“We must find out whose hand that was!”
Attic, Angelique’s room, attic, Angelique’s room, attic, drawing room, Angelique’s room, Angelique’s room, attic, attic, drawing room. If you like watching people walk back and forth between one room and another, then Dark Shadows has an episode made just for you.
But guess what? Sinister twin Angelique Collins is just as anxious as the rest of us to move this storyline along, so she’s cast a spell on her ex-husband, Quentin, to make him fall in love with his new runaway bride, Maggie. Now, as far as I know, Quentin already loved Maggie — at least, he married her, which is a pretty solid piece of evidence — but Angelique has decided that he doesn’t love Maggie enough, so she’s giving him an unasked-for upgrade.
She’s got a plan, you see, a wicked plan, and it’s hard to talk her out of it. If Angelique can make Quentin fall even harder for Maggie, then he’ll call her and ask her to come home, and when she does, Angelique will get Quentin to fall out of love with Maggie, and back in love with Angelique, who’s actually dead and impersonating her twin sister Alexis, but somehow he won’t mind, and I’m afraid that’s about as watertight as plans get around here.
But this brilliant scheme has backfired, quelle surprise, and Angelique’s potion has pretty much driven Quentin straight out of his mind. He’s just had a hallucination that suggested that he’d killed Maggie remotely by attacking her portrait with a letter opener, and now he’s headed for the attic, just like everybody else today.
Sensing that things may have gone mildly awry, Angelique settles down with a tarot deck to summon up some news. She deals out a simple arrangement of cards, and then flips over the middle card which is really the only one that matters, and — it’s the Hanged Man!
Shocked, Angelique leaps from the table and dashes for the door, convinced that the card is conveying up-to-the-minute bulletins. What’s that, Tarot? she cries. Quentin’s about to hang himself in the attic? Gosh, if I can only get there in time! Lead the way, girl!
She stops him just in time, naturally, so that’s one more example of why everybody should keep up with their daily household divination routine. Quentin was, in fact, up on a chair with a noose and a notion, and Angelique saves his life by telling him to get back down before he hurts himself. This is followed by a smattering of suicide-hotline counseling techniques for the hard of hearing.
Quentin says that he’ll never forgive himself for killing Maggie, and Angelique positions herself as a voice of rationality.
“Quentin, the portrait has got nothing to do with Maggie, you’ve got to try to think clearly! Now, look at me!” He turns to look, so she issues some further instructions. “Call her on the phone, you’ll know then! Send her a wire! She’ll come to you!” I don’t know if she’s planning on giving him any more magic potions; I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
That’s how they resolve this odd little story nugget, with tarot and scolding. Quentin calms down, and he goes downstairs, and pretty soon they forget all about the suicide attempt, and then he can go and talk to Larry about Cyrus’ will, or whatever else they need Quentin for these days.
So the question, obviously, is: What has happened to this story, and why isn’t it adding up to anything? Quentin keeps asking himself questions like, “Why am I acting this way?” and “Why don’t I know what I’m doing?” which as far as I’m concerned are directly pointed at the writer’s room. Why is he acting this way — not just this way, specifically, but all the ways they’ve been acting lately — and what are we going to do about it?
But we should leave Quentin out of it, really, because the real problem is Angelique.
“Why can’t I control him?” she asks herself. “Why haven’t I ever been able to? I have never understood him… never.” A smile plays around her lips. “Every other man was so simple. Quentin… oh, Quentin. What must I do?”
And the audience, rising as one, asks: To accomplish what?
I mean, I’m sorry to keep banging on this drum, but I honestly don’t have any idea what Angelique is trying to get at. There have been moments when it seemed like she wanted revenge on Quentin, or possibly she wants him to join her as one of the living dead, or maybe she thinks she could just keep passing as a living woman. We don’t know if she’s planning to reveal that she’s actually Angelique. In fact, I defy anyone to identify a single solitary step two in this entire weeks-long scheme. It can’t be done.
So it turns out that no, Quentin and Angelique cannot actually keep Dark Shadows running while everyone else is away. Yes, they’re two of the major kaiju on the show, but left by themselves, they can’t even figure out how they feel about each other. These two even had the extra head start of not being the Quentin and Angelique that we know; they had the opportunity to redefine themselves when we arrived here in Parallel Time. In my opinion, they have not used their time productively, and that’s all there is to it.
And then the cavalry arrives, silently and without apology, and it lifts its chin, and it’s Hoffman, of course, the blood specialist housekeeper family historian, six weeks late and right on time.
She stands before us, poised in her pitch-black housemaid drag, and delivers the killing blow in the arc of an eyebrow.
“I saw Maggie’s picture,” she says, “and I brought you something that you need very badly.”
Angelique asks what, and Hoffman raises her hand. Here’s what.
It’s a crude doll, made of clay, shaped inexpertly into a vague form. It has no features, no defining characteristics, no feelings or desires or motivations that we can recognize. It’s lifeless, just a dull representation that serves as a temporary stand-in for something truly alive.
In other words, it’s the 1970 Parallel Time storyline, and Hoffman would like us to take a sharp silver pin, and stick it into the area where its heart should be.
I know, it’s a cheap joke, but I’m a sucker for a good ritual cleansing, and we need one. The storyline currently in force will drown us all, if we let it.
This is an idiot plot, a story that only works if every character involved is an idiot. Angelique has been swanning around Collinwood pretending that she isn’t Angelique for weeks now, concocting magic potions and secretly draining people of their body heat, and nobody even pays attention. There have been several unsolved murders in the house over the past year that have gone entirely un-investigated, and by the way, we just sent our suicidal friend downstairs to sit alone in the drawing room with his thoughts, and nobody’s assigned to check in on him from time to time. These people make nothing but baffling choices.
And then there’s Julia Hoffman, a character who always — no matter the dimension — refuses to participate in the idiot plot. She gives Alexis the once-over, furrows the brow for several microseconds, and draws conclusions.
So all of a sudden, we’re having an extremely Dark Shadowsy conversation about what’s happened, how we feel about it, and whether we can explain it or not.
Hoffman: How did you come back?
Hoffman: If we’re to be the friends that we were, you must tell me.
Angelique: Yes, I owe you that.
Hoffman: You were murdered, you know that.
Angelique: Of course I know. I felt the pain at the back of my neck. I felt the hand pressing the pin here. And I reached back — we must find out whose hand that was.
Hoffman: We will.
And she means it, too. She’s going to find out whose hand that was if she has to scrutinize every hand in the tri-county area. Hoffman is for real.
And then this accidental, we-forgot-to-turn-this-into-a-mystery story actually acknowledges one of the viable mysteries.
Angelique: I remember falling on the table, and after that, nothing. Nothing… I never remember being in the grave, waking up there… I don’t think I ever was there. I remember feeling the cold, the terrible cold, and then a voice whispering, “Someone will come. Someone will come.” It was like a dream. I was never aware of being dead!
Hoffman: But how can that be?
Angelique: I don’t know!
Yeah, no kidding. It’s the silliest thing I ever heard in my life. But Julia Hoffman can take input like “I was never aware of being dead!” and turn that into a real story beat, through the application of triple-plated chromium squinting.
Watch how she does it, just leaping over logic in a single bound.
Hoffman: Who opened the coffin?
Angelique: I’ve told you enough.
Hoffman: No… I must know.
Angelique: Quentin and Cyrus.
And Hoffman gives a tiny shudder and narrows her eyes, because that irrelevant detail somehow inspires the following dramatic summation.
Hoffman: You were not given this chance for nothing. There is a debt you will have to pay.
Angelique: To who?
Hoffman: Perhaps we will not know… until that person comes to collect.
And then she makes this face.
And now that’s true, because Hoffman said so. As the smartest character on the show, she can’t be burdened with nonsense like giving Quentin a shot of hang-yourself poison, so that he falls more deeply in love with somebody we don’t actually want him to be in love with. Hoffman has acknowledged her invitation to the idiot plot, and she declines.
So she hands over the doll, and tells Angelique to get busy with the pin. It’s insensitive, obviously — Angelique was just talking about her painful pin experiences, a moment ago — but Hoffman has other things on her mind.
“I felt the pain at the back of my neck,” Angelique said. “I felt the hand pressing the pin there. We must find out whose hand that was.”
But we know whose hand it was, of course. It was the guiding hand of Julia Hoffman, freelance script doctor, and the doctor, as always, is in.
Monday: Fire Is Not a Friend.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Hoffman watches Angelique messing with the tarot cards, there are several bright flares on her top button — a reflection of the studio lights.
Quentin asks, “What’s happening to me?” Angelique replies, “I don’t know. But I knew — I know it will all be solved.”
Quentin and Hoffman look at Maggie’s portrait; neither of them seem to notice the visible trails of blood from yesterday’s vision.
Hoffman asks Quentin who slashed the portrait, and he replies, “Is that — doesn’t matter.”
Barnabas tells Angelique, “There’s a character in Will’s book that in — fascinates me.”
Angelique tells Barnabas, “You are a puzzling man, Mr. Barn — Mr. Collins.”
Barnabas asks Quentin about Angelique’s interest in the occult, saying, “I assume that her interest had a reason, and I just thought the reason would be here.”
Behind the Scenes:
There’s an exciting cameo in today’s episode: the stuffed pig weasel from Philip and Megan’s antique shop is in the attic.
Monday: Fire Is Not a Friend.
— Danny Horn