“The spirits don’t care. They don’t care, they just want a sacrifice!”
The portal is open; the dark work is complete.
There is a haunted chamber in this mansion, made of hurt feelings and eternity, and it demands to be fed. At least once in each generation, the Collins family chooses the relative that they like the least — they say it’s a random lottery, but guess who gets chosen every time, go figure — and they throw that irritating uncle to whatever happens in this room after dark. Nobody knows what ordeal these luckless loners undergo, while they inhabit this solitary torture cell.
“Look at his eyes, filled with fear,” says Flora Collins, shuddering. “Yet now, this room is like any other room!” Sure, except that it sucks.
I mean, I know that you’re only supposed to approach the chamber when you’re either condemning someone to a night of deadly terror or dragging out the empties in the morning, but honestly, five minutes with a Swiffer would do this place a world of good.
The family doesn’t really know anything about what happens in this room, except that it’s so terrifying that people either die or go irretrievably insane. So why not lighten things up a bit? How about a poster of a little kitten hanging off a branch that says “Hang In There, Baby”? Maybe a mini-fridge, or a plant; anything that would make this place a little more bearable for the victim, and maybe a little less bearable for the evil spectres that haunt it. Get an Xbox in here, and invite folks over to play Guitar Hero for a couple decades; no curse is going to stand up to that. These people need to be part of the solution.
Anyway, the problem is that effete drunkard wastrel Gabriel Collins was the one chosen by fate to sit ‘n spin in this slaughterchamber, but instead he paid one of his drinking buddies to come over, put on Gabriel’s clothes and then either die or go irretrievably insane in Gabriel’s place.
It’s the clothes that really get me. “It’s the Braithwaite boy!” Flora gasps, and Morgan sneers, “Yes, it’s Tim, in Gabriel’s clothing!”
“I don’t understand!” Flora cries. “You and Julia brought Gabriel to this room at dusk, and locked the door!”
“And I took the key with me,” Morgan agrees.
“Well, where is Gabriel?”
“Well, he’s certainly not here,” Morgan sighs. “And I’m sure he didn’t invite Tim in here for conversation.”
But he did invite him in for a bit of mutual cosplay, which is the element that I find difficult to figure. As we’ll learn when Flora reads Gabriel’s note later in the episode, Gabriel stayed in the room for half an hour — experiencing part of the horror and becoming fairly insane already — and then Tim knocked on the door, and then what?
The way I imagine it, Gabriel says to the wailing haunts, oh, hang on just a second, I think my ride’s here, and he puts them on pause somehow, so that he can open the door and let Tim come in and take his place. And then, I suppose, the two of them take off all of their clothes, and then they each put on all of the other person’s clothes — and these are 1841 clothes, they’re not sweatpants and a T-shirt, you need to knot your cravate and buckle up your waistcoat and everything — and then Gabriel says okay thanks Tim, I’ll see you in the morning so that you can have all that money I’ve promised you, and Gabriel leaves the room, at which point Tim presses play on the nightmare, which then continues where it left off.
And I am just finding it hard to get my mind around the idea that a one-hundred-and-sixty year old curse is that easily distracted. I can imagine Brutus Collins or whoever it is just standing there and saying, are you kidding me? I can see you guys swapping outfits. I’m right here, scaring you to death. This is not an opportune moment for a quick-change.
But my real concern is the lack of worthwhile televisual entertainment. According to my calculations, these characters started talking about the lottery in episode 1198, and took their first stab at it in episode 1201. They didn’t actually hold the lottery for real until episode 1211, Gabriel didn’t enter the room until episode 1213, and now it’s episode 1215 and they’re going to have to do it all over again, and that’s three weeks and we haven’t seen a single interesting visual shot the entire time.
I mean, spectacle-wise, this is the big payoff right here for more than three weeks of melodrama, and it’s just the Braithwaite boy, lying on the bed in borrowed clothes, with his eyes full of fear. We didn’t even get a skeleton. I feel like skeleton should be the baseline, after three weeks of conversation. You start with skeleton, and you work up from there.
So in lieu of interesting spectacle or meaningful plot progression, the show goes to the best thing it has left, which is Nancy Barrett. Even in the show’s darkest half-hours, that has always been the correct answer, and she comes through again today.
Melanie has been a fairly simple-minded victim character so far: appealing, but when she hasn’t been possessed by someone more lively than she is, she’s mostly been fretting, grieving and wracked with guilt. But today is the day she figures it out.
Flora and Morgan come downstairs to discuss the current events of the day, and they hardly bother to explain things to Melanie; she just happens to be in the room while they brainstorm how they’re going to explain to the police about finding another random dead body in their house, like the reckless crime syndicate that they are. Finally, she settles herself into a chair, with the grown-ups are going through the options, and she thinks things over.
And then, when she’s ready, Melanie gets to her feet and does what good characters do on Dark Shadows: the unexpected.
She stands up, laughing. “What are you laughing about?” says the stuffed shirt, and she grins, “Gabriel’s plan appears to have succeeded, doesn’t it?”
Morgan gets louder and sterner. “Well, he’s still alive, if that’s what you’re talking about,” he barks.
“And so am I!” she smiles, with a sharp crack in her voice. “And Quentin is alive and well! And the plague is gone! We were wrong about the spirits in that room!”
“What do you mean?”
“We thought they had to have a Collins!” she says, somewhere between a smile and a sob. “But they don’t! The spirits don’t care. They don’t care, they just want a sacrifice! A human sacrifice, anyone would do!”
On the other side of the commercial break, Melanie’s revelation drives her even further into the truth.
“Poor Papa — poor dead Papa, he need never have gone into that room! He need never have spent the last years of his life mad! And if he had not gone into that room, I would not have gone in after him, and I would be different! So different!”
“What fools we are, what self-important fools, to think that only a Collins would appease the spirits in that room!”
“But we were wrong. We were wrong! Don’t you think it’s funny, Mamma?”
“Six generations of Collins have played that lottery! Six generations! And Gabriel has just shown them how unimportant it all was! I think it’s terribly funny!”
It ends with a slap, of course, as Morgan administers the usual prescription for women having a difficult moment in their lives.
“I shouldn’t have said the things I said,” she moans, as she walks to the door. “But they were all true!”
And she’s gone, having livened things up considerably, and brought some real emotion into this shaggy dog story, just at the moment when it seemed like it was heading for a whimper. Once again, Nancy Barrett comes very close to making all of this worthwhile. And then there’s Carrie Stokes.
So, breaking news: if you thought you were going to get through the rest of this show without seeing Kathy Cody again, then you were wrong, cause here she is.
“Why, mother, it’s Carrie Stokes!” says Morgan, opening the door and allowing it to enter.
Flora asks if anything’s wrong at the gate house, and Carrie flutters in. “Oh, no, Mrs. Collins, everything is fine. I was afraid, though, that you wouldn’t be up, though he said you would. He said to come as soon a — as in daybreak as I could.” So there you go, we’ve introduced parallel Kathy, and she can’t even get through her first line.
But really, I’m being unfair, because this character is less annoying than the regular 1840 Carrie Stokes, and she’s miles away from the sniveling Hallie Stokes of 1970. She’s a pleasant, polite young woman, who happens to be blessed with the psychic ability to blurt out plot information on request, like a Gilligan’s Island radio announcer, covered head to toe in cherry fondant.
The usual drill for making the audience like a new character is to make a friend, make a joke, and make a plot point, and Parallel Carrie manages to skate by on a solid two out of three. She never makes anything close to a joke — nobody really does these days, except Melanie and Bramwell — but over the next week, she’s going to get roped in several times to unlock plot points, and she comes through every time. If it helps to appease the Kathy Cody fans in the last six weeks before we pass out of each other’s lives, then yes, I will admit that PT Carrie is bearable.
But just when you think that Dark Shadows might actually be able to stumble its way out of this mess, they manage to destroy any goodwill that the Melanie rant inspired with an utterly tragic chromakey ghost effect.
Melanie walks into the drawing room, and comes to a screeching halt as she stares at a spot that is clearly nowhere near the specter of her dead father. He floats uncertainly about two feet to Melanie’s left and maybe a foot or so behind her, while she stares out the window at the backyard.
Now, you might imagine that in these final days of Dark Shadows they would have figured out how to do a ghost properly, given that they spent the last four years practicing exactly this. And yet, here we are, on a Friday in February, looking entirely in the wrong direction.
Monday: Return to Return to Collinwood.
If you’ve been wondering what it would be like to hear me say things about an extremely silly Doctor Who story, then check out the latest Doctor Who Target Book Club Podcast, where I join the panel to discuss The Android Invasion, the Fourth Doctor story about the most ridiculously wasteful aliens to ever try invading the Earth.
The podcast is hosted by Tony Whitt, well known in the DSED comments as “therealemperordalek”, and it was really fun to get to talk about a story that I love and almost nobody else can even tolerate. There’s androids and acorns and unwise decisions, untangled by my hero, the mysterious and zany Doctor Who.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Morgan frets, “He’s never had any intention for us, he’s only thought of himself!” Flora says that’s not true, and Morgan says, “It is true, mother. He’s only thought of himself, he’s never had any feelings for any of us!” Then he looks at the teleprompter, thank goodness, because otherwise he might have just kept saying fragments of that line until the credits rolled.
When Melanie says “We thought they had to have a Collins, but they don’t!” the camera cuts to a close-up on Morgan — followed by a shaky mid-shot of Melanie and the armchair. They do a quick cut to Flora, until the camera filming Melanie has a chance to get her in frame properly.
Carrie steps on Flora’s line:
Flora: What —
Carrie: He said to bring you this, in the morning.
Flora: What did he tell you, what did he say?
Carrie: He said to give you this in the morning.
Morgan says, “Remember when the McManus girl was missing? Carrie Stokes and Gerald Stiles found her!”
Not really a blooper, but once again Melanie says that she’s not really a Collins, and “some of you have made me painfully aware of that fact.” From what I can see, every single person who ever talks about or to Melanie is nothing but kind and protective. When the subject of the lottery comes up, or the possibility of being punished for murdering Stella, every character universally agrees that they should shelter Melanie from any more unhappiness, because they care about her. Where does she get the idea that people in the family look down on her? I can’t figure it out.
Monday: Return to Return to Collinwood.
— Danny Horn