“You must try to expect nothing from me!”
Angelique Collins was murdered. We all agree on that, right? Stroke, no; murder, yes.
It’s not our Angelique, of course. I’m talking about the Parallel Time alt-universe Angelique, who was murdered six months ago, at a midnight seance in the drawing room. We know that she was murdered, because last week, they re-enacted the seance, and a ghost-possessed dental hygienist pointed at Angelique’s identical twin and shouted, She’s dying, she’s dying, murder, murder, murder. Apparently the spirit speaking through her was re-enacting too.
The other reason that we know Angelique was murdered is because of course she was murdered, this is a television show and they’ve been talking incessantly about her death for weeks. ABC Television isn’t funding this daily blastoff into the uncharted regions of tormented space just to tell the story of a woman who happened to die of a stroke.
After the seance, everybody did what people do in Collinwood after an accusation of murder; they went about their normal activities. If the Collins family stopped to investigate every single mysterious death that happens on their property, life as we know it would grind to a halt. When somebody dies, that means there’s one fewer person in the cast to have conversations with, and the survivors have even more on their plates.
So Quentin and Alexis have been going on as usual, grooming houseplants and making up excuses for things. In this version of reality, Quentin used to be Angelique’s husband, until she was murdered, and Alexis used to be her twin sister, until ditto, unless it turns out that Alexis actually is Angelique, back from the dead to reclaim her rightful place at Collinwood, which would mean that everybody needs to update their entries on Dark Shadows Wiki.
Restless spirits try to stay busy at Collinwood, so Alexis walks into her sister’s old suite, and finds the piano playing Angelique’s theme song, all by itself, because in Parallel Time, Dark Shadows is actually a spin-off of Scooby-Doo.
Alexis screams, and Quentin rushes in, and then she starts firing off random postulates.
Alexis: It must be Angelique! It must be, I know it is!
Quentin: I can’t believe it! It can’t happen!
Alexis: I can’t believe it either! But it’s true!
Quentin: You’re sure it was Angelique?
Alexis: As sure as I can be of anything!
Then she launches into one of those ghost jags, where every sentence ends with an exclamation point: “I came into the room, and there was a fragrance! I remembered it from long ago! It was Angelique’s favorite perfume! I thought it was my imagination! But it didn’t go away!” This is followed by “Slowly, as I was writing, I began to feel — something! I can’t describe it! A presence!” That’s usually how these ghost scenarios work, perfume and a presence.
She closes with “How can a murdered spirit be at rest until the murderer’s been found?” which is fine, but doesn’t really explain the piano.
Quentin isn’t sure how to respond. He asks, “Should I call in the authorities, have the body exhumed, what?”
“No!” Alexis screams. “No! They’d laugh at us! They’d think we were being hysterical!”
But we are being hysterical, Quentin thinks. So what now?
And they’re off, picking up speed as they round the turn, heading into their own hysterical universe, and taking us along for the ride.
This episode was written by Joe Caldwell, one of my favorite Dark Shadows writers, who rejoined the writing team last week to replace Violet Welles. Caldwell hasn’t written for the show since 1967, back when ghosts mostly kept to themselves. The last ghost storyline that he worked on involved little Sarah, a well-mannered ten-year-old spirit who was so low-key that almost everyone who saw her thought she was just a regular little girl in an old-fashioned outfit.
Back then, the lead writer was Ron Sproat, who believed in taking things nice and slow, mostly walking in circles and stopping to recap every ten minutes. But when Caldwell left the show, he was replaced by Sam Hall, who embarked on a relentless campaign to make the show louder, faster and way more interesting. Sproat drifted away, eventually, and this is Hall’s show now.
So Joe Caldwell is coming back to a very different Dark Shadows than the one that he knew. One of the first things that Hall did was introduce Angelique, this weird witch who grabbed hold of the show, and still has a pretty strong grip on it. Caldwell doesn’t know Quentin, either. In fact, all of the characters and cast members that he knew are in Tarrytown for six weeks, filming House of Dark Shadows. Basically, the only thing that he recognizes is the drawing room set.
There’s no girl governess to frown and disapprove of bad behavior, no courageous doctor trying to unlock the dark secrets surrounding the estate, no sheriffs or painters or business tycoons who spend all their time telling each other things that they already know. There are no good guys at all, in fact, unless you count Sabrina, which I don’t. This is a show without a moral center, or any sense of restraint. Let’s see what Caldwell can make out of that.
While I’ve been discussing the writing staff, Alexis and Quentin have taken a second to calm down and get ahold of themselves. The screaming has stopped, for now, and they’re talking things over.
Alexis wants to move out of her sister’s room, which was kind of creepy anyway, and Quentin is all smiles. “We have many rooms at Collinwood,” he assures her, “and there’s no reason for you to stay in this one, if it disturbs you.” Everybody’s relaxed and rational now, and the piano is keeping its opinions to itself.
“Come on,” Quentin says, “I’ll show you one of the rooms.” And then they take six steps out into the hall.
Now, the reason why they can’t get very far is that they’re really hurting for studio space in Parallel Time. Angelique’s room is enormous, for a Dark Shadows set, and Cyrus’ lab is pretty big too, so between those and the standing sets for the Collinwood foyer and drawing room, there’s hardly any space for anything else.
Later on in the episode, there’s going to be a scene where someone just stands motionless in a corner, and talks on the phone. If there are any more scenes after that which require a different set, they’ll have to go outside the studio and do them on the sidewalk.
So Quentin is lying; we do not have many rooms at Collinwood. We’re going to need the ghost to intervene, before Alexis walks off the set and into the sound booth.
She stops short, and looks around. Quentin asks what’s wrong, and she says nothing, and then she manages another four steps.
“Oh, don’t you feel it?” she says. It’s another presence, I guess; Collinwood is lousy with presences. Then she cries, “There’s something — someone following us!” But there can’t be, obviously. They don’t have the storage capacity.
Quentin’s decided not to play. He tells her, “Everything’s going to be all right,” and then they take another four steps, and that’s the room she’s staying in. I’m not sure why this room is any better than Angelique’s room. She’s still got a direct line of sight on the ghost piano.
The room change doesn’t accomplish much, so Alexis goes over to Cyrus’ lab, because if she doesn’t feel like going to the drawing room, then the lab is literally the only other place she can go. She wants to talk to Sabrina about what happened at the original seance where Angelique died, because their re-enactment didn’t really explain very much.
Alexis: I know that a spirit spoke through you, a man. He said some things that enraged Quentin, about Bruno and my sister. Am I right so far?
Sabrina: Yes, that’s right.
Alexis: And then Quentin began strangling Angelique, and the lights went out. When the lights came back on, my sister was dead. Is that right?
Sabrina: That’s right.
Alexis: But there was more, wasn’t there?
So hold on, wait a second. Quentin was strangling Angelique. Why do you need more? This sounds like an open and shut case to me. Why is he not in prison?
Alexis: And that’s what you saw in the second seance?
Sabrina: I began to see it all over again — Quentin and Angelique in the dark, the noise and the shouting, and —
Sabrina: There was someone else near Angelique!
Sabrina: I don’t know! I wish I had seen the person, but I didn’t.
Alexis: Sabrina, you know that whoever it was near Angelique must have murdered her!
But we know who it was, it was Quentin, and he was near her because he was strangling her. What is the matter with you people?
Then Quentin calls in Aunt Hannah. That’s how bad things have gotten, he actually invites the weird tarot lady into his house, to see if she has anything to contribute. He appears to think she’s some kind of un-exterminator.
She asks what he wants her to do, and he says, “Whatever is necessary to rid this house of whoever, or whatever, is in it.” I’m hoping this doesn’t include the domestic staff.
“Hmmm,” Hannah says, strutting over to the windows. “That isn’t always easy.”
“Will you try?” Quentin demands, and then things get interesting again.
The lights go out, the windows blow open, and suddenly Hannah is screaming, because a ghost is strangling her.
It’s been literally two minutes since Sabrina told Alexis that Quentin strangled Angelique, and here we are again, more shrieking and choking, and it’s only been fifteen minutes since the piano was playing itself. There’s more happening in this episode than any given three weeks in 1967.
Back then, the conversation between Alexis and Sabrina would have taken up at least a whole episode. Sabrina would have gone through the events of the seance in painstaking detail, telling us the names of all the people who were there, and then Alexis and Sabrina would have run down the guest list together, talking about each person’s relationship with Angelique, and speculating about who could have killed her. Then Alexis would say, “Let’s review the case,” and they’d do it all over again.
And that’s nothing compared to the piano sequence, which would have gone on forever, and then there’d be a week of describing it to every single character.
The windows wouldn’t spring open, nobody would choke, and it wouldn’t be crazy Aunt Hannah standing there anyway. It would probably be Burke.
And that’s not even all! There’s a commercial break, giving Hannah a moment to recover, and then less than a minute into act 3, she cries, “Look!” and the desk drawer opens by itself, revealing a copy of Bruno’s sheet music, with blood smeared on it. Ghost blood!
So every single scene in this episode is absolutely cracker-barrel insane. The piano, the presence, the strangling, the more strangling. These people can’t even walk down the hall without feeling a presence. Shit has come unstuck.
Quentin picks up the music, and there’s a message written on it: “It must be tonight.” Hannah asks who wrote the message, and he says, “I can’t make it out, it’s printed.” What does that mean? What the hell is going on?
It’s all too much for Hannah, who announces, “I must leave this house!” Quentin asks if she can explain any of this, and she says, “I’m too frightened to try! Now, please, please! I must go!” That’s how crazy this episode is, the characters are abandoning ship.
Quentin grabs her by the arm, and snarls, “Now you listen — if you find out any more about this, you will let – me – know!”
“Yes!” she cries, squirming out of his grasp and backing hurriedly out the door. “But — you must try to expect nothing from me! Nothing from me at all!”
And then thirty seconds later, the phone rings, and it’s Hannah. They did a little time compression in the middle, fading from one clock to another, and that was long enough to get her into a tiny alcove with a phone.
“I have read the cards!” she announces. “There is danger at Collinwood!”
“Danger?” Quentin shudders. “What kind of danger?”
“All I know is danger!” she says. “The cards do not lie! Danger, for all of you!”
And then the drawer opens again! And the windows blow open! And the music plays! And Alexis vows that she can’t leave until her sister’s murderer is found! And Quentin rushes back and forth, from the drawing room to the foyer and back again, shouting, “Appear to me, will you? Appear to me!”
And then he sees something — something that turns his blood to ice!
So that’s what Joe Caldwell has concocted for us today, a half-hour of thrills and music and special effects and shocked expressions. And to think, they used to stand around in this room and drink sherry.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
The piano keys continue to move, after the music has stopped.
When Alexis tells Quentin, “The feeling began to grow,” the camera pulls back too far very briefly, and you can see another set.
There’s a green cabinet at the back of Cyrus’ lab that has a rose painted on it. It’s lovely and interesting-looking for a girl’s bedroom, but it’s totally out of place in a basement murder lab.
When Quentin is walking Alexis down the hall, she stops and says, “There’s something — someone following us!” Quentin says, “Something following us?” and Alexis says “Yes!” — and then just stands there with her hand over her mouth for six seconds, while Quentin waits patiently for his next cue. He smiles and says, “Everything’s going to be all right then,” and they move on with the scene.
Alexis tells Sabrina, “I know a man — a spirit spoke through you, a man.”
Behind the Scenes:
On Monday, the Ralston-Purina lamp was in the Collinwood study. Today, it’s over at Hannah’s place, in the weird little corner where she lives.
— Danny Horn