Episode 454: Mission: Impossible

“I haven’t got time to think of reasons!”

Here’s Victoria Winters, girl governess — lost in time, on the run, and fast asleep. In her dream, young Daniel Collins is strangled by his new brother-in-law, Nathan, and she wakes up in a panic, absolutely convinced that means Nathan is planning to kill Daniel.

As it happens, Nathan actually is planning to kill Daniel, so that’s just cheating. Maybe Vicki really is a witch after all.

454 dark shadows dream nathan

I mean, I’m okay with the lunatic plot contrivances — this is Dark Shadows, after all — but I don’t think it’s fair for a character to just randomly get a telegram directly from the writers like that. This is a soap opera; 80% of the show is about keeping secrets. If the characters have access to some kind of spirit-world episode guide, then things are going to get out of hand.

But I guess the rules are a little different for Vicki. She’s a time traveler, stranded 170 years from home, and she’s spent the last several months just trampling on every butterfly she can find. She’s been trying to rewrite all the sad parts of the Collins family history, armed with a magic marker and an inadequate sense of responsibility. She is absolutely determined to wreck the timeline, one way or another. This kind of thing almost always leads to a future where the South won the Civil War, and Winston Churchill was a vampire.

454 dark shadows yelling vicki

So she’s been issuing regular warnings, trying to avert the many tragic deaths that seem to crop up within a five-mile radius of wherever Victoria Winters happens to be. They haven’t worked, as far as we can tell — everybody seems to be dying right on schedule, one after another — but all of a sudden, she’s concerned about paradoxes.

Vicki:  The book has got to be wrong about Daniel.

Peter:  The book — you mean, the Collins family history? Does the book predict Daniel’s murder?

Vicki:  No! It says that he’ll live to grow up, and he’ll marry a girl from Collinsport, and carry on the family name.

Peter:  Then we have nothing to worry about. The book’s been right about everything else so far — the death of Sarah, Josette’s suicide —

Vicki:  No! It was wrong about Barnabas. It said he went to England, but he didn’t, he died here! And it was wrong about Millicent, too — it said she’d never marry, and she married Lieutenant Forbes.

Now, the audience actually knows the reason for the discrepancy in the historical record about Barnabas — he’s a vampire, and his father told everyone that he “went to England,” in the same spirit that you’d tell a small child that a deceased pet had gone to live on a farm somewhere.

But Millicent’s marriage actually does seem to be a change to history, so that potentially opens up some space where the timeline might be veering off course. Given past performance, this is probably Vicki’s fault.

454 dark shadows time vicki peter

So let’s hear some more of the logic behind Vicki’s war on causality.

Peter:  Vicki, you still have no way of proving that the book is wrong about Daniel.

Vicki:  My premonition is enough. I know he’s in danger!

Peter:  Why would Forbes want to kill Daniel?

Vicki:  I haven’t got time to think of reasons! But he is in danger! We’ve got to help him, we’ve got to get to Collinwood!

PS: This is the girl that Peter’s decided he wants to commit felonies for. They’re in a secret room with no windows right now; maybe the air’s getting a little thin. They might want to conserve oxygen by sitting down and not talking.

454 dark shadows mausoleum vicki peter

But then, after four months of recklessly kicking at the space-time continuum, the penny drops.

Vicki:  Peter… if something isn’t done, it could change a vital part of the Collins family history!

Peter:  What do you mean?

Vicki:  If something happens to Daniel — if he doesn’t live to carry on the future of the Collins family — then the family of the future, where I came from, that will die too!

Which is finally, at long last, the one smart thing that she’s said this whole time. She’s finally realized that the future is in danger, just in time to decide that it’s somebody else’s fault.

So this is an important turning point in Dark Shadows history, too — the moment that the show stops treating time travelers as tourists, and starts treating them like activists.

454 dark shadows history vicki peter

The writers and producers don’t quite realize it yet, but Dark Shadows is going to be a show about time travel from now on. Vicki’s heading back to the future by the end of next week, and it would be easy at that point just to pick up the story from where they left it, back in episode 365.

But this side trip to 1795 has been even more story-productive than they could have imagined. The larger-than-life characters that they’ve created — especially Angelique, Ben and Reverend Trask — they’re too good to leave behind. So we’re going to see a lot of the 18th century characters again in 1968, in all kinds of forms — as ghosts, dreams, descendants and reincarnations, or as actual time travelers themselves.

And when that all runs out of steam, they’ll cue up another trip through time, and then another and another. In the last fifty-two weeks of the show, they only spend seven weeks in the present day — the rest is spent in the past, in the future or in an alternate timeline. This wild new idea that they’ve been trying out ends up defining the narrative structure of the show.

454 dark shadows tourist vicki peter

And it works, because the show has always been about history, even back at the beginning. Here are the first words ever spoken on the show, in episode 1:

“My name is Victoria Winters. My journey is beginning — a journey that I hope will open the doors of life to me, and link my past to my future.”

That’s the reason why she came to Collinwood in the first place, to discover the truth about her own past. The show never really got around to helping her figure that out, because they kept finding other parts of the past to explore. The gothic novels that originally inspired the show — Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights — are all about shameful secrets from the past, intruding on the present.

So Dark Shadows has always had the same three obsessions — death, time and architecture — and the only thing that really changes is that the time travel becomes literal.

454 dark shadows change peter vicki

But on this first try, they haven’t quite figured out the point of traveling through time until now. Vicki came to the 18th century as a tourist, with no particular agenda. She’s tried to warn people about what was coming, but she didn’t think at all about how her intervention would affect the present-day Collins family that she knows. This was a vacation, not an away mission. That approach ends here.

From now on, journeys through time will always have a goal. There’s information that the characters want to find out, or a crisis to avert. There will always be a focus on how the journey through time will impact the 1960s family.

454 dark shadows gun peter vicki

So the time travelers become special agents. That means that Vicki can’t be the one making the trip anymore; she’s just not smart enough to be a secret agent. She’s failed at every single thing she’s tried to do in 1795, because she can’t keep her mouth shut and she hasn’t got time to think of reasons.

From now on, it’s mostly Barnabas who’s assigned to the missions, or a member of his inner circle — infiltrating the past like spies and saboteurs, with code names and cover stories.

In the Dark Shadows universe, history isn’t fixed. The characters need to fix it. So it’s time to bring Vicki back to base, debrief her, and get to work.

Tomorrow: Food and Medicine and a Plan.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

I fixed this in the quote above, but what Vicki actually says is, “If something happened to David,” instead of Daniel.

At the beginning of the fishing shack scene, Noah steps on Nathan’s line:

Nathan:  You were supposed to be here at one o’clock.

Noah:  I told you —

Nathan:  It’s almost two.

Noah:  I told you, I had to meet one of the girls at the Eagle.

When Peter leaves the secret room in the mausoleum, the door stops closing a few inches before it’s shut. Then it moves some more, but doesn’t quite close completely.

When Nathan has Daniel in the fishing shack, he says, “We’re just going to have to stay here, and sit here, until it blows over.”

And once again, actors have no idea what to do with a gun. When Daniel comes into the secret room, Vicki points the loaded gun right at him.

Tomorrow: Food and Medicine and a Plan.

454 dark shadows impossible vicki david

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

31 thoughts on “Episode 454: Mission: Impossible

  1. Compelling read, as always, Danny, but isn’t Nathan Daniel’s brother-in-law (and not step-brother)?

    That was nitpicky. I shall go back to my seance for wayward girl governesses.

  2. I was reading about an ambitious undertaking that one fan had experimented with: actually watching the show in chronological time order. It sounded like a pretty complicated project trying to plot the timelines from the series as initially broadcast and then go through and ‘rearrange’ each episode to line up in order of the actual years the storyline took place and watch the show in that order (i.e. 1692, 1795, 1840, 1897, 1960’s, 1970’s and 1995 …) to see how events play out and try to pull together the entire history of characters and events from that perspective.

    1. So how did that turn out? Anything interesting turn up? I’m watching as shown on TV, which seems to be the correct order for an initial viewing. If I had already been through all of the episodes, rearranging them time-wise might be a time-consuming amusement I would enjoy.

  3. You think Vicky was bad about changing history? Wait till you see Barnabas in 1897. It is a miracle that he did not get back to a present where humanity was enslaved by a giant giraffe.

  4. SER: Vicki, I want you to sit down and think very carefully about what you just said: Barnabas didn’t go to England. He died in Collinsport. So that must mean that the Barnabas you know in the present day no longer exists. Time was changed.

    Vicki: BLANK STARE

    SER: Or it’s possible that when someone said something about a curse, it might be in reference to the Barnabas who just died.

    Vicki: BLANK STARE

    SER: I mean, even while you were in prison, you might have heard about the strange attacks on women in the village, which might have reminded you of the strange attacks on women in present day Collinsport, which occurred around the time that the Barnabas you know arrived from “England.”

    Vicki: BLANK STARE

    SER: You’re also hiding out in the secret room of the mausoleum that David Collins claimed existed but no one believed him.

    Vicki: BLANK STARE

    SER: OK, I’m just gonna lie down for a while. My head is killing me.

    1. I know. It seems so strange that she is so dumb, but why were the writers making her dumb? What is the point of that?

  5. I like activist time travelers better, although it’s a funny time and reason to make the realization with. After all the way Barnabas “went to England” Millicent could have “never married” especially if Nathan dies soon. Plus Peter seems awfully convinced to believe in this book, not in a I’ve got to swallow this stupidity to get the girl kind of way, but in an I actually believe it and am going to place larger wagers on the results kind of way.

  6. I’m convinced Vicki is just a stand-in for Phyllis, whom Peter fell for and who saved Daniel’s life, and she changed nothing. JMO.

    Great blog by the way, I’m trying to read a week at a time so I can catch up. You bring a new appreciation to one of my favourite shows.

    1. I agree with you, Jason, about Vicki’s being a “stand-in” for Phyllis Wick, and that her presence ultimately had had had no effect on these past events. This is similar to those time travel stories where the lesson learned is “You can’t change the past,” when is different from other stories in which the lesson is “If you alter one single, minute thing when you are in the past, you will alter the entire future, so there are at least two approaches to depictions of fictional time travelers.

  7. Episodes ago one astute commenter on here pointed out how handsy Peter is with Vicki and ever since I haven’t been able to ignore it when he’s on screen. But today takes the cake. Yes, Vicki woke up from a nightmare/vision but she’s not having a massive stroke; she doesn’t need to be restrained. And after the break she’s standing and he’s still got her by both arms! He might as well just put her in a headlock and drag her around Collinsport.

    Ugh, and his acting. Peter stinks.

    1. I love the bit where they are coming out of the old house and he puts his arm around her and she grabs it with her hand as though to make sure it doesn’t wander anywhere.

      1. She’s rolling her eyes and thinking, just get me out of this scene already! She might be past complaining to the producers about it….

    2. “He might as well just put her in a headlock and drag her around Collinsport.”

      Lol. Well said.

      “Ugh, and his acting. Peter stinks.”

      Yeah a terrible character with zero nuance being played by a terrible actor whose only available emotions are hostile and impatient. Truly painful to watch.

  8. Has Vicki’s shoulder wound been given treatment? The way Peter is hauling her around, she should be screaming in pain!

    Has anyone compiled a list of all the “Dumb Things Vicki Says” yet? And no, I do NOT mean everything Vicki says, just the dumb(est) stuff.

  9. so much brilliance today, Mr. Horn. “trampling on every butterfly she can find. She’s been trying to rewrite all the sad parts of the Collins family history, armed with a magic marker and an inadequate sense of responsibility.” exquisite and succinct. then there’s the far sighted paragraphs about time travelers becoming special agents, moving from tourists to activists, that end with: “From now on, it’s mostly Barnabas who’s assigned to the missions, or a member of his inner circle — infiltrating the past like spies and saboteurs, with code names and cover stories.” like pulling the rug from under a deck of imbalanced cards. shattering clarity imbued with whimsy. i’m ever so impressed. p.s. Stephen Robinson, your comments rock. i loved today’s imagined dialogue.

  10. <>

    Both Naomi and Vicki slip up and call Daniel “David.” But only Vicki has the excuse that she knows David and could reasonably mix up the look-a-like boys. Naomi does not know David, so her error is more glaring.

  11. Every time I see Craig Slocum I picture him playing Jimmy Olson in a low-budget 1940s Superman serial.

    Also, when you’re being chased by a would-be kidnapper/murderer and you’ve just slipped into a secret room, it’s important to talk AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE so he’ll know where you are.

  12. I just saw this episode again on Pluto TV, where, as I stated in a previous comment, DS episodes 210-532/533 have been shown continuously, then all over again since Sept., 2020 (with at least two episodes around and including Josette’s impromptu cliff dive always omitted, for some reason).

    Anyway, Danny, I like your analysis of the change in DS’s time travel approach from this point. I’ve always loved the interesting struggle with the logical consequences of travelling to the past that science fiction stories present, and DS becomes partly sci-fi in that regard.

    However, even as a child who began watching DS for the first time during these episodes, I was bothered by the logical inconsistencies of its time travel stories later on (i.e., 1795/6[?], 1897, 1797[?!?], and 1840). I especially mean that once it’s established that the past can be changed and, in fact, is the goal of future time travels so that the dangers of the present can be averted, then the other consequences of those changes must also be reflected in the present.

    Most egregiously, Barnabas goes to 1897 to affect the living Quentin’s future, and thus save David and Amy’s. He’s actually effective at doing this, but also has to have changed his own future when:
    1) 1897 Barnabas is cured of vampirism again; and, 2) he doesn’t return to his coffin as a vampire to await his surprise bed-check by Willie Loomis in 1967.

    To compound this, afterward he takes a side trip to 1797 (why it’s not 1796 or 1795, I don’t know) before returning to 1969. He follows the spirit of Josette to 1797 to have yet another go at their romance and avoid her Widows’ Hill exit, when apparently he was a vampire again in his 18th century body(?). Even if this sojourn had allowed him to return there as a human, which would’ve changed even more consequences, he was nevertheless waylaid by that Leviathan spook, who gave him new working papers and deeds to perform in 1969, to which Barnabas was immediately whisked.

    This not only would’ve created another reason why Willie Loomis couldn’t have found Barnabas in his coffin in ’67, but also would have prevented Sandor from finding him in 1897, and Julia never could’ve freed him in 1840 to ask for his assistance then (before 1970 Barnabas I-Ching-ed the more helpful version of himself there). Every future Barnabas story after 1797 had to be altered by these acts.

    And again, in 1840, he’s a vampire, then cured there too and hence unreturned to his coffin, before returning to 1971, when he (as well as Julia and possibly Prof. Stokes) should’ve been unknown to Elizabeth Stoddard, as unknown as he would’ve been in the altered 1969 “return”.

    The writers painted themselves into corners, then just went past the contradictions as if there were none. However, if the premise was that the changed past can inexorably affect and correct the present in any way, then Barnabas had to be back in his chained coffin as a vampire in 1797, 1840, AND 1897. Otherwise, he would have to (re)introduce himself to the family as the unknown cousin from England each time he came back to the “present”, a requirement that might have been even more story productive, as Danny might say. Plus, would Barnabas remember the original turns of events and how they were altered by him, or would he too be unaware of his first timelines in the 20th century?

    Maybe that would’ve engendered more interesting ideas in 1971 than the PT-1841 Bramwell vs. Morgan snooze-athon. Well, at least that story line seemed to energize Jonathan Frid’s acting, finally giving him a different character to play, even if we wanted to see him only as Barnabas still. (I saw a John Karlen interview not too many years ago where he said he didn’t like seeing Jonathan play Bramwell because he wanted him only as Barnabas on the show, or something to that effect. Karlen was right.)

    Btw, Roger Davis was in another time twisted story of a sort about four years earlier on The Twilight Zone, playing Diana Hyland’s character’s young and preferred love interest when she was supposed to be about 18. She is spookily chased on horseback by her 43 year-old self to warn her teenaged self not to marry Roger’s character. Her wealthy family wanted her to be with another acceptable fellow she was supposed to marry, but her love for him was questionable at best, while Roger kept trying to convince her that THEY should be together because they really loved each other. She dumped the other, dull suitor to marry Roger against her family’s wishes. Twenty-five years later, Roger’s a hard drinking, angry, and unloving ne’er-do-well who a bitter Diana wishes she had never chosen. So, she repeatedly takes a gallop to find her younger self on horseback to warn her against marrying young Mr. Handsy McGrimace, but the younger woman is simply scared off by her shrieking, scowling future self that she never stops to recognize as herself. (And who was that other dull but acceptable suitor she should have married, you ask? Why, it was Craig Slocum! No, not really, but that would’ve been hilarious! But Rod Seeking had standards.) If only young Vicki Winters had a future Vicki to follow her back in time and warn her off of Peter Bradford, and maybe the too easily forgotten Burke Devlin while she was at it…. Maybe Vicki and the ageing portrait of Quentin Collins would’ve been the ideal couple, both two-dimensional and without any endless dialogue going on between them.e

    Anyway, other than Alias Smith and Jones, which I never watched, it’s the only other thing I remember seeing Davis in.

    Regarding Craig Half-a-Great-Porn-Name Slocum, as Noah Gifford his arms always seem slightly behind the rest of his body, as if an invisible someone is holding his elbows from behind while another goon up front beats him sillier. Just another in a panoply of Craig Slocum’s goofy acting choices. Until we see his full head of red hair, I imagined that his sailor’s cap was elongated in the back to perfectly delineate the shape of his actual head, complete with a soft point and tuft. How disappointing that his head was fairly average.

    1. Tubi shows all of DS. Dark Shadows: The Beginning is episodes 1-209. Dark Shadows is episodes 210 to the end. It’s free with a commercial break between episodes and one during each episode. Pretty painless! Pluto is worthless!

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