“These two were somehow mummyfied, and preserved all these years.”
Well, there’s another swinging wake over at the Haunted Mansion today; the guys are all wearing black armbands, and the ladies have put aside their typical bird costumes, and are wearing clothes more appropriate for sea level.
“Mother,” says Morgan, “nobody understands better than I do how you feel, but it’s just as well that you didn’t see Gabriel.”
Flora turns to face her son. “Morgan, I feel so guilty,” she moans. “He deserved a better fate.”
“Mother, that could be said for all of us,” Morgan points out. “But Gabriel’s gone now. At least he has met his peace.”
The way they’re talking, you’d imagine that they’re all dressed up for Gabriel’s funeral. Actually, they’re getting ready to bury Daphne, who also died this week. You know that your soap opera’s going in a weird direction when the audience can’t keep track of which funeral you’re going to.
Then Julia walks in with even more bad news, which you wouldn’t think was possible. She and Kendrick just locked Melanie in the tower room, because she’s possessed by an angry ancestor who wants to kill them all. Then the ghost of Brutus Collins showed up, and told them that Melanie would remain possessed unless they do another round of the goddamn lottery.
Now, I thought this lottery was supposed to happen once in a generation, but I guess the hell not; this is the third one we’ve had in six weeks, and they don’t get any more cheerful. Flora here has to cut up a bunch of paper slips, which she makes a really big deal about, and then they haul out the blue vase and everybody stands around in the drawing room and looks tense.
The worst thing about the lottery is all the conversations you have to have about the attendance list. There’s a pretty straightforward rule set — the whole family participates — but every time they do it, they have to get together in tight little clumps and argue about who’s going to be involved.
This time, Quentin can’t come because he’s in the hospital with appendicitis, and Melanie can’t come because she’s in the tower with post-traumatic stress disorder. For some reason, Morgan is participating, even though he survived the whole experience once and he’s perfectly fine, which means the curse is already over.
Meanwhile, the worst thing about this scene is that there are three people in it, and they can’t manage to get more than two of them in the shot at the same time. They keep filming from these awkward angles, to accommodate the terrible blocking. Whoever used to take care of this stuff must be terribly worried about the lottery, and can’t focus on doing their job anymore.
So we have said farewell to visual surprise as the primary aesthetic of Dark Shadows, here at the outer edge. That was the killer feature that set the show apart from all of the other soap operas on the dial, that every episode you’d get to see something that wasn’t just people standing around in rooms.
People probably don’t remember this anymore, but there used to be an activity called “let’s see what’s on TV”, where you turned on the set, and flipped around through various channels to see what other people thought you should be watching. You didn’t have a watchlist or a Trending Now section; you couldn’t see previews or start the episode over from the beginning. You just turned it on, and you would see the middle of something that you probably didn’t want to watch anyway, and then you would flip the dial and have that same experience, eight more times. I have no idea why people used to watch television.
So if that’s the game you’re playing at, let’s say, 4:02pm on September 15, 1967, then you get a lady talking, game show, commercial, commercial, Woody Woodpecker, commercial, and a little boy standing in front of a huge mouth with fangs. Then you take your hand off the dial, and now you’re a person who watches Dark Shadows.
Visual surprise is why the show became popular; that was Dark Shadows’ core offering.
Now, all of the stuff that was interesting to look at has been rebranded as “tragedy”, and you end up with this: sad people, in old-fashioned clothes, talking things over with no measurable impact.
“Were you out for a walk, so early this morning?” Catherine asks her brother-in-law Kendrick, and he answers, “Yes, I found the house quite depressing this morning.” Yeah, no kidding.
“Why, has something else happened?” Catherine asks, which means that she isn’t satisfied with all the terrible things that have happened so far; if someone seems gloomy, there’s got to be another problem that she doesn’t know about yet. The fact that she’s correct does not make the situation any better.
So this is what the heat death of the universe looks like, from the inside: shitty cameras taking blurry pictures of actors who are slumped over and turned away from the audience. Everyone looks weary and unhappy, and their dialogue is not helping them to focus; it’s the same gloomy conversations that don’t lead anywhere.
Kendrick says, “Catherine, I didn’t have time to tell you how I felt when I heard the news about Daphne,” and then the big reveal is that he feels sorry. Catherine feels faint, and Kendrick asks “Catherine, are you ill?” and Morgan asks, “Catherine, what happened to you?” in five different ways, and she doesn’t want to answer any of those questions.
Morgan says, “I have some very bad news,” and it’s the same bad news that we already heard upstairs. “Please listen to me,” Morgan barks at Catherine, who is already listening. And the audience, to the extent that there still is one, is wondering if they’re ever going to get back to the vampire.
“What are you thinking about, Julia?” asks Kendrick, and she replies, “How few of us there are left.” Kendrick tells her, “Don’t let it depress you,” but I don’t see why, it’s depressing everybody else.
The show has been leaking cast members for months now, draining away all of their assets. David Henesy ducked out a while ago; he doesn’t even have a character in this storyline. Thayer David is almost, but not quite, out the door. Trask is gone, and Daphne’s gone, and Quentin and Gabriel and Carrie are gone. Gerard, who did so much to make life worth living in 1840, has been allowed to drift away.
We’ve got seven people, a chromakey ghost, and two mannequins in the basement, and one more week to go. Just twelve months ago, Barnabas was embarking on his first trip to a parallel band of time, with the whole world laid out in front of him. Who would have predicted that it would all end this way?
Julia tries to spice things up by telling Kendrick about the ancient corpses in the basement, which tells you a lot about where we are, thrills-wise. “Two ordinary corpses would have rotted to nothing but bone in a hundred and sixty-years,” she explains. “These two were somehow mummyfied, and preserved all these years.” So that cheers me up, for a minute.
“Kendrick,” she continues, “when I was there, looking at them, I could have sworn that one of them moved.” It didn’t, unfortunately; or if it did, then it’s not planning on moving again. This is a story where the only thing the audience has to hold on to is that maybe a dead body twitches a little bit.
After a whole episode of filling time, we finally get to the night’s big lottery draw. There’s one last moment of attendance drama: Morgan says that Catherine’s not going to participate because she drew the slip the last time, and Flora points out that Morgan took her place last time, so by his logic, he shouldn’t participate either, and then they all get tired and they say screw it, let’s just get this over with.
Monday: Frid’s Final Battle.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
It’s cleaned up above; what Flora actually says to Morgan is, “I feel so guilty. He deserved a better faith.”
When Morgan asks Flora where she would like the family assembled, someone in the studio clears his throat.
Flora tells Morgan, “We cannot afford to wait!” And then they do wait, for thirteen seconds, as Flora tries to remember her next line.
When Kendrick says, “I’m sorry, Catherine,” someone in the studio clears his throat again, and sniffs a couple times.
When Flora tells Kendrick, “You know that wouldn’t have done any good,” you can hear footsteps from the studio.
Kendrick says that he refuses to break his marriage vows, and then says, “I have felt that Melanie will be herself again when the vow — when the curse is broken!”
Catherine and Morgan talk over each other:
Catherine: Morgan, how much longer do we have to wait —
Morgan: A couple of hours —
Catherine: — before the lottery?
Morgan: A couple of hours yet.
Kendrick asks about the two bodies, and Julia says, “Oh, there’s — you can’t possibly call them two bodies.”
Kendrick says that Julia could have imagined the bodies moving, and Julia says, “You’re talking — that’s what Morgan said.”
There’s a long pause after Kendrick tells Julia, “I thought I knew you so well, but now I see a part of you that I never knew existed.” Julia’s been a bit uncertain about her lines the whole scene, so she may have just forgotten the response, and Flora just goes ahead and continues the scene.
Introducing the lottery, Flora says, “Whoever draws the X will sleep in the room.” They’ve never mentioned “sleeping” in the room before.
When it’s down to Julia and Kendrick in the lottery, Julia asks Kendrick if he will draw first. They’ve already drawn; she wants him to open his slip first.
Monday: Frid’s Final Battle.
— Danny Horn