Category Archives: Gordon Russell

Episode 1168: How I Long to Be Wrong

“Whatever they know, I’m afraid it’s a great deal more than we care to imagine.”

You know, people say that Dark Shadows storytelling is slow, but just look at Gerard and Lamar; it was only yesterday that they even thought of looking for secrets in Ben Stokes’ diary, and now here they are, all the way downstairs in someone else’s house, tearing into the architecture.

“It was during the witchcraft trial,” Ben wrote improbably, “that the Reverend Trask made his last trip to the Old House. He made the mistake of finding the secret in the basement.” Upon reading this, Lamar Trask remembered hearing something bumping behind a brick wall a few weeks ago, and less than one minute later, he and Gerard have broken and entered the Old House, stormed to the cellar, and banged on a brick wall with a hammer and chisel, and now — ta-dah! — they’ve uncorked it, the co-star of The Cask of Amontillado.

And here he is, the Reverend Trask in skeleton form, hanging on a hook behind a pile of bricks, just like he was when they unveiled him last time, in spring 1968. I don’t know how many times they’re planning to unimmure the same guy; at a certain point, you ought to just leave him upstairs in a glass case and charge admission.

Continue reading Episode 1168: How I Long to Be Wrong

Episode 1166: The Proceedings

“Mr. Collins called them astral disturbances. They’re very difficult to describe in words.”

Yes, of course they’d repealed the Witchcraft Act by 1840; don’t be ridiculous. I know that Judge Lang said last week that the former royal colony of Massachusetts was still somehow bound by make-believe British law, and in accordance with the imaginary “Law 119”, dated 23 April 1696, a citizen can be charged with witchcraft if there are depositions from six citizens naming the perpetrator of said evil, but Judge Lang also thinks it’s a good idea to sew parts of dead people together. The man’s an ass.

The truth is, the English stopped prosecuting witches in 1717. The English Witchcraft Act of 1604 was repealed by Parliament in 1735, giving a clear signal that you can collect as many depositions as you like, but if you want to get rid of an unwanted governess then you just need to go ahead and fire her.

In an overdue burst of rationality, the Witchcraft Act of 1735 said that witches weren’t a problem in society; the problem was all the non-witch people who claimed to be witches in order to further their career development. According to this law,

“If any Person shall pretend to exercise or use any kind of Witchcraft, Sorcery, Inchantment, or Conjuration, or undertake to tell Fortunes, or pretend, from his or her Skill or Knowledge in any occult or crafty Science, to discover where or in what manner any Goods or Chattels, supposed to have been stolen or lost, may be found, every Person, so offending, shall, for every such Offence, suffer Imprisonment by the Space of one whole Year without Bail or Mainprize, and once in every Quarter of the said Year, in some Market Town of the proper County, upon the Market Day, there stand openly on the Pillory by the Space of One Hour.”

The 1735 law was then repealed by the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951, which made an exception for “anything done solely for the purpose of entertainment.” This was good news for Lara Parker, who pretended to exercise witchcraft quite a bit and otherwise would have wasted a lot of hours standing openly on the pillory.

Continue reading Episode 1166: The Proceedings

Episode 1165: In the Haze of History

“I demand that counsel define the term ‘occult practices’.”

We’re going back to court for another witchcraft trial on Dark Shadows today, and once again, people have missed the entire point of the Salem story. The witch trials that took place in Massachusetts in the late 17th century happened in the actual real world, where I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s no such thing as witches. Salem 1692 is a story about a justice system perverted by superstition and mob panic, where innocent people were jailed and executed based on the claims of a pack of hysterical middle schoolers.

But in modern Salem, they’ve discovered that it’s a lot more lucrative to pretend there were real witches in the late 17th, and build a tourist trade by promoting Halloween parades and haunted house tours. Yes, they have a Witch History Museum that tells the real story, but on the whole, it’s more fun to build events around spooky fictional witches instead of focusing on the thing that’s really scary, which is putting Christians in charge of a legal system.

So there are a whole bunch of TV shows and movies that depict real witches on the scene of the Salem witch trials — Charmed, Bewitched, Hocus Pocus, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, I Married a Witch, The Vampire Diaries, that WGN Salem series with sexy versions of John Alden and Mary Sibley. This is basically like making a TV show about the Holocaust in which the Jews kind of deserved it.

Continue reading Episode 1165: In the Haze of History

Episode 1159: This First Unhappy Experience

“He only remained a few nights and then vanished mysteriously with his manservant.”

It’s fall 1970, and the question on everyone’s mind is: what are we supposed to do with Quentin Collins? We’ve rebooted him, and jailed him, and sent him mysterious love notes, and still he remains as moody and Byronic as before, and as far as I know, nobody requested a Byronic Quentin. Moody and Byronic people are annoying and difficult to manage; even Byron was a pain in the ass.

It’s all the weddings, I think. Just this year, Quentin has been married to Angelique, Maggie and Samantha, a mixed assortment of nuts who keep hitching and unhitching themselves to him, dragging him down and saddling him with young sons that he hardly notices. He keeps struggling to separate himself from these crazy broads any way he knows how — strangle Angelique, chase Maggie out of the house, tell Samantha that he despises her — but then they keep living in the house with him for one reason or another, piling up in untidy heaps. What he needs is a good hard divorce, and one that sticks this time, and actually gets the wife all the way out of the house.

So it’s time for Quentin to get back to his woman chasing roots, and that’s why we’re spending the day reading another goddamn Paperback Library novel.

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Episode 1158: When One Deals with Judah Zachery, There Is No Margin for Error

“When one deals with Judah Zachery, there is no margin for error!”

“Something else has happened,” Angelique shudders, “something far more terrifying!” Angelique, of course, is something pretty terrifying herself, so whatever’s got her spooked must be top-shelf in the terror department.

Her gypsy companion Laszlo observes, “I’ve never known you to be frightened of anything!” which is why you keep gypsy companions around, for remarks like that.

“Well, I have good reason to be this time. Judah Zachery has returned!”

“Who’s Judah Zachery?” Laszlo asks, and you see what I mean? Super helpful.

“I’ll tell you all about him,” Angelique purrs, with that subtle satisfaction you feel when somebody feeds you the right cue. “And you listen, and listen very carefully, because when one deals with Judah Zachery, there is no margin for error!”

Continue reading Episode 1158: When One Deals with Judah Zachery, There Is No Margin for Error

Episode 1157: The Last Sheriff

“I only know that someone has been filling your mind with evil distortions.”

Well, to begin with, he wears a ring with a spooky symbol on it. It’s got a circle with an X through it, and it’s hot off the finger of a witch doctor from the dark jungles of Brazil. So either Quentin is a fan of The X-Men or he’s a Satan-worshipping serial killer, and I haven’t seen a lot of comic books lying around, have you?

Continue reading Episode 1157: The Last Sheriff

Episode 1153: How to Explain the Doll

“Then how do you explain the doll?”

“We were in a little village in Brazil,” says Gerard Stiles, “up the river.” He’s looking back on an experience he had with his friend, Quentin Collins, on an unspecified business trip in South America. “One of the crew members got very ill, suddenly. Quentin had heard of a witch doctor who could perform miracles — or so Quentin said.”

God-fearing buttinsky Lamar Trask recoils. “You let him take a Christian soul to a pagan?”

“It wasn’t my decision!” Gerard swears. “When the witch doctor was doing his incantation, Quentin mentioned the ring that he was wearing. When the ceremony was over, I could see plainly that Quentin wanted that ring very much, but was afraid to ask for it. So I bought it for him.” End of anecdote.

Several questions spring to mind. First: did the crew member get better? Why wasn’t Gerard afraid of the witch doctor? And — most baffling of all — what the hell were you doing in Brazil?

Continue reading Episode 1153: How to Explain the Doll

Episode 1152: The Truth of You

“I have never harmed anyone simply for the sake of harming them.”

And what do Barnabas and Julia have to do with all this warlock malarkey? Practically nothing, I’m sorry to say. Barnabas might be vaguely aware that Quentin has something on his mind, but it’s certainly not keeping him up all day. The simmering tensions between Quentin, Gerard, Daphne and Desmond, which we might call Plot A, have entirely escaped our gentleman vampire, who’s been focusing his attention on Plot B, a cul-de-sac sidequest involving Roxanne, Julia and Angelique.

I’ve had to speak sharply to the main characters in the past about this unfortunate tendency of theirs to drift off into side issues. Two months ago, Barnabas and Julia traveled to the 19th century hoping to avert the Collinwood-closing catastrophe of summer 1970, and practically the only thing that they understand about those future events is that they involve shady gun-runner Gerard Stiles in a prominent role. But Gerard has been permitted to run roughshod over the entire show for weeks and weeks, getting possessed by warlocks and working his wiles on Daphne, entirely unchallenged by the two characters that the audience has presumably tuned in to see.

We last saw Barnabas on Thursday, when he brought a day player named Randall to a nearby crypt, handed him a hammer and stake, and gave him instructions on how to kill the lady vampire heading in that direction. Then Barnabas sprinted off towards his own coffin, leaving this pop-eyed nonentity to handle the protagonist duties. And where is Barnabas now?

Well, that’s what local undertaker and part-time detective Lamar Trask wants to know, observing to Julia that Barnabas is still missing. “No, he is not missing,” Julia sniffs. “He was grief-stricken about Roxanne, and he is in seclusion for several days.”

“I hardly think the circumstances warrant going into seclusion,” Trask scowls, and I agree. What we need right now is for Barnabas to shake that B-plot off his shoes, and get himself involved in the main story.

But seclusion is where he’s going to stay, I’m afraid, because Jonathan Frid is taking a two-week vacation. Barnabas won’t be back until episode 1159, when he’ll walk into Collinwood and act like he just stepped out for a breath of air. You’d never accept that kind of behavior from a main character in any other medium, but this is daytime soap opera, a genre composed of 15% creative storytelling and 85% logistics.

Continue reading Episode 1152: The Truth of You

Episode 1150: The Strange Goings-On

“Nothing seems more important to me at the moment than the strange goings-on in this house.”

And so the afternoons wear on, Monday through Friday, and day by day, everyone’s getting a little bit older and a little bit wiser. That’s the usual arrangement, of course, and it generally works out okay, but it’s something of a problem for a television show like Dark Shadows, whose market share is determined by the audience’s appetite for the deeply unwise.

There’s been a steady drumbeat of cultural warning signs over the last year, signaling that the space that Dark Shadows occupies in the American consciousness is destined to be rezoned. There was that push for non-toxic children’s television, which resulted in the fall 1969 debuts of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and Sesame Street. There was the disaster at the Altamont free music festival in December ’69, when everyone discovered, to the surprise of an entire generation, that an enormous crowd of drug-addled young people is not innately loving and peaceful. There was the embarrassing string of House of Dark Shadows ads over the summer promising a “bizarre act of unnatural love,” and the shift in public opinion around April 1970 that made people start to classify Dark Shadows viewers as perverts, dabblers and scag freaks.

And then there’s another case study to consider, as we tumble towards 1971: the fall of Aurora’s Monster Scenes.

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Episode 1149: Wicked

“I do hope he’s not becoming emotionally involved with anyone at Collinwood.”

Here it is, the climax of this epic tragedy: the love story of Barnabas Collins and the late Roxanne Drew. He’s followed her through three layers of paradox to arrive at this choice slice of cliffhanging: the zenith of all his mistakes, piled up on top of each other and ready to topple.

“You will never rest, Barnabas,” the witch spat back then, as she clutched the buckshot wound that he gave her as a wedding present. “And you will never be able to love anyone — for whoever loves you will die!”

And they have, one after another. Kill your darlings, they say, and he has — Josette and Rachel and Kitty and Vicki and Angelique and now, finally, Roxanne, the latest in every sense. He has what he always thought that he wanted — a daughter of Dracula, clad in a filmy shroud, ready to join with him for eternity in a casket built for two.

But it’s all gone wrong, somehow. It turns out a vampire vixen isn’t as sexy as everyone had hoped — instead, she’s a green-skinned witch of the west, hollow eyed and sallow cheeked, and she doesn’t seem to like him. The two predators square off in this shabby lighthouse, lightning flashing from their dark eyes, as the tension stretches to the breaking point.

And then Roxanne opens a door, and walks away.

Continue reading Episode 1149: Wicked