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Episode 916: The One of Us

“There are two things you’ve got to know. One is that I think he’s slightly mad.”

And we’re back! Yesterday’s Dark Shadows episode was recorded three weeks out of sequence, and slotted into place in order to signal an upcoming storyline course correction. This is a situation that does not occur in nature.

They had this idea, you see, where Barnabas Collins, the main character of this daytime creeps machine, would suddenly swear allegiance to some kind of interplanetary invasion force of shapeless prehistoric essence, which is plotting to replace the human race with a population of quick-growing four-headed snake monsters. Or something. It’s hard to explain, which I guess is the problem.

The kids who hang around outside the studio door after school said that a) they didn’t understand the storyline, and b) they wouldn’t like it even if they did, so the producers said I know what let’s do, let’s make a special episode where we explain that Barnabas doesn’t really want to be doing all the things that he’s been doing lately, and stick it in three weeks early, to signal to the audience that we’re aware that our story doesn’t make any sense, and we’ll change it as soon as we can. And then they went ahead and did it.

What I’m saying is, that’s a really not-normal way to run a television show, especially a high-rated show like Dark Shadows. Yes, the ratings have been slipping a bit since they started the Leviathan story, but that’s coming down from an all-time ratings peak that they hit only two months ago. There’s still a lot of people watching this show.

So what just happened was that the main character of a television show went to sleep, had a dream where the show apologized for the current storyline, and then woke back up and continued on as usual. I can’t think of anything to compare that to. That’s an approach that begins and ends with Dark Shadows.

Continue reading Episode 916: The One of Us

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Episode 915: The Walkback

“You can’t let sentimentality make you careless!”

For the last six weeks, Barnabas Collins has been behaving oddly, even by eccentric millionaire standards. He’s been freezing out his friends, and striking them with cars. He’s revoked his Murder Club membership by warning his family that werewolves are dangerous. He’s appeared unbidden in other people’s dreams, and he’s arranged for the remote involuntary circling of dates on calendars.

But we finally have an explanation for everything. He was being sarcastic!

Continue reading Episode 915: The Walkback

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Episode 913/914: Death and Taxidermy

“I found a way to transcend time. But you have found a way to suspend time!”

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. And the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called… well, there’s some dispute about that, actually.

It’s the night after Christmas 1969, and young David is browsing through the good book. He shoplifted an ancient devotional almanac stuffed with prophecies, long-term weather predictions, household hints and prayers to the Elder Gods, and apparently it’s not okay to read ahead. David has been possessed by the villains of the current storyline, like he ever does anything else.

“This shall be followed by a period of ten days,” he reads. “And as darkness settles on the tenth day, there shall come forth another manifestation. And due homage shall be bestowed by all who believe.”

So he tells his aunt Elizabeth, who’s also a devotee, and they rush over to the antique shop for some late-night homage bestowing.

Continue reading Episode 913/914: Death and Taxidermy

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Time Travel, part 10: This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

“I wonder if you are myself.”

“Do you enjoy your new life, mon cher?” says the pteranodon, hovering prehistorically in the foyer. “An eternity of darkness, feeding like a beast in ze night on human blood alone!”

She doesn’t say this with her mouth, of course. That is not the pteranodon method. She speaks only in the language of the eyes, and aviation.

Continue reading Time Travel, part 10: This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

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Episode 911: Is a Joke

“I might be able to forget that I’m dead.”

Dr. Julia Hoffman is hard at work, treating a stubborn case of soap opera amnesia with her own unique mix of hypnosis, lies and trespassing. At the moment, she’s sneaking into the west wing with the late Quentin Collins, Collinwood’s Public Enemy #1.

Nine months ago, Quentin’s ghost walked these halls, driving the family out of the house and into a refugee camp for rich people at the mansion next door. But things change, and now — thanks to some timely intervention and a huge dollop of suspension of disbelief — he has survived, permanently preserved. Seventy-two years after his averted assassination, Quentin Collins walks the earth, alive and alone.

But just at the finish line, he was struck down by a speeding car, and in all the excitement, he lost his memory. Now his misremembered friend Julia has the difficult task of piecing him back together.

So she’s got him upstairs in his old room, and she’s playing his chart-topping theme song, hoping to reawaken his shattered sense of self. And now we’re watching somebody urgently waiting for someone else to remember the Song of the Summer.

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Episode 910: Epistemology of the Portrait

“Look, I’m really not someone who lived a hundred years ago.”

We’ve got it all wrong, of course. We usually do.

An understanding of virtually any aspect of modern Western culture must be not merely incomplete, but damaged in its central substance to the degree that it does not incorporate a critical analysis of the structured binary opposition between the signifiers “Quentin Collins” and “Grant Douglas”. The only way to properly understand these meanings is to deconstruct the assumptions and knowledge systems that produce the illusion of singular meaning.

Quentin Collins understands that. I understand it, too. The rest of you are just going to have to catch up.

Continue reading Episode 910: Epistemology of the Portrait

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Episode 909: Another Alias

“Can you see the center of the stone? Because beyond that center is another center.”

Take Quentin Collins, please. Take away his wardrobe, take him away from his family, and take him out of context. What do you get?

Well, you get David Selby in a bathrobe, which is still better than most of the available alternatives. But then what?

Continue reading Episode 909: Another Alias

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Episode 908: Jim Henson’s Gaslight Babies

“Well, you can think that way if you want. You’ll only be joining an ever-increasing mob!”

So I like the Leviathan story, is apparently what’s happening. Looking back over the last month of blog posts, I’ve devoted a lot of them to things that I like about the storyline.

It’s silly, obviously, and they have no idea what to do with the monster or the conspirators. For once, the writers have a clear idea of where they want to be in four to six weeks, but from day to day they’re stumbling around from one thing to another, and they cover up plot inconsistencies by having the characters say “yes, that was a prophecy, we totally meant to do that for reasons that we would rather not explain at this time.”

But Dark Shadows storylines are always silly and riddled with holes, and there’s a lot to enjoy in these early days of the Leviathans. They’ve brought Liz’s ex-husband Paul back, continuing an important early story thread that we assumed they’d just forgotten about. The resolution of the “Payment Due” mystery last week was clever and thrilling. There’s a tight focus on Barnabas, Julia, Carolyn and Liz — four of the best characters on the show, who didn’t always have a lot to do during late 1968 and early ’69. I don’t believe in Megan and Philip, and I think the story’s use of Quentin is entirely inadequate, but there are lots of things to like, and I’d say on the whole it’s a net positive.

This is somewhat remarkable, because the reputation among Dark Shadows fans is that the Leviathan story is terrible and show-destroying. That may turn out to be true, as we get further into it — but right now, it’s worth pointing out that there’s a lot here to love.

Continue reading Episode 908: Jim Henson’s Gaslight Babies