“Why did you come out here at this hour, and why are you wearing that gown?”
As you know, I hate to speak ill of the dead, especially when they’ve gone to a lot of trouble and they’re only trying to help, but I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a ghost successfully deliver a coherent warning to anybody. Either they moan a person’s name and nothing else, or they issue a bunch of unheralded pronouns and don’t explain the context. They put all this spectral energy into piercing the veil between the living and the not, but when they get through, it turns out they haven’t really figured out their messaging.
The current example is even more baffling than usual. Kitty Hampshire — known Josette lookalike and alleged reincarnation — finds a note in her bechamber that says, “Know yourself. Be who you must be.” Then she hears the hypnotic chimes of a music box, which direct her to a vintage gown hidden in the cedar chest. Putting it on, the damsel in this dress drifts down the stairs, and out to the cliffs atop Widow’s Hill, a popular nightspot for the young and doomed. This is all standard practice for gothic heroines who are gradually becoming aware that they’re somebody else.
Arriving at the rendezvous point, Kitty finds the specter of Jeremiah Collins, who was shot in the face a hundred years ago. “YOU MUST LEAVE THIS PLACE!” he bellows. “LEAVE COLLINWOOD, AND NEVER RETURN! IF YOU STAY — HE WILL KILL YOU!”
So Kitty just stands there, and screams her head off. And Jeremiah, honestly, what did you think was going to happen? You’re an undead creature with an untreated head wound. You are scary. That is a thing that you are now; you need to recognize that, and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Remarkably, Kitty manages to pull herself together, and she tries to engage with the apparition. “Who will kill me?” she asks. “You must tell me!”
“GO! NOW!” says the vision. “BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!”
And then he disappears. I don’t know why he dragged her all the way up a hill for this; he could have done it anywhere. Also, was he the one who made her put on the dress and come out to the cliff, or did Barnabas do that, and Jeremiah’s just ghoulblocking?
I mean, if Jeremiah has the power to change both her clothes and her plans for the evening, then why doesn’t he just lead her to the train station, and hand her a ticket? The dead always make such a big deal out of everything.
But let’s go back to the beginning. It’s 1795, and the wicked witch wants to break up Barnabas Collins and his fiancee, Josette — so Angelique casts a spell that makes Josette fall in love with Barnabas’ beloved uncle, Jeremiah. Enchanted, Josette and Jeremiah marry, and in lieu of a wedding present, a heartstricken Barnabas shoots Jeremiah through the face, and everyone lives happily ever after.
So here lies Jeremiah, dead and buried under a tombstone that spelled his name wrong, and he doesn’t even understand why. He didn’t want to destroy his nephew’s happiness, and he can’t figure out what happened.
And then, just as he’s starting to get used to the situation, Angelique calls him back. Barnabas and Josette are on the verge of a graveside reunion, so the sorceress whips up some dark voodoo. Jeremiah scratches his way out from under a wooden coffin lid and six feet of topsoil, which is exhausting and does precisely nothing for his looks or his disposition.
Lost, confused and mostly metaphorical, Zombie Jeremiah does what anyone would do after a sudden breakup — he tries to work things out with his ex.
“COME WITH ME!” he announces to Josette, appearing bedside. “I NEED YOU! YOU ARE MY WIFE!” It doesn’t work, of course. He thinks he’s making a grand romantic gesture, but he’s coming off as creepy. “COME WITH ME, NOW!” he shudders. “DON’T LEAVE ME!”
Josette backs away, screaming, “I will not come with you! You’re dead! You’re dead!” which just hurts his feelings and makes everything worse. He walks out, thinking, DAMN, DAMN, I CAME ON TOO STRONG. I ALWAYS DO THAT!
Then he starts in on Barnabas. This whole thing is an object lesson in why you should try talking things over, before you shoot somebody in the head.
“What do you want of me?” Barnabas gulps, which is the 18th-century way of saying hey, what’s up?
“I WANT IN DEATH WHAT YOU WOULD NOT GIVE ME IN LIFE,” says the murderee. “I WANT JUSTICE!”
Barnabas gasps, “Justice?” which is another insensitive response. That’s just going to piss the guy off.
“YOU KILLED ME IN ORDER TO TAKE JOSETTE AWAY FROM ME! YOU WILL DO ANYTHING TO GET HER BACK!”
This is entirely true. You have to admit, for a dead guy, Z-Jay is scoring all the points in this debate.
Barnabas squirms. “No! I will marry Angelique!”
“THIS IS WHAT YOU SAY!” Jeremiah sneers, and with that face, sneering doesn’t come easy. “BUT YOU STILL COVET JOSETTE — ANOTHER MAN’S WIFE! I AM HERE TO WARN YOU, BARNABAS. SHE IS MINE, AND IF YOU EVER DO MARRY HER, I WILL HAUNT YOU BOTH FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIVES!”
By the way, that’s a nice little rhetorical trick that I think we should use in our own lives. Somebody says something that you disagree with, and you shout, “THIS IS WHAT YOU SAY!” Unbeatable, in my opinion. An automatic win.
But then things just spiral out of control, and Zombie Jeremiah lashes out in all directions.
It seemed like he was in favor of Barnabas marrying Angelique — this is what he said — but thinking it over, he’s decided to screw with that too. As she’s trying on her wedding dress, the specter spatters her with blood, and yells at her for calling him up in the first place.
“YOU SUMMONED ME FROM MY GRAVE!” he points out. “YOU DISTURBED MY REST!”
Angelique tries to disengage. “I needed you to do my bidding. I do not need you now!” she cries. “Can’t you understand? Go back to your grave!”
That appears to be what Jeremiah wants, to return to his grave; he goes on to say variations on YOU DISTURBED MY REST for the next three minutes. But she’s offering him that option, and he doesn’t take it. He doesn’t know what he wants anymore.
So he picks her up and carries her out to the cemetery, where he’s like, IF YOU THINK IT’S SO GREAT BEING IN MY GRAVE, THEN WHY DON’T YOU TRY IT?
When she recovers from that ordeal and heads back to the house, he gets super passive-aggressive. He knocks over all the furniture, he turns the champagne into blood, and he drives around the block ten times, shouting profanities. None of this gets him anywhere. No one is impressed.
Finally, things start to sink in, around the time that Angelique calls on the powers of darkness to banish him. Being on the receiving end of a banishment is usually a learning experience.
“With every power I have,” Angelique wails, “I call upon Beelzebub to take you back to the earth of which you are a part! He commands you to go!”
“NO. HE HAS NO POWER OVER ME.”
“Who has? Whose power are you in now?”
“YOU WILL NOT SLEEP UNTIL I CAN!” Zombie Jeremiah vows. “YOU WILL HAVE NO REST UNTIL I HAVE MY ETERNAL REST!”
“Tell me!” Angelique shouts. “Whose power are you in? Tell me!”
And Jeremiah thinks, YOU KNOW WHAT? THAT’S A GOOD POINT. WHOSE POWER AM I IN?
I mean, Jeremiah spent his whole life being bossed around. His brother Joshua had control of the family fortune. His sister Abigail was a religious crank. Everyone kept pressuring him to marry his cousin Millicent, which he didn’t want to do. Then he was tricked into marrying Josette, he was killed by Barnabas, and now Angelique is still telling him what to do.
He’s off the leash for the first time in his weary existence. Is this really how he wants to spend the time that he doesn’t have?
So reaching out to Kitty is his way of trying something new. It’s a hundred years later, and he’s had time to think this over. For the first time since the duel, he’s not threatening anybody. He just wants to help.
During the time that Jeremiah was on sabbatical, his nephew Barnabas turned into a vampire, and Josette threw herself off a cliff to get away from him. Now he’s risen again, and he’s determined to ensnare the woman that he believes is Kitty’s reincarnation. This pretty much proves Jeremiah’s point about YOU WILL DO ANYTHING TO GET HER BACK. Score one for Z-Jay.
But he doesn’t say anything like YOU ARE MY WIFE. He’s over that. He just wants to keep Barnabas from killing another Josette.
Of course, conducting this interview at Widow’s Hill is probably a bad idea. This is a woman with a history of jumping off cliffs. Like, a real history, written down in a history book.
It doesn’t work. She doesn’t listen. She just goes back to Collinwood, and turns into Josette, and kills herself all over again.
Seventy years later, in 1968, there’s another potential Josette — a governess, like Kitty used to be. Barnabas is in love with Victoria Winters, and he wants to turn her into Josette somehow.
Jeremiah can’t believe this nonsense is still going on, so he appears in Vicki’s dream to offer some friendly advice.
“COME TO ME!” he bellows, crawling his way out of the grave. “DO NOT BE AFRAID! I WILL HELP YOU! I AM THE FIRST HE KILLED!”
And again, the dead — please learn to use antecedents. Say “I AM THE FIRST BARNABAS KILLED.” It really would make a tremendous difference.
“MANY WILL DIE AT HIS HANDS!” Z-Jay continues. “I HAVE HEARD THEM CRYING IN THEIR GRAVES! SO SHALL YOU!”
And it’s not working. He thought he’d get it right this time — DO NOT BE AFRAID, he said — but here she is, being afraid.
“I AM NOT THE ONE TO FEAR!” He’s raising his voice, and it was already pretty raised to begin with. “LOOK AT ME! SEE THE TRUTH!”
She doesn’t. She can’t. Looking at him is part of the problem.
A couple months later, he gets a call from the late Reverend Trask, who wants to teach Barnabas a lesson about killing everybody.
And Zombie Jeremiah thinks, OKAY. THIS IS MY CHANCE TO DO IT RIGHT THIS TIME. I’M NOT GOING TO SCREAM AT A GIRL. I’M NOT GOING TO TURN ANYTHING INTO BLOOD. I’M JUST GOING TO BE THERE TO SUPPORT BARNABAS, AND ENCOURAGE HIM TO GET THE HELP THAT HE NEEDS.
But it’s all wrong. It’s not an intervention, like Trask said it would be. It’s a mock trial, organized to justify chaining Barnabas behind a wall and letting him starve to death. Years ago, Jeremiah said that he wanted justice, but this isn’t what he had in mind.
And Jeremiah doesn’t even get a chance to speak — he’s the guy’s blood relative, and they don’t even let him talk. He’s just part of the scenery for Reverend Trask’s pitiful vengeance games.
YOU KNOW WHAT? says Z-Jay. THIS IS BULLSHIT.
So he lets go.
Barnabas is going to do what he’s going to do. The women are going to trust him, and fall in love with him, and die. The eternal tangle of Angelique, Barnabas and Josette is going to keep going around and around like this, forever. He can participate in that — yell at Barnabas, splatter blood on Angelique, find the latest Josette and offer assistance that she’ll never accept — or he can move on. The other three are still trying to win the game; Jeremiah is the only one who’s learned enough to stop playing.
But what does he do now? He can’t go back to his grave, after all this time; he’s lost the knack. He was only in his grave for about a week in the first place, and he’s been a specter way longer than he’s ever been anything else. Haunting is all he knows.
He’s seen his wife tumble off a cliff several times by now, and he was powerless to help — but maybe he can help someone else. He understands that he’s scary looking; that message has finally penetrated the bandages around his gun-damaged head. But he could talk to people.
So he gets a job as a suicide hotline crisis counselor, and it turns out that he’s really good at it. He’s learned how to listen, and there’s nothing that shocks him anymore. He’s seen it all.
After a few years, he applies for a job at a local radio station, and he gets a late-night call-in show called YOU SUMMONED ME. It’s a small station, but he’s building an audience, and he’s helping people. It feels good. For the first time in centuries, he rests in peace.
“HELLO, DOLORES IN SANTA FE!” he says, punching the button to bring up the next caller. “DO NOT BE AFRAID! I WILL HELP YOU!”
Tomorrow: Sin and Sincerity.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
At the beginning of act 1, a lightning flash on Widow’s Hill reveals Thayer David in the background, waiting for his cue.
Tomorrow: Sin and Sincerity.
— Danny Horn