“How can we know with any certainty whom this head possesses?”
So that was it! Oh, you clever boys; the Dark Shadows team has done it again. That’s why the horoscope was unfinished. Now we understand why Gerard needed to bring Tad and Carrie back to life, and the significance of the dollhouse and the carousel, and why Gerard showed up at the picnic, and where all those dead pirates came from.
It was all about the playroom, after all, just like we knew it would be. I bet anyone who thought that the Dark Shadows writers were just making things up as they went along must be feeling pretty silly, right about now.
But not really. Meanwhile, here in the actual universe, teen idol Quentin Collins is about to get his head lopped off for acts of witchcraft which he did not personally commit. He’s been framed by a furious lopped-off head named Judah Zachery, the Butcher of Bedford, a dread warlock in a glass box which ruthlessly took control of his friend Gerard Stiles and wrought havoc, seizing control of the Collins estate and trying to murder all the family members that weren’t already incidentally murdering each other.
Friends, look upon him: Quentin, at his lowest. Gerard has snatched away his home, his fortune, his freedom and his girlfriend, who Gerard hypnomarried and is now keeping locked up in a fairy tale tower. Quentin has his head on the literal chopping block, about to be brutally executed for a crime that nobody even believes in anymore, in the modern hi-fi world of 1840.
There is no more time, no chance for appeal. The executioner raises his axe, winds up for the swing, and
“STOP! STOP! You’re killing the wrong man!” shrieks a blonde stranger, entering the scene with a large rectangular package in her arms. And that is all you need to do, apparently, if you want an execution in progress to pause for an emergency retrial. This must be one of those special soap opera mellerdrammer laws, where you’re obliged to drop whatever you’re doing, if somebody comes in and shouts something interesting.
Naturally, soap opera characters are only too happy to slow down the action and talk things over with anyone who walks in the door; it’s encoded deep in their DNA. So everyone holds what they’re doing, while the stranger screams, “Quentin and Desmond are innocent! There is the man who’s guilty, Gerard Stiles!”
And the crowd goes wild, to the extent that they can, given the limited carrying capacity. There are ten people in this scene, which as far as I know is the all-time record for Dark Shadows, and they’re all trying to act on the same set at the same time, while the cameras lurk around the edges and film whatever they can get a half-decent shot of. It’s a long, narrow set, so the actors have to stand in a line like it’s a stage play, and if they have any emotions to express, they need to do it within their allotted square footage. A lot of the time the camera isn’t pointed at the person who’s talking, and there are at least a couple of characters who you don’t even realize are in the scene, until they start talking, and you figure they must be in there somewhere.
The intruder is Angelique, of course, running to the rescue with a peculiar parcel. “Your honor,” she says, because it turns out that grouchy old Judge Vail is there too, “I beg you to listen to me, just for a moment!”
“I intend to!” the judge bellows, while she’s still talking. “I intend to!” He kind of peeks around the execution stand, to glare at the characters down the other side of the set. “And I want you all to stay right where you are!” he says, as if they have room to do anything else.
They cut from one confusing camera angle to another, so now you can see Angelique putting the package down, plus you get a nice view of Quentin, the executioner and the studio lights, but you can’t see Judge Vail or the person he’s talking to.
“And Mr. Stiles,” Vail says, shaking his fist into the darkness, “you must refrain from any further demonstrations!”
“This is insane, your honor!” says somebody who I think is probably Gerard, but honestly it could be anyone.
“That is for me to decide!” shouts the judge, and then he has to turn all the way back around to participate in the next part of the scene.
I guess this is why they never tried to do any ten-person scenes before. It’s a good thing they’ve got a blustery deep-voiced judge in charge, to tell people to pipe down if it’s not their turn to be on camera.
So this is one of those posts where I don’t have to do a thing except describe a Dark Shadows scene exactly as it takes place, occasionally drawing the reader’s attention to some of the more outré violations of plot mechanics, because the utter insanity of this sequence is so profound that no other treatment is necessary. In the court of daytime television, Dark Shadows is entitled to counsel free of charge, but the show has chosen to represent itself in this matter.
The show’s defense, such as it is, is that this is the Great 1840 Wrap-Up, a sudden sprint to the finish line for this four-month shaggy dog story, and their only hope of pulling it off is to just do every plot point at once, in a big noisy eight-car pile-up of a climax.
The judge asks the woman to identify herself, and Barnabas Collins, the eccentric millionaire who tried and failed to defend the condemned, says “She’s my wife,” so the judge says okay, that sounds about right.
“During the trial,” Angelique explains, “the prosecution mentioned a disembodied head belonging to Judah Zachery. Mr. Dawson said that this head possessed Quentin Collins!”
“Yes, I recall all that,” the judge says, gingerly beginning his descent down the slippery slope. “What about it?”
“Your honor,” she says, “I found the head tonight! The head of Judah Zachery — at the home of Charles Dawson!”
And then she whips the cover off of the box, revealing the head in question. This is what evidence looks like, in Angelique’s world.
“Where is Mr. Dawson now?” the judge asks, trying to piece some sense together.
“He is dead,” she says.
“You killed him!” Trask glowers, from somewhere in the back forty.
“That’ll be enough of that, Mr. Trask!” the judge barks, and Angelique declares, “Mr. Trask is right… for once!”
You wouldn’t think this was an opportune time to be sassy, and for the vast majority of cases you’d be correct, but this is soap opera diva physics, which requires the character to soak up as much emotional energy as she can muster from the environment. She is about to set off a massive blast of pure narrativium, and attitude is everything.
“I did kill him!” Angelique confesses. “He was holding me prisoner. There was a struggle. I hit him over the head, and he fell to the floor! I thought he was unconscious! But when I tried to revive him, I saw that he was dead.”
“So then I searched his house,” she says, moving on. Nobody really cares what happened to Dawson anyway. “And I found the head!”
The judge is confused. “Well, how did you come to be in Charles Dawson’s house?” That is not really the point of that anecdote.
“I was taken there,” she announces, “by Gerard Stiles!”
From somewhere in the underbrush, Gerard sneers, “She’s lying, your honor!” but he’s too far away to have any impact on the proceedings.
“Your honor,” Angelique continues, “everything Mr. Dawson said was true, except that the head possessed Quentin Collins. The man the head possessed, and still possesses, is Gerard Stiles!”
“Now, Mrs. Collins,” the judge says, trying to establish some kind of rational basis for this conversation, “how do you know all this? I mean, we’ll have to have more than your word in this matter!” Especially because you just confessed to murder, he doesn’t say.
Angelique pauses, and looks at Barnabas. He smiles and nods, expressing his approval for her utterly mad conduct. Then she pauses some more, because we have to get reaction shots from everyone in the room, and that means checking in with Gerard, Desmond, Trask, Quentin and the executioner. The head doesn’t get its own close-up, but it’s pretty much the only quarter we don’t hear from.
“Your honor,” says Angelique, impossible defiance flashing in her eyes, “I knew Judah Zachery, for many years. I knew him intimately.”
The judge tries to get a handle on things. “But Judah Zachery died, in 1692!”
“I am aware of that,” she retorts. “It was my testimony that sent him to his death.”
“Well, this is the most astonishing thing I’ve ever heard!” the judge blusters. This is a guy who presides at witch trials in Collinsport.
“This is outrageous, your honor!” Gerard cries, while the camera is doing a close-up on someone entirely else. “The woman is telling us that she lived in the year 1692?”
“You know I did, Judah!” she spits, taking a few steps toward him, until she reaches the limit of her territory. “And you know that you bewitched me! And I remained a witch! Until last night, when you took away all the powers that you had given me!”
And look at the judge’s little face! He is utterly perplexed by this creature that has suddenly broken loose in his life. His witchcraft verdict is being upended by an admitted witch who’s married to the defense attorney of the condemned man whose previous defense attorney was also convicted of witchcraft. That situation did actually come up once in law school, and oh, how Vail wishes he had paid attention at the time.
“I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Gerard says. “The woman is obviously deranged!” Gerard is possessed by a seventeenth-century warlock head, and he is the only person who talks sense in this entire scene.
Then Barnabas has a line, so everybody has to swivel around to look at him. This scene is nearly impossible to film using the available technology; they should have a squadron of drones buzzing around, to get all the coverage they need.
“You must be aware, your honor,” he says, “that it is significant that the head of Judah Zachery was found in the house of the prosecuting attorney!” And then they all have to swivel again, to look at Gerard.
“How do we know where she found it?” Gerard shouts. “We only have her word.”
Trask pipes up, “Yes, she may have placed it there herself!”
And look, they’re both in the shot; it’s the first effective camera position they’ve had in more than a minute.
Naturally, they can’t keep it up for long; next, we’ve got the judge and Angelique turning around for another little huddle.
“The point is well taken, Mr. Collins,” the judge says. “But with Mr. Dawson dead, how can we be sure where the head was found?”
Angelique pipes up, “Your honor, I am prepared to swear under oath that everything I’ve said is true,” which might be the craziest thing anybody’s said all day.
They continue discussing the matter, while the camera wanders off on its own.
“Even if you were to take an oath, Mrs. Collins, that wouldn’t constitute proof!”
Angelique is outraged. “But I have brought you the head of Judah Zachery!”
“How can we know with any certainty whom this head possesses, if indeed it possesses anyone?”
“Your honor, I beg you to listen to me, these men are innocent!”
And finally, somebody in the scene decides that they’ve had enough of this. Desmond turns, grabs the gun straight out of his guard’s pocket, screams “GERARD!” and advances on the villain —
— and shoots him directly in the stomach, throwing a situation into upheaval that was already about as much in upheaval as it could possibly be.
And you’ll never guess what happens.
“I don’t believe it!” says the judge, which is an understatement.
“But we must believe what we’ve seen!” Barnabas urges. “It is not only Gerard Stiles who is dying, but also Judah Zachery! Now, we need no more proof than this!” This is one hundred percent not true.
The camera drifts over to the air space formerly occupied by Gerard Stiles.
“Judah…” the stricken man moans. “Judah is dead… and I am free!”
“The possession is ended,” Angelique informs us. This is the point in the storyline where people just say things.
So then everyone pauses while Quentin steps down from the execution block, and kneels to have a conversation with his terminally injured tormentor. At this point, nobody is going to stop anybody from doing anything.
“Forgive me, please,” Gerard sighs. “I wasn’t myself. Forgive me!”
He waits long enough for Quentin to say, “It’s all right, I understand. I forgive you.” And then Gerard dies, and Judah dies, and the whole storyline goes with them, gunned down in glory.
“He’s dead,” Quentin says, and tries to look anything but tired. I know exactly how he feels.
Tomorrow: Goodbye to All That.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
There’s some whispering from the studio when Quentin walks up to the executioner.
When Angelique admits that she knew Judah Zachery, there’s a cough from the studio.
When the judge says, “With Mr. Dawson dead, how can we be sure where the head was found?” the camera swings too far to the right, and you can see the edge of the set.
The judge says, “Quentin and Desmond Collins are hereby released! Now, we will go into my chambers, and let go of the necessary legal — legal [utterly incomprehensible muttering].”
Barnabas slurs the line, “I didn’t expect any of this to happen.”
Quentin tells Desmond to talk to Leticia, and Desmond says, “I’ll be — bring Leticia.”
When Quentin and Daphne sit down and kiss, there’s another cough from the studio.
After Bramwell enters and says his first line, there’s a tape edit during Catherine’s reaction.
After Bramwell says, “Now I return to find out that they have claimed you, too,” a camera appears briefly on the right.
There’s another tape jump between Barnabas leaving Collinwood, and arriving to talk to the judge. The music skips a bit because of the edit. The next transition is also sudden and awkward.
Barnabas offers Quentin and Daphne his congratulations, and then there’s a moment where nobody can think of what to say. Everyone looks at Quentin, who finally remembers that he’s supposed to ask Barnabas if he’s looking for Valerie.
Behind the Scenes:
This is the last appearance of John Beal as Judge Vail, who appeared in nine episodes.
Tomorrow: Goodbye to All That.
— Danny Horn