“Won’t anyone listen to me? That woman is dead, I tell you, she’s dead!”
“How now, Samantha,” says Gerard Stiles, on the battlements of Collinwood. “Stand and unfold yourself.” It takes a minute, but she manages it; a person like Samantha Collins can get herself pretty comprehensively folded.
You see, at the end of yesternight’s episode, the deceased Joanna Mills, Quentin Collins’ former mistress, showed up at the front door of Collinwood, and told Samantha, Quentin’s existing wife, that she wanted to talk to her sister Daphne, Quentin’s current mistress.
“What art thou that usurp’st this time of night,” Samantha said, addressing the spirit. “By heaven I charge thee, speak!”
“You and I know of each other, although we’ve never met,” spake Joanna, harrowing Samantha with fear and wonder. “I don’t mean to disturb you; I only want to see my sister.”
So Samantha allowed this dreaded sight into her house, because you don’t want to be rude, even to an apparition. In the gross and scope of my opinion, this bodes some strange eruption to our state, although now that I think about it, Samantha is responsible for strange eruptions pretty regularly, all by herself.
So here’s Samantha on the battlements, assailing Gerard’s ears on the subject of this portentous figure. I can’t say that her knotted and combined locks are parting and each particular hair standing on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine, but that’s hard to achieve, especially under a heavy wig like that.
Gerard, naturally, says ’tis but her fantasy, and will not let belief take hold of him touching this dreaded sight. This is pretty hypocritical, given that he’s about 75% dreaded sight himself; you’d think he’d be more open to the idea.
“Anybody in their right mind,” says Gerard, “can tell you that Joanna Mills is alive.”
“No, she’s dead!” Samantha insists. “I know because I killed her!”
So you can see why she’s upset; you go to all the trouble of murdering somebody, and seven months later, you find out it didn’t take. It’s embarrassing, especially in this town, where everyone has at least a couple of manslaughter charges.
The emotional backstory is mildly perplexing, because Samantha doesn’t have a lot of insight into her own stormy feelings. Gerard asks if she wants Quentin dead, and her answer is, “Yes! No. I don’t know,” which is fairly typical. Then she says “I don’t love him, Gerard, I love you,” which is not an answer to the question that he asked. He doesn’t care either way, he just wants her to tell him about the murder that she claims she didn’t mean to commit.
But let me try to get a fix on things. Samantha was married to Quentin, who didn’t love her, which was upsetting. She found out that he was having an affair with a woman named Joanna Mills, who she had once seen at a concert with her brother Randall. Quentin asked her for a divorce, and she refused him.
The way she tells the story, the next line is “And I almost won,” which is hard to figure. “He was going away for a while,” she says, “but he was going to come back to me, and I had won!” This is unlikely. “I couldn’t bear the thought of her taking him away from me again,” she continues. “I was almost happy for a while.”
Let’s review that again, because it makes less sense every time that I look at it. She won, but she couldn’t bear the thought that she might lose him, and that situation made her almost happy. I don’t know what to do with that collection of information.
Then a letter arrived from an asylum, informing Quentin that Joanna was in residence and was desperately ill, and since she kept calling the name of someone else’s husband, they figured that he ought to be informed. This is apparently a service available in 1840 for unwell mistresses.
Quentin was away at sea, so Samantha accepted delivery of the parcel, and wasn’t keen on the idea of her husband getting mixed up with Joanna again. “I knew that if he had been here, he would have gone to her,” she says. I’m not sure how that connects to the “I had won” idea. What we see next is a reconstruction based on Samantha’s testimony, so it might help to bear in mind that she is really not very good at telling stories.
“So I went in his place!” she says. “I didn’t tell anybody. Nobody knew, not even at the asylum.” Even Samantha didn’t know, and she was there at the time, doing it. It was a manic mission impossible, storming into someone else’s health plan and introducing some non-traditional therapy techniques involving yelling and being scornful. We’ve seen lunatics on the loose before, but they’re usually breaking out of the mental institution; this is the first time we’ve ever seen one breaking in.
“Dee dee doo doo,” sings Joanna, in Samantha’s memory. “Dah dee dee dee,” she continues, and then breaks off; I guess she can’t remember any more of the lyrics. I’m not sure what tune she thinks she’s singing, but she doesn’t seem to have the hang of it.
I think what she’s trying to get across is, “They bore him barefaced on the bier; Hey non nonny, nonny, hey nonny,” as heard in Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5.
Because this is Ophelia, obviously, driven past the brink of sanity, for love of Quentin. This is what happens when you break up with women; they fall to pieces, and walk around with flowers in their hands, singing nonsense songs and pleading with invisible people to come back and love them again. I’ve never dated a woman, but my understanding is that this is what happens one hundred percent of the time.
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance,” Ophelia said, strewing agriculture around the stage. “Pray, love, remember: And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.” She’s also equipped with fennel, columbines and daisies, if you want any.
Joanna’s walking around with a single red rose, which Ophelia didn’t have in stock, as far as I know. La Mills is only carrying one flower because strewing flowers costs money, and she doesn’t have a stable source of income.
So what drives women to blithering madness, is the question on the table today. There isn’t a supernatural element to this, as there usually is on Dark Shadows. She wasn’t possessed by anybody. Carolyn went crazy in 1995, but that was caused by a cataclysmic disruption that killed everyone she loved, following a possession by evil spirits that made her an accessory to the destruction. Millicent lost her mind in 1795, under similar circumstances.
But as far as we know, this Mills mess is the result of a pretty average breakup. She was dating a guy who was married, he told her that he would divorce his wife and marry her, that didn’t work out, and they agreed to split up. Now he’s at sea, on a South American shopping expedition for occult artifacts, and here she is, unglued.
They didn’t have kids, so she wasn’t explicitly “ruined” in the way that women could get back then, after birthing a bastard child. He didn’t even stab her father behind the arras. He just returned her to circulation, and look what became of her.
But Quentin Collins is a powerful drug, and Joanna is just one of several people who have gone mad after being denied his love. The list also includes Jenny Rakosi from 1897, Angelique Stokes from Parallel Time, and me, from 1985 onwards. Falling in love with Quentin is not for the weak.
And oh, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown.
“My lover is coming soon,” she says. “When I heard you, I thought that you were he.”
Her love is so great that it can only be expressed by staring off into the middle distance, showing every single one of her teeth, inclining her head at an acute angle, confessing that his name is Quentin, and then going back to that “Dah dah dee dah” song that never really gets off the ground. It must mean something in crazy lady language, but what?
The traditional way of looking at Ophelia is that she suffers from erotomania or love-madness, a medical condition characterized by delusions that an unattainable person is deeply in love with you, and expresses his devotion through the medium of restraining orders and not answering his phone.
When Hamlet rejects Ophelia and tells her to get to a nunnery, she becomes frustrated with pent-up sexual desire, which drives her entirely out of her mind, and makes her flirt with cute and uncomfortable palace guards.
She makes it pretty clear in these lines:
Young men will do’t, if they come to’t;
By cock, they are to blame.
Quoth she, before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed.
So would I ha’ done, by yonder sun,
An thou hadst not come to my bed.
So this is a problem, for Ophelia and Joanna and all of us — the idea that women are only wired to fall in love successfully, and if that process is interrupted, then something goes dreadfully wrong with their womb, and they start having hysterics and need to be locked up in institutions for the emotionally enfeebled.
The problem is that everybody says that Ophelia is straight-up bonkers, but the litcriterati have spent centuries debating whether Hamlet is truly mad or not.
The idea is that women have hysteria, which is emotional and womb-based and ridiculous, while men suffer from melancholia, which is a disease of the intellect that you get from being a genius all the time.
So Ophelia and Joanna are crazy, because their wombs have been suffocated by disappointment, but Hamlet is confused and misunderstood, even though he spends the entire play plotting to murder everybody he knows, and all she does is set up a singing flower delivery service as a side hustle.
It’s actually nice to see that Dark Shadows still believes in narrative collision; this is the first one that we’ve had in a while, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they’d given up on this approach. The typical technique for Dark Shadows’ narrative collision is to take an element from a different story, and just yell at it until something interesting happens. When the show was at its peak, they gave us a story about Jane Eyre working for Mr. Squeers from Nicholas Nickelby, at the same time that she was in a supernatural love triangle with Count Dracula and Abigail from The Crucible.
We’re pretty far past that peak, of course, so what we get here is just a soap opera shrew shouting at Ophelia until her brain resets, and she starts wandering around the grounds again, singing into her prop rose.
But that can’t be the end of that story, obviously. If you’ve got Ophelia on your show then she needs to hit the water at some point; that’s de rigueur for Ophelias. There’s only one way to treat someone with aggravated non-specific womb concerns, and the treatment regimen involves going into the water, and not coming out again until either you drown or you feel better.
Joanna hasn’t been training for the high dive, but that’s what people like Samantha are for, to take control of the situation, and get Joanna the help that she so desperately needs. The difference here is that nobody really wanted Ophelia to drown, but if you’ve got Joanna Mills on your television show, then basically the entire world is rooting for gravity.
Now, keep in mind that we’re only hearing Samantha’s side of this story, so she’s probably slanting things to make herself look better. Just imagine what she must have been like in the real version; it hardly bears thinking about. Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a don’t.
Tomorrow: Damn Daniel.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Gerard tells Samantha, “Her appearance has put a very damaging effect on the trial against Quentin.” Soon after, he orders, “I demand that you get a complete control of yourself.”
At the beginning of the asylum scene, Joanna sings a few notes as she walks behind a tree. There’s a little thumping noise at this point; I’m not sure where it comes from.
When Joanna begins talking to Samantha, she has to look at the teleprompter before asking, “Why are you here?” She does it again before saying, “My lover is coming soon!” She does it a third time before saying, “You always looked so proud!”
Joanna tells Samantha, “We know what it is like not to be together, and now we will never let — let you keep us from being together!”
Joanna jeers at Samantha, “Going in and out of the shops, with your back held high — and your head high!”
There’s a tape edit as Daphne and Joanna go upstairs, jumping to Gerard closing the drawing room doors.
There’s another tape edit at the top of act 4, between Samantha saying, “How long do they plan to stay up there?” and “They’re planning to kill me!”
Daphne steps on Gerard’s line; as he says, “I love you, so very much,” she replies, “I love you,” and then waits until he’s done and says it again.
Tomorrow: Damn Daniel.
— Danny Horn