“There is a evil here!”
It started with radio, of course, this war of the words, with Painted Dreams and Just Plain Bill and The Romance of Helen Trent. All those listening women needed something to listen to, and radio soaps offered fifteen minutes of pure uncut conversation. But there comes a time when even soap opera characters need to admit that they don’t know what they’re talking about, and pipe the hell down.
Take the parallel Sabrina Stuart, spouting nonsense at one of those pop-up seances which they construct on the fly in high-traffic areas on the Collinwood estate. “She’s dying, she’s dying!” Sabrina cried, pointing at someone who wasn’t dying. “Murder! Murder! MURD-ERRRR!” It wasn’t clear whether she was pro or con. It probably doesn’t matter, one way or the other.
“What did I say? What did I say?” Sabrina asks, relaxing in the green room after her performance. She’s finally thinking things through, an episode too late.
Quentin Collins, parallel pop star and master of the house, throws open the door. “You had to go through with it, didn’t you?” he spits. “Angelique was not murdered!”
“Is that what I said?” says Sabrina. “What did I mean?” This cycle of “what did I say” and “what did I mean” threatens to go on indefinitely. Soap opera characters need to take more personal responsibility.
But Sabrina refuses to learn from experience. “It’s true,” she breathes. “I remember. It’s true. The voices told me — Angelique was murdered. Murdered!”
She’s doing a lot of dramatic clarification, where you repeat the thing that you just said but with increasing intensity. People who do this are especially susceptible to things that voices tell them.
Once Quentin clears the shot, Sabrina and her fiancee Cyrus discuss their relationship difficulties, which is the other prime directive for soap opera characters.
“You were always so fascinated with Angelique,” Sabrina shouts. “You were! It was she who taught you about seances, about other things!” She’s wholeheartedly committed to adding worthless clauses. “She was so beautiful, so alive! You were attracted to her curiosity about everything! But you also knew that she was cruel, and demanding!”
Cyrus isn’t sure how to respond to an accusation that Angelique taught him about other things. He stammers, and blinks his blinky little eyes.
“Cyrus, just how close were you to Angelique?” Sabrina continues. “You see, you don’t want to answer that, do you? Did you kill her, Cyrus?” Angelique died of a stroke.
“No!” Cyrus shouts. “Sabrina, how can you think such a thing?”
“I was suddenly afraid,” she says. Honestly, soap characters.
But Cyrus is a Jekyll, the kind of guy who tries to catch honesty in a test tube. He’s been mixing up some abstract concepts in his basement murder lab, trying to synthesize some small-batch philosophy. Nobody asked you to distill hope, Jekyll. We already have hope, and we’ve had it for a while.
“Sabrina, you said yesterday that you loved me because I was a gentle man,” he cries. “If you said that yesterday, you can’t believe what you’re saying now!”
“I do,” she says, meaning she doesn’t. “But sometimes you’re so fascinated with evil!”
“I loathe evil!” he announces. “You know that! I’d do anything in the world to get rid of it!”
“You are attracted to it!” she hollers, parking herself a centimeter away from his eardrum. “You’re fascinated with it! That’s why you loathe it so much!” Jekylls get into this kind of conversation all the time.
Things calm down over the commercial break, and Cyrus changes the subject to something which is essentially the same subject. Sabrina came to Collinwood this evening to insist that everyone re-enact a seance from six months ago because she was traumatized by a home invasion, which is a reasonable thing to be shook up by but doesn’t really excuse the rest of it.
“Sabrina,” he says, “how did you feel, when that figure broke into your room?”
“I was terrified!” she cries. “There was such a feeling of evil about him! It was as if I were paralyzed!” She doesn’t say “Paralyzed by evil!” but you can tell that she wants to.
So now we know two things that you can be, in relationship to evil. You can be fascinated with it, or paralyzed by it. They talk a lot about evil today, to no real effect.
“Why did he come to my room?” she wants to know.
Cyrus turns away. “Just don’t… don’t think about it.”
“But you asked me, Cyrus!” she points out, scoring her first point for the day.
“I know, I know. I just… I just hate talking about it!” This conversation goes on for approximately ever.
After a while — let’s say an eon or two — they end up reviewing their relationship status.
“We’re still engaged?” she asks, putting her hand on his arm. He doesn’t answer, so she shakes his arm a bit to remind him that it’s his turn to talk.
“I’m going to find that ring,” he says. “I’m going to find it, I know it!” It’s in his pocket.
“Even without the ring, Cyrus, look at me,” she insists. “Does it make a difference, what’s happened tonight?” He doesn’t answer. “Does it make a difference, Cyrus?” This is a question that maybe Sabrina shouldn’t ask. The answer is yes. It makes a difference.
“I’m your fiancee,” she reminds him, “who goes into shock, and behaves most strange.”
“Your mind went from evil to evil,” he says. He said that in the last episode, too. It didn’t make sense then, and it doesn’t make sense now. What is he talking about?
But Dark Shadows is fascinated with, and paralyzed by, the concept of evil. As a 24/7 monster movie, it should have a pretty good definition of what evil is by now, but the show has an underdeveloped moral sensibility. They treat evil like it’s a communicable disease that’s impossible to treat, and either somebody has it or they don’t.
Evil is a presence and a punishment, divorced from any relationship with actions or intentions. For example, Sabrina is pretending that she’s sorry that she invited herself over and forced everyone to undergo a mandatory late-night party game that’s brought a solid fraction of the cast to the brink of despair, but that’s for show. She isn’t a bit sorry, really.
“What have I started, Cyrus?” she moans, because everything is always about her.
“You haven’t started anything,” he says. “It started long ago, in that first seance.”
“But it would have never come up!”
“It would have come up,” he reassures her. “Someplace, sometime.” Citation needed.
“Let’s get out of here,” she decides. “Cyrus, let’s get out of here, out of this house, and never come back!”
Then she clutches her coat, and shudders.
“There is a evil here!” she announces. “I can feel it still! There is a terrifying evil here!”
So, fine. Out of here, out of this house, and never come back. Good plan. Nobody asked you to come over in the first place.
Tomorrow: Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Alexis runs up the stairs after Daniel, the boom mic appears in the top left.
Halfway through his description of last night’s disturbance, the bartender completely dries up and has to check the prompter during a close-up.
When Angelique appears to Daniel in his dream, she looks towards the studio for her cue. She does it again a few seconds later, when she’s beckoning him.
Behind the Scenes:
They use “The Eagle” as the name for the bar in Parallel Time, rather than the Blue Whale. The tavern in 1795 where Barnabas threatened Nathan was also called the Eagle.
Ken McMillan plays the Eagle bartender today. McMillan first appeared on Dark Shadows in December 1969, playing Jack Long, the haunted sailor who gave Paul Stoddard some information about the Leviathans. Those are his only two episodes on the show.
My favorite prop, the Ralston-Purina lamp, has made the jump to Parallel Time. It appears in the study today, witnessing all of the crazy Cyrus and Sabrina talk. We last saw the lamp a month ago, at Bruno’s place, when Nicholas got killed. We’ll see it again in a couple days.
Tomorrow: Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t.
— Danny Horn