“Do you think me mad?”
Dark magic-dabbling attorney Evan Hanley was murdered yesterday, the not very innocent victim of an undead prison guard who was magically brought to life by an insane sketch artist, working under the instructions of a mad old wizard who wants to dispose of his pet assassin. I hope the Collinsport police don’t have a lot to do right now, because there is going to be all kinds of paperwork to complete on this one.
Now that rough beast, its hour come round at last, is slouching towards Collinwood, where I’m sorry but he’s going to have to take a number, and wait his turn.
There are five characters in today’s episode of Dark Shadows, and each of them wants to murder at least one of the others. Evan’s end was just the start of a string of violent deaths we’re going to see over the next week, as a kind of storyline housecleaning. We’re heading towards the end of the 1897 story, and that means there’s a clearance sale on used characters. Everything must go, the sign says. Everything.
Today, the odious Reverend Trask learns about Evan’s death from Aristede, the freelance assassin who’s being hunted by the unstoppable black-souled vengeance demon. But Trask is more concerned with his own affairs — specifically, his plan to murder his wife, Judith.
Judith has been studying her faithless husband lately, and she’s come to the conclusion that the world would be a better place with fewer Trasks in it. So she’s been trolling him, informing him that she plans to change her will and leave all of her money to charity. The only lawyer on the show has just croaked on the carpet, which makes the will-changing a bit more difficult to arrange, but really she’s just trying to rattle Trask’s cage. He has now been sufficiently rattled.
So Judith goes downtown to visit Tim Shaw, an ex-teacher who hates Reverend Trask because Trask and Evan hypnotized him, and forced him to murder Trask’s wife Minerva. Now, following Evan’s murder, Tim is being employed by Trask’s wife Judith to murder Trask. Are you getting all of this?
It’s tricky, I know, because this is another one of those clockwork episodes, which is all about moving characters and props from one room to another. Aristede’s in the bedroom with a revolver, Judith’s in the parlor with the poison, Tim’s in the west wing with a trowel and a pile of bricks, and somewhere out there in the gloom, Garth Blackwood is shaking the excess bits of lawyer off his choke chain. I don’t know if they have a billiard room or a conservatory in this moldering manse, but somebody ought to do a security sweep just in case, and batten down any loose candlesticks and lead pipes.
Getting down to business, Trask takes Aristede up to the master bedroom, and hands him a revolver that he’s carrying in his pocket. I don’t know if Trask always walks around armed, but this is Collinwood; he probably found the gun in the nursery.
The plan is as follows: Aristede hides behind a curtain. When Judith enters the room to go to bed, Aristede will shoot her, steal her jewels and then, I don’t know, join the Ice Capades or something. It doesn’t matter. This feels like a big ol’ slice of not gonna happen. There are other murder plots in the house today that are way more interesting than this one.
Downstairs, Judith leads Tim into the drawing room, and gives him some blueprints. “This is a plan of the upstairs,” she explains. “You’ll have about an hour. He’s reading. He’ll come to my room. Give me fifteen minutes. Now, you’ll go to Quentin’s room. I’ve had all of Quentin’s things removed.”
The remarkable thing is that Judith has never killed anyone before, and she’s amazing at this. It must be in the blood; the Collins family is made for murder.
She takes a moment for some self-reflective backacting.
“Do you think me mad?” she asks.
Tim says, “I should think you mad, if you continued to live with Trask.”
“Yes,” Judith replies. “I’ve decided that too.”
Which is fine, except she could just divorce the guy, and kick him out of the house. This option is a lot more of a hassle.
Next, Judith goes upstairs, where Aristede is waiting for her. Tick tock goes the clockwork.
And downstairs, where nobody is paying attention, the hellhound enters the house. The door isn’t locked, so he just lets himself on in, and follows his nose.
Aristede pops out of his hidey-hole, with his heater pointed at Judith. “Who are you?” she gasps, thinking, Can’t a girl murder her husband in peace?
The smooth assassin purrs, “I’ve come here to kill you.” She cries, “No!” but he assures her, “Oh, yesss.” This occupies precious seconds when he could have been pulling the trigger.
Because then the door swings open, and in comes Garth Blackwood, the demon of Dartmoor.
“You learn little, ARISTEDE!” he proclaims, stamping across the floor. “Crime after crime! It SADDENS me, as it always saddens me when one of my boys refuses to learn!” He punctuates this with a swing of his chain.
And now Judith is a bystander in a totally different story. She doesn’t even know who the hell these people are.
But it all works itself out, somehow. Aristede leaps out the window, leaving Blackwood screaming, “You shall not escape from ME!” and smacking his chain against the wall. Trask runs in to see what all the racket’s about, and Blackwood shoves past him en route to the stairs, dragging his bad leg and rattling his chains.
Now, you would imagine, at this point, that Judith might want to reconsider pulling the trigger on her own murder plot for the evening. The one thing that you want, when you’re arranging for the death of a loved one, is for the rest of the world to keep the noise down until you’re finished.
I mean, Judith has already had some servants clear out Quentin’s room in a hurry, and then she brought a whole bunch of supplies upstairs for Tim. Now there’s a chain-wielding maniac with a wooden leg stomping upstairs and down, ranting about crime and punishment at the top of his lungs, plus there’s a completely different stranger, jumping out of the goddamn second-story window. This may be the noisiest evening in Collinwood history, up to and including the werewolf attacks. Where the hell is everybody?
But nobody calls the police, or even stops by to see what’s going on. They must all be wrapped up in their own murder plans, taking advantage of the distraction to sharpen their daggers and ready their poison-tipped blow darts.
And Judith takes all of this in stride, like the stone cold killer that she has suddenly become. She takes a brandy to calm her nerves, and pushes one on her husband as well. Like a sap, he swallows the Mickey Finn like it’s his bedtime treat.
Now, you’d imagine that the brandy would be spiked with something stronger and more lethal than Ambien, but after all that drama, you can’t just kill the guy with an adult beverage. You need a more exciting climax.
So Trask wakes up with a bad headache, and finds himself in Quentin’s room. Tim’s there, making a few last-minute adjustments, and he keeps Trask covered while he lets himself out.
Tim locks the door, and the windows have been nailed shut. Trask is trapped.
And that’s when you realize that they’re taking the opportunity to take up all the old business, before 1897 comes to a close. They’re not just killing off all the characters that they don’t need anymore; they’re also wrapping up some unsolved mysteries from the beginning of the story.
When David and Amy first discovered Quentin’s room in — dear lord, it was eleven months ago, in December 1968 — they found a rotting corpse, identified as the final remains of Quentin Collins.
This was clearly Quentin, too — David said so, a couple of times. He told Amy, “All we’re doing is giving Quentin what his family refused to give him — a decent burial.” But nobody really remembers dialogue, especially not from that long ago. We just remember the striking visual — a dead body, locked away in this secret room.
Even so, they didn’t need to tie this up, and substitute another body in Quentin’s place. Barnabas and Angelique and Julia and Petofi have changed the course of history, sparing Quentin and un-haunting the present day Collinwood. They could have ignored this bit of old business, and moved on. But here they are, showing off how clever they can be.
And this is wonderful. Trask manages to open the locked door, and he finds Judith and Tim, who have built an impossible brick wall, blocking his exit in a terminal way. The last two bricks are about to be laid, at just the right spot for Trask to look through, and see his wife, and say goodbye. It’s a perfect moment, all the more remarkable during this noisy mess of a week.
For months, Gregory Trask has reveled in his ability to lock up anyone he finds objectionable — young students, ungrateful teachers, a brother-in-law that he suspected was a werewolf. Trask has confined one person after another, with Judith’s stay in the sanitarium as his crowning achievement.
And now — like his namesake, a century earlier — Reverend Trask is trapped behind a brick wall, constructed by the people who hate him the most. If there has to be a murder today — if there must be a room that we seal up, before we can move on — then, sure. Let it be this one.
Tomorrow: The Further Adventures of Other People.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
The camera wobbles during Trask and Judith’s scene at the top of act 2.
When Tim tells Judith about Mrs. Curry, he looks at the teleprompter approximately once per sentence.
While Trask is briefing Aristede on the murder, the camera turns off for a second, then comes back on.
Judith tells Tim: “There’s a curtained alcove in the corner — corridor. There are all the things are that we need, be sure they’re there.”
When Judith enters her bedroom and Aristede is hiding behind the curtain, one of the stage lights can be seen at the bottom left of the screen. A little later, when Judith gasps at the sight of Aristede with his gun, you can see another stage light reflected in the glass of a framed picture. You can see it again when Blackwood leaves the room.
Behind the Scenes:
My favorite prop, the Ralston-Purina lamp, shows up in Tim’s hotel suite today. We last saw it two weeks ago, in the guest room at Collinwood where Barnabas was recuperating.
Tomorrow: The Further Adventures of Other People.
— Danny Horn