“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.
— Danny Horn