Episode 1203: Frocks and Violence

“I think the only thing wrong with the Collinses is a hundred and sixty years of accumulated fear!”

Well, that spooky door is still at it, I suppose. I took a couple episodes off from writing about the 1841 Parallel Collinses, and I thought maybe they would have gotten hold of the situation by now, but no, they’re in just as much of a mess as they were in on Friday, maybe more so.

You see, there’s a really angry door in this version of Collinwood, an evil parallel door that has made different choices, and everyone in the family is afraid of getting on its bad side. You can’t let the architecture get ahead of you like this; at a certain point you have to tell the doors who’s in charge. You can’t live your life trying to make your doors happy; after a while, the walls start getting jealous, and then you’ve got real problems.

The current door jam they’ve gotten themselves into is that sweet young Melanie Collins has suddenly raided the kitchen and gone after the houseguests, waking up Catherine in the middle of the night and terrorizing her with a carving knife.

“It’s because of him!” she cries. “I’m doing it for him!” which is another one of those annoying unheralded pronouns that make late-stage Dark Shadows mysteries so tedious to try to keep up with. I assume that she’s talking about Brutus Collins, some random ancestor who got involved in a family curse that appears to be both hereditary and unnecessary to explain. He doesn’t seem to like Catherine much, and to be honest, I’m not really sold on her myself. Maybe we could come to some kind of arrangement.

Catherine’s struggle kicks up a good deal of commotion, so in walks Melanie’s aunt Julia Collins, who may not be a psychiatrist or a blood specialist in this timeline, but she’s about to get a lot of experience in both areas.

“Melanie!” barks Julia, using her command voice. “Put that knife down, do you hear me?” That’s a yes on the hearing, a no on putting the knife down.

Melanie turns to look at the interloper, which allows Catherine to scuttle out of reach, but she’s still got that knife raised above her head. “I must please him!” she growls. “You cannot stop me!” The Collins family needs to get hold of some ranged weapons, to deal with this kind of scenario. Knowing Collinwood, there’s probably a set of loaded duelling pistols in the top drawer of the dresser right behind Melanie, but she’s in the way, and nobody wants to go out into the hall to get the crossbow. This is why you should always have two sets of loaded duelling pistols in every room.

Julia manages to get hold of the knife without further incident; apparently, the magic words are “I’ll take you to your room and give you some hot cocoa.” This is how Parallel Julia gives people sedatives, with promises of cocoa.

It’s simple when you know the secret, really; it’s just that Catherine’s a guest and didn’t get the full briefing. They should give people pamphlets or something, like a Frequently Asked Questions about how to survive the night.

Catherine wants to understand what’s going on, and unfortunately, the second responder is her fiance Morgan, a big stiff blockhead whose information retrieval system is based entirely on having a line of sight on the teleprompters. Observe the technique.

“We’re going to talk about it tonight,” says Catherine, looking directly at the person that she’s speaking to. “Now, what about Melanie?”

Morgan turns all the way around, plants his feet, squares his shoulders, and begins his nightly reading.

“It’s very difficult,” he says, searching the skies. “I don’t know where to begin!” These are the truest words that Morgan has ever said.

“Begin at the beginning,” Catherine advises, wondering how specific she’s going to have to get in the moments to come.

“It was ten years ago,” he says, firmly. “The night my father went into the locked room.”

“You mean, that room has got something to do with what happened here tonight?”

“Yes,” he says, nervously, because now he has to change position slightly, and he doesn’t like to lose sight of the prompter. “But I — I don’t know exactly what it is!” This is another bit of method acting.

They move onto the bed, and Catherine leans forward as far as she can, challenging Morgan to look her in the face while he speaks to her. He does not accept the challenge.

So, I don’t know, I don’t want to spend all day making fun of Keith Prentice reading off the teleprompter. I get that there are a lot of lines to learn, and he’s in five out of five episodes this week. But this is not really that difficult of a speech. It’s not like it’s poetry or anything, it’s straight linear narration of a fairly dull event.

“It was later the next evening… We were all seated at the dinner table, but Melanie’s chair was empty. We began looking for her.” He manages to break away from the teleprompter for his cue to Catherine, which he delivers in her direction: “It was Quentin who finally found her outside the door of the locked room.” Then the camera focuses on Catherine for a while, and when we cut back to Morgan, there he is reading the script again. “Her whole personality had changed,” he reads. “She had become someone else.”

Poor Lara Parker is really trying to emote right now; you can see how desperate she is to connect emotionally with the other actor who’s allegedly being paid to be her scene partner. Meanwhile, he occasionally throws her a troubled glance, and then continues performing the Big Finish audiobook version of the scene.

But these are mere trifles. The real problem is that this has been going on for ten years, and nobody in the family has done a goddamn thing to increase their understanding of this nightmare that they inhabit. Melanie is sometimes possessed by the spirit of another person, and they haven’t made the effort to figure out who it is, why it happens or how to keep them away from the cutlery. Literally the only thing we know is that she likes hot cocoa, which was a wild guess after several years of offering coffee, wine coolers and crème de menthe.

I mean, it’s not like they have a lot of other interests; they don’t seem to be preparing for an important figure skating competition or anything. The only thing they talk about is the curse on their family, what happened to Justin, what’s happening to Melanie, the lottery and Brutus Collins, which are all the same subject anyway. They’ve managed to get us up to speed on every single piece of available information over the course of about five half-hours, with extra time for repeating themselves and taking regular breaks for a word about Lipton Tea.

This mid-sized family has been discussing this problem non-stop since literally before any of them were even born, and they don’t even know what’s supposed to happen if they don’t have the lottery. They honestly haven’t the faintest idea.

Now they’ve been handed a new piece of the puzzle — Melanie grabs a knife and tries to skewer a close friend of the family, which has never happened before after a decade of carefully bracing themselves for a step two — and what do they do? Do they elbow Melanie into an interrogation room with a trained hostage negotiator, an exorcist and a bottomless mug of hot cocoa? They do not. What they do is, they take her to her bedroom, they leave her there, and then they don’t even tell her that it happened. They are utterly determined to bury this secret, hiding it away from everybody in the world, up to and including themselves.

“It will never happen again!” Morgan swears, looking in the wrong direction. “I can promise you that!” But have they ever thought of refinishing the door? Maybe a makeover could help to break the ice. There’s got to be a way that we can cheer that door up.

Tomorrow: Minimum Security.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Catherine tells Morgan, “Well, I think I — you owe me an explanation!”

Morgan tells Catherine, “In the morning, we went looking for Father, and we were shocked to discover Melanie in there with him. She was — she was cradling in her arms!”

Catherine says, “But that’s not possible! You know that!” Morgan’s delayed response: “I know, that’s… that’s what we all… think.”

Quentin tells Julia, “Violence must manista- manifest itself, I mean, through — through someone. And when we brought Father out of the room, he was the one who had violent streaks. Now he’s dead. But violence must manifest itself through someone!”

Melanie is playing Chopin’s Ballade no. 4 in F Minor, op. 52, which was composed in summer 1842 and published in 1843. Apparently, Chopin made different choices as well.

There’s some talking in the studio when Melanie walks away from Julia, and as she passes the lamp, you can clearly hear someone saying “good night”.

Catherine tells Daphne that Morgan said this was the first time Melanie was violent. Daphne says, “Oh, you thought that would console you, Morgan thought that!”

During Catherine and Daphne’s conversation, there’s a hiss on the audio for about twelve seconds.

Tomorrow: Minimum Security.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

22 thoughts on “Episode 1203: Frocks and Violence

  1. While I do enjoy having Keith Prentice looking straight at ME every time he delivers a line – because, honestly, who wouldn’t? – you’d think he’d eventually get better at it in the time he has left on the show, but I don’t recall that ever happening. Granted, I tended to play MINECRAFT on my laptop with this playing in the background on the TV once this storyline started, but I’d always look up when I heard his voice – and he’d always be looking back, woodenly.

    So, yeah. Neither Frid nor Grayson, those prompter readers extraordinaire, have anything on Prentice. Makes me wonder if they had to have cue cards on the set of THE BOYS IN THE BAND…

    1. I bet Prentice did fine onstage–that cast was supposedly crack. It was Frid who screwed up even when he had only one script to memorize. No one likes to talk about it but his late-in-life stage appearance in Mass Appeal was reportedly excruciating to behold. My favorite line from one of the reunion panels was Dan Curtis’s “Jonathan could go up in the middle of his name.”

  2. The film of the original cast of Boys in the Band is a splendid serving of ensemble acting, all the roles deeply inhabited and expressively played. (For me, the TV-film of the revival doesn’t compare–odd casting, blank portrayals in the supporting roles, nothing like.) And Prentice played dark, resentful roles there (originating one in early readings, then branching out to another) with conviction. So I have no idea what happened here, but I remember resenting him in every Dark Shadows scene, and not just because Morgan’s a stubbornly dull character. He must have hated the job. (Although I have no idea who could have made this character interesting–Jerry Lacy? Even the line-garbling James Storm?)

    1. Jerry could have brought something to the role–the chance to play a non Trask would have had its deep appeal, if nothing else.

  3. I also just looked him up and learned that Prentice was the understudy for Rolf in the original Broadway Sound of Music. That will be sufficient head-blown flabbergastery for the day.

    1. That is crazy, isn’t it? I imagine his career would have taken a very different trajectory if he had been on stage a couple more times during the run of that show. That being said, in his defense, doing stage work and movie work is a very different animal than doing almost live television. Besides, I’m sure that the lure of the teleprompter was more than most people could manage to avoid. If only he could have reined in his shouting a bit…

    1. Ah, yes, Mr Hall, we wondered about those Regency stripes and how far they’d wandered from their role in upholstery. Those, along with the huge bunchy peignoirs and overstuffed bound-up dresses on Catherine especially–how did she get out of that to do the deed with Bramwell?

      1. Well, coming at it from a slightly different direction, I used to wonder how ladies managed to to utilize comfort stations (restrooms) in a timely fashion without the assistance of several ladies maids.

        The answer is that undergarments have changed. While there were many layers worn under those historic dresses, those undergarments were designed in a manner that did not require removal before or a woman could attend to the various necessities of life.

        …. in my head, a few parallel realities away, I can hear some male immortal muttering wistfully about the old days and the sensation when his hands gathered up and raised layers of fine, lace trimmed linen, followed by the press of fabric when a gown and multiple petticoats were bunched and crushed, between two passionate bodies.

        😳 … I really need to quit eavesdropping on parallel realities

      1. To be fair, that thing was clearly created specifically to be worn over her lilac dress because she didn’t have time to change–you can see it peeking out at the bottom. So of course it was huge.

  4. This is so cool, hearing a different take on the Bramwell/Catherine storyline.

    Not really. It’s boring. I’m just here to support Danny.

    1. Hubby is watching with me and says Bramwell looks more like Daniel Boone than like Barnabas. Lol
      I’m the only one, but Barnabas was my favorite character when I was 12, and he still is now. This Bramwell is an abomination!

  5. Let me guess.
    They haven’t invented seances yet in Parallel Time? I mean they have them in 1971 PT, though they’re not particularly productive. But a seance would help figure out who’s jumping in and out of Melanie, and maybe what’s pissed off that room so bad (rising damp? not enough occasional tables? a berber rug?). They might even get a line on who that guy was in the parlor with the knife stuck in him.

    1. Right? OG Collinses would have had like, six seances by now. Of course no one would follow up on anything they managed to learn, but dammit, they’d light those candles, tell everyone DON’T BREAK THE CIRCLE EVER THAT’S SUPER IMPORTANT, immediately break the circle, and start channeling.

  6. The key difference between this time band and the other two (I maintain there are two, I’ll die on that hill) is that the US seems to have developed without any law enforcement whatsoever.

    These PT1841 posts are terrific. If I ever choose to watch these episodes again (once on TV and once on DVD has thus far sufficed), these posts will surely be a support. They consistently help me get through Sproat’s slower episodes when I’m working through the high 500s..

  7. The portrait of Thomas Jefferson by the piano was an interesting touch. It reminded me of Joshua Collins, who was so proud to tell the Countess in 1795 that “France has followed our example and become a Republic!” that he could only have been a supporter of Jefferson’s party. We see that the Parallel Collinses were Jeffersonians as well.

    Also interesting to think of alternative possibilities for casting. Dark Shadows had so much overlap with the original Broadway cast of 1776 (David Ford, Daniel F. Keyes, Emory Bass, Virginia Vestoff) that I tend to assume that any of the actors from that show were available for it. So the Thomas Jefferson portrait makes me wonder what Ken Howard would have done with Morgan Collins. Considering the importance of portraits on Dark Shadows, it seems possible that its presence is a sign that they tried to get Ken Howard for the part. Perhaps it was going to be a joke to have Broadway’s Thomas Jefferson strutting around in front of a portrait of the original.

  8. PT 1841 wins the prize for most garish costuming. Just look at the pictures above for a preview. I mean….wow

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