“But why should God be angry at Judith?”
Barnabas is staked, Quentin is swapped, Charity is possessed by a woman she hardly knows. As usual, the Collins family is full of supernatural ne’er-do-wells, who scream and scheme and stay up late, desperate to save each other from their latest fate worse than death.
Meanwhile, the grown-ups in the family go to work, and manage their investments, and take care of the property. They pay servants. They sign documents. They make decisions.
Some of those decisions are terrible, of course, especially in their choice of spouses, who tend to be monsters and murderers and reincarnations of people, but at least the grown-ups don’t dabble in the dark arts. Judith wouldn’t know a dark art if it came up and bit her, which, come to think of it, it actually did.
There’s been a murmur running through the crowd this week; I direct you to the comments below the last couple posts. People like Judith’s return from the sanitarium, and the approaching confrontation as she deals with her conniving, hypocrite husband. It makes Dark Shadows fans happy, and with good reason. It’s the strongest human-based story they’ve done in a long time.
Judith got all the money left behind by her grandmother Edith, that’s how this all began for her. She lorded it over her three brothers for weeks, summoning them into the drawing room every time she thought of a new way to show off her new position atop the family hierarchy. Foolish and proud, with no experience of being respected or loved, she was an easy mark for the sanctimonious Reverend Gregory Trask, who flattered her, and killed his first wife so that he could marry her.
Trask could have just coasted from that point — he was married to a fantastic fortune, and was set for life — but Minerva refused to rest in peace. The angry ex started whispering in Judith’s ear, warning her of Trask’s treachery. And she had a good point, because the next step in the saga involved Trask gaslighting Judith all the way into a months-long stay at Rushmore Sanitarium, and a lengthy summer vacation for Joan Bennett.
Now Judith has returned, sprung from the nuthouse at a moment’s notice. She’s made her way back to Collinwood, ready to take control once again, and her brother Edward is absolutely delighted. Trask’s been throwing his weight around in her absence, and Edward is thrilled to see some checks and balances arrive on the scene. He never appreciated Judith before, and he was furious when she snatched the inheritance out from under his waxed mustache — but if she’s going to slap Trask out of the house, then he’s all for it.
So here’s the once-warring siblings, sitting down for a brisk game of Pretend You’re Doing Something with Cards. There’s a man standing by the window, who they think is their younger brother Quentin.
“Well, it’s quite like old times, isn’t it?” Edward sighs. It isn’t, actually. “The three of us together. But for certain things, it could be a year ago.”
“It could not,” Judith says, tersely.
“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” he allows. “A year ago, Quentin was not a bachelor. He is now, despite his flurry over Angelique.”
“I think he was right to postpone the wedding. Quentin shouldn’t rush into a marriage.”
“As you did,” Edward smirks.
“It’s your play, Edward.”
Now, we’ve been here in 1897 for almost eight months now — and while we don’t know exactly what things were like a year ago, I’m pretty sure they weren’t like this. Their brother Carl was alive, for one thing. Quentin had run off with Edward’s wife Laura, leaving his own wife to cry, and give birth to twins, and generally lose her mind, locked away in the attic. Their grandmother Edith was upstairs, gradually losing her battle with old age, and the grandchildren were sniping at each other and jockeying for position.
I can’t say for sure, but I’d be surprised if there were a lot of quiet domestic scenes like this a year ago, with Edward and Judith placidly playing make-believe card games while Quentin stood silently at the window.
They’re rewriting the past again, setting up a false backdrop for today’s adventures. Edward and Judith used to be more combative than this, but it’s a soap opera, and memories can be rewritten.
So what once seemed like open warfare between Edward and Judith has settled into something that’s more like teasing. He adopts a light, sarcastic tone.
Edward: Gregory should be coming home from the sanitarium by now. This is usually the time he gets here. You know, it’s curious that he didn’t come, after the doctors told him that you’d been released. But then, of course, he may have had other business.
Judith: Are you enjoying yourself, Edward?
Edward: Well, you told me that he didn’t visit you while you were there.
Judith: That was a mistake.
Edward: Every week, he would leave to see you. He even went when people were staying here, whom I’m sure he would have rather stayed with.
Judith: What do you mean by that?
Edward: Oh, well, it’s not a secret, is it Quentin? It’s common gossip. The servants love talking about it. He brought a woman to this house. Did you know that?
Judith: If he did, I’m sure he had a very good reason.
Edward: Ooh, indeed he did. He was going to save her soul. She was very beautiful, wasn’t she, Quentin?
Quentin: Yes. Very beautiful.
Edward: Well, if you ask me, I think she left because of his attentions.
Judith: Do you know that to be true?
Edward: No. But I did see the way he looked at her.
Judith: I’m afraid I’ve won the game, Edward. I will wait for Gregory upstairs.
So Judith leaves the room in a marked manner, which appears to delight Edward, except this isn’t Edward.
The Edward that we’ve come to know doesn’t traffic in sarcastic smirks, especially when it comes to a family scandal. When Edward has something to say, he stands upright in the center of the room, and delivers his accusations directly, at top volume.
This new, coy Edward, who raises an eyebrow instead of his voice, is not the man we’ve seen in 1897. But this storyline isn’t very 1897, either.
The 1897 flashback — now well into its seventh month — is a crowded, noisy affair, where a mad wizard inhabiting the body of an eleven-year-old boy transforms family members into butlers and strumpets. 1897 is gypsy trials and sudden hallway fires, pentragrams on the carpet and corpses erupting from their cement-filled resting places. It’s messy and untamed, and it is not subtle.
So it’s a bit of a mystery why this oncoming moment of non-supernatural domestic justice pleases us so much.
I mean, you can see the obvious dramatic appeal. The powerful, wealthy Judith was brought low, thanks to the machinations of the sinister Trask and his henchling. She was guilty of the sin of pride, and Trask’s unctuous attentions preyed upon her vanity, and her desperate need to be loved. Once he put a ring on her finger, he tore her down, using his own sin — the cold-blooded murder of his first wife — as a weapon against her.
And now, after several months in the dungeon, the queen returns to retake her throne — to right the wrong, to bring peace and freedom to our land once again.
It’s a thrilling slice of melodrama, just exactly the kind of thing that Dark Shadows doesn’t really do that much.
This story — the return of the queen, reclaiming her kingdom from the evil grand vizier — is basically the opposite of Dark Shadows, for one reason: we know how that story goes.
Trask will be exiled, or executed; it doesn’t really matter which. He will be humiliated, his lies exposed. The people that he abused and silenced will rise up against him. And Judith — accompanied in spirit by Minerva, Rachel, Amanda, that old lady in Providence and the other one in Boston — will nail his coffin lid shut.
Gregory Trask will not return as a vengeful ghost. He won’t slip sideways in time, his execution suspended between two ticks of a clock. He won’t summon a demon, or explode in a sheet of flame.
He will lie. He will be exposed. He will be humbled. And everybody will live happily ever after, for a given value of happy, and a rapidly decreasing population of everybody.
So the question is: If this is so satisfying to us, then why do we watch a television show where this almost never happens anymore? If there was an Amazon recommendation engine for Dark Shadows plot points, then it would be telling us that Customers Who Bought This Item also bought tempestuous revenge dramas like Medea and Titus Andronicus — or if you’re looking for something more current, then it’s Empire or Scandal or How to Get Away with Murder. This storyline takes place squarely in Shondaland.
The closest example from Dark Shadows, of course, is Barnabas trapping the 1795 Reverend Trask behind a brick wall — the well-loved plot point that’s being recycled here. But that kind of personal revenge fantasy has pretty much dropped out of sight by this point in the show’s run, when the conflicts are noisier and more direct.
It’s surprising, here in the closing weeks of this bonkers time trip, to have a pointedly non-supernatural conclusion to a major story thread. But I think that we like it so much because we’re longing for Joan Bennett to come back and take over again, like she used to, back in the twentieth century.
Yes, Judith demanding explanations from Trask is enjoyable, but the real pleasure of today’s episode is actually in the thrill that Edward gets from all this. For the first time, Edward and Judith are actually aligned. Whatever she pretends during the card game, they both agree that Trask is a problem that needs to be solved. And when Judith brings her husband into the drawing room to talk things over, Edward stands in the foyer, eavesdropping and fiddling with his mustache.
But this isn’t Judith and Edward anymore — at least, not the Judith and Edward that we started with. When 1897 began, he had the upper hand, and he complained bitterly about Judith’s rise to power. Now he’s delighted to have her come home and take over; he’s counting on her to save the day.
The grand matriarch running the roost, and her eyebrow-raising brother? That’s Elizabeth and Roger.
Those two started out as bickering competitors too, once upon a time. But they were tried in the furnace, and they mellowed into the same dynamic that Judith and Edward are discovering now. Companionship. Respect. Trust. He’s always going to tease her, because it’s fun, and he’s so good at it. But they’re not opponents anymore.
What this means, I think, is that we’re getting sick of 1897, and we want to go home. I’m not convinced there are a lot of great storylines waiting for us in late ’69, but that’s where Elizabeth and Roger live, and I miss them terribly.
So maybe we like this Judith/Edward/Trask revenge story because secretly, we want 1897 to be over. But before we wrap this up, we have to take care of the remaining villains and loose ends, and Judith’s return from the sanitarium means that at least one problem is about to be solved. Joan Bennett is back, and she’s taking care of business.
Tomorrow: Down the Hatch.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
During the ritual, when Evan raises both hands, the camera pulls back and you get two very brief glimpses of a light shining through the top of the set.
Petofi agrees to tell Quentin what he’s done to Evan: “Perhaps it will discourage you from listing friends to your cause.” He means enlisting. He recognizes the mistake as he says it, pauses for a beat, and then moves on.
I cleaned up the quote above, but Edward actually smirks, “It’s common gossip! The servants… would love talking about it.”
Edward steps on one of Trask’s lines:
Trask: Your sister did not even recognize me…
Edward: Good —
Trask: … her own husband.
Edward: — heavens!
In the final scene, you can see a light hanging at the back of the set.
Tomorrow: Down the Hatch.
— Danny Horn