“You cannot escape from the dead!”
It’s one of those complex evenings. In a secret underground crypt near Gallows Hill, a Cockney music hall performer with psychic powers places a tall glass case on an outcropping that contains a severed human head. It’s a terrible thing, the head, and it’s taken control of her senses.
The corpse in the corner grows restless. It rises, and approaches its long-gone head, grasping for its return. The head opens its long-dead eyes, and glares at the mentalist. They’re eager to be reunited, head to body.
“No, you must wait,” the woman says to the headless fiend, taking its cold hands in hers. “It is not time yet.”
Parking the body a few feet away, she looks to the head for instructions. “Now you must tell me, master,” she breathes. “What more is to be done?” They lock eyes, and merge minds.
“Yes, someone must help us,” she nods. “Someone very special. I understand, master.” Then she puts a velvet bag over the case, like it’s a parakeet cage.
So that’s where we’re at these days, this weird gravity well of pantomime horror, and ordinarily I would be enjoying it tremendously, but they keep playing that Dead of Night music cue, and I just can’t bear it. I understand why they’re using it, but it doesn’t work and I can’t wait for them to stop, if they ever do. It’s music that’s specifically designed to make you feel anxious and uneasy, which you’d imagine would be a positive asset for a scene about a doctor’s underground waiting room filled with animate body parts, but it’s distracting, and I’m bracing myself for the trumpet fart-splatter instead of paying attention to how silly the scene is.
Still, I have to admit that I like the body. Judah Zachery is an unpredictable mix of villain and monster, like he’s constructed from factory-second antagonist parts. The body is a Frankenstein-style pantomime horse serial killer that strangles people and has to be led around by the hand, because it doesn’t have eyes. The head is a mute hypnotist knickknack that pretends to be inanimate when people are looking, like a mastermind Buzz Lightyear.
Unfortunately, we want a little more out of a villain than silent glaring, because — as weird as it is to say, in this scene — this is still a soap opera, and the prime directive for soap characters is to talk as much as possible, to fill up the time between Moisturelle commercials. The best villains on Dark Shadows are all chatterboxes, like Count Petofi and Reverend Trask and Barnabas Collins.
Happily, Barnabas is showing up to work today, getting together with Julia for another round of Junior Detectives. This is a story-productive game that these two play, and it’s one of my favorite things on Dark Shadows, because a) it’s fun watching the two of them saying urgent things to each other, and b) it moves the story forward. Other characters stand around and talk about how worried they are, but Barnabas and Julia are all business.
Now, one thing that’s bizarre about this particular scene is that Julia, in the foreground, is sitting down and facing away from the camera for almost two minutes, which I would have thought was impossible. This would be unusual for any scene — you want to see the characters’ faces, that’s why they have makeup — but it’s especially weird for Julia, because Grayson Hall needs to face the camera like she needs to breathe oxygen. She will act her way through you, if she has to. But here they are, committing to a shot that looks like Barnabas is having a momentous conversation with a Tribble.
“We’ve got to find out more about Judah Zachery, if we’re to understand any of this!” he says. He’s decided that this headless body thing is connected to their time-travel mission, and if Barnabas says it, then that makes it true, because of protagonism. He has the power to postulate whatever he likes, and that counts as story progression.
“I’m beginning to remember reports about the witchcraft trials in Bedford,” he says. “I was just a boy at the time, I never took them very seriously. But if indeed they are based on truth, and Judah Zachery walks this earth, then men will find out the true meaning of evil.”
I’m not sure what he means here — it sounds like he’s saying that the trials happened when he was a boy, but Judah’s trial was in 1692, and Barnabas couldn’t have been born any earlier than the 1760s. But I suppose when you’re the main character, you can begin to remember anything you like.
But memory’s not for everyone, and sometimes it can be hazardous. For example, over at Collinwood, young Daniel Collins is coming to grips with an inconvenient truth. There’s a woman staying there who’s calling herself Valerie, but Daniel and the audience recognize her as the wicked witch Angelique, who began her reign of terror forty-five years ago and hasn’t finished yet.
As an ageless supernatural hellbeast, Angelique runs into an awkward situation like this every so often. It’s one of the consequences of pairing immorality and immortality, especially if you return to the scene of the crime every four to five decades. It catches up with you.
“Angelique! I remember you!” he screams, trying to back away. “You can’t deny it! Those eyes!” People must say that to Lara Parker all the time.
It’s a strong moment for Daniel, a character whose actual storyline happened in the interval between time travel trips. He was the little boy in 1795, and now he’s the dippy, dying oldster of 1840. In fact, I thought he was supposed to be confined to the tower room, but apparently today he’s just puttering around the mansion, getting into trouble.
Having recognized Angelique, he starts putting the pieces together. “The witch. The witch! Ben Stokes testified to your death, but they did not believe him! But you are Angelique! You are! And Barnabas — if you have remained the same, has he?”
Angelique closes the drawing room doors, and smiles. “You have an excellent memory, Daniel,” she says. “Why, you were only a child when Barnabas and I –”
“No, it cannot be!” he jumps, his worst suspicions confirmed. “Why have you both come back? How have you both come back?”
She paces towards him. “You don’t really want to know the answer to that, do you? Wouldn’t you rather just forget?”
“I’ll never forget!” he yells, banging piteously on the doors. “Help! Someone help me!”
It’s a great scene, and very soap opera, in the best sense — characters who remember their history, caroming off each other in surprising ways. They take their time with this one, spending a full seven and a half minutes on it — the end of act 1, all of act 2, and spilling over into the beginning of act 3. They know they’ve got something good here, and they resist the temptation to stick a Dead of Night Judah Zachery riff in the middle of it.
Angelique’s been wandering the world for the past several decades, but apparently she’s kept up with current events, because it only takes a moment for her to ensorcell up Daniel’s worst evening. What follows is one of the noisiest hypnosis scenes in the history of the dramatic arts.
With a wave of her arms, Angelique invites in Daniel’s dead wife Harriet. “Wouldn’t you like to hear her speak?” she asks Daniel. “Wouldn’t you like to hear her scream, the way she screamed the night you murdered her? Look into her eyes, Daniel! Has she forgiven you? No! She remembers the night you murdered her, on Widows Hill!”
“Stop it!” Daniel screams, and it’s a double blow — a reunion with the wife, and the knowledge that someone knows his terrible secret. This is what happens when you go around remembering things.
But in the end, this is only a zap from the neuralyzer. Angelique could have left Daniel curled up in a fetal position, whimpering and wordless, but instead she urges him to forget the conjugal visit she’s conjured up.
He agrees, and then everything’s fine — he actually seems happier post-haunting, introducing Leticia to their new guest as a delightful surprise. For Angelique’s first spell of the storyline, it’s a merciful one, causing temporary distress but ultimately leaving Daniel in peace.
Meanwhile, Julia’s gone on a late-night whirlwind trip to the Bedford newspaper office, where they loaded her up with all the Zachery facts she could carry. She’s got the whole story written down in her notebook — the corruption, the coven, the murders, the mask, the terror, the trial, and the mysterious woman who brought Jay-Z down and got him beheaded. This has got to be one of the most successful Junior Detective meetings of all time.
Julia tells the whole story, to help Barnabas generate some new story-productive memories. She says that all three judges in the tribunal died mysterious deaths, and the members of their families died too.
“That’s the important thing to remember, Barnabas,” she says, “that the members of their families died as well… because one of the judges was a Collins. His name was Amadeus Collins.”
“That’s why I heard so much discussion of the trials, when I was a boy!” Barnabas says. “Amadeus was my great-uncle! I also remember that his son, and his son’s wife, died in a strange accident soon after that.” This is a terribly dangerous thing to remember; pretty soon, someone’s going to turn up and start showing people Harriet again.
And here she is, the terror of the late 18th, arriving at the Old House for a tense tête-à-tête with Barnabas. It’s the first time he’s seen Angelique in this incarnation, and it brings up more bad memories — some of them from the future, which isn’t usually where you get them from.
Angelique just walks into the house like she owns the place, which it’s possible that she technically does, and Barnabas gives the requisite you-couldn’t-have-survived-but-I-did-ta-DAH! response.
Angelique: You mustn’t call me that, my darling. I’m known as Valerie, now. I was afraid that I might be recognized if I used my own name. I was thinking of you, as I always do. I’ve always protected him, dear sister.
Barnabas: That’s a lie.
Angelique: Oh, come, Barnabas, don’t be bitter. I don’t want to make a bad impression on my new sister-in-law.
Barnabas: Get out of this house.
Angelique: And go back to Collinwood, crying because my husband was not pleased to see me? Gabriel would be most sympathetic.
It’s marvelous, another helping of back-to-basics Dark Shadows drama, with the kind of dialogue that Sam Hall can still write, when he feels like it. I can’t imagine that Sam really cares that much about the mad monster party going on in the underground crypt; this is more his taste. It’s mine, too.
The interesting thing is that this isn’t the Angelique who jumped straight from 1796 to 1968, following Vicki to the future, and arriving at Collinwood with murder on her mind. For that Angelique, all of the betrayals and heartaches were still fresh and painful; she thought about vengeance and nothing else.
But this seems like an Angelique who’s had forty-five years to think things over, who’s traveled through time the slow way, one day at a time.
Barnabas: Why have you come back?
Angelique: Nothing in the world could make you believe that I love you, could it? And yet I do love you, Barnabas.
Barnabas: That’s another lie!
Angelique: I have changed. Let me show you that I’ve changed. Let me be with you.
Barnabas: And share what I call my life? My life that is your doing?
Angelique: I gave you immortality.
Barnabas: You gave me a thousand nights of agony!
And the exciting thing is that she seems like she believes her own crazy, that she really does love Barnabas, and just wants him to forget the past and reunite, somehow. She doesn’t have a plan, this time. She just shows up at the Old House, and hopes.
So I admit it, I’m a sucker for scenes where Barnabas and Angelique talk about their relationship. This is another one of my favorite things about the show, and they can keep doing it forever, as far as I’m concerned.
Barnabas: So we are at our usual stalemate.
Angelique: You caused it, I did not.
Barnabas: In spite of your delusions, do you seriously think that I’m going to accept you again?
Angelique: You are going to have to, Barnabas.
Barnabas: I’ll let everyone know about you.
Angelique: If you do, you will be the one who is destroyed.
Barnabas: Daniel will remember you.
Angelique: He has been taken care of.
Barnabas: What have you done to him?
Angelique: Oh, he is well. I did nothing, I restrained myself because I knew how angry you would be. I was thinking of you, you see. I am always thinking of you.
That’s my favorite part, that she spared Daniel’s sanity just so she could make this point in this argument. She’s restrained herself from slaughtering his family, and she presents that to him as a gift, like a cat leaving a dead mouse on your pillow.
As she leaves, she doesn’t stop at the door and whirl around and threaten to kill people. She just leaves. This might actually be a new Angelique that we haven’t seen before.
So this is what memory is for, as perilous as it may be — Sam Hall reaching back into the past, remembering what the show is about, and reminding the audience that it’s not all severed heads these days. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and those who can are inspired to repeat it even more. It’s gonna get repeated either way; we might as well enjoy it.
Tomorrow: An Armed Society.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
During Barnabas’ first scene with Julia, he says the line, “Bedford was an important port at that time.” I don’t know where that line was originally supposed to be, but in this conversation it’s a complete non sequitur.
When Angelique chases Daniel into the corner to start working on him, the lights go green a bit early. The green light quickly turns off, and then back on at the correct moment, about forty seconds later.
During the hypnosis, Angelique says, “She will come to you to seek her revenge!” Then she checks the teleprompter to find her next line. In the brief pause, Daniel shouts, “Don’t let her –” and then Angelique continues, “She will not be denied her revenge!” Daniel cries, “Don’t let her come near me!”
When Leticia enters the drawing room, we can see the camera moving in the foyer. The shadow of the current camera then passes over the back of Daniel’s chair.
Julia tells Barnabas that the mask of Baal is “a jeweled mask that he used — that he wore during his rituals.”
Behind the Scenes:
The opening narration is spoken by Norman Parker, the actor who plays the headless body in today’s episode. This is very unusual; people who have non-speaking roles don’t usually do the narration.
Harriet’s ghost is played by Gaye Edmond, in her first appearance on the show. After this, she’ll come back in January as Stella Young, for four episodes. This is her only credit on IMDb, and she didn’t appear on Broadway according to IBDb, so that pretty much sums up everything I know about Gaye Edmond.
The fan-written Dark Shadows 1840 Concordance, which I wrote about in “Episode 1008: This Terrible Truth“, incorrectly listed Grayson Hall as playing the ghost of Harriet Collins, and I believed it for a long time. The 1840 Concordance was published in 1987, and was based on notebooks, memories and off-air audiotapes; the 1840 episodes weren’t available to fans until it was released on videotape in 1992, and then broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel in 1994. The ghost of Harriet doesn’t speak in this episode, so they didn’t know who played her. The idea that Grayson Hall played Harriet comes from a clue in episode 1111, when a raving Daniel chokes Julia, thinking that she’s Harriet.
Tomorrow: An Armed Society.
— Danny Horn