Sam's portrait of Phoenix with David

The Ghost of Josette forced Sam Evans into painting a work that was declared “horrible, just horrible” by almost every member of the cast except David, whose face was added in by Josette later to make her warning even more concrete.

So I went into the early days of Dark Shadows believing that only with the arrival of Barnabas after some odd 200 episodes would the series go headlong into the occult and supernatural.

How can we not recognize Laura Collins, the Phoenix, who just by making crazy eyes can put commanding matriarchs into an inexplicable coma, send cars careening out of control, and slip her enemies into trances that involve some initial confusion expressed with head shaking like a wet dog drying itself off, some exaggerated staggering preferably on the staircase in the foyer, and calculated memory wipes on paranormal professors and cemetery caretakers!

Here is Laura Collins/The Phoenix, in action, as always, sitting by the fire, interrupted by Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, while attempting to do ill will with her powers.

Technically, Laura Collins is not Dark Shadows‘ first foray into the supernatural. The Ghost of Josette Collins has made a few superimposed, translucent, mute appearances, plus at least one mad, fluttering dash around The Old House, but it’s Laura Collins’ return to Collinwood that turns the series in a whole new, dark, batshit nutty direction. Rather than go for a standard custody battle, the writers opted for making the estranged wife into a bizarre undead character whose identity may or may not be the same as Laura Collins.

Even after a (fucking amazing) séance, a desecrated crypt, an unearthed grave, a disappearing body from the morgue, a murder committed through car possession, spellbinding amnesia, teleportation, a coma via telepathic suggestion, and an oft-repeated account of the Phoenix, the mythological Egyptian bird that bursts into flame and then arises from its own ashes, I am still unclear on who exactly came to visit Collinsport.

Laura Collins transfixed by matches

Laura Collins arrived in Collinsport already transfixed by lighters and matches. Just wait till she sees a fireplace!

Was it Laura Collins? Is the Phoenix a separate being? Why two deaths by fire for one incarnation? Are Laura Murdoch Stockbridge and Laura Murdoch Radcliffe one and the same?

Why did she want David to burn up with her so badly? To keep her company until she would be reborn again? Does this mean that David is the reincarnation of the boy who momentarily possessed him during the second séance – the one held under Josette’s portrait in The Old House just after Dr. Guthrie’s murder?

Did Laura Collins have knowledge of her Phoenix fate during her life as Laura Collins, or did this consciousness only come to her after the initial fire – in Phoenix! – which left the original cadaver of Laura Collins?

I expect some of these questions will be answered when Diana Millay returns for the storylines set in the past. I also expect, in keeping with the mysterious tone of the series, that most of my questions will remain unanswered. Why would The Phoenix divulge any eternal secrets to mortals? But couldn’t she share a few revealing conversations with other undead entities? There will be plenty to choose from.