Episode 1118: Getting Ahead

“You seem to have a terrible effect on everyone but me.”

It always starts with a box.

In the red corner, breaking the chains that bind him and emerging once again from his family’s secret mausoleum to feast upon the juices of the living, we have returning champion Barnabas Collins.

And in the blue corner, with the purple satin drape over his glass cage, we have challenger Judah Zachery, a severed head who’d have a king-sized chip on his shoulder if he still had a shoulder.

This will be the final engagement that determines the ultimate fate of the Collins family — a mixed martial dark-arts battle royale between good and evil, or more accurately between somewhat evil and entirely evil.

It always starts with a box. Sometimes two boxes. It depends on how many boxes you have.

Now, you know that if there’s something I love in this world, it’s a mystery box, full of secrets and story progression. There’s all the coffins, naturally, each one stocked with vampires and enchantresses and dead children wearing pentagrams. There’s the strongbox containing Julia’s notes, which wasn’t strong enough to keep prying eyes away, and there’s the safe at Cyrus Longworth’s place, which is full of monster juice. There’s the boarded-up room in the west wing, and the dimensionally transcendent room in the east wing. There’s the Leviathan box, and the Petofi box, and the box where Erwin Schrödinger keeps his magical quantum cat.

But the most dangerous box of all is the one Desmond Collins totes home from the Far East, which breaks the world and kills the show.

“You’ve never seen anything like it in your life,” he promises, like a deranged conjurer. “Now, are you ready?” We are not.

Because it’s a head, a terrible severed head, packaged in a glass box so it can watch you recoil in horror. Pickled in time like gherkins in a jar, it is both spectacle and observer; it is the abyss also gazing into you. It’s nice, if you like severed heads, but it’s not for everyone.

But the most wondrous thing about this poisonous prop is that Desmond is both excited and entirely blase about it, at the same time.

Flora:  Oh! Good lord, Desmond! Take that horrible thing out of here!

Desmond:  Mother, it is completely harmless.

Flora:  Oh, I’ll never believe that. There’s something evil about it! I can feel it, vibrating things!

Desmond:  All right, all right! Well, you won’t have to see it any more anyway, because I am going to give it to Quentin. When I first found it, and I knew how he loved old relics, I said to myself, this is for Quentin. He was always fascinated by the occult. Mother, you don’t have to be scared anymore, it’s all covered up.

So that explains pretty much nothing, which is exactly what this object deserves. It is the ridiculous and the sublime, the thrillingly exotic and the completely harmless. Also, it vibrates things.

And that’s all the discussion it gets, for most of the episode; after this, Barnabas arrives at Collinwood — another fascinating old relic showing up at an inopportune time — and once again, the vampire gets all the attention.

So we’re left with the following head-related questions:

  1. Is that an actual head?
  2. Where does it come from?
  3. How did Desmond acquire it?
  4. What does he think it is?
  5. Why did he think his mother would be delighted by it?
  6. In what way is it “occult”?
  7. And most importantly: Who’s going to feed it, and take it for walks?

And Desmond thinks that this is an acceptable way to comport yourself, toting disembodied dudes around, and he honestly has no idea why Flora raises objections.

So it’s fantastic, and so far I am entirely in favor of it — a super weird mysterious new prop, presented to us out of the blue, with no apparent connection to anything else on the show. Technically, this is a repeat of a story element from the 1897 storyline — the legendary Hand of Count Petofi, brought to the house in its presentation box — but it’s surprising enough to feel brand new. Dark Shadows is once again staking out its territory as the craziest show on television.

We don’t see the head again until the end of the episode, after Desmond’s met Barnabas, who’s been introduced as another cousin from England. Last week, when Julia showed up in the wrong century, she told everybody that she was expecting to meet her brother Barnabas at Collinwood, and now Barnabas shows up at the house, telling everyone that he’s expecting to meet his sister Julia. This is a self-reinforcing alibi loop that Desmond is absolutely correct about not embracing.

“Why is it we never knew we had relatives in England?” Desmond wonders. It’s really getting to him. “Two strange people show up, claiming to be members of the family — two people who make quite an odd pair.”

Now, it’s absolutely one hundred percent true that Barnabas and Julia are a) not actually members of the family, b) from the wrong century, c) not brother and sister, d) not from England, and e) actual undead monsters who up until earlier this evening have been feeding on the fluids of a member of the extended family, so Desmond’s suspicions are entirely justified.

But — and this is why people shouldn’t bring home severed heads in display boxes from the Far East, let this be a lesson to you — you could just as easily say, “yeah, but you bring home severed heads in display boxes from the Far East,” and there he’d be, without a leg to stand on, unless there’s more body parts in the luggage that we don’t know about yet.

But dig the dialogue; this head conversation just gets more and more complex.

Flora:  Desmond, why did you bring this horrible thing to Rose Cottage?

Desmond:  I wish you would stop carrying on about this head. There is nothing frightening about it!

So, just, right there — I really am amazed at his attitude about this. As a member of the audience who’s taking an interest in the situation, I’m looking to Desmond for cues about what this thing is and how I should think about it. So far, the only information I have to go on is how the object looks, which is horrifying, but the only thing he’ll say about it is that it isn’t horrifying.

Flora: Oh, I’ll never believe that! I have instincts, and my instincts tell me that this hideous thing is disgusting, vile and evil!

Desmond:  I can’t understand your carrying on.

You can’t? How is that possible? So this is starting to look like one of those Schrödinger practical joke type boxes which are both something and the opposite of something at the same time, until you open the box and it kills you.

Desmond:  Now I want you to look at it, and see that it is absolutely a carved head of some kind!

Flora:  Oh! I don’t want to be in the same room with it! Get it out of here!

So that’s just an amazing line — “Look at it, and see that it is absolutely a carved head of some kind!” I don’t know if it’s possible to work that into a conversation, but I’m going to give it a try, one of these days. What could it mean?

Flora runs off, with Desmond in hot pursuit,

and then the Head opens its eyes
and looks straight out of the television
directly into your face.

It’s phenomenal. And this isn’t even the real head, the one we’ve been looking at and discussing, because the head that Desmond’s talking about is in a well-lit room, while this shot is clearly somewhere utterly else. They don’t even try to pretend that these shots match up with each other, it’s just

sitting there in the dark
and then it does a little eye flare
as the camera pulls in for a close-up
and it is a Head that sees you
and hates you

So that’s amazing. And then Desmond spends the next three minutes covering the head and then uncovering it and then covering it again, which can’t be good for the head’s sleep cycle. I mean, it just got in from the Far East, it’s probably got jet lag.

The next contestant is old Ben Stokes, who stomps in and wants to know why Flora’s so upset, and Desmond says, “I didn’t expect to scare her, Ben. Why, all I did was show her this,” and then you can guess how it goes from there. Ben doesn’t like it either.

And once again, Desmond is astonished by the low approval ratings. “What is the matter with you, Ben?” he asks. “It’s just a reproduction of a head.”

Which is — I mean, that’s not a thing, is it? Do people ordinarily have reproductions of heads that they keep in glass containers scattered about the home?

So there’s only one explanation, which is that Desmond Collins is a hipster, and the head is the October 1840 equivalent of activated charcoal quinoa toast with a kombucha shot. The whole point of owning a head is acting like owning a head is no big deal.

Yes, it is a reproduction of a carving of a head, and yes, it is also an actual head. Yes, it opens its eyes when you’re not looking at it, and yes, it will murder you if you give it a hard time. All of these things are true, and all we can do is wait for the hipsters to get tired of heads in glass boxes, and start fixating on keeping goldfish in mason jars. That shouldn’t take too long; let’s meet back here in 1844, and see if it’s blown over yet.

Tomorrow: Why Are We the Way We Are.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

When Barnabas and Ben begin their conversation in act 1, there’s footsteps and noise from the studio.

You can see the boom mic twice today, in the same place — when Ben brings Daniel into the drawing room in act 2, and when Barnabas finds Gerard in the drawing room at the beginning of act 4. They seem to be having problems with the approach into the drawing room lately…

Daniel still has his shoes on when Ben tucks him in bed.

As Ben finishes his letter, the shadow of a crew member is reflected in the glass on the Head’s box.

Behind the Scenes:

The Head’s theme used to be the opening theme from Dead of Night, Dan Curtis’ late ’68 pilot for ABC that tried to bring the Dark Shadows aesthetic to prime time, unsuccessfully. It was composed by Bob Cobert, same as all the other music you hear on Dark Shadows, but this piece is distinctive, with its weird blatters of brass instruments and other spooky type noisemakers. There’s a snatch of the theme at the very end of yesterday’s episode, with the full theme today, when Ben hassles the Head.

Tomorrow: Why Are We the Way We Are.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

38 thoughts on “Episode 1118: Getting Ahead

  1. It’s not the last box the show uses a a plot device, if the locked room over in 1841 Parallel Time counts. Yes, the Lottery did take up more time than was necessary (we’ve got an unlikeable Gabriel here, no need for another one), but at least it leads to an end of the torment for the Parallel Collinses.

  2. Love that shrieking theme music cue for the Head. Even without a melody, it’s probably the catchiest thing Bob Cobert contributed to the show since the Blue Whale jukebox numbers of 1966.

  3. If I may add to the possible bloopers for the episode – the ‘live’ head is clearly much lower in the box than the prop head, which has much more neck on it; and the ‘live’ head, since the container is not properly vented, begins to steam up the glass walls of the box.
    Still, The Head is creepier than The Hand was – perhaps if The Hand had had its own glass box, and was squirming about inside, trying to get out…

    And isn’t The Head a steal – er, borrow, from 1958’s “The Thing That Couldn’t Die”? And a nod (get it, NOD?) to the 1962 schlock classic “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” (per opening credits and all posters, yet retitled “The Head That Wouldn’t Die” in the closing credits), starring Virginia Leith as ‘Jan In The Pan’?

    1. Just imagine if the Head got a Head cold.
      Why oh why couldn’t they have found a good lookin’ Head? With a Head full of Hair? I can picture it on the cover of Tiger Beat.
      Wait a minute! Wasn’t that Monkees movie called HEAD? Of course – Davy Jones’ Head in the box! That would have brought in some viewers and saved Dark Shadows from cancellation.

      1. On the good side, The Head can never get a chest cold –
        or laugh its head off –
        or lose its head –
        never have his head on straight –
        but always keep his head up.

        And I agree, that’s one ugly noggin; definitely needed a better looking melon in that box. But I guess that’s part of the ‘scary’ factor, evil is ugly.

        1. Also, Dan Curtis didn’t want to be blamed for making the teenagers of America fall Head over heels for a Head – so it couldn’t be too groovy looking!

    2. I’m not sure what they’re stealing from. The wiki cites only THE THING THAT WOULDN”T DIE, but in 1945 C. S. Lewis published the novel THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH, in which the administration of Oxford is dominated by a Satanic cult that worship a severed head with magical powers. I always assumed that Lewis was making a play on words. There are universities where people are in the habit of referring to the top person in a department or a college as “the Head,” as indeed the bad guys continually do in the 50 pages of that novel before the reader is let in on the nature of their cult. A professor as frustrated with the overall direction of the institution as Lewis was frustrated with the direction of Oxford in the 40s might well begin to suspect that they are talking about such a head as that.

      Lewis’ novel had been a steady seller for 25 years by the time Dark Shadows got round to introducing the Head of Judah Zachery, so it is not implausible that it may be the source of the story. Though I would suspect it was more likely that there was some 19th century horror tale from which they were both drawing inspiration.

      1. For the longest time I just assumed that they got the idea from the myth of Orpheus, whose severed head continued to prophesy, or a legend of one of the Christian saints likely inspired by the same, such as St. Denis. We already know Dan Curtis & co. were not only familiar with the Orpheus myth but willing to borrow from it wholesale, with Quentin as Orpheus, Amanda as Eurydice, and Mr. Best as Hades. But when I saw THE THING THAT WOULDN’T DIE (on MST3K of course), I sat up excitedly and pointed at my screen, yelling like a madwoman, “JUDAH ZACHERY!!!” I didn’t know about the C. S. Lewis novel, but I’m definitely gonna read it now.

        1. Very interesting! I’m sure Lewis was thinking of both Orpheus and Saint Denis of Paris, so even if the writers had read THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH it may well have served to remind them of those stories.

    3. Both titles sprang immediately to mind as good MSTies–husband and I debated whether the Head was more a Jan or a Gideon Drew. I vote Gideon since he could enslave people and make them commit suicide by cop and wear sexy black dresses.

    1. I was thinking Peter Boyle as The Monster in ‘Young Frankenstein’, but your way is good too.

  4. “The whole point of owning a head is acting like owning a head is no big deal.”

    In one sentence, that’s my reason for being annoyed by a huge amount of “edgy” entertainment, and conversations, and so on (including plenty horror-oriented stuff, I’m afraid).
    People evidently want you to hear them talking about “shocking” things as if they didn’t find them shocking, but hoping that you WILL find them shocking.

    1. Amen to that – all these ‘police investigation’ shows, to keep viewers’ interest, keep making the crimes more and more bizarre, and all seem to have a need to show long, slow scenes of autopsies…

      1. Judah’s a writer?

        If only. Hmmm…

        A writer puts himself on the show in a box.

        Full of sound and fury.

        Well, fury. A poor player who can’t strut or fret.

        He gets his hour, and is never heard.

        Signifying something.

        Oh! A sea of troubles.

    1. The hand was stupid. But when the hand touched Humbert and turned his face 4o years old, that was funny. He didnt even want to look at it after that.

  5. Danny, I love this edition if for no other reason it reminded me of Señor Wences, whom I probably haven’t thought of in 20 years or more. My brother and I used to LOVE it when he would occasionally turn up on “The Ed Sullivan Show” when we were kids back in the 1960s. Absolutely delightful!

    1. Desmond is, as all Karlen’s characters are, the only one with even a clue as to the real state of affairs, but they are poor white trash trying to steal pirate jewels, or practical jokers who want to marry Cockney showgirls, or less-successful-than-yore novelists who drink, or the type of person who shows up toting a severed head and can’t understand why people’s reaction is WHAT THE HOLY HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU??? So no one listens to them.

      Also, I assume Dez hasn’t spent a lot of time staring at the head so he he hasn’t been hypno-whammied into cutting his own noggin off or whatever? Is he the Head’s ride? Why does the Head care about being in Collinwood especially?

    1. I like that Desmond seems so hurt and confused that Flora isn’t just as thrilled about The Head as he is – why anyone wouldn’t want such a wonderful curio in their collection! Schlepped it all the way back from the Far East, too. He’s probably kicking himself for not buying that weird looking thing floating in the big glass jar instead…Flora really would have liked it better.

  6. You made a reference to DIMENSIONS IN TIME. To motherfucking DIMENSIONS IN TIME.

    If you weren’t already married, I’d have to propose.

  7. Old Daniel seems to be living in David’s room. Which was his room in the 1795 flashback. Kind of nice. But I wonder where Tad’s room is.

  8. The way Desmond insists that there is nothing wrong with the Head just goes to show how psychotic this whole show really is! Flora really should’ve called the authorities in to come cart Desmond away.

    Also, I really like Flora. It’s nice to see Joan Bennett in a happier role.

    1. Agreed. Here’s where she gets an opportunity to really show her range, in contrast with the characters she’s played previously on this show. As for Desmond, I can only imagine how giddily excited he was to have found such a unique curiosity for Quentin, only to discover that his occult-loving friend was dead, and then have everyone criticize the fascinating present he so lovingly picked out for the deceased. How utterly rude of them!

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