“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.
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.
— Danny Horn