“I dream about her only because I hate her!”
Cockney mentalist Leticia Faye dashes into the drawing room of the sumptuously-appointed Rose Cottage, making a beeline for Flora with a bulletin from the courthouse.
“Oh, Flora!” she sobs, plunging into the woman’s arms.
Startled, Flora cries, “Tell me what’s happened!”
Leticia tries to pull herself together. “It’s Desmond!”
“What about my son?” Flora asks, and that’s how you know it’s Christmas.
Or, rather, it was Christmas, last Friday. Now it’s Monday, the beginning of the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and potentially an important week for the show.
You see, the ratings for Dark Shadows have been sliding precipitously. The show peaked at an 8.4 share in 1969, during the 1897 storyline. The specific week that the show hit its ratings peak was in October 1969, when vampire Barnabas Collins suddenly returned to the show, four weeks after he’d been apparently staked in his coffin, and left for dead. But there he was, alive and walking around, ta-dah, and everyone in the audience wanted to know how he pulled it off.
Following that, the ratings dipped a bit, descending from 8.4 to a still-respectable 7.3 share, as the show dealt with Lovecraft monsters, Parallel Time and a frantic trip into the far future of 1995.
But it was the transition back to the present-day in August 1970 that hammered the show, with a slow meander around some recycled plot points that sidelined the most popular characters. At this point, the show is getting a 5.3 share, and by the end of this week, Variety is going to make a snarky remark about “the incredibly shrinking shares of Dark Shadows“.
Like all daytime shows at the time, Dark Shadows was produced in cycles of 13 weeks — one quarter of a year. If you get renewed for another 13 weeks, then your show keeps on going. You know it’s over when you’ve only got 13 weeks left, and ABC doesn’t renew the show for another cycle.
Here’s the bad news: as of today, Dark Shadows has 14 weeks left to run. There’s this week between Christmas and New Year’s, and then one more cycle of 13 weeks, and on April 2nd, Dark Shadows wraps at ABC Studio 16, and that timeslot goes to Password.
So if Dark Shadows is going to squeeze out one more last-minute renewal that could keep the show going past April 2nd, then this week is crucial. The teenagers and the young set are out of school between Christmas and New Year’s, so they might just give the show one more look, as long as they’re home anyway. Maybe the show can stop the ratings slide, and get an eleventh-hour reprieve.
This week, the show is going to do two things to engage those lapsed viewers. First, there’s going to be not just one, but three surprise returns of characters that we thought were gone. Second, they’re going to catch everyone up on the last four months of this convoluted storyline, dishing out steaming bowls of recap with both hands. That way, everyone will understand what’s going on, and they’ll stick around and keep watching the show, and who knows? We might all get paychecks through July. It’s worth a shot, anyway.
There are two problems with this plan. First problem: understanding what’s going on has never been a prerequisite for the Dark Shadows audience; we just want to see sexy monsters make fun of each other, and then either jump through a plate glass window or go up in flames. If the producers thought understanding the story was a priority, then they should have made a lot of different decisions, a while ago. Second problem: the thing that the lapsed viewers definitely don’t want is people standing around in old-fashioned clothes, describing interesting things that we missed. And yet, here we are.
So here’s how you’re going to spend the next five and a half minutes of your day: watching three grown people crowded into an overstuffed set that doesn’t have a thing worth looking at, except the lamp that I’ve recently decided looks like Tom Servo from Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’ll give Flora partial credit for the lavender ensemble, but that’s all.
Dialogue-wise, as I said, the giveaway was that Leticia mentioned Desmond, and Flora said, “What about my son?” to make sure that the viewers understand that she’s Desmond’s mother. I don’t think that particular detail makes any difference — you can tell that she’s interested in Desmond’s well-being from the way that she’s acting, and whether he’s her son, husband or prom date is pretty immaterial. Still, I guess you have to say something.
“They asked me about the head,” Leticia sobs, filling us in on last week’s courtroom scenes.
“The head?” asks Flora. “What has that got to do with anything?”
Leticia cries, “It is the head of Judah Zachery!” and suddenly Gerard’s on the move.
Stepping forward, he interjects, “That head was in this house?” Leticia nods, and Gerard continues, “That is why Desmond had the journal of Judah Zachery!”
“Judah Zachery? What are you talking about?” Flora asks, and seriously, are we actually this far away from shore?
They’re talking about an old curio that Flora’s son Desmond picked up on sale on Macau, and brought home as a conversation piece that can keep up its end of the conversation. Flora knows that it’s the head of Judah Zachery because her son Desmond told her it was, and Gerard knows that the head of Judah Zachery was in this house, because a) Gerard knows that Desmond brought it to Collinsport, b) Gerard has handled it himself, and c) Gerard actually is Judah Zachery, and should therefore be entirely up to speed on everything Jay-Z related.
It’s possible that Gerard is playing dumb at this moment in the conversation and just pretending not to know that much about the head, but if we’re trying to help the audience understand what’s happening, then the deep cover black-ops element is not assisting the recap process. We don’t need any characters to play dumb right now. It’s dumb enough.
Leticia tries to explain. “A warlock,” she says, breathing heavily, “who lived in Bedford one hundred and fifty years ago. He was tried for witchcraft, and found guilty, and then he was beheaded, just like Quentin’s going to be, and Desmond!” And then she breaks down into sobs. “I’m sorry,” she cries, “but what are we going to do?”
“You’re going to finish telling me about Judah Zachery!” Flora says, because recap is more urgent than action.
Leticia tries again. “The head was put on display in the town square, as a warning to Zachery’s followers. But it disappeared!”
Gerard frowns, like he’s trying to remember something. “Disappear…” he repeats. “Yes, I remember! There’s a legend… The head has certain powers, and can possess a man.”
Which, again, is leading the recap-hungry viewer in the wrong direction. It feels like Leticia is shoveling information in the front door, and Gerard is busily shoveling it out again through the back door.
Leticia continues telling the story, and for ten seconds, there’s a closeup of Gerard, motionless, just glaring at the audience and challenging them to try anything funny.
There’s some more emotional acting. “Charles Dawson says that the head was not destroyed,” says Leticia. “That Quentin brought it — that Desmond brought it to Quentin, and now Quentin is being possessed by Judah.” I’m sure that slip doesn’t make life any easier for the people who are trying to get their heads around this story.
Flora says she doesn’t believe any of this, which is understandable, but Gerard adds, “There is a curse. I remember reading about it in the journal of Judah Zachery.” They haven’t explained that part at all. “Before he was beheaded, he vowed that he would serve revenge against the three judges, and all their families that sentenced him to death!” I don’t know why the families sentenced him, I would think that was the judges’ job.
He concludes, “Amadeus Collins was one of those judges,” and that’s the piece of information that settles things for Flora. “I must go to Desmond,” she says, and heads out the door. Finding out about Amadeus Collins was the cherry on top of the sundae, as far as Flora is concerned.
Once she’s gone, Gerard proposes a plan that will help no one. “This case can be easily solved,” he says, making complicated semaphore gestures with his eyebrows. “All we have to do is find the head, and prove that it has been destroyed. Quentin can no longer be possessed with something that doesn’t exist.”
Unpacking that for a moment, finding the head and proving that it’s been destroyed are mutually exclusive. He might mean that they should find it and destroy it, and then prove that it’s been destroyed; I hope they remember to keep the receipt. The theory about whether someone can be possessed by something that doesn’t exist is, I believe, a novel argument in the supernatural hokum field.
But the real problem is that this sounds to the uninitiated like there’s now a clear story point coming up: Gerard and Leticia are going to go and look for the head. Except then they both just go off on their own and do other things, and when they come together again near the end of the episode, they don’t mention it at all; they just talk about other stuff, like this scene never happened.
So this is the problem with the whole week, designed specifically to get more people to watch: the writers aren’t clear what story they’re trying to tell anymore, so these jumping-on points contradict themselves, and turn into dead ends.
“You’re going to finish telling me about Judah Zachery,” Flora demanded, and she’s right. They’re going to finish telling us about Judah Zachery, sometime between now and fourteen weeks from now.
Tomorrow: The Unfinished Dream.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Flora trips over a word: “Gerard, you seem to take Barnabas’ disappearance very sm- easily.”
At the top of act 1, Leticia sits down in a chair. Flora takes a step behind Leticia, then stops and turns her head — and her earring falls off. She catches it, holds it in her hand for a moment, then puts it back on her ear, acting all the while. A true pro. She puts on different earrings to visit Desmond in act 2.
When Leticia says that the head disappeared, it takes a few seconds before Gerard realizes that’s his cue.
Desmond proclaims that “Judah Zachery is now master of Collinsport!”
Desmond tells Leticia, “Please, I don’t want him to hurt you or to kill you. And if you make him force your hand, he will.”
Julia tells Leticia that she didn’t tell Angelique about taking the Head to the tomb, but she did last week, in episode 1173.
Julia asks Leticia, “What could they find — we find, that they didn’t?”
In previous episodes, people have walked from the Collinwood foyer to Quentin’s lab through the door under the stairs, which is supposed to lead to the basement. When Julia and Leticia head for Quentin’s lab, they go out the front door.
Julia tells Angelique, “That night, that final night, when the ghost of Gerard had killed the two children, and burning — the house was burning…”
Julia searches for her line: “I don’t know whether to be grateful… for the stairs… or not… or hate them!”
When Angelique leaves Quentin’s lab, she shuts the door behind her, but it pops open again.
The end credits are where you can really see the resemblance between the lamp and Tom Servo. Or maybe it’s just me.
Tomorrow: The Unfinished Dream.
— Danny Horn