Episode 1238: The Mystery of Melanie’s Mother

“I’ve got to go back into the darkness forever.”

Mad Melanie Collins, the loveable girl who sometimes transforms into a heartless killing machine, has been marooned on a desert island for as long as she knows. Washed up on the shores of an enormous mansion, with no property or parents, she was raised by the local tribespeople, and trained in their savage rituals. And in the odd moments between human sacrifices, she has looked up at the sky to gaze at the studio lights twinkling overhead, and she has wondered. Who is she? Where does she come from? How far did she travel, to wind up in this exotic locale?

Well, it turns out she’s pretty much exactly who she thought she was, her father was the guy she thought of as her father, and she comes from next door. Her fiance, Kendrick, has ferreted out the secret in a matter of weeks, just by asking people in an urgent tone of voice. Now all that remains is an episode full of explanations, and we can cross that plot thread off the list.

Melanie’s mother is the parallel Josette, who fell off a cliff and into the arms of Justin Collins. She’s some kind of aunt, I suppose — for all of their talk about the Collins family history in this storyline, they’ve never bothered to explain how Barnabas was related to all these strangers. Justin and Barnabas are of the same generation, and their respective sons, Morgan and Bramwell, are fighting over the same girl. I don’t think that Justin and Barnabas were brothers, and Barnabas’ side of the family appears to be the poor relations, so I don’t know how Justin and Flora’s father pushed Joshua aside to be the heir of the estate. You know, it’s just occurring to me that I have no idea who most of these people even are.

It’s all sentiment today, as the show indulges in emotional developments that it hasn’t really earned. People say that Dark Shadows is too plot-driven and should rely more on characters and feelings, and this particular turn of events suggests that worldview is entirely backwards, especially in this claustrophobic climate.

Over the last four years, the show has become less interested in the residents of outer Collinsport, preferring to stay focused on the parade of monsters and madmen flowing through the Collinwood foyer. But the family still used to go downtown once in a while, to go to prison or a funeral parlor. This final 1841 storyline takes the trend to the extreme; I think we’ve only left the estate once, for one scene at the Eagle, and the whole point of that scene was to catch the character who went off property, and drag him back home.

There’s Collinwood, the Old House, the gatehouse and the gazebo, and a little strip of woods in between them. When these parallel Collinses have looked for adventure, it’s been down in the secret basement vault, and behind the spooky door, and along the hidden corridors of Collinwood. When fugitives go on the run, they slip into the secret panels; when strange bodies are unearthed, they’re out on the lawn or in the basement of the cottage.

So the fact that Melanie’s secret mother is the lady who lives next door is pretty much the logical conclusion of this insular trend.

Both Josette and Melanie are tickled to death by this reunion, so it falls to Julia to explain why everyone’s kept it a secret all these years, which she categorically refuses to do. Julia thrives on lies, no matter what dimension she’s in, and she’s got such a grip on this particular family skeleton that she attempts to organize a cover-up right in front of the person that she’s covering up from.

“There are such things as honor and keeping promises,” Julia scolds, trying to keep the identity of the father under wraps.

“Promise? A promise to who?” Melanie asks. “I want to know!”

“And you shall know!” Josette declares.

“Josette, no!” Julia chides. “Telling the truth now can benefit no one. Is it worth destroying a whole family? I beg of you!”

And somehow she thinks that’s going to suffice to keep a lid on things, as if Melanie will say, oh well, knowing thirty-eight percent of a secret is better than nothing, I guess I’ll stop asking.

But the story, once told, is believable and bittersweet. After her husband died, Justin traveled with Josette to Boston to settle Barnabas’ affairs, and started an affair of their own. Josette got pregnant, and was planning to move with Bramwell and her new daughter to a flat in Boston, but Justin demanded that they pretend Melanie is an orphan, so that he could adopt her and raise her with all the comforts of Collinwood, including the devastating family curse and the constant misery and fear.

Josette agreed, and she remained at the Old House, watching her daughter grow up at a distance. Justin’s wife Flora has no idea that her late husband had an affair with his cousin-in-law, or whatever Justin and Josette are supposed to be, and that’s who Julia is trying to protect.

It’s a neat little slice of domestic drama, which should be perfect for a soap opera, and not entirely out of place in the Brontë novel they’re trying to resemble. So the question is, why does it leave me entirely unmoved?

Well, for one thing, these are pretend people that I don’t particularly care for, so telling me that this one is now related to that one doesn’t impinge on my life to any noticeable degree.

This is clearly #NotMyJosette — her accent suggests that she wasn’t raised on a Martinique sugar plantation, and despite what it says on Dark Shadows Wiki, I don’t think there’s any textual evidence that her name is Josette DuPres Collins. The credits just say “Josette Collins,” so for all I know she’s Josette McGillicuddy Collins, who Barnabas met on a business trip to nowhere in particular. She seems perfectly nice, in a stagey kind of way, but I don’t see even a hint that she’s a parallel counterpart to the Josette that we knew, back when Dark Shadows was fun to watch.

I don’t care about this Josette, and frankly I care even less about that Flora, who’s hardly been on screen and only talks about the curse anyway. She is a make-believe person that they have not made me believe in, so I’m not super invested in protecting the feelings that she doesn’t have.

More importantly, this doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the story; it’s a loose plot thread that doesn’t lead anywhere. The only story that matters right now is the curse of Brutus Collins, the lottery and the spooky room. In that storyline, Melanie is being intermittently possessed by an ancestor from the seventeenth century, which periodically sets her off on impromptu murder sprees. Knowing who she’s related to doesn’t make any difference, one way or the other.

In fact, learning the secret of Melanie’s mother just means that they’ll stop talking about it; that thread is wrapped up, and there’s nothing more to say. Josette walks out the door at the end of this episode and we never see her again; there’s only a week and a half left of this show anyway.

On a regular soap opera with a life to live, the secret of Melanie’s parentage would be the start of a story, not the end; there would be inheritances and misunderstandings and jealousies. That’s how you make a story point matter; they need ramifications. This one just comes to a stop.

Tomorrow: Dan.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

When Bramwell tells Daphne, “The truth is, I love you,” someone clears his throat in the studio.

Behind the Scenes:

This is the last episode for Kate Jackson, who became probably the most famous of all the regular cast members. She returned as Tracy in the 1971 film Night of Dark Shadows, which started filming shortly after they wrapped the TV show. Right after that, she moved to Los Angeles, where she got a part on Aaron Spelling’s The Rookies, which ran for four seasons. Jackson played the wife of one of the main characters, and was so popular with viewers that they expanded her role. After The Rookies, Spelling cast her as one of Charlie’s Angels, a TV phenomenon that brought her global fame. In the 1980s, she starred with Bruce Boxleitner in the popular romance-spy series Scarecrow and Mrs. King. In the late 80s and early 90s, she was outspoken about her battle with breast cancer, which raised public awareness of the disease.

This is also the last episode for Mary Cooper as Josette. As far as I can tell, this was her last role, closing out a three-decade career that was mostly on the stage.

Tomorrow: Dan.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

40 thoughts on “Episode 1238: The Mystery of Melanie’s Mother

  1. After her husband died, Justin traveled with Josette to Boston to settle Barnabas’ affairs, and started an affair of their own. Josette got pregnant

    This information is also significant in the ongoing fandom debate about whether 1841 Parallel Time is the same Parallel Time band as 1970 Parallel Time.

    In the 1970 PT story, we’re told that Barnabas Collins died in 1830. If PT Josette got impregnated by Justin after this Barnabas died, then 1841 Melanie is about 10 or 11 years old. No wonder the Collins Family objects to Kendrick courting the pre-teen.

    Josette walks out the door at the end of this episode and we never see her again; there’s only a week and a half left of this show anyway.

    This was important to 12-year-old me in 1971. I knew from TV Guide that Dark Shadows was about to end. I was still naively expecting that after DCP wrapped up the dull 1841 PT Flashback, Dark Shadows would return to the main Maine characters in 1971 Real Time. I figured every time a PT 1841 mystery was resolved or character killed, that was one step closer to returning to the more interesting characters. Every time a new plot complication developed, that would cause the show to waste more time in 1841 PT.

    1. Perhaps PT years are 730 days long with every other year a leap year. That would make Melanie’s age of 10-11 PT years equal to 20-22 RT years. Maybe PT started using the new, longer calendar year in 1830. This new “Dublian” calendar may have been an effort to improve upon the Gregorian & Julian calendars by automatically doubling the number of holidays in a year.

  2. Mary Cooper was also a close friend of Joan Bennett.

    Kate Jackson played a major role in my coming out. She played the wife of Michael Ontkeen (her Rookie’s co-star) who realized he was gay after an affair with Harry Hamlin in the 1981 film, Making Love.

    1. Aaron Spelling helped make Kate Jackson a star, but he also kept her from becoming a bigger star. She was the first choice to play the female lead in 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer,” but Spelling refused to let her out of her “Charlie’s Angels” contract. Meryl Streep was then cast and gave the performance that resulted in her first Oscar win.

    2. I saw Kate Jackson in the porte cochere of the Beverly Hills Hotel around the time that picture was shooting.

      She may seem quite lovely in film and television, but the camera does not actually do her justice. One of the most beautiful human beings I have ever set eyes on.

  3. I agree about Josette McGillicuddy Collins. Back in 1971, we were so excited that Josette was still alive in 1841PT, since she would certainly make the story of that family more bearable. We were utterly disappointed. Something about how Mary Cooper delivered her lines killed a little bit of my heart each time. It soon became obvious that PT Barnabas died because he just couldn’t take listening to her any more.

  4. Mary Cooper looked enough like a seventyish version of Kathryn Leigh Scott that I’m sure we’re supposed to think of her as a counterpart to our Josette. True, as a Missourian who had been in New York for decades her accent was different from that of a Minnesotan who’d only been in the city for a few years. It would be interesting if her maiden name were Josette LaFreniere- perhaps at some point a book from the timeline we see in these final nine weeks was tossed into the main universe, and it ended up in the hands of the person who wrote the family history Carolyn was reading in episode 45.

    The three women on the show who were old enough to be Melanie’s mother were Josette, Julia, and Flora. As you’ve explained, revealing Josette to be Melanie’s mother is a complete narrative dead-end. Either of the other two would have had the potential for an interesting story. If it’s Flora, we would want to hear of the strange, dark secret that required her to pretend that a child of hers whom her husband was prepared to accept as his own was an orphan she had adopted. If it was Julia, she could admit that in her youth she had carried on an affair with her aged second or third cousin Barnabas. Not only would that be a nod to all the Julia/ Barnabas shippers, it would also show us Julia in a whole new light light. And it would set up explosive confrontations between Julia and Josette, Julia and Bramwell, etc.

    Choosing Josette allows them to close out the story in the time they have, but why on earth would they want to do that? Surely they must have known that the fans would want to imagine that the story is in some sense still going on, that the characters somehow still exist. Heck, they were on their way to make another movie, and the novels, comics strip, and comic books were still going. They knew that the show was the flagship of a franchise. Why wouldn’t they want to leave the audience thinking that the franchise still had some life in it as the show left the air?

    1. Why does Nancy Barrett get the front of her hair in that style? Okay, I’ll stop ranting about her hair starting now.

      1. I liked that two-part V-shaped hairdo. I thought it was unusual and highly original. I’ve never seen anyone else with that style.

  5. [When Bramwell tells Daphne, “The truth is, I love you,” someone clears his throat in the studio.]

    That was Keith Prentice’s rather Freudian response.

    Also: It has only just occurred to me (duh) that soaps have no down time. Their staffs don’t get the summer off like primetime network people or, like, the rest of the year off like today’s high-quality cable actors and writers. Reading these posts–and, more to the point, watching these shows–I feel extreme fatigue. Three months off and this cast and the writers might have been raring to go.

    1. Other than the current soaps being forced to shut down production due to COVID-19 last year, the only daily soap to take a hiatus was Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. The audience was not happy about that.

      Agnes Nixon talked about the importance of not overworking your (soap) actors because it is reflected in their on-screen performances. Apparently Dan Curtis never got this memo.

  6. I’m not sure there was much of an audience hoping PT 1841 would continue to live on. There were no vampires, werewolves, nor witches. There weren’t even any balls of light, pirates, nor zombies on call waiting for a signal. The only real exciting character they had to offer was an insane ghost with some kind of code of honor: If you follow the rules of his curse, then you have a chance at beating it, and he will end it.

    “Mad Melanie Collins, the loveable girl who sometimes transforms into a heartless killing machine…”

    Melanie should have been described as “an alleged heartless….” Although there was circumstantial evidence to make her a suspect, there never was any definitive proof she killed anybody.

    1. Right? They never did get full closure on that whole thing. Kendrick seems to be fine with “eh, at least they reburied my sister once I found her frenzied corpse” now, though.

  7. Oh, Justin! You DAWWWWG!

    And again the question comes up; was this ‘shocking revelation’ intended from the beginning of this story (or at least from the introduction of PT Josette)? The character wouldn’t seem to have a dramatic function otherwise, from the standpoint of Chekhov’s gun.
    To me, the character serving no real purpose is Julia Collins. Apart from the fact that she’s played by Grayson Hall, I mean.

    And was this bit of PT1840 intended as a sort of resolution for the first Dark Shadows orphan, Victoria Winters?

    1. If it had been a sort of resolution for Victoria, who do you think would have ended up being her parents? According to Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, she was Victoria’s mother. Was Jason McGuire her dad?

      1. Wasn’t the story line going for Betty Hanscomb as the mother and Paul Stoddard as the father? Of course that would give Liz no real cause to take Vicki in other than a sense of duty. The other version was that Liz was the mother and a servant named Hanscomb was the father. That would at least make more connection to Liz; but in either case, why did Elizabeth wait so long to bring Vicki to Collinwood? With Paul presumably gone for good, Liz could have sent for the girl and ‘adopted’ her years earlier.

        1. I have and will always maintain that Liz cannot be Vickie’s mother, because the timing simply cannot work; Vickie and Carolyn are simply too close in age.

          Even if we bought that Liz “went on a tour of Europe” or whatever to hide her pregnancy, she would have had to have given birth, come back, gone to New York to leave Vickie on the orphanage doorstep, returned to Collinwood, met and married Justin, and had Carolyn in the span of at most two years. Even for a soap that’s simply asking a little too much of the other characters.

          1. Oh, and also, the father, whoever he was, would have had to be trusted to simply never breathe a word, or try to find his daughter. Even if he wasn’t aware of Vickie’s existence at the time, the above scenario would have to ignite his suspicions!

  8. I do remember reading the night Elizabeth thought she’d killed Paul was also the night she found out he’d fathered Victoria with Betty.

    However……If the plans were changed to make Elizabeth Victoria’s mother, then that leaves quite a few men who were around then: Jason McGuire, Sam Evans, Matthew Morgan, Bill Malloy, B. Hanscomb, Dr. Dave Woodard, Sheriff George Patterson, Sheriff Davenport, Dr. Peter Guthrie, Richard Garner, and the amazing Dr. Eric Lang.

    Matt Morgan was extremely loyal to Elizabeth. Fathering her baby would account for that.

    Ned Calder was manager of the cannery. Elizabeth dumped him to marry Paul. Perhaps she’d already gotten pregnant with Ned’s child before dumping him.

    Bill Malloy took over as manager. He was always very loyal to Elizabeth.

    Dr. Eric Lang never mentioned knowing Elizabeth, but the thought of him being her baby daddy is just fun to imagine!

    What do YOU think? Any other good possibilities I didn’t think of?

    1. Possibly the father of Joe Haskell? Or the Jennings’ dad? Burke’s dad? I suppose the manager at the Collinsport Inn is a long shot, as is the bartender at the Blue Whale.

      1. I was only trying to mention men that had been mentioned by name previously in the series. The caretaker did come to mind, but he seemed a bit too old for Elizabeth. I’d forgotten all about the Inn Manager and the Blue Whale’s bartender, and they appeared in the earliest episodes. No votes for Dr. Lang?

        1. I would, but the doctor doesn’t seem like the type to have an affair on the quiet. Or anything else. Dr. Lang is not a quiet guy… and I’m imagining the face that he makes when – – erm, well, y’know.

    2. Maybe she was Victoria Stokes? Or perhaps Victoria Hoffman from before the writers changed Dr. Hoffman’s sex?

  9. our beloved wondrous Danny, i get your reasons for not seeing Melanie’s parentage as pertinent to the story line. but for me, hers was the only story line worth showing up for in that last ridiculous stretch of parallel shadows, made endurable because of the heart poured into it by Nancy, in hopes she’d finally be happily ensconced with John Karlen. so for me and my five cents, the only story that could have mattered just ended. that other seesawing melodrama of vengeful obbligato ghosts was a cold pizza with no toppings heated up thrice, that left my angsted teenage self entirely unconvinced, even at the time.

  10. phrankenstign and John E Comelately-back-around-again, i vote for Bill Malloy as daddio dearest. an eccentric interesting character wastefully murdered before his time, i felt he brought something real to the show, and doting so awfully on Carolyn, could surely speak of unsewn threads. and by the by, i’ve enjoyed partaking of both or your particular comments and fascinating divergences ever so much over the years, in past and present time. * sigh *

    1. Maybe Bill didn’t know he got Liz pregnant and that Vicki was his daughter until after he died, and that’s why when Vicki was locked in the room in the west wing he appeared to her as a ghost to warn her that she would die if she didn’t escape.

  11. Boy, that “big reveal” of Melanie’s biological mom was almost the definition of anticlimactic.

  12. With regard to the whole PT issue…as usual, you can talk about this in terms of what was in the writers’ heads (which we know less about than we might like) and/or we can play Widow’s Hill Irregular. With regard to 1970 PT, the two obvious options are Quentin is descended from 1897 Quentin or from 1840 Quentin. With no vampire Barnabas, perhaps 1897 Quentin got away with the will switch. If he somehow also avoided the curse, then 1970 PT Quentin could be his descendant via the son he had with Jenny. The other option is that PT’s Tad lived and had descendants.

    With regard to 1841 PT, my best guess is that Gabriel & Quentin are in fact the 1841 PT counterparts of 1840 Gabriel & Quentin. That would make Justin this PT’s Daniel under a different name; “normal” time’s Morgan might have died in infancy, or maybe Daniel’s wife made different choices about having a headache the night he was conceived. That would make Brutus the ancestor of the New York branch of the Collins family in “normal” time — maybe in the 1841 PT timeline he came to Maine in the late 1600s rather than Isaac, with Isaac’s descendants (i.e. Joshua, etc.) moving to Maine later and building the Old (sic) House.

    With regard to whether they’re the same PT — didn’t we just see 1841 PT Gabriel die unmarried and childless?

  13. Seconding EvanHawthorne above, I attached myself hard to the fate of Melanie Collins, with Nancy Barrett throwing every bit of acting conviction she had at this thing even as the ship sank around her. But, lord, Mary Cooper? I feel as if one of the failing vital signs of the show is the care and selectivity going into the casting of late–a hopelessly ineffective Justin when something truly haunting was needed, Keith Prentice not really working out at all, and now this lumpen hausfrau, as uninteresting. presence as you could find if you put “dull” in the casting call. Where are the days of discovering Humbert Allen Astredo, Thayer David, Grayson Hall? Sad, sad, sad–

    1. I wish there had been a PT Buzz Hackett and a PT Willie (James Hall) Loomis. They could have started a………

      Final Rumble with the Spirit Fingers of Death


      The Wraith Riot

      ………….or even challenged the ghosts to a No Holds Barred Cage Match entitled


    2. I thought the casting of Mary Cooper as older Josette was a wonderfully clever and subversive idea. After years of Dark Shadows romanticizing Josette and presenting her as the great love of Barnabas’ life, we find out that if the tragic lovers hadn’t been torn apart by the cruel fates, Josette would have tuned into a “lumpen hausfrau, as uninteresting. presence as you could find if you put “dull” in the casting call.” I like to think DS decided to take its epic love tale that spanned the centuries and give it an O Henry or Alfred Hitchcock Presents twist ending.

    3. The whole problem with Mary Cooper’s performance for me is that when she delivers her lines she always sounds like she’s tired. Her facial expressions also make her look tired. Maybe this was an acting choice. Maybe she was trying to portray elderly Josette as someone who bore all the weight of the world upon her weary shoulders, but she only ends up giving me the impression that she’s just too tired to be bothered with anything, including you know, acting.

  14. It’s totally true that the emotion about Melanie’s mother being Josette was unearned by what went before and therefore not very involving. Still, I thought the cliffhanger from the previous episode was sweet. Melanie is told her mother will come in the door, the door opens and you see her face light up in a smile of delight. Then next day, you find out who it is. This is the only episode close in the whole series featuring positive emotions, and I kind of like it; the show is so close to ending that we don’t need to have angst, Sturm and Drang any more.

    I think 1841 PT is the precursor of 1970 PT; the historical records just made a mistake and told William H. Loomis, erroneously, that Barnabas Collins died in 1830 when they meant 1820. Therefore, he lived long enough to enjoy his time with Josette but died before she turned into that lumpen hausfrau (who still made for a loving mother when outed). What made all the difference was that, back in the 1790s, Barnabas never slept with Angelique, and when she came to Collinsport she MARRIED BEN STOKES. (Remember, he was interested in her in our time, before he found out her actual nature.) I know they made a feeble stab in 1970 at saying Alexis and Angelique were Evil Timothy Stokes’ adopted daughters, but really their ancestry accounts for the reason the same DNA could produce people who looked like Ben and, in the next generation, people who looked like Angelique in the same family. So there we have the differing choice that made the two timebands split apart, plus Millicent’s parents naming their son Justin rather than Daniel. (I have no information on how Justin got the Great House and cannery away from Barnabas.)

  15. Gawd, Julia is such a beast!! I wish Josette would’ve slapped her!! Self-righteous ninny!!

    But I agree that the reveal of Josette being Melanie’s mother is so hollow as we have no emotional ties to these people. It’s disappointing. But Nancy Barrett is ever the professional and gives it her all…even Grayson Hall does even though she annoys the shit out of me.

    Kate Jackson was one of the prettiest women to be on this show. It’s too bad she wasn’t given more to do.

  16. “so I don’t know how Justin and Flora’s father pushed Joshua aside to be the heir of the estate”

    They did mention earlier in the PT story that Joshua was the last one to ‘win’ the lottery in the generation prior to Justin.

    I do wonder if PT Flora is the equivalent of the regular Flora in 1840. That could mean that the unnamed husband of Flora and the father of Desmond was a ‘real time’ version of Justin.

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