Episode 1237: Chekhov’s Sword

“You think I’m there? Well, I’m not. I’m here!”

Civil war has broken out in Collinwood, an unincorporated nation-state with its own history, founding myths, and independent system of justice. The reigning Collins family is consumed in internal struggle over trivial domestic matters, distracting them from the escalating crisis at the border. An authoritarian strongman, exiled from the well-lit areas of the house back in the seventeenth century, has declared total war on the family for no particular advantage to himself, and the inhabitants do not appear to have the basic survival instincts necessary to really get their minds around the problem.

The family’s basic strategic disadvantage is that they don’t like each other, and on the whole, they can’t stand to be in the same room for more than a couple of minutes before they long to go and be by themselves for a while. Given the current threat level, they should be building fortifications, running drills and sticking little pins in a map showing the location of enemy forces. This does not seem to have occurred to them.

This leaves them at the mercy of dissident elements, namely fifth-columnist Gabriel Collins, who is engaging in guerilla warfare. He’s running around the inside of the house, using secret panels and Jefferies tubes to access remote areas, and when he finds someone alone in a room, he suddenly pops out of a tunnel and attacks. When reinforcements arrive, he ducks back through the doorway, secure in the certain knowledge that the arriving parties would rather stand around and ask if people are okay than give chase.

Soap opera characters are not equipped for quick response time after a significant event; all they want to do is recap and discuss their emotions. Then there’s a commercial break, and they move on to other interests.

Luckily, the females in the house are equipped with 1841 rich lady couture, which is the equivalent of Kevlar tactical gear; there’s no way a knife is going to penetrate that many layers of fabric. Stabbing Melanie in the shoulder is not going to get you anywhere; the costume designer is way ahead of you.

Kendrick manages to chase the attacker back into the secret corridors, where Gabriel can break open crates to stock up on ammo and health orbs. Naturally, the second that the assailant steps off the battlefield, the incident is over; if somebody impulsively chases him, then they’d have to go and tell the lighting designer to rig up an adjoining set, and Gabriel would probably get away anyway.

Morgan and Julia stop by, wondering what all the racket is, and Kendrick says, “It’s not serious, he only wounded her in the shoulder.” Julia gasps “Gabriel!” with one of those big Dark Shadows reactions that they have to do because they’re supposed to be surprised by something that shouldn’t surprise them. I’ll miss those reactions, when this is all over; nobody else knows how to do it properly.

Busy wiggling the wounded, Kendrick snaps, “Yes, Gabriel!” and Morgan says, “You mean he’s been in the house this whole time?” which is just typical. Yes, he’s been in the house, and he always will be in the house, if local conditions persist. In order to solve a problem like Gabriel, you need to focus on catching him, and stay focused until you’ve achieved something. Assuming that he’s en route to Mexico just because he’s out of your immediate line of sight is not helpful. Maybe Brutus was right about these clowns.

Kendrick says that Gabriel slipped back into the secret panel, and Julia tells Morgan to go after him.

Morgan’s reaction is typical rich boy bullshit. “All right,” he sighs, making a production out of it, “but I don’t think I’ll have any more luck than I’ve had in the past. He knows every corridor in this house!” One wonders why Morgan doesn’t know them just as well; he’s lived here for his entire life, and he doesn’t go outside much. Morgan’s lifetime record in hide-and-seek must be zero to ten thousand.

Julia advises him to be armed, so he leaps for the pair of loaded duelling pistols that they’re still storing on a nearby table, for sentimental reasons. Then he’s off on the hunt.

So we find ourselves exploring the dusty catacombs of the land beyond the secret panel, an unearthly inner space that lies in the between. Do other mansions have a warren of unexplored tunnels like this? Usually people would like to have as many rooms in their house as possible; walling off unclaimed internal territory means you won’t have space for a billiards room.

Anyway, Morgan is walking through this haunted hallway with gun drawn, as if he’s planning to protect himself with it. The fact is that he’s going to have two separate fistfights with Gabriel over the next eight minutes, and it doesn’t occur to him to shoot even once. I suspect that he’s heard of open carry, but never asked a follow-up question.

Morgan hears mocking laughter over a hidden loudspeaker, with extra reverb. He whirls around and says, “Gabriel, is that you?” and he can’t figure out where the voice is coming from.

“Yes, Morgan,” Gabriel echoes, from nowhere in particular. “It’s Gabriel!” And then some more mocking laughter. Morgan asks him to show himself, and Gabriel reverberates, “Oh, no. It’s more fun this way! Ha ha. You amuse me, Morgan! You think you’re on my trail — while the fact is, I’m on yours!”

I don’t know why Gabriel is doing his impression of the ghost host from the Haunted Mansion like this. It’s not very sneaky, and it makes the audience question the show’s commitment to theatrical realism. Still, as long as he’s happy.

The camera goes in for a tight closeup on the firearm as Morgan dithers ineffectively, and then Gabriel smacks it out of his hand, and it falls to the floor, utterly useless. Chekhov is just shaking his head in despair.

Then there’s the big tussle, which we glimpse through an assortment of rubbish that happens to be in the area. Gabriel lunges with his knife, and Morgan grabs his wrists, and they push each other about a bit, and then Morgan makes Gabriel drop the knife, and Gabriel gives Morgan a well-telegraphed uppercut, which sends him sprawling backwards.

Blessed with two weapons on the floor that Gabriel could easily collect, he grabs the knife, knowing full well that the gun is mostly a fashion accessory. Then he scuttles away, and leaves Morgan standing there with his useless sidearm, looking like an asshole.

After a quick break for station identification, they return for round two, which is introduced with a perplexing but ominous shot of a large horizontal sword. Who or what is that sword attached to, the audience wonders.

So the camera pulls back, and reveals a dusty suit of armor decorating this empty ghost of a hallway, with sword extended at waist height like this is a trap from the Indiana Jones Adventure ride. It’s all Disneyland attractions, here in the upside down; next, a skipper will float by and introduce the back side of water.

Obviously, you don’t put something this silly on a set unless you’re planning to use it, although now that I say that, they’ve been putting a lot of focus on the gun, which will not be used in any way. Still, the sword feels like such forced foreshadowing that it might as well be fiveshadowing.

Hearing Morgan’s stealthy approach on tap shoes, Gabriel ducks around the corner and waits for his moment.

And the first thing that happens is that the gun clatters to the floor, once again. Morgan really should put a string on it or something.

There’s a desperate battle of brother vs brother being waged in this corridor, and the camera decides to focus on the gun, which is taking a moment to consider what it’s doing with its life. Its mother warned there was no future in show business.

The pistol is kicked away, not that it matters, and Morgan shoves his younger brother across the hall —

— and Gabriel tumbles backwards, into history.

After all of that “never bring a knife to a gunfight” drama, it turns out the sword is mightier than anything.

When Morgan finds his way back to civilization and tells Julia that Gabriel is dead, she asks if he killed him. “No,” Morgan says, “it was quite accidental,” which is technically true, although I wouldn’t want to testify about it.

This is Chris Pennock’s last moment on Dark Shadows, closing an unforgettable fifteen-month run, and he dies as he lived: noisy and untethered, undone by his own reckless lunacy. Rest well, sweet emperor pig weasel. You will be remembered.

Tomorrow: The Mystery of Melanie’s Mother.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

At the end of yesterday’s episode, Gabriel said, “Didn’t you know there were many secrets and panels, all over this house?” In today’s reprise, he says, “Didn’t you know there were many secret panels and secrets, all through this house?” He should get a third try at that line, to see if he can get it right.

Julia tells Morgan, “Go and get — be armed.”

The state of the cameras is shockingly bad during this period. When Kendrick arrives at the cottage, it’s especially bad: a fuzzy image, with green and red lines. I guess they really just didn’t bother to try to keep them in good shape anymore.

There’s a scraping sound at the beginning of act 4.

When Julia tells Melanie, “I’ve always thought of you as one of us,” someone clears his throat in the studio.


Behind the Scenes:

Christopher Pennock was currently in the middle of a six-week Broadway run in Abelard and Heloise when he filmed these final episodes. His next stop was the NBC soap opera Somerset, which was running in the same timeslot of 4:00pm. After that, he did some time on General Hospital, The Young and the Restless, Guiding Light and Melrose Place, along with lots of one-shot TV appearances including The Love Boat, Cagney & Lacey, The A-Team, Dynasty and Knots Landing. In recent years, he had lead roles on two streaming TV series, Theatre Fantastique and High.

This is also Kathy Cody’s last episode. After this, she appeared on film in Girls on the Road (also known as Hot Summer Week), a horror movie about two hippie girls who pick up a crazed Vietnam vet serial killer hitchhiker. Somehow, this reportedly brought her to the attention of Walt Disney, who signed her to a three-picture deal. The pictures were Snowball Express (1972) with Dean Jones, Charley and the Angel (1973) with Fred MacMurray and Cloris Leachman, and Superdad (1973) with Kurt Russell. After that, she went back to TV, mostly for guest appearances including Gunsmoke, The Waltons and Barnaby Jones. She mostly retired from acting in the mid-80s, and I don’t really know what she did after that.

Tomorrow: The Mystery of Melanie’s Mother.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

13 thoughts on “Episode 1237: Chekhov’s Sword

  1. There’s some good soapcraft in this episode. You often say that Gordon Russell’s strength is moving characters where they need to be to facilitate the next plot point, and he does that here.

    The three candidates to be revealed as Melanie’s mother are Josette, Julia, and Flora. At the beginning of the episode, Julia is squarely in the way to keep any of them from being exposed. As it plays out, each scene weakens her position. Julia and Melanie have a sweet scene together where we see that, in spite of everything, they do care about each other. By the time Kendrick opens the door and we see that Melanie is delighted with the identity of her birth mother, it could be any of the three of them.

  2. What happened to the children of all the female lines between 1680 and now? Did all the girls die unmarried? Or once you married and no longer have the last name of Collins are you free? Is the Quentin of 1971PT descended from Quentin or Bramwell I wonder?
    Gabriel’s demise gave me a flashback to Dean’s death in “Supernatural”.

  3. HOLY CRAP!!! I watched all these 1841 PT episodes last spring while quarantined and bored beyond belief, and I have absolutely no memory of Gabriel being SPEARED!

    (Sweet emperor pig-weasel. Snort. Aw man, I’m gonna miss this.)

  4. Seriously, Danny, you’ve outdone yourself. I chuckled all the way through your entry for this episode. So many humorous observations. “Five-shadowing.” Simply priceless.

  5. Honestly, a suit of armor in the secret passages? With the sword sticking straight out at gut height? That’s in some solid “Three Stooges” territory, that is. (Well, maybe the sword would be at butt-poking height.)
    This family has so much crap that they have to have secret passages to stash it all. One of those Monthly Storage Locker places could make a fortune off the Collinses.

    Well, I guessed right. They killed Gabriel before he could get any of them. Brutus picked the wrong horse.

    Now let’s see, just have to get rid of Morgan so Bramwerine can get their happiness… Will Melanie have another fit, and try to commit mayhem again? She could try for Catherine, Morgan steps in, gets stabbed. Melanie (possessed by Amanda) thinks she’s killed her lover James Forsythe, faints; when she wakes up, she’s cured and Meladrick has their happy ending too.
    Am I close?

  6. Gabriel the Inept, Brutus’ handpicked hitman, died and nobody cared. Gabriel tried his best to impress his boss, but butter-finger Morgan, a gunman with an inability to hold onto his firearm, was just too much for him. Perhaps it was the glare of the light that got in his eyes while slinking through the brightly lit, sunshiny dark shadows in the corridors and secret passageways throughout Collinwood. In the end, he almost got stabbed in the end, but was saved that indignity by being lucky enough to get stabbed just a little higher by a murderous suit of armor who had no business poking his sword in other people’s business. Truly an unexpected tragedy.

    Melanie said, “Then he’s better off”. Julia was more worried about preventing Melanie from learning who her mother was. Morgan seemed bemused Julia didn’t really question his story about the death being “accidental”. It had started as such a beautiful day, but now he had to get rid of a dead body. Isn’t that always the case? Too bad all of the servants were probably out looking for Gabriel outside. He’d end up having to ask Quentin to help him hide another body—this time in the cellar. (Perhaps in the PT equivalent spot to the RT fake Paul Stoddard trunk burial spot.) Gabriel was a pain when he was alive, and now he was a bigger pain than before. It was difficult for anyone to feel sorry for him. Gabriel truly was BETTER OFF DEAD!!!

    1. Morgan only mentioned that they had ‘put’ Gabriel in the cellar; I’d like to think that Quentin has gone to tell the police to call off the search and collect the servants, since otherwise they might find evidence of some other crime(s) the family committed.

      Oh, what am I saying? They’ve been out there for days and haven’t found RT Trask’s freshly dug grave yet.

      1. Most families would have left the body untouched and called the police. However this is the Collins family living in Collinwood where there are many secrets and panels, many secret panels, and secrets all through and over the house. These well-lit, concealed areas cannot be maintained as such, if they lead the police straight to them.

        1. Well, they’re certainly not going to let the police know about their secrets and panels and secret panels! Bad enough that those townies are running all over the grounds, possibly finding the secrets and entrances and secret entrances that lead into the secret passages. If everyone finds out, then they aren’t secret anymore. And that would never do.

  7. “You think I’m there? Well, I’m not. I’m here!”

    That line made me laugh. Agent 86 issues a similar taunt in the Get Smart episode where Max thinks he’s invisible.

    1. I think that line made everyone laugh. Rather than maniacal, it appeared Pennock found the line to be genuinely comedic and played it that way. I’m surprised Morgan kept a straight face!

  8. My favorite sword moment in Dark Shadows is when Quentin pulls a big one out of its wall-mounted mounted sheath and brings the curtains, the rod, and a lamp (fortunately not the Ralston Purina) crashing down behind him while keeping an absolutely straight face. A keeper. (Will you be choosing your favorite goof on April 2–or is that too disrespectful?)

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