“We’ve been looking for everything, and we’ve found nothing!”
So now I’ve got that out of my system, I suppose we should probably take a little time to figure out what the hell is going on in this mess of a television show.
The way I understand it, there’s a whole extra cast of characters in the 1841 Parallel Time storyline that lived 160 years ago, and they’re way more important than the characters that we actually see. The 1680 characters cheated and murdered and loved and cursed each other, in such a consequential way that the clowns who are currently walking the halls of Collinwood don’t get to have lives and motivations and personalities of their own; they’re just following the paths set down for them by the distinguished dead.
At this point, we’ve heard a lot about Brutus Collins, the head of the Collins family back in the day, and there’s a very angry woman who possesses Melanie sometimes, and we’ve also heard the name James Forsythe, for all the good that does us.
Let’s review the case. Last week, while adopted dimbulb Melanie Collins was possessed or dying of the plague or whatever, she started emitting the not-really-clues type of clues that Dark Shadows uses whenever they have something generally in mind, but want to buy a little more time to get there. You can always tell when it’s one of those scenes because the ghosts use a lot of unheralded pronouns: she’s dead, he’s coming, we tried to stop them, and so on.
These sequences can get frustrating, because they don’t reflect well on the intelligence of the spirit trying to break through. It’s not like they’re limited to 280 characters. Sometimes they even have whole conversations with human beings who are specifically asking them to explain who and what they’re talking about, and they just keep on sending out incomplete answers.
This is how it works:
Melanie: I never thought he would find out. I only wanted to help him. Oh, why did he do it? Why? We were so happy for a time. We meant no harm. But, life is wrong. No, right! To have, to be happy! Please! Please! Oh!
Julia: It’s all right, it’s all right, dear, you’ll be all right.
Melanie: Wrong! Why? No! So happy once! No! Please! No! No! No, Brutus! No! No!
Julia: Brutus? Brutus Collins?
Melanie: Brutus Collins! Yes! No! No! NO! NO! NO!
Julia: Are you talking to Brutus Collins now, or are you talking to me? Are you answering my question? You did mention Brutus Collins!
Melanie: Brutus Collins! Oh!
Julia: You’re not Melanie anymore, are you? But who are you? Tell me! Please, please tell me!
Melanie: Where is he?
Julia: James who?
Melanie: James Forsythe!
Julia: Who is James Forsythe?
Melanie: He’s dead!
Julia: What happened to him?
Melanie: He killed him!
Julia: Who killed him?
Melanie: He! He! He! He! He! He!
So I don’t know what Melanie thinks is so funny, but that’s the most aggravating conversation that Julia’s had this week, and she lives in a house with Morgan and Catherine. I mean, what is with the knock-knock joke? James, James who, James Forsythe, who is James Forsythe, he’s dead. I don’t get it.
And like I said, she had plenty of time to explain who killed who; in fact, she’s had a hundred and sixty years to prepare, and she has not used that time productively.
So that little mystery just kind of settled onto the floor and sat there, refusing all nourishment, until yesterday’s episode when junior mentalist Carrie Stokes came by with a letter that she found in an old, dusty book in the basement of the haunted cottage where she lives. The letter was addressed to James Forsythe, so Carrie decided to bring it to Collinwood immediately, because she is made of incremental plot points.
She delivers the letter to Morgan, who reads:
I am so desperate to see you again. I shall try to get to the cottage this evening, but I anticipate difficulty. For I fear he may have finally become suspicious. If it becomes impossible, know that I shall be with you in spirit, and that I love you with all my heart. A.
And then the lights go out and the chandelier starts swinging, and Carrie feels a cold hand brush against her cheek, and then the letter just bursts into flames all by itself. It’s not clear why the anger ghost wanted to destroy the letter after Morgan read it rather than before, but I’m starting to come to the opinion that these ghosts are not very bright.
In fact, the only reason why the current Collinses are still being actively bedeviled by these numbskulls is that they’re even stupider than the ghosts. They proceed to stand around for a couple episodes asking themselves who “A” could possibly be, and they know perfectly well that Brutus Collins’ wife was named Amanda. I mean, I get that some details of the 1680 unpleasantness have been lost in the intervening, but this family has been talking about Brutus Collins for literally their entire lives, and they seem immune to information.
So that brings us to the basement of the cottage, where Morgan and Quentin are grabbing handfuls of random paper, shuffling them around and throwing them on the floor. This is not a very thorough search, and Morgan is making it worse by complaining about it.
“How long have we been here?” Morgan says petulantly, slamming some vintage correspondence down on a desk.
“Stop asking and keep looking,” his brother says.
“We have been looking!” Morgan cries, which doesn’t do anybody any good.
He starts moodily rummaging through the current stack of trivial paperwork. “The only thing we’ve found is bits and pieces of the Collins family for the last half-century. Dance programs, letters, fans… We’ve been looking for everything, and we’ve found nothing!” Now I want to see the dance programs.
Quentin finally says, “Oh, maybe you’re right,” which is an obvious cue for the inevitable wait-a-minute-what’s-this.
“Wait a minute!” Morgan says.”What is this?” He picks up a ledger, and reads the inscription on the cover: “Begun this Year of Our Lord 1678, by James Forsythe of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in hopes of prospering.”
And then he just begins flipping pages back and forth.
“What’s it say?” Quentin asks, on page two.
“Not very much,” Morgan gripes. “He was some kind of a merchant. There are entries, profit columns, losses…” He makes a face, like he’s disgusted by the entire concept of accounting. What did he think he would find in a ledger?
“If only the numbers could tell us something!” he says, and they probably could, if he brought it to one of the family’s numerous bookkeepers and clerks. These one-percent guys really don’t have a clue.
“No, look here, there’s more than just numbers!” Quentin observes, peering at the book. “There’s some notes in the margin. I can’t make them out.”
“Here, let me see,” Morgan says, and grabs the ledger out of Quentin’s hands again. This is what happens when you allow older brothers to accompany you anywhere. “Their Majesty’s vessel, Anna Creon, arrived from the Viriginia Colony, bearing… I can’t make out the rest.”
He flips a couple more pages. “Well, here’s something about a lost boat arriving from Saint Eustasius!” I’m not sure why that was worth pointing out.
But then he looks up. “And here’s something about Brutus Collins!”
“Brutus?” Quentin asks, making a face. Yes, Brutus; the book said 1678, and Brutus was the head of the family at the time, and you’re currently on the grounds of the Collinwood estate, where you live. You should know this information already.
“There are a few words here… in league with Brutus Collins!”
“In league with?” Quentin asks. “What could that mean?”
“They may have had some kind of a business partnership,” Morgan says, which is the least interesting observation that this whole sequence could lead to.
I mean, what are we doing here, boys? You didn’t want to show us the dance programs, which is what the audience was really hoping for, and you make a big deal about lost boats from Saint Eustasius. We should go back and check with Melanie again; maybe she’ll elaborate on the whole “to have, to be happy” thing.
Then Quentin spots something sticking out of the book, and he pulls out an old letter, which says:
James: Things are not always what they seem. Others would tell you to look elsewhere for truth; you must know that it lies within me, and through me, it must reach you. A.
Which has got to be one of the great non-discoveries of our time. You must know that truth lies within me? What on earth could that possibly mean?
Mind you, I’m only able to get this far because I’ve got the DVD, and I’m going back and carefully transcribing all of these groans from the other side of the veil. Even looking at it written down, I haven’t the faintest idea what they’re talking about, so what are the viewers supposed to make of all this? It just kind of washes past you, connecting with nothing in particular. It’s the verbal equivalent of a music cue; you get a little atmosphere and emotion from it, but that’s all.
So now we have to figure out who “A” is, which is depressing, because it’s going to take us forever to work through the whole alphabet.
“Five yards fine woolstuff, to Mistress Amanda,” Morgan reads, “and a pewter tea set to Mistress Amanda.”
“Wait a minute!” Quentin says, finally inspired. “Brutus’ wife, her name was Amanda! I read it in the history!”
“Yes! Yes, it was!” Morgan says, and then neither of them can think of a single intelligent thing to say about it. “But what does that mean?” Morgan whines. “The A. Who was so anxious to speak to her?” What?
“All right, now wait a minute,” says Quentin, now requesting two minutes in a row; no wonder we’re not getting anything accomplished. “Let’s assume that A was Amanda, and it was Brutus’ wife. Now… James Forsythe… did he have a wife?”
Morgan is now just opening pages in the ledger at random. “Now, look,” Quentin says, leaning over. “Let’s see if there are any other renderings in here.”
“Well, that’s odd,” Morgan says, and Quentin mutters, “Now, wait a minute,” which makes three minutes total. How much time does Quentin think we have for this? Hostess wants to get in a word about their snack cakes. Come on, kids, we’re losing daylight.
Morgan’s got another observation. “The last full entry completes accounts for February 1681. There’s a page started for March… but he never wrote anything on it.”
“Morgan!” says Quentin. “March 1681, that was exactly a hundred and sixty years ago!”
“The time the curse began!”
Okay, says the audience. So then what?
Taking a peek at the teleprompter for help, Morgan looks at the ledger. “She says that —” he says, and points at something in the book, like he’s about to read a passage. Then he realizes that whatever he’s talking about it, it’s not in the ledger, it’s in Quentin’s hand, so he looks at the prompter again. “That things are not always what they seem!”
“Hey, listen,” says Quentin, who has something worth listening to. “I just wonder why the spirit didn’t burn this letter.” This is a difficult thing to wonder about.
Morgan nods. “Maybe he knows what we’re trying to learn,” he says, “and he knows we won’t learn it.”
Quentin looks around. “You mean that… perhaps he’s laughing at us, silently, and all of our frantic attempts to save ourselves. You think?”
“That may be very well be,” says Morgan. Case closed.
Monday: The Snatch.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Quentin tells Flora that he stopped by the police, “just in case there were any missing bodies… any body that was missing, that happened to be unidentified.”
Bramwell tells Catherine, “My wealthy relatives may permit their — their women to face danger, but not when it comes to having children!”
I cleaned this up in the post, but what Morgan actually says is, “The only thing we’ve found is bits and pieces of the Collin family for the last half century!”
After Quentin reads the letter, he says, “It’s signed A! What could A? What could it be?” Morgan replies, “I don’t know, but maybe this may be her.”
Monday: The Snatch.
— Danny Horn