“There’s only one flaw in your logic: it makes too much sense.”
You know how sometimes you get tired of arguing with somebody about whether they’re a ghost, so you shoot them in the stomach just to get them to shut up, but it turns out they really are a ghost so your bullet goes right through them, and then they’re still pretending that you’re crazy and they’re not a ghost? It’s like the worst case scenario for winning an argument.
Suffering shrew Samantha Drew is at one of those points in her life when she should really take a step back and ask herself whether this is how she wants to spend her time on this earth, except that Samantha is not the kind of person who reflects on her behavior and tries to learn from her mistakes. She is the other kind.
“It won’t do you any good to keep quiet!” Samantha shrieks, as the person that she’s talking to walks away. “They’ll find Quentin! And when they do, they’ll execute him! And I’ll be there to watch every minute of it!”
And then she turns and sees the ghost of somebody that she pushed off a cliff, just looking at her with a little smile on her face. This is why you shouldn’t murder people, because it’s so embarrassing when they turn up later and give you looks. There are probably other reasons why you shouldn’t murder people, but right now I can’t remember what any of them are. This one is enough.
Now, technically, at this moment, we’re not completely sure whether Joanna Mills is actually a ghost or not. Everyone thought that she was dead, following a cliff-diving suicide that seemed pretty conclusive at the time, but then she showed up a few weeks ago and all of a sudden we need a recount. She seems solid enough, looking at her from this angle, and she’s been doing living-person type things, like trying to get back together with her ex-boyfriend, and planning semi-successful prison breaks. She’s been hugged a bunch of times by her sister Daphne, and I’m pretty sure at one point I saw her drinking tea, so if this is a haunting then it’s not like any haunting we’ve ever seen, and we’ve seen plenty.
On the other hand, Samantha here confessed to Gerard that she actually killed Joanna seven months ago, in one of those how’d-that-happen moments where you’re arguing with somebody immediately in front of a dangerous precipice and somehow they end up falling off of it. When La Mills reappeared on the other side of the door three weeks ago, she didn’t acknowledge that Samantha murdered her, because then she would have had to explain how she’s apparently alive again, and nobody explains anything on this show anymore.
It turns out that Joanna is what we in the horror biz call a casper, which is a kind of ghost that walks and talks and plays ball and sings “London Bridge”, and if you’re Quentin then you can make out with them. Joanna’s been angling for a Quentin makeout but it’s not going to happen.
But if you think that Samantha’s going to break down and be ashamed or frightened when confronted by the spirit of the person that she murdered, like literally anybody else in the history of fiction would do, then you don’t know Samantha, and the nine-cylinder hatred engine that animates her every moment. There’s no horrified, guilt-ridden “never shake thy gory locks at me” for Samantha; she just gets irritated, and it makes her even louder.
“You tried to fool me by pretending not to know anything that happened before!” she screams. “But you didn’t fool me for a moment! And you came back here to try to get me to believe that you couldn’t remember anything from the past!”
“Mrs. Collins, you’re getting much too excited,” says Joanna, who I am really starting to respect for the first time.
“And I know why you’ve been pretending!” Samantha projects. The drawing room doors are open, by the way; Samantha opened them when she was screeching “Get out!” a minute ago. She is currently broadcasting this adaptation of The Telltale Heart on all frequencies; if there were still any human beings left alive in Collinwood, this would be deeply unwise. “You’ve been trying to lull me into a false sense of security!”
Joanna says, “I don’t know what you mean,” in a tone of voice designed to drive Samantha even further into a post-election Trump-style tweetstorm.
“You know very well what I mean!” she rants, filing new lawsuits in her head. “And you know where and when we’ve met before. That’s why you’ve come back! You want your revenge!”
“My revenge, Mrs. Collins?” Joanna wide-eyes, allowing herself just the merest hint of a smile.
“Well, you won’t get it!” Samantha snarls. “You’re not going to kill me!”
“Why should I want to kill you?” Joanna asks, and Samantha screams, “STOP ACTING AS IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!” Joanna is winning this argument on every possible level.
And then Samantha walks two steps from where she’s currently standing, opens a drawer, takes out a loaded gun and points it at Joanna.
“I can’t understand how you survived, but it doesn’t matter anymore!” Samantha declares, within direct line of sight of the front door of a house that is currently being surrounded by the police. “I failed before, but I won’t fail now!”
And then she shoots Joanna Mills, right in the breadbasket.
So here’s where we are, as a television show: Samantha Drew goes from an “I’d rather not speak to you right now”-level simmer to gun violence in just over two minutes, with none of the usual preparatory steps. This is a violation of everything that the soap opera genre has stood for over the years, from Painted Dreams on down.
According to the rules of soap opera, even on Dark Shadows, you set up a murder attempt days in advance, or at least with an episode-ending cliffhanger. Crazy Jenny plays with her knife, Gabriel pulls the garotte out of his coat pocket, Bruno loads up on silver bullets. You have a conversation about it, at least.
But Samantha is on a hair-trigger, because this is The Great 1840 Wrap-Up, and there’s only a week left before we send the time travelers home. They’ve got a lot of loose ends to tie up, and by loose ends I mean characters, and by tie up I mean murder them, one by one, in the now-traditional end-of-storyline massacre.
And besides, Joanna doesn’t even die; she just stands there and looks satisfied with herself. You can hug Joanna Mills, and feed her, and break up with her several times in a row, but you can’t shoot her, apparently, because she is already dead.
This is a status previously seen in vampires — Barnabas pulled the “you can’t shoot me, I’m already dead” gag twice in 1795, with both Joshua and Nathan — and then there was that time in 1897 when Aristede tried to shoot Julia, but he couldn’t, because it was only her astral body that traveled into the past. Like Joanna, the astral Julia could wear clothes and take light refreshment, and if you gave her poisoned elderberry wine, then she could drink it, but she wouldn’t die, because she hadn’t been born yet. Dealing with the already dead can be very confusing; the best course is usually to leave them alone, and let them kill you later.
“Gerard, stop humoring me, I know what I saw!” shouts the assailant, caught in a doom spiral of unsuccessful murder attempts. “I shot her, but she didn’t die! Because she’s already dead, she’s a ghost, and she’s come back to haunt me!” Samantha is absolutely correct, and it does not help her a bit.
Samantha runs out of the room, and Gerard politely excuses himself, and then twenty seconds later, they’re at Joanna’s grave, having already unearthed and hoisted Joanna’s coffin all the way out of the ground, without getting dirty or even rolling up their sleeves. This goes to show how casual a soap opera can become about grave robbing, when they’ve already done it a bunch of times and they forget that it’s a thoroughly insane thing to do on daytime television.
The whole sequence lasts two minutes and ten seconds, and accomplishes nothing. They dig up the coffin, find out that it’s empty, and then stand around and speculate about it. Gerard’s view is that Joanna’s corpse was so water-logged and bloated that it basically evaporated, in six months, in an airtight coffin buried under the earth. Samantha’s view is that she’s sick of everybody telling her not to worry about the vengeance demon that’s implacably stalking her. Gerard gives her a side hug and closes the coffin, and then for all we know, they just leave it there in the graveyard for somebody else to put away.
Now, I remember the days when digging up a coffin really meant something on this show, like when Jeff Clark broke in on Peter Bradford’s final rest, to discover that the lights were off but nobody’s home. Back in 1968, that kind of thing would get you a Friday cliffhanger with all the trimmings. Now you can’t even squeeze a commercial break out of it.
In fact, they’re in such a rush to get this plot point over with that they dissolve straight from the graveyard scene to Samantha, now back at home doing nothing in particular, finding a note left to her by Gerard, the guy that she was just talking to twenty seconds earlier.
“Dear Samantha,” says the note, “I looked for you in your room, but you were not there. I have come across some information that may very well solve the mystery of Joanna Mills. It’s imperative that we be alone, where no one can overhear.”
This is a surprising thing for the note to say, considering that we just saw Samantha in the drawing room a few minutes ago, shrieking at full volume that she’d shot Joanna, and that she was disappointed that Joanna wasn’t dead. What could Gerard possibly think is so delicate that they need to go back outside to discuss it?
But here we are, suddenly and forever, on the cliffs overlooking the sea. It turns out that if you keep killing somebody over and over, they’ll eventually get irritated and kill you back.
“You tricked me!” Samantha cries, and once again, she’s correct, but accuracy isn’t everything.
Joanna patiently explains, “You brought everything out into the open earlier this evening, Mrs. Collins. You admitted the truth. Now, I admit it. You did not fail that night on the hill, just as I shall not fail tonight on this hill!”
For some reason, Samantha decides that her most pressing objection is Joanna’s personal appearance. “But if you’re dead, how can you look the way you look?” she asks. This is not the moment.
“You see the Joanna I want you to see!” says the already dead. “Now, you shall see me as my spirit really looks! See the Joanna you pushed from the hill, whose body washed ashore months later! See what you did! See what you will become!”
Samantha turns, and she sees, and the knowledge does not console her, and she slips, and she falls, and she screams, all the way down.
And then Joanna just goes straight back to being a character on the show, which is one of the most perplexing things they’ve ever done. Here I was, thinking that we’d already seen all these moments before — the gunfire, the already dead, the graveyard smash, the skull face, the fatal plunge — and now the show just went and found a brand new way to be the strangest thing ever filmed.
The rotting corpse says “I went out for a breath of air,” and “I’m afraid that I don’t understand,” and “How curious,” and then it says “Excuse me,” and walks into the drawing room, like it’s got somewhere that it needs to be. We know the creeping horror that she is now, and she’s done the dark work that she came for, but there she stands, unshakeable, a boat-anchor to the last.
Collinwood has been haunted since its construction, but we’ve never seen a ghost like this before: an apparently undetectable tatterdemalion that covers up its luminous green putrefying skull face and passes for approximately human, or as human as anyone else in 1971 Dark Shadows. She sits and chats, and asks Daphne how she slept last night, and nobody ever knows the difference.
Then she trots down to the old fishing shack, where reckless fugitive Quentin Collins is holing up with his wounded accomplice, evading the police by mostly staying indoors and hoping that the frantic police manhunt won’t involve looking in the most obvious possible place.
She’s concerned that Quentin won’t be able to stage his getaway, and disappear into the distance with his three best friends. Gerard has discovered Samantha’s deconstructed corpse at the base of the cliffs, and Quentin’s the obvious prime suspect, so now the police are looking for him even harder. Joanna’s impulsive revenge kill has made everything worse, but she is not visibly sorry; maybe she’s planning to leave notes for all the deputies, asking them to meet someone at the dynamite factory, or the middle of a busy highway.
“Look, we’re going to need your help,” says Quentin. “We’ll need a carriage.”
“I’ll arrange in the village for one,” promises the helpful hellbeast. They’re planning to leave at dawn tomorrow, with an Uber driver pulling up at the fishing shack and not noticing that the passengers are currently Collinsport’s most wanted.
“There’s not much time,” Quentin tells Joanna, “so you’d better get back to Collinwood. Arrange for the carriage, tell Daphne everything, and then make arrangements for her to be here at three o’clock in the morning. All right?”
She says all right.
“And be careful,” he urges, which just goes to show how backwards a plot point can get, here in the dying days of the 1840 storyline. Joanna doesn’t need to be careful. She is the thing you’re supposed to be careful of.
And then they just keep going, for the whole episode, treating Joanna Mills like she isn’t late at all.
“All the arrangements have been made,” she eagerly tells Daphne. “At three o’clock tomorrow morning, you and Daphne are going to leave Collinsport forever!”
And then she’s gone.
So if you need any more evidence that the show is careening towards a well-deserved end, then this is it, this arrangement-making travel agent from beyond the veil.
When the show began, Dark Shadows offered merely a whisper of potential spirits, present mostly as a metaphor for past sins and secrets. A ghost might appear for a moment, when nobody’s really looking, or they might be your imagination. A chill was just a chill back then, not the introduction of a new character.
But ghosts are so commonplace now that it hardly registers as a plot point that needs to be resolved. They can throw on a skull face for a moment, just to move the scene along, and then cast it off like an outfit they don’t need to wear anymore. If the audience finds this odd and off-putting, then it doesn’t really matter; it’s happened, and that’s all there is to it.
Dark Shadows is still walking and talking and propelling flustered females over Widow’s Hill, but you can’t kill it, because it’s already dead. How many more women need to fall from this height, plunging to their predetermined deaths, before you understand that simple fact? How many, you monster, before you are satisfied?
Tomorrow: No Exit.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the last scene yesterday, Samantha got a line confused: “You tricked me! You wrote those notes! Why do you want me here?” The correct line, as we find out in the teaser today, is “that letter,” rather than “those notes”. Unfortunately, today she says, “You tricked me! You wrote that letter!” and then she forgets to say “Why do you want me here?” so there’s a long stage wait until Joanna moves on to the next line.
When Daphne sits down to talk to Joanna by the fire, there’s some studio noise: mostly footsteps, and a small banging noise.
Gerard tells Daphne, “I had found a note that was addressed to her — supposedly addressed to her. It was supposed to be from me, but it wasn’t.”
Gerard stutters a little when he says, “He had the oldest m-m-motivation of all!”
Gerard tells Daphne and Joanna that he’s going to the funeral parlor, to prepare for the funeral of Samantha and Edith. He doesn’t mention Gabriel, who also died last night.
Joanna tells Daphne, “Your future depends on it; so does Quentin’s! If you don’t think about it, what’ll you do?”
Quentin says that they’ll go directly to Boston. Then he says, “Tad’s still in Boston, yes,” while Joanna says, “Boston?”
Gerard says to Julia, “Been treating another patient?” Then she says, “Yes, I have,” while Gerard says, “Julia?”
Julia says, “No, Gerard, I have not been treating Desmond Colin.”
Gerard tells Julia, “Desmond Collins was wounded while trying to help Quentin Collins escape.” That’s not a very good description of the situation. He goes on, “Now, Quentin would never leave Collinsport without medical — medication. So, I’m sure that he wouldn’t go risking, looking for other doctors, so you must be the logical choice.”
There’s a jump in the music cue when Daphne goes through the door to the east wing. Through the door, you can see what appears to be a couple of ladders.
Parallel Julia watches Kendrick meet Samantha through binoculars from an upstairs window, but the “binocular” view shows a normal two-shot, like she’s standing at ground level.
During the second half of Samantha and Kendrick’s conversation, a branch gets stuck in Samantha’s hair.
When Parallel Julia tells Samantha that she wants to know everything that Kendrick said, there’s a loud clank from the studio.
Joanna tells Daphne, “At three o’clock tomorrow morning, you and Daphne are going to leave Collinsport forever!”
When Quentin opens the shack’s door to Julia, the camera’s pulled back a little too far, and we can see Julia entering the set.
Behind the Scenes:
This is Virginia Vestoff’s last episode. She plays a Parallel Samantha in yesterday’s episode and today’s, but the character doesn’t appear again when the show moves to Parallel Time next week. Through her time on Dark Shadows, she was also appearing on Broadway in the musical 1776, which continued until February 1972.
In November 1972, Vestoff appeared in the disastrous Broadway rock musical Via Galactica, which closed after seven performances. Her other Broadway roles include Nash at Nine (1973), Bocaccio (1975) and Spokesong (1979). She also appeared at the Public Theater in The Misanthrope (1977) and Drinks Before Dinner (1978). She died of cancer in 1982, at age 42.
This is also Leigh Beery’s last episode as Joanna Mills, the mysterious mistress who turned out to be a ghost after all, sort of. After Dark Shadows, Beery appeared in the 1971 film Network, playing a secretary. She appeared on Broadway in 1973 in the musical Cyrano, and was nominated for a Tony. After that, she was in the touring company for Gone with the Wind in 1976 and Nine in 1984, she appeared off-Broadway in Lola in 1982, and then she did a bunch more regional theater, and I’m sure that she was fantastic in everything that she ever did. I say that because apparently there are a number of Leigh Beery fans who frequent the comments sections, and I don’t want to make them any more angry than I already have.
Tomorrow: No Exit.
— Danny Horn