“Sleeping is not one of the safest things you can do in this house.”
When you think about it, isn’t there a fine line between passion and obsession? Isn’t true love a kind of madness, in which nothing else really matters beyond your shared feelings?
“Morgan went into that room to save me!” Catherine cries. “That’s why I must stay here and help him, even if it takes the rest of my life!”
Bramwell glowers at her. “You’re remarkably generous with the rest of your life, considering it belongs to me!”
She turns away, her mind a whirl.
“Every minute you live is mine,” Bramwell urges, “just as every breath I take is yours! There is no Morgan. There never was! Other people are only shadows that we use to hurt each other with, to frighten each other with! That’s true, isn’t it?”
“Morgan did it for me!” Catherine cries. “He went into that room for me!”
“You and I are the only real ones,” he insists. “You and I!”
So the answer is no, there isn’t a fine line between passion and obsession, true love is not a kind of madness, and these people are psychopaths.
I mean, really. Other people are only shadows? How much of a lunatic do you have to be, to come up with that idea? You can be as much in love as you want, but other people are still going to exist, whether you believe in them or not.
And the weird thing is that I think Dark Shadows intends for us to like these characters and this relationship. They have the idea that Wuthering Heights is a tragic love story, which it is not. It is mostly a story about cruelty and revenge, and what a person can do when their primary purpose in life is to have a series of overlapping temper tantrums.
The stupidest thing about this stupid version of Wuthering Heights is that Catherine was offered a whole bunch of off-ramps before she decided to marry Morgan instead of Bramwell. In the book, Cathy is engaged to marry Edgar because Heathcliff is a dirty gutter orphan, and as much as she cares about him, he’s too low-class to marry. Heathcliff, hearing part of a conversation and not truly understanding Cathy’s heart, runs away to make his fortune, which he does, and then he comes back for her, by which point Catherine is already married and pregnant. There isn’t really any point in the story where Catherine and Heathcliff could have just married each other, and saved everyone else a lot of trouble.
But in this version, Bramwell comes back from his journey while Catherine is engaged to Morgan, and has several conversations with her about why she should marry him instead. He doesn’t have as much money as Morgan does, but he lives in the enormous mansion next door and clearly has enough money to keep his wife in overstuffed nightgowns.
And there wasn’t really a lot of social pressure for her not to marry Bramwell; in the first episode that we saw her, her sister Daphne urged her to say no to Morgan, because she knew that Bramwell still had a hold on Catherine. Everyone knew that, everyone seemed basically fine with it, and if Catherine had said guess what I’m marrying Bramwell intead, then Morgan would have been disappointed, but nobody would have been particularly surprised.
So I don’t really feel very much when Catherine says things like, “I love you, and I will always love you! But it changes nothing! You’re married to Daphne, and I to Morgan. Our whole situation is hopeless; there’s no end for us, Bramwell!”
This doesn’t feel like a tragedy; it feels like the predictable consequence of choices that these characters have made, freely and with full possession of the facts. The show can signal to us all they like that we’re supposed to find this romantic, but all I can see is two people whose hopelessness is entirely self-inflicted.
And then there’s Daphne, currently hiding in the bushes and discovering that exactly what she thought was going on is, in fact, going on. In Wuthering Heights, this role is filled by Isabella Linton, Catherine’s sister-in-law, who Heathcliff seduces in order to punish Catherine; they run off and get married, and soon return with nothing but regrets.
But Isabella was a foolish, sheltered young woman, too inexperienced to understand Heathcliff’s intentions. Daphne was introduced to us as competent and capable; she gets to know Bramwell when she nurses him back to health following a duel. It’s hard to see her as a victim here, when she walked into the situation with open eyes.
And it’s not like she wasn’t warned; everybody told her not to marry Bramwell, especially Catherine. Daphne even went to a medium for advice, and was given a stark warning not to marry the guy, which she immediately decided to ignore.
This sets up an unbelievably Dark Shadows-y moment that feels to me like Gordon Russell giving me a going-away present before the show ends.
Daphne is alone in the drawing room, thinking things over, and she turns around and suddenly notices a box lying out in full view that contains two loaded duelling pistols. I’ve been making jokes for years about the Collins family keeping murder weapons all over the house, including just a few weeks ago when I suggested they keep two sets of loaded duelling pistols in every room, and here it is on television, just as I imagined.
And she’s going to use it, too; Daphne’s a real go-getter. She’s lifting the barrel to her temple when Bramwell enters the house, and gives everyone even more reasons to pull the trigger.
After a brief Daphne/Bramwell conversation, Catherine and Julia walk in and start talking about whatever’s going on with Morgan these days. While Julia talks, Bramwell and Catherine stand about five inches apart and look directly into each other’s faces, breathing heavily.
They keep this up for a full forty seconds, or, as it is experienced by the audience, forever. Characters walk and talk and move about, civilizations rise and fall, and still Catherine and Bramwell stand there, heaving. This is what is known in the dramatic arts as indicating, and it is not a compliment. These two might as well be holding up signs.
When Daphne and Catherine are alone, Daphne does some passive-aggressive indicating of her own.
Catherine: Oh, life used to be so simple. When we were children, wasn’t life simple?
Daphne: Yes, it was, Catherine. So was love. We did love each other then, didn’t we?
Catherine: I don’t understand… You’re still my sister. I love you very much.
Daphne: (turning away) That’s good to know, Catherine. Catherine, I was thinking this morning, about how you warned me against marrying Bramwell.
Catherine: Well, yes, I did. Why, what about it? Are you really that unhappy, Daphne?
Daphne: (turns back) Catherine, if you don’t mind, I’d really like to be alone.
Catherine: But, Daphne —
Daphne: Please, Catherine.
So Catherine walks out of the room, despite the fact that she lives in this house, and Daphne doesn’t.
And then Daphne goes and fondles the duelling pistols again, and if she thinks she’s scaring me, she can think again. I say go for it.
Because Catherine did warn Daphne about marrying Bramwell, and it was for the exact reason that Daphne’s unhappy about. Catherine knew that Bramwell was just using Daphne to get back at her, and she told Daphne that, and Daphne did it anyway, and here we are.
Julia, an actual smart character, spends the rest of the episode having pointed conversations with all three of these fools, and the way that they respond does not make me like them any better. Catherine’s response is the worst.
Julia: You and Bramwell have been in love with each other for a long time. You are both married now — to other people. For you to go on seeing each other now secretly is wrong, and could be scandalous. It must stop.
Catherine: I have had just about enough of your lectures, and your moralizing! Ever since I came to this house, you have never given me a chance! Well, I only have one thing to say to you: as long as my conscience is clear, and as long as I am faithful to my husband, and I will be, I shall do exactly as I please, and there is nothing you can do about it!
So I have to admit that I don’t really know what they’re trying to achieve here. If they want this to be a full-on dystopian Brontë world where everyone is an unreasonable savage a la Wuthering, then that’s fine, but don’t expect me to hope for a happy ending, unless it involves Daphne taking those duelling pistols and ridding the world of this entire storyline in a hail of well-deserved gunfire.
Tomorrow: Mortal Engines.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Catherine tells Bramwell “I love you, and I’ve always loved you,” someone in the studio coughs during the pause in the middle.
Plus, the throat-clearing man is still allowed in the building: he strikes after Morgan asks Julia, “Why do you ask such a stupid question?”
Daphne’s memory of Catherine’s lines diverges from the actual scene. In the gazebo scene, Catherine says,
“I love you — I will always love you — but it changes nothing! You’re married to Daphne, and I to Morgan. Our whole situation is hopeless. There’s no end for us, Bramwell!”
In Daphne’s voiceover memory, she says,
“I’m married to Morgan, you’re married to Daphne. Nothing can change that! Our whole situation is hopeless. There’s no end for us, Bramwell!”
When Bramwell and Daphne are talking in the drawing room, the camera cuts to Catherine and Julia on the stairs just a hair too early, and you can tell that they’re just starting to walk down from the middle of the stairs.
Julia tells Bramwell that Morgan thought she was Catherine Collins; she means Constance Collins.
Tomorrow: Mortal Engines.
— Danny Horn