Episode 1128: As Rome Burns

“While you’re at it, you pack your bags and get out of here, because you’re through!”

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. The mystical severed head of deranged warlock Judah Zachery is missing, and his centuries-old corpse wanders the woods, drenching itself in the blood of the innocent. And somewhere in the dark future, the damned rise from the earth and advance on the great estate at Collinwood, toppling its towers and bringing the family to ruin and despair.

Can the accursed head and body be destroyed before they reunite, and begin a murder spree of unrivaled ferocity? Can the impostor time travelers staying at Collinwood unwind the chain of events that is even now leading the helpless inhabitants step by step towards an even greater horror to come?

And, more importantly, can this girl from a little mining town in the West find happiness as the wife of a wealthy and titled Englishman?

Because that’s the basic picture here in 1840, where the unstable elements of soap opera and monster movie have separated into two parallel story tracks in a way that I didn’t think they were doing anymore. There’s a maniacal head on the loose in the woods, but in the drawing room, Samantha Collins is choosing between the two hottest guys on Dark Shadows.

She’s married to them both, as it happens, because Brazil is very large, especially if you have to walk all the way across it after a boat accident. That’s what her first husband Quentin was doing the whole time she was falling in love with her second husband Gerard, and if Quentin was about fifteen minutes slower he would have walked in on the honeymoon.

Of course, this is a soap opera, so the boys have decided that it’s up to Samantha to choose who she feels like being married to, and she’s had a week and a half to think it over. And we are expected to care, even though she’s super bland and I’m generally not that interested in what happens to her. Also, there’s a monster movie outside.

“I know with whom I must spend the rest of my life,” Samantha announces, which is convenient for me, because now I don’t have to write three paragraphs explaining why I don’t like her. It’s because she talks like that.

But the love triangle has its own powerful gravity, especially in soap operas, where they appear in approximately every episode on every show. Watching somebody make a choice is a cue for the audience to think about what they would choose, which builds audience identification with the character and interest in the show.

So now we’re given the opportunity to make our own choice between Quentin and Gerard, and even though I’m not that interested in pairing anybody with Samantha in particular, I know who I want her to choose.

And against all human reason, it’s not Quentin, which is unspeakably sad and a bad idea for the show.

A year ago, David Selby was the hottest thing in pants, a nonstop romance generator who juggled three simultaneous girlfriends living in the same house, and made us believe that he was destined to be with each of them. Quentin was the new Barnabas, the sexy, swaggering rogue who stole Frid’s place on the cover of 16 Magazine, and headlined his own set of trading cards. He seemed unstoppable, at the time.

But it’s been a bad year for Quentin, and that means a bad year for the show in general. He spent a significant chunk of 1970 as Parallel Quentin, moody millionaire, who married a girl and then kicked her out of the house, tricked into thinking she was a witch. He was shouty and hard to talk to and not roguish at all, which kind of made sense because they were doing a takeoff on Rebecca, but if the hottest guy on your show has to be less hot because you’re doing Rebecca, then maybe Rebecca is not the smartest thing that you could be doing right now.

And now it’s 1840 and they’re not doing anyone in particular, and Quentin is still moody and unapproachable. His big homecoming reunion scene with Samantha fell totally flat; it turns out they weren’t that much in love in the first place.

“Samantha, believe me, I want what is best for you,” he said, standing on the other side of the room and speaking entirely in semaphore, “but I certainly can’t make the decision.”

The Quentin that we knew and loved was a lot more tactile than this. He would draw up close, and look into your eyes, maybe putting a gentle hand on your shoulder. He would speak softly, always with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. And that’s how he acted in scenes with dudes.

But in that reunion scene — Q40’s first and most important opportunity to get the audience revved up about the Quentin/Samantha relationship — he stood stock still and bellowed at her.

“Tell me you love me, Quentin,” she challenged.

“You are the mother of my son,” he hollered. “I chose you.” And no one swooned.

So that leaves us with Gerard, which is great, because he’s the best thing about this storyline. He’s not as pretty as David Selby, but he’s more interesting and a better scene partner.

It’s the dying days of Dark Shadows, and the characterization is choppy and unreliable, but here are some things that we know about Gerard:

#1. He’s smiled his way into one of those indefinite invitations to stay at Collinwood, having captured the fancy of every woman on the great estate, as well as the old man with all the money.

#2. He’s currently on the wanted list around the world for embezzling in Paris, gun-running in Sicily, and smuggling in North Africa, plus he was held on suspicion of murder by the Portuguese.

#3. After he dies, he will become an unstoppable psychic force of pure, uncut disdain that will utterly destroy the Collins family and anyone else who comes near.

So he’s both charming and dangerous, one of those roguish types that you read about in paperbacks, and he’s had a number of romantic scenes with Samantha where he draws up close and looks into her eyes, and so on. Advantage: Gerard.

Plus, he’s got a really expressive face that can be handsome and charming when he smiles, and fierce and ugly when he embezzles and gun-runs. Gerard’s face is the unsung hero of the show right now, the only thing that’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to. It is supposed to charm and frighten us, to surprise and fascinate us, and to keep us wondering what it’s going to do next.

And that’s especially true when it comes to his relationship with Samantha, a romance that could be interpreted any number of ways, and Jim Storm has chosen to play all of them, one after the other.

The big question is whether Gerard really loves Samantha, or if he only married her because she would inherit Quentin’s money. While everyone thought Quentin was dead, Gerard’s performance would be the same either way — maybe it’s the woman or maybe it’s the money, but he’s happy. That changes when Quentin comes back, because if Samantha and Quentin split up now, Quentin keeps the cash and the estate — and Gerard is saddled with a woman he doesn’t love, and no fortune.

At the end of last week, there was a moment when Gabriel laughed and predicted that Samantha would choose Gerard, and this was Gerard’s response:

It’s difficult to read a complicated reaction like that. Is Gerard making sour faces because Gabriel’s right, and he doesn’t love Samantha, or is he just resentful of Gabriel’s mockery?

And then there’s yesterday’s episode, when Gerard walked into the Rose Cottage drawing room and found Samantha waiting for him. He said, “Darling!” and rushed to embrace her, and then his face did several complicated things.

Now, the typical soap opera cliche is that character A hugs character B, and then allows his or her face to transition from loving partner to scheming assassin, or whatever the secret problem is. That’s why people hug people on soap operas, so you can see their expression while the other person isn’t looking.

And that’s precisely the shot that they’re doing here, pulling in for a closeup on Gerard, and then out again for a tight two-shot as they exit the hug. This should be the moment when we find out what Gerard is really thinking.

But what he’s thinking is complex, and it’s possible to read in a dozen different ways. He’s smiling because he thinks she’s made the choice to stay with him, but troubled because he isn’t sure yet. Or he’s smiling because he’s just happy to see her, but hurt because this might be the last time he’s allowed to touch her. Or he’s smiling because she expects him to smile, and then looks thoughtful because he’s thinking about all the embezzling and gun-running he left cooking on the stove.

The script is completely opaque, and really doesn’t give us any strong hints one way or the other, and my impression is that Gerard has decided that he’s going to play all of those possibilities simultaneously.

He is an opportunist and an impostor and a hopeless romantic and a jilted lover; he’s a villain and an antihero and a third wheel, and personally, I can’t take my eyes off the guy.

I mean, if all he wants is the money, then he wouldn’t keep pretending that he loved her, right? It’s much easier for him to snarl, “Go back to Quentin!” and then he’s off the hook. So he’s got to be in love with her, and the smile that ripples across his face when he realizes that she’s chosen to stay with him is a genuine moment of shock and delight.

But who knows? The script hasn’t told us anything definitive, so Gerard continues to play other possibilities, constantly shifting to keep us intrigued.

I could do this all day, just throw Gerard faces at you, and that would be an accurate depiction of how I’m watching the show right now — bored by lots of what’s happening, and then utterly fascinated every time Gerard is on screen. I’m constantly looking for clues about who he really is, and how he really feels about Samantha; I’m basically the crazy Instagram stalker for a fictional character from the 19th century.

I’ve done this in the past, just decided to forget about everything except one character’s face, but that’s always been Grayson Hall characters. Obviously, Gerard isn’t as thrilling and protean as Julia is, but I haven’t seen her around much lately, and besides, it’s nice to fall in love with somebody new, every once in a while.

Tomorrow: Windmills, and How to Tilt at Them.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

At the start of act 1, when Samantha turns away, you can see the camera poking into frame on the left side.

Samantha tells Gerard that she was expecting “a more demonstative reaction from you.”

Gabriel taunts Gerard, saying, “I told you what her reaction would be, what her decision would be, didn’t I?”

Grabbing Hortense, Quentin insists, “You’re going to tell me what you were going to do with Todd!” He means Tad.


Behind the Scenes:

Hortense is played by Jenny Egan, in her only episode. Egan had a recurring role in the early-50s TV sitcom Mister Peepers, and appeared in teleplays through the 50s on Robert Montgomery Presents and The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse. She also appeared regularly in Broadway shows in the 1950s and 60s, including the original production of The Crucible in 1953, and the first Broadway production of Mother Courage and Her Children in 1963. Her last Broadway appearance was in The Cuban Thing, which opened on September 24, 1968 and closed the same night. After that, she appeared on Dark Shadows in 1970, and then she was in the 1971 George C. Scott film They Might Be Giants, and that is all of the things that I know about Jenny Egan.

Tomorrow: Windmills, and How to Tilt at Them.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

40 thoughts on “Episode 1128: As Rome Burns

  1. You nailed it but let me nail it harder. Samantha, the apex of the romantic triangle, is irrelevant because Gerard was only using her to become master of Collinwood and he can’t be that now because Quentin is alive. And it turns out that Quentin can barely stand her. He and the rest of us are now Waiting for Daphne. What an apathetic triangle.

    1. Not to mention Samantha never drives the storyline. Whatever she does is always in aid of someone else’s agenda, which she is usually unaware of. Falling for Gerard, Samantha is just happy someone is giving her the time of day. The irreconcilable differences between her and Quentin are used against him when he’s on trial for witchcraft. The only relationship we see where someone isn’t using her is with her sister Roxanne, and Roxanne is off in her own Barnabas being obsessed storyline.

  2. Sorry, folks. Gonna have to part ways with you here. I liked Virginia Vestoff and Samantha. She was a nice change of pace.

    Ultimately, I didn’t like some of the things they did with her, but right now, in this moment, I enjoyed her. To me, this might have been the best triangle on the show.

    1. With you on VV, beloved for lecturing William Daniels’s John Adams on stage and screen. I’d seen her in 1776 onstage before she turned up on DS and was both thrilled and puzzled. (B-b-but she’s Abigail Adams.) But how can it be the best triangle on the show when neither man has any interest in the woman? I think–I’m not being facetious as Danny will probably tell you–that Gerard would rather be boning Quentin.

        1. Apparently Selby’s wife forgave him since they’re still married. She must be a very forgiving woman, because I heard another rumor that he had one of his Falcon Crest co-stars fired since she spilled the beans about another affair. I don’t know if this is true, though.

    2. I like VV and Samantha very much. She and Selby could have had some strong, adult scenes but they chose to waste him with young KJ who was pretty but boring.
      All would not be lost for Gerard if Samantha did choose him. She’d probably get a nice cash settlement for divorcing Quentin and no doubt, Q. would have invited Mr. & Mrs. Stiles to live at Collinwood – hey there’s plenty of room, God knows, and that way, Samantha could be closer to Tad and Gerard could keep harassing Gabriel.
      Then too – Gerard in the house could mean a nasty “accident” for Master Quentin. A fall down the foyer stairs or a fall up the time traveling staircase in the basement. Either way it’s bye bye Quentin and Gerard becomes head of the house.

      1. Samantha Harris: So glad to have another member of our lonely club. I can’t understand why such an astute observer as Mr. Daniel Horn can’t see her intrinsic value and potential worth!

        1. William, we’re a small but exclusive club – the Samantha Collins Appreciation Society. I deeply regret that Dan Curtis failed to keep her front burner for the entire 1840 run. I could understand if he’d side lined the character in favor of something better but – he didn’t.

  3. I’ve always thought Gerard’s motives were slightly different. He doesn’t want the money or the wife.What he really wants is to be Quentin. That is something that any Quentin would totally understand 🙂 and probably the reason why they are such close pals in 1840. He wants the wife, the kids, the weirdo brother, the money, the house and even the governess girlfriend.

    Its not really a love triangle. Its more like an elaborate case of fan-stalking..

    If its looked at that way, Gerard’s actions in 1970 make more sense. He didn’t want to destroy the collins family, he just wanted to re-make the family into a set of people that he could live-action role play being 1840s Quentin again.

    The problem that he had in 1970 is that he didn’t take disappointment very well and when his Quentin historical recreation role-playing didn’t work out he fell back on that other side of his personality and had a house-destroying people-killing tantrum which he still had not got over 25 years later.

    Judah Zachery’s motives are very simple in comparison. Judah just wants to kill every single person he sees. He is so into killing that even his headless body will go off killing on its own if given the chance.

  4. “cash settlement for divorcing”? Not that Dark Shadows has ground itself in historical accuracy…it doesn’t even pretend to do so… (and i may be off base on this) but i think in the 1840’s Quentin could had Samantha jailed for adultery, or just divorced her because he was tired of her. Cash settlements weren’t part of the equation then.
    Speaking of historical accuracy: is it just me, or do the wheels on Gabriel’s chair have a distinctive 20th century metallic tone to them? lol.

    1. Quentin couldn’t have her jailed for adultery because he had been declared legally dead. The courts weren’t that unreasonable. The thing is, historically it was almost impossible to GET a divorce. I can’t find out Maine’s rules specifically, but until the mid 1800s you had to get the freaking state legislature to grant a divorce and you had to have proof of wrongdoing (usually adultery, physical cruelty and maybe abandonment) and one of the parties had to be free of any wrongdoing. It’s a question if Samantha did sleep with Gerard. There was some evidence that she didn’t, I mean she and Gerard come back from being married and there’s Quentin, finally home unless they did it in the carriage after the wedding, they never slept together. But even if she did, Quentin had been declared dead and what with the never sending a letter could have been charged with abandonment. So maybe she could have gotten a divorce after a lot of hard work, but she couldn’t have gotten it easily or quickly.

      They wanted a triangle and then totally threw out any historical reality. I mean, we’re talking about a show with vampires, werewolves and a telepathic, disembodied head so historical accuracy is the LEAST of the problems, but realistically, Samantha and Quentin would have been pretty much stuck with each other.

      This would be a lot less important if the show had been more interesting.

      1. Maine transferred divorce to the county courts in 1821. The standards for divorce were narrow along the lines you described. The laws of Maine actually cover the marriage of Samantha and Gerard. A surviving spouse turning up is grounds for a no-fault divorce between Samantha and Gerard.

        I agree that divorce was unlikely. Often at that level of society at the that time, the husband and wife in a failed marriage would often remain married on paper but lead totally separate lives.

        1. I’m not thinking so much of Samantha and Gerard, as much as Samantha claiming to Quentin that Tad wasn’t his…presumably Tad was conceived after they were married. I don’t know how (or if) the plot line resolves this, but that was a heavy duty reason to divorce back then. Quentin’s rage, when he started to throw Samantha around would have been considered justified by society if it was known at all.

          1. That was such a stupid, obvious lie. And pointless because Quentin didn’t believe it for one second. Not only did that lie instantly burn all of samanthas Collins bridges, it also stripped her of any power she could have wielded as Tad’s mother. She was a fool to go there and I think it was completely out of character – what little we’d seen of her character, anyway. Samantha is not that damn dumb.

            1. But, but they HAD to make sure Samantha looked like an evil woman, so Daphne could be pure and true and stand in contrast to her. You know, since she tried to kill David and Hallie, may have been part of Tad and Carrie dying, tried to kill our Quentin, etc. I mean, she smelled of lilacs, so she couldn’t really be evil, but we had to be shown, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she was right for Quentin and his wife and the mother of his child was unworthy.

              Hence the Tad isn’t your son lie.

    2. Another historical inaccuracy: The door knob on the probably never to be seen again playroom door looked like a cheap modern aluminum door knob to me.

      1. Yes, it was – my sister has one on her bathroom door. (Now how inconvenient would THAT be, if the bathroom was suddenly a Staircase Through Time when you were caught short? Or worse yet, a playroom with Hallie Stokes pouting about! Though I suppose the playroom has a chamberpot somewhere – maybe behind that screen?)

        And seriously, DOES Samantha have another frock to wear? I mean just while the orange one is being beaten on a rock down by the stream? I’m sure people in 1840 must have occasionally put on something different. And she’s in a wealthy family, too, so she doesn’t really have the excuse that it’s the only one she owns.

        1. And seriously, DOES Samantha have another frock to wear? I mean just while the orange one is being beaten on a rock down by the stream? I’m sure people in 1840 must have occasionally put on something different. And she’s in a wealthy family, too, so she doesn’t really have the excuse that it’s the only one she owns.

          Yeah, I complained about that earlier. I assume the show’s budget ran out when they got to her wardrobe.

          1. I saw an interview with the costume designer for 1840 on DVD. These were actually custom fitted and made dresses for the men and women in 1840 and 1841PT vs. off the shelf stuff in 1795 and 1897.

            Since that was more expensive, they had to wear the same gowns much more frequently.

    3. Yeah but, Quentin is such a good egg that I can totally see him giving Samantha some Collins money upon divorcing her, mainly because she is Tad’s mother and he wouldn’t want to send her out the door penniless. Plus, Quentin seems to have some residual guilt feelings over the way he treated Samantha during their marriage. A nice fat check would make him feel less responsible.
      Besides, it would be worth having Quentin pay off Samantha just to watch Gabriel’s reaction. He’d be doing doughnuts in that wheelchair, he’d be so enraged.

      1. Gabriel doing doughnuts in his wheelchair would be a sight to behold. I believe given enough to outrage about he’d literally be hopping with the thing!

  5. Samantha would have better luck as a protagonist in one of Flora’s novels than she does in this storyline. If the love triangle aspect was played up without the head business and Quentin’s infatuation with Daphne it’d have been a lot better.

  6. I wonder what tune is playing on the jukebox at the Blue Whale while all of this is going on. Is the 1970 crowd still talking about the ruins of Collinwood, or have they moved on? Are the teenagers going to Collinwood on a dare?

    1. Maybe that’s why Jeanne Flagler went up there?
      Wonder if Widows Hill got to be the local make-out spot?
      Or Eagle Hill Cemetery?

  7. In 1970, four teenagers and their great dane were seen driving a psychedelic van to Collinwood. A storm fast approaching, they found refuge in a semi abandoned shelter, one lone signpost identifying said shelter as “The Blue Whale”. With no one else around, they had no choice but to crank up the jukebox with their own stash of 45 rpm records. These records were familiar friends to the wayward teens, bubble gum songs they often heard whenever they found themselves in danger, running back and forth in various “chase scenes”. They could never remember, though, which one of them had bothered to choose said record any given week, or why they were even listening to bubblegum music during their weekly life or death chase scene.

    Nobody ever found out exactly what happened that night. The young teens and great dane were never heard from again. The only hints of what transpired came from a woman living in a cottage by the sea. A woman who once had courage and spirit, who cared more for her family than anything. She would only offer her vague recollections: The Blue Whale. Meddling Kids. Zombie Pirates. Chase Scene. Bubblegum Music Heard During Chase Scene. The Destruction Of The Blue Whale. A Glass Left Half-Empty.

    Addendum:
    There was no vampire loose on the great estate. The four teenagers and their dog found a back door into parallel time, where their success in Saturday morning television became a living legend. Those meddling kids apparently got away with it.

    1. With:

      David Selby as Fred
      Kate Jackson as Daphne
      Grayson Hall as Velma
      and Christopher Pennock as Shaggy

      Each week the ghost would be revealed at the end of the episode as a different character played by Roger Davis who would say the line “And I’d gotten away with it if not for those meddling kids.”

        1. Ha! Only during full moons which means they can only solve one mystery a month. And Scoobywolf can have ALL the Scooby snacks he wants!

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