“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.
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!”
— Danny Horn