“You will hear the sound of my voice in your mind!”
I remember the days when I loved Nicholas Blair.
He showed up at the house with a smile and a mysterious hat, claiming to be the brother of a woman who didn’t exist. He smiled, and he winked, and he hypnotized people, and there were wheels within wheels. He was a Satanic mob boss with the keys to the car, and everything he said was interesting.
It didn’t last, of course; nothing truly beautiful ever does. It turned out he was all mouth and no trousers, a confidence trickster who gradually lost our confidence. He never had the clever master plan that he kept suggesting that he had, a fact which became increasingly apparent as the weeks dragged by and he refused to progress the story. By the time he burned, we were glad to be rid of him.
That’s always the way with Dark Shadows, I’m afraid; the beginnings are always better than the endings. A storyline starts out full of promise, and gradually becomes a bore. It turns out that writing a daily soap opera is incredibly difficult, especially the way that they do it on Dark Shadows, which is to write storylines with a definite beginning and end. With a structure like that, you have to make sure that the overlapping plotlines all crescendo at the same time, and the only way to do that would be to plan every story beat in advance, which would take so much time that nobody would be available to write today’s episode. So it falls apart, somehow. Still, you can’t beat the beginnings.
One funny thing about Dark Shadows fans is that the show has so many different supernatural elements happening at the same time that as the series progresses, we actually get excited when there’s a storyline that isn’t supernatural. The vampires and witches and werewolves are the things that got us interested in the show in the first place, but they pop up so often that it’s nice once in a while to see regular humans arguing about money and social status.
The current hot-button issue is the Gerard-Samantha-Gabriel betrayal triangle. Samantha Collins is the head of the house in this period, now that her husband Quentin and son Tad have been washed away in a tragic boat accident. Gabriel Collins is Quentin’s loser brother, the superfluous younger son who may not end up with the inheritance even after Quentin’s death, because his dying father hates Gabriel so much that he’s planning to leave everything to Samantha anyway. And Gerard Stiles is Quentin’s friend, apparently, who brought the upsetting news and is now planning to cash in on it.
So, Gerard Stiles: my new favorite thing on Dark Shadows. Just in the last week, I have developed an emotionally complex and deeply fulfilling relationship with Gerard, and you’re just going to have to live with that, because I’m pretty sure it’s going to come up.
In the current scene, Gerard enters the drawing room just as Samantha has finished another in a series of exhausting arguments with Gabriel. He enters the room, tall, dark and handsome, and says, “You’ve been under a tremendous strain, and your brother-in-law doesn’t seem to help matters.” And then he looks at her, this recent widow, and essentially says, hey, check it out, I have a deep, resonant voice, and I can talk about feelings, because I’m sensitive to a woman’s needs. And then he smiles, closes the drawing room doors, and walks toward her like a jungle cat stalking his prey.
Now, back in early ’69, I began the 1897 sequence by saying that the most important thing about Quentin is that you want to have sex with Quentin, and that’s true; it’s a biological imperative.
Gerard isn’t on that Omega-Viagra level of inevitable seductive charisma, and I’m not sure if other people share my feelings on this whole deep-voiced predator thing. So I’m not going to make a big deal about it, I’m simply going to state for the record that Gerard is gorgeous and amazing and I am entirely in love with him, and he can run my guns any time he wants to. Also, I’m probably going to make a big deal about it.
“It’s Tad, isn’t it?” he purrs, settling on the loveseat next to her. “You really can’t accept the fact that he’s gone forever.” Yes, he’s currently hitting on this woman by talking about the recent death of her only child. It’s called style.
She’s got the last letter that Tad wrote to her, and Gerard says that he remembers watching the boy write it. “He talked a lot about you,” he says, “about the love he had for you, and his longing to see you again.”
Samantha shakes her head. “Oh, god, I wish he was back so!”
He bows his head. “I’m sorry,” he whispers, “I shouldn’t have said that to you. Forgive me.”
“No, it’s all right,” she says, leaning towards him. “I want to hear everything he said. I want you to tell me.”
And this works, because everyone knows that fresh grief makes people more emotionally available. That’s why funeral parlors are such meat markets these days.
“I want to help you,” he murmurs, staring into her eyes.
She takes a breath. “You don’t know how I would like to start over again, but I don’t know where to begin.”
“I do,” he smiles.
And then he looks at her like he’s going to kiss her, and then he kisses her.
So that’s us all seduced, I suppose, me and possibly you, and probably a noticeable percentage of the housewives and teenagers of 1970. Dark Shadows has not completely lost the knack for creating a good, solid soap opera scene.
It is and will always be a mystery to Dark Shadows fans why they couldn’t do more of this kind of thing. Obviously, they knew how to do romance. It’s not actually that hard, and a scene like this is perfectly suited to videotaped daytime television, because it’s just two people sitting on furniture. You cast attractive people who are good at expressing their feelings, you pull in for a close-up, and they talk and look into each other’s eyes, and it feels like an intimate moment that the audience is a part of. They could do this every couple of days, and people would tune in like crazy.
But instead, they save it for the first week of a new storyline, and then once we’ve got the point, they bring on the disembodied hypnotic warlock head, and that’s the next four months of story, whether you like it or not.
I could go on, because there’s a whole other sequence with Gabriel and Gerard that’s basically the same thing, except with blackmail instead of seduction. Gabriel has done some kind of 1840s Google search, and unearthed the most extraordinary information about Gerard. It’s all stacked up in a neat little pile of paper, compiled by fantasy investigators.
“Embezzling in Paris, gun-running in Sicily, smuggling in North Africa,” Gabriel reads, as he shuffles through the pages. “Held on suspicion of murder by the Portuguese! Now, tell me about that last item — did you really murder the woman in question?”
And it’s still all about Gerard’s face, really. Gabriel is doing a little comedy bit, but the camera keeps a tight focus on Gerard’s reactions. Some of them are better than others, but they’re all worth looking at. We get fear, anger, rage, disgust and finally a cautious agreement, as Gabriel does his own version of seduction — offering Gerard ten percent of the Collins estate, if he poisons the woman that he was just making out with.
And there’s a nice closeup where you can watch Gerard thinking this over, calculating just how much money he’s being offered, while also wondering what the hell he’s doing, getting mixed up with this lunatic family in the first place.
It’s a rock solid piece of entertainment, done without the aid of Chromakey and fake lightning. This was an option, and if they’d continued in this direction, it might have kept cancellation at bay for at least an extra month or two. But never mind, I’m sure the hypnotic warlock head is fine too.
Monday: That’s Us In There.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Roxanne and Barnabas talk at the beginning of act 1, he starts his line before she’s finished speaking.
When Gabriel rolls into the drawing room to talk to Samantha in act 1, there are marks on the drawing room rug where he’s supposed to park his wheelchair. You can also see them when Gerard stoops to pick up the papers that Gabriel dropped.
There’s audio bleed throughout the episode; sometimes you can hear people singing. It’s especially noticeable when there isn’t any incidental music: in act 1 when Gerard enters the drawing room, and in act 4 when Gerard and Gabriel talk about killing Samantha.
Gerard trips over the word “accept” when he tells Samantha, “You really can’t accept the fact that he is gone forever.”
When Gabriel grabs Gerard’s wrist, the boom mic droops into view. You can see it again a minute later. They must have had a hard time keeping the mic low enough to pick up Gabriel in the chair.
When Gabriel tells Gerard to close the doors, there’s an electrical cord on the floor.
As Barnabas walks onto the gazebo set, a camera pokes into frame on the left.
Monday: That’s Us In There.
— Danny Horn