Episode 1200: The Woman in What?

“No one will find me, including the thing in that room!”

It’s difficult to build up an audience for a daytime soap opera; you have to catch lightning in a bottle just to get people’s attention in the first place. You need to create likeable characters that people can relate to, and put them in interesting and dramatic situations. You have to write dialogue that speaks to the audience, and touches on their concerns. You have to create an intimacy, a real connection, that makes the audience want to tune in every single day.

I mean, unless it’s the last two months of Dark Shadows, in which case don’t bother. Who even cares?

So here we are, nine weeks away from cancellation, and the Dark Shadows writers have decided to scrap the entire existing series and start over from scratch, with a new Collins family played by the same actors in different roles, with no connection to any previous characters or storylines. This is an absurd thing for a soap opera to do, because the format thrives on continuity, grabbing an audience and then holding onto them for as long as possible. The only thing that keeps this from being the most peculiar decision that a soap opera ever made is that they kind of already did the same thing several times, and it always worked before.

But the previous reboots were essentially prequels, and they always had something to do with what we think of as the main storyline, with at least one 1960s character in the mix somewhere. Admittedly, that approach did fray a bit over the last couple months of 1840, when the familiar characters were pretty much sidelined, and the supposed connections between the 1970 story and the 1840 story were almost entirely ignored. Still, what they’re doing as of yesterday is a clear step down the road of soap opera suicide.

With that in mind, it is incredible how little they’re doing to make the audience interested in what’s going on. The core storyline is that the entire Collins family in this timeline is trapped, cursed, cut off from the rest of the world, and just waiting around to be cancelled. Nobody cares about them anymore, there’s nothing they can do about it, and the only character that openly gives a shit about living or dying is an alcoholic who literally begs for booze in every scene, to dull the pain of the foreknowledge of their inevitable destruction.

You see, there’s a spooky door somewhere in their creaky old mansion, which demands to be fed a Collins every once in a while, selected by lottery. There’s no real explanation for this, it’s just a reality show where someone gets voted out whenever the producer decides to thin the herd. There are no challenges and no immunity idols, just a general sense of foreboding.

The patriarch, Justin Collins, was the last person to be traumatized by the spooky door, and now he’s dying, which means, according to some of the dialogue, that they’ll have to have the lottery again. But he won’t die until he sees the Woman in White, which is a whole other stupid thing that we’re supposed to care about.

The Woman in White is a spectral harbinger that people always see before a death that triggers the lottery. That is the sum total of information that you will ever receive about the Woman in White.

So we find Morgan Collins, posing dramatically during another one of those bone-dry lightning storms that I guess they have in Parallel Time as well. “Collinwood is a house of death,” he muses. “She will make it live. Catherine will make it alive! I know she —”

He breaks off, and they play a more urgent music cue as we zoom in on his face. “No!” he boggles. “The Woman in White! Oh, Father… tonight is the night!”

And that is essentially that, as far as the Woman in White goes. Melanie and Justin see her through the bedroom window as well, but we sure don’t. I don’t know how expensive it would have been to give us two seconds of an actual ghost, but they have decided that it is not worth it.

I’m probably being either too hasty or far too late to say “This is when Dark Shadows is over,” but if you want the perfect example of how little they care, then the Woman in White is your gal. They used to rig up skeletons with wigs and eyeballs just for a two-second gag that nobody would have noticed if it wasn’t there.

But now they’re making an actual story point about people seeing the Woman in White, and we don’t get to see it, and it doesn’t do anything except to make people say that Justin is about to die, which everybody has been saying all the time anyway. Dark Shadows has given up the ghost.

In lieu of spectacle, this storyline has fam dram, which technically I should find appealing. One of the things that I like about Dark Shadows is that it’s not just a spook show; the crazy visuals and plot twists are layered on top of a continuing soap opera narrative, where the focus is on family relationships and feelings.

There are three brothers in the family — Morgan, Quentin and Gabriel — and they spend a lot of time knocking around the house, and talking to each other in various combinations. Gabriel is the one with the most obvious quirks: he’s super nervous, and he drinks all of the time.

As the Regular Time Gabriel in 1840, Christopher Pennock demonstrated that he could inhabit an exciting character who was fun to watch and full of surprises. Gabriel had a wheelchair and a chip on his shoulder, a tragic backstory, a huge secret, a wife that didn’t love him, and a desperate need for attention from his father that would ultimately drive him to murder and suicide. He was cruel and manipulative and suspicious and sarcastic, and I don’t think he had a single bad scene.

Here in Parallel Time, Gabriel drinks. He drinks a lot, he talks about drinking a lot, and if you wonder what he’s thinking about at any given time, it’s probably drinking. He doesn’t have a job, or a love interest, or a goal of any kind. He doesn’t want to inherit Justin’s fortune. He doesn’t want revenge on anybody in particular. He just wants to live in his family’s mansion and drink all day, and he’s afraid of dying in the spooky room because it might impair his plan to be a world-record alcoholic.

Meanwhile, Quentin’s main characteristic is that he’s brave, which serves only to contrast with Gabriel’s cowardice. Quentin isn’t brave enough to actually do anything, like break down the spooky door with an axe and face whatever’s in there; he’s just brave enough to say sure, maybe I’ll die in the lottery, so let’s keep pacing around the drawing room and wait for Justin to kick off.

So if the saving grace of this storyline is supposed to be that we’re not doing monsters anymore in order to focus on relationships, then they’re not giving us much to work with. Everyone in the family seems to vaguely irritate each other, and there’s a lot of intra-family scolding. But the equivalent family members in 1897 — Edward, Judith, Quentin and Carl — had motivations and grudges and secrets and individual eccentricities right from the start, even before their nutty storylines drove them off into weird directions. I don’t see how taking the monsters out of the monster show has improved the show’s ability to create character-based conflict.

As everyone who reads this blog knows, there are three steps to getting the audience to like a character — make a joke, make a friend, and make a plot point happen — and there is not a single funny character in this whole crew. Julia is the closest thing to humor that we have, based entirely on tone of voice and facial expression, but the three brothers can bicker and that’s about it.

The only character that seems to be good at making friends is Bramwell, the self-proclaimed outcast from the family. He’s got a nice moment in this episode, after they learn that Justin has died, when Bramwell heads out of the drawing room, and Morgan blocks his way.

Morgan:  There is no reason for you to stay, Bramwell.

Bramwell:  I’m going to see Melanie.

Morgan:  She is not up to it. She was with Father, at the end.

Bramwell:  She will want to see me.

And then he gives Morgan a look, and walks out of the room. The point of that little moment is to establish that Bramwell has an individual, caring relationship with another character that has nothing to do with the lottery.

There are also a couple moments — one in this episode, and one in the next — where Bramwell expresses sincere condolences for Justin’s death, which makes Bramwell’s feelings and motivations more complex than just “I’ve always been treated badly, and now I want revenge on everyone.” I know that people dislike Bramwell because he’s not Barnabas and also he’s kind of a rapist, but in this episode, at least, he’s the only thing close to a living human character.

For the big finale of the week, Morgan reads the letter from Brutus Collins about the family curse, which tells us basically nothing new about the lottery or the spooky door, and then he starts cutting paper into strips, because the lottery must begin immediately.

Except that it doesn’t. This is kind of an anti-spoiler, talking about something that won’t happen in upcoming episodes, but they are not going to go through with the lottery on Monday; in fact, they won’t do it next week at all. You would be amazed to know how far you are between right now and the lottery. Years will pass. Civilizations will rise and fall. These characters will continue talking about how imminent the lottery is, and who’s going to be part of it, and what happens if we don’t do it, and they still just keep on not doing it. It turns out that the Woman in White is not so much a harbinger as a suggestion.

Monday: Willie Loomis Must Die: The Movie.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Morgan asks, “Are you willing to have Mother join in the lottery too, Gabriel?” Gabriel says, “There more there are —” and Morgan finishes, “— the less chance there is of you being one.” Being one what?

Gabriel says that Morgan can’t keep him here: “Will you keep me in my room — locked?”

At the beginning of act 4, when Bramwell stands up from his chair, the boom mic can be briefly seen overhead.

Monday: Willie Loomis Must Die: The Movie.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

28 thoughts on “Episode 1200: The Woman in What?

  1. One year the Dark Shadows Character A Day calendar listed Nancy Barrett as having played the Woman in White on an episode in 1971. As noted here, however, that character was never seen on the show.

  2. The sad thing is, they have perfectly good footage of KLS being the ghost of Josette, walking around the grounds of Collinwood dressed totally in white. Now, it’s in black and white, but a quick “and when she appears all the color goes out of the world” would fix that as well. Maybe they would have had to pay KLS something, but at least the audience could have seen the Woman In White.

    1. That and all outdoor scenes were filmed in color, not black and white. Presumably they did this because they didn’t know when the network would switch DS from BW to color.

    2. My first thought! If there’s anything DS should have tons of, it’s ghost footage! And how hard would it be to bung a stand-in into some winding sheets and Chromakey?

      If you’re going to go to the trouble of reading Wilkie Collins you might as well USE THE VISUAL.

  3. PT 1840 seems to be a return to the pre-Barnabas Dark Shadows, with less monster and more suspense.
    And now that I’ve had a chance of a better look – – does anyone else find that Keith Prentice looks like Mitch Ryan? What a shame Prentice didn’t replace Ryan, He’d have been a better match than Anthony George, and I’m sure Vicki and Josette would have liked doing love scenes with him as Burke and Jeremiah.

    Those are SOME bushy eyebrows Justin’s got! Quite startling in profile.

    Do we have a family tree for the PT Collinses? Julia, Flora and Justin would have been in the same generation as Barnabas and Jeremiah (or didn’t Jeremiah exist in PT?) Are Julia and Justin from Millicent’s branch of the family? Or is any of the lineage gone into in the time left?

    But I don’t see how what’s being set up here is a potentially rich story; there’s just not a lot of places to go, plotline-wise. One love triangle, a spooky room, and occasional knife murders (incidentally, shouldn’t there have been an awful lot of blood to clean up in the parlor? Two people have been skewered, for Pete’s sake!), a drunk, and an adopted daughter. Sure, some other soaps could run with it for years. But this is a bit weak after vampires and witches, werewolves and zombies. You could get soaps on all the networks, there was only one Dark Shadows.

    1. Do we have a family tree for the PT Collinses? Julia, Flora and Justin would have been in the same generation as Barnabas and Jeremiah (or didn’t Jeremiah exist in PT?) Are Julia and Justin from Millicent’s branch of the family? Or is any of the lineage gone into in the time left?

      TBH, I don’t think anyone is related to the Collins family we know and love.

  4. “Willie Loomis Must Die: The Movie”:
    Is it?
    Could it be?
    Dare I hope?
    Dan Curtis & co may have lost interest in hooking an audience, but you’ve certainly hooked this audience member with that possibility. I’d had other ideas about what I might do on Christmas Day, but to heck with them, I’ll be checking here obsessively the whole time.

  5. “Dark Shadows has given up the ghost.”

    I bow to you, sir.

    On another subject, no one really thought much about Frid’s age and increasingly baggy alcoholic countenance when he was Barnabas, but as Bramwell–even with a few good scenes–he looks to me out of place. It’s not that I only want him to play Barnabas. It’s that suddenly we can see how WRONG he was for this whole thing–a fortysomething 3rd-rate summer stock Shakespearean who couldn’t keep his lines (or his dramatic through-line) straight. Can it be that his weird miscasting is what made Dark Shadows a triumph? (Frid always told the story that Dan Curtis selected someone else from the auditions and it was either a mix-up or sabotage–on the part of Danny’s favorite writer, who knew Frid–that got him cast.(

    1. Vampires are always sexy even if they look like Nosferatu. It’s the whole Victorian seduction thing; although to modern eyes it’s more rapey than romantic. As soon as Frid loses that vampire cachet, he’s just a Mr. Ordinary, not that handsome, sorta boring guy. His turn as a romantic hero made me cringe. Lara Parker does okay, but she was so much more interesting with a little deviltry mixed in. Catherine lacks spark for me. But who knows? Maybe some of Danny’s insights will change my views!

  6. Instead of whining and pacing, the Collins brothers should get pro-active and either call in an exorcist or conduct a séance to contact the spirit in the room to find out what the real problem is.
    1841 PT wouldn’t have been half as boring if they’d just called in PT Reverend Trask.

    1. Didn’t PT Julia and PT Flora say that Trask owned a bakery in their timeline?

      That might have been even better. PT Trask could have showed up to battle the curse through the power of the Bible and good scones.

    2. Nah, that was their lead-up to the 1840 adventures. Stokes tried to run off Gerard.
      AND we had some attempt to exorcise Quentin’s spirit before 1897.

      But third time is a charm? Too bad the Trasks are bakers in PT.

      1. Yeah – cause we know he curses Satan while he’s kneading the bread dough! He’s a Trask – it’s in his blood.
        Sorry, I’m just missing Jerry Lacy already.

  7. Wake me up when Thayer David hints there might be a vampire on the great estate, then gives his eulogy for the series.

  8. Maybe the Woman in White was naked with only a white ribbon in her hair. The ABC-TV censor may have snipped that scene away forever.

  9. Oh, lordy, I was afraid I’d have to read Wilkie Collins [coincidence?] again! This episode was definitely preferable to Collins’ “The Woman in White,” no matter what standards we apply…

  10. They stole the title from a very good Victorian novel, but unfortunately didn’t bother to steal any of the plot. There was an evil count in The Woman in White, but he wasn’t too much like Petofi, except maybe for liking music.

  11. For those fans who were watching the show live in 1971 – was it obvious the end was near?

    Did they know the show was ending?

    Or were they expecting Barnabas would make an appearance?

    I recall when first watching these episodes expecting more connections to the show as we had known it, as the episode guide was very light on details and not entirely accurate, but I also was keenly aware the end was near.

    What was the view in 1971?

    1. I had read it was ending in TV Guide, so the information was out there, although I don’t remember how much in advance of the ending it was published. I hoped we would get back to the original cast, but we never did.

      It was the end of an era for me. DS started just after my dad remarried and we moved to a new house with a new family. It ended my senior year of High School. Unfortunately for me, my dad got a new job that year and we moved to a completely new school DS was something familiar in a new world, so having it end was hard. It worked out in September I went off to college and started another phase in my life, DS was something I could count on at a time where my life was changing in ways that were hard. I think that made me not hate 1841 PT, because at least there were people I recognized when I was living in a place where I didn’t know anyone. Bramwell and Catherine weren’t Barnabas and Angelique, but at least they were close enough to give me something that was familiar.

    2. <

      blockquote>For those fans who were watching the show live in 1971 – was it obvious the end was near? I remember the first time I watched it on SFC not knowing when it would end and waiting for the original characters to show up.

    3. I was a sophomore in high school in 1971 and had been a DS fan for years. I found out the show was ending soon and was SO depressed. DS every day had gotten me through so many bad times, teen angst, etc. One new kid in our class actually got to visit the DS studio and meet all of our beloved stars, and had been gifted with an honest-to-goodness script from the 1841 PT storyline that all us fans took turns borrowing and acting out. The last day DS aired was one of the saddest I remember from my teen years.

  12. I really thought I was the most dedicated of viewers back in the day, but I honestly don’t remember this storyline at all. Kinda speaks to the way the entire show went “slip cousin’s away.”

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