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?

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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.

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Episode 1151: Wherever You Will Be

“I can’t bear thinking that when we’re together, we draw her from her grave!”

The table-rappers are at it again. “We must touch hands,” says Quentin Collins to his latest lover, “and we must maintain contact throughout. Understand?” She understands; I think we all do. It’s another romantic, moon-stricken night, where we touch hands by candlelight, look deeply into one another’s eyes, and beseech people.

“We beseech the spirit of Joanna Mills to appear to us,” he calls, “or to communicate through one of us, so that we may resolve all of the problems that have afflicted all of our lives!”

Now, let’s take a moment to appreciate just how many problems he’s expecting to resolve between now and the opening titles. This isn’t a spot-fix for a specific issue; the man wants to resolve all of the problems for all of their lives — and this is a soap opera household, with industrial-grade problems. This could take all night.

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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.

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Episode 1147: The Strain

“You’ve seen the strain in this house.”

First of all, I would like to make one thing quite clear: I never explain anything.

“But then something happens,” writes girl governess Daphne Harridge in her personal revenge journal, “just like now, and I feel such hate.”

“Who do you hate, Daphne?” the kid asks, clasping his hands and delivering an even stare. “Tell me.”

The kid is clearly used to this kind of scene. He walked into his governess’ room, came up behind her while she was writing in her diary, read what she was writing, and now he wants answers. He doesn’t betray the slightest bit of anxiety or doubt that this is the natural order of things. He is the heir, she is the help, and therefore he can feel free to peruse any of her personal data that he takes an interest in.

“What else did you see?” snaps Daphne, and the kid goes up a level.

“You never answered my question,” he admonishes. “I was taught to answer questions. Weren’t you, ever?”

She shuts up the book in a locked drawer. “A diary is personal, Tad. I write in it things that I wouldn’t tell anyone.”

He looks off into space. “Do you know, that our minister says that to hate is evil?”

She takes the risk, and hates anyway, and so do I. Sometimes you don’t get much of a choice.

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Episode 1146: A Dark Horse

“It was then that I noticed that we all have a strain of despair.”

“I receive a letter every three days,” says Quentin Collins, “and I receive it at one out of two times.”

I’m going to pause on that line for a second, because Quentin is about to say something ridiculous, and it needs a little room to breathe. He’s explaining to his friend Gerard about the letters that he receives every three days, from a dead woman.

“Either in the afternoon,” he continues, “when I’ve just gone to visit the estate manager, or exactly half an hour after that, when I’ve finished my last walk around the grounds.”

Gerard nods. “Someone knows your habits very well,” he says, so he must comprehend that line a lot better than the rest of us. Those two times are basically indistinguishable to the human eye.

Quentin means half an hour after midnight, of course, which you’ll understand once you see the next scene, where Quentin tries to lay a trap for the letter-leaver at twenty minutes after twelve. Or, if you don’t understand it then, then maybe you will on a third or fourth viewing, for example while you’re writing a blog post about it. That is the kind of attention that Dark Shadows demands.

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Episode 1145: The Unearned Curse

“It is a metaphysical attempt on my part to expand man’s natural horizons, that’s all.”

He’s not mad, really, just disappointed, and he’s also not a scientist, so how he ended up getting involved with mad science is anyone’s guess.

“Now, Gerard,” says Quentin Collins, “what would you think if I told you that by going up those stairs, you could actually travel in another time?”

Gerard is nonplussed. “Well, I’d say you were having a minor pipe dream.”

“But it’s true!” Quentin declares, with no elaboration. “This is my Staircase In Time.” Then he starts walking up the stairs, and nothing happens.

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Episode 1144: The Merry Widow

“It will give me great joy to see you rise from the dead, and walk the night.”

“Believe me, it would make me very happy to kill you,” said Angelique, “but I have decided that you would be more valuable to me alive.”

“Why?” Julia asked.

“For various reasons.”

And yeah, I guess so, because here we are again. That was from July, when the Parallel Angelique imprisoned the actual Julia for a week in a secret basement cell, and now it’s November, and the 1840 Angelique is back at it, but in a deserted lighthouse this time. The spectacle of a power-crazed Angelique tying Julia to a barrel of TNT is so irresistible that they’ve done it twice in four months.

We’re getting close to the end of Dark Shadows, and this story point is the logical conclusion of everything that’s happened since 1967. Strip away all of the details — the families, the time periods, the wannabe it ghouls — and this is the result.

Unable and unwilling to stop himself, Barnabas bites a pretty girl, and then stands around and feels bad about it. Angelique steps in and kills the girl, who turns into a vampire. Then the vampire girl bites Julia at Angelique’s instruction, and now Angelique stands there while Julia slowly succumbs to her wounds, and talks about how happy it makes her.

This is the culmination of all of Barnabas’ bad choices and general ineptitude, and he has no idea what’s going on. He’s just wandering around asking questions, while the women in his life are merrily murdering each other. This is basically the most obvious thing that could ever happen to Barnabas, so it’s good that we’re getting around to it while we’ve still got the time.

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