“Twins usually do resemble each other, or haven’t you heard?”
Except it’s not Angelique, obviously. How could it be? She’s dead, probably.
Although Angeliques do have a habit of making post-mortem comebacks; they’re a tenacious people. It doesn’t matter how often you strangle them, exorcise them, shoot them in the shoulder, set them on fire, burn their portraits, or dump buckets of water over them and dissolve them into a well-dressed puddle. They always return, with fresh schemes. What a world, what a world!
But life is made up of meetings and partings; that is the way of it. Today, we gain a witch, and lose a writer.
Violet Welles joined the Dark Shadows writing team in March 1969, and her first credited episode was 711. Angelique made a surprise return in that episode too — emerging from the fireplace, to flirt with Quentin and swank around in gorgeous outfits.
Over the last year, Violet’s penned some of the most memorable character dialogue we’ve seen on the show. Some Dark Shadows writers are content to move the pieces around the board — like Ron Sproat, who’s not on the show anymore, and Gordon Russell, who is — with everyone sounding pretty much like everyone else. But Violet makes everyone sound like an individual, with a real personality.
Let’s run through a few highlights.
Angelique: We’re all on the same side, aren’t we? My side.
Jenny: If we’re sisters, why do I have to stay here? You can go anywhere in this house! You go walking in the gardens! I watch you! I watch you all the time! And sometimes you wear MY GREEN DRESS!
Mrs. Johnson: I’d like to meet the man that invented supermarkets, and wring his neck.
Count Petofi: Do you think I care how many people die along the way? Do you think I care how many leaves are on this tree?
Liz: Mirrors! Will they show me all the people I could have been?
David: No! They’ll show you all the people you really are!
Quentin: Do you hear me? I am Quentin! Edward, you can forget about the brandy.
Edward: I assure you, if you were Quentin, you wouldn’t forget about the brandy.
Magda: Look at you, lying there! You think I have destroyed you, you fool! Don’t you realize you are destroying yourself?
And then there’s today, another slice of heaven which we call Parallel Time. This week, we’ve washed up on a foreign shore, where people look familiar, except they’re wearing different colors and they have new things to talk about.
Quentin’s the master of Collinwood in this reality, and his wife, Angelique, passed away six months ago under mysterious circumstances, which is just typical. I don’t know if the police suspect foul play or not. Actually, I’m not sure there even are police in this band of time. The police force might be staffed with monkeys, for all I know. Oh my god, wouldn’t that be amazing? Monkey cops! From now on, I’m going to assume that Parallel Time has monkey cops, and every store in Collinsport is owned and operated by children. I haven’t seen any evidence so far that would disprove that assertion.
Anyway, Angelique is an ex-wife, and Quentin’s just brought wife #2 home to her new enormous mansion. Maggie’s not taking to it, really. Everybody keeps talking about Angelique all the time, as if she’s going to just get up from her grave and walk back into Collinwood. That’s a ridiculous notion, obviously, except now it’s happened, and here she is.
So Maggie runs upstairs to her room, because there’s only so much a girl can take. In the following exchange, Quentin tries to calm her down, and keep an eye on how Violet Welles constructs the scene.
Quentin: Maggie, that woman… Her name is Alexis.
Quentin: Yes, she’s Angelique’s twin sister. She just arrived from Florence. She just found out about… about what happened to Angelique.
Maggie: Quentin! Her twin sister?
Quentin: Yes, and she’s very upset. It would be very thoughtful of you, if you were to go down and greet her properly.
Maggie: No, I don’t want to see her! I don’t even want to meet her!
Quentin: Now, that’s ridiculous!
Maggie: Quentin, no! Let me explain!
Quentin: Maggie, there’s no time for that! Now, we have a guest waiting downstairs! One of us should be down there with her.
Exit Quentin, end of scene.
Now, there’s nothing brilliant about this particular scene; the dialogue isn’t decorative. It’s just a decent writer doing her job. But it’s a nice bit of economical screenwriting, and it illustrates something important about the relationship between Quentin and Maggie.
In the space of three lines — “it would be very thoughtful of you”, “now, that’s ridiculous”, and “we have a guest waiting downstairs” — Quentin goes from reassuring to impatient to furious, and all Maggie does is say no. The interesting thing is that each line is delivered as if Quentin were Maggie’s father, rather than her husband. He’s cajoling her, scolding her and then giving her a lesson in manners. Quentin is clearly terrible at being somebody’s husband; it’s no wonder he keeps losing wives.
But it’s downstairs where the actor and the script really need to be on point. Obviously, “Alexis” is a sham; this is no twin sister. Angelique is one of the four major kaiju of Dark Shadows. We would know her anywhere. And we’ve seen this woman pretending to be other people, lots of times. Like Barnabas, Quentin, and the grandfather clock in the foyer, Angelique is a fact.
Two years ago, the sinister sorceress wormed her wicked way into the house by calling herself Cassandra Collins, a perky, innocent young woman who just happened to meet Roger and conduct a whirlwind romance, ending in matrimony in about eighteen hours.
Barnabas recognized her, of course. He was supposed to, that was the whole point of the masquerade — to distract him, and drive him out of his mind. And we recognized her, because we’re televisually literate. We know that Angelique showing up in 1968 Collinwood is an exciting plot twist, while a random lookalike named Cassandra is not. She kept up the outward pretense for quite a while, but she let the audience know that she was Angelique by the end of the first episode, because of course she was.
They played it differently in late 1969, when Quentin was struck by a car and caught a bad case of amnesia. Everyone called him Grant Douglas for a while, and the show tried to pretend that maybe he wasn’t actually Quentin, and it was a terrible failure of a storyline.
Looking back on it now, the entire Grant/Olivia storyline might actually be the most abject failure in Dark Shadows history; I can’t think of anything that even comes close. The audience wanted nothing more than to have Quentin back, drunk and funny and ready for trouble, and instead we got an aimless amnesiac who moped around and called himself the wrong thing. It wasn’t romantic, it wasn’t fun, it didn’t have anything to do with anything, and I don’t think there was a single good scene in the entire affair. At the end, they just shrugged and said, hey look, everyone, it’s Quentin.
And now, they’re doing it again: bringing in an incredible twin, and generating three whole weeks of front-burner story based on whether the woman who is obviously Angelique is actually Angelique. But Alexis isn’t going to walk up to Barnabas’ portrait in the foyer at the end of the episode and twirl her mustache, like she did when she was Cassandra. This is Parallel Time; Barnabas doesn’t even have a portrait in the foyer.
So Lara Parker and Violet Welles have an important mission today, which is to convince the audience that this might actually be Alexis Stokes, while leaving enough wiggle room to keep us on the hook for weeks. And they just go ahead and do exactly that.
It starts in Angelique’s room, the parlor of Parallel Time, where Hoffman welcomes her much-missed mistress.
Alexis: Oh, the room is beautiful!
Hoffman: It’s exactly as you left it. Nothing has changed!
Alexis: Why, what are you talking about? I’ve never been in this room before.
Hoffman: I understand you’re telling everyone about being a “twin sister”…
Alexis: But I am Angelique’s sister!
Hoffman: But you don’t have to lie to me! I’ve always known you would come back, that’s why I’ve kept the room exactly the same as it always was!
Alexis: You thought Angelique would come back? But that’s impossible, she’s dead!
Hoffman: She is not like others.
Alexis: She certainly wasn’t like anyone else. Nevertheless, she is dead. Do you hear me? She’s dead. And I’m her sister.
And oh, the marvelous ambiguity of the words: “Do you hear me?”
Lara Parker invests that phrase with just the slightest hint of steel, which could so easily fall in either direction. She’s the innocent Alexis, trying to cope at short notice with the barking mad domestic who’s calling her the wrong name. She’s the devious Angelique, warning her devoted servant not to break character before she’s ready. She is either, and she is both, and as of this moment, I am willing to accept three more weeks of winter.
Obviously, Julia Hoffman — never to be outdone by anyone, as far as madwoman acting choices are concerned — pulls her weight in this moment as well, fixing the trickster with a penetrating glare.
And then she breaks, puzzled and stubborn. Alexis asks her for a nightgown to wear, and Hoffman stumbles toward the wardrobe.
“Which one would you like?” Hoffman asks, and Alexis flashes her a patient smile.
“Well, I really can’t answer that question, can I?” explains the mystery woman. “I’ve never seen any of them. Why don’t you just pick one out for me?” And then she maintains eye contact, for as long as it takes to make her point.
“I’m sorry, Miss Stokes,” Hoffman stammers, “I’m sorry if I’ve said anything that…”
“It’s perfectly all right,” Alexis says. “I can understand how much you must miss her. But I wouldn’t intimate such a thing to anyone else, if I were you.”
“They might be very distressed by it…”
“… and so might you.”
It’s fantastic. Quentin is stunned by it, of course; we all are. It’s the best thing they’ve done in months.
Alexis: Oh — is it the gown? Is that it? Hoffman gave it to me, because I left my luggage in town. I do hope you don’t mind.
Quentin: No, it’s all right. You look so very much like her… so very much.
Alexis: Yes, I know.
Quentin: Particularly in this room. It’s almost as if two people had blended together, and then became one.
Alexis: Or as if the past and the present have blended together, and become one.
Alexis: You miss her very much, don’t you? So do I.
Alexis: Perhaps we can… comfort one another.
Of course, Maggie is there to witness this villainous instance of pre-meditated witchery, which confirms beyond doubt that this is the demon Angelique, unless it isn’t, in which case it’s probably Alexis.
And Maggie runs, down the hall and down the stairs and out the door, picking up speed as Violet Welles hits escape velocity, emerging from ABC Studio 16 and sprinting down the street, out into the fresh air and sunshine of a Manhattan afternoon, where only the streets are parallel and everything else is exactly the way you left it. She’s gone now, but she’s left us with a final kiss — a perfect scene, to remember her by.
Monday: Down in the Science Dungeon.
Here’s the episode numbers for the Violet Welles quotes above:
- Angelique, my side: ep 711
- Jenny, green dress: ep 717
- Maggie and Mrs. Johnson, supermarkets: ep 669
- Petofi, trees: ep 858
- Liz and David, mirrors: ep 904
- Quentin and Edward, brandy: ep 857
- Magda, destroyed: ep 757
- Roger, enormous horror: ep 958
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Maggie tells Quentin, “No, I don’t want to see her! I don’t even want to meet her!” I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to be the other way around: “I don’t want to meet her, I don’t even want to see her.”
It’s very quick, but when Cyrus says, “if the proper compound was distilled,” the boom mic drops into the frame for a moment.
Chris tells Cyrus, “You’ve become obsessed by a purely private, impractical idea!” The word “private” comes from a couple lines later, when Cyrus says that Angelique’s address book isn’t private. Cyrus trips over the word when he realizes that Chris already said it.
Cyrus misquotes Shakespeare slightly: “There are more things in heaven and earth, than can be dreamt of in your philosophy.” The quote is more things “than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
When Alexis and Hoffman talk in Angelique’s room, you can see somebody through the doors, standing around on another set. You first catch a glimpse of it when Hoffman says, “It’s exactly as you left it!” and then you really get a good look when Alexis asks Hoffman for a nightgown, and sits down.
When Alexis apologizes for disturbing Quentin with her piano playing, somebody coughs in the studio.
Monday: Down in the Science Dungeon.
— Danny Horn