“Slow agonizing death is the worst kind, you know!”
It’s three days till Christmas 1970, and here we are in the dying days of Dark Shadows, a show that has specialized almost exclusively in dying days since its ratings peak in October 1969. Don’t tell the 1970 audience, but between you and me, the show only has 15 weeks left to run, which means, if my recent posting schedule is any guide, that this blog will shudder to a stop somewhere around the middle of 2075.
So we should get back to The War for Dark Shadows, the ongoing struggle to define what kind of story Dark Shadows becomes when it’s not a half-hour daytime soap opera anymore. This battle has been raging for decades in books, movies, comic books and the hearts of children, and there’s a lot of it, so we’d better buckle down and start taking this seriously. I mean, those deck chairs aren’t going to rearrange themselves.
Today, we’re going to look at Angelique’s Descent, a tale of erotic love and dark obsession published in 1998 by HarperCollins and written by Lara Parker, aka Angelique herself.
Here’s the situation: Dark Shadows has left public broadcasting behind, and for a hot minute in 1992, it was the jewel in the crown for the newly-launched Sci-Fi Channel. The same year, MPI Video started releasing the entire series on videotape, which was a crazy thing to do but it worked anyway. By 1998, the videos are still going strong, and the Sci-Fi Channel is in the middle of its second complete airing of the show. There is clearly a strong minority audience for Dark Shadows stuff.
HarperPrism, the sci-fi/fantasy imprint of HarperCollins, has been publishing a line of X-Files tie-ins, and they’re looking around for another cult-TV franchise to exploit. Simon & Schuster have been churning out original Star Trek novels for two decades; by 1998, they’ve published more than eighty books, with a lot more to come. HarperPrism wants a piece of that action, so they figure they’ll give a series of original Dark Shadows novels a try.
But as we’ve discussed before, Star Trek and Dark Shadows aren’t the same kind of show; in fact, they could hardly be more different. Star Trek was an episodic hour-long primetime action-adventure series with 79 episodes and a deliberately open-ended premise, with very little continuity from week to week. Dark Shadows was a half-hour daytime soap opera with more than 1200 episodes and a complex, tangled storyline that looped back in on itself.
So Star Trek can easily keep on pumping out new stories, because the Enterprise can always just go to another planet, and nothing ever really changes for the main cast. But Dark Shadows is a whole different beast, and how you approach writing original novels about a daytime soap opera is an unsolved problem, especially for a show that ends in a baffling continuity snarl that nobody really understands.
HarperPrism needed a hook to launch the series, and they landed a good one — a book written by the actress who played one of the most popular and mysterious characters on the show, delving into her character’s backstory in a willful act of Rosencrantzing.
HarperPrism published Angelique’s Descent in 1998, and a second novel in 1999 — Dreams of the Dark, written by Stephen Mark Rainey and Elizabeth Massie, who weren’t even on Dark Shadows — before suddenly imploding.
In 1999, HarperCollins acquired Avon Books, and HarperPrism was merged into Avon’s sci-fi imprint. This was not a big success, and as far as I can tell it stopped existing almost immediately, and that was the end of that.
Still, Parker kept on writing Dark Shadows novels, and she ended up publishing three sequels with Tor Books — The Salem Branch in 2006, Wolf Moon Rising in 2013, and Heiress of Collinwood in 2016. These four books comprise the Parkerverse, which endured almost twenty years, so she’s got a reasonable, if contested, claim to being the new chronicler of the DS canon.
So let’s descend with Angelique, and find out who and what she really is. It’s a story that’s too broad and too deep for the small screen, as they say, especially with this broad.
For a novel that’s mostly about looking backwards, the first two chapters take a big step forward, taking a confident step forward into 1971 and the world beyond.
We kick off with some stop-press news about Barnabas’ current status.
Barnabas woke trembling, his heart pounding, his breath coming in gasps. An enormous weight seemed to be pushing down on his body, and his limbs felt sluggish and bound. He dug his fingers into the pillow smothering his face, and clawed his way out of the dream.
That’s right; Barnabas is no longer a vampire, and he sleeps in a bed with a pillow, just like everybody else. Now, you’re saying, of course he’s not a vampire, he was cured in 1840 when Angelique, under the alias of Barnabas’ wife Valerie, returned him to the world of the living in time to frustrate the plans of Lamar Trask and Gerard Stiles, aka Judah Zachery, in episode 1169, but that is because you are a nerd and you’ve been watching reruns. HarperCollins is hoping to capture some readers who haven’t watched the show in a while, and everybody knows that if Barnabas is cured, then there’s only one explanation.
Aberrant thoughts ran through his skull as he struggled for release from the panic that gripped him. He wondered whether he should wake Julia and ask for another injection. She kept the vial on her dresser and would be pleased if he woke her, glad to be of assistance.
That’s right; Barnabas lives in Collinwood now, right down the hall from Julia, and there is more news on that front coming up soon.
But right now, just to make sure everybody understands what a vampire is, he thinks about his dream, about a downtrodden girl from River Street who he crossed paths with back in the day, to her great and lasting misfortune.
He meant, then, before it was too late, to let her go. But she touched the back of his neck lightly with her fingertips, and he shuddered. He could read her thoughts, even as her movements betrayed her motives: her heady incredulity at his advances, her fantasies tumbling together in a jumble of possibilities.
“Collinwood — lady of the estate — the envy of her friends — position and ease…” Her provincial mind could hardly conceive of the wealth! Was it possible that he could love her? Make her his wife? She was desperately, recklessly willing.
That’s how Lara Parker writes, by the way, so get used to that. It involves a lot of internal thought process. In fact, in this passage, we’re reading Barnabas’ thoughts, and he’s reading the girl’s thoughts, so it’s a double header. This is what Parker does: narrating each second of the encounter in detail, with stream of consciousness inner feelings. This is Dark Shadows as written by Virginia Werewoolf.
So if you’re excited by the prospect of Barnabas’ internal narration, then this book is a real treat.
Recalling these memories now was like tasting the most foul and rotten fruit. “So like Barnabas,” they always said. “Why, you could be his twin!” And, as before, he was welcomed into the incestuous fold, embraced by the secrets and unspoken guilt that isolated and distanced the family from the outside world. “It is amazing. He is so like the portrait,” they would murmur to themselves.
And he, enduring shame and unspoken horrors, had remained among them for seven generations, feigning a semblance of normalcy, dead, but not dead, his grisly hungers rising and abating with the years of experimentation. His hope would brim into vague promise, only to crash again and again in utter despair as the inexorable grasp of the curse, like iron manacles, twisted once again around his soul.
It seriously is like this the whole time. Lara Parker has never met a clause she doesn’t like. The sentences are long, with lots of description and ten-dollar words. Just a few paragraphs later, we get:
Everything was as clear as in the day, but devoid of color. The shades of gray were infinitely various, and the whole was textured in a divine chiaroscuro that sculpted every object.
In other words, it’s dark out. You just know that Parker couldn’t wait to use the word chiaroscuro; she made it through four pages and then she couldn’t hold it back any longer.
And then there’s another big announcement, this time about the Old House.
He and Julia had agreed, after much discussion, even argument, with the rest of the family, that it was to be razed and destroyed. The wrecking crew was coming in the morning. Perhaps that accounted for the intensity of the dream, and he hoped that with the destruction of the house would go the anguished memories.
So here’s a metaphor, if you were hoping for one.
The Old House was rotting, falling to ruin. Only the moonlight gave it solidity. Its rooms were empty and abandoned. Too long it had been a residence of ghosts.
Plus, they couldn’t even create a decent part for David Selby. Empty, abandoned, falling to ruin, with only the Sci-Fi Channel giving it solidity. Screw it, we might as well pull it down and hand it over to Tim Burton.
And then we get an honest-to-goodness Paperback Library moment, as Barnabas looks out the window toward the ancestral pile.
He looked across the gables of the roof and down to the wide lawn, and started suddenly, his breath catching in his throat. For he saw, or thought he saw, the figure of a woman standing in the shadows of the trees.
It was only her silhouette he saw, but she was dressed all in white, and her skirts skimmed the grass. She was wearing a cape that covered her hair and shadowed her face; but from the angle of her head she seemed to be looking up to the window where he stood, and he caught the gleam of her eye.
Naturally, if there’s a girl with gleaming eyes having a late-night stroll among the gardens and messuages, then Barnabas is going to go downstairs and get a closer look at her; it’s only polite. On his way out, he glances in the mirror.
There, in the moonlight, stood an elegant gentleman with dark hair softly curled and only slightly graying at the temples. He was a man of sophisticated, even noble, lineage, possessing an aristocratic visage: wide cheekbones; an aquiline nose; coal black eyes set deep beneath heavy brows; a delicate, sensuous mouth; lips that curved into a charming, secretive smile with only the slightest lift of the corners. It was a face of exquisite sensitivity, the face of a poet. But, smoldering in the hollows of the eyes, there was a glance so intense as to be fiercely hypnotic.
So now we’ve got that established. We’re not calling him “handsome” yet, as the Paperback Library books do almost obsessively, but he does rack up four handsomes over the course of the novel. That’s low by PBL standards, but at least he’s on the board.
And there’s one more thing that we need to flag before we get him outside, which comes up as he’s passing Julia’s room.
Dear Julia. He knew her motive was love; she was more devoted than any woman he had ever known. Her strength was in her knowledge. She had saved him, and it was only right that he make her his wife.
Boom! There you go, B/J shippers. Barnabas proposed to Julia, and the lady has accepted.
But I wouldn’t pop the champagne yet, because as he hurries across the lawn, there’s a reminder of the other woman in his life. The following excerpt has a spoiler warning for a few weeks from now.
Mysteriously, his thoughts turned to Angelique and their last encounter. At that time, her [spoiler] had moved him to compassion. After inflicting lifetimes of suffering, she had been grievously contrite, and she had tried once more to lift the curse. “Is it possible for you to forgive me?” she had whispered. “All I did was for love of you.”
He had been drawn into those azure eyes once again, brimming with tears, and he had faltered. His lips close to her cheek, he murmured, “Yes, I forgive you. I love you. I have always loved you.” Before she had [spoiler] in his arms, he had said those words!
That’s not actually the dialogue from that scene, but the book was published in 1998, and it wasn’t easy to get ahold of a late 1840 episode at the time. Besides, it’s nice to know that even after the show is over, Barnabas is still forgetting his lines.
So he burns down the Old House, is what I’m driving at. He goes and walks around in the Old House for a while and has feelings, and remembers things, and then he thinks that he sees Angelique’s spirit beckoning to him from a bedroom, so he runs downstairs and strikes a match and holds it to the edge of a velvet drapery, and it erupts into flame, and then he drags it over to light another tapestry, and that starts burning too, and then he hears Angelique’s laughter, and he runs away.
And it burns, from the ceiling all the way down to the foundations: the beams and supports cut from ancient local forests, the plaster walls made from crushed clamshells and horsehair, all gone, all gone. The whole benighted batcave lights up like a Roman candle and explodes into the sky, scattering fragments of chandeliers and oil paintings as far away as Portland. And that is how you end a chapter.
Well, you can’t do that kind of thing without attracting some kind of attention, so the next morning there’s a conference at the breakfast table with the whole family. Elizabeth, Roger, Carolyn and David are all present, and they mention Willie and Mrs. Johnson, and the whole sequence basically exists to establish that everybody is still here that you figure is probably still here.
The depth of characterization in the book is limited to Barnabas and Angelique, so the other characters are basically just doing what you’d expect. Elizabeth’s voice is husky with privilege, Roger speaks with glacial disdain, and David is eager to go and see the flame-ravaged Old House. There’s even a line about Carolyn wishing she could go to a party with loud music, because in everybody’s memory Carolyn is still a teenager, and she always will be, until Nancy Barrett writes her own novel and gives Carolyn something interesting to do.
We’re not going to see much of the family, because this isn’t a soap opera, and nobody else has a storyline. So it’s worth asking the question: What kind of story is Angelique’s Descent, and is it still Dark Shadows?
After all, the Dark Shadows that we know is told in half-hour segments of lurid daytime television, full of shocks and lunatic plot contrivances. If you don’t have noisy Robert Cobert music cues to signal a cliffhanging commercial break every eight minutes, then what does that do to the rhythm of your story? You can do more lyrical descriptions, you can have more sensuous internal stream of consciousness, but you lose that restless, questing energy that’s always seeking out the next cheap thrill. You’re just moving things around, rearranging the deck chairs without any of the fun of a shipwreck.
But don’t worry, this isn’t even the real story; it’s a framing device that doesn’t know it yet. Barnabas and Julia head over to the Old House to observe the remains, and it turns out that everything is entirely destroyed except for a small book mysteriously spared from the flames, lying there with nothing on the cover but a radiation symbol, a Mr. Yuk sticker and a warning from the Surgeon General.
Naturally, Barnabas sees something ominous and unwise, so what does he do? He opens it, and starts to read.
The sea is endless. Endless is the sea. Islands a long way off. It begins with the tide. Curled inside me, with no rhythm, only a push and a flow. Islands a long way off. Another and another. Some tall with with their mountains in the clouds. Some rounded like a woman’s body. Some flat with trees all bowed one way, their branches reaching like fingers, stretching away from the world.
This, improbably, is the journal of a young girl.
The nuns are teaching us to write, but the lessons must be in English. Sister Lucianna says I am wasting my paper.
The French came to this island in 1684. Saint-Pierre was the first town in Martinique. The schooners come for the sugar. Glory be to God the Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth.
And so on. Looking over his shoulder, Julia realizes that this journal must have belonged to Angelique, Barnabas’ first wife and relentless nemesis, the author of all his sorrows. She wants him to put it down, but naturally he becomes fascinated by it, because Barnabas is always being drawn to things.
My mother made a sea window, a bucket with a glass bottom, and placed it on the surface of the water. When I looked through it I could see the other world. I could hear the clicking of the coral-eaters, and feel the swaying surge. The wind of the sea is invisible, pulling, jerking, tugging.
“It’s extraordinary, isn’t it?” says Barnabas, “How could something so lyrical be written by a child?” This question is never answered to anyone’s satisfaction.
Julia says that the book is evil and a snare for Barnabas, because she understands the kind of story that she’s in. But Barnabas doesn’t listen, because Barnabas is arrogant and reckless, and besides, it’s only chapter two, and we have a whole book to fill up.
So let’s get started with the story of Angelique, a little girl who lives with her mother by the sea.
Angelique could see her heart when she closed her eyes, small and gray, polished like a stone tumbled in the surf. But today her heart felt like a bird fluttering against the walls of a dark cave.
Today something felt cruel, like a punishment, but she had not needed a scolding. She was a wild child who had never been curbed or threatened. The sea had taught her caution — how to float with the breathing current and stay clear of the fire coral, how to avoid the scorpion fish that could sting with death and skirt the eel’s bite.
And it goes on like that. Angelique is a free, innocent spirit, who has never experienced structure and discipline, and never needed it. How we line this up with the previous assertion that she was taught to write by nuns is anyone’s guess.
But Angelique as a child really is a marvelous idea, and it’s obvious why Lara Parker wanted a chance to explore the character’s backstory. If Kathryn Leigh Scott wanted to publish a memoir of the young Maggie Evans, there would be almost nothing in it, except a cute boyfriend and her sad alcoholic father. Nobody is aching for an explanation of how Maggie became the person that she is; it’s all sitting there on the screen.
Angelique is a mystery box that deserves unboxing. The quick mind, precocious, born to servitude but with a loftier spirit. We actually do want to know who Angelique is, and where she comes from. There had been fan stories like this in The World of Dark Shadows and other fanzines, exploring the inner life of a Dark Shadows character, but few had ever done it this well, or for this many pages.
Her father was a black shadow against the sky, a piece cut out of the blue, like a paper silhouette, his high shoulders looming in his black coat, his nose a heavy beak, his beard like dried eelgrass. But she could see clearly that he was a blanc, white-skinned, even with his ebony eyes and coal-black hair. That was why he never came to see her and her mother. Because they were colored, gens du coulour, and because her mother had been the daughter of a slave.
This brings up a big question, which we’ve only touched on briefly before: is Angelique Black, and if not, then why not? She’s introduced as a voodoo princess from the Caribbean, a servant from a sugar plantation on Martinique in the 1790s. This is a staff position which I’m pretty sure was not usually filled by the blonde and the blue-eyed. It would have made way more sense for Angelique to be played by a Black actress, except it was 1967 and America was apparently not ready for interracial living-dead romance on daytime TV.
So we learn here that she’s the product of at least a couple generations of slave/master interbreeding, giving her some genetic connection to Africa through the maternal line, but with eyes as changing as the sea. Her father says, “She is light-skinned and can pass,” an idea that sounds okay until you glance at the book cover, and say yeah, but she’s Lara Parker from Knoxville.
In real life, Parker’s actually the great-great-granddaughter of Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, who helped draft Mississippi’s Ordinance of Secession in 1860, and served as the Confederacy’s minister to Russia. She’s descended from the slave-owners, not the slaves.
But obviously, Angelique the character is not the same person as Lara Parker the actress; she has a different background and family history, fine. But my question is: If you’re going to do this, then why give her father ebony eyes and coal-black hair? This is Parker’s one opportunity to wedge a Norwegian somewhere in the family tree, and she does not avail herself of it.
The thing that’s happening right now is that Angelique’s father is taking her away from her idyllic, moist childhood by the sea, separating her from her mother and taking her somewhere far away. On their journey, they pass a little slice of life on Martinique.
Just as their cart rumbled by, the man lurched out into the rain with his whip curled in his hand and shouted cruelly at one of the Negro men. With a harsh cry, he let fly the heavy lash, and the slave shrank into the shadows.
“Oh, that man is whipping them!”
“Without the whip, they are devils.”
She felt a sudden pity for the slaves — the bone-breaking work and the humiliation of bondage. Her mother’s mother had been freed because she had given birth to a light-skinned daughter. How miserable not to be free!
And that is not the last that we hear about that, by any means. Angelique is not technically a slave in this book, but she’s slave-adjacent, and the book is packed with slave characters. I’d say at least two-thirds of the characters in the first half of the book are Black, with decidedly mixed results.
So if you’re feeling a little nervous about where this is going, then yeah, so am I. This book was written well before America’s current racial reckoning, and it’s going to have to get reckoned with.
Angelique thinks this will be a great adventure, but her father takes her up into the hills, to a gloomy old castle that fell into ruin and became a sugar plantation.
The first thing her dad does is take her to a church, where she sees other little girls that she knows being hustled nervously through the door. She doesn’t want to go in, and struggles to get away. But her father holds her tight, and reminds her of the day when he was ill, and came to her mother for some medicine-woman healing.
We get a flashback that basically goes like this:
“For God’s sake, get rid of this… agony… this devil of a headache. It’s gone on for days now. It’s no drug. It’s… it’s…” his eyes were bulging, “the fever! It’s one of those wretched Negroes who hates me. My favorite shirt is missing from the wash. I know… I’m certain, one of those miserable black demons has taken it and used it as a shroud. Cymbaline! Help me, you filthy wretch!”
It’s all terribly unpleasant. Her mother refused to help, but Angelique stroked his forehead, and somehow washed away all of his pain.
Coming back to the present, he explains to the girl:
“I knew! That day I knew! You are not like these other girls. They are miserable and weak! You have the power to change what you are about to see. To transform it with your mind.” His voice was insistent. “Nothing is real, unless you will it to be!” His fingers clenched her shoulders, digging into her skin. “Make me proud of you…” he breathed a moment, then his voice fell to a raspy whisper, “my… daughter.”
And then he locks her in the church basement with a pack of vicious dogs.
Oh, don’t worry about it. This book is just like the Paperback Library gothics, where nothing ever hurts the heroine.
She locked eyes with the dog, willing to be devoured, almost eager to… to what? To begin her life again? The dog’s gaze was vacant and indifferent. Then some inner demon flickered in his eyes, and they became two flames. His mouth with its cruel, reddened teeth seemed to curve into a fiendish grin.
I have been waiting for you…
Her skin shrunk with a creeping cold. Did she imagine that he spoke to her? Not in any language or voice, but in a dark thought that floated through her.
For a long moment he stared at her as if to see whether she had heard, or felt, his message, and she stared back, into his flaming eyes. Then he bent his head and sniffed her ankle with the tip of his nose. She froze, waiting for the jaws to open. But instead, he merely licked her foot, his hot tongue leaving a bloody mark.
So that’s the canine Nicholas Blair, giving little Angelique his satanic blessing. The door opens and there’s her happy father, having won a bet with the other planters. Apparently this is the result that they were hoping for.
Then Father Le Brot shows up, outraged and stuttering, and says that what they’re doing is blasphemous. He’s the local representative of the Christian faith, and he is unpleased with this weird little-girl cockfight they’ve arranged. And then he catches sight of young Angelique.
“I rem-m-m-member this child! She was t-t-taught by the Sisters. A fair student if I’m not mistaken, and a g-g-g-good reader.” He smiled at her. “You are the girl who read the entire book of poetry, are you not?”
Angelique was grateful to be spoken to with such regard. She blushed and nodded happily.
“Yes, Father. And… and also the Shakespeare!”
“And which was your favorite, my dear?”
“Milton, sir, and Thomas Gray.”
“Ah, yes, ‘An Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard.’ Hm-m-m-m…”
Seriously! That is the next thing that happens in the book.
It turns out that Angelique is not just good at soothing demon dogs, she’s also the only ten-year-old with a full scholarship to Wesleyan. “And also the Shakespeare!” I’m sure. Ask her which play. If it’s anything but Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, then I’m sorry, but I find that difficult to believe.
And her favorite is Milton! As in, John Milton, meaning Paradise Lost, which is like 300 pages long, not counting the footnotes. I haven’t even read Milton, and I have a bachelor’s degree in post-structuralist literary theory. What the hell are they talking about?
Anyway, after the literary salon, Angelique’s father takes her back to the house and hands her over to one of those nice big maternal slave ladies, who has a southern-fried accent that nobody else in the book has had so far. I bet she’s good-natured, too.
“What did my father mean when he said I was ‘chosen’?”
The older, larger woman seemed good-natured, and she had a gentleness about her that Angelique instantly trusted.
“They watches you through a chink in the wall, high up — above where the dogs was,” she said, glancing at her companion.
“What did they watch for?”
“Why, to see who be the goddess, chile.” Her voice quavered, and Angelique sensed that she was making an effort to be cheerful, for her face sagged, and her limbs hung heavily from her body.
“Now come on over here, honey. We gots to make you pretty and clean. It’s a nice bath for you, don’t you think?”
This is Thais, who’s basically Aunt Chloe from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, one of those big cheerful unpaid domestics who have a lot of feelings about the welfare of their master’s children.
“I want to go home! Angelique wailed. “Please, please take me back! My mama is waiting for me!”
“No, no, baby,” the large woman muttered soothingly. “You stay here now. You live in the tower. We take care of you, we feed you and dress you, and make you fat and shiny. ‘Cause you the new living goddess.”
Her voice quivered, and Angelique looked into the black woman’s eyes for the first time. They were lined with coppery veins, but they were filled with tears, which ran down her cheeks and glistened on her dark skin.
Yeah, I’ll bet. So here’s where being the great-great-granddaughter of Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar really kicks in. When she was writing the book, Lara Parker did a lot of research on slavery and voodoo and sugar plantations and the Haitian Revolution, and she’s very firmly on the slaves’ side, but she can’t help herself from reaching for the mammy archetype when she wants to give Angelique’s backstory some Caribbean flavor.
But I have to say, we have experience with slavery on Dark Shadows, and this is not the first time that we have seen the good-natured slave.
America’s original sin was Dark Shadows’ original sin too, and it started right in the very first episode. At least, it did if you believe, as I do, that Barnabas coming out of his coffin in episode 210 was the real first episode of Dark Shadows, which it was.
The very first thing that our reluctant vampire does is to put the bite, reluctantly, on Willie Loomis, the white trash drifter, and turn him into a helpless slave. As the story unfolds, sometimes Willie does what massa wants, and sometimes he doesn’t, and in the latter case, out comes the distinguished wolf’s-head cane, which Barnabas uses to elegantly beat the hell out of the personnel.
Now, this isn’t a problem in the original Barnabas storyline, because Barnabas is evil, and evil characters do evil things; that’s how you know they’re the villains. The problem is that everybody in every version of Dark Shadows that has ever been made says that Slave Willie is a huge improvement over Free Willie. He’s kinder, he’s more thoughtful and polite, he even looks better — just wait till you see him in the WB pilot, it’s a huge level-up.
And once Willie is free from lockup in the sanitarium, he comes straight back to Massa Barnabas, perfectly content to keep working on the old plantation, to the point where, on many occasions, he clearly cares more about helping his master than he does about his own life, and we consider that a touching piece of character development.
Listen, y’all, we have to face facts. All this time, our love for Willie has been keeping a little piece of Dixie alive up there on the coast of Maine, and we’ve hardly noticed it over the last fifty years.
You see? I warned you about the reckoning. The reckoning is for real.
Anyway, let’s get back to the voodoo ritual. Thais feeds Angelique some drugged food — go ‘head, you like it fine, honey — and then she’s brought to the chapel, where she finds a Baptist congregation all dressed up in their Sunday clothes and singing spirited gospel tunes. Except not really.
The heavy drums pulsed and their timbre shook the air. She looked in horror upon a swaying mass of sweating bodies. The men were chanting, mesmerized by the drums.
Yeah, it’s one of those. Angelique is lifted onto a wooden platform, surrounded by weird jars and fetishes, next to a big porcelain dish with chunks of raw meat. And then her father walks in and puts a blood-stained sword on the altar.
Next he took up the porcelain dish. He turned to the congregation and moved among them, passing out small morsels of the bloody meat. She saw each dancer take a piece of the offering in his mouth.
The chanting and drumming reached a frantic pitch, and the prancing slaves whirled and rocked as Angelique watched the ceremony through the veil of whatever opiate they had given her. The dancing bodies became apparitions of monsters. There were candles growing from the tops of their heads and from the backs of their hands and feet. The bouncing lights spun and traced arcs of fire in the dark. Several men leapt high in the air and cried out as though struck.
Naturally, this is not a description of an age-old African religious custom as practiced by rational thinking people who are held against their will in unjust bondage. This is one of those excerpts from Black Bagdad, with Papa Blanc taking advantage of the African peoples’ natural affinity to superstition and animalistic savagery.
Now, to be clear, the point of view of Angelique’s Descent is that this is a bad thing, that it’s a clear moral evil for the white planters to take advantage of the superstitious and savage African people like this. Angelique’s Descent believes that they should leave the superstitious and savage African people alone.
Oh, there is so much more; this part of the book goes on for ages. The next morning, Angelique has a heart-to-heart with her brutal father, who walks her through her new job description.
“There are things you have no knowledge of,” he said, still staring out. “The slaves are savage and bitter. We have tried to convert them to Christianity, but they have ancient practices brought with them from Africa. They worship gods who take on many forms, and are all superstition — by that, I mean they are not real —”
“Loas are real,” whispered Angelique softly.
Her father glanced at her quickly. “What do you know about them?” he said roughly.
“They come into your head.”
He frowned. “Do you know of a loa called… Erzulie?”
And yes, of course she does, because she is the girl who is skilled at everything. Angelique Bouchard, who reads Shakespeare sonnets and whose wild soul is attuned to the rhythm of water. She speaks French and writes in English, and she can call upon any spirit of any mythology — Erzulie, Lucifer, Santa Claus, Scrappy-Doo — and they will come when she calls, and they will dance before her and tell her that she is the best and most special person who has ever existed.
It turns out that the slaves believe that Angelique is an incarnation of Erzulie, the love goddess, whose appearance in the middle of their ceremony drives them wild with worship. All they want is to dance and sing her praises, and sacrifice animals for her benefit in their savage native rituals, presumably with a break every eight minutes for a few words about All-Temperature Cheer.
But for this scam to work, the slaves can’t see her walking around like a normal person; she needs to stay locked up in a tower like Rapunzel, and only come out for the ceremonies. This is, apparently, her destiny.
So that’s how life goes for this bright young goddess, just one more victim of an ambitious stage parent. She’s drugged most of the time, and she kind of nods her way through the ceremonies, and who knows how long that goes on.
Then one morning, she wakes up and she’s not quite as drugged as usual, and Thais comes in with some food.
“Well, chile, you wake up? Mornin’, an’ no rain be comin’ down. You gone be eatin’ now an’ get a solid meal in you belly. Today you be goin’ to town.” Thais eyed her nervously. “Come along now, dearie. I gots to put you in the rose-colored dress. You like that? You a little mo’ awake than usual, ain’t ya? You be a good girl, now, y’hear?”
Angelique pushed the plate of food off the table, and it clattered to the floor. Thais gasped.
“Oh, Lord. What for you do that?”
So, okay. I have a question re: the dialect, which is: what for they do that?
I mean, for one thing, I’m pretty sure they’re speaking French, and all this “chile” stuff should be “enfant”. So if it’s all being translated for the reader’s benefit, then I don’t understand why the evil white planter sounds like “Living in Martinique is hard for us all. Why should you escape these difficulties?” and the Black people sound like “Now you gots to eat, or I be’s in big trouble!” That’s bothering me.
But today’s a big day, chile, cause today we’re taking the little goddess to Saint-Pierre for Carnival, which means she doesn’t get drugged and she gets to wear a pretty pale-rose dress and get toted around in a special curtained loa pet carrier. She has to wait inside her little hutch for most of the day, just peeking out to catch a glimpse of the dancers and fishermen and mulattoes and cockfights and what all.
And then she catches sight of a group of thrill-seekers.
She saw the soldiers again only a short distance away. One was tall and slim, with a trim mustache and a small beard. He seemed older, an officer, for his uniform was in good repair and a sword hung at his side. The others huddled near him, crying out in disbelief or amazement at all they saw. She overheard them call him by the name Jeremiah, and realized he was in charge of this unruly gang. He smiled and nodded, cupping his chin in his hand and treating the boys with familiarity. One handsome boy in particular seemed a closer companion than the others; she saw the officer grin at the youth and tousle his curly hair.
Then the two turned and looked toward her carrier, and the boy stared at her with great curiosity.
That’s right! Guess who it is!
Yes, it’s that handsome boy, young Barnabas Collins, visiting Saint-Pierre with his scout troop, and encountering Angelique way earlier than you thought he would. He catches a glimpse of the pretty girl behind the drapes, and you know Collinses, they can’t leave a mystery box alone. He sneaks up and has a furtive peek.
“Hallo…” he whispered. “I just want to look at you.” He was standing quite close to her, an impudent expression on his face. It was a wonderful face, finely formed, with piercing black eyes, strong brows, and a scattering of freckles across his nose.
“I’ve never seen a real goddess,” he said.
Suddenly he grinned a grin that would have been wicked if it had not been so mischievous. Finally she found her voice and whispered in English, “What do you want?”
“Why, to talk to you, of course. What do you think?”
“You are not allowed to speak to the goddess.”
“But you aren’t a real goddess, are you?”
Heat rose to her face, and her fingertips tingled. His words made her angry.
“Yes, I am! I am Erzulie, the goddess of love.”
He threw back his head and laughed. “What a jolly good prank! Better than the man who could make fire! Jeremiah said you were dangerous, that I should not come near you. So naturally, I couldn’t resist. But look at you. You wouldn’t harm a rabbit.”
“Why don’t you believe me?”
“Why? Because I can see in an instant, even with the paint around your eyes, that you are a real girl, flesh and blood. And you are such a dazzling creature that I don’t mind in the least. Ah! What a great adventure!”
It’s fantastic, actually. I’m not crazy about this whole storyline, but this scene is my favorite part of the book, the thing that makes Angelique’s Descent worthwhile. It’s a totally unexpected meet cute that makes Barnabas into a vision of young romance, headstrong and gallant and fun, in a book that so far has been pretty stingy with the fun. He climbs into the carrier and stays there for three pages, and says nothing but adorable things.
“Oh, I’m so very sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I was the one who was supposed to be afraid! Oh, come, come, please don’t cry. You really mustn’t.”
The great thing about this dialogue is that you can one hundred percent believe that Jonathan Frid could say those words. That line about “a real girl, flesh and blood”? Lara Parker spent a number of years hearing him say lines just like that.
“Are… you from England?” she said in a small voice.
“No. New England, silly! The fine territory of Maine. I came with my schoolmates on a seagoing excursion, to learn all about sailing and boats. I wanted to go to Africa, but my father refused permission. He’s afraid of the middle passage, you see.”
“And… did you learn anything?” she asked in a small voice.
“Oh, yes. That sailing is the hardest kind of labor, and tedious besides, crashing on the waves all through the night. I was seasick the entire time.”
Yes, that’s two small voices in a row, but who cares? As far as I’m concerned, in this sequence, Angelique can have as many small voices as she likes.
“Jeremiah brought us to the islands, but only the English ones of course. We heard there was Carnival here at Martinique. I begged him that we might be allowed to come. And I’m very glad we did, because I was able to see you, and…” He lost himself a moment in looking at her, then he blurted out, “I say! Has your volcano ever erupted?”
I mean, come on. So cute! And then he says, “Would you like to see my treasure?” and he spills a little sack full of loose jewels in front of her.
“Look at this one,” he said. “It’s called a moonstone. See?” He took her hand and placed a pale white stone in her palm. “The moon is captured there.” And he rocked the stone slightly so that she could see the bright flash. “Do you see it?”
“Oh, yes!” She looked at him, astonished, then back at the stone.
He folded her fingers around it. “It’s for you,” he said, “to remember me by.” And then he leaned in and kissed her softly on the cheek.
Jeremiah catches him and pulls him out by the scruff of his neck, berating the grinning boy, and the little goddess holds the moonstone in her fist for a long time, and then she puts it in her ouanga, and she never forgets him.
Late that night, when the ceremony of Erzulie began at last, she stood in her rose-colored gown, with her golden hair falling about her. While thousands of candles starred the darkness, and the slaves sang to her and laid their powdered gifts at her feet, she wondered whether he was there and imagined that she saw him, standing behind the swaying crowd, watching her with his merry eyes, the boy whose name was Barnabas.
So, as I’ve mentioned so far, there are a number of ways in which I think this novel could be improved, but that scene is just perfect. That’s canon, as far as I’m concerned. For this moment, at least, I believe in Angelique’s Descent.
All right, back to the real world. The next chapter brings us back to present-day Barnabas, who suddenly remembers the beautiful young girl in the pet carrier.
He could still picture the Carnival in Martinique, seeing magic performed for the first time and — it seemed incredible — could it possibly be? The pagan creature hidden in her chariot — the “living goddess”, whom he had found so fascinating, and so poignant — was Angelique? He remembered now that the whole journey home he had imagined himself to be in love with her.
So, like I said, ten points to Lara Parker for this moment, and a further ten for the next:
But his sharpest memory was his discovery on his return to America. The decks of his father’s ships were crowded with their contracted cargo, barrels of rum. One night on the voyage back to Boston, he and his classmates had decided to peg one barrel and drink like real sailors, tasting the golden elixir that poured fortunes into his father’s pockets. That was the night when, after the others had fallen asleep, and his head reeled with rum, he had crept beneath the decks. Down in the wet and shuddering darkness, he had seen dozens of slaves crammed together and moaning, their black bodies chained together.
Which is finally somebody stating the obvious — that the Collins shipping business was involved in the slave trade, and Joshua Collins was a slave trader. It’s never mentioned in the show, which mostly acts like they’re a fishing fleet, but you don’t build two mansions by sending Joe Haskell out with a net. They had business dealings with the DuPres on Martinique, sending ships to the Caribbean. Young Barnabas thought it was just rum and knick-knacks, but here he learns differently. We all do.
So that’s a good moment, which implicates the Collinses, and doesn’t let them off the hook as the innocent nice white people who are free from all responsibility for the injustices seen everywhere else in the book.
And then Julia re-enters the narrative. She asks if Barnabas is okay, and he snaps at her. She spots the diary and asks if he’s been reading it; he says no, and snaps at her again.
“Barnabas, for the love of God, give it to me. It has already soured your mood and made you irritable —”
“Not in the least, my dear. Don’t be absurd. I’m not at all irritable, as you say. And I must insist you leave off this nattering. It’s getting on my nerves. As for the diary, I intend to burn it as soon as I return.”
“I see.” She took a breath. “As you burned the Old House?”
“Barnabas, how else could the fire have started?”
“Julia, I do believe you have lost your senses.”
As we’ve found many times before, the problem that Dark Shadows spinoffs often make is that they underestimate the importance of the Barnabas/Julia bond to the audience’s pleasure in the narrative. Barnabas needs a friend, in order to balance out his core trait, which is self-absorption. But the book is about Barnabas being drawn back to Angelique, which makes Julia an obstacle, and he doesn’t confide in her.
But we get a nice scene in Roger’s office, where Roger gives Barnabas a sales pitch about how he could get involved in Collins Enterprises. Now that Barnabas is feeling better and can walk around in the day, and especially now that he’s living rent-free in Collinwood, Roger expects him to start participating in the family business.
Of course, Barnabas spends the scene thinking about himself, looking out the window and considering the bees.
Bees had found the flowers, and they were mad with buzzing, thousands of them, drunken with nectar, and their humming filled his brain with a dull roar. He suddenly felt terribly lonely, and with a start, he recognized an old yearning: He wished he were in love.
So that’s not great news for the B/J shippers, and I’m sorry to say that there’s more not great news to come.
But there’s one more little nice moment in the Roger scene which I want to draw attention to, when he’s complaining about everybody else in the family.
“Carolyn would be a first-rate executive, if she so chose. However, unfortunately, she still shows no interest. She is bored with trading and feels, I’m sorry to say, that the textile mills are… ahem… unsanitary and ‘unfair to the workers’. Of all the absurd positions to take. Collins Enterprises!”
That helps to connect the present-day family with the slave traders of the 1700s, making the point that rich people are always terrible to the lower classes, to the maximum extent permitted by law. And then Julia runs in and says that two people working for Barnabas are dead.
It’s the wreckers who were supposed to come and knock down the remains of the Old House; their flatbed truck carrying the bulldozer ran off a bridge and into the river. This is probably Barnabas’ fault, everything usually is.
But there’s just time enough in the chapter to deliver some hard truths about Barnabas’ feelings for Julia.
Several days earlier, before this latest set of events, Julia had accepted his proposal with delight. They would set a date soon and planned a honeymoon in Singapore, where Julia knew of rare blood elixirs which she felt might preserve Barnabas’ cure. Still, he was troubled by the thought of sexual consummation. He had embraced Julia affectionately many times, held her hand as they talked, even kissed her lightly on the lips in greeting or parting. But he had never really kissed her — with passion. Sometimes he could feel her restlessness when they were alone together, an urgency to her response when he hugged her good night, an unspoken signal in her gaze. Soon, he must make love to her.
He did not feel precisely reluctant, although his performance as a lover gave him some concern. As a vampire, arousal had been a response to quite different cues, and he felt out of practice. Still, Julia was clever, and so supportive, she was certain to ease that transition as well. He was, he told himself, still a young man, vigorous and hungry for life. He liked her lithe body, with its jaunty step and quick movements. Energy — passion — would return, he felt certain. He was more like an addict recovering from the inisidious drugs which had shaped his personality for so long; now he would have to rediscover what he once had been without them.
And then he picks up the journal and it’s back to Martinique.
Angelique is still stuck in her tower, watching the slaves come and go through the courtyard, and at night she’s brought to the chapel for more ceremonies. But there’s a pile of books in her prison cell, and she finds that one of them is a convenient compendium of voodoo ceremonies and chants, so her time isn’t completely wasted. She copies some of the spells into her journal, which I hadn’t realized that she still even had; I assume she keeps it in hammerspace.
There’s a long sequence about Angelique gradually making friends with a little slave girl named Chloe, and they sneak off and play together when nobody’s looking. They make dolls to play murderous little games with, and at some point Angelique decides they should try out one of the voodoo spells she’s been reading about. She wraps some string around Chloe’s doll and chokes Chloe to death, so that’s how she learned how to do that.
She manages to revive the girl with another spell, so everything’s okay, except then Angelique’s father catches her, and he’s already in a bad mood because the slaves keep getting killed by him, which is bad for business, and he snatches up Chloe and throws her down a well, and that is what happens in that chapter.
So now Angelique has to make another new friend, which she accomplishes by taking advantage of Thais leaving the door unlocked while a workman fishes Chloe’s body out of the well. Angelique jumps into the wagon and hides there, and the workman’s young Black assistant sees her, but doesn’t say anything. And then the cart rides away, and Angelique is free at last, free at last.
She manages to hide in the cart until nighttime, when the boy tells her that the Massa’s in the house, and she can come out. The boy’s name is Cesaire, and he’s clever and kind, and most importantly, his dialect isn’t as minstrelly as the slave characters.
“I have to go,” she said, climbing out of the cart. “I’m going to find my mother. I know the way from here.”
“You goin’ alone?” he asked, surprised.
“Of course. It’s the harbor road, only a furlong beyond the caves. The house is on the cove,” Angelique replied confidently.
“You ain’t scared to go alone?”
“Why should I be?”
“I dunno. I guess nothin’ would scare you. The way you jump in that wagon! You din’t run like a dog. You run like a pig! You run for your life! But there be bad things on the road. Robbers and run’way slaves. An’ buccaroons! I’ll jus’ put these ropes away and come with you for a bit.”
So in my opinion, that’s an improvement from “what for you do that?”, but I admit it’s a fine distinction.
“I suppose you are the sailmaker’s slave.”
“No, miss, I ain’t no slave. I gots my papers.”
“You’re free?” She felt an odd pang of envy when she said the word.
“Yes, miss, Massa give me my freedom, or at least, I earned it, sewin’ sail. I been bustin’ my fingers for ten year, made a hundred sail, an’ I have all o’ them strainin’ in the wind ’bout now.”
“Then you still are indentured,” she said smugly. “Just as I thought. You are certainly not free.”
“Well, that show what you don’ know. I been to sea already, as a sailmaker’s mate. An’ someday I be like you — travelin’ home — to Africa,” Cesaire said proudly.
It’s a nice scene, and as they walk along there’s a little budding romantic interest in the background, which papers over the improbability that Angelique can just walk all the way back to her mother’s place with no problems.
I mean, at one point Cesaire’s accent slips, and when Angelique talks about Chloe going into the well, he says, “Why for she do that?” but nothing is perfect; we live in a fallen world.
Cesaire bids her farewell, and it’s very cute, and then there’s some stuff about how terrible eels are, and then her father catches her and beats the shit out of her.
So it’s back to the ceremonies and chicken sacrifices, and there’s a sequence where she comes down off the altar and does a sensuous dance and the worshippers lick her all over and she kind of digs it. Now she’s decided that loas are real, and she’s the second coming of Erzulie.
She was transformed by the slaves’ adoration. The drums came from Africa, as did their deep faith in the spirits. The magic they evoked sprang from within them.
She knew she was only one embodiment of the goddess of love, and the loas floated in the air, longing to be called, as Chloe had called Guede the night she had died and lived again. They circled, waiting to descend, tempted by food or sacrifice, and then they came, they entered a dancer and spoke through him. Angelique began to yearn again for Erzulie.
So you can see why I’m so grateful for the Barnabas and Cesaire parts, because all this ceremony stuff is hard to take. She stands in the center of the vévé with a candle at each corner, and she calls upon Erzulie-Severine, Belle-Femme, Erzulie Boum’ba, Mystére, Madonna, and Mbaba Mwwana Waresa, just so we all know that Lara Parker read some books about this stuff, and here it all is.
But guess what, then Diabolos comes back, in a heaving chariot, and he’s not a dog anymore.
“Who are you? Why have you come?”
His voice was like the wind rushing across the water. “You called. You dragged me from my dreams, the centuries of sleep. But you are still a child, Angelique, too young. I see your flowering talent, and I long to capture it and draw it with me into the center of the world, but not yet, not yet.”
“Who are you?” she asked again, but she knew, in her deepest core, with a knowledge that was of her flesh and not her mind, that he was Lucifer, or some god of Evil, and that she had mistakenly summoned him.
It’s pretty easy to get your wires crossed like that, especially if you’re calling on African spirits, because the line between Haitian Vodou and Satan worship can be pretty fuzzy, if you don’t like Haitian people very much.
Happily, Cesaire magically appears for another scene, even though he has no reason to know that Angelique is back at her dad’s place. But he tells her that the slaves are going to rebel soon, just rise up and murder all the planters, so that we can move on with the story. I told you he was good; he does this all through the book.
Then it’s cane-cutting time, and all the slaves work really hard, and one of them gets his arm chopped off by Angelique’s dad because it’s in his way and he’s still in a bad mood. But Cesaire comes back again, and tells her that the rebellion is tomorrow, which is fine with me.
And finally we get to the scene that we all knew was coming, where her father tries to rape her.
“Stay away!” she hissed, her voice so deadly that it stopped him cold.
“What makes you so sour? Ah… I know! It’s because you are my own kin, and you have my spite in you! By God, I like that temper! It riles me, but it sets me afire as well, it does. Come, give me a battle, my pretty, I want to feel you struggle.”
It doesn’t happen, because honestly there is a limit. Instead, she tells him about the slave rebellion and he gets upset and runs away to do something about it.
I’m sprinting pretty fast through this section, because according to my Kindle, we are only thirty-five percent of the way through this book right now, and there have been so many chapters about the ceremonies and the upcoming human sacrifice.
Because yeah, obviously we’re working up to the point where her dad plans to sacrifice her on the altar to keep the slaves quiet. It doesn’t take.
Her mind closed in upon itself. From beneath her twisted love for her father and the anguish of his betrayal, she summoned the power she knew was within her, a force ancient and tempered. From out of her lost childhood, she drew the magic, glittering and dark, that had lain dormant in her deepest core.
She spoke no charm or rune, but felt every nerve of her body harden and grow rigid as she became the kris, sharp, faceted, flung in the air. She heard her father cry out and saw his eyes grow wild as the kris came to life and twisted in his hand. She witnessed his horror as he forced it back, fought its downward plunge, but he might as well have tried to stop the lightning in the sky. Like an arrow loosed from a bow, she was the kris, and she rode it into his heart.
And if that’s not a good place for a word from Nabisco Spoon Size Shredded Wheat and Purina Cat Chow, then I don’t know what is.
Okay, that’s all over. Cesaire comes back, which is always good news, and he smuggles Angelique onto a boat and dresses her up as a boy, and the ship sets sail.
Then the Dark One shows up again, like a bad penny.
“You know who I am. You have always known, my lovely one. So why do you ask? If I give you a name, will you be satisfied?”
“The one who lives for you, longs for you alone, the Horned God.”
She shivered. “Dark One, leave me.”
So here’s a thing that I don’t really understand, the reluctance to use the words Satan or Devil when he shows up. The book is totally cool with namechecking all kinds of African fertility gods, but when a Christian deity shows up, they get all cute with the nicknames. I bet Mbaba Mwwana Waresa wishes they would lose her number.
The Dark One says that he’s the one who empowered Angelique to kill her father, but she says she did it all by herself. He closes with “You can never escape me. I am in your thoughts. Always.” So look forward to more of that.
But then Cesaire comes back, bringing joy back to our lives. He’s revealed himself to the crew as a stowaway, and had an exciting job interview.
“He was about to t’row me overboard ’til I sing out ‘I be mos’ happy to climb the mast and rerig that torn royal, Capt’n!” I don’ know if they be a torn sail or not, but I figures I take that chance ’cause… well, they always is! He didn’t believe I could climb all the way to the top, an’ he say black boys afraid of heights, so I says, ‘Gimme the try!’ and first light they all comes out to see me climb, or to see me fall, more like it, since it be such a fine sport. They don’t know I gots the number for that!” Cesaire laughed, rocking back on his heels.
“Well, did you do it? Did you climb to the top?” she asked, her eyes shining with excitement.
“Aw, gal, what you say? You know me. I coulda shinned up there so easy it make their mouths gape open and the wind fly in. But I does my best to give ’em a good show. When I gets to the top, I rerigs the mail royal, then, when they all got their necks crooked back watchin’, I loose my grip and drop! I lan’ on the cross brace, and just barely catch it, with one hand! Aw, it all make-believe, but it work good! They all so staggered, the captain say I can stay aboard.”
So I know, we’re still doing the “he tell the captain I be’s a stowaway” talk, but Cesaire really is clever and skilled. He’s a trickster, one of my favorite mythopoetic archetypes, and everything that he says is interesting and funny. It makes me wish that Parker would just drop Angelique and do a whole book about Cesaire, if she could tone down the dialect and stay away from the savage voodoo rituals.
And then Barnabas comes back! He just springs out of a trap unexpectedly. He’s on the ship too, this must be the Love Boat. But this time he thinks Angelique is a boy, which is a nice farce moment.
She remembered his eyes, dark and merry with mirth, and the flow of freckles across his nose. Familiar as well was his courteous and courtly manner.
“How old are you now, my boy?” Barnabas asked.
“A good age, younger than I was when I first went to sea. And, by the way, you’ve no need to be mortified. My first time out, I clung to the safety line the whole time — for fear of falling on my face, and because I needed the whole span of the ocean to vomit in!” He laughed in a comradely fashion and gave her a smack on the shoulder as if he were sharing a joke, man to man.
“I don’t get seasick, sir,” she ventured, even though Cesaire was signaling her to hurry.
“Really? Ah, well, then I envy you, lad. Perhaps, sometime, you will tell me your secret.”
So that’s cute, Barnabas flirting with sailor lads. Works for me.
We step back to check in with the present-day, where Barnabas remembers this shipboard encounter, and then he gives us a nice jump ahead in time.
His brain was reeling from the journal. That terrible voyage — when he had been so young! The attack of the pirates — ruthless cutthroats, who put him in chains. The one with the scar, who laughed and said they could get good money for a “Collins” if they took him back to Maine alive. The black-hearted villain who wanted to kill him to see if his blood was actually blue. His total certainty that he was going to die. Then, the slip of a boy, filthy from the kitchen, who had set him free! He had never known who he was — the cook’s lad, fleeing for his own life as well — fast as quicksilver — set him free, and was gone!
He pulled on his trousers and sat on the bed to tie his shoes. Snatched from the jaws of death. The scoundrels who guarded him deathly ill, retching in agony, and incapable of stopping his young rescuer, who was… impossible… too absurd a coincidence to even consider. Had her life and his folded in upon one another, as if there had been some hand of fate at work, before he had ever actually met her, known her, and… desired her…? Incomprehensible!
Yeah, you can say that again, but I like these little surprises. This is the point of the book, as far as I’m concerned, adding unexpected texture to the familiar backstory. As you’ve seen, I have some critiques of the book, but Parker crafts some delightful surprises along the way.
Oh, and then Barnabas gets attacked by a vampire.
It happens all of a sudden, with no warning at all. Barnabas goes outside on an errand, and the next thing you know,
It was near dawn when Willie brought Barnabas back up to his room. Julia, who had been frantic with worry, came running from her bedroom the moment she saw Barnabas staggering down the hall, his arm across Willie’s shoulders.
“Barnabas! My God! What happened?” He turned and looked at her with vacant, red-rimmed eyes. His shirt was covered in dried blood, and fresh blood was streaming from his neck. He moaned and collapsed in her arms.
Fresh blood, still streaming from his neck? That’s quite an alarming symptom. He got bit when he was all the way downtown in Collinsport, and I’m not actually sure how they found him and got him back to Collinwood. But it must have taken some time, and if he’s still gushing, then the man must be utterly bottomless. I guess that’s why he spent so much time drinking other people’s blood; he was filling up his reserves.
The story is that he got jumped while he was downtown by a dude wearing a black cape, who dropped from above and was super strong and clawed at him and gnashed his teeth. The attacker didn’t actually bite Barnabas, which they think might be due to the anti-vamp elixir in his veins, which repulsed the vampire. Barnabas collapses into bed, and Julia takes the opportunity to steal the diary, and there you go, an interesting incident.
Parker has introduced a new element into the story from out of a clear blue sky, which is much appreciated. We can’t just have Barnabas sitting and reading a journal for the entire novel without making him look passive and weak, and a life-or-death fight with a vampire, even recounted secondhand, is enough to give him some plot cachet, so Angelique isn’t the only one who’s got incidents.
Still, that’s not enough to make this book a soap opera. On a soap, we would be following other characters, too, with their own overlapping storylines. In fact, on Dark Shadows, we’d probably already know who the vampire is, because we’d have been following him since he first showed up at the Collinsport Diner three weeks ago, ordering coffee and looking like Roger Davis.
So far, the present-day sequences in Angelique’s Descent have been entirely from Barnabas’ point of view, which means we’re stuck in a more linear plotline. It’s a good thing we get some surprises to keep things moving, because we are mostly reading a book about people reading a book.
There’s some more action when Barnabas wakes up and sees that the diary is gone, and realizes that Julia took it. He’s got a big confrontation scene with Julia where he shouts “How dare you intrude where you are not wanted” and “Don’t you think I am capable of determining” and “You are my doctor, yes, but you are not my mother”, which is upsetting.
Julia finally admits that she took the book out to the cemetery and buried it under Angelique’s tombstone, which is awesome. Barnabas heads out after it, through a steady downpour.
He was desperate to read Angelique’s account of the battle. She would describe him, reveal his actions and how he had been valiant, generous of heart. Her words would restore him, bring back his vigor and courage. He would be able to see himself again, through her eyes, youthful, optimistic, “merry” she had called him, and “courtly,” the young man he had been so long ago before his decades of depravity. His heart ached. Damn Julia!
But it’s a long walk through the rain, and he has some time to reconsider, which takes about a page and a half. He scratches through the dirt and mud, and finds the journal soaked through and ruined.
A flicker of hope offered the chance that some of the pages could still be saved, and he reached for the book. But at that instant, he saw what he had become. His resolution and fortitude, his devotion to his new life, had given way as easily as the mud beneath his knees, and he was staggered to realize he had fallen prety to his detestable obsession. Once more, she had him! He was caught in the spell of an irresistible liaison, and once again he was willing to sacrifice all virtue, even the generous heart of a woman who loved him, for his contemptible desires.
Julia had freed him of all that. What in God’s name was he doing? At the very instant he had the opportunity to live as a man of integrity, he was willing to throw it all away? Had he not been tortured enough? What could he possibly gain from the diary other than one more fantasy of illicit pleasure? Julia had been trying to tell him that, and he had been unwilling to listen.
So it’s there, in a cemetery, in the rain, that Barnabas makes his choice. He leaves the book there in the mud, allowing it to spoil, and leaving Angelique’s story untold.
But Julia digs up the book anyway, because otherwise the novel is over, and Julia is always there to keep the plot moving. This is the correct way to use Julia.
She went back and rescued the book, because she felt guilty, and she’s been carefully drying it out and salvaging as much as she can.
Page after page Julia carefully, skillfully, peeled back. Her tools were her surgeon’s scalpel, scissors, and small tweezers, all taken from her medicine bag. But so much of the book was gone. She wondered whether returning the diary to Barnabas in this ruined condition would only disturb him more. Sometimes she could save only a phrase.
So Julia is not just rescuing the book, but she’s also allowing us to skip forward a bit through the ruined parts, which is welcome.
Because this is the section about Angelique in Port-au-Prince, where the loas hover over the city as though the very air were the breath of spirits, and it’s about as grim as you would imagine. She meets a great houngan, who is a renowned Bokor, and she becomes his pupil in the dark arts of voudun, which is a perfectly nice religion that’s practiced by about a million and a half people in Benin, all of whom would appreciate it if white people from Knoxville would lay off.
A plantation owner came to the Bokor to buy some laborers, and the Bokor took the money. Then, with his face in a contorted mask, he mounted a horse backwards and rode it to the victim’s door. He placed his lips over a crack in the door and sucked the soul of the victim out. After a few days the victim died. The Bokor took me to the graveyard at midnight, where the dead man lay in his tomb. He had the victim’s soul in an earthen jar, and when he called out his name the dead man was obliged to answer because the Bokor had his soul. Then he passed the jar beneath the dead man’s nose so that he could smell his soul, and the man rose up and followed him. At the Bokor’s house he was given the red elixir that is the secret formula and became a zombie. Now he will work tirelessly for the lucky planter.
And then there’s a full recipe for fucking Zombie Powder, which the Bokor says that he makes because it’s easier than sucking souls through keyholes.
So, for fuck’s sake. “He mounted a horse backwards and rode it to the victim’s door”?
I just, I don’t even know what to say, except that I’m pretty sure Black people don’t actually behave this way. I’m not even going to back up that assertion, I’m just going to say that I know a whole bunch of Black people and their religions are perfectly fine, and if they happen to have horses, then they ride them the same way that everybody else does.
And then the conversation with the Bokor from Port-au-Prince turns into a job interview with a wise old Buddhist Zen master.
“Will you teach me what you know?”
“Voudun is confusing and cumbersome. It will not make your life better.”
“I need something to protect me.”
“Voudun will only make you more vulnerable.”
“But won’t it give me power?”
“Power is unwieldy. You want to control things, but voudun is not control. This is why I know you will never be a mambo.“
So, jeez. The entrance exam for this made-up religion is way harder than I thought it would be.
“All the gods are only our own imaginings, and the Devil is no different.”
“Are you certain?”
“I am certain of nothing.”
“But I have seen him and spoken to him.”
“I did not say that he did not exist.”
This goes on for several pages.
“You have several choices. What are they?”
“To live an ordinary life and never be what I was meant to be. To make little spells. Or to choose voudun.“
“Once you choose voudun there is no ordinary life.”
That sound you hear is a million and a half people in Benin all looking up at once and saying, “Sorry, what?”
“What if I only choose good magic, like my mother. She was a healer.”
“Ah, yes, good magic. But there is no good magic. It’s all interference, and therefore evil. That does not mean it isn’t distracting.” And he giggled again.
“Stop these ridiculous riddles. Tell me the truth!”
“But the truth is the riddle!” And he jiggled with laughter. At least he was enjoying himself.
So that’s where we’re at, hanging out with a giggling jungle Buddha. And I guess Angelique is still writing all this stuff down in her journal, which she managed to keep hold of all the way through a pirate attack.
Just when things look super grim, Cesaire shows up to get the plot back on track. He finds that Angelique is a bizango now, which don’t even bother.
Cesaire came to where Angelique was standing. He saw that she was holding a doll made of dried skin, and she was embellishing it carelessly with a strand of human teeth. It had a tiny shrunken head with beady eyes and several pins protruding from its wizened chest.
If you’re reading this and you just skimmed over that passage, I urge you to go back and take a closer look. She was embellishing it carelessly with a strand of human teeth. This is a thing that Angelique is doing at this point in the book.
Cesaire shivered, and he looked up at the center painting again. The woman was holding something, and when Cesaire looked more closely, he saw that it was a human head. It was then that he realized Angelique’s entire altar was made of gaping skulls.
So this has gone completely off the rails; Angelique has suddenly become an unspeakable creature of the jungle who uses human remains as decor. But Cesaire is here to help, and he tells her that she needs to come back to Martinique, because her mother is in prison, tried for witchcraft and condemned to death. How does Cesaire know this, when Angelique didn’t even know that her mother was still alive? Cesaire needs no explanations; he is a sonic screwdriver and he makes the story go faster.
Then there’s a whole chapter of Angelique reuniting with her mother, which is actually very good but I’m not going to get into it right now. The highlights: Angelique finds her mother in prison, and tells her that she killed her father. Her mother says that wasn’t her father anyway; her father was some mysterious stranger who walked out of the sea. To escape the death sentence, Angelique gives her mother some zombie powder, which she needs to use just before the hanging. Her mother does, and then Angelique scrabbles around in the graveyard, and her mother’s body is gone. It’s actually suspenseful and quite touching, and possibly the most Dark Shadowsy thing in the book so far. But this post is already unbelievably long, and I am so sorry but we are only halfway through the book.
And then Cesaire appears again, the only character in the book who has our best interests at heart, and he tells Angelique that she should go and be in Dark Shadows.
“But I don’t want to be a lady’s maid!”
“Angelique, listen to me, you must go on. What else is there but life and a new adventure? You can’t run the mill with water gone by.” Cesaire sat with her as she ate the dried fish and biscuit he had brought her.
“Can’t I stay here, with you?”
“There is nothing for you here.” Cesaire held a paper in his hand, on which was written the name: Countess Natalie du Prés. “Look at this and think in your head. This be a good sign. A fine lady, from Paris, and you educated some, modest, and wise, just what they be wantin’.”
“But Cesaire, a servant…”
“Gal, everybody serve somebody. Those we care for keep us breathing, give us reasons to live.”
And that’s it, that’s the whole thing. Cesaire has a piece of paper with Countess Natalie du Prés written on it. There is no further information on where he got the paper, or who wrote it down. It is a magic golden ticket that Cesaire has access to, because he loves us and he wants to make our lives better.
And here we are, at last.
The Countess Natalie du Prés sat in the wide parlor on a wicker chaise, sipping from a china cup. She wore a dress of crimson taffeta, and her hair hung in red ringlets. Her face was angular, with high cobra cheekbones, and she had an aquiline nose with flared nostrils. Her dark brown eyes fixed themselves disdainfully on Angelique, and she pursed her mouth when she spoke.
“‘Angelique’, is it? But you are such a drab, uninteresting child. Why would I want to hire you? You’re obviously an ignorant peasant girl with nothing to offer. Who is your mother?”
It’s pretty good. Natalie is super rude the whole time.
“You would not be at all suitable,” she said. “Can you even write?”
“Yes, Madame, and recite Shakespeare by heart.”
“Oh, really? You recite Shakespeare? I find that very hard to believe.”
“It’s true, Madame.”
“Indeed. Say a piece for me.”
And then Angelique just stands there and recites a selection from The Tempest, like she’s auditioning for Dark Shadows and this is her callback.
So she’s hired, as you well know, and she becomes a lady’s maid to Natalie and a companion to her young niece Josette.
Josette was more interested in playing hide-and-seek, dress-up, and make-believe. What she enjoyed most were the instructions in becoming a lady. Clothes and manners were her obsession, and she talked constantly of going to Paris and being received at court.
Still, Angelique had to admit she had charm. Her nature was warm and her incessant prattle was filled with kind remarks and bright comments on people and the world around her. She was affectionate and leaned in to touch others when she spoke to them, ensuring their constant attention, her words bubbling over like a fountain.
As Josette loved everyone, she loved Angelique, and the feeling was returned with some reluctance. Both being in need of a companion near their own age, in time they grew close.
And that is just about it, as far as the relationship between Angelique and Josette is concerned. There are about five pages dealing with Angelique’s surprising new life with the Du Prés, and not a single line of dialogue about anything in particular. We got a beat-by-beat replay of every moment in Angelique’s relationship with the doomed little slave girl Chloe, but then she goes to live with a flock of Parisians and there’s nothing particularly memorable worth recording.
This is a very weird thing to do, because it was literally one chapter ago that Angelique was decorating her voodoo hovel with strands of human teeth. Now she’s pissed because she has to eat French cuisine in the kitchen with the rest of the servants, and she’s not allowed to use the Limoges porcelain. She doesn’t experience a single moment of culture shock, so here I am, I suppose, experiencing it for her.
And then there’s Thierry, her hippie surfer boyfriend, as played by Don Briscoe. He’s a young, bare-chested local fisherman who she meets cute on her day off.
She could see that he was strong, his body lithe and well formed. His skin was darkly tanned and salted with a fine mist of seawater, and his muscles were fluid and shadowed. His hair was a sandy color, his face was gilded by the sun and finely featured, and his eyes, when he looked up at her finally, were a mossy shade of green, the color of his fishing nets.
For whatever reason, this jaw-dropping hunk who effortlessly accessorizes his nets to match his eyes is not surrounded by a cloud of buzzing females all vying for his attention; he appears to live in a little bubble universe where he and Angelique can meet once a week and slowly drift towards each other, in a sun-drenched teen romance where they can gradually discover that sex exists.
They began to explore one another in the most innocent manner, as though to each the other was only another new and amazing sea creature pulled in by the tide. Thierry slowly pulled Angelique’s wet pareu off one shoulder and stared at her breast, then cupped it in his hand, tracing its small round shape with his fingers and touching the nipple hesitantly as it grew taut, like an anemone flowering its silken flutes. He kissed it, exploring its shape, and she felt the warmth of his mouth over the cold firm tissue and his tongue quiver around it.
But they don’t have sex yet; that has to wait until next week. All of their gradual sex play takes place in the water for some reason; it’s an extremely moist relationship.
She rose up and saw what she thought was a long white fish beneath the water, waving slightly, and they both were curious as she cupped her hand around it, feeling the silken flesh with her fingertips, astonished at its tautness as it stirred within her hand like a live thing. When Thierry lifted it out of the water she leaned in and kissed the tip, then drew it farther into her mouth, closing her lips around it and tasting the salty sea.
Then they still don’t have sex. It takes weeks and weeks, as they innocently explore each other with wonder and curiosity.
And I don’t mean to harp on about the strand of human teeth, but seriously, she was a bizango and had furniture made out of human skulls, and she still hasn’t learned about blow jobs yet? It feels like Parker is giving Angelique six different origins at the same time; I have no idea how to reconcile this with anything else that we know about her. Her life keeps getting rebooted.
Anyway, the point of this sequence is that Angelique and Thierry go out fishing one day, and they finally fuck for the first time, and he asks her to marry him, and she says yes. Then he tries to catch a marlin, which turns out to be a shark, which turns out to be the Dark One. The satanic shark drags Thierry into the water and drowns him to death, and then the Horned God gives Angelique a sales pitch about how he’s chosen her as his bride, and she needs to join him. She says no, and he says okay, maybe later, and that is the end of that.
And then, finally, Barnabas. Angelique goes out to the market to buy some apples, and there he is.
“Surely the hand of Eve was not so lovely, nor her wrist so fine.”
She spun around and looked up, straight into the face of Barnabas. Instantly the throngs of people surrounding them faded to a murky blur, and he alone was all that she could see. The boy with the freckles and merry grin was still hidden there, but now the features were finely formed and devilishly handsome.
“Why do you think this apple came from the Garden?” she asked.
“Because… wherever you are standing, my lady… must be Paradise.”
So they flirt, and tease, and he makes up poetry, and they say magical things to each other, and it goes on for pages and pages.
She could smell the sweet odor of apple and longed to lift her face to his. But she pulled away. “You trifle with me, sir, once again,” she said. “You have already kissed my palm.”
To her surprise he held out his own upturned hand. “Then you must repay the transgression,” he said. She was startled to see how large his hand was, with long, slender fingers. “My hand is yours. Do with it what you will.”
But this is what happens when you are a beautiful and bewitching young woman with enormous blue eyes; everybody falls in love with you all the time. Josette, and Barnabas, and Thierry, and Cesaire, the Bokor, and Chloe, and the Dark One himself; the sweating, heaving dancers in their savage ceremonies; nobody can drag themselves free of this girl’s inexhaustible gravitational pull. Even the water likes her. I don’t think that Angelique has ever encountered a single entity that isn’t entranced by her on contact. How do you account for a thing like that?
In the next chapter, Barnabas falls in love with her even more than he already was falling in love with her. But she thinks of Thierry, her fallen surfer boy, and realizes that Barnabas is in danger. She tries to warn him, to about as much avail as you’d expect.
“You aren’t really a sorceress, are you?” he said.
“But I am. I have traveled to the farthest vistas of the soul. I have performed spells that would terrify you.”
His black eyes shone; he was intrigued. “Tell me one thing you have done and see if I am frightened,” he challenged.
She hesitated a moment, thinking of the horrors she could never reveal, but knowing she must warn him away. Finally she said, simply:
“I possess the power to make fire.”
He sucked in his breath and drew her to him. “You have already done that, my lady,” he whispered. Her words had only aroused him. He lifted her against him, molding her body to his, and kissed her neck, breathing in the perfume of her skin, then, clumsily at first, and then more insistently, he found her lips and kissed her softly, deeply, with such longing that she thought her heart would break.
And then the volcano erupts. Seriously! Apparently, Mount Pelée is in love with her too, and seeing her with another man is just too much to deal with. So Angelique runs away from her prince, like Cinderella, as the clock strikes twelve and the world is drenched in molten lava.
This is another romancey chapter, with Barnabas continuing to court the mysterious beauty. They walk together, and talk about Shakespeare and sugarcane.
He says, “You are like no woman I have ever known; something in you stirs me; and all I know is that I long to possess you.” I’m kind of skipping lightly over these Barnabas chapters, but the dialogue is really quite good, and Parker gives these scenes the attention they deserve, if they’re going to be the beating heart of the book. You can hear Jonathan Frid in that line, and you know exactly how he would say it, with his deep growl kicking in somewhere in that last clause.
He says that he’s going back to America for a year, and then he’ll come into his fortune, and he’ll come back to Martinique and make her his bride, and Angelique, like the innocent young houngan that she is, believes every word, and opens a bridal registry at Skulls R Us.
The romance continues for several weeks, until it’s time for Barnabas to leave Martinique.
Barnabas said to her, “I want to tell the world about you. And I will, when I return. You must trust me. When my inheritance is certain, and my father can no longer reject me, then we will be free to love one another openly.”
“Your fortune is not important to me. It’s you I love.”
“My darling, do you want us to be paupers?”
“Will you write to me?”
He thought a moment.
Yeah, about that: when the dude needs to think a moment about whether he’ll write, he’s probably not going to write.
So Barnabas sails away, leaving Angelique to wait and hope. Josette starts getting letters from a lover, and obviously has a secret romance with someone, but she doesn’t confide in Angelique. After a few months, a letter arrives with a proposal of marriage, and Josette excitedly chatters about it with the ladies’ maid.
“Last night Father gave his permission, and I wanted to tell you before anyone else did. I am so in love that I think my heart will burst!”
“Who is the fortunate gentleman?”
“I can’t say as yet; it’s all still a secret. Father and his father must exchange agreements, dowry arrangements and the like, for he is a person of wealth and owns a great house in New England. Angelique, I am to be the mistress of a grand estate!”
We all know where this is going, but anticipation is all, especially anticipation tinged with tragic schadenfreude. To draw things out a bit longer, Cesaire comes back for a visit; he’s all grown up now, and he’s sailed around the world, and the dialect has toned down; at this point, it’s mostly an accent. They have a super cute conversation, which makes me love them both.
Cesaire’s face clouded. “What you doin’ lovin’ a fine gentleman?”
“He has asked me to marry him! And soon, very soon, he is coming back to Martinique.”
“But that is a dream, Angelique. An’ you be in bad luck if you not give it up. Little island packet never catch the brigantine, even in high winds.”
“It’s not a dream, Cesaire.”
He hesitated a minute, then said, “Just so you be happy, gal. I won’t ever forget the little soldier who jumped into my wagon. I never knew before or since such a brave one as you. I don’t want to see your heart broken.”
As we know well by now, if you want the audience to like a character, you give them a friend who cares about them, and it’s bonus points if the friend is a magical plot-advancing trickster, like Julia Hoffman and Cesaire. At this moment, as Angelique stands at the edge of a very steep cliff, Cesaire reminds us of who she used to be, and it’s welcome. Sadly, this is the last time that we see him, but I will never forget you, clever Cesaire.
Well, we all know what happens next. Josette’s fiance is Barnabas, who’s had a couple of long sea journeys and changed his mind. He returns to Martinique, and has a tortured private conversation with Angelique where he says it’s kind of his dad’s fault and he still really likes her, and then they become lovers. It goes pretty much the way you’d expect.
By the way, do you remember the part where present-day Barnabas got attacked by a vampire? That was back in Chapter Fifteen, and we haven’t heard a word about it since. I wonder how it all turned out.
And finally, here we are, merging back into traffic.
“Are you surprised?” she asked, her eyes dancing.
“Astonished,” he answered. “We didn’t expect the countess for at least a week.” There was a quick jerk to his eyes, a look behind her, a moment of hesitation. “Where is she? And why are you walking?”
“Oh, your roads, Monsieur,” she smiled again, embarrassed. She must look a strange sight, she thought, her cape dripping, her hair in disarray. “The carriage is buried in the mud — completely stuck!”
“How far back?”
“Too far for my mistress to walk,” she said.
Well, she didn’t quite say that. What she said in the episode was, “The carriage is in the mud — stuck!” and he said “Where?” and she said “Too far for my lady to walk.” But it’s close enough.
It’s possible that Parker is doing some minor rewrites on the dialogue of episode 368/369, but since it’s hitting the exact same cues, my guess is that from this point, she’s working from old scripts.
So we’re three-quarters into the book, and from here on, it’s basically a novelization. This is fair enough, because they’re great episodes, one of the tightest and most emotionally resonant storylines in the whole run. When I first read this book back in 1998, I figured that the novel would end right here, as prequels tend to do. It would be the story of Angelique’s life up until she appeared on the show, and then she’d hand off to ABC Daytime.
But it makes sense that she’d keep going, and do the entire story. The publishers were partly hoping that this could be a stand-alone book that they could sell to readers who didn’t know about Dark Shadows, and ending the novel just when it’s getting to the tragic conclusion would be entirely unsatisfying. And for the vast majority of 1998 readers who had already seen the show, it was a way to relive a favorite storyline, without having to wait for it to come around again on the Sci-Fi Channel. Still, the book kind of needs an “additional dialogue by Sam Hall, Gordon Russell and Ron Sproat” credit.
So now the book tells the story of 1795 from Angelique’s point of view — choking Barnabas, enslaving Ben, enchanting Josette and Jeremiah. Parker sprinkles in occasional bits of local color, like a memory of the Bokor being sarcastic, but there’s honestly not that much that you can add.
The problem with telling the 1795 storyline from Angelique’s point of view is that it’s already told from Angelique’s point of view. She’s in practically every episode. She’s the only character who understands what’s going on, and we see every step of her scheming, right there on the screen.
Understanding the limitations of this transcription service, Parker adds a new surprise to the story, which attempts to tie up an unresolved mystery.
Angelique eavesdrops on a conversation between André and Natalie about Josette’s man trouble, and André tells his sister the story of his one great love — a honey-colored quadroon with long black hair that he found on the beach in Martinique, who he lived with for a short time before his respectable marriage. I’m not going to get into the details, but it was Angelique’s mother, ta-dah!
She could scarcely believe what she had just heard. André was her father! Of course! She had his eyes and his fair hair, and were it not for a cruel trick of fate, she would have also had his name. She had always believed she had aristocratic breeding, that in her heart and soul she was a lady, and now she knew it was true. Resentment flooded through her. Somehow the revelation only made her more disconsolate. Her true father!
I don’t know about anyone else, but that revelation works for me. It has a nice ring of tragic destiny about it, and there’s nothing more soapy than a long-lost daughter. Still, it doesn’t really come up again.
The revelation can’t have much of an effect, because we’re already on a moving train. Josette marries Jeremiah, Barnabas kills Jeremiah in a duel, Angelique makes Sarah sick and cadges a proposal from Barnabas, and Zombie Jeremiah gets all grumpy about it.
Hey, do you remember all that Zombie Jeremiah stuff, where Angelique thinks that she has him under control, but then it turns out she doesn’t? That was the Dark One, messing with her. And there you have it, an explanation for something that didn’t need to be explained.
And the train is still moving, stopping at all the old familiar places. The governess is Phyllis Wick in the Parkerverse, so you don’t need to worry about Vicki; Angelique just frames another girl and it goes pretty much the same way.
Barnabas overhears Angelique’s spell and gets suspicious; he tries to shoot her; she casts the vampire curse, and then she’s sorry.
And then she dies, killed by the undead man that she loves, and she drops to the floor, apparently scribbling in her journal all the way down.
Barnabas finishes reading, and strangely, he feels lighter. The act of reading Angelique’s diary has not ensnared his soul, as we all expected; instead, it was a final goodbye. He smiles at Julia, and asks her to go for a drive, and everything is fine.
Then as they’re preparing to leave, Roger has incredible news.
“I’m absolutely delighted. We have had an offer on the Old House! Well, that is to say, on the land. An individual who possesses both vision and means wishes to perform a complete restoration. Oh, I’m so sorry, please forgive me. May I introduce, with pleasure, Miss Antoinette Harpignies.”
The tall, fair-haired woman looking out the window turned slowly as Roger spoke. She smiled and walked toward Barnabas with her hand outstretched.
“Mr. Collins,” she said, “It is such a delight to meet you.”
As he shook her hand, he was startled to see that he was looking into eyes of the brightest possible blue.
And that’s the kind of story that this turns out to be, most unexpectedly.
There’s more, unfortunately, which is the extremely unlikely discovery of a very, very long letter from vampire Barnabas to his mother, which fills the reader in on every single other thing that happens in 1795 up to Naomi’s suicide, which in my opinion she must have committed because it was the only response to reading Chapter Thirty-Two of Angelique’s Descent.
The 1795 story refuses to die, dragging itself along for another twenty-eight pages, clinging desperately to life just as we were hoping to be free of it, so we could learn more about this brand-new Angelique-alike, and maybe something further about the vampire who attacked Barnabas seventeen chapters ago, and who is not mentioned at all, not even once.
But Parker is leaving all of that for her next book, because her dream is that HarperPrime continues to publish Dark Shadows novels for years and years. This is not the end, but just the cliffhanger at the end of episode one. The Parkerverse is a continuing story after all, not just the prequel-plus-recap that we thought it was.
As I said at the top, HarperPrism disappears almost immediately after publishing the second Dark Shadows book. It’ll be eight more years before another publisher picks up her second book, The Salem Branch. That book takes up these dangling storyline threads, and I’m sorry to say, things go pretty seriously awry. But that’s a story for another day, if there is one.
Tomorrow: The One Where Everybody Finds Out.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
I don’t know if this was the case on first broadcast, but on the DVD, the teaser has terrible audio bleed from about forty-five seconds ahead. You can faintly hear Trask ranting, the music cues and even the theme song.
In act 1, Trask loses his place. “You know, it is –” he says, looking at the teleprompter, “– a sense of triumph to me, that I am not only avenging my father’s death, but I am preventing you from testifying in behalf of the heretic, Quentin Collins!” He means “on behalf”.
In yesterday’s episode, Gerard played an enthusiastic role in Trask’s plan to capture Barnabas. Today, he acts like he has no idea what happened to Barnabas, and just suspects that Trask has something to do with the disappearance.
In the very last second of act 1, the camera pulls back just before the shot fades out completely.
At the beginning of the Quentin/Julia jail scene, there’s about five seconds of silence where it’s not clear who’s supposed to have the next line.
Julia tells Quentin, “I can only decide that he’s just disappeared!”
Trask tells Gerard, “Let me put it this way, my friend. Whatever fate has befallen Barnabas Columns, I’m certain was well deserved.”
In act 3, when Gerard sits down next to Daphne, you can see blue marking tape on the floor behind them, near the door.
In act 4, just after Gerard closes the drawing room doors, something in the studio clatters to the ground.
Gerard tells Trask, “I’ve heard some very distraught news.” Then he explains, “It seems as though he has lost all faith in the help in his trial, and so he will enlist help from the spirit world.”
Tomorrow: The One Where Everybody Finds Out.
— Danny Horn