Episode 1231: The Curse of Collinwood, or How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

“Knowing about your strange preoccupation with the occult, nothing would surprise me. I can imagine you using some strange powders and potions, and doing strange chants to do anything you want.”

It must be a curse, obviously, from way back in the past, some asshole in a previous generation who screwed this up for you. I wonder what they did. It must have been pretty damn bad, because you are a mess, and there is no other way to explain it.

So here we are in the late seventeenth for a lightning-fast flashback, detailing the tragedy of Brutus and James. Somebody cursed somebody back in the day, and now the Collins family of 1841 Parallel Time has to go through this weird rigamarole every once in a while involving a lottery, a spooky door, a sleepover, and the inevitable madness and death that ensues.

Eldest son and professional noisemaker Morgan Collins endured a night in the bad place a couple weeks ago, and emerged with a ghost rider pulling his strings, digging up basements and making a nuisance of himself. Unsatisfied with the arrangement, the family performed an exorcism, which seemed like it didn’t work, but now the ghost is being haunted by another ghost.

“Hear me, Brutus!” Morgan hollers into the ether, and Brutus probably does; when Morgan starts projecting, you can hear him all the way down West 53rd Street. “It is too late for you to stop me! I’m going to tell the truth at last! The truth about what really happened in 1680! Your family will finally know about the CURRRRRRRSE!

Now, usually on Dark Shadows, when they’ve got a backstory to delve into, they give it a lot of space to stretch out; the typical length of a Dark Shadows flashback is about four months. But they don’t have four months to linger on this story point; they don’t even have four weeks. So this is going to be the fast and furious version of the Brutus Collins story, getting everything done in one.

The flashback has to accomplish two things: #1) explain what happened to Brutus, James, Sarah, Amanda and Constance, and #2) help us to understand why the curse involves a haunted room, a lottery and a plague. It fails on both counts.

“I first met Brutus Collins in the year 1677,” James Forsythe recalls. “His sister Constance introduced us.” He doesn’t say who introduced him to Constance.

“He seemed an amiable man, and an honest one,” James continues. “We liked each other at once, and we soon became business partners. But in three short years, I was to learn there were many sides to this man Brutus Collins. He was a man of many dark and terrifying secrets. He spent almost all of his time alone, going over his books. He trusted no one, not even his own wife and children.”  He sounds great.

The flashback has a couple advantages that make things interesting. For one thing, it’s neat to see the Collinwood drawing room in 1680, which is the earliest we’ve ever been. As usual, the set decorators step up to the task, removing all of the paintings and cozy furnishings, and giving the place a more spare look. I have no idea how this set holds up when compared to the actual history of American home decor, but it looks different, and visual surprise is always welcome.

We also get Louis Edmonds playing Brutus, which is pleasing, because he’s been effectively off the show for a while; the last time we saw him as a living character was three months ago. Edmonds is always good for both charm and bluster, and today he gets to do both, so that’s a win.

James comes to pay a visit to his business partner, and at first Brutus is all charm, but his demeanor darkens when James starts crossing his arms and being annoying.

“I’m here to discuss our partnership,” James grouses.

“Oh, come, come,” Brutus smiles, “you know I never discuss business at night.”

James scowls. “Oh, Brutus, I think you even discuss your business in your sleep, assuming that you do sleep.” I don’t know why the sleep schedule is up for discussion.

“What a curious thing to say,” Brutus chuckles. So far, Brutus is winning the scene on points; he’s more relaxed, and James keeps looking at the teleprompter every other line. In fact, for James’ next speech, they have to pull in on Brutus’ face for an inappropriately lengthy closeup, so that James can catch up on his reading.

“Knowing about your strange preoccupation with the occult, nothing would surprise me,” James says. “I can imagine you using some strange powders and potions, and doing strange chants to do anything you want.” I don’t know which I’d like to see more, the strange powders and potions, or the strange chants. Brutus is getting more interesting all the time; I don’t know why they’ve been keeping him bottled up in the backstory. We could have used this all along.

“I’m really not so dedicated to the occult as you would imagine, I’m merely a dabbler,” Brutus answers, and then it’s time for James to consult the teleprompter again.

The bone of contention is that James thinks Brutus is swindling him, and he wants to see the books. Brutus replies that the books are at the office, but James yells, “I am not talking about those books! I’m talking about the books that tell the real story, the ones only you see!”

Sick of getting berated by this human bullhorn, Brutus says fine, we’ll dissolve our partnership, and we can talk to the lawyers tomorrow.

“I want what is coming to me!” James bellows, and I guess they don’t have a lot of movies in 1680, because everybody knows that “I want what’s coming to me” is the setup for a villainous sneer, which is exactly what he gets. Man, that introduction from Constance must have really been something special, to get these two together. That was one of the all-time convincing introductions.

Then it’s time to introduce Brutus’ wife Amanda, played by Nancy Barrett, which is always the correct answer. Brutus and Amanda set up the scenario very efficiently — Amanda likes James and hates Brutus, and Brutus hates the universe in general and these two in particular.

Amanda puts on a warm cloak and heads outside; she says she wants some air, but Brutus is savvy enough to know that they already have plenty of air inside the house.

Constance instantly reports for duty; apparently, she just waits around in the other room so that she can stand next to Brutus when he wants something. He barks, “Follow her! See where she goes, and what she does!” and Constance obeys, without a word.

By the way, I don’t know if wealthy women were actually allowed to wander around loose like that in 1680; I was under the impression that they were expected to stay indoors with a couple of attendants, specifically so that they don’t go and do what Amanda is going and doing. But a soap opera is a powerful machine, and it requires free travel between sets, in order to have something to talk about for a week.

Things are going pretty well by the time we get over to the cottage, where the lovers are locked in a passionate clinch. Amanda asks James about his meeting with Brutus, and he replies, “We had a confrontation at last. I accused him of cheating.” This is a little tough to swallow, considering the proximity, and demonstrates that Brutus was right after all. He really shouldn’t trust these two, and they really are plotting against him. It’s possible that we’ve got this whole thing backwards.

James’ sister Sarah is buried in the basement, by the way, a fact that is not explained in this flashback in any way. Last week, they made a big deal about James going downstairs and finding a) Brutus’ journal and b) Sarah’s skeleton, neither of which seem appropriate for a location where James lives, and Brutus doesn’t. How did Brutus manage to dig up the cellar and deposit female Forsythes in it, without James noticing?

Last week, James told Brutus’ accusatory ghost, “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.” We don’t see any sign of a sister, here in the flashback; they don’t even mention her. Maybe things didn’t work out with the skeleton’s agent.

James wants to prove that Brutus is embezzling funds from their partnership, and he’s come to the right place for intel. “There’s only one way,” Amanda says. “That’s to go to the secret records room, and find the books he keeps himself.” This is an odd idea, which will become even odder as we go along.

For example: how does he keep it a secret? Amanda says that she recently discovered how to access it: “It’s just off his bedroom. At the head of the bed, there’s a large drape. Behind the drape is a door. The door leads to that secret room.”

So this is not a very good way to hide something, keeping a secret door within arm’s length of your bed, in a chamber that presumably your wife has access to, not to mention the servants. Even Morgan was smart enough to find the secret door, after being locked in the room for a couple of hours.

Also: the spooky curse room was Brutus’ bedroom? That’s a crappy little room for the master of the house; it doesn’t even have a window in it. No wonder Brutus is so cranky all the time.

Anyway, at this point the cunning plan just writes itself. All James has to do is wait until the middle of the night to sneak into the house unobserved, go to Brutus’ bedroom and smash the padlock open with a hammer. James doesn’t need to worry about waking Brutus up with all this racket, because obviously Brutus is already up, lurking in the shadows and waiting to murder James.

I honestly don’t know how Brutus put up with this blockhead for three years; the guy is just begging to be swindled.

James makes his way down the stairs to the secret records room, and holy cow, it’s enormous. How many secret records does a guy need? All these chairs and desks, and a whole shelving unit against the left wall; there’s probably a secret bookkeeping staff down here somewhere.

And those books must be chock full of secrets, because James sits down and opens one at random, and after literally three seconds of staring at a single page, he cries, “Good lord, it’s worse than I thought! He’s stolen me blind!” I wonder what’s in all the other books; they must be pure dynamite.

But James’ adventure in financial forensics is interrupted by the appearance of Brutus himself. “Yes, my boy!” he swaggers. “The little meeting we’re about to have has been a long time coming!”

James shoots back, “How did you know I was here?”

“I have my ways!” Brutus crows, which is another way of saying that James gained entrance to this chamber by breaking something in Brutus’ bedroom.

“I have all of the proof right here,” says James, “that you’ve embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars!”

“And what do you propose to do about it?”

“I’m going to the authorities, of course!” James cries. “I have all the proof right here, on the paper!” He still thinks this is a story about exposing Brutus.

“There are many people who would like to see you hanged,” James informs the madman.

“Yes, and do you know why they hate me?” the dastard declares. “Because I am more intelligent, I am more aggressive, more ambitious, and more determined to succeed than they will ever be! I gave my sons countless opportunities that they were too weak to take advantage of. The only thing they excel in is ingratitude! No, they will never testify against me. Nor will you, my boy!”

“I have all of the proof right here,” James says, for the third time in under a minute.

Well, naturally, there’s only one thing to do, when somebody invades your secret embezzlement dungeon, and starts shooting off his mouth like that. You turn around…

pick up the bludgeon lying in easy reach…

and you club him over the head, before he has time to say “I have all the proof right here” again.

Brutus closes the act by saying, “You’ve left open to me only one course of action,” but it’s not the course that you’d figure.

When we come back from commercial break, Brutus has cleared off all the surfaces and laid out James’ body on one of the tables. James is out cold, but Brutus, like all supervillains, has the urge to monologue.

“You spoke of my interest in the occult, James,” Brutus says. James isn’t listening. “Little did you know that you would be a victim of it.” He’s got a little bowl and a pestle, and he’s mixing up a concoction. “Yes, I know many secrets unknown to ordinary men. You see, an ordinary death would not be good enough for you. Oh, I want you dead! But I don’t want you to rest, James. I want your spirit to be troubled, through all eternity.”

So it breaks my heart, really, to see a hotshot like Brutus Collins wasted in a one-episode flashback. How much fun is Brutus? “Oh, I want you dead!” he says. He’s fantastic; Louis Edmonds characters are always fantastic. He’s smart, he’s funny, he says interesting things and hits uninteresting things over the head. A steady supply of Brutus Collins as main character would make the next three weeks an absolute joy.

I don’t know what he’s doing with that mixture, by the way. We see him filling up a syringe and injecting James with it; I guess it’s one of those spirit-troubling drugs. It doesn’t matter; he can do what he pleases.

But you can’t just kill one dude and call it a day; this is late-stage Dark Shadows, and they don’t like leaving a time period with superfluous ancestors. So Amanda follows the trail of bread crumbs down to the secret records room, and finds James, who has become something of a secret record himself.

Brutus talks about poetic justice and the romance of murder, and then he strangles Amanda, and says that her spirit won’t rest either.

And then he just stalks away, and doesn’t explain a thing. We don’t know what that stuff was that he injected James with, or how it would leave their spirits without rest. He just stacks them up on tables, and leaves them there.

There’s only one more minute left and there’s still a survivor, so they cook up a death for Constance, too. She finds the secret door as well, and goes downstairs to check out the scene of the crime, and she suddenly realizes that her brother is a monster and she tries to stab him with a knife left on an occasional table for just this occasion.

He strikes her down, of course, and as soon as she falls, he gets a sudden brainstorm.

“I set a curse upon the family,” he decides, raising his hands in the air. “A curse which will haunt even future generations! It shall bring death and insanity to all who ever inhabit this room! And it shall not end, until that time that someone spends a night in this spot, and survives with his sanity! That person, and only that person, shall be worthy of the name of Collins!”

Which is fine, except that it doesn’t actually explain anything. Brutus has just killed his dupe of a business partner and his unfaithful wife, and he seems quite pleased about it, as he should be; he’s gotten away with embezzling and murder, and he’s accomplished whatever occult ritual he finds so amusing. This has all the hallmarks of an anecdote from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Then Constance acts up, and all of a sudden Brutus decides that he needs to curse his own descendants. He’s just won three fights in a row, vanquishing all comers without breaking a sweat. What could possibly be pissing him off now?

Dark Shadows knows perfectly well how to construct a curse: it’s the thing that a person does when they’ve lost. Angelique was shot in the shoulder by her faithless husband; Magda’s sister died at Quentin’s hand. That’s the point of a curse, it’s the last resort when everything else fails. It’s the final cry of the powerless and defeated, stabbing wildly at the self-destruct button as they go down.

Brutus has done it backwards, essentially cursing himself at his own moment of triumph. That doesn’t make any narrative or emotional sense, and it certainly doesn’t have enough power to support the final weeks of this pointless storyline. So what are we supposed to do now?

Tomorrow: My Coffin World.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

The camera with the fault from Friday’s episode is still a problem; the opening and closing scenes are tinted green.

James tells Brutus, “You can dispense with the parental greeting and the jolly welcome.” He means paternal.

Brutus trips on the sentence, “Now, what do you want to speak about the partnership?”

James says, “Amanda, we’ve gone through this already. If I could do — if I could only exactly do that, if I knew where the records room was!”

I cleaned this quote up above; what James actually says is, “I have all of the proof right here that you’ve embenzled hundreds and thousands of dollars!”

There’s another fault in one of the cameras that warps the top of the screen slightly when the camera pans down. You can see it when Act 3 opens with a shot of the clock, and at the start of Act 4, when Brutus gives James the injection.

Constance tells Brutus, “I’ve always taken your part! I’ve always believed in you, and taken your part against your enemies!”

Brutus sets a curse: “It shall bring death and insanity to all whoever inhabit this room!”

The chromakey Brutus in the final scene is in the wrong spot; it looks like he’s standing in a hole.


Behind the Scenes:

That’s the Petofi box on the desk in front of Brutus, making its final appearance on the show.

Tomorrow: My Coffin World.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

30 thoughts on “Episode 1231: The Curse of Collinwood, or How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

    1. They shouldn’t have had dollars. We didn’t rebel until 1776, so it should have been pounds, although DS probably, rightfully, believed that their audience would see the correct term being a blooper.

        1. So true. Collinwood existed in parallel time well over a hundred years before it was built in real time. So maybe the revolution came earlier as well.

      1. The pound never circulated very widely in the thirteen colonies. Spanish dollars were the default currency of the whole New World until 1821. That’s why the USA chose “dollar” as the name of its monetary unit.

      2. It sounds like a blooper anyway. In 1970, Andy Warhol bought his Hamptons estate for the princely sum of 70 thousand. Three hundred years earlier, the Hamptons estate would have probably cost $999.89 (converted from pounds). Hundreds of thousands would have been a ridiculous figure even for a Collins. He probably meant to say “thousands of dollars” and accidentally said hundreds of dollars and then added the thousands afterward. The dude couldn’t get any of his lines straight. (To be fair, he was thrown into the deep end of the pool with little prep, and Lord knows how late he and J. Frid were staying out… It’s quite possible that James Storm missed so many lines because Kate Jackson kept him up all night.) (I have a dirty mind.)

  1. “Brutus Collins ….must’ve been mad…totally mad!” I would say the same thing of Gordon Russell when he came up with this nonsensical explanation for the origin of the Collins curse. Sheesh! This was a tedious episode, but once again I was entertained by your clever synopsis, Danny. I had a good chuckle when I read the following line: “Amanda said she wants some air, but Brutus was savvy enough to know that they already had plenty of air in the house.” Oh how I enjoy your wit!

  2. At least the set and the costumes gave me something to distract myself from Prentice’s line delivery.
    The piecrust table (3 legged table with decanter on top) is 18th century, but it’s parallel time so maybe it was designed earlier there. If you can accept there were enough workers to build that house in rural Maine–uh, Massachusetts–by 1680, I think you have to presume a seriously different history of the colonies.
    I like the gowns, especially Constance’s. The guys are definitely not dressed in 1680 styles. Men wore knee-length coats and very long curly hair. Slashed sleeves would have been very old-fashioned. Again, parallel time. We seem to be opposing Puritan New England with Jamestown maybe? Brutus just makes me think of an elderly Hamlet and James, a frontier d’Artagnan.

  3. “We see him filling up a syringe and injecting James with it; I guess it’s one of those spirit-troubling drugs.” Did syringes even exist in 1680? I know, I know – it’s parallel time so anything can happen. In a minute Brutus will hop in his Mustang to pick up a new iPhone at Brewster’s.

    Just judging by the screencaps (I’m still back in the 920s), the whole thing looks kind of like a community theater production of Man of La Mancha. Actually, though, I bet Louis Edmonds would’ve been good in that.

    1. The University of Queensland’s Faculty of Medicine website says this about the history of syringes: “In 1650, Pascal’s experimental work in hydraulics stimulated him to invent the first modern syringe which allowed the infusion of medicine.”

      1. Brutus was on the cutting edge of medical technology, then. The Collins family never does anything halfway.

  4. “You must tell me! Tell me, you must!”
    Julia channels her inner Yoda.

    Okay, so Jamorgan bolts out of the seance (the same guy who that afternoon was trying to kill Julia) and everyone leaves Julia on her own to search the house for him?
    But she needn’t go far, since he’s conveniently returned to THE ROOM HE WAS LOCKED UP IN? She really didn’t need to search, just let his vocalizations guide her.
    And now James is going to give us the lowdown on the curse. NOW. Instead of days ago when he first usurped Morgan? Seems to me that after 160 years he’d have wanted to spill the beans about Brutus before the guy came looking for him. And did Brutus give himself a dose of his afterlife vaccine? He doesn’t seem to be very quiet and peaceful in his spirit life, at least not any more than Forsyth is.
    But I give some points for the flashback, except for its brevity. They should have stretched the story for at least a few episodes, even if only to let Brutus bump off Sarah. And give the audience more of that fab coiffure of Forsyth! What a gorgeous mop of hair.
    So James and Amanda have a snog or two, then he sneaks back into the great house. And totally doesn’t see Brutus standing RIGHT NEXT TO THE GRANDFATHER CLOCK? (sigh)
    And his idea of being ultra stealthy – – pound on the lock with a hammer, then go in and find what you’re looking for and exclaim loudly at what you found. (Incidentally, why do all the doors in Brutus’ secret accountancy shanty squeak? Just asking.)

    1. Then because Constance went against a lifetime’s habit of trusting her brother, Brutus puts a curse on his own children, grandchildren, and so forth? Just seems like Colonial excess to me. Especially as he’d already taken care of his issue with his sister.

      This is what happens when everything is dumped onto one writer, I guess.

      1. Brutus had no choice but to curse his weak sons who’d been unable to take advantage of the countless opportunities he gave them……and to top it off, THEY EXCELLED IN INGRATITUDE!!!

        btw I opened my closet door, and I found Quentin’s Staircase in Time had somehow connected my doorway to 1840PT. I walked around in Collinwood, and I found a very interesting certificate on the wall earned by one of Brutus’ sons. Since Brutus’ son is cursed anyway, I didn’t think he’d mind it if I took a pic of one of his many awards. Check it out:

  5. Nancy Barrett is always a knockout, both dramatically, and to look at, but has she ever been more ethereally beautiful than she is in this 1680 edition?

    1. Nancy Barrett in those pastels is the strongest memory I carry of this truncated story–she’s stunning. Of all the actors in the ensemble, she (along with Thayer David) was one of the most committed and variable in characterization, and, even when a role is as underwritten and negligible as this, she can still stay in the memory for sheer bearing and vulnerable dignity. One the real joys of re-viewing the show with y’all has been re-recognizing how much talent Barrett brought to her work.

  6. Apart from Brutus, who’s left at Collinwood to curse? Brutus mentioned his weak sons who excel in ingratitude, but they never appeared. Does that mean Brutus himself gets his sons together to tell them all about his curse? Does he also tell them all about the lottery? Where does Brutus sleep when the lottery winner Brutus’ cursed bedroom? We’ve already seen the secret embezzlement room’s door knob/lock knocked off by James. Does that mean all of the descendant’s that have spent the night in Brutus’ bedroom from 1680-1841 never looked around the embezzlement/mausoleum room with the eternally troubled bodies? Where did Constance end up? Does she get to rest, or will she also be eternally troubled. btw How does one eternally trouble a dead person? Does putting a pebble in each shoe and one under their back do the trick?

    Yes….Yes…..You must tell me……..Tell me you must!!!

  7. Hi, Danny!
     
    This is the second time I have seen Dark Shadows.  I started when I was nine and Sarah was introduced.  I watched it to the bitter end, even though it stopped making sense in a lot of ways.  Dark Shadows became a part of my life and has remained so through a half a century.  I have hundreds of episodes to go in my second watch, but now that you are reaching the end of your massive undertaking, I wanted to thank you for all of the time and love you have put into this blog. Your insights are especially deep, and the enjoyment of your humor has kept me, and many others I am sure, going in a time of great fear and loss. I have enjoyed the company of you and the others.  There are so many I admire here.  I wish could meet them and bring them into my life.  In peeking ahead, I notice many intelligent, witty and admired voices are no longer here.  I hope they are well, and will reconnect with you to share their gratitude also.  What your effort has created is so wonderful!  I never made it to a Dark Shadows convention.  To my eternal regret. I could have and did not, and now so many of the professionals who made the show so special and memorable have passed away.  Their talents have been recognized in many ways, but the work and sacrifice you have done memorializes them in the most  powerful way.  I hope that your work can be preserved as long as there is a Dark Shadows fandom.  You have given those of us who never made it to a convention one of our very own!  Thank you so much!  I know that whatever you choose to do hereafter, it will be a magnificent contribution to the world, and will be,appreciated just as much! (PS, This is my only entry which has proper capitalization.  Yes, you are THAT important!)

    Sincerely,

    Kar

  8. The secret records room may be the depository of artifacts: the Petofi box (complete with hand), the box withe head of Judah Zachery, the multi-hued afghan, the purine/ralston lamp, the stuffed pig-weasel, Barnabas’s cane & ring, the pen Vicki found on the beach, portraits of Josette, Barnabas, Angelique, Quentin, and Amanda, Quentin’s gramophone…

  9. “Dark Shadows knows perfectly well how to construct a curse: it’s the thing that a person does when they’ve lost.” They do show us one other kind of curse, the Faustian bargain. Paul Stoddard sold his soul to the Leviathans in return for twenty years of prosperity, only to discover when it was too late that he had doomed himself and his progeny to something or other the show never got around to delivering on.

    I’d think the show could lay out that kind of curse satisfactorily in a day or two. Brutus gains wealth and power, takes a beautiful young wife, avenges himself on those who have humiliated him, only to realize when it is too late to do anything about it that the price of it all is a horrible blight on his descendants for centuries to come.

    Then you not only avoid the unmotivated curse this episode gives us, you also wrap up all the things the Collinses value- money, power, status, avoiding awkward conversations- with the curse. So you can tell the story that makes inherited curses interesting, that is to say, you can show how each generation keeps the curse alive by its own pride, cowardice, and greed.

  10. When I viewed this episode, I was surprised to see that Brutus was living in the “new” house rather than the old house, given that this was 1680 and the new house was still under construction in 1795 and had no one living in it yet even at that time. Or is this somehow explained by the house being still under construction in regular time and the Brutus story occurring in parallel time with an already long-since-completed house?

    1. Either that, or else because the previous story had given a flashback to the 1600s with Miranda and Judah and Amadeus, and the writer of PT1840 thought nobody would remember back to the 1795 plot (or just forgot that there was a 1795 plot). The current story needed a date long enough in the past to have affected multiple generations of Collinses, and 1795 just wasn’t old enough.
      AND it was Parallel Time, so anything goes.

  11. My rationalization is that Jeremiah built Collinwood from very old blueprints which were new when the house was constructed in parallel time.

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