“You know, it might be the ghost of a room.”
Hallie is enchanted, in the sense that she’s delighted. She’s also enchanted, in the sense that someone has cast an enchantment on her.
“What does it matter?” she chirps. “We wanted to find the room, and we have!”
Hallie and David have opened the door to the playroom, a magical portal of the kind that you typically see in wardrobes and police boxes, leading to looking-glass worlds with silver-leafed trees and marmalade skies. Cue the enchantment.
“It’s the most marvelous place there is,” she smiles. Hallie isn’t Hallie right now, which is fine with me, and it’s even more fine with Hallie. Nobody is happier about Hallie not being Hallie than Hallie is.
“Look!” she coos, bending down to appreciate the twirling toy carousel. “There’s Dapple, and Charger, and Jewel, and all the others! Running a race that no one will ever win.”
“Who are Dapple and Charger?” David grouses.
“The horses, silly!”
And there they go, Dapple, and Charger, and Jewel, and all the others, revolving in an endless circle, just like this storyline is starting to. It’s only been a week, and already it feels like we’ve been listening to this tinkly music box tune for most of our lives. That’s always how it feels when Dark Shadows tries to stretch a three-week story into six to eight weeks, like they’re about to. Hallie is smiling, and soon she’ll be whining, and then she’ll start smiling again, twirling in a graceful circle as the audience drifts away.
Still, I bet Dapple is in the lead. I know, they’re all chasing each other, but Dapple be Dapple. You know what I mean? The rest of you need to step out of the way.
So here we are in the ghost of a room, partaking in some bygone days. It’s mostly been music and clothes so far, but stay tuned for the linguistic vicissitudes.
“I suppose you knew them when you were a kid,” David says.
Hallie straightens up, smiling. “Kid? What an odd term to use!”
David ignores her. “I wonder whose room this was?”
“For the moment,” Hallie twinkles, “it’s ours!”
David doesn’t notice that for once, Hallie isn’t moaning; he must have developed a defense mechanism that filters out any awareness of her mood and the tedious things that she says. I’ve been trying to develop one of those myself.
“All this junk must have belonged to somebody, at some time or another,” David says, lowering himself onto a rocking horse.
Hallie keeps twinkling. “Junk? I don’t understand!”
David rolls his eyes. “Would you stop acting like the world’s number one weirdo?”
“Weirdo?” she scowls. “What does it mean?”
“You know perfectly well what it means,” he says.
“The word weird is not unfamiliar,” she pronounces theatrically, “but the addition of the letter O makes it completely incomprehensible!”
“Come on, would you cut it out?” he says, leading to more confusion. “OMG, gag me with a spoon! Stop being such a jive turkey and let’s burn rubber before this crazy scene blows my mind, comprende? Bye, Felicia!”
I don’t really know why possessed-Hallie is so relaxed, anyway. This is the 1840s, shouldn’t these kids be at their factory jobs?
After the kids vamoose, Daphne appears and switches the carousel on, all pale and blank-eyed and just as incomprehensible as the addition of the letter O.
So you have to wonder, what is the plan here? We know that Daphne was the governess in 1840, and she died, along with Carrie and Tad, the two kids living in the house at the time. Now she’s apparently trying to build replacements, conjuring up a showroom that infuses the children with Carriosity and Tadness. That’s kind of a weird thing to do, obviously, and it makes you wonder if maybe Daphne was a little too involved in her students’ lives. I know that she’s dead, but maybe it’s time that she gets a life of her own.
But this storyline is a second-generation copy of the not-at-all-faithful adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw that Dark Shadows concocted two years ago. The one thing that’s consistent among all three versions — the real one, and the two DS iterations — is the core visual of a silent male and female ghost in period dress, looming ominously behind an innocent boy and girl. That image is basically the only thing these storylines have in common with the source material.
In the novel, the kids never even acknowledge the ghosts in any way; that’s the whole point of the story. The insane governess is dreaming them up anyway; she’s convinced that the children are being corrupted by the previous governess and her servant lover, who died together in some sinister, degraded way. The kids are perfectly fine. Nothing happens to them.
And there’s absolutely nothing about turning the children into other, deader children. That’s a Dark Shadows original. But when they first ran this story in late ’68, the lead ghost was Quentin Collins, an ancestor who they could suggest was trying to reclaim his beloved nephew, Jamison. That never made a hell of a lot of sense anyway — it’s not like Jamison was lost at sea, he stayed right here in Collinwood and grew up and had kids named Elizabeth and Roger. It’s not clear why Quentin needs to de-SORAS the guy and turn him into a twelve-year-old again. Jamison was fine.
But okay, Quentin wanted a new nephew to hang out with. It’s weird, but it worked, and at the time I don’t think I questioned the emotional through-line. It’s only now that they’re pulling the same leg that I’m noticing how odd this is.
Speaking of Quentin, he’s hippity-hopping around the house this morning, because they got all the way through another night without the roof caving in. Last night was “the night of the sun and the moon,” the first clue in the six-day weather forecast that Barnabas and Julia brought back from the future.
They were worried that a big exciting plot twist might happen, but nothing happened at all, hooray, the night is over and everything’s fine, except that Hallie doesn’t recognize slang anymore.
Quentin says maybe the clues don’t mean anything — they were written by Carolyn in 1995, when she was old and mad and just about to be murdered by somebody’s governess — but Julia stands firm.
“There’s one important thing that we cannot let out of our sight,” she says. “This room was in ruins. The whole house was in ruins! Everybody was gone, except for you and Carolyn, and you were both insane! I saw it, it was horrible!”
It’s a nice moment, a callback to the excitement of the 1995 storyline — but it’s bizarre that I’m thinking of it like that, given that it’s only been a week since that ended, and I’m already nostalgic for it. This is Monday of week two, and already the urgency of that countdown to danger feels like it’s miles away. Look at what Dapple and Charger have done to me.
There’s another playful Quentin/Julia scene later on that’s so cute, you hardly notice that they’re acknowledging how empty the current storyline is. She enters the drawing room, and finds him swilling brandy.
Julia: Oh? Trying to combat the night’s fatigue?
Quentin: Ho, ho. Far from it. At least, last night’s excitement took my mind off its favorite subject.
Julia: Which is?
Quentin: Me. Or, at least, my life. It’s been pretty drab lately.
Julia: Well, I hope we don’t have too much more excitement.
Quentin: No, I don’t mean that, Julia. Right now, I’m very lonely. There’s no woman in my life. (He takes a gulp.)
Julia: I think you’re really looking for a drinking partner, rather than a woman.
(They both chuckle.)
Quentin: Well, if I’m giving that impression, I don’t mean to. And I’ll stop. Immediately!
And then he sets the brandy glass down on the drinks cabinet, walks over to the couch, sits down, and has absolutely nothing to do.
So that’s why Quentin is the skeptic right now, casting doubt on Carolyn’s fortune-telling bullet points; it gives the scene somewhere to go. Establishing a Mulder-Scully formation between Quentin and the Junior Spook Detectives means that everybody gets to recap all the high-stakes tension, which takes our minds off how much isn’t happening right now.
Oh, and then there’s the smell. We should probably delve into that, a little.
Quentin: Before you go, may I compliment you on the way you look?
Julia: Well, you certainly may.
Quentin: And I am particularly impressed by that lovely perfume you’ve got on.
Julia: (chuckles) Thank you, but I’m not wearing any perfume.
(The theremin kicks up.)
Quentin: Well, there sure is a lovely scent in this room.
Julia: Strange. I don’t smell anything.
Quentin: No, it’s beautiful.
This is a reference to the scent of lilacs, which we know from previous episodes is associated with Daphne the dead governess, and we also know that the crazy 1995-Quentin was dippy about Daphne. It looks like there’s going to be a lot of lilac-sniffing in our immediate future. This story has something for everyone, provided you’re obsessed with lilacs.
Meanwhile, the kids are upstairs, roaming in circles. Hallie realizes that she lost some time in the playroom, and she’s scared about that, but David says, “It may have been a little bit scary, but wasn’t it fun?” which it was, if you’re super strapped for entertainment. And then they go downstairs, and Hallie hears the carousel music, and she tells David that she wants to go back upstairs to the playroom. That’s how we’re going to spend a great deal of time this week, dragged through that cycle.
This happened with David and Amy in the previous T of the S storyline, too. The writers want to spend some time playing out the possessed-kid story beats before any of the grown-ups catch on, but if the ghosts don’t speak, then we have to fill up all these scenes with the kids talking to each other. They can’t just stand there and agree with each other all day, so you have to choose one kid to be the Mulder, and the other one gets to be the Scully. Once that runs out of juice, they switch parts and repeat the process.
So this is how it’s going to go, for the next little while. Hallie was fascinated with the old-fashioned Carrie dress, and then she was scared of it, and she put it away in the attic, and now she hears the music, and she’s drawn to the playroom, where Daphne gives her the dress back.
People being drawn to things is one of my least favorite elements of Dark Shadows storytelling, and right now being drawn to things is pretty much the only thing anyone can think of to do.
And this is how we fill the time, while we’re waiting for the six clues to come true, en route to the show-stopping catastrophe. We take another turn around the carousel, doing plot-mandated loopdeloops, and if the characters’ collective IQ has to go down a couple percentiles, then that’s just what we’re going to have to do.
I mean, imagine being drawn to someone with the kind of mentality that would name a horse Dapple. Right? I’m just flagging that as an issue.
Tomorrow: The Scent of Lilacs.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When David and Hallie enter the playroom at the beginning of act 1, somebody’s talking in the studio.
David says, “A few minutes ago, you didn’t even want to come in here. Now you’re acting like it’s the most normal place in the world.” Hallie replies, “Ordinary? No, it’s the most marvelous there is.”
You get a flash of Julia’s underwear when she gets up from the chair at the beginning of act 2.
In the cemetery, the top of the set is visible after Quentin reads Gerard’s tombstone.
Behind the Scenes:
On August 9th, 1970, the night before this episode aired, the CBS summer comedy program Comedy Tonight performed a satire on soap operas, including a vignette called Strangest Shadows. Jerry Lacy, who was a member of the Comedy Tonight ensemble, played Count Drago, biting Tonya the witch, who was played by Madeline Kahn. Lacy last appeared on Dark Shadows in July as Trask the butler; he’ll be back in October as Lamar Trask.
There’s a couple new items in the playroom since I did the original inventory list two weeks ago: a set of blocks, and a captain’s hat.
Tomorrow: The Scent of Lilacs.
— Danny Horn