Episode 1204: Minimum Security

“Tears never got anyone out of anything!”

Let’s talk about the decision-making process for the Collins family here in 1841 Parallel Time, a next-door existence where people have made different choices, all of them terrible.

In this version of the timeline, the Collinses are being held captive by a room in their own house. Refusing all entreaties and resistant to redecoration, this room has bedeviled them since before the house was even built. The room’s been there since 1680, and as I recall, they finished construction around 1795; they must have architected this entire mansion around the sinister locked door, which was floating in the air a couple stories above sea level.

I wish that I could say that was the stupidest choice this family ever made, but they have been breaking that record non-stop for as long as anyone can remember.

Several weeks ago, we were an ear-witness to a troubling incident in the parallel parlor featuring Stella Young, a non-essential worker acting as the private secretary to Flora Collins. Stella was hired to take care of the correspondence and the accounting, and Flora was very clear that she was not employed to respond to strange, blood-curdling screams that she heard in the night.

The last time that we saw her, Stella received some emergency career advice from Flora’s son Gabriel, who recommended that she either lock her bedroom door at night or, preferably, leave the house altogether and find new employment. Unfortunately, Stella didn’t get a lot of time to think it over; at the end of her shift, she found her boss’ husband Justin hiding behind the door.

“Did you just come in?” she asked, surprised, and followed up with several more questions, including why don’t you answer me, have you been hiding there behind the door this whole time, why do you have that knife in your hand, and what’s wrong with you? This didn’t get her anywhere, so then she started screaming for him to leave her alone, which he didn’t.

We didn’t see anything of Stella after that. Her brother Kendrick came by a couple days later looking for her, and they told him that she’d suddenly decided to skip town without leaving a forwarding address. Our assumption, at that point, was that Stella had been murdered, the body buried in the woods and the whole matter hushed up by the family, as anyone would do.

But we discover today that Julia and Flora made an even stranger decision than that. They managed to wrestle Justin to the ground, saving Stella’s life, and I guess instead of saying thank you, she made some careless remark about going to the police, and they said, did we or did we not tell you to lock your bedroom door?

So Julia and Flora did the only sensible thing, which was to bring the victim upstairs to the tower room, gag her, tie her to a chair and leave her there, except for scheduled feeding times.

And I have to say, as tiresome as I find this version of the Collins family, the thing that I’m enjoying is their reckless disregard for human life. Keeping Stella prisoner, with no particular strategy for what to do next, is the slap-happiest thing they could possibly have done. They really cannot think all the way from A to B, so they figured they’d keep her here as a pet for the foreseeable, and hope that something turns up.

The plot point is so silly that Joan Bennett’s brain tries to subconsciously rewrite a new draft. “We didn’t want to lock the girl up, Melanie,” Flora alleges, “but if Julia and I hadn’t come in at just the right minute, Justin would have killed her! He wasn’t being himself! We had to go to the police — we had to lock her up, or she would have gone to the police!”

So this is what we’ve come to, all the way out on this parallel limb. The Collins family that we met in 1966 turned out to be fairly toxic — Elizabeth killed her husband and buried him in the basement, Roger let an innocent man go to jail for manslaughter, David committed attempted murder within two weeks of making our acquaintance — but we’ve never seen this kind of coordinated criminal activity perpetrated by the entire family.

And Flora really hasn’t had much of a chance to establish herself as a character yet, except as an accessory to murder. Last week, she found the corpse of a complete stranger in the parlor, and she and Julia dragged it outside and buried it in the woods. Then she had a couple conversations about the lottery, a couple conversations about scheduling her son’s wedding, and now we find out that she’s been holding a woman captive.

I suppose this is the inevitable result of the path that the show has been taking, since Sam Hall started writing the show back in late ’67: pick up the pace, with more action, more monsters, more secrets, and less interest in the boring day to day lives of the characters. Don’t worry about romance, unless you can tie it to a tragedy. Never apologize, never explain.

Melanie, who just yesterday was trying to chop up Catherine with a carving knife, is now the voice of sanity and reason.

Flora:  What were we to do? We were so afraid! Try to understand.

Melanie:  Mama, I understand — but it’s wrong!

Julia:  We know that, Melanie.

Melanie:  But you just put the gag back in her mouth! You just locked her in that room again!

And this is my favorite moment: when Melanie says that, Flora turns to look at Julia, and Julia gives her a sharp nod, saying yes, don’t worry about it, we’re still cool. They really are not connecting with the idea that kidnapping is not a long-term solution to this problem.

And it’s really hard to tell how the show expects us to feel about this. We don’t want the Grayson Hall character and the Joan Bennett character to go to jail, with eight weeks left in this already barren wasteland of a storyline. Who are we rooting for, right now?

Julia:  Do you want the police to be here tomorrow, the day of your father’s burial?

Melanie:  They can do nothing to Papa now!

Julia:  But they can to Flora, and to me.

Flora:  Yes. We’re guilty of holding her captive!

Julia:  Her brother will never accept our actions.

Flora:  And they shouldn’t! We both know that. We… we just gave in to our panic!

Melanie says that she understands, which is hard to believe, but they have to figure out something to do. “Her brother was here yesterday,” she says, “and I promised I would help! Please, please do something!”

And Julia turns away, clearly thinking: I wonder if we could kidnap her brother, too.

In lieu of coming up with any positive ideas, Flora says they’ll figure out some way to let Stella go, maybe by hypnotizing her, or cutting her tongue out, or dropping her into the sea.

“They will set you free tonight,” Melanie promises Stella. “They know it was wrong, what they did in locking you here. I know you can never forgive them. Papa is dead. Please don’t make any more trouble for Mama, and for Julia! Please don’t! I’ll see that you go free, I swear I will, but please don’t make any more trouble for them!”

And Stella just looks at her. She doesn’t struggle, or try to speak. She doesn’t tremble, or cry. She just looks into the eyes of madness.

It’s the most remarkable acting choice we’ve seen in a long time, and it comes from an actress who has not previously demonstrated a lot of skill in this area. This is the thousand-yard stare of a person who has interacted with the 1841 Collins family for any significant period of time. This is what they do to people.

Tomorrow: The Bad Behavior of Bramwell,
or Romance and Rape
and Why Nobody Seems to Do Anything About It.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In Act 1, as the scene switches from the tower room to Melanie’s room, the second scene opens on Flora as we hear Melanie and Julia’s footsteps, running to the other set.

When Melanie says to Stella, “They know it was wrong, what they did in locking you here,” someone in the studio clears their throat.

Flora says, “So that’s how he repays — pays his respects to his father!”

Tomorrow: The Bad Behavior of Bramwell,
or Romance and Rape
and Why Nobody Seems to Do Anything About It.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

34 thoughts on “Episode 1204: Minimum Security

    1. I’m honestly having a great time–we’re pretending we’re watching the spinoff, Dim Reflections.

      1. “Dim Reflections,” perfect.

        When PrisonerOfTheNight’s blog, Dark Shadows from the Beginning, was still available, I was always impressed by how he developed his theme that at every moment of the show you can detect signs that at least one person is trying to entertain you. There may be moments when the only person putting on a real show is the set designer, or one of the costumers, or the theremin player, or an extra, but there’s never a moment when everyone gave up simultaneously. That does pay off in those last days.

  1. Whenever I get a notice that I have a Dark Shadows Everyday entry, a smile comes to my face. This was literally laugh out loud funny (maybe we can kidnap the brother too). Hilarious. Thanks Danny!

    1. It’s got the essence of the original insanity of the show–let’s panic, do the absolute stupidest thing we could possibly think of that will only fracture and compound the original problem past any point of solving it, and go from there! Grab a shovel, it’s time to dig another grave.

  2. Happy New Year, everyone.

    As Dark Shadows fans, we have the option of selecting the year and parallel time frame of our choice!

  3. I’m anticipating the next entry. The first time I watched this storyline was “with” the alt.tv.darkshadows (or was it dark.shadows?) newsgroup during a Sci-Fi run while I was taping the show to keep. There were at least 3 camps relating to what happened to Bramwell and Catherine.

    Over the past 20 years, I have been fighting against the “rape as story diversion/choreographed seduction” trope, especially the last 8 years.

    Right now there’s a fight raging on my favourite non-vampire soap opera (whose current Head Writer was One Life to Live’s final HW), where in the last 3 years there have been no fewer than 3 rapes, including one of which has now caused a “happy family”. This is especially troublesome for a show that was led by a rapist and victim as the “romantic leads” for 3 years.

    I tried watching the next episode and fell asleep during it – I’m going to try again so it’s fresh in my mind for the next post. Looking forward to your analysis sir.

    1. Is this soap on the same network that once aired OLtL and DS? I gave up on it when they dug a new well to dredge up a serial killer plot after they ran the last well dry.

    2. I remember the whole is-Bramwell-a-rapist thread on the DS newsgroup! It came to mind as this storyline started up. I remember one person kept arguing for his point of view against others who said it was all wrong.

  4. Ms Gaye Edmond (Stella) does have an intensity in her stare. As a mostly silent role, this could have also been good for Terri Crawford.

    One of my most-enjoyed things to do during slow episodes is to pay more attention to a certain element, like the acting or lighting or sets, than I typically would. During my DVD watch of these episodes, many smaller-part actresses stood out as being…less…skilled …than my memory recalled.

  5. Well it is a relief that Stella wasn’t stabbed to death, but this…THIS is just stupid crazy. What’s their Step 2 in this? And “We’re sorry, we panicked!” is NOT an excuse. Are they gonna wait for Stockholm syndrome to kick in? These PT Collinses need to be in cages!

    1. Too bad Julia can’t whip out her handy dandy medallion and wipe Stella’s memory banks with hypnosis. Instead, she’ll just have to whip out some handy dandy Collins money and pay her off.

      1. Why the bloody hell didn’t they think of that in the first damn place??? If nothing else it would have cost them less than it will now, even if Stella accepts just to get out of this snake pit. “Wait, I’m sorry: is that tiny wad of bills a serious offer? No no no, we’ll need a wheelbarrow. And then a duplicate wheelbarrow. And then every month you are going to be filling up the wheelbarrows for the rest of your fetid lives, got it??”

    2. Nah, they can just pay her off with some Collins hush money. Too bad Julia can’t wipe her memory clean with a sparkly medallion and hypnosis. that would be cheaper.

      1. Or they have to get something on Stella and blackmail her.
        I KNOW! They can kidnap her brother! (Then she’s at least got somebody to talk to. 🙂)

        1. For sure, Julia and Flora could easily blackmail Stella. Threaten to spread the word around town that she’s a crummy secretary who makes up stories about being held hostage and stuff.
          OR – they could just wall her up in the old house basement – blame it on Bramwell!

          1. In real life Maine in the 1840s, the Collinses could have done whatever they wanted to Stella and simply deny her charges if she complained. Those were still the days when employers in Upper New England would get servants by buying indentures at auction while the people under those indentures stood on the block. In an environment like that, there was zero chance that the authorities would investigate charges a staff member brought against the family that controlled every business in town. Anyway, DARK SHADOWS missed its chance to dramatize those facts sometime after the 1795 segment.

        2. Oh.
          They got Stella.
          Hmm, Melanie DID promise that she’d leave tonight.
          And Julia’s still got her $5000; problem solved!
          Now just lure Kendrick up to Widows Hill, et voila.

          1. Dang! Julia and Flora have to haul another dead body out of the house! Good thing they got a back 40 – they’re startin’ to pile up.

            1. If only the PT Collinwood construction plans had included a large incinerator. (Unless someone in PT has invented the wood chipper…)

              “For…for just such an emergency,” as Foghorn Leghorn used to say.

  6. So what’s the deal with Nancy Barrett’s hair? Is it in her contact to get wear it long at all times? They just seem to plop something on top of it (in regular 1840, it was a bird nest) and call it good. It’s weird that they’d invest so much in period costumes and then let the hair go.

    1. I think they were trying for a Hallie-esque youth thing, with Melanie supposedly the young innocent of the group (who’s been possessed for the last decade but nobody told her) so they kept her hair long. If I recall correctly she wore an elaborate hairstyle as MIllicent.

  7. I agree, Margaret. They changed everyone else’s hair except hers, it seems. I never did like her hair after she stopped doing the 60s flip. I also thought her makeup began to look bad as the 70s neared. I think it was the lack of eyeliner.

  8. I liked the triangle parts in Melanie’s hair! I’d never seen that kind of hair style before. I thought it was highly original!

    It’s a certainty the Parallel Time Band Collins family chose to have their house built prior to 1681—maybe by Brutus Collins himself.

    One thing that seems a bit curious is that nobody in the Collins family seems to work in the 1841 Parallel Time Band. Brutus was the only one who appeared to have worked steadily, but that was in 1680 while embezzling money from his partner. (Bramwell has his clichéd ship coming in, although all he ever did was to check whether it had arrived or not.)

    1. It’s mentioned in the DS Wiki that Morgan was an “artist”. When is that mentioned in the series, and is there any elaboration of what sort of artist he is? The writers could have stolen the “Bucket Of Blood” plotline and had him covering his victims in clay…

    2. Quentin said he’s recently been in prison, didn’t he? Or did I mishear that?

      Presumably Gabriel has a steady stipend from the local distillery to work as a taster.

    1. Seriously, what the hell was that green thing? WHY is it on top of her blue dress? It makes Catherine’s “Monet painted this whilst delirious from fever” gown look well thought out.

  9. And Stella just looks at her. She doesn’t struggle, or try to speak. She doesn’t tremble, or cry. She just looks into the eyes of madness.

    I just loved Stella’s silent reaction to this insanity.

    What’s the deal with Melanie’s clown bibs she is wearing?

  10. Speaking of crazy frocks, can we discuss Julia’s whiplash of outfits?

    First she’s Empress Julia, roaming about in her velvet gown with her hair down like Lady Macbeth on a casual day around the castle, then that “Mr. Popper’s Penguins/Mary Poppins background character” green and white thing, then the Miss Havisham Chic black concoction.

    These dresses are completely separate in personality. None of them would even share an elevator with the other two, let alone the same woman.

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