing that she’d like Edward to believe that she does; her late husband, the Earl of Hampshire, died penniless, after serving a stretch in Dartmoor Prison for crimes that he claimed were committed under the influence of an evil wizard. It’s a shame that he’s dead, really; he and Kitty had so much in common.
Several weeks ago, local madman Barnabas Collins floated the idea that Kitty is actually the reincarnation of Josette DuPres, although to be honest, he says that to approximately ten percent of the females that he ever comes into contact with. But since then, Kitty’s been experiencing some odd flutters in her sense of personal identity, which Barnabas would call destiny, but are probably just the early warning signs of a rather spectacular mental collapse, which ought to be along any second now.
Kitty has been using these service interruptions as a way to trigger Edward’s protective impulsives, which you wouldn’t imagine would be that effective. But Edward married Laura Stockbridge, who thought she was the immortal servant of an Egyptian fire god, so he is apparently susceptible to the charms of the deeply misinformed.
But even if we give Kitty the benefit of the doubt, and accept that she’s being pushed around by unseen forces from the nether dimensions, what kind of home life would this be for a prospective husband? She only left Edward a few minutes ago, claiming that she was going upstairs to rest, and now he finds her rooting around in his younger brother’s storage unit. If he marries her, he’ll have to do regular spot checks, just to make sure she isn’t receiving mental impulses to go randomly spelunking in other people’s property. This is high maintenance, even by Collinwood standards.
Edward walks her downstairs, and tells her that he’ll get her a soothing cup of tea. Then he leaves her alone, which is not recommended. Literally fourteen seconds after he leaves her side, she falls into another fugue, hearing the tinkle of an unseen music box. This is a whole other thing.
Listening to the imaginary music, Kitty feels drawn to the portrait of Barnabas Collins hanging on the wall. She’s been “drawn” a lot lately, especially when she feels like going somewhere that she isn’t supposed to go. Yesterday, she actually accused a guy of being responsible for her feeling drawn to the rectory. This is an accusation that is difficult to rebut.
So she staggers around the foyer, clutching her temples, and shouting, “No! I won’t look at it, I won’t!” meaning the portrait. Meanwhile, the portrait is saying, What? I’m not even looking in your direction. Leave me out of this. That’s how bad things have gotten in this house; even the decor needs a defense lawyer.
Then the front door opens and in walks Angelique, another gold-digging impostor hoping to marry into the family. She finds Kitty clutching and tottering, and cries, “Lady Hampshire! Shall I call a doctor?” The answer to that question is yes; always call doctors.
Kitty says, “No, it’s just my nerves, it’s everything I’ve gone through!” which is not an explanation. She mentions that she went to the rectory, and suddenly Angelique snaps to attention. “Did you know the woman that lived there?” Kitty asks, and Angelique asks why she’s using the past tense. “Because she’s disappeared!” Kitty exclaims. “Before Count Petofi’s eyes, he told me so himself!”
Now, Angelique can see perfectly well that Kitty is not a reliable information source at the moment, but the idea that somebody told somebody that a woman vanished is enough to make her rush off to investigate. Angelique is kind of high-strung, herself. Everybody is.
So I know that I’m spending a lot of time describing these women on the edge of a nervous breakdown, but this is an extremely camp episode and I’m only human. As always, I’m unable to adequately explain why this sequence counts as camp, and why that’s a good thing for a sequence to be. All I can say is that if you like teetering and mascara, then this is the episode for you.
“She knows more than she’ll tell me,” Kitty reflects, making faces at herself in the mirror. “But how can a woman disappear? And why do I do as I do?”
This is one of those episodes where if your mom comes into the den to find out what all the noise is about, there’s going to be another in a long series of conversations about how you’re spending your leisure time. At least, that’s what my childhood was like; maybe other people had less vigilant mothers.
Anyway, Kitty needs answers, so obviously she heads for the local tavern, to find the make-believe music hall performer and talk things over. The woman now doing business as Pansy Faye is sitting around in an empty bar, practicing her song.
It’s late evening, by the way; they made a big deal about it being nine o’clock at the start of the episode. Pansy admits that the bar is empty, but she says there’ll be a lot of people here later, which I find difficult to believe. If it was a warehouse party, then yeah, things don’t really kick off until one a.m., but this is the Blue Whale. Where are the alcoholics?
They used to hire extras on this show when they did a Blue Whale scene, to mill around in the background, and give Vicki and Burke a bit of context. Now it’s just tumbleweeds and wide open spaces, here on the Mesa of Lost Women.
Now, Pansy thinks that she’s a Cockney music hall performer, a state of mind that was originally supposed to be an ego-destroying supernatural possession, but is now more of a lifestyle choice. She claims that she needs to practice, although she only has one musical number, and to be frank it’s probably not going to get a whole lot better than it currently is. Anyway, Kitty has some urgent Lost Women business to discuss.
Kitty: The only reason that I can confide in you is that you started this!
Pansy: I didn’t start nothin’!
Kitty: You told me that I would find a music box, and it would cause my death. Well, I found that music box that same night!
Pansy: Well, don’t go blaming me, love! I just say things! That’s all!
This is basically the motto for Dark Shadows characters; they should put that on T-shirts.
Kitty reaches into the reticule, and pulls out a diamond-studded brooch, which Pansy eyes hungrily. She tells Pansy that she’ll give her the brooch, if she’ll help, but Pansy turns in disgust and walks across the room.
“Whatever people say about me, I don’t cheat!” Pansy declares, developing a spontaneous new values system. “If I can do something, and then you want to make me a little present, well, that’s up to you. But I don’t get paid in advance for nothin’.”
Kitty says, “You’re very kind,” and Pansy busts up laughing. “Oh, love!” she gasps. “I’m a lot of things, but that ain’t one of the ones I can boast about!”
This is the thing about high-strung women; you never know what their reaction is going to be. Dark Shadows is operating on the theory that the audience has an inexhaustible appetite for unpredictable women, and they are correct. We do.
This is just one of the many attempts to figure out Pansy’s role in the show. They keep rebranding her, slotting her into different places, to see where she’ll fit. She’s been a grieving fiancee, a jealous lover, and a high-spirited clown. Lately, they’ve been trying her out in the eccentric comedy occult-expert role that’s usually filled by Professor Stokes, in the present day. She’s such an outsize presence that she overflows whatever role they put her in, so they keep her circulating around.
Right now, Pansy is the specialist that Kitty needs to consult with. Kitty thinks that her strange sensations have been caused by Count Petofi somehow, and Pansy says she can help. Leaning towards Kitty with a confidential air, she says, “There’s a way of telling whether it’s the supernatural, or Count Petofi.” The latter option would also be supernatural. Except there’s no such thing as the supernatural, remember? These people are just out of their goddamn minds.
Pansy offers to come to Collinwood and help Kitty get this problem sorted out, and promises to come over at midnight. It’s got to be close to ten right now, and the bar is still empty. The drunks of Collinsport have a vanishingly small window of opportunity this evening.
So Pansy comes over and organizes a seance, which based on past experience is probably going to summon up yet another weird woman. That’s the typical outcome for a Dark Shadows seance — they’ll raise Josette, or Sarah, or Julianka, or Angelique, in a ritual that’s basically a Lost Women recruiting service. We’ve already got a deep bench of vehement females, but what the hell? There’s always room for one more.
Monday: The Unvisited.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
The lighting is wonky today. The sets are darker than they should be, and sometimes people are standing partially in shadow. This is especially noticeable when Angelique talks to Kitty in front of Barnabas’ portrait, and just after Pansy hums the music box tune at the Blue Whale.
During the seance, Pansy calls to the spirits, “Tell us what it is you want! Let us help you!” There’s a bit of a pause, and then Kitty remembers that she has a line. She starts to gasp “Edward,” but an impatient Pansy shouts, “Is there someone here?”
At the seance, the camera cuts from Pansy to Edward. He’s looking around the room for ghosts, and we can still see her feather boa at the edge of the frame, as she clearly leans over and blows out the candle with an audible puff. Then Edward turns and cries, “What happened to the candle?”
Behind the Scenes:
Natalie Norwick plays the hooded figure who interrupts the seance in the episode’s closing moments. Norwick has done occasional stand-in work since June 1968; she was last seen as Edith’s body lying in her casket, in March 1969. This is her final appearance on Dark Shadows.
Monday: The Unvisited.
— Danny Horn