“I mean, that makes a girl feel all creepy, having all that ‘ocus-pocus said over her!”
What do you think it feels like?
When you “switch off”, I mean. When you suddenly wake up and you’re wearing clothes that you don’t recognize, and you find out that you just had a fight that you don’t understand, with somebody that you’ve never met.
You haven’t been drinking; it wasn’t a blackout. You were just sitting in a room, and you heard a strange sound, and the next thing you know, it’s an hour later, you’re downstairs, and you’re screaming at an oil painting.
And what do you think it feels like, when somebody that you hardly know looks you right in the eye, and tries to convince you that you’re the intruder?
I don’t know about you, but if that happened to me? I’d probably punch that person in the face, and keep on punching until there’s nothing left to punch.
So that’s the big romantic storyline at the end of 1897, hooray! This is Love in the Afternoon, Dark Shadows ’69.
Here’s the deal: Kitty Soames arrived at Collinwood about six weeks ago, and apparently she’s two people. She believes that she’s a pragmatic widow woman with a fancy title and no income, who’s hoping to snare Edward Collins into her second rich-man marriage. But then she was spotted by eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins, who decided that she’s the reincarnation of his long-lost Josette, because she looks like Josette and he’s bored.
The vampire has been stalking Kitty remotely, even through the whole month that everybody thought he was dead. First, Barnabas snuck into her bedroom to deliver Josette’s music box, a magical panty-melting artifact that hypnotizes young women into thinking that they’re into him, and then he started communicating with her via subliminal messages emanating from his portrait. These aren’t typical courtship moves, but Barnabas is a trend-setter.
So she’s been musicboxing around the house for weeks, slipping in and out of a Josette-flavored fugue state.
Naturally, Kitty’s upset about this. Anybody would be, if a prior tenant showed up and started walking your body around the house. In fact, she’s so freaked out that she decides to visit the evil old wizard who lives under a bridge for a consultation.
Now, the problem that I’m having with this story at the moment is that I have to keep explaining that almost everyone is currently two people. In fact, five out of the six characters in today’s episode are currently experiencing some kind of identity theft issue — Kitty is struggling with Josette, Charity Trask is inhabited by the spirit of Pansy Faye, Barnabas is pretending to be a lookalike cousin who was victimized by the vampire, and Quentin has switched bodies with mad god Count Petofi. Possession is nine-tenths of this storyline.
So Kitty isn’t actually addressing Petofi, when she begs him to use his magical legendary hand to help her understand where the Josette business is coming from. She’s talking to Quentin, who’s perfectly willing to help, but he doesn’t have any powers. His hands are just standard issue non-legendary hands.
But Kitty keeps insisting, so Quentin goes ahead and gives it a try, and guess what. It turns out the hand was loaded after all.
“NO!” Kitty screams. “Barnabas was right!” This was not the answer she was hoping for.
But then she gets that glazed look again, and the music box cue starts drifting through the room.
“I am Josette DuPres! I remember everything now… I am Josette DuPres…”
Then she catches herself. “But I’m also Kitty Soames!”
And the interesting thing is that Kitty doesn’t play this the way that you might expect. I think the more traditional past-lives story would frame this as “I was Josette DuPres,” meaning that now Kitty’s consciousness has expanded, and her memories include her past life as Josette.
But instead, she says, “I am Josette DuPres,” which suggests that this is an either/or situation. In those moments when she is Josette, she is emphatically not Kitty, and vice versa.
When Quentin tells her to stay put, she cries, “No, I’m afraid to stay here! Knowing that I’m two people, knowing that I possess the memory of a woman who’s dead!”
Again, she doesn’t say my memories, and “the dead woman” is a stranger. Josette is an external agent, imposing her identity onto Kitty by force.
After Quentin leaves, Kitty spots a knife on the table, and for an unsettling moment, she considers suicide. This is already an occupational hazard for Josettes; just imagine how bad this could get for Kitty.
Meanwhile, over at Collinwood, Count Petofi — appearing here in the guise and garb of Quentin Collins — is shocked to discover that his legendary hand is shooting blanks. Barnabas tries to reassure him that this happens to everyone once in a while, and he shouldn’t worry about it. He’s still an evil wizard; his hand probably just needs a legendary rest.
But Petofi decides that he needs to test drive the hand on somebody else, so he goes and messes with the other woman on the show who’s currently two people.
Straight and narrow Charity Trask has been doing business as music-hall artiste Pansy Faye since midsummer — but unlike Kitty, Charity didn’t experience a lot of angst over the change in management.
Charity’s personality was overwritten by Pansy’s, just like Kitty and Josette, but they were more casual about it. In the early moments when there was still some overlap, it seemed like a funny affectation that Charity was putting on — an opportunity to let loose, and have fun for a change.
I can’t remember exactly when they pulled the switch, and Charity actually dissolved in the red-hot lava pool of Pansy’s personality. I’m pretty sure they didn’t make a big deal about it. They just kept on doing Pansy scenes.
This is an obvious example of serialized narrative as natural selection. Pansy didn’t necessarily have more story potential than her body’s previous owner; she’s just more fun. She’s louder and more expressive, she’s got a funny accent, she carries around a neon-bright feaher boa, and you can’t predict how she’s going to react to any given event. Scenes with Pansy are just more interesting than scenes with Charity, so when they released everybody else from Petofi’s sorcery, Pansy stayed on, for no explicit storyline-related reason.
So when we see Petofi trying to unwhammy Pansy, the show is playing this like a potential loss. The audience likes Pansy, and we don’t want her to be replaced with boring snooty Charity Trask. Petofi waggles his hand in her direction, and the music builds to a crescendo — and this is played as a source of tension, not as a gallant rescue of sweet Charity from the prison of being Pansy.
Once it’s all over, it’s a relief when Pansy looks up at Petofi, cocks her head to the side like a parakeet, and squeaks, “What you been tryin’ to do to me? I mean, that makes a girl feel all creepy, having all that ‘ocus-pocus said over her!” She’s still under the influence, but it’s a comedy sequence, instead of the horror that Kitty is experiencing.
And ultimately, that’s the difference between these two otherwise identical stories. Pansy’s personality keeps its grip over Charity, and that’s fine with us; she can stay that way forever, as far as we’re concerned. But we don’t feel the same way about Kitty and Josette, because the story is trending in the direction of the less interesting character.
Now, I know that there are Josette enthusiasts out there, who disagree with my assessment that Josette is a boring sap who has nothing to talk about and never makes a single good decision. But even the hardcore Barnsetters have to admit that Kitty has more interesting things to say. Overwriting Kitty with Josette is a net loss, and Kitty responds accordingly.
So it’s simply awful when Kitty musicboxes her way into Josette’s room, and gets a sales pitch from a portrait.
“Don’t despair,” the spot of art whispers. “Don’t fight. I mean you no harm, Kitty. Let me live through you!”
This, I think, is the final straw between me and Josette. This is Count Petofi-level selfishness. Josette already had the chance for a happy ever after with Barnabas, and she chose to throw herself off a cliff instead. A hundred years later, she’s suddenly decided she wants to change her vote.
I mean you no harm, she says. I just want you to stop existing, so that I can have sex with my brother-in-law, using your body. Is that really too much to ask?
So I honestly don’t know which way the show wants me to land on Kitty and Josette. With Pansy and Charity, it’s obvious that the writers and the audience are entirely in synch. Pansy is better. She should stay Pansy.
But how are we supposed to feel, when Barnabas walks in and acts romancey? Who are we supposed to be rooting for?
And Barnabas really gets deep into the romance, too, with a line that I think is one of the best he’s ever delivered on the show.
Kitty: Kitty Soames calls you Mr. Collins, and tells you to leave the room. But Josette…
Barnabas: Josette calls me Barnabas… and wants me to stay.
And the way he says it, the golden honey in his voice — I’m generally immune to the romantic charms of Jonathan Frid, but I have to admit, that line makes me melt a little. This is a very emotionally complex story to process.
And the crazy thing is that this is literally the only love story that Dark Shadows has, to anchor the end of the 1897 storyline. Romantic plots are supposed to be the bread and butter of soap opera storytelling, but the conclusion of this eight-month sequence is mostly about beating up the mean dudes.
The 1795 storyline hinged on two big romantic stories. The core of that period, obviously, was the toxic triangle of Barnabas, Josette and Angelique. Once that story faded after Josette’s death, the show picked up Vicki and Peter as the story-driving romantic couple. The end of Vicki’s relationship with Peter was the end of 1795.
But 1897 never really had a strong core couple to root for. Obviously, Quentin should be the romantic lead, given that everyone in the audience wants to have sex with him, but he’s had chemistry tests with almost every woman who’s appeared, except for his sister and Grayson Hall, and none of those pairings have lasted.
Now, in the dying days of the storyline, Quentin has four simultaneous love interests: Amanda, Beth, Angelique and Pansy. Of those four, Amanda has the strongest stake in things — partly because they spent a decent amount of time building up Quentin and Amanda as a couple, and partly because Amanda has her own little squad of suitors, including Tate, Tim and Trask. Quentin is the most-admired man on the canvas, and Amanda is the most-admired woman, so putting them together makes a kind of rough sense.
Unfortunately, Donna McKechnie went off to London for a while, leaving a huge hole in the conclusion of this storyline. Once we get back to 1969, we’ll see that Quentin and Amanda have been searching for each other — but you wouldn’t know it from here.
So it feels like Dark Shadows is asking the question: Do we even need romantic couples anymore?
If this was anything like a normal soap opera, we’d see a love triangle between Edward, Kitty and Barnabas, but here, in this strange frigid landscape, Edward and Barnabas aren’t explicitly played as rivals for Kitty’s love.
There’s an Edward/Kitty story — an actual, human story about love and money and disappointment — that I would very much like to see. Instead, it’s being erased, and transformed into another turn of the wheel in the endless tragedy of Barnabas and Josette. It’s just not fair. Ghosts ruin everything.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
I actually didn’t spot any bloopers in the whole episode today, other than random boom mic shadows. If you noticed something, let us know in the comments…
— Danny Horn