“We’re innocent — yet, terribly guilty!”
You know, sometimes you find yourself in the woods, in the middle of the night, standing over a perfectly rectangular hole that you’ve dug, dressed up like an angry leprechaun and surrounded by plastic trees. You gaze down at the disaster you’ve uncovered — the busted body of your sister Stella, recently killed and inadequately inhumed — and you ask yourself, what the hell kind of soap opera am I living in, anyway?
Because, I mean, you’ve got to give them an A for effort on the haberdashery, but gentlemen, what exactly is going on here?
At this point in our Dark Shadows lives, we’ve seen more than our share of grave robbing misadventures — in fact, Gerard was right on this spot only three weeks ago, unearthing the empty casket where Joanna Mills used to be — but this is the first time that it’s been a purely forensic exercise. The typical Dark Shadows shovel spree involves digging up something that’s supposed to be there, and then dramatically not finding it.
But this time, they shift the soil around and unearth a dead damsel, dumped in the dirt without even the cold comfort of a shoebox to lie down in. I’ve buried parakeets with more ceremony than poor Stella ever had. This isn’t a moment that makes the audience gasp, as we realize that some fiend has crawled out of the grave. It’s just a dead lady, discarded.
This grim graveside discovery is the perfect symbol for this dark, gritty reboot of the mid-19th century that we appear to be stuck in. This parallel Collins clan talks about the supernatural absolutely non-stop — they’re the most aggressively credulous characters we’ve ever seen, a whole army of Mulders without a single Scully to tap the brakes — but when you get right down to it, all they do is scream at people and then stab them with knives. Then the two old ladies of the house go into their Arsenic and Old Lace routine, dragging the empties out to the back pasture to conceal the evidence, temporarily.
So once again, we have to ask ourselves, what if there’s no such thing as the supernatural, and these people are just entirely out of their everloving minds?
The clothing definitely suggests that there’s something deeply fractured about this family. For the first time in the show’s history, they’ve got an actual costume designer making bespoke fashions, rather than just grabbing stuff off the rack at the wardrobe rental agency like they used to do, and they’ve taken the opportunity to go off the deep end.
I mean, take a look at Melanie and Flora, and consider: they have no activities scheduled for the day. This is what they put on when they’re just hanging around the house, with nothing in particular to do. It’s like drag night at the Enchanted Tiki Room around here.
This is the first episode in a hell of a long time that doesn’t include Morgan, Catherine or Bramwell, and personally, I find it refreshing; it almost makes me want to go on living. There are five people on the show today, and one of them is Melanie, who’s undergoing a long-overdue meltdown over the crimes that nobody ever bothered to tell her that she occasionally commits. She’s taking it pretty big — about as big as anyone can, really, without racing up to the top of a tall building and shouting at people through a megaphone that they’ll never take you alive.
If I’ve got my facts straight, Melanie is currently 1-1 on murder attempts. She did kill Stella and didn’t kill Catherine, although she feels bad about both of them. She has these mysterious attacks, you see, in the throes of which she mysteriously attacks people, and then she can’t remember that it happened. I forget exactly how she even knows about it now; there is a deep no-snitching ethos among the Collinwood set, which turns every conversation into a tennis match of denials and evasions.
“You believe I killed her too,” Melanie says to Flora. “Don’t you, Mama?”
“Of course not,” Flora answers, although honestly there aren’t any other suspects. “You mustn’t think that, darling!”
“Mama,” the girl continues, “did I really go to Catherine’s room with a knife?”
Flora cries, “Melanie, don’t put yourself through this!” which is a yes.
“And if I hadn’t been stopped” — please, Melanie! — “Catherine would be dead now, too!” — please, dear, please! — “Wouldn’t she?” — Melanie, please! is basically the gist of the conversation.
“Melanie,” says Flora, finally taking charge of the discussion, “I do not believe you are responsible for Stella’s death! And you must believe that! You must believe it for Julia, and for me, as well as yourself! Because, if we hadn’t locked Stella in that room, she wouldn’t be dead now! So, you see — you must protect us, too!”
And then she delivers the line that should never be crossed: “We’re innocent — yet, terribly guilty!” And the crazy thing is that I think she actually believes it. Dark Shadows characters as a class tend to have an underdeveloped moral sense, but this 1841 crew has snapped their tether completely. I’d put them all under house arrest, but they hardly leave the house as it is, and they still manage to wreak more mayhem per square inch than you could imagine.
Now, you’d think if anyone would know how unhealthy the climate can be around Collinwood these days, it would be the two guys who just discovered a corpse around the corner, but Kendrick and Gerard decide to stop by for a post-crime scene social call. Kendrick is sweet on Melanie, so this is something like a first dance at the junior prom with a girl who you’re hoping will like you enough to tell you that someone in her family killed someone in your family, maybe one of the brothers that nobody cares about, so the confession won’t get in the way of a second date. Gerard’s just here for the brooding.
The interrogation scene is so intense that they have to have a pre-scene in the foyer, where Kendrick says that he wants to talk to them, and Flora says that Melanie should go upstairs, and Kendrick says that he wants Melanie to stay, and Flora says no, but Melanie says that she’d like to stay, and Flora says fine whatever, please come this way, and then all four characters have to walk all the way into the drawing room and sit down before they’re allowed to have the actual scene that they’re supposed to have.
The resulting encounter is not to anyone’s satisfaction, really. Flora remains seated for about half a question before she gets up again and tells everyone to leave. Standing in the corner like the specter of death that he shall soon be, Gerard reveals that Stella’s body was found in the woods on this estate, which Melanie takes in a pretty big way, considering that’s a piece of information that she basically already knew.
Flora says that this is all too much for Melanie, and they’ll have to discuss it at another time, which she already said back in the foyer a minute ago, although now Melanie’s hunched over in the corner brokenly sobbing Stella’s name, so even Kendrick has to admit that Flora has a point. This really is all too much for Melanie. Most things are, these days.
Standing practically on top of this shuddering, leaky balloon animal, Kendrick insists on a yes or no answer. “You are the only one I can truly believe in this house,” he says, although where he got that idea from I’m not sure. “If you tell me that your mother’s story is true — that Stella left this house two weeks ago, without a word — if you tell me that no one has seen or heard from her since — I will believe you.”
She gulps. She stammers. She swivels, and shows him her enormous, wet eyes. She takes a slight half-gasp. She opens her mouth, soundlessly. She turns away, pained. She takes a deep breath. Gathering her strength, she takes a step forward, away from the others. She holds her hands to her chest, and struggles for breath. She lets out a weak hiss. She plants her feet, and squares her shoulders. She bends forward, slightly. “It…” she pulls painfully, from the innermost depths of her being, and releases it gently into the world, a newly-born third-person pronoun fluttering onto the hearthrug. She bears down. This is even harder than she thought possible. She wrings her hands. “… is true,” she delivers, but her work is not done this day. She squeezes her eyes shut tight, desperate to find the strength. “…Kendrick,” she concludes, and begins to quietly sob.
This is apparently the response that Kendrick was looking for. So that all worked out great.
After the boys have gone, I’m afraid to say, Melanie kind of loses her cool. I’m not sure what’s upsetting her so much; maybe it was something that she ate, like the scenery.
But just when all seems lost, the drawing room doors open, and who should come in but Quentin Collins, and he’s also got a new costume, a cerulean overcoat with royal blue accents, a cranberry red waistcoat, a cravate and a set of blue tinged tweed trousers and who even knows about the shoes. New costumes for everybody! I’m not sure what we’re collecting here, but we appear to have the full set.
Luckily, the Parallel ’41 Quentin isn’t the head of household this time, so he doesn’t have to act all haughty and judgmental. This is a Quentin that can roll up his sleeves — metaphorically, at least — and get down to business.
Flora spills the beans on her kidnapping scheme, tying up Stella and keeping her in the attic so that she wouldn’t go to the police and ask them to come and arrest everybody involved with this crazy crime syndicate.
Quentin’s upset, but mostly about not being informed. “When father threatened her,” he asks, “why didn’t somebody come and tell me? I mean, there must have been a better way of handling it than keeping her prisoner in this house!” He can’t think of any off the top of his head, of course, but probably anything would have been better than the solution they landed on.
“I’m sure there was, Quentin,” Flora wails, “but we were so frightened, we didn’t think!”
“All right, all right,” he reassures her. “I don’t mean to blame you, but this whole thing has become a nightmare.”
Obviously, that’s the real problem with this family, that nobody means to blame anybody — not Flora, or Julia, or Melanie, despite their multiple charges of obstructing justice, and the clear and present danger that they represent to the 19th century as a whole.
“Perhaps we’ll tell them the truth, for a change,” Quentin sighs, and he stands up, giving us our first clear shot of the couture. “I’m getting very tired of all our lies,” he says. This is like a fish saying that he needs to cut back on water.
“I think I want them to know the truth,” Flora agrees, “except for Melanie. We must never let them find out about Melanie!” This is a tall order, considering the girl’s escalating hysterics, but sure; maybe we can distract people with an erupting volcano or something.
Quentin muses, “If we can just find a way of telling the truth, without anyone really knowing what happened,” which is the kind of philosophical question that keeps attorneys in suits and briefcases.
So what can you do with reckless relatives like these? It’s hard to supervise a gang when their hideout is the biggest house in town, but honestly, at some point, these people are going to have to come up with some reason for the audience to care about what happens to them.
I mean, I like looking at these actors, especially when they’re dressed up in their party clothes, and I like it when they say dramatically urgent things, but at a certain point, the show just descends into non-stop hand-wringing. Everyone in the house convinces each other that they’re justified for doing whatever looney thing they try next, and on the whole it’s just not an appealing crowd to hang out with.
And here, I’m sorry to say, is where Gerard Stiles gets off the train. He’s only in this Parallel Time storyline for two episodes, but he makes a good impression, with a mysterious connection to the spirit world that actually led to significant plot progression, first crack out of the box.
Kendrick’s pretty much the only sane character on the show right now, and he can see that Gerard’s important, for him personally, and for Dark Shadows as an enterprise. “Your psychic abilities led me to my sister Stella,” he says. “Will you help me discover the secret of that house?” Kendrick gives the dark man a pleading look. “Gerard, will you stay and help me?”
And Gerard turns toward the camera for one final smirk, saying, “I’ll be more than happy to help you.” But he won’t, because we don’t see him again, and the show takes another step towards the grave.
In one of the DVD interviews, James Storm recalls, “I was sent down to wardrobe to get a whole new costume, several costumes, and I thought the show was going to continue on. And at the time I was also doing a play, and a film, and then I got word that the show was going off the air. They had killed me, and then they were going to bring me back as another spirit or something. So I was really disappointed that it was terminated.”
So that’s one answer to the question of who knew that Dark Shadows was going to be cancelled, and when they knew it: James Storm, at least, was taken by surprise, partly because he was doing other work. He would have been happy to help us, if he could have, and he even had new costumes to play with. But he turned away for a moment, and when he looked back, the show was gone, and he was alone.
Tomorrow: The Night We Met.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Melanie falls into Flora’s arms and says, “Mama, I want to die!” there is some equipment visible on the floor that looks like a studio light.
Kendrick says to Flora, “I realize the time is not appropriate, and yest I must insist.”
When Kendrick is pleading with Melanie, he says, “I hope that — I hope that both of them can be — have had nothing to do with my sister’s death.”
When Gerard approaches Melanie, there’s the sound of a bell, possibly from the wrong music cue being played. It fades quickly, and is replaced by another cue coming in a little late.
Kendrick says, “If I had found Stella two days ago, I would have found her alive!” Gerard says “Yes,” and then someone coughs in the studio.
When Quentin says, “All we’ve got to find out is who, and why it is that she hates him so much,” there’s another quiet cough from the studio.
Behind the Scenes:
After he left Dark Shadows, Jim Storm had a lot of acting roles, mostly on stage and in soap operas. His first movie role was in Night of Dark Shadows later in 1971, but after that he only appeared in movies that you almost certainly have never heard of. His next soap role was on The Secret Storm, starting in 1971, and then he moved on to The Doctors (1979), Texas (1980-1981), The Young and the Restless (1983-1986), Capitol (1986), The Bold and the Beautiful (1987-1994), Sunset Beach (1997-1998), with some returns to B&B in the 2000s. He also had a small role in Dan Curtis’ 1973 TV-movie The Invasion of Carol Enders, and a more substantial role in Curtis’ 1975 Trilogy of Terror. He also made lots of TV guest appearances, including Planet of the Apes, Police Woman, Hardcastle & McCormick, St. Elsewhere and Hotel.
Tomorrow: The Night We Met.
— Danny Horn