“One cannot buy a witch in an antique shop.”
Today, Victoria Winters returns to the scene of the crime — the Eagle HIll cemetery, where she shot and killed a man two weeks and 172 years ago. I’m not sure if there’s still a warrant out for her — there’s a lot I don’t know about the statute of limitations in a time travel scenario.
She’s hunting for the grave of Peter Bradford, her 1795 boyfriend and accomplice, who was left behind when she returned to 1967. Or possibly 1968. It’s hard to say. I’m pretty sure it’s a Wednesday, if that helps.
I mean, she left in November 1967, but by the time she got back, it was already April 1968, and she’d missed Christmas and a new Beatles album, and her library books were, like, crazy overdue.
You see, it’s an unwritten rule for a daily soap opera that the show takes place on the same day that the episode airs, even if there are three consecutive episodes that take place on the same night.
So if you turn on today’s episode of General Hospital — and you might as well, if you have absolutely nothing better to do — then you’re going to assume, without really thinking about it, that the episode takes place today. It’s the only sensible assumption.
And if there’s a super-obsessed GH nerd sitting next to you, who says, “Actually, if you count the number of days since they celebrated Christmas, you’ll find that today’s episode actually takes place on the evening of February 3rd,” then the only possible response is to say thank you very much for the information, and try to change the subject. Warning: Do not ask to see their notes.
This strange slippage between real time and story time comes up in any kind of serialized narrative that takes place more or less in the present day. It’s especially noticeable in cartoons and comic books, where the phones get smaller but the characters stay the same age. In the Amazing Spider-Man comics, Peter Parker’s frenemy Flash Thompson enlisted in the Vietnam War in the early 70s, but Peter and Flash are still in their late 20s in today’s comics, where they make references to iPads and Lady Gaga.
For this particular time trip, the weird wrinkle is that they made a huge deal about time standing still at Collinwood while Vicki visited the 18th century. Her four months in the past happened during “one tick of the clock,” so there shouldn’t be any relationship between the timelines of nineteen-sixty-something and seventeen-ninety-something. Except apparently there is.
Vicki: Look at the date!
Liz: Died April 3rd — that’s today! — 1795.
Vicki: And it’s dusk! I was hanged at dusk. At this moment, Peter’s going to the gallows.
Liz: Vicki, this happened ages ago.
Vicki: No — it’s happening right now, at this very minute, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it!
This is an example of meanwhiling — a weird timey-wimey conceptual pretzel that I happen to love, because it’s like a magic trick. They’re basically saying “Meanwhile, in the past,” which makes no logical sense, but you still understand what they mean. They do a lot of meanwhiling next year; the 1897 storyline is chock full of meanwhiling.
Anyway, the point is that there is no single coherent explanation of Vicki’s trip through time. The core idea is easy to understand — Vicki changed places with Phyllis Wick, the Collins family’s governess in 1795. She filled in Phyllis’ place in history, and then jumped back to the present at the moment that Phyllis was hanged for witchcraft. Like “meanwhiling”, that doesn’t actually mean anything, but you can form a mental model of it, which is all you need to follow the story.
The problem is that Barnabas was alive in 1795, and if Vicki replaced Phyllis in history, then Barnabas should have recognized Vicki last year, when he was released from his coffin. As we found out yesterday, Barnabas remembers Phyllis, which indicates that the time switch didn’t actually affect history.
But we’ll see Angelique pretty soon, and she does remember Vicki, and eventually we’ll see Peter, who’s still in love with Vicki, and by the time we reach Christmas 1968, so many people have been going back and forth to 1795 that there is literally no way to tell what actually happened, and to whom.
But it’s fun for Dark Shadows fans to chew it over and wrestle with the paradoxes, which we’ve been doing in the comments this week, just like fans have been doing in fanzines and forum discussions and at DS conventions for decades.
I actually had a letter printed in The World of Dark Shadows circa 1988, where I explained my personal theories comparing the effects of the 1795, 1840 and 1897 time trips. I don’t remember that much about it, but I think it retconned a couple things from the Leviathan storyline, and I’d also decided that Angelique married Ben in 1795 Parallel Time. I should dig that out one of these days, because I bet it’s super embarrassing.
Anyway, we should move on, because there’s a lot more that happens today. For example: Look, it’s Tony Peterson! We haven’t seen him in ages.
Tony is the hard-boiled young lawyer who got himself embroiled in the Barnabas storyline, back when all anybody cared about was Julia’s notebook of vampire secrets. Carolyn is currently under Barnabas’ thrall, and the last time we saw Tony, she was breaking into his office to try to steal the notebook for Barnabas. It’s a whole thing. This was months ago.
The important thing here is that she’s cute and rich and flirty, and apparently she has a horse? I guess?
We’ve never heard of a horse before, but they want to remind everyone about this promising opposites-attract romance that’s been on hold for a while, and the easiest visual shorthand for “rich young woman” is a riding crop and a hat. Carolyn and Tony engage in some really quite charming banter — this is a Sam Hall script, so there are jokes today — and she manages to get him to invite her out to dinner tonight.
I’d throw some quotes at you to prove how adorable this is, but honestly, the entry’s already running pretty long and we’re only about seven minutes in, so just take my word for it.
Barnabas comes over, to check on his fantasy-metaphor Rohypnol date rape harem, which includes Vicki as of the end of yesterday’s episode.
Barnabas: Where is Vicki?
Carolyn: Out with Mother.
Barnabas: Did she seem different?
Barnabas: More like you?
Reflexively, she lifts her hand to touch the side of her neck. He nods.
Barnabas: Yes. Didn’t you notice the change in her?
So as I mentioned the other day, returning to the present means that the writers have to figure out how to jump-start the main storyline again. They were running out of story options in late ’67, to the point where they either had to kill some main characters, or find another way to shake up the status quo.
The interesting thing that they’ve decided to do is to change all of the women’s roles on the show, to make them more active and give them more authority. Vicki in particular was a character who was only acted upon; she didn’t really do a lot, except serve as the McGuffin in the war between Barnabas and Julia. Now she’s leading her own storyline, and we’ve also seen Liz challenging Barnabas more directly than she used to.
The last couple of days have also built up Julia’s confidence in the story — she’s come out as a doctor, breaking the hold that Barnabas had over her. Yesterday, she even had Barnabas down on one knee, swearing loyalty to her. It’s all been about the women, reasserting the traditional female authority over soap opera storylines.
Today, it’s Carolyn’s turn.
Barnabas: I have to stop this obsession with the past. She’s been disturbed ever since the seance.
Carolyn: Barnabas, you shouldn’t have.
Carolyn: You should let Vicki feel whatever she feels.
She’s starting to get somewhere interesting, but that’s put on hold as Vicki and Liz return from their trip into town. This ends up being headline material, because on their way home, Vicki stopped at an antique shop, and bought an old painting.
In other words: Ta-DAH!
Yes, it’s time for Angelique’s supervillain trick — turning up alive, more or less, when you least expect it. The basic formula goes like this:
Barnabas: Angelique, you were killed, and we left you in the past! There’s no way you could have survived.
Angelique: But I did! Ta-DAH!
So Barnabas says the line which is his traditional response at this moment — a hoarse “Angelique!”
Liz says, “Yes, she is angelic, isn’t she?” and then the show just keeps on being perfect.
Because now we have a fifth female character to mess with Barnabas, and throw him off balance in unpredictable ways. They’ve got him surrounded.
A little later, Tony arrives for his dinner date with Carolyn, and there’s more adorable banter.
Carolyn: Let’s have some fun. I need to have fun.
Tony: Well, you’re not dressed for night fishing, or for bowling, or for the ball game in Bangor.
Carolyn: What are you talking about?
Tony: My idea of fun.
Carolyn: You’re not serious!
Tony: Oh, worse than that. I am, from your point of view, disgustingly normal.
Carolyn: Don’t tell me my point of view.
Tony: Well, that’s the only way you’ll ever get to know it.
Carolyn: I don’t need to know it. And I’m not going to change. You are.
“You wanna bet?” he says, and crosses his arms. She nods, and playfully imitates his pose.
And oh my gosh, I love this episode. This is just good, well-written television, the pupal stage of a soap opera supercouple.
And then Barnabas comes along, as he always does, and sabotages the soap opera storyline with his weird, self-centered vampire gloom. He sends a psychic call to Carolyn, instructing her to come to the Old House.
So Carolyn heads for the door, making inadequate excuses.
Carolyn: Tony… there’s something I must do.
Tony: What is it?
Carolyn: I can’t explain.
Tony: Well, you’re going to have to.
Carolyn: You stay here.
Tony: I wil not!
Tony: Where are you going?
Carolyn: There’s one thing I must do. I won’t be long. I promise.
And then she bails. Naturally, Barnabas doesn’t even want her for anything important; he’s just worried about Vicki and freaked out about Angelique’s portrait, and he wants to talk it over with someone.
Vicki isn’t responding appropriately to his vampire bite — she’s resisting him, just like every other woman in his life, all of a sudden — and he’s decided that the portrait is casting an evil influence that’s getting in his way. He says, “The witch must be BURNED!” and it sounds like he means it.
Obviously, Carolyn has no idea what he’s talking about, and she asks how she can help. “Comfort me,” he says, and pulls her close for a drink.
And then we see that Tony has followed Carolyn, and he’s watching this through the window, and I told you that this episode was good.
By the time Carolyn gets back to Collinwood, adorable banter is off the agenda. He didn’t see the fangs, but he saw enough to know that Carolyn walked out on him so she could “comfort” Barnabas.
“What do the two of you want from me now?” he spits, and there’s just not a single thing she can say.
Carolyn: It’s not like that!
Tony: Then you’re in love with him.
Carolyn: He’s my cousin!
Tony: Well, I’d always heard the idle rich were decadent. That was no cousinly kiss I saw!
Tony: Look, you’re not going to use me! Enjoy yourself, Miss Stoddard!
“Poor little rich girl indeed,” he spits — and there he goes, our only hope for a normal, non-supernatural opposites-attract love story. Barnabas ruins everything.
A little later in the evening, it’s time for one last battle: Barnabas Collins vs Representational Art. He lets himself in at Collinwood, where they apparently don’t lock the front doors when they go to bed, and advances on the portrait of Angelique.
But the women of Dark Shadows aren’t done with him yet. Carolyn has waited up, and she’s sitting in the dark, wearing a fantastic emerald robe.
Carolyn: I don’t want you to call for me anymore.
Carolyn: You love Vicki. I don’t want to just be used anymore.
Barnabas: We will not discuss this tonight.
She starts doing that thing where her voice catches a little bit, and it makes you want to be a better person.
Carolyn: I wanted to go out for dinner tonight.
Barnabas: You’re behaving like a child!
Carolyn: I am not a child. But I am young, and I want my own life, Barnabas. Can’t I have it?
Barnabas: Carolyn —
Carolyn: Can’t you leave me alone?
Barnabas: We will talk tomorrow! Now, GO!
And there you go. That’s, like, five awesome scenes in a row.
And there’s still more stuff in this episode. When Carolyn goes upstairs, Barnabas returns to his new hobby, which is fighting with oil paintings.
“I have lived this curse for almost two hundred years,” he says, glaring at the portrait. “Is that not time enough? Now that you have found me again, must everyone around me die, as they did before? No! I will not let you do it!”
And then he takes a knife and slashes at the picture, ripping it from the frame…
And he throws it into the fire, yelling, “Burn! BURN! That is the only way you will die. It is the only way this curse will end! BURN! BURN!”
And then he turns back, and the portrait is still there on the easel. Ta-DAH! And that’s why Dark Shadows is my favorite television show.
Tomorrow: First Wife’s Club.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
At the beginning of the episode, as Liz and Vicki walk through the graveyard, there’s a cough from offstage.
Vicki tells Liz, “The caretaker said that if Peter was buried anywhere here, then it would be here, in this section.”
When Liz and Vicki enter Collinwood with the picture, Liz kisses Carolyn’s cheek. The next shoot is a close-up of Barnabas, but Carolyn’s head is in the way.
Also, they’re making a big deal about the date on Peter’s gravestone, and they don’t even get it right — it should be April 3, 1796, because Vicki arrived in November, 1795. We’ll see this tombstone again in episode 660 — yes, sigh, they’re still talking about Peter two hundred episodes from now — and by that time, they’ve fixed it — by turning the 5 into a 6 with a black magic marker. See below for the fantastic result.
Tomorrow: First Wife’s Club.
— Danny Horn