Episode 1115: The Gun Runner

“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.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

52 thoughts on “Episode 1115: The Gun Runner

  1. Oh yes. Totally with you on Gerard. I thought he was unbelievably hot, wearing those tight black pants and flagrantly refusing all the fruity pastels all the other young men were wearing.

    1. They got 1840s men’s fashions right on the money with Gerard. Men’s suits were generally black in the 1840s and ’50s. “Colors” were rarely used. As one cultural historian (whose name escapes me) once put it, from 1840 to 1860 “Men dressed like ravens.”

  2. Gerard is undeniably hot. But he’s not Quentin-hot. Chris and Joe were hotter, too. But nobody, not nobody no how, was hotter than Claude North.

  3. The warlock head will prove a source of frustration for me because I believe it removes the human and personal antagonism between Quentin and Gerard. Gerard wants to be Quentin Collins and seeing him try to achieve that would be compelling. Instead, he just becomes a better looking Nicholas Blair.

    1. I completely agree. Gerard continuing to manipulate Quentin and Samantha would have been a riveting, adult story line. But, Samantha was sidelined in favor of school girl Daphne, unfortunately, and Quentin became a love sick bore.
      Thank God they didn’t dumb Gerard down, too – he was quite a bit of evil fun as Judah.

    2. They had everything lined up for a great storyline: He and Leticia are here to scam the Collins family, as was the fashion at the time (and all times, really.) She’s hanging out with Flora and he’s grooming Samantha for a rebound wedding/inheritance/tragic accident.

      But then comes Gabriel with his knowledge of the past (ain’t that always the way?) and now he’s got to calculate: ten percent for sure, or the whole shebang but only maybe? Will an angry Leticia spill the beans? Can he eat or drink around Gabriel safely while waiting for his cut? It was all set up and ready!

  4. I’d argue 1795 is the big exception where the ending is as good or even better than the beginning, as Louis Edmonds and the writers ratchet up the tragic nobility of Joshua to Shakespearean proportions.

      1. I agree. I think part of the reason is that for once, they were truly locked in the ending before they started writing the day to day events of 1795.

        They KNEW it had to end with Barnabas being chained up. That forced them to be more creative along the way since the audience knew how they would wrap it up.

        There were other story arcs that I felt like had decent to good endings:

        Matthew Morgan Kills Bill Malloy: Started out pretty good, was very slow and boring in the long middle (fountain pen anyone?) but ended with some drama via Vicki’s kidnapping and the ghosts.

        Laura the Phoenix Part 1: Her story the first time out was a slow burn that delivered at the end with the death of Dr. Guthrie and the fishing shack showdown.

        Liz’s Blackmail: There were obvious parts and the tension was often false, but Liz’s dramatic wedding confession and Jason’s demise literally at the hand of Barnabas ended the storyline with a bang and wrapped it up nicely, leaving room for a continuation (return of Paul Stoddard).

        Maggie’s Kidnapping: My favorite storyline and probably the best-paced story they ever had. Her escape from the Old House is memorable.

        Dr. Woodard’s Murder to Sarah/Barnabas showdown and seance: The Barnabas story started to drag after Maggie escaped and Barnabas turned his attention to Vicki, but it went back into high gear after B&J killed Dr. Woodard and we had the build-up to the Sarah/Barnabas confrontation and the seance.

        Quentin’s haunting of Collinwood: I think that actually got better at the end.

        1897 had the best beginning, but it dragged on too long and was a muddled mess at the end. Leviathon and PT 1970 were epic flops at the end.

        1. The Leviathon.

          Sure seemed like one.

          A shadow.

          Oh, scary.

          Like the Dream Corpse.

          But I think 1840 is pretty great, and Gabriel is Pennock’s best character, and Flora is a joy, who wouldn’t love Letitia, Roxanne, Daniel, Ben….

          And Quentin.

          But I can’t like Gerard, and you can’t make me.

          Just why Daphne would…..I don’t know. He starts as slime,
          And I find compassion for Gabriel because of Gerard.

          And despite Judah , I love Desmond, too.

          Edith doesn’t screw up much.

          I love Samantha. And Joanna.

          Angelique is sprinkles on the ice cream cone.

          Trask is Trask.

          Julia outsmarts everyone.

          And Barnabas is loveable again.

          That is 1840.

          The show is good, and I find myself not caring about 1970.

  5. That audio bleed, it sounds like a variety show going on in another studio nearby — but there was only the Dark Shadows studio. The master tape reel used for today’s episode must have been used before, and they were taping over it.

    1. It probably was a re-used tape and the audio track didn’t quite erase. It used to happen, but not now with digital.

    2. The first song is “Please Release Me” (sometimes just “Release Me”)… sung by a woman. I think I hear a country twang in the version being performed. My first thought was someone was playing a radio nearby.

      I can’t catch the second bleed through clearly enough to tell. It’s male, rather staccato and seems to say “One day you’d better be … Then it seems to go into another song, maybe more of a ballad.

    3. I was watching this episode this morning and had to pause the video because I thought I’d left a radio on in the other room.

            1. It’s a werewolf thing. You know how a strenuous night of werewolfing can be tough on your shirt – can shred it slam off.

                1. Heck, I’m fine with him leaving it off all the time. And if he’d do an occasional upper-body workout, little arm conditioning, so much the better. It can’t just be about the werewolfing, y’know.

  6. The actress playing the role of Samantha reminds me very much of Australian actress Poppy Montgomery, from the CBS shows Without A Trace and Unforgettable.

    1. A couple of quotes I think apply to us all (God bless us every one)…

      “At last, however, he began to think — as you or I would have thought at first; for it is always the person not in the predicament who knows what ought to have been done in it, and would unquestionably have done it too . . .”

      “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”

      ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

      Happy Holidays!

    2. Thanks, Tessie! Wishing all a Merry Christmas and the best of health in 2018, with these few lines below, from a famous poem:

      “… He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle. And away they all flew like the down of a thistle. But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight — ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!’ ”

      -Count Catofi

  7. I saw James Storm at the 50th anniversary Dark Shadows Festival in 2016 and it doesn’t matter how much time has passed. It’s his voice. He has the power to make me totally tongue tied.

  8. James Storm and Virgina Vestoff (sp?) are…IMO…the best actors on the show currently, with the exception of Grayson Hall. I’m therefore bummed to read that Samantha (Vestoff) will be sidelined in favor of “schoolgirl” Daphne, and that a warlock head will become a prominent fixture of the show.

  9. We’ve seen so many morning-after scenes with the vampire’s victim and her unsuspecting friend that I winced when Roxanne draws the curtains and a knock comes at the door. But Virginia Vestoff and Donna Wandrey really sell it in this one, it was terrific.

  10. Virginia Vestoff isn’t what you’d call a classic beauty but she has a compelling presence and radiates intelligence. She’s a great addition to the cast and I’m disappointed (but not surprised) to read that she’s going to be sidelined in the near future.

  11. Watch the teaser again. I’m pretty sure Barnabas got a mouthful of hair ribbon when he bit Roxanne.

  12. I’m confused. Roxanne was a vampire in 1970, before Julia came to 1840 and let Barney out of the box. So how did Roxanne become a vampire in the “original” timeline, where Barnabas was chained up from 1796 to 1967, when Willy let him out ? My head hurts.
    Any yes, James Storm is hot, hot, hot. He fills out that black suit just fine.

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