“If you scream, they will come! They will know how you haunt me!”
Daniel Collins coughs, one of those worrisome false coughs that indicates an unspecified theatrical natural-causes type condition. He’s dying of being old, apparently, at the precipitate age of 54, and he’s being tended to by Ben Stokes, an 84-year-old family retainer who’s known Daniel since he was twelve. It’s hard to say how this kind of malady works; it’s mostly metaphorical.
“Ohh, the pain! It’s coming!” Daniel cries, as Ben propels him bedward. Struggling for breath, he vows, “I must kill that woman, before I die!”
“Now, Mr. Daniel,” Ben chides, but Daniel interrupts.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t see her in that room. You did! That woman will ruin our world!”
Ben shakes his head. “Mr. Daniel, our world was ruined a long time ago.”
That’s a great line, so Stokes puts a point on the board, but Daniel is right. “That woman” is Dr. Julia Hoffman, and her appearance in the year 1840 is ushering in the ruin of this family, this story and soon enough, the whole television show.
Julia is currently a castaway, having fled from the apocalyptic finish of 1970 Collinwood up an unexpected time-defying staircase, which dropped her off here, in the year 1840. Yesterday, she made contact with Ben Stokes, who believed her wild story that she was Barnabas’ friend from the future, despite the fact that it makes very little sense, and he’s hiding her in the playroom overnight.
If anyone finds Julia, she’s in trouble — she might be arrested as a trespasser, or just ejected from the house, out into the night, where she has nowhere to stay, no identification, and no time-appropriate clothes. And as it turns out, someone does find her, and she is in trouble; she just didn’t think it would be trouble like this.
Because the guy that finds her is Daniel Collins, all grown up and entirely out of his mind. There’s a lot to talk about today, but first I need to give you this entire scene, to demonstrate how good the scripts have suddenly become.
Daniel: You didn’t think I would recognize you, simply because you’re wearing that ridiculous getup!
Julia: We’ve never met before!
Daniel: You did it deliberately, to shame me, just as you’ve always done! And now, we must play the little game again. You were always so stubborn, Harriet!
Julia: But I’m not Harriet!
Daniel: How like you to say that! Do you not think I recognized you? Of course you’ve changed! But you were always deceptive, always pretending to be someone you were not! I should have known that when I married you!
Julia: Don’t come any closer to me, or I will scream! I swear, I will scream!
Daniel: No! You cannot scream! If you scream, they will come! They will know how you haunt me, how you always come back to haunt me! I thought when I killed you first, that would be the end of it! But no — once you kill, you must kill over and over again!
Julia: You’re mad. You’re mad!
Daniel: (grabbing her by the throat) Why did you come back? Why? Why do we relive that night? Why don’t you leave me alone?
Ben enters, and pulls Daniel away from the struggling Julia.
Ben: Mr. Daniel —
Daniel: How dare you!
Ben: I was searchin’ for ya.
Daniel: You’ve changed too! You’ve turned on me, you’re on her side! Telling me that Quentin is dead! You once were my friend!
Ben: I am your friend. Now you just come with me —
Daniel: And leave her here?
Ben: Forget about Harriet!
Daniel: No! She deserves to die!
Ben: She’s been in her grave these ten years past!
Daniel: She’s here, in this room!
Ben: Look, Mr. Daniel!
Daniel looks around. Julia has hidden herself behind a screen.
Daniel: You — you say she’s gone… but no… tonight… she will come to me, tonight…
Ben: You’ll feel better in your own room. I’ll sit with ya.
Daniel: Will you, Ben? You won’t let her come?
Ben: I won’t let her come.
And there’s so much warmth and sadness, in the way that Ben looks at Daniel, as he helps him out of the room.
So that’s basically a perfect scene, two and a half minutes of exactly what we need right now. Something terrible has happened in this house, to these people, and all we can hear are the echoes. Daniel’s murdered his wife, and the experience has driven him mad, and he’s endlessly haunted by what he’s done. It’s a decision that he has to keep making, over and over, just to prove that he was right. And we see how Ben has cared for his mad king, for who knows how many years, as Daniel lost his reason.
Plus, this sets up a little plot point — Julia loses an earring during the struggle, which Gabriel picks up and then shows to Gerard — which will lead to more good scenes later on this week.
So Sam Hall is a good writer again, which is a big relief, because I thought we were lost forever. Two weeks ago, Joe Caldwell left the writing team, leaving the show with just two writers for the final six months — Sam Hall and Gordon Russell. My post on episode 1103 speculated on why they didn’t hire a replacement, and at the time, I wrote that it didn’t really matter, because all three writers were starting to sound the same anyway.
Coming out of the Parallel Time story, they managed to pull off an unbelievable twist, sending Barnabas and Julia to 1995 for two weeks of surprises, strong character moments, and actual melancholy, reflecting on twenty-five years of betrayal and failure that our heroes didn’t even know they were responsible for.
And then they got back to the present day in 1970, and we were plunged into eight weeks of bad episodes, one after another. It was mostly David and Hallie whining, with Barnabas and Julia sidelined and everybody else going through various attempts at possession.
They were all going in circles; important things that happened in one episode would be forgotten the next. Gerard’s ghost possessed Elizabeth so that she would refuse to let the children leave Collinwood, and then he possessed Carolyn, and Elizabeth apparently went back to normal. You couldn’t tell if they were supposed to be on the same side or not — there was no sense that Carolyn and Elizabeth were both being influenced by Gerard at the same time, and you just couldn’t track what was going on with the characters, from one episode to another.
And now it’s like they flipped a switch, and all of a sudden the show is good again. What happened?
Well, for one thing, they get to start over with a whole batch of new characters and situations, which always brings out the best in Dark Shadows. Here’s the introduction of cousin Flora, who drifts into Collinwood on a cloud of sentiment.
Flora: Is he here?
Gabriel: Is who here?
Flora: The Healer!
Gabriel: You give the most improbable names to the most improbable people, Flora. What is that?
Flora: My new novel! Isn’t it glorious?
Gabriel: I don’t know, I haven’t read it yet. Did you bring it for me?
Flora: No, not exactly. You must read it, though. It’s by far my best work! Oh, I do hope the critics notice.
Gabriel: (reading) A Summer’s Death!
Flora: In three parts. The book. Not the death.
So there you have it, drawing room comedy, delivered right to your door. And this doesn’t appear to be plot-mandated, it’s just a personality.
In contrast, everything that Hallie Stokes did in 1970 was based entirely on what would help the writers get from scene A to scene B. She never said or felt anything, except what was absolutely necessary to complete the plot objective of the day.
I don’t know if Flora writing silly novels is going to have any impact on Barnabas and Julia’s mission to defeat Gerard, but I doubt it. I think it’s just a bit of decorative characterization, and it’s here because the writers are feeling inspired again.
So I have to re-evaluate the last two months a little bit. I was concerned that maybe everyone just gave up on Dark Shadows, and didn’t care whether they were making a worthwhile show anymore. But now it’s clear that Sam Hall, at least, had some more fuel in the tank that he just wasn’t using.
It’s possible that what they came up with was a story with a devastating part A and a promising part C, but then they had an eight-week part B that was just connecting the dots. No matter what the characters did, they still had to run through the six prophetic clues and end up with the destruction of Collinwood, so Barnabas and Julia had to stand on the sidelines, bleating helplessly.
Plus, they had to figure out all the new characters and situations that they were going to unveil in 1840, and I’m sure there was a lot of prep work that they had to do. They originally thought Kathryn Leigh Scott would play Samantha, but she decided to take a break from the show, so they had to write Maggie out and then cast someone new. Later this week, we’ll see that they got Jerry Lacy to come back and play another Trask, and they had to find someone to play Edith, and they had to figure out the general direction of how Gerard was going to turn into the mansion-destroying nightmare figure that he needs to eventually become. So they coasted a bit, and left the show on autopilot.
Although it’s also possible that there was a problem with Joe Caldwell. I don’t have any particular reason to think that there was, except that everybody’s scripts sounded the same for months, and then Joe Caldwell leaves, and all of a sudden Sam Hall’s doing comedy again. Maybe Caldwell was pulling in a different direction, and that’s why he left and they didn’t replace him.
But never mind that; here comes the Healer.
“Oh! There you are,” Flora simpers as the man she’s waiting for enters the room.
Gabriel rolls his eyes, and sniffs, “The Healer, himself.”
Flora hands over the new novel — to Gerard Stiles, who gives her a warm smile. “At last!” he crows, and clutches it to his chest. “Thank you. I will read it immediately.”
And yeah, there we are. Gerard is the new Quentin.
Seriously, that’s it, in less than ten seconds. After ten weeks of silently glowering, Gerard Stiles says his first nine words, and he owns the show.
It happened right away for Quentin, too, back in the first episode of 1897. After months as a non-speaking phantom, Quentin said, “You’re still beautiful, Beth,” and then he swaggered through the front door and straight into our hearts. Sometimes, it’s just that easy.
Now, James Storm doesn’t have the same white-hot charisma that David Selby has — a vanishingly small number of people do, unfortunately — but the impression that you get from Gerard is that he’s good-looking, he has a sense of humor, and he’s going to be interesting. When he was a ghost, all we saw was rage, disgust and the occasional satisfied smirk. All of a sudden, he’s a trickster, a seducer, and that makes him worth watching.
Flora calls him “the Healer” because she thinks he has the power to cure her imaginary migraines, which he corrects by stroking her temples and talking to her in his deep, commanding voice that she’s in the heat of the desert, or something. When Gerard is stroking something, it’s not easy to focus on what he’s saying, exactly. It’s a bit of mild hypnotism, on Flora and on the audience.
When he’s done, Flora stands up and thanks him, and look at his sexy little pout. He’s not Quentin, but yeah. He’ll do.
And then he gets to be petulant and defensive with Gabriel, and he does a little magic trick on the earring that Gabriel found, and then Gabriel laughs and Gerard suddenly explodes, grabbing him by the lapels, and for the first time we actually see Gabriel not in control of the situation.
We knew, after all of the phantom stuff in the last couple months, that Gerard was going to be the most important character in the room — but it wasn’t obvious that he was going to be this complex and well-developed. He’s been in this house for a while, and he’s got strong, well-defined relationships with all of the other characters. If he’s going to be the center of this storyline, then they’ve got the right actor, and they’re giving him the care and attention that he needs.
Gerard is the Healer, and so far, he’s doing a lot to heal my impatience and broken trust. Yes, that woman will ruin our world, but not today. For today, at least, the doctor is in.
Tomorrow: The Boy Friend.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Gerard asks Gabriel to leave the drawing room, the boom mic swings by overhead.
Thirty seconds later, as Gerard moves behind the couch, a camera pokes into the shot on the left.
Flora says to Gerard, “And now I must go and see your wife.” Then she turns to Gabriel and says, “And your wife too, of course.” Gerard doesn’t have a wife; Flora must have directed the line at the wrong person, and then recovered by including Gabriel as well.
When Flora invites Gerard to dinner, the boom mic droops into the shot again. (See the screenshot below.)
In act 4, the boom mic swings in again, as Ben enters the drawing room.
Behind the Scenes:
I tried to include this in the post, but it just didn’t work, so I’m putting it here: I love the new 1840 colors. These days, every new time period gets its own unique color scheme, and it looks fantastic. Parallel Time was all orange and pink, and 1840’s colors are faded blue and yellow. Check out the picture of Flora and Gabriel in the drawing room above. The pale blue is reflected in Flora’s dress, the couch and the lamp; the yellow is in the foreground chair, and Gabriel’s shirt and lap rug. The flowers on the credenza are also pale blue and yellow. It looks amazing, instantly creating a new environment in a set that we’ve been looking at for four and a half years straight. It’s just another thing that they nailed this week.
Also: the colorful afghan shows up twice today somehow, so either there are two of them or it’s Schrödinger’s afghan. We haven’t seen the afghan since June, when it was on the parallel couch in the parallel Old House drawing room. Today, we see it on Daniel’s bed in the tower room, and then there’s another one on the drawing room couch two scenes later. We see the drawing room afghan again on Wednesday, and it looks to me like it’s a second, similar afghan.
Tomorrow: The Boy Friend.
— Danny Horn