“You are a demon — and the demons in me are in league with you!”
There is something about him that stirs you.
All it took was one look, and he knew. He can see that you’re lonely and unhappy, and he knows what you really want. He knows who you really are. He understands you better than you know yourself.
That moment you had together… it meant something. You can’t deny it, and wish it away. He felt it, too. And he remembers.
You try to fight it, but you can’t. You are drawn to him. It doesn’t matter what you say; you don’t have a choice. In the end, he will have you.
And then you have him arrested, I guess, or he gets shot in a duel. That’s usually how those stories end up.
So this is the state of play, as regards romance on the ABC-TV daytime soap opera Dark Shadows. Bramwell Collins and Catherine Harridge were childhood sweethearts, who promised to love each other for as long as they lived. This turned out to be true, but Bramwell didn’t realize that there was a loophole in that arrangement, which is that she’s also in love with somebody else.
She’s not marrying for money, per se, but she wants the life that Morgan can give her, and naturally there are expenses involved. Morgan is handsome, and devoted, and he’s tender with her, if she doesn’t accidentally say something that makes him angry.
Catherine has decided that she’s going to marry Morgan tonight, because he might be killed by a spooky door in the next couple of days, and she doesn’t want to lose access to that life that she’s so interested in. She’s leaving the house to get her sister and maybe a quick costume change, but she runs into Bramwell, who asks her to come with him.
“Please, do me this one last favor,” he says, “and come with me, just now.” And she comes, for some reason. I don’t know where she thinks he’s planning to lead her, but the next time we see her, she’s having second thoughts in a pretty urgent way.
He takes her to some dingy room in his run-down mansion, and tells her some important facts about the near future. He’s locking her in, and he’s not going to let her out until she gains her senses, which for him has a very specific meaning. This is like an escape room, but instead of cryptogram clues hidden in the wallpaper, there’s Bramwell’s pants, and the only way to solve the puzzle is to stay here until somebody else comes along and points a gun at him.
“You can’t keep me prisoner!” she cries, but apparently he can, because that’s what he’s doing.
“I’ll never let you go,” he swears. “I will never let you marry Morgan Collins!” And then he grabs her and kisses her passionately, which she does not appreciate.
So we have seen this story before, a year ago, when chemistry experiment John Yaeger kidnapped Maggie Evans, and locked her up in a room with bread and water and her own hairbrush for some reason, and told her that he would keep her there until she gave into his monstrous charms and fell in love with him.
It didn’t work, because Maggie was rescued by the heroic vampire Barnabas Collins, who had previously operated his own romantic detention center a few years earlier, with a different Maggie.
Now, the interesting thing is that these previous padlocked love nests were explicitly depicted as terrifying and criminal, and nobody thought that maybe Maggie should just stop fighting her overwhelming passion for whatever guy managed to drag her home. These men were villains, at least for the duration of the current storyline.
But this little trip to Stockholm is more complicated than that. “I’m not letting you out of here until you gain your senses!” swears Bramwell, and to some degree, the intention here is that he has a good point.
From the point of view of the show, Catherine is acting in a way that is contrary to her nature. She is consciously suppressing her affection for the man that she truly loves, in order to gain money and status with Morgan, and things would be a lot easier for everyone if she would simply admit the truth.
I mean, locking her in a room is being coded as frightening and wrong: that moment when he locked the door and kissed her while she struggled was the episode-ending cliffhanger, because she is in physical danger and he is out of control. But then there’s the melting.
The next scene opens with an interesting visual: Bramwell seated, looking down at his hands, while Catherine lectures him.
She starts the scene by saying, “Well?” and he gazes at the floor, as he answers, “You needn’t ask me, my answer is still the same.” For a moment, at least, she’s the inquisitor, and he’s a stubborn child, refusing to accept responsibility for the mess that he’s made. He knows that he’s doing something wrong, but he doesn’t want to undo it.
There’s a bit of dialogue repeated in these scenes that make Bramwell a more vulnerable figure. In the previous scene, they say:
Catherine: Be sensible, Bramwell — Morgan will come and look for me! If he finds out what you’ve done, he may kill you!
Bramwell: And I may kill him!
And then they do it again, here:
Catherine: Morgan will come to look for me, he’s sure to come here!
Bramwell: And when he does, I will deal with him.
These threats aren’t meant to be taken seriously; they’re childish boasting. Morgan is physically bigger than Bramwell, and stronger, in terms of social position. Bramwell doesn’t have a weapon, and even if he did, he couldn’t get away with hurting one of the rich Collinses. Bramwell can overpower Catherine, because she’s a woman, but he can’t bully Morgan, and he knows it.
That realization is the key to the scene. Bramwell can try forcing a kiss on Catherine, but he has a weapon more powerful than his arms and fists: he has the memories of their time together as children.
He starts telling her the story of how they met, and the day that he won her over, and his memories are sharp as crystal, because he has been obsessing over them and allowing them to dominate his life.
“I tried to see you every day,” he recalls, “but you made it very difficult for me.” People tend to do that, with stalkers. “It was a Sunday, the sun was shining. You were wearing lavender, and I told you that you were the fairest thing I ever saw.”
And here’s the sales pitch: “When it was almost dark, we found ourselves back at the church. We stood there, and we looked up at it, and I told you that someday there would be another service, for the both of us. We would both be part of it, and part of each other, for all time. I don’t think that two people were ever happier than we were, that moment.”
That moment is meaningful for both of them, and she smiles at the recollection — but it means something different to him. As far as he’s concerned, that moment locks her into this relationship, permanently. She is not allowed to change her mind or her circumstances, and acknowledging that moment means that she gives up her right to any moment that follows.
So she says yes.
There are several ways to interpret this turn in the scene, and it’s easy to make the case that this is not truly consent, no matter how eager she appears to be. Bramwell has locked her in a room, he has demonstrated that he can physically overpower her, and he has made it clear that he’s willing to be violent, to get what he wants. If this is a yes, it’s a tainted yes at best.
Still, the intention of the writers is clear: in this moment, right now, she is being sincere when she says that she loves him, and she leaps into his arms. The writers do not consider this moment to be a sexual assault, even if we do.
And then they do something extraordinary, which I don’t think Dark Shadows has ever done before: a serious post-coital scene. Dark Shadows is a lot less focused on sex or even romance than you would expect from a soap opera — they’ve spent years getting their kicks from special effects and metaphors. We’ve seen some happy moments post-vampire bite, like Carolyn’s hangover from Barnabas, and Jeff’s adult time with Angelique, and there might be a Daphne/Gerard dream sequence somewhere that involves an intimate moment, but we’ve never seen anything like Catherine lolling on the bed with a dreamy smile, as Bramwell buttons up his collar. That is something new.
So this is John Yaeger’s fantasy come true: a guy standing solidly between a girl and the exit, and having it turn into bona-fide romance. And for me, at least, it is creepy and off-putting.
Like I said, the writers’ intention is clearly that this was a choice that Catherine was happy to make, but that’s the difference between real consent and fictional consent: in the real world, we don’t have writers with a particular storyline agenda determining how you feel. No, from their point of view, Catherine did not get raped, and viewers who find this scene romantic have all the textual evidence that they need to support that reading. From my point of view, they depicted a woman making that choice in an abusive and threatening environment, and I find it upsetting.
Catherine’s exit from the scene is suitably complex: she goes from admitting that she enjoyed her time with Bramwell, straight to licking her lips over her future with Morgan.
“I know the kind of life I want,” she smiles, as Bramwell looks on, incredulous. “And I know I would never find it with you. Yet I will find it with him! It’s as simple as that, and you — you must accept it!”
She seems pretty confident about that impending acceptance, although Quentin still has to show up with a loaded revolver to extricate her from captivity, so it’s no wonder that it all happens again, three episodes later.
This time, he just walks right into her house, without permission. She says “Go away, Bramwell,” and “I don’t want to see you,” but that does not have the effect that she’s hoping for.
“A lover’s touch,” he says, stroking her cheek. “Only a few hours ago, there was nothing you wanted more than mine. Has that changed? Can that change?”
For her part, she goes full-on Fifty Shades. “Don’t be gentle,” she murmurs. “Frighten me, threaten me, make me run away from you, but please… don’t be gentle with me.” And then she jumps up on his lips for round two.
This time, they’re halfway to the bedroom, when she tears herself away.
“Oh, you know me so well,” she sobs, “better than I know myself. You are a demon – and the demons in me are in league with you! But I won’t have it! Get out of here! Just get out!”
I like that line, about the demons. It’s a clever line, and it expresses an internal conflict inside a character who is more complicated than the women we’ve been spending time with recently. A few weeks ago, back in 1840, Samantha was fiery and mercurial, easily jumping from “I love you” to “I hate you” and back during the course of a conversation, but she wasn’t a complex person — they were just different manifestations of the same core, childish fury. Joanna was obsessed with bargaining back Quentin’s love, and then suddenly decided she was on Team Daphne, but that played as the writers’ convenience more than an interior conflict.
So I’m not complaining about having a character with melodramatic emotions, making contradictory decisions; that’s typical soap opera behavior, even when you’re not borrowing from Wuthering Heights. Still, it’s a little troubling that all the other women on the show are getting treated like this, too.
For example, two weeks ago, during one of the Parallel Time previews, Quentin walks in on Daphne and Catherine talking about the locked room, and the Collins family secrets. He barks, “Catherine!” and tells her that Morgan’s waiting for her downstairs. Daphne starts to follow her sister, and Quentin grabs her arm, with a stern, “No! You stay right here.”
Catherine stares at him, and he turns and says, “It’s all right, Catherine; I’m not going to hurt her,” which is not as comforting as he may have intended. “Not going to hurt her” is supposed to be baseline.
Catherine leaves, and Quentin starts hollering at Daphne. “I’ve been gone for seven years. Do you know why?” She does; he was in prison for manslaughter. “That’s right!” he says. “I got into a fight with a man, and I killed him.” Daphne turns away, but he keeps shouting at her. “I killed him, because he was spreading stories about my family — the same kind of stories that old Ezra Robinson is telling you!”
He gives her a lecture about slandering his family, and then steps right up to her face, towering over her. “Do I make myself absolutely clear to you?” he asks. She says that he does.
She says that she’s very sorry, and he smiles, and all of a sudden, the music cue changes from worried violin trills to romantic woodwinds. “All right,” he smiles, “it’s all forgotten. Now, let’s talk about you.”
And now we’re in a meet-cute scene, where the handsome man smiles and flirts, and tells her that he hasn’t seen her for seven years, and he likes what he sees. Suddenly, the threatening ex-con who grabbed her by the arm and talked about the dude that he killed is charming David Selby again, and she finds this irresistible, as she naturally would.
Plus there’s the scene later in today’s episode, when Melanie meets Kendrick at the gazebo. She likes him, and she’s lying to him; she says that she doesn’t know what happened to his sister, and she doesn’t reveal that she considers herself responsible for Stella’s death. Overcome with grief and guilt, she starts to sob, and he pulls her in for a comforting hug — and then kisses her on the mouth, which is not what the signals should be telling him is appropriate behavior.
She kisses him back, but then pulls away, as he keeps going in for a kiss, several times. She gently pushes him away, and says, “Please… please don’t.”
He says, “What’s wrong?” and she chokes, “Don’t come back here, Kendrick! Don’t come back here ever again! Ever! Please!” Then she flees from the scene.
And Kendrick is left standing there, in the gentle glow of a blue-tinged spotlight, thinking to himself, Man, she really digs me.
Monday: The Eyes of Children.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Julia tells Morgan that Stella was strangled to death. If that’s true, then she must have been strangled with a knife, because that’s what we saw stuck in her chest yesterday.
Morgan asks Julia, “Will I have to lead her through my madness of — my world of madness, like my mother did my father?”
Catherine tells Morgan, “I just need you to hold me, that’s all.” When Morgan embraces her, he mutters, “Me too.”
Morgan asks, “Is there anything wrong, for the reason that you suddenly came here this evening?”
Morgan also trips over the start of the line, “We’ll get married tonight.”
When Melanie runs away from Kendrick, the studio light is visible above.
At the start of Melanie’s scene with Bramwell, she has a brief coughing fit.
Melanie tells Bramwell, “I always thought they were just being cruel, when they wouldn’t let me go and leave my — lead my own life.”
When Morgan and Bramwell talk about the ship, there are footsteps from the studio.
Behind the Scenes:
The Minister is played in this episode and the next by Emory Bass, who appeared in three episodes in January 1970 as Mr. Best, the supernatural entity that brought Amanda and Quentin into the underworld. This is his last appearance on the show. After this, Bass had several Broadway roles: he was in the middle of a three-year run in 1776 as James Wilson, followed by Lysistrata (1972), Irene (1973-74) and Terrence McNally’s insane-asylum comedy Bad Habits (1974). After that, he was a regular on the second season of the sitcom Angie (1980), and had guest roles on a bunch of TV shows, including The Jeffersons, Hart to Hart, Three’s Company, Silver Spoons and Webster.
Monday: The Eyes of Children.
— Danny Horn