“I never once believed that she could survive death — until tonight!”
It always starts with a box.
You try your best. You bury the dead. The evil twin dies, and you say thank goodness that’s over with, and then you put her in a box and plant it in the dirt. You figure it’s a one-way trip, no refunds and no returns. At that point, it’s someone else’s problem.
It always starts with a box. It often ends with one, too. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell beginnings and endings apart.
Six months ago, Angelique Collins, sorceress supreme of the parallel lands, was murdered at a seance, while we were paying attention to something else. At the time, we thought the problem was that Count Petofi had stolen Quentin’s body, and was preparing to use the I Ching to travel through time and escape a pack of howling vengeance gypsies. We had no idea there was a whole other universe with seances and scientists and theme songs. This was totally off our radar.
But we’ve had a crash course in parallel politics, and we’re all caught up with current events. The mistress of Collinwood is dead, survived by a house full of family members, gigolos, and devotees of the dark arts. And now, with her widower ready to marry and move on, there’s a swirl of rumors and whispers in the wind, suggesting that maybe she was just in Florence this whole time, transcending death, hijacking her twin sister’s body and generally having a marvelous time.
Alexis, the purported twin sister, has spent the last three weeks trying to explain to everybody how genetics works, and that they need to stop following her around and raising an eyebrow every time she prunes a plant. This hasn’t worked. The whispers have persisted.
The local residents have looked at it from every angle. They’ve tried seances and tarot readings and travel agents. They’ve asked her questions and fact-checked her answers. They’ve even tried strangling her, just to see what happens. It’s called extreme vetting.
At this point, Quentin and Alexis and their scientist pal Cyrus have assembled at Angelique’s tomb, ready to pop the lid of her coffin, just to make sure she’s still inside. This is either a civic-minded investigation or a ghoulish defilement of the dead, depending on your perspective. It’s not often that you see mob mentality take hold like this when there’s only three people, but life is unpredictable. So is death, apparently.
And there she is, the body in question: Angelique Collins, sleeping like Snow White in her crystal coffin, untouched by the hand of death. If she sees her shadow, that’s six more weeks of winter.
Naturally, the survivors are shocked and upset; they were expecting Fair condition at best, and here she is, Near Mint. They apparently had a plan for every possibility but this one, and they don’t know what to do.
“It’s impossible!” Quentin says, which is a good place to start. “Cyrus, you’re a scientist. There must be some explanation.”
“There is no scientific explanation,” says Cyrus, falling at the first fence. “There is no chemical explanation for a body that is this perfectly preserved.” And then they just look at her for a few seconds, waiting for somebody to remember how the scene goes.
Quentin tries another approach. “You always shared Angelique’s interest in the occult. Now, is it possible that she found some way of surviving after death?”
“I don’t know!” Cyrus yelps. “I don’t understand any of it!”
Okay, science didn’t work, the occult didn’t work. Anybody got a third option?
So it’s a lovely scene, these three graveside lunatics squabbling over late-stage funeral arrangements. They’ve built up to this moment after weeks of suspicions and accusations, and the solution to the mystery is even more baffling than the mystery itself. Dark Shadows doesn’t always stick the landing on these climactic reveals, but this one is rock-solid.
For one thing, just the lighting in this scene is amazing. It’s supposed to be moonlight, I guess, streaming through a plate-glass window and turning everything a sickly underwater green. They do this a lot, this green-for-night lighting, but this is brighter than usual, and it’s never seemed so appropriate before. This scene takes place in another world, someplace desperate and unsettled, where the rules are made to be broken.
Obviously, it’s up to Quentin to make the big decisions, because he is in charge of Parallel Time.
“We can not simply let this matter drop,” he declares. “Angelique is dead, but her body remains intact, perfectly preserved. For the sake of her own rest, and for our peace of mind, the body must be destroyed!”
And the boys truly believe that this is the right direction. Alexis objects, but Cyrus is on board: “Alexis, Quentin is right. What’s happened here tonight is beyond the realm of any human understanding! The only safe thing to do is destroy the body!”
So there you have it, the only sensible course of action: grab a torch, and light ‘er up.
They’re at an impasse, so they follow standard soap opera protocol, which is to move to a different set and have the conversation again. Quentin bails on this iteration, so Cyrus has to do all the heavy lifting on his own.
“I know she was your sister,” he begins, “but how well did you really know her?”
Alexis turns away. “I’m afraid that we were never close, the way sisters are,” she says. “I suppose the truth is, I never knew her at all.”
Cyrus presses forward. “Then it’s possible that we at Collingsport, who were extremely close to her, knew her far better than you ever did.”
“Yes, it’s possible,” she allows. “What’s your point?”
A good question, as always. Keep your eye on that “we at Collingsport” phrase, that’s the key.
“She and I shared a common interest in the occult,” he says, to get the ball rolling, “although her knowledge of it was far superior to mine. But, being a scientist, I was always reluctant to accept anything supernatural.”
“Yes,” Alexis whispers, as somebody in the studio coughs, and Cyrus loses his place.
“She…” he pauses, and peers at the teleprompter. “She — she had a way of… she kept saying, all the time, she could come back from the death!”
He struggles to get back on track. “And that’s why she was never afraid of dying! She had an uncanny rapport with the unnatural, which…”
He takes another long, hard look at the helpful suggestions. “I never once believed that she could survive death — until tonight!”
“Cyrus!” she cries. “You don’t know what you’re saying!”
It’s beautiful, a perfect moment of Dark Shadows realness. The lighting, the special effects and the clever plot twist are all very important, but to really put this over, you need that special touch of genuine, unfeigned fear.
The plot point itself is fairly thin, if you take a second to think about it. What kind of spell is this? Apparently, Angelique has arranged for a personal prophylactic mummy’s curse that triggers a hard reboot, whenever somebody breaks into her crypt to check on how she’s doing. It’s inexplicable, beyond the realm of human understanding, and they have no plans to clarify. That’s the silly idea at the heart of this story.
So you need someone to come on screen and explain it to us in an urgent tone of voice, preferably garbled and in the wrong order, while looking directly into the lens. Enter Cyrus, saying uncanny things in an uncanny way.
“Look,” he says, “what we have seen here tonight goes beyond the realm of — of anything that — that is logically possible! It is simply not physiologically possible for her to survive death! It isn’t, at all! And yet, she has!”
It’s amazing. The Frid is strong with this one.
So that’s how it works, this fractured fairy tale, where the wicked witch is awakened by true love’s kiss.
Alexis returns to her sister’s side, taking one last look before she signs off on the cremation. They were never close, the way sisters are, but they’re about to get a hell of a lot closer. Alexis brushes against Angelique’s arm, just for a moment, and that’s the wake-up call that the witch was waiting for.
Angelique has been dead for six months, biding her time. Now it’s time to get up, and go to work.
Monday: Wife Swap.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
During the opening narration, as the camera pulls in for a shot through the wrought-iron door, it tilts up a little too high, and you can see the top of the set and a studio light.
Cutting between the “live” footage and the pre-taped footage, there are some visual continuity errors. At the top of act 1, when we first see Angelique lying in the coffin, we see everyone’s hand resting on the coffin — Cyrus, Alexis and Quentin. When the camera cuts to show the three, Alexis has her hand raised up to her face.
I cleaned up the quote above; what Cyrus really says is, “There is no chemical explanation for a body that this is perfectly preserved.”
A boom mic is overhead when Quentin and Cyrus close the casket.
A stagehand moves into the shot briefly when Trask closes the drawing room window.
In act 2, Cyrus and Alexis have to hustle from the foyer set to Angelique’s suite, and when the camera focuses on Angelique’s portrait, you can hear them hurrying to the new set. Cyrus is a little out of breath for his first couple lines.
When Cyrus closes the doors to Angelique’s room, the “Ode to Angelique” music cue stops abruptly.
When Cyrus tells Alexis, “She and I shared a common interest in the occult,” the light outside the window is briefly obstructed by a person’s shadow passing by.
Behind the Scenes:
There are various kinds of trickery involved in the first scene, when Cyrus, Quentin and Alexis open Angelique’s coffin. This is how I understand it: there’s a mannequin in the casket, and they use another take for shots of Angelique’s face. Then Alexis turns away, asking the guys to close the casket. At that point, there’s an edit, and Lara Parker is in the casket as Angelique. Amber Brie is the stand-in, playing Alexis from behind. They return to the original scene with another edit, when Alexis turns around. At the end of the episode, there’s another clip of Brie standing in for Alexis, as she touches Angelique’s arm.
Monday: Wife Swap.
— Danny Horn