“Tonight I have finally met the man I am going to kill.”
He is the greatest single threat that the Collins family has ever encountered, the Big Bad magnified to the status of Big Worst. He is the man behind the curtain that you should not pay attention to, because if you get close, he’ll sear the flesh from your bones with the cleansing power of his unending hatred for everything in the universe, up to and including you.
The Catholic Church hated him so much that they murdered him, and then put his head on public display, so that everyone would know the true face of evil. And even his head — now stored in a see-through Tupperware container and hidden behind the draperies in the very room where you currently stand — even his head has the power to screw up your afternoon to a pretty devastating extent.
At least, that’s what I’m told. For all I know, this refugee from the antiques roadshow is just another dime-store decapitation, cluttering up the credenza.
But the severed head of 17th-century warlock Judah Zachery must have some kind of imponderable powers, because it was looking right at Desmond before he took a nap on the couch, and Desmond woke up with the explicit sensation that the head had been talking to him. “You must help me!” said the head. “You will help me!” This is what comes from making friends with the decor.
Staggering to the knickknack shelf, Desmond growls, “Where did that voice come from? Was it yours? Or my own? Or did I imagine it all?”
And the head just closes its eyes and pretends to be asleep, which is unbelievably rude. This thing really is evil, after all.
And right in the middle of their conversation, Desmond’s mother comes in and finds him chatting up the collectibles, which is super embarrassing. Honestly, mothers should never come into any room; all it does is spread ruin and despair. Mothers are fine where they are; my advice to mothers is to stay put and try not to cause a scene.
But no, Flora wants to know a) why he’s uncovered their evil housepet, b) why he’s not hanging out with his friend Quentin anymore, and c) whether he’s interested in any girls these days. These questions all have the same answer, namely: the displaced head of Judah Zachery. It’s never easy to discover that your only son is dating a 17th-century warlock, but this is the inevitable consequence of mothers on the move.
So there’s a couple moments where some stray remark triggers a little Jay-Z outburst, like when Flora says that Quentin is Desmond’s best friend, and Desmond growls, “An outcast has no friends!” And then when Flora mentions that everyone thought Quentin was dead, he snarls, “I kept telling them! Death was an extension of life! I kept telling them that!”
So, yeah, this is going to be one of those stories where someone is clearly slipping into being possessed by evil spirits, and they know it, but they refuse to tell anyone. We’ve seen a lot of these in Dark Shadows, most recently with Hallie and David getting possessed by the spirits of Carrie and Tad. I’m sorry to invoke the H-word again, and I know that period of our lives is over, but that’s essentially what’s going on here.
As soon as we see these first signs — an invocation in a dream, stray remarks tumbling from someone else’s lips — we know perfectly well where this is leading. There’ll be some solo investigation scenes, a couple of worried thinks monologues, two or three signs of token resistance, and then something terrible happens.
So here we go again, with Desmond this time. He’s received the old man’s warning, he’s had the dream, and he has every reason to reach out for help, but every time he has the opportunity to come clean, he chuckles and lies and refuses to do anything sensible. It’s one of those.
In fact, we might as well rope in another harbinger, while we’re at it. Ben already tried to warn Desmond about the head, but he’s dead now, so Daniel steps up and does some harbinging of his own.
Daniel: Ben’s death was very similar to those Bedford atrocities! And the strange thing was, that Ben spoke to me that very day about the mysterious decapitated, disembodied head that played such a prominent part in the Bedford affair.
Desmond: Tell me what happened in Bedford.
Daniel: It was in 1803 — yes, in the fall of the year. I’d just turned twenty. The murders occurred within a short span of time. Each victim was found decapitated!
So there you have it, it’s all the evidence that Desmond really needs. There are atrocities headed our way, and he’s got an evil disembodied head under glass. Come on, man, it’s dangerous; just throw it in the wood chipper and let’s move on.
Still, they’re doing a nice job with the atmosphere, and they’re moving fairly quickly from one stage to the next. Before you know it, Desmond’s down at the newspaper office, checking out some 1803 editions.
“The Strange Case of the Pagan Head!” Desmond reads. “Otis Greene, the man of mystery, today caused a furor in the county courthouse. Mr. Greene insisted the state imprison him for dealing with the Devil’s son, and for the adoration of a pagan head.”
This is pretty much a newspaper horoscope column as far as Desmond is concerned, a little glimpse of his personal future if he keeps on the track that he’s currently speeding down. Desmond, honey, listen: Otis Greene is not a role model. I know that he sounds cool — “man of mystery” and all — but there’s more to life than causing furors.
Then it’s back to Daniel for an extra shot of harbinge. A couple scenes ago, Daniel said his memory was hazy, but once Desmond feeds him the name Otis Greene, he pops out with the whole story.
Greene confessed to four murders, apparently, and said he’d been forced into it by a mysterious disembodied head, which by the way it’s now in your house, feeding off your life essence. Once Greene was imprisoned, his handyman stole the head and lit out for the Far East in a schooner, and was found a year later in Macau with his throat cut. Daniel’s grasp of the facts is remarkable; I don’t know a thing about what’s happening in Macau.
And look at Desmond’s little face, when he finds out that Otis Greene was released from the asylum and still lives in the area. He’s starstruck, like a Pagan Head fan who can’t believe he might have the chance to meet a quadruple murderer. This is what happens when you read the newspaper; the whole show is just one life lesson after another these days.
So that’s our story at the moment, a bit of Hammer horror plunked down in the middle of the living room. We gaze into the abyss, and it gazes right back at us, before introducing a few words from our sponsors. “You must buy Nabisco Spoon Size Shredded Wheat!” says the head. “You will buy Nabisco Spoon Size Shredded Wheat!” And he’s right, we probably will.
Tomorrow: We Had Faces.
If you want to know what else I’ve been up to lately, here’s the video for a talk I gave last week. It’s called “The Mickey Mouse Watch and a History of Things in General,” and it presents some original research on the Mickey Mouse watch and its notability, including a discussion of dolls, ashtrays, the Great Depression, disco, department stores, Santa Claus, astronauts, the gas crisis, the importance of the nose-to-ear ratio, and the nature of time.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Flora enters at the beginning of act 1, the boom mic follows her into the shot.
There’s a hair on the establishing shot of the sunrise in act 2.
Desmond tells Daphne, “I’m doing some reachsearch.”
Desmond asks Daphne for the newspapers from October 1803. She turns around and looks in a chest of drawers immediately behind the desk, goes into the third drawer and pulls out what appears to be three newspapers. Do they only publish three papers a month? And why would you need 37 year old newspapers within easy reach of the main desk?
When Desmond sits down to read the newspapers, his coat catches on the back of the chair.
Desmond signs for the decades-old archive newspapers, then folds them under his arm as he heads for the door. No wonder they don’t have a lot of newspapers in the drawer!
At the beginning of act 4, Flora is hoarse when she greets Daphne, and she has to clear her throat several times during the scene.
When Flora tells Desmond, “You don’t know how much Gerard has taught me,” it sounds like she’s saying Jared.
Flora tells Quentin, “Someone you love has died, Quentin! Has someone you’d known died recently?” Quentin says, “Of course not,” but Ben died just last week. Sure, Quentin didn’t love Ben, but you’d think they’d mention it.
Behind the Scenes:
The set for the Collinsport Star office was first used in episode 26, as the Collinsport Sheriff’s office.
Tomorrow: We Had Faces.
— Danny Horn