Episode 863: Sin and Sincerity

“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.

774 dark shadows trask judith holding

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.

863 dark shadows edward judith cards

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.

863 dark shadows edward judith teasing

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.

863 dark shadows trask edward eyebrow

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.

863 dark shadows judith trask stairs

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.

863 dark shadows boudicca

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.

863 dark shadows judith trask come to me

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.

863 dark shadows edward judith stairs

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.

339 dark shadows roger liz absurd

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.

863 dark shadows trask edward forget

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

22 thoughts on “Episode 863: Sin and Sincerity

  1. It did seem like Edward Collins was channeling Roger Collins.

    I enjoy the card game, it’s a rare look at a seemingly ordinary night at home with Judith, Edward and Quentin, even if Quentin is not quite himself.
    The line about “a year ago” was probably the writers being a little sloppy. Quentin just got back from being away for a year, when this all began, but “it’s just like 19 months ago!” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

    Thanks to Edward’s remarks, this might be Dark Shadows funniest episode.
    “Ooh, indeed he did! He was going to save her soul”
    “But to no avail?”
    “But why should..Gawdd be angry at Judith?”

    Judith makes excellent use of the stairway for her shocking entrance.

    1. Edmonds’s delivery of “why should Gawwd be angry at Judith” is one of my favorite DS moments. It’s as much, if not more, reflective of what I love about DS as Barnabas baring his fangs. But the wit of the series is something lacking in the 1990s revival and is misapplied in the 2012 film (I don’t oppose humor in DS, by any means, it’s just how it’s delivered).

  2. What this means, I think, is that we’re getting sick of 1897, and we want to go home.<<

    I certainly was long before 1897 got to his point. I know 1897 is usually referred to as a “fan favorite,” but I’ve always found it to be one of Dark Shadows’ least interesting periods.

    1. Yeah, I’m well past ready to return to 1969 but unfortunately, they drag back unfinished 1897 business and keep right on torturing us with it.

    2. Yeah, once they resolved the problem with Quentin’s ghost I started to get impatient for them to wrap things up and return to the 1960’s. Unfortunately, that is when my least fav plot begins. It’s been awhile since I watched, but weren’t they teasing Quentin or Ptoffi’s return but dropped it when the Leviathan plot was playing out?

  3. I thought this was the BEST of the storylines ever, especially now that I know what is ahead of us in 1969

    1. I don’t mind a friendly retcon designed to depict a more cordial 1897 Collins family — certainly not the conflict-free dullards that the modern-day Collins had become but not the family from the first few episodes of 1897 who clearly loathed each other.

      Perhaps what’s most damning about the present-day Collins is that when Barnabas returns from the past, it’s as if nothing had happened while he was gone. On the one hand, this might (correctly) imply that a lot of the problems the family faces are his responsibility but it also makes it clear how uninteresting the family is otherwise.

      It’s silly to fan-fic an almost 50-year-old storyline but I do wish that instead of having Barnabas bring the Leviathan box to the present that the Leviathans were already in residence and moving forward with their evil plan when Barnabas arrives. I’d even prefer an “evil” Julia and a confused Barnabas trying to figure out what’s happened to the family.

      I adore Julia and love that she’s so proactive in the Leviathan story but it’s just flat-out narrative malpractice to have your two leading men not behaving like themselves for months.

      1. I like your idea of everyone being possessed by the Leviathans when Barnabas returns and it is up to him to figure things out and prevent yet another tragedy. I could see him talking with Paul Stoddard to get to the root of the situation, that Carolyn was a to marry Jeb and produce a new Leviathan race.

  4. “it’s as if nothing had happened while he was gone.”

    That’s probably because Quentin was “saved” and his haunting was prevented a while back. We can probably assume that things have been back to normal in 1969 Collinwood, for as long as it has been since Petofi stopped Beth from shooting Quentin.
    Barnabas stayed longer than he needed to. I’m suddenly remembering that line about “staying too long at the fair”. The Collinwood he comes back to seems nice, and appropriately dull. And he returns so quietly, with no fanfare of any kind. He just kind of slithers back.

    I like your idea of “evil Julia”, instead of Barnabas. Don’t know how that would have worked. Maybe the Leviathans snagged her right after she faded out on Quentofi, and by the time Barnabas returns, many are already possessed?

    I do remember, on the original broadcast, how much I hated seeing Barnabas being controlled by the Leviathans. When he came back, and was cold to Julia and refused to answer her questions, it was painful. I thought Dark Shadows was making a HUGE mistake, the kind of thing that could threaten a show’s existence. I thought it was their first real mistake.
    Eventually, Barnabas got back to normal, but I think a lot of damage may have been done.
    Now, when I watch it, it’s not such a big deal, but at the time, it was hard to watch for a while.
    Love the antique shop.

    1. In the reboot I am writing the idea is that it is only Barnabas and Julia, because they both went into the past, that remember Quentin and the original timeline. Which means that there is a new timeline they are plopped into and they have no idea what has been happening. The Leviathans are there, true, but they have to unravel the mystery themselves, and why is everyone behaving so strangely. (I got the idea from “Eureka” when several characters went into the past, and when they came back everything they remembered had not happened or happened otherwise.)

    2. I love the antique shop, too, because it added a new dimension and location for the plots. It gave us a long-lost sense of downtown Collinsport, which we hadn’t seen since the beginning of the series with location shots.

      Richard, I was always worried that the show was going to be cancelled, When I saw how out of hand the story was getting, what with all the zombies during the Leviathan plot, I was really concerned.

      I think that with some of the epic stories they told back in time, it was next to impossible to make the contemporary Collins family as exciting. I did like Liz’s confrontation with Paul. We needed more of that kind of thing.

  5. I was a viewer of the original ABC broadcast of the series. I was 12 when the 1897 storyline was in progress and was so ready for the show to return to the present, mainly because of being a teen and wanting to see contemporary stories. I was so excited at the beginning of the Leviathan story, but my enthusiasm waned rather quickly. I was always worried that the show was going to be cancelled, and it was obvious that the writers were running out of ideas.

  6. Whenever I would watch the series straight through I would always get impatient with any sojourn into the past, 1795 included, and would be anxious for the story to wrap up so that the show could get back to the present. For me, Dark Shadows is a window into the 1960s, even if it is a world unto itself, and eventually into the early 1970s. More important, the present day Dark Shadows is more natural — Louis Edmonds is at his best when portraying Roger Collins, Nancy Barrett more perfect as Carolyn Stoddard, and Kathryn Leigh Scott as Maggie Evans, and so on. It’s like these actors are portraying their own contemporary counterpart, and they are believable and fully dimensional in the realistic sense in these roles, whereas when portraying other characters from the past, there is something not so natural about it; there is an abundance of self-conscious theatricality about the presentation of the characters that makes you long for the eventual return to the present.

    Perhaps this is not an issue for Thayer David, whose chameleon-like talent for transformation can make even an outrageously annoying wig like Petofi’s spring to life, not to mention his unlikely English brogue. Wasn’t he supposed to be more of an Eastern European? Note that the only character whose speech and mannerism does not change through the ages is Barnabas, and to a great extent Angelique as well.

    It’s easier to project oneself into the sense of danger the show is trying to put across when it occurs in a world that is more contemporary with one’s own. All one needs is the lightning blinking through those stain glass windows atop the Collinwood foyer on any given evening in the present to set the mood. For some reason, it’s harder to get behind character portrayals as represented from the distant past, because, naturally, they don’t exist in the contemporary world, and therefore have less relevance, and when the show travels back to the past as in 1897, you get the feeling you’re only visiting anyway.

    Whenever a new spook shows up at present day Collinwood and starts wreaking havoc — whether Barnabas, Quentin, or Gerard — the show always feels the need to journey back to when said ghost/spirit/whatever first lived to explain their story, and then the battle lines that were drawn in the present are resolved in the past, in a world that no longer exists. We may have benefited from the 1795 time travel to flesh out the Barnabas backstory, but I think the Quentin story should have been resolved in 1969, likewise the Gerard threat of 1970. It’s harder for the present day Collinwood characters to be as effective as they might have been when all the major issues affecting the present are resolved somewhere else.

    By the way, I love that antique shop of 1969/1970 — far more than that antique world of 1897.

  7. Whoo hoo! I’m almost caught up with this wonderful blog! Real time with you guys! (Almost as fun as parallel time!)

    I first watched DS as a kid, and my favorite parts were always the beginnings of new adventures (seeing what character each actor was going to play THIS time) and the endings where all the bad guys got their comeuppance (over the strewn corpses of most of the good guys, alas.) The middles always sagged for me as a teen, but then I didn’t quite catch the humorous aspects then. I was VERY serious about my Dark Shadows, about all the ABC soaps in fact.

    Now I laugh heartily re-watching the show again, especially with Danny’s hilarious words as my guide and this great commentary from the rest of you! We may start to diverge in agreement soon because, at least as I remember, I really enjoyed the Lebiathan story for several reasons (Jeb Hawkes, mmmmm) and I LOVED parallel time. Still some pleasures to be had before it all goes to pot.

    1. I adore the scene where you think Trask’s pulling off his gaslighting yet again, and then she tells him she’s got her power of attorney back. You can HEAR his face hitting the floor.

      Watching this while he’s driveling out the same old lines of horseshit, I said out loud “Dude. LOOK AT HER. Is that the face of someone who’s buying one angstrom of this crap?” But Trask, like Petofi, is so used to being in charge he doesn’t get when it’s time to change strategy.

  8. Danny usually uses the right word. When on the rare occasion that it seems he has not, I usually say nothing.

    Today he writes, “And now, after several months in the dungeon, the queen returns to retake her throne — ”

    In this case, I felt the urge to quibble. I thought “the tower” rather than “the dungeon” would have been more in tune with a History of the British Crown-analogy. Only then it occurred to me that “the tower” might have been too confusing since Collinwood already has its own tower.

    So, never mind.

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