“The only sedative I need is to get my hands around Stokes’ neck.”
Julia Hoffman follows the ghost of a young girl from the Old House to Collinwood and all the way upstairs to the mysterious playroom, where it turns out maybe don’t follow ghosts all over the place.
There, she comes face-to-face with the demonic supernatural force responsible for the destruction of everything she knows and loves; according to the credits, its name is Gerard. He’s a dark-haired scowling guy in his late 20s, plus however long it’s been since he died.
He glares at her from across the room, and takes a step forward. “Don’t come any closer,” she warns, looking around for an escape route, but she’s glued to the spot. “Stop looking at me that way!” she cries. “Please, stop!” He keeps on looking at her that way; looking at her that way is his entire strategy. She looks back, and then there she is, a wholly owned subsidiary of Gerard, LLC RIP.
Which raises the most important question of the 1995 storyline: Is Gerard hot?
Because it’s actually a tough call. You want to say yes. Like, when he approaches her, he has a satisfied smile on his face, and you think, yeah, look how cute Gerard is…
And then he takes a step closer, and his face settles into this, and you’re like, oh, maybe not. It’s a fragile phenomenon.
I mean, obviously, they’re shooting him in a way that makes him look powerful and evil, rather than approachable and cuddly. The next time we see them, Julia’s in the foyer, totally possessed.
And there’s a zoom up to the landing, where he’s scowling and underlit, and this, as you know, is an extremely scary way to look.
They actually do the Gerard-advances-on-Julia scene twice in this episode. Julia goes back to the Old House and says spooky things for a minute, and then Barnabas says he’s thinking about exorcising the ghost, so Julia trots back to the playroom to check in.
And from across the room, you get that same feeling that maybe he’s cute. Possession stories are sexy, in a fantasy vampire kind of way, but you need the powerful rape-demon to stand there and smolder.
But when they cut to a close-up, he’s doing this weird sneer, and it’s kind of whatever. It’s hard to get excited about this face, one way or the other.
Maybe. It’s hard to tell. If they stopped lighting him from below, and allowed him to have human facial expressions, and messed his hair up a bit, and unbuttoned his shirt a little, we might actually get somewhere. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.
Meanwhile, Quentin — who went through an unattractive period for the last several months — is suddenly the cutest that he’s been since his werewolf days. Partly it’s because he’s half-insane, having witnessed the terrible catastrophe that destroyed Collinwood twenty-five years ago, and as a result, he’s super emotionally available.
For example: Professor Stokes has come to the Old House to talk to Barnabas about their investigations into the great disaster, and Barnabas mentions something that Quentin had said about one of the ghosts that they’ve seen.
Surprised, Stokes gasps, “You talked to Quentin?”
And then suddenly Quentin is on the stairs, and angry. “Yes, he talked to Quentin,” he announces. “And now Quentin’s going to talk to Professor Stokes.”
Stokes is stunned. “Quentin? What are you doing here?”
“I was drawn here, Stokes, by an insatiable desire to put my hands around your neck!” And then he lunges forward.
It’s a fantastic scene, giving us new story information in the most emotionally charged way.
Barnabas has to pull Quentin away from the old man, and hang on. “Quentin, why?” he asks.
“Because he failed! Look around you, you can see for yourself!”
Stokes yells, “He’ll kill me! He’s mad!”
“Mad? Yes!” Quentin confirms. “But why, Stokes? Why? Because of you, and your phony exorcism! You said that you would rid Collinwood of the ghost, and what happened? You simply raised his wrath! If you hadn’t angered him, none of this would have ever happened!”
And then he lunges again, and Barnabas holds him back. “Let me get him!” Quentin screams. “I want to put my hands around his neck!”
So Quentin is perfect again, passionate and active and full of feelings. Plus, he’s grumpy and his hair’s messed up and everybody has to touch him. There’s something about Quentin that gets cuter the more you mess with him. Gerard has a lot to live up to.
Now, I know I’m being shallow, judging the current storyline on the basis of how cute the guys are, but this is an important question re: post-structuralist reception theory.
Reception theory was first developed by Stuart Hall in his 1973 essay Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse, where he suggests that understanding a message has two parts. The sender encodes the message, expressing it in words, images, sounds or actions, and the receiver decodes the message, understanding and interpreting it. But it’s not a simple linear relationship, in which the receiver understands the message exactly as the sender intended it to be understood — the receiver brings their own personal experiences, interests and cultural background to this exchange of information.
So each person in the audience is an active participant, and understanding the text is a negotiation between the person sending the message and the person receiving it. We don’t passively sit back and accept a book or a television show, we create our own understanding of it. The meaning of the text is created through the relationship between the creator and the audience.
Therefore, figuring out whether we think Gerard is cute or not is a legitimate area of academic interest, so shut up.
And Gerard’s indeterminate hotness is a crucial part of experiencing this storyline, because of Quentin.
Back in late ’68, the producers didn’t intend for the male ghost who haunts the children to become a main character; they were doing a Dark Shadows version of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, where the ghosts are silent and mostly offscreen. They called him Quentin, because that role was Quint in Turn of the Screw, and they figured he’d hang around being angry and scary for a while, until he got himself banished somehow. I don’t think anybody would have expected that ghost to take over the show for the next eight months; that happened because the actor turned out to be charismatic and gorgeous.
Here’s the first sighting of Quentin in episode 646, December 1968. They’re shooting him in a similar way to Gerard: grumpy, forbidding and partially-lit, with black eyeliner and makeup that makes him look gaunt and old.
But then he smiles at the children, and there’s Quentin Collins. This is supposed to be a satisfied smirk; he’s twisting one side of his mouth to suggest a sneer. But look how cute he is! They might as well have started printing up the trading cards already.
So they spend the next two months trying to find a way to make Quentin more scary and less cute. Here he is from episode 669, his second appearance, and he’s lit from below, Gerard-style.
He’s tormenting Mrs. Johnson in this episode, and concentrating a lot on the scary faces.
By episode 678, they’re really working hard with the makeup to disguise the hotness.
And they try some eyebrow manipulation to get the diabolical threat across.
But you can’t keep the hotness at bay for long. They let him smile again in episode 679, and come on. The audience is decoding like crazy at this point.
In episode 684, they give him a humanizing moment, expressing sadness over his dead child, and they’re still giving him the gaunt makeup and unflattering lighting, and he’s doing the eyebrow.
But by now they’ve definitely made the decision to send the show back to 1897, and make Quentin a lead character in that storyline, so they’re not afraid to show him smiling and having a good time in episode 693.
And by episode 699, just a couple days before 1897, they let him act seductive and exciting with Maggie, and pretty soon he’s the Large Teen Idol that we know and love, who escapes from mental institutions and strangles professors.
That was only a year and a half ago, at the height of Dark Shadows’ popularity, so everybody in the audience knows that the male ghost haunting the children is going to become something special. Traveling to 1995 is a clever twist, viewing the catastrophe from the end of the story rather than the beginning, but obviously this is two silent ghosts haunting a boy and a girl, and it’s Turn of the Screw again.
Nobody’s explicitly saying, we’re going to visit the 19th century in a couple months and meet the sexy young Gerard, and then you’ll fall in love with him and he’ll be on the cover of 16 magazine riding in an enormous green kangaroo’s pouch along with Davy Jones and the Cowsills, but the audience is decoding furiously as soon as we see him.
Gerard is the next Quentin, in the way that Quentin was the next Chris, and Chris was the next Adam. Actually, six months ago Jeb was supposed to be the next Quentin, but it didn’t work out, so now Gerard is the next Quentin. For Dark Shadows to survive the coming winter, Gerard needs to be hot enough for the next guy to be the next Gerard.
Tomorrow: Just a Girl.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Barnabas lights some candles, shakes out the match and then drops it on the floor. I love when they do that.
Talking about the birthday card he found in the playroom, Barnabas tells Stokes, “The birthday poem must have had some meaning.” They didn’t mention a poem when they read the inscription in the card.
I cleaned up this quote above — what Quentin actually says is, “You said that you would rid Collinwood of the ghost in this house, and what happened?”
In the playroom, when Julia sees Daphne across the room, she turns to Gerard and says, “Someone else is here, I saw them.” Then she turns back, and Daphne is supposed to have vanished, so Julia can point and say, “Someone else was here!” But when the camera cuts back to where Daphne “was,” she’s still there, and we see her take a step off-screen while Julia’s looking at her. They try to cover this with a quick cut to another camera, but it doesn’t work; it just makes things worse.
There appear to be a couple “skips” when Quentin tells Barnabas about his headache — maybe tape edits, maybe some other fault.
There’s a sudden cut from Barnabas talking to Stokes to Julia and Gerard, which may be another tape edit.
The camera moves slightly when Daphne’s ghost appears to Barnabas, making it look like the ghost shifts to the left a little. Also, he’s not really looking at her; his eyeline is a couple feet to her left.
When the candles blow out in the Old House, it takes a second for the lights to react.
Behind the Scenes:
Oh yeah, also this is Kate Jackson’s first appearance as Daphne, the female half of the Turn of the Screw double act. She’s one of the few actors who become more famous after Dark Shadows was over, thanks to her co-starring role in Charlie’s Angels in 1976 and Scarecrow and Mrs. King in 1983. This was her first television gig; she was a student at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts when they cast her, and she had to stay mute because students weren’t allowed to work professionally until the course was over. Looking back, Jackson said that she learned more from the daily grind of making Dark Shadows than she did in school anyway.
Here’s a cute story from The Dark Shadows Companion: “After Donna Wandrey related to Kate Jackson her horror story about making a personal appearance at the auto show with a pig named Arnold, she casually asked Kate what appearances she would be doing. Kate went pale and ran from the dressing room in horror. Jackson would later have her maiden voyage in the midst of a particularly bitter Milwaukee winter, sitting atop an open automobile for six straight hours. Kate’s only comment to Donna upon her return was, ‘That was… really interesting.'”
One final note: Daphne was originally intended to be called Lavinia.
Tomorrow: Just a Girl.
— Danny Horn