“Murder is only the first step.”
So who wants to talk about the last 85 episodes of Dark Shadows? Well, I do for one, although I know it hasn’t looked that way lately. I’ve been averaging somewhere between zero and four posts a month since August, and August was forever ago.
I could tick off the usual excuses — amnesia, curse, sudden appearance of an ancient stone altar owned by people who wanted me to do something terribly urgent — but it doesn’t really matter; the important thing is that we’ve got seventeen more weeks of Dark Shadows to watch. Let’s do this.
And right off the bat, we’ve got one of the all-time great surprises of Dark Shadows: Gabriel Collins can walk!
When we arrived in the 1840 timeline two and a half months ago, one of the first things that we saw was Gabriel in a wheelchair, ordering a subordinate to push him into the room. His disability is his defining characteristic, fueling the bitterness and resentment that dominates his every interaction. He sits and spits tacks at whoever’s in his way, and they have to accept it, because he had an accident as a child and they still feel guilty about it.
But here he is, up on his feet, challenging his father and taking his first steps towards a new life, if he can manage it.
Daniel Collins is up in the tower room making out a new will, pretending that he still has a sound mind and a sound body all the way up to the end. And here comes Gabriel, the man in the chair, rolling into the room with no specific plan in mind. He knows his father’s cutting him out of the will, and he’s determined to stop it at all costs, probably by shouting at him or maybe grabbing his wrist. Gabriel’s really good at both of those things, so he’s relying on his core competencies to carry the day.
Daniel doesn’t take kindly to being interrupted; he was just on the verge of giving the family fortune back to the son that he likes. He’d changed his will the other day, disinheriting Quentin, because he was under the impression that Quentin was a murderer and a warlock; now he’s reinheriting Quentin and redisinheriting Gabriel, because he’s decided maybe that’s not so bad. Now, technically, Gabriel isn’t actually being redisinherited, because he was never in the will in the first place and the original disinheriting still stands, but he thinks that he’s being redisinherited, and I’m not going to go into why right now, because the explanation might get a little complicated.
Gabriel demands the document, and Daniel stands up, taking it out of Gabriel’s reach and quelling the rebellion, as far as he’s concerned. Gabriel keeps on handing him back-sass.
“You’re a sick and senile old man!” he grouses, and Daniel shouts, “Senile, am I? That’s where you’re wrong, you ungrateful wretch!” The dialogue’s getting pretty steamy in here.
“Ungrateful?” Gabriel cries. “What do I have to be grateful to you for? You answer me that! I’ve sat in Quentin’s shadow all my life! I’ve watched you give him everything, and me nothing! Well, that’s all over with now, father, because you’ve revised your will once, and once is enough for me!”
Daniel strikes back with both barrels. This is how you make the lame less lame; observe the technique.
“When I’m through with you, you’ll have nothing, because you are nothing!” he storms. “Yes, I love Quentin, and do you know why? Because he’s ten times the man you are! You’ve done nothing but bathe in self-pity ever since you settled in that wheelchair. You did it to make others feel sorry for you, so that you could have your own way! Do you know what Quentin would have done if he’d had the accident instead of you? He would have fought, and gone on fighting, until the day he rose up and walked! That is why he’s had my love and my admiration, and why you’ve never had it, and never will have it! You’re nothing but a weakling and a coward!”
And finally, after all these years: it’s enough.
“That’s enough!” Gabriel cries, and rises.
Daniel just said that he would respect Gabriel if he got up and walked, but now Gabriel has, and Daniel still isn’t happy. “You’re even worse than I thought!” he thunders, and he’s right.
Gabriel really is worse, a lot worse. You wouldn’t think it was possible to get this much worse.
He could have walked years ago, but he sat and sulked, and wondered why everyone was passing him by. He nursed his injury, until it became his only goal in life; he was the memory of an accident in human form.
He really is a weakling and a coward, and as it happens, a murderer too; the one thing that got him up out of his crouch was the chance to run around in the woods and murder Randall, so that Quentin would be blamed. And now, for one more crucial moment, Gabriel is getting up and taking charge of the situation.
So, why did he stay in the chair? He knew that everyone despised him, and there was at least a chance of earning their respect years ago, if he’d stood up and taken his place among the vertical. But he kept his recovery to himself, and accepted a life of pity.
This is the truth he’s been trying to duck, all these years — that he could have made different choices, and in the end, he doesn’t deserve to be loved.
And then, as his father lies dying on the carpet, Gabriel goes and gets back into the chair. Even now, after the big reveal, he has to continue the pantomime. It’s more than just his alibi; it’s his identity.
“I never could explain while you were alive, father,” he says, to the second man he’s killed. “You never cared for me much, even as a boy. You always said: be like Quentin. You gotta get out and lead men some day. You’ve got to play games, and win! And win… I played games, father, I played until Quentin stopped them forever. You see, I made him stop them. You know why? So that — you’d have to take care of me. I made you take care of me, father.”
So I guess that plan backfired pretty comprehensively. Gabriel obviously thinks of himself as a manipulative character, always trying to twist people around for his own benefit, but the truth is, he’s terrible at it. If what he wants is to make everyone hate him, then he’s doing a great job, but getting any other reaction but weariness and frustration is beyond his powers.
Meanwhile, Gerard has run rings around Gabriel’s chair, competing for the same prize — Daniel’s love, as a necessary preliminary to the Collins fortune — and he’s winning that contest by approximately one hundred percent. Gabriel is spending his life being an object of pity, and he’s not even getting anything out of it, the poor sap.
So let’s enjoy this moment, because this is something that Dark Shadows is about to stop doing — a non-supernatural fam-dram revelation that provides instant character development without resorting to an external entity made of Evil with a capital E.
In fact, this may be the last gasp of real character development, before the plot mechanics take over for a more or less unbroken eighteen weeks. Next week, all kinds of things are going to happen to Quentin — accusations and revelations and several horrid surprises — and there isn’t a single one that tells us anything new about him, or affects his outlook or behavior in any way. That’s because 1840 Quentin isn’t a character, really, he’s just a handsome blank canvas for the villains to use in order to express themselves. Gabriel might be the only actual character we have left.
Meanwhile, in the world outside, the writers — Sam Hall and Gordon Russell — must be aware that the show is winding down, and pretty soon they’ll have to look elsewhere for a paycheck. Sam actually stays in Dan Curtis’ orbit for another five years, working on Night of Dark Shadows and various horror adaptations, but Gordon knows where they’re really headed, and he goes straight to One Life to Live, where fam-dram character work is the rule and not the exception.
It won’t be right now, obviously — like I said, there’s seventeen weeks left to go — but all of us, Sam and Gordon and Gabriel and me, we’ve got one eye on the exit, waiting for the day when we rise from our chairs and walk out the door.
Monday: The Monster of Collinwood.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the teaser, Gabriel mixes up the reprise of his big speech:
Yesterday’s version: “What do I have to be grateful to you for? You answer me that! I’ve sat in Quentin’s shadow all my life! I’ve watched you give him everything, and me nothing!”
Today’s version: “Ungrateful wretch? And what do I have to be ungrateful to you for? You tell me that! I’ve watched you, I’ve watched all my life, being in Quentin’s shadow! And watching you giving Quentin everything, while I got nothing!”
There’s a long pause between Gabriel saying, “I’ve been waiting to get back at Quentin,” and Daniel remembering to gasp, “Quentin!”
When Daniel looks over the will he’s just written at the start of the show, he reads: “I, Daniel Collins, being of sound mind and body, do hereby –” When Gabriel reads the will a couple minutes later, he reads: “I, Daniel Collins, being of sound mind, do hereby–” Admittedly, by that point, Daniel’s claim of a “sound body” is pretty thin.
Gerard says, “You always, always take your personal hatred towards me, don’t you, Desmond?”
Gerard tells Edith that he proved he has powers “to show you that there are certain mysteries pertaining to life and death, certain mysteries that will make a difference of your life and living.”
Gerard asks Edith to repeat the incantation after him.
Gerard: My body and soul I give to thee.
Edith: My body and soul I give to thee.
Gerard: For in return —
Edith: For in return —
Gerard: I ask to be granted the secret powers from — the darkest pits of Hell.
Edith: For in return, I will be given the secret powers from the deepest pits of Hell.
Samantha says, “The question is better put to you, isn’t it, Grabiel?”
When Gerard pushes Gabriel into the drawing room, you can see the shadow of the camera moving across the floor of the foyer.
Monday: The Monster of Collinwood.
— Danny Horn