“I feel like if we open it, our lives are going to change.”
The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, they walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen.
So there they are, Pandora and her husband Phil, staring at a puzzle box that will wipe the earth clean, just licking their lips and desperate to get their hands on it. She’s wearing a necklace decorated with the sign of the Naga — a four-headed serpent, a creature without a soul, and the very latest Thing in fashion.
Now they’re at the Old House, these reckless antiquers, and they’re delighted to find a Naga-branded mystery box that would complete their stockpile of hazardous material.
“Is there anything inside?” she asks, and the owner admits, “To tell you the truth, I’ve never looked inside. Is that strange to you?”
“Well,” she grins, “we’re very curious people.” Yeah, you can say that again.
I mean, Megan Todd is the kind of person who finds a five-pointed slab of green soapstone of blasphemous design, direct from the mountains of madness, and she goes and hangs it around her neck. What do you do with a person like that?
They say they don’t know where the Naga necklace came from, that they just happened to find it in an odd lot they bought at an auction. But it’s obvious that Megan’s got a hankering for ancient evil housewares, and you don’t get that way by accident. I bet they’ve been bidding on Mi-go brain cylinders for years. She’s looking at that box, and thinking how nice it would look on the mantelpiece, next to the Shining Trapezohedrons and the Klerksdorp spheres.
We already know that their antique shop of forbidden merchandise includes a haunted painting by Charles Delaware Tate, one of Pansy Faye’s lavender feather boas, and that weird stuffed pig weasel thing on the back shelf. Now they’re hoping to persuade Barnabas to sell them his Hitchcock chair, which will look great next to their Stephen King bureau and the Clive Barker dinette set.
They keep complaining that they don’t get enough foot traffic, but if every seventh customer who walks through the door spontaneously bursts into flame, then what do you expect?
Part of the confusion, I suppose, is that Megan and Philip are supposed to be a normal, everyday couple who just happen to trip and fall into an eternal pit of nameless horror, but they’ve cast Marie Wallace and Christopher Bernau, two actors that hardly even register as human.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Marie Wallace. I’ve long been on record as being a huge fan of Eve, her first character on the show — a high-camp psychodiva Bride of Frankenstein who wore glamorous gowns, and spread chaos and disorder with every step of her high-heeled clodhoppers. And then she was dagger-wielding ex-wife Crazy Jenny, haunting the halls of Collinwood with a song in her heart and her eyelashes on backwards.
But Megan isn’t supposed to be a crazy kaiju character, stomping through Tokyo; she’s supposed to be the girl next door. The point of Megan is actually to be a contrast to the big, grandstanding Dark Shadows characters. She should be a visitor from a normal soap opera, whose world turns upside down when she discovers how invigorating a life in Collinsport can be. We should hardly notice her.
And yet Marie Wallace is making unstable acting choices that say to the audience that she’s just on the verge of a crack-up. Always grinning and cooing and gasping, she surprises us with the delivery of every line. That’s the correct approach for almost every other Dark Shadows character but her.
Meanwhile, Philip is from a whole different universe, specifically: a super gay just-after-Stonewall stage play.
My description of Chris Bernau’s uncanny-valley interpretation of a hetero husband is absolutely doomed; it will not convince anyone who doesn’t already see it. I’ll begin with this: the pants! Also: the eye-rolling, the hands on his hips, the wry delivery of even the most casual line.
“I’m beginning to think that what we need is less merchandise and more customers,” he eye-rolls wryly, hands firmly on hips.
Then he notices his daydreaming wife. “Very thoughtful,” he pronounces, and bends at the waist to address her. “You are,” he says. This is not diction that occurs in nature.
He crouches down next to her. “You’re thinking about something very important, and I can tell,” he scolds her. She claims that she’s not, and he raises his eyes to heaven. “Out with it,” he sighs.
And this is gay, it is completely and entirely and unstoppably gay. It’s Paul Lynde-level open-secret barely-surpressed weapons-grade gay.
This is not to say, of course, that gay actors can’t play straight people. Of course they can, most gay actors do nothing but. On Dark Shadows, Joel Crothers comes to mind — gay as you please, but completely nailing the roles of Maggie’s perfect boyfriend Joe, and the aggressively heterosexual non-stop seducer Nathan.
And in 1969, most people were wilfully blind to the astonishing gayness of gay people when they saw it. For most of our history, family life depended on making polite excuses for high-campery, to keep the peace, and people naturally extended that courtesy to the folks they saw on screen. Even now, in our post-Obergefell live-your-truth paradise, people will deny the obvious when it’s right in front of them; see the comments under “Win a Date with Jonathan Frid” and “Sitting in a Tree“. And possibly under this post too; it’s too early to tell.
Anyway, my point is that even with the 1969 blinders on, Philip does not register as a normal het husband. This is only the couple next door if you live next door to the Addams family.
So when a messenger from the Elder Things Glee & Perloo Society delivers a package of raw nightmares, then obviously the Todds are going to grab their Pnakotic fountain pen and sign for it. And once they get their hands on that box, this is the unearthly couple that’s going to open it, and unleash whatever needs to be unleashed.
Sure, the Elder Things are old, but they aren’t blind, and they know a sucker when they see one. A tentacle, too, if you have any.
Tomorrow: Welcome to Dunwich.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When the Todds approach the Leviathan box, the camera pulls back a little too far, and you can see a couple studio lights at top left.
I edited Barnabas’ quote above for clarity; what he actually says is, “To tell you the truth, I’ve never looked inside. You see… well, is that strange to you?”
Chatting about the Todds, Barnabas tells Liz, “They’re most, uh — they’ll be a great ass — asset to the town.”
At the start of the cottage scene, Maggie trips over something on her way to the door.
When Maggie closes the door after Paul comes in, the door doesn’t latch, and swings open again.
Barnabas and Megan talk over each other:
Barnabas: You know, I think we’re going to see a lot of each other.
Megan: Oh —
Barnabas: I have an —
Megan: I hope so.
Barnabas: — unusual feeling that I think we will see each other again —
Barnabas: — soon.
Megan: I hope so.
Tomorrow: Welcome to Dunwich.
— Danny Horn