“There is a world — an evil world — which exists for some men.”
He’s not a handsome man, it’s true, but he’s powerful, and portable, and persistent. And he’s the man of your dreams, in the sense that you keep having naptime nightmares where his disembodied head bosses you around.
We’re all familiar with Judah Zachery the paperweight, lurking on the credenza in his glass enclosure, silently slipping through your defenses and inspiring you to steal newspapers and murder an antiques dealer with the wrong ancestor. But what of Judah Zachery, the man?
His eyes could bewitch you, they said. He lured beautiful young women to his house, and persuaded them to participate in unspeakable acts. And this was in the 1690s, when they really were unspeakable, because nobody had invented the slang words to describe them yet.
That was a hundred and fifty years ago, give or take, and for all that time, he’s been operating at a serious disadvantage. They say size doesn’t matter, but try to lure somebody somewhere when you’re ten inches total.
But that ends today. This is the day that Judah Zachery breaks out of his box, and gets his groove on.
The procedure is as follows. First, you acquire a human head in a glass case. This step is relatively easy, if you happen to live in Macau, a Portuguese trading post in southern China, where there’s a legendary warlock heads outlet mall. If you don’t live in Macau, and you don’t have any Portuguese friends, then you may need to order a head online.
Once you have a warlock head, the next step is to tire of it — also an easy task which is bound to happen sooner or later, without even trying. Warlock heads make for difficult roommates, because they always need something, like a pen or a glass of water or a human body to walk around in, and they don’t ask; they just take. After yours has been taken several times without your permission, you will naturally find that enthusiasm wanes.
But disposing of your warlock head is relatively difficult, uness you happen to live near a legendary warlock head recycling center, which again, being in Macau is going to make all the difference. The alternative is to repack the head in its original packaging, take it up to the top of Widow’s Hill, and throw it off the cliff, shouting “Goodbye, Judah Zachery!” And even that doesn’t work most of the time.
So then Humbert Allen Astredo shows up with a brand new legendary warlock head like a delivery from AmazonFresh, unboxing it in Gerard’s suite whether he likes it or not. And thank goodness for the intervention of Humbert A, because this plotline has been stalling and making juddering noises for weeks now. It’s time for the head to get up, and take some responsibility.
The concern here is that Gerard is the best character in a storyline not overly full of good characters, a charming and volatile gun runner who smiles and smolders and does anything he likes. I’ve recently decided that Gerard is the new Quentin — a reckless, sexy rogue who strides through the story, making interesting things happen. Quentin has been gradually abdicating from this role since somewhere in the 990s, and by now, I’ve given up hope of recovery. So Gerard is the recast kaiju. Among the tall, dark and handsome, Quentin’s more handsome, but Gerard’s more dark, which has its own appeal.
So the last thing we want to see is this bright spot of the screen taken over by a ranty one-note shouter like Judah Zachery, who talks entirely in reverb. “I have chosen you, and you will become me!” he booms. “Through you, I will live again!” You can always tell how a conversation is going to go by how many audible exclamation points you can hear in a row.
“Whatever we want will be ours!” continues the head. “The Devil gave me powers!” That’s all standard boilerplate, but then he transitions to the hard sell. “You will know my secrets! You will have servants, faithful as this man!” He means Humbert, who’s not exactly a killer app. But then he follows with, “Anyone you want will be in our power!” which is a concept with guaranteed sales appeal.
“Put on the mask!” the head urges, licking his lips. “Put on the mask… Judah Zachery!”
That is what Gerard does, and that is who Gerard becomes.
So this is the critical juncture, right here. As I said, we’ve got a substitute Quentin here who can make the next two months a lot easier, or a lot harder. If this is now Judah Zachery’s head, embodied and embittered, who’s going to spend a lot of airtime doing competitive eyebrow tricks and dictating instruction manuals, then I have grave fears for the future.
But if this is Gerard, who we know and I love, even if you don’t happen to — but with stronger magic powers, and a new focus for his story arc — then we’ve got the chance to make 1840 worthwhile.
“My coven and I have waited so long for your return, Judah!” Humbert grovels.
And there we are, a smoldering smirk from the kaiju, right out of the box. We might actually pull this off.
“I can move again,” he says, demonstrating. “I feel the warmth within my body.” I bet he does.
He moves to the fireplace, and rests an elbow on the mantelpiece. “And I know who my enemies are.” He raises an eyebrow. “I live amongst them.” And then he delivers what could have been another attractive smirk, if the Dark Shadows directors still knew how to light and frame a shot.
Meanwhile, Humbert released his master from the dead less than sixty seconds ago, and now all he can do is complain.
“But we must go carefully!” he whines.
“Are you giving me orders?”
“No! But you must realize –”
“I realize everything!” Gerard declares.
“Do you?” Humbert roars. “You have been invincible for so long — you are not now!”
Gerard hands Humbert the unbothered glare of the man who realizes everything. He’s remarkably self-assured for a guy who was actually pretty vincible for the last century and a half. “Do you think that I would let anyone kill me?” he chuckles.
“Gerard Stiles’ body can die!” Humbert shouts. “Your body is mortal, never forget that!” I guess everyone else in the house is out shopping, or playing the piano, or maybe they’re used to hearing stuff like this, and they hardly even notice it anymore.
Gerard allows himself a moment’s monologue, which as a supervillain he’s entitled to.
“Just before I died,” he growls, “as the hooded executioner raised his axe, I vowed that this moment would come, that I would punish all those responsible!” This is starting to sound like another unpleasant helping of exclamation points, but then he pulls himself back, and practically purrs when he talks about Miranda.
“She calls herself Valerie,” he smiles. “She still knows me as Gerard Stiles. And it will remain that way… until the golden moment.”
And he gets a golden moment, just a few scenes later, when Judah Zachery earns his first taste of flirtation in a long time. Yes, Judah was a champion ladylurer in his day, but as I said earlier, that day was the 1690s, plus he had a big nose, and a bag over his head half the time. This is the first ridealong in his new Gerard-shaped body, and it looks like he’s enjoying the experience.
The target is some redshirt floozy named Lorna Bell, who he meets at a funeral parlor right next to the closed casket. It’s not the most opportune pickup spot, but the new Quentin can fish in any pond he likes. He actually reels her in with an invite to a private memorial service for the deceased, which I’ve never tried and don’t plan to. But if Gerudah makes that work first crack out of the box, then he’s got all the game he needs.
It ends badly for her, obviously, that’s the whole point, is to see the new Big Bad in his disco devil attire. This is Gerard plus, the blackmailing gun runner with the dangerous smile, with some new accessories and a slight modification to his sinister plan. Plotting against Quentin is probably something that Gerard would have gotten around to anyway; this just picks up the pace.
Tomorrow: Viva Droopy.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Fresh out of the box, Gerard asks Dawson, “Will I know their names? Will their ancestors follow me, as yours did?”
During Gerard’s monologue, you can see Dawson clearly, but Gerard is out of focus in the foreground for more than thirty seconds. They even pull in a little to get exactly the shot they want, but they still don’t get him in focus; if anything, it’s worse.
Quentin arrives at the funeral home wearing a powder-blue suit, not really appropriate for mourning. I guess he didn’t like his sister-in-law all that much.
When Quentin approaches Lorna, she starts to say her line before he finishes his.
When Trask tells Gerard about Lorna’s death, Gerard says, “The woman that I met here just a few minu– what happened to her?” He catches himself before he says “a few minutes,” because this is supposed to be several hours later.
When Trask displays Lorna’s corpse, she’s clearly breathing, and her eyes move.
Quentin tells Trask, “You know, there’s so much violence in the village anymore. There never used to be.”
Trask says, “I also didn’t not tell the constable that I overheard her say she would meet you later.”
Behind the Scenes:
Lorna Bell is another one of those disposable fallen women with a roguish gleam in their eye and a drastically abbreviated lifespan, which you tend to see in fiction written by men over the last three to four thousand years. She appears in two episodes, today’s and Friday’s. She’s played by Marilyn Joseph, and this is her only screen credit. Joseph appeared on Broadway for a month and a half in 1969 in A Patriot for Me — playing, unfortunately, a Whore.
Tomorrow: Viva Droopy.
— Danny Horn