Episode 1226: Eternal Invisible

“Umba… Umba… Man of no time… Let your will leave your body… Let your will be mine… Umba… Umba… Man of no time… Will leave body… Will be mine…”

We now have only four more weeks of Dark Shadows ahead of us, as Collinwood falls under the sway of several confusing ghosts. To take our minds off the looming pencils-down, let’s look to the future: specifically, April 1973, and the Gold Key comic books.

By this point in the television series, everybody basically agrees that there’s a 1970s status quo, with Elizabeth, Roger, Carolyn, David and sometimes Quentin living at Collinwood, and Barnabas bunking out at the Old House, with slight variations. It’s just Elizabeth, Roger and Quentin in the comics, and just Elizabeth and Carolyn in the comic strip, while Barnabas lives at Collinwood in the Lara Parker novels. But there’s always a stable structure based around the great estate, as a starting point for new stories.

With that basic structure in mind, there are two kinds of plots that the spinoffs can accommodate: #1) a new person arrives at Collinwood to make trouble, and #2) Barnabas and/or Quentin are sent off somewhere else.

That second story type is interesting, because it never happened on the show. Like most soap operas, the Dark Shadows story is tied to a specific town, and often to a specific mansion. The idea that Barnabas would travel to Venice, Cairo or Salem for a storyline would be unthinkable on the television show; they only had enough studio space for the drawing room, the Old House, the mausoleum and some woods, and could maybe stretch as far as Maggie’s house or Widow’s Hill if they were feeling particularly adventurous.

The only real analogues to the “Barnabas adventure” story on the show were his trips to 1897, Parallel Time and 1840, which were treated like exotic locations even though they were located in exactly the same house. That idea was picked up in the comics, which sent Barnabas hurtling into the past and the future of Collinwood, but they also used more exotic locales, as we’ll see today.

The question for the day is: What happens when you set Barnabas adrift in another fictional world? And the answer, obviously, is that he destroys everything and leaves no survivors.

Continue reading Episode 1226: Eternal Invisible

Episode 1225: Strong to the Finish

“All she did was tell me what you had planned — to betray me — and you killed her for it, just as you killed me, and you killed your wife Amanda, because she tried to help me too.”

The late James Forsythe, shipping magnate and finder of lost boats, has unearthed the skeleton of his sister Sarah in the basement of the gatehouse on the great estate at Collinwood, buried under what appears to be zero inches of dirt in the floor. It’s kind of a wonder that nobody ran across it before; it looks like a century and a half of normal wear and tear on the linoleum would probably have uncovered a couple of suspicious bumps in the floor over the years. I guess some people are naturally curious and some aren’t, and that’s all there is to it.

James’ spirit is currently occupying the body of Morgan Collins in order to right some of the pertinent wrongs of the past, and digging up Sarah is step one. But as he gazes at his aged relative, an interior squall kicks up and starts making itself known, which is not ordinarily part of a basement’s weather system. If you were under the impression, as I was, that ghost-related wind came in through the windows, then now we know better. It seems to just happen on its own.

“Well, blow me down!” James says, as it tries to. “I have found her, Brutus! I know you are in this room, and I am ready for you!” He whirls around, looking for his opponent. “Show yourself to me, Brutus!” he says, putting up his fists. “Let me fight you again! I’ve had all I can stands, ‘cuz I can’t stands no more!”

And Brutus appears, snarling and snapping, ready to battle over Sarah’s shallow grave. So I guess nothing changes; after a hundred and sixty years, these two sailor men are still fighting over a skinny girl.

Continue reading Episode 1225: Strong to the Finish

Episode 1224: Other People’s Problems

“It must be what’s been happening.”

Okay, so you know how once in every generation somebody in the Collins family needs to spend a night locked up in the spooky old room behind the magic door, and in the morning they’re either dead or they’ve gone irretrievably insane? Well, it turns out there’s a third option.

Eldest son Morgan Collins has undergone the ordeal, and during that surprisingly uneventful evening, he located a secret locked door that was hidden behind basically nothing, so why nobody had ever noticed it before I don’t know. Behind that door — easily accessed by banging on the cheap seventeenth-century padlock with something heavy, like one of the excess vases cluttering up the place — was a whole other part of the house, a secret passage with a set of stairs leading to who knows where.

Morgan apparently explored this secret-behind-the-secret area, and experienced I’m not sure what, which by morning had him sitting quietly in a chair, unharmed but in an odd mood. Now he’s walking around telling everything he’s not Morgan, and making insulting remarks.

I feel like we were more or less promised some kind of supernatural upheaval after spending a couple episodes just waiting around until they opened the door again, and this doesn’t quite live up to their side of the bargain. But at least we don’t have a white-haired Morgan cringing and babbling about the Woman in White, so let’s go ahead and consider this a win.

Continue reading Episode 1224: Other People’s Problems

Episode 1223: The Carrie Diaries

“Of course, you all think that I’m mad, but I’m going to use that to my advantage.”

February the 17th.

I got the strangest feeling today, just before Father left the gatehouse on his early morning rounds. Father kissed me on the top of my head and told me to be a good girl, as he does every morning, and then suddenly I became aware that there was some kind of presence in the room. I could see a great, winged bird, sitting by the fireplace, and it was humming a tune.

The music was sweet and gentle, and it seemed familiar, like it was a song that I’d heard many times, a long time ago. The bird was very beautiful; it seemed to shine with the brightest light I’d ever seen, in a thousand shades of yellow and orange, tinged with red.

The feeling only lasted for a few moments, and then it was gone. They rarely stay for very long, and most of them are nice, like the bird. I didn’t say anything to Father about it, because I know that he worries, sometimes.

Continue reading Episode 1223: The Carrie Diaries

Episode 1222: The Room Where It Happens

“You ever notice how time moves so slow, just when you want it to go so fast?”

Yesterday, Catherine Collins drew the fatal slip in the family lottery, which means that she needs to go and spend a night on the other side of an extremely angry door, where something terrible will happen unto her that will either kill her or drive her senseless. It’s all part of some ridiculous centuries-old curse that’s slowly grinding the family into powder, and we’re riding shotgun so I guess we’re part of it too.

Catherine’s devoted husband Morgan tried to convince her that he should go in her place, her sister Daphne pleaded with her not to participate, and her ex-boyfriend Bramwell urged her to run away with him, but Catherine was determined to show them all that there’s nothing to fear in the cursed room, it’s just a metaphor for something, and maybe if we went outside and got some exercise instead of huddling in our dark mansion and subsisting entirely on brandy and hot coffee we’d all feel a lot better. I forget what chapter of Wuthering Heights this is supposed to be; I lost track a while ago.

Continue reading Episode 1222: The Room Where It Happens

Episode 1221: The Snatch

“You may find that out in a frightening fashion.”

As we’re moving through these grim final weeks of Dark Shadows, I’ve been taking the opportunity to catch up on the spinoff media: the books and comics and audio plays and weird fan poetry that people have generated over the decades. Going into this period, I expected that I would like some of the stories and really very much not like others, but I wasn’t sure how that would play out. And now that I’m here, waist-deep in Dark Shadows apocrypha, I’m surprised to say that I’ve been looking forward to the Paperback Library posts.

I mean, Dan Ross’ Dark Shadows gothic novels are not good literature; they’re tepid, repetitive 156-page chill delivery devices with cardboard characters and nonsense plots, and there’s no good pretending that they’re anything else. They treat women as disposable objects — even the heroines, sometimes — and every character spends all of their time gossiping and complaining about everyone else.

And yet here we are, on the brink of Barnabas, Quentin and the Body Snatchers, and I am delighted. How do you account for a thing like that?

Continue reading Episode 1221: The Snatch

Episode 1220: The Forsythe Saga

“We’ve been looking for everything, and we’ve found nothing!”

So now I’ve got that out of my system, I suppose we should probably take a little time to figure out what the hell is going on in this mess of a television show.

The way I understand it, there’s a whole extra cast of characters in the 1841 Parallel Time storyline that lived 160 years ago, and they’re way more important than the characters that we actually see. The 1680 characters cheated and murdered and loved and cursed each other, in such a consequential way that the clowns who are currently walking the halls of Collinwood don’t get to have lives and motivations and personalities of their own; they’re just following the paths set down for them by the distinguished dead.

At this point, we’ve heard a lot about Brutus Collins, the head of the Collins family back in the day, and there’s a very angry woman who possesses Melanie sometimes, and we’ve also heard the name James Forsythe, for all the good that does us.

Continue reading Episode 1220: The Forsythe Saga

Episode 1219: The Missing Step

“The fact remains that every time there is a crisis involving Bramwell, you seem to have the most extraordinary emotional feeling!”

So here’s where we are: if you read yesterday’s post and it made any goddamn sense to you, then you’re aware that you and I are currently perched just outside the event horizon of the Great Unwinding, a long-prophesied series finale extinction event that threatens to erase Dark Shadows, and send us all tumbling back into the 4pm timeslot’s previous occupant, a dreary and unremembered soap opera called Never Too Young.

Never Too Young was a nine-month-long daytime soap flop about a group of rambunctious teenagers in Malibu Beach, aired every afternoon as a kind of eternal Beach Blanket Bingo. The show was told from the point of view of Alfy, who owned the local teen hangout, the High Dive. It included a lot of swinging music, both on the soundtrack and with frequent guest performers at the High Dive, including the Castaways and Paul Revere & the Raiders. The star of the show was Tony Dow (Wally from Leave It to Beaver), and his costar was the original kid from Lassie. Just thinking about Never Too Young is fairly grim, especially when you consider that this sun-and-fun beachside adventure was broadcast from September 1965 to June 1966, pretty much missing summer altogether.

And now we are threatened with the almost-certain obliteration of Dark Shadows from history, and an eternal plunge backwards into a timeline where there’s no such thing as a vampire soap opera. This will be a safer, sunnier, more predictable world, where late 1960s television was uniformly up-tempo and unsurprising, and it will be a hell on earth. The stakes could not be higher, and you know how vampires feel about stakes.

And this imminent, reality-crushing catastrophe has something to do with episode 1219, which does not, in fact, exist. So that’s a bit of a puzzle.

Continue reading Episode 1219: The Missing Step

Episode 1218: The Great Unwinding

“It’s just that sometimes when I look at someone, I can almost see beyond them.”

Daphne Harridge has a big decision to make, and rather than think it over and really wrestle with the pros and cons, she’s decided to turn things over to a subcontractor, namely junior soothsayer Carrie Stokes.

“I’ve heard about your unusual gifts,” Daphne says, fishing for a free trial. “And I was wondering if you might be able to help me.”

Carrie smiles. “What do you want me to do?”

“Well, I’d like you to help me make a decision. You see, Bramwell and I are to be married.”

“Well, that’s wonderful! Congratulations!”

“Thank you, Carrie. But — the decision concerns the future. I know you can see into the future,” Daphne says.

“Well, I can,” admits Carrie, “but I can’t always do it at will.”

“I know that, but — Carrie, could you try now for me? Because it’s very important that I know whether or not Bramwell and I will be happy.”

“Well, I’ll try,” Carrie says, always willing to help out when she can. “But you must understand: whatever I see in the future, I have no control over.”

Once Daphne signs off on that clause in the contract, Carrie obediently takes a few steps forward, opens her eyes as wide as she can, and makes contact with the infinite.

“An image is beginning to form!” she announces, and

Continue reading Episode 1218: The Great Unwinding

Episode 1217: The Next to Last

“I’ve been insane for years! I just became sane, just a short time ago!”

Gabriel Collins is a new visitor to the mountains of madness, thanks to a recent half-hour soujourn in a Lovecraftian 4D immersive escape room that he has only recently escaped from. They say that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but apparently there are exceptions; Gabriel hasn’t managed to murder any of the three people he’s tried to extinguish tonight. And now that I think about it, not being killed by Gabriel has probably made Kendrick, Daphne and Morgan stronger, which means he’s even farther behind.

But he’s still in the game, and he’s currently lurking behind a tree with his knife, waiting for an unsuspecting victim to walk by. And here comes Kendrick, tromping through the woods en route to the police to report his recent brush with that very knife.

As Kendrick passes by, Gabriel grips the knife tightly in his fist, raising his weapon and preparing to strike.

But then he takes a look at himself, out in the woods, attempting murder for the fourth time today. In a moment of clarity, he looks at the knife, and asks, “What am I doing?” It’s the portrait of a man suddenly going stark raving sane.

Continue reading Episode 1217: The Next to Last