“All she did was tell me what you had planned — to betray me — and you killed her for it, just as you killed me, and you killed your wife Amanda, because she tried to help me too.”
The late James Forsythe, shipping magnate and finder of lost boats, has unearthed the skeleton of his sister Sarah in the basement of the gatehouse on the great estate at Collinwood, buried under what appears to be zero inches of dirt in the floor. It’s kind of a wonder that nobody ran across it before; it looks like a century and a half of normal wear and tear on the linoleum would probably have uncovered a couple of suspicious bumps in the floor over the years. I guess some people are naturally curious and some aren’t, and that’s all there is to it.
James’ spirit is currently occupying the body of Morgan Collins in order to right some of the pertinent wrongs of the past, and digging up Sarah is step one. But as he gazes at his aged relative, an interior squall kicks up and starts making itself known, which is not ordinarily part of a basement’s weather system. If you were under the impression, as I was, that ghost-related wind came in through the windows, then now we know better. It seems to just happen on its own.
“Well, blow me down!” James says, as it tries to. “I have found her, Brutus! I know you are in this room, and I am ready for you!” He whirls around, looking for his opponent. “Show yourself to me, Brutus!” he says, putting up his fists. “Let me fight you again! I’ve had all I can stands, ‘cuz I can’t stands no more!”
And Brutus appears, snarling and snapping, ready to battle over Sarah’s shallow grave. So I guess nothing changes; after a hundred and sixty years, these two sailor men are still fighting over a skinny girl.
“So you are free again, James!” says the spirit of Brutus Collins, bringing Louis Edmonds back for one more shouty role before it’s off to All My Children. “And you think you can change the things I did so long ago, but you cannot!”
“I have already begun, and I shall succeed!” James yells back, less convincingly. “My sister Sarah will be given a proper burial!”
“She betrayed me!” Brutus thunders. “And she deserves what she got.”
“You were the creature of treachery, Brutus!” James ripostes, and I am just going to make a mental note to say that to somebody at least once before I die. And then he gets into the details.
“All she did was tell me what you had planned — to betray me — and you killed her for it, just as you killed me, and you killed your wife Amanda, because she tried to help me too,” he explains, and if you feel like parsing that sentence, then you’re welcome to it. As far as I can figure, there are maybe three women in there, all helping and/or betraying each other.
He continues ranting as his chromakey scene partner stares at him, unblinking and unbothered.
“Yes, I am free again, Brutus,” James shouts over the wind effects. “And I intend to right the wrongs that you have done all these years, and you cannot stop me!” I’m curious if he’s ever going to mention what his step two is supposed to be. He dug up Sarah, so that’s a clear win; what are some of the other rightable wrongs?
“Take my warning, Forsythe!” Brutus shouts. “Go back to your tomb!”
“Never!” James says, and then Brutus gets bigger and closer and reaches out his huge chromakey hands and then I don’t know what happens after that.
So this is my question: what are they fighting about? The sister is dead, the wife is dead, everybody they ever knew is long dead. They’re not interested in the descendants; James couldn’t give a shit about the Collins family, and as far as I can tell, Brutus is involved in the lottery-plague curse that makes everyone’s life at Collinwood so miserable.
I totally get that James and Brutus didn’t like each other when they were alive, and that situation has not changed since their long-ago deaths. But they both seem to like the living Collins family even less, so I guess they can either join forces and slaughter everyone, or stand around incorporeally and haunt each other for the rest of eternity. I don’t see a third option here.
So I know that yesterday I was all excited about there being a present-day story and a past-times story running parallel, but now that we’re getting more information about the 1680 story, the less relevant it seems. The present-day family is deeply affected by the curse and they have been for generations, but there’s nothing specific about the Brutus-James contretemps that anyone in the family can help with.
They don’t know anything about what’s going on — they never even heard of James Forsythe, a couple weeks ago — and since the opposing forces don’t seem to have a particular goal, the living family members can’t really help them to accomplish it.
All they can do is try to keep outsiders from ever learning about what’s going on, which shouldn’t be that difficult because they don’t know what’s going on anyway.
At one point, Julia says that Carrie Stokes was asking her questions about why Morgan is behaving so differently. “I couldn’t tell her anything, because I couldn’t tell her about the curse, or the locked room!” she complains, although I don’t know why they couldn’t bring Carrie into the circle of trust at this point, especially since they keep using her as a psychic newswire service.
Plus, all the action is happening in Carrie’s basement, so she’s a part of the case whether Julia likes it or not. Carrie runs from the gatehouse to Collinwood to tell somebody that Morgan acted weird and then went down to the basement, and now Julia and Carrie run back from Collinwood to the gatehouse, to go to the basement and see Morgan acting weird. Morgan’s alive but unconscious when they arrive, so whatever Brutus was doing with his chromakey hands was serious but not permanent.
Then Carrie starts looking around and making uncomfortable faces. “I can feel it again,” she declares. “The spirit! The same angry spirit that I felt at Collinwood, the other day! Miss Collins, I’m frightened!” Julia says that she should sleep over at Collinwood tonight, and Carrie says that she’d like that, although she did just say that she felt the spirit at Collinwood too, so I’m not sure how the sleepover helps.
Then Julia leans down to tend to Morgan, and that old familiar wind-and-kettle-drums sound returns. “It’s him!” Carrie yells. “It’s the spirit! He doesn’t want you to touch him!” and then it’s after that that the pair finally catch sight of the skeleton in the shallow grave about two feet in front of them. They’ve been standing there in the basement for more than a minute by that point, plus a commercial break, so I don’t know why they didn’t notice the excavations. I get that there’s a lot going on, but skeletons in black wigs tend to catch the eye.
It seems to me like you could probably tell Carrie about the curse if you wanted to; she’s already living in a house littered with corpses. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw bones.
So if I’m not satisfied with this episode, and I’m not, entirely, then Dark Shadows is at least delivering some of the classic tropes: chromakey, basements, skeletons, psychics and ghost attacks. If they could just make a joke once in a while, and stop building walls between characters, then we could have something here.
And there’s a heartbreaking moment here, where they could have made a good decision, and didn’t.
James: You’ve forgotten what I told you this morning. I am not here to help you!
Julia: Hasn’t it occurred to you that it might be to your advantage?
James: Dealing with a Collins is never to anyone’s advantage.
Julia: Why do you hate us so?
James: Because you are Collinses!
Julia: Your feelings all date back to a hundred and sixty years ago! We have done nothing to you! We are not guilty! We mustn’t be enemies, when we could possibly help each other!
James: But you see, I don’t need help. You do.
Except he does need help, obviously, because a moment later he asks Julia to have Sarah taken up out of the basement and buried properly, but then he gets angry again and tells Julia to go ask Brutus if she wants more answers.
They’re so close to doing the correct thing — having James team up with Julia, to discover secrets and make story-productive decisions. This is what Julia is for; she makes deals with monsters, and story development ensues. Befriending James automatically creates an interesting conflict — Julia wants to learn whatever she can from James, but she also wants to banish him, and bring Morgan back. That conflict could power at least a couple of episodes of interesting story. But James just tells her to go to hell, and she does; we all do.
Monday: Eternal Invisible.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Julia says to Melanie, “She was so upset that what happened with Morgan at the cottage this afternoon. She kept asking me questions. I couldn’t answer them, she wanted to know why Morgan behaved so differently. I couldn’t tell her anything, because I couldn’t tell her about the curse, or the locked room!”
Julia tells Melanie, “You and she have been very close, and she’s sure to be — think that you’ll tell her everything that you know!”
When Carrie enters Collinwood, she addresses Julia as “Mrs. Collins” instead of Miss Collins.
Julia tells Melanie to stay at Collinwood “in tase Quentin comes back.”
Kendrick tells Melanie, “I want to ask you again just how Collins family came to adopt you.”
Melanie tells Kendrick, “I found a page from a letter written by Papa — Justin Collins. It had no salutation, but it concerned my adoption, and I know it was written by my real mother.” She means it was written to her mother. While we’re at it, if Justin wrote that letter to Melanie’s mother, then why did Melanie find it in Justin’s desk?
Kendrick says, “I’m sure they didn’t! I’m sure they simply believed that it was told to them by Justin!”
Morgan and Julia step on each other’s lines when he says that “she” deserves a proper burial.
Tomorrow: Eternal Invisible.
— Danny Horn