Episode 1174/1175: Merrie Gentlemen

“What has shaken your little mind now, that makes you not believe me?”

It’s Christmas Eve 1970, and the tidings aren’t as comfortable or as joyful as you might wish. In-universe, Gerard Stiles, possessed by the will of the legendary warlock Judah Zachery, is himself in possession of the Collins family estate. If allowed to go unchallenged, this will result in the destruction of Collinwood, one way or another, which is a shame, because I’m not done looking at it yet. Out-of-universe, this is the last Christmas that Dark Shadows will ever see, because this trial storyline is ruining everything.

Quentin’s only been on trial for witchcraft for three weeks, but somehow it has drained the plot of all momentum; everything else has to slow down while the lead characters get foiled again and again. We spent most of this week concerned about a plot to get Daphne in trouble for dropping a note in an oak tree, and today it turns out they don’t even need that, because they have different, even more damning evidence. By the end of the episode, it looks like Quentin probably should be beheaded for witchcraft after all, and so should pretty much everybody on the show. I don’t know about you, but I am letting something me dismay, and I don’t care who knows it.

Exhibit A, your honor, is the complete and utter nerfing of Quentin Collins, ex-kaiju. In the 1897 storyline, which finished just over a year ago, Quentin ran the show from start to finish, juggling more storylines and simultaneous girlfriends than you could count. Look at him now. He’s just sitting quietly in jail, not trying to escape or seduce or even come up with a decent defense.

In this episode, Quentin gets seven lines, which are as follows:

I know that.

Just how did he know to be there?

Do you think that they’ll start accusing Daphne of consorting with the dead?

Leticia, you’ve got to!*

That’s impossible!*


They won’t do it. They can’t!

Quentin has thirty-seven words of dialogue in this episode, all of them reactive and none of them jokes, and after each of the three lines marked with an asterisk, the judge pounds his gavel and specifically tells Quentin to shut up. This is miscarriage of justice on an epic scale.

It’s not that Dark Shadows has forgotten how to make a character interesting and fun, because they obviously do; they’ve just been investing all of it in Gerard. That’s great for Gerard fans, but they’ve neglected to build up anybody else as a worthy competitor. In 1897, Quentin had Laura to tangle with, and Magda, and Jenny, and Trask, and Barnabas, and Angelique, and Count Petofi, and the moon. Gerard is basically surrounded by cronies and yes-men, and Quentin, the handsome lead character who should be Gerard’s main opponent, is being systematically stifled.

And it’s not just that he doesn’t have a voice; he also doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Charles Dawson, as the prosecuting attorney, spends the second half of this episode demonstrating that Quentin is actually guilty of a lot of things that he’s being accused of.

Right from the top, he’s running them in circles. Dawson asks Leticia, “Did you at any time have a conversation with Quentin Collins about the occult?” and then Quentin’s lawyer Desmond pops up, and says, “I fail to see where this line of questioning is leading,” although it’s perfectly obvious where it’s leading, and it’s clearly germane to the case. The judge overrules the objection, and then Desmond has to walk all the way back to his little chair at the back of the class.

So Dawson brings out the legendary Journal of Judah Zachery, which Desmond objects to again, and once again, correctly, he is overruled.

Then Dawson asks Leticia if she was possessed by the head, and participated in an effort to reattach it to the body through voodoo and mad science, which she was, and she did.

“I don’t want to answer that question, your honor,” Leticia cries, “I swear I don’t. It’s got nothing to do with Quentin. I can’t tell you about that head! I just can’t!”

And Quentin stands up and says, “Leticia, you’ve got to!” which is the first time that the judge bangs his hammer and says “Order in the court!” and I don’t even know what Quentin was trying to accomplish.

Leticia finally admits that yeah, she was possessed, and Dawson asks who brought the head to Collinsport in the first place, and obviously the answer is Desmond, who brought it as a gift for Quentin.

And this is where the whole storyline goes awry, as far as I’m concerned. Desmond did buy the head in Macau and bring it home, and he was possessed by it, and he was responsible for Otis Greene’s death. And then the head possessed someone else, and Desmond tried to forget all about it.

Desmond and Quentin really have been fooling around with the occult for quite some time, and if other people are hurt and/or killed by their recklessness, then they consider that somebody else’s problem. They’re not even trying to figure out who Judah is possessing now, or how they got into this mess.

This storyline is supposed to be a callback to Vicki’s witch trial in 1795, which was also capricious and way too long, but you can see why they wanted to return to the idea. Vicki was in a classically dramatic situation, trapped and unjustly accused, with every piece of evidence pointing towards the false conclusion that she was guilty, because people didn’t understand time travel and she was terrible at explaining it. There was a clear conflict: Angelique was a witch, Reverend Trask was a ranting fanatic, and Vicki was the innocent caught between them.

There was also a clear separation between the Collins family and the supernatural forces threatening them. Nobody in the Collins or DuPres family was messing around with the occult, except for Natalie occasionally flipping over a few tarot cards, so the supernatural assault that they suffered was horrifying, incomprehensible, and most of all, undeserved.

What’s happening in this storyline is basically the opposite. Everyone involved in Quentin’s case is compromised. Desmond and Quentin collect radioactive artifacts; Flora collects supernatural houseguests. Desmond, Daniel and Gabriel are responsible for at least one murder each, and even more are implicated if you count attempted murders and collateral damage. Even the person in the Jane Eyre role, girl governess Daphne, arrived at Collinwood planning to murder her employer.

The Collins family is a legitimate danger, to themselves and the other residents of Collinsport, and at a certain point, they need to take responsibility for the damage they wreak on the community. I mean, are they even aware that Santa Claus is coming to town?

Tomorrow: A special Christmas pre-emption post:
Time Travel, part 13: Total Blood Volume

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Gerard trips a little over the line, “The judge has asked the courts be closed, because of the — the distruption in testimony.”

Desmond tells Quentin that Trask caught Daphne at the oak tree. Quentin asks, “Just how did he know to be there?” Desmond is silent, and shakes his head slightly, apparently indicating that was the wrong cue. Quentin checks the teleprompter and jumps to another line.

Leticia swears in with her right hand on the Bible; it should be her left.

When Dawson reads from the journal, he pronounces Leticia as “Le-teach-ya”.

Dawson asks Leticia, “Who brought the head to Rose Cottage, Miss Faye?” and then adds, two seconds later, “… in the first place?”

Behind the Scenes:

The three judges reappear today after a week and a half absence, and one of them is a different guy — Tom Markus has replaced Carl Nicholas as the 3rd judge. Markus is known as the Mustache Judge, by me if not anyone else. He’s got a droopy brown mustache and looks like he doesn’t really care about anything, either in this trial or in the world in general.

This was apparently Markus’ first screen role; it’s not even on his IMDb page, but it’s listed on the resume on his personal website. He was in a bunch of TV movies that you didn’t see, like Unabomber: The True Story and Dear Dumb Diary, plus he was on Touched By an Angel a couple times and he did a bunch of plays in Philadelphia. He still has the mustache.

Tomorrow: A special Christmas pre-emption post:
Time Travel, part 13: Total Blood Volume

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

31 thoughts on “Episode 1174/1175: Merrie Gentlemen

  1. I cannot tell you how much it has meant to me to come here and read the hilarious DS plot summaries – and how much I appreciate all you guys and your comments. I’ve been watching DS all over again on tubitv.com and reading the plot summaries here, which makes it all seem more real somehow! It’s good to know that even 50 years later, DS is still as mesmerizing as ever, and I think Danny should go into stand-up!!

  2. “Desmond tells Quentin that Trask caught Daphne as the oak tree.”
    You need to fix that before someone thinks you’re talking about the mythological Daphne – – who became a LAUREL tree.

  3. I half expected there to be a Droopy still whenever the judges appeared.

    Actually, there’s one major way in which this trial is an improvement over Vicki’s trial: there’s no Roger Davis this time to be all yelly through the whole thing.

      1. This post crystallized all of the scattered and unfocused thoughts that had been percolating in the back of my mind. Thank you.

    1. I’ll take Peter Bradford over Noah Gifford any day of the week. Vicki actually did something useful by shooting him.

  4. So glad you’re back, Danny!

    My wife and I have been watching the show through on Tubi.tv. We started a few months ago with episode 1; today, we watched 371 through 375. I saw large parts of the run on the Sci-Fi Channel in the late 90s, before I knew her; she’d never heard of the show until recently. I read your reviews of every episode as we watch them. She alternates between forbidding me to read them aloud to her, since she is intent on avoiding spoilers, and asking me to them to her, since she wants to know why I’m laughing out loud.

    Today she was yelling at the screen and calling Victoria an idiot. So naturally I thought of you. I read to her from your review of 372. She agreed vigorously with such remarks as “That being said, it’s Vicki, and she’s an idiot.” But then you made some remarks about Thayer David’s upcoming parts, and she was back to forbidding me to read to her from the blog, since she doesn’t want to know whether the 1795 story will ever end. She’d like to be surprised if it doesn’t go on forever, chronicling the unblemished happiness of Ben Stokes’ future life.

    1. I remember when the show first went back to 1795 (in 1967). We’d never seen anything like that on a soap opera. My dad said that they would probably just stay there until it went off the air since they couldn’t think of anything else to write about in 1967. He was wrong about 1795, but he was right in another way.

    2. And now we’ve caught up to this point. Since all we have to do is watch the episodes, not come up with fascinating reviews and add apt screen caps to them, we have a decent shot at catching up to Danny before he reaches 1245.

  5. Yeah, Quentin seems like a hopeless victim, now. Almost like the Learned Helplessness from Gerard’s Ghost in the 20th Century carried back into the 1840s.

    This is starting to feel like closure.

    The overall sobering vibe, when reading Danny’s blog entries, is that the writers we idolized, and the series itself, was full of plot holes & flubs & inconsistenties.

    I mean, yes, this was already obvious. But many of us were so entranced by the series, that we suspended belief sufficiently, in order to enjoy the story & the triumphs.

    It’s like idolizing a politician who seemed to agree with all your fervent convictions – and then realizing one day, that you dismissed some prominent clues that you weren’t quite on the same page.

    On the other hand, the blog is an entertainment value, in itself. It’s like the old days of Siskel & Ebert ; whether or not you wanted to see the movie in question, it was still fun watching the two obsess over their passion in detail.

  6. My biggest objection to this trial was its illegitimacy. You can’t hold someone on trial for a law from the 1600’s and this case (witchcraft) should have been laughed out of court.

    1. I think it stretches historical logic that in 1840’s New England there was a trial for witchcraft. But then, Dark Shadows and Logic never really lined up, did they?

      1. I couldn’t help but think they were trying to recreate the magic of the 1796/1796/1797 witchcraft trial of Vicki.

          1. They sure didn’t succeed. And I knew even back then that Quentin would be found guilty, but that’s generally indicative of soap opera trials, which I hate. I was always glad when The Edge of Night got around to telling a good murder story without anyone having to go to trial because the murderer was usually caught or killed.

            Victoria’s witchcraft trial (even though a century too late) was more intriguing because we had known her character since the beginning of the show. I also knew she would be found guilty and that her hanging would be the end of 1795. It was predictable (even for an eleven-year-old) but nevertheless exciting.

            1. I agree. As much as I love this blog, it is flawed in thinking Dark Shadows never existed prior to Barnabas Collins.
              Those of us who saw Vicky take on Laura Murdoch Collins will always know what a badass she was and the moral compass of the story.

      2. I don’t think it’s too unreasonable for witchcraft trials to continue in Collinsport. Not when you consider that there really were witches and undead evil warlocks and vampires going about their everyday carnage up in the big house.

        Remember – In both 1795 and 1840, the Trasks were right. They just blamed the wrong people (apart from the case with Lemar blaming Barnabas for the death of his father – 100% spot on, there!)

    2. They went through some horseshit or other about why it was totally dandy to hold the richest, most prominent citizen of the town up as a warlock and it didn’t sound even one scrap legit. I think Danny outlined how unlegit it was a few posts back.

  7. Wonder if ‘Mustache Judge’ knows about one of his former co-star’s passing this weekend — Wilford Brimley…

  8. I hated the Vicki trial and I hate this one more. Victoria’s lack of craft and strategy (as Alexandra Moltke said in an interview, “Victoria is so dumb!”), the credulity of the tribunal (1791 was the Enlightenment, not the days of religious superstition), the whole strategy that preposterously victimizing a female lead makes her appealing (the whole trial was an extended Sproatnap–I know soap writers are addicted to unjust trials, but this was way too much of a reach)–I was rolling my eyes when I was supposed to be gripping my chair. Here, every problem with the first trial is stretched till it snaps, and, as Danny says, the plot goes on spin cycle around it. Going through the motions without moving.

    What if Judah had gone after Tad and Quentin could have been actively fighting him? What if Judah had been imprisoning and threatening Angelique and we saw a battle of sorcerors, and Barnabas and Julia had had to take sides? What if Gerard had somehow resisted Judah, sought an exorcism? What if Judah had had to possess someone else–Samantha? What if Daphne were somehow not as manipulable as clay and could hold to a line of action?

    I repeat–the writer’s room must have felt like a war zone after the war.

  9. When I was watching these episodes on ABC a half century ago, I found these courtroom scenes to be the most fascinating and compelling Dark Shadows had been in a long time.

    As a 60+ “adult,” I can see all the flaws that are being cited here, but I still find these episodes to be gripping drama whenever I watch them.

    Maybe having an old pro / vampire movie veteran like John Beal heading the Tribunal helped make the trial scenes more fun for me.

  10. I remember getting the DS vhs tapes in the early ‘90’s. I was so excited to see the elusive final year after years of PBS viewings that ended one or two weeks into parallel time. If only I had known I had already seen the best years.

  11. I’ll have to watch this again just to see John Karlen quietly shake his head when the wrong line is said . He seemed to be the rock of the show ,soldiering on in scene after scene of other actors flubbing away . In fact , I really don’t remember a single blooper of his (other than bumping his head on the mausoleum door or grabbing a wobbly tombstone . ) I know Danny has declared Addison Powell the official worst actor on DS , but I would definitely have to vote for John Karlen as the best .

  12. Oops, just dropping by from episode #1113 (the onramp to 1840) to say hello and make some totally uncontroversial comments:

    #1 Guess I’ll be caught up to you pretty soon, Mr Horn, but until then I wanted to let you know that you have a super foxy brain and I thank you for all of your artful work here.

    #2 Nancy. Barrett. Is. The. Truth. There’s so much to love about this show, so many charismatic and fun artists, but she’s my favorite.

  13. Bad as the show is right now, Jerry Lacy’s Trask is still fun to watch. Every time I see those crazy eyes, I start laughing.

  14. I agree that Nancy Barrett is a fantastic, versatile actress throughout this series. I feel John Karlen overacted early on, but grew as the series progressed: In my opinion, Desmond was his best character. There is great chemistry between Leticia and Desmond in the 1840 story line, makes me wonder…

  15. It seems to me that Mustache Judge sort of grins or mugs at someone when he’s first on camera. My guess is that it’s Humbert Allen Astredo.

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