Episode 643: Interceding with Oscar

“You must intercede with Oscar. Only you can save me.”

So here’s the lost secret of Lost: They had no idea.

ABC made Lost for six dazzling, frustrating, mind-boggling years, weaving a web of mystery and misdirection and nonsense, one baffling hour at a time. I don’t know if it did anything for you, but I loved it. I was one of the sad cases who rewatched the episodes in slow motion, looked up all the references on Lostpedia, and listened to the weekly cry for help that they called The Official Lost Podcast.

Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the show’s producers and head writers, used the podcasts, Comic-Con appearances and magazine interviews to present an intricate paratextual metafiction about two make-believe people named “Damon Lindelof” and “Carlton Cuse” who totally, totally knew all the answers to every single question that a viewer might have about the show’s rich mythology.

According to this ongoing behind-the-scenes fairy tale, Damon and Carlton could totally explain everything to you right now, but they won’t, because a) it’s very complicated, b) it would spoil the surprise, and c) It’s Not Really About the Mythology, It’s About the Characters.

In reality, after a while, it wasn’t even about the characters. It was about whether Damon and Carlton actually knew what they were doing, or were they just lying this whole time, because they needed to keep the plates spinning for another day.

That’s the question that Lost fans were dying to learn. We didn’t watch season six because we wanted to know if Jack, Kate and Sawyer would survive. We watched because we wanted to know if Damon and Carlton would survive.

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After it was all over, Damon and Carlton slowly let it slip that no, obviously, they didn’t have the whole show planned out from day one, because that’s a completely insane thing to even think of doing for a network television show.

For one thing, all that planning would be a colossal waste of time. Even if your show is picked up for a full season, you could be yanked off the air if the ratings aren’t high enough. You don’t even know if you’re going to get to six episodes, much less six seasons.

Also, you can’t predict who the audience is going to respond to. If one of the characters in the ensemble just irritates and bores the audience, then you dial back their screen time. If the actor you cast in a minor role really nails the part and gets the audience intrigued, then you build that role up.

That’s what happened with Ben Linus — a one-shot infiltrator from the Others, who was only supposed to appear in three episodes. But Michael Emerson was so good that they kept asking him to come back, and by the next season, he’d become a crucial part of the show’s mythology.

And then there’s the other side of that story. If you’ve got a specific character scheduled to make a pivotal choice halfway through season five, then what happens if he gets into a car accident, or wants to leave the show because he’s been cast in a Lord of the Rings movie? Even if you’d bothered to plan everything in advance, you’re still producing the show in real time, and you need to be flexible.

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That means that every minute that you spend constructing a vast, detailed map of your mythology and long-term character arcs is a minute that you could be doing something productive, like oh my god, the network says that the script for episode seven feels “mushy”, what the hell does that even mean?

But on Lost, the eerie conspiracy theory aesthetic of the show relied on creating the appearance of a vast secret plan that links all of the characters together in a complex network of mysterious connections, because otherwise you’re just making a version of Survivor where nobody wins any money and they never go home.

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So what do you do when you’re starting a show that’s supposed to look like you have an amazing long-range plan, when actually making any plan at all would be a counter-productive waste of time?

Answer: You fake it. You toss crazy, surprising ideas at the screen, and hope that some of them tickle the audience’s curiosity.

So in the pilot, you include a plane crash, an invisible monster, a radio tower broadcasting a repeating message in French, and a polar bear. And if the pilot gets picked up, then that means you did something right, so you keep throwing surprises at the audience, until they cancel the show and you have to stop.

643 lost hatch

On Lost, the most exciting mystery of the first season was the hatch in the jungle. It’s a wonderfully discordant image — a deserted tropical island, with an unexplained man-made door leading to an underground treasure box of secrets. The hatch doesn’t even have to do anything, except sit there and look important. Is it a military base, a mad science lab, a portal to another dimension, evidence of an alien incursion?

All season long, people asked Damon and Carlton, what’s with the hatch? And Damon and Carlton chuckled, and looked thoughtful, and said, oh ho ho, you’ll have to tune in to find out.

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But they didn’t know. They hadn’t the tiniest scrap of a bit of a clue. They made twenty-five episodes in the first season. Think about writing twenty-five hour-long episodes of Lost, when nobody even knows what Lost is yet. They must have been going out of their minds.

That’s why the first season ended with the characters opening the hatch and looking down into darkness, so Damon and Carlton had the summer to figure out what’s down there.

642 dark shadows carolyn chris curse

Which brings us to December 1968, and yesterday’s seance.

Here’s what we know so far: A Collins family ancestor named Quentin is talking to the children through a disconnected telephone. When Professor Stokes arranges a seance to contact Vicki’s missing husband, a spirit named Magda speaks through Carolyn, delivering a warning: “You must stop them! He must stay where he is!”

Then Magda mentions her curse — or her currrrrrse! if you prefer — and the curse talk makes Chris twitchy, on account of he’s under one.

I think there’s also a polar bear and a hatch, and a female character gets kidnapped every 108 minutes, assuming Ron Sproat’s writing the episode.

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Now, Dark Shadows fans know what’s coming next, because we are time travellers; we come from the future, with a DVD box set full of spoilers. We know that we’re going to see Quentin and Magda three months from now, and we know what Magda’s curse is, and we know how it’s connected to Chris.

So fans watching this week’s episodes tend to get kind of excited about how amazing it is that the writers suddenly evolved the ability to plan ahead farther than the end of the scene. This is not actually the case. It’s polar bears, all the way down.

643 dark shadows roger carolyn letter

Here, I’ll show you. Roger’s in the drawing room fussing with his briefcase, when an old book suddenly jumps off the piano and onto the floor. He picks it up, and finds an old letter folded up between the pages.

Roger:  That’s odd.

Carolyn:  What is?

Roger:  This letter. I just found it, addressed to my father, Jamison Collins. It’s dated 1887. He must have been a boy when this was sent to him.

Carolyn:  What does the letter say?

Roger:  “Dear Jamison, You must return to Collinwood. I need your help. You must intercede with Oscar. Only you can save me.” It’s signed Quentin.

Carolyn:  Quentin?

Roger:  Yes. We have a Quentin Collins, as an ancestor. Actually, I don’t know very much about him; I think he spent most of his time abroad.

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So let’s look at that purported backstory, through the lens of our spoiler-filled time travel.

On the credit side: Roger’s father is Jamison Collins; Jamison has a close relationship with Quentin, which Quentin tries to use to his own advantage; Quentin spends a lot of time abroad. Check, check and check — that tallies up with what we see in March.

On the debit side: 1887, and Oscar. Now, obviously, it’s fairly trivial to say that they simply decided to change that to 1897 and Edward; that’s not necessarily evidence that they didn’t have the story worked out.

But the actual content of the letter — Jamison must return to Collinwood, to intercede with Oscar — does not match up with the storyline as the time travellers know it. When we get to 1897, it’s Quentin who’s returning home, not Jamison. He doesn’t need the boy to intercede with Oscar or anyone else, except in the most abstract way, and “Only you can save me” means nothing at all. That doesn’t even sound like the Quentin we know.

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Also, the story about Quentin, Magda and Oscar is not about werewolves, and Chris reacting to the word “curse” is not a clue.

Chris freaked out in yesterday’s seance for two reasons. Number one: Somebody needed to interrupt the seance before Magda said anything useful that would derail the storyline. Number two: They have two major storylines running right now — The Wolf Man and The Turn of the Screw — and if rubbing them together for a minute makes for an interesting scene, then that makes the episode better, and Sam Hall gets a lollipop.

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It’s hard for the time travellers to see things the way that the Dark Shadows writers did, because we think of the show as a finished saga that stretches from episode 1 to 1245, split into chapters called 1795, 1897, Leviathan and Parallel Time.

But for the producers, here in December 1968, it’s just Dark Shadows, one continuous round-robin narrative that runs for as long as they have blood in their bodies and breath in their lungs. “1795” was an anomaly, a crazy thing that they still can’t believe they got away with. They have no idea right now that the time travel stories are going to define the structure of the show.

They’re not on the road to 1897, or 1887, or anywhere else. There’s no road, never has been.

622 dark shadows eve angelique return

Consider this: in episode 622, Angelique spent the whole episode forging an uneasy alliance with Eve, which led to nothing at all. They didn’t even have any scenes together after that. Less than a week later, in episode 626, Eve was killed. In 627, Angelique spent the episode forging a new alliance with Adam, which led to nothing at all. Angelique went to Hell the next day, to complain to Diabolos about Nicholas. Then she dropped out of the storyline completely, and had nothing more to do with Adam and Eve.

In other words, this is a television show where — just three weeks ago — they literally did not have the ability to plan ahead from one day to the next.

Now, if you want to believe that this writing team spontaneously developed the time, patience and foresight to set up interweaving plot points nine months ahead, then that can be the thing you believe. But it isn’t true.

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They’re doing the same thing that Damon and Carlton did on Lost — throwing random clues into the pot, with the vague intention of explaining them later, probably, if anybody remembers what they were.

So by the beginning of next week, we’ll have the following pieces in play: the west wing, Quentin, Beth, Oscar, Jamison, Magda, the skeleton, the phonograph, the crib, the curse, the polar bear, the numbers, the hatch, the Others, the Smoking Man, the Rambaldi artifacts, the Torchwood Institute, Parseltongue, black oil, the Log Lady, and Claude North. Nobody knows what they mean yet. That’s the fun of it.

643 dark shadows chris carolyn plan

The fact that, on the whole, most of the clues do actually end up being meaningful is not evidence of the Dark Shadows writers’ awesome long-range planning skills. It’s evidence of their awesome seat-of-the-pants cleverness, connecting up all the relevant loose ends as they stumble headlong through 1969.

They are actually brilliant, and this really is a brilliant story. But right now, they’re just throwing stuff at the screen. The brilliant part happens down at the other end.

Tomorrow: Phoning It In.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

As David gets out of bed, there’s a banging in the studio.

I edited one of Roger’s quotes above for clarity — “It’s dated 1887.” What he actually says is, “It’s post-dated 1887,” which doesn’t mean anything.

When David gets the flashlight from his desk, someone in the studio coughs.

David’s tells Amy that there’s a secret way into the west wing: “So you — keep it a promise that you won’t tell anyone, right?”

David and Amy wait until everyone in the house is asleep before they venture into the west wing — but then we see Roger and Carolyn sitting in the drawing room at 4am.

The credits play over a shot of David’s room, but the camera is pulled back much farther than usual. You can see the edge of the set on the right, and the desk is just in the middle of an open space — we’re essentially looking at the place where the “fourth wall” is supposed to be.

Tomorrow: Phoning It In.

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Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

34 thoughts on “Episode 643: Interceding with Oscar

  1. According to the DS Almanac, Oscar was indeed renamed Edward….tho’ that doesn’t explain the letter at all.

    This episode makes me wonder why Elizabeth and Roger didn’t join hands for a seance to call up dear ole Dad, since Jamison is key to the haunting of Collinwood – and they have proof – scrawled in black on Carolyn’s mirror. Maybe Jamison grew up to be one of the biggest monsters of the show and the series never got around to that story. Polar bears, indeed.

    1. Jamison Collins would have been at a good age for digging up mummies in Egypt around 1922, when King Tut was discovered. I always thought DS should have had a mummy story, set in the 1920’s or early 30’s.

      I would have had Jamison be an archaeologist who finds a mummy and smuggles it back to Collinwood, where it steals the plot of Karloff’s The Mummy from 1932, which is really just an improved version of the Dracula story from the year before. The mummy would come to life, just like in the movie, then disappear. When it reappears, it’s Jonathan Frid as a mysterious Egyptian who sees the young Elizabeth as the reincarnation of his long lost bride.

      Then it could deviate from The Mummy and become another version of the Barnabas story. This mummy could be a villain at first, who gradually seems more human. He would also need a flaw. Instead of being a blood drinker, like Barnabas, he might need to drain people, the way Laura did. Same gods, etc.

      Nancy Barrett would have made a great flapper. Thayer David in a fez. As a joke, they could have had some distraught member of the family always going on about how horrible it was, surviving the Titanic. The Art Deco Dark Shadows that never was.

      1. That sounds awesome, and now I’m sad that they never used that storyline. 😉

        I always hoped that their time travels would take Barnabas and Co into further into the Future…say, 2015 (I know they went to 1995 but that world didn’t seem much different except for Collinwood). It is fun to imagine what the writers of the 70s would think 2015 would look like; they would probably allude to robots and flying cars, like the Jetsons. Although Collinwood seems to be timeless (they never even had a TV, at least, not one we were able to see) so I think their perception of the future was limited by the fact that Collinwood seems to exist in it’s own “time”. Oh well, something to imagine and write about I guess…

      2. Wow – I had a similar idea about a DS mummy storyline set in the 1920’s around the time of King Tut’s tomb’s discovery — yes, a story that would some connection to the Mummy movies. Also, they certainly could have done something with UFO’s and aliens – somehow set up the Old House as a staging area for an alien invasion.

        1. Well, they did a MUMMY story. The Mummy in the Boris Karloff movie is an undead creature who presents himself as a cultured gentleman with Old World manners, who kills his enemies by strangling them, who is obsessed with the woman he was in love with at the time he was placed under his curse, who finds a woman in the present day who resembles her so completely she is played by the same actress, and who abducts that woman and tries to forcibly transform her into his lost love. So the kidnapping of Maggie Evans was a little bit of Dracula mashed up with a whole lot of The Mummy.

  2. Hmmm, maybe Danny had it all planned out weeks ago what he was going to blog about for this episode, but… then come the comments for the last few episodes in which we congratulate the DS writers on how well they’ve apparently planned for the upcoming 1897 storyline. “Hey, they must have really learned their lesson – they’ve actually got this mapped out!” But, no, now Danny comes by to toss a bucket of cold, bracing reality on us and wash away our dreams of well-structured narrative. Sniff, sniff (sneeze, sneez).

    Re LOST, here’s my own “Six Degrees of” story. My wife and I lived in California for a time, and we became good friends with a woman who was besties with one of the main BUFFY writers. And this writer kept in touch with other former BUFFY writers, one of whom, David Fury, ended up on staff for the first season of LOST. So… David was quoted in the press early in Season One of LOST promising that ultimately all the wacky plot developments would be fully explained in a sort of scientific, rational way. Translation: “hey, we know what we’re doing, trust us.” But he only says this because this is what the showrunners (Cuse/Lindelof) are telling him and the rest of the staff. (Supposedly Fury asked them “maybe we should start explaining a few things, if only to ourselves so we know where we’re going,” but was told “Oh, it’s more fun if we keep it a mystery for now”). Translation: “We’ll let you know when WE know.”

  3. The Eve/Angelique alliance that went nowhere is a good example of the standard DARK SHADOWS storytelling approach, which is like a jazz improvisational jam session. Fans tend to latch onto the “continuity” issues that occur when questions are raised but later answered as if the question was in a different language or something else entirely.

    Barnabas, when first introduced, had a different backstory, one in which he was more villainous (or rather just as psychotic as he currently was). His version of events is related again, just a couple weeks before 1795. And yet 1795 is still drastically different. I recall fans on the DS boards in the ’90s finding this frustrating. How could they literally not know about these changes two weeks in advance? Because that’s how DARK SHADOWS rolled.

    1795 simply allows the show to tell more stories featuring Barnabas Collins when that was becoming impossible in the present day. 1897 allows them to tell stories featuring David Selby as a Quentin Collins who can speak and interact with people.

    It’s all about the story potential.

    And answering questions raised in previous episodes is always the “albatross” around the writers’ necks. They eventually get around to it in 1897 and it even feels like they just want to clear the table and move on. Selby’s charisma has already turned Quentin into a different character anyway — more roguish anti-hero than twisted bastard, who is an evil spirit because he was an evil man. I get the sense the writers never enjoyed trying to link those two versions of the character. It was more interesting to write the current Quentin.

    Same with Nathan Forbes in 1795. I don’t think there was an attempt to depict how greed corrupted a charming Tom Jones guy into a child murderer. The show just needed an antagonist and he fit the bill.

    And if we shift in the time machine to 1991, this is why that version of DARK SHADOWS failed — you can’t follow a Cliff’s Note outline of a show that flew by the seat of its pants.

  4. I agree with Danny that the writers didn’t have a meticulous plan from day one, but rather fleshed things out as they went along. I think most writers, regardless of genre, would admit to writing this way. Only chronic liars like George Lucas would have you believe that he planned EVERYTHING from day one.

    At this point, the only connection between Quentin and Chris is Amy really. Since she’s his sister it’s a sure bet that he’ll be more actively involved in the future. And the Magda spirit may very well have been an early version of Beth, trying to protect the family from Quentin – like she does later on.

    I do think there’s better planning at this point on the show however – and certainly better willingness to adapt to changes in story by adding to what came before instead of throwing things out. So while I don’t think 1897 is on their minds at this point, they’re better prepared to incorporate that decision once it hits them.

  5. Call me dumb for “the dumb thing” I believe, but I still think that the writers and executive producer were not so without guidelines that all of a sudden one day at a writers’ meeting someone said, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Next week, let’s send Barnabas back in time to 1897.” I would maintain that overall themes and possible story arcs were discussed well ahead of time and that these overarching ideas evolved over time. Because that’s how writers work, with ideas that evolve over time.

    Just like when Dan Curtis decided to put a vampire on the show. It didn’t all happen in just one week. It started as an idea, well ahead of Barnabas’ first appearance out of the box. It’s the particulars of each episode that they work out in the short term, but the bigger picture is a framework, a general idea that guides the process day to day. I would maintain that this was also the case with Nicholas Blair. Dan Curtis had Astredo on stand by since the previous year, knew he wanted to use him. I doubt the mention of “Miss Blair” by Cassandra was coincidence.

    When Roger says “1887” it may have been a blooper, just as Magda does when discussing the Collins family history in terms of Quentin’s possible death in 1897 with Barnabas one evening, where she refers to 1897 twice during the exchange, but in the first instance flubs the line and says “1875” instead. Considering that Jamison is Roger’s father, and we know from the Liz under the Phoenix spell of early 1967 where she opens the family album to record her own death that Roger was born in 1926, which, if Jamison had been 10 in 1887 would have made him around 50 at the time of Roger’s birth, which makes it seem unlikely that they would write it like that.

    Besides, Dan Curtis was a big fan of time travel, his heart was in the past. After the major clean-up at the end of 1968, a new time travel scenario would represent a rebirth for the show the way 1795 had been. I would have to think that 1897 was in his sights, even months away as it is at present. I would think that Dan Curtis was smart enough to learn from the things that had made the show such a success as they went along.

    I could be wrong of course. Perhaps The Television Horrors of Dan Curtis, which devotes a considerable portion to Dark Shadows, may shed some light on this. But until I see a quote from Dan Curtis himself saying that one day they just decided to send Barnabas back to 1897 and the next week they had him throwing I Ching wands and walking through an astral door to the past, then I’ll go on believing that there were at least some guidelines, some vision in the mind of Dan Curtis where he might like to go in the weeks and even months ahead.

    1. The problem with 1897 is that they didn’t let the fans know what happened in the original timeline. They should have did what they had done in 1795 and have Barnabas watch the events while not being directly a part of them. This was how they handled things in 1840 for the most part after present time Barnabas arrived there until he became the attorney for Quentin & Desmond.

      1. 1795 was fine from a stable time loop perspective but awful from a dramatic point of view. Vicki does nothing in the past. She’s a passive protagonist. There’s later some last minute revision about her saving Daniel and the Collins family but it’s hard to buy.

        Barnabas in 1897 is more classic DOCTOR WHO — he’s a protagonist who is actively influencing events. That’s more interesting to see. He also does the same thing in 1840 (he doesn’t disrupt the past as significantly but he’s also hardly passive).

    2. I’m not that extreme about it. 🙂 I don’t think they decided to go to 1897 the day before — as you say, that would be a silly thing to think. But there’s a pretty big middle ground betwen tomorrow and three months from now.

      Right now, they’re developing a Turn of the Screw storyline, which doesn’t include time travel or werewolves. It did eventually, so obviously there’s a point where they make those decisions, but I don’t think that’s now.

      That being said — I now regret using the phrase “the dumb thing”, because it’s making a joke at the expense of the smart and engaged people who post in the comments. Today’s piece did spring out of me disagreeing with some of the comments from yesterday’s — sometimes, I start writing responses to comments and then realize that I’m writing the next day’s entry, and that’s how today’s post got started.

      But I got over-excited about my own cleverness, and “the dumb thing that you believe” sounded funny to me. That’s obviously a mean thing to say about people that I like and respect. I took the word “dumb” out of the entry, and I apologize for being reckless and insulting. I’m sorry. Thanks for calling me on it.

      1. No insult taken for my part. I was merely quoting “the dumb thing” phrase, half tongue in cheek, to address the point you’d made about how crazy it is to think that such a show, which certainly does fly by with a great deal of spontaneity, could have any degree of actual planning involved, at least at the level I was considering it might. I thought that line was quite funny, in fact. I’d hate to think that my comment led you to feel that you should censor yourself. It is your blog, your writing, your expression, and as a writer you should be completely free in that expression. So, why not put the “dumb” back in? Trust your instinct. Your readers are with you all the way. 🙂

    3. I don’t think anyone here is proposing it has to be one extreme or the other (a full plan vs. no plan). I’ve no doubt they must have been talking about taking an extended excursion into 1795 prior to actually doing it (“Hey, Mostoller, forget Ohrbach’s, we need a costume house! Stat!”). However, as the blog effectively demonstrates, a mere 2 weeks before we take that journey, the writers still don’t have a locked down version of Barnabas’s true backstory.

      The same might be at work here. Someone might have suggested another historical jaunt would be a cool idea (well, actually we’re days away from it, but it’s a short stint back in 1795/6 again). But, as Danny points out, they have no way of knowing how audiences will react to the next couple of months’ episodes. Suppose audiences hated Quentin? Suppose The Turn of the Screw plot simply turned people off?

      I’m also puzzled why Cassandra giving herself a last name proves Humbert Allen Astredo is right around the corner. I mean, it’s not like the Nicholas character was named before we ever saw him. Until he showed up at the front door, she had never mentioned she even had a brother (because, of course, she didn’t).

  6. I suspect when it became obvious that Quentin, who without speaking a word was becoming very popular ,that they then decided that they needed to focus on him and best answer was TIME TRAVEL! It worked with Barnabas. I think the story got tweaked as Quentin became really popular, which is why we never got the original story where Quentin actually died and presumably was walled up in the room. The truth was David Selby as Quentin was compelling. Adam wasn’t compelling. Chris was cute and tortured and interesting, but he wasn’t as compelling as Quentin. They needed Quentin in the story as fast as possible and it was easier to break out the I-Ching rods and go for it.

    1. I don’t think there was any way to predict that the Quentin at his peak of the haunting storyline (laughing maniacally while his music plays in the abandoned Collinwood) would become the romantic anti-hero of the end of 1897.

      He’s the Angelique of 1897 (well until the real deal shows up). A fun, compelling villain but still a villain. Note that Angelique herself is never completely on the side of the, er, angels. She never becomes an anti-hero. In 1897, she’s a loose cannon who is not decidedly evil but that’s about it.

      Selby at 1897’s peak manages to do what no other male character had done since Barnabas arrived : Stand as almost an equal to Frid as leading man. Arguably, Barnabas plays a supporting role toward the end of the Petofi storyline.

      Briscoe was firmly in second place. Selby blew the doors off.

      Then came the Leviathans. And Quentin never recovered.

      1. The problem is that they forgot an iron rule: Any character has to pay for itself by having a story. If they do not have a story then send them out on a trip and bring them back WITH A NEW STORY. Or have them pop in every now and then with interesting tidbits of information or with ominous warnings. But they must pay their way by having a story. Quentin without a story is NOT very interesting. (it might have been if he had picked up certain skills in the meantime and attacked the Leviathan cairn with a grenade launcher…)

    2. I’m with you, MonsterKid (4 plus years from the future) re: Cassandra Blair. Sometimes the DS writers liked certain names, and they popped up again and again. There was James Blair predating Cassandra, just as there was a Daphne Budd in HODS predating the first appearance of Kate Jackson; and, of course, there was Willie’s Roxanne, who was unrelated (as far as we know) to the Drew versions.


    (Just in case)

    There’s definitely a stark contrast before the (non)-lead-up to 1897 and the lead-up to 1840. When they come back from PT, they KNOW they’re heading back into the past again. Here they had no idea. Therefore, I find the little mistakes like “Oscar” and “1887” way less annoying than the ones they make in pre-1840.

  8. Just found this blog. Seems very cool, so I figured I’d jump in… The truth of plotting lies somewhere in between. (I haven’t done TV, but I’ve done novels and comics and serialized forms.) Surely there were story conferences where someone, probably Dan Curtis and Art Wallace, talked to the writers and worked out, in broad swaths, what the next set of storylines and subplots would be — much like modern TV shows. Then they’d focus on the next few weeks, probably — because, as pointed out, working too far in advance would have been crazy, due to potential Acts of God and (more importantly) marketing/advertising.

    Then they’d figure out who did what scripts and what portion of the story they would cover and, because this was a daily series, the writers would then go and write like mad to get it on the air. And probably, at least most of the time, someone (Art? Assistants?) would then go over the script and try to smooth out the rough edges and fix the continuity — and there might even be rewrites on the day. But, they couldn’t check or fix everything, because very soon they’d just run out of time and have to shoot the damn thing. (And then the actors would change or flub the lines and mess things up anyway.)

    But, despite the wide swaths, they needed to be able to adapt to market forces, like David Selby (or Jonathan Frid) suddenly getting hot and — Hey! — maybe we don’t kill him after all. Ratings are up! And I’m pretty sure it was ratings that drove them back in time again. The Barnabas origin had done great in the ratings, but the whole Adam thing… not nearly so much. Then Quentin showed up and it was more lightning in the bottle, so they tried the same trick and — Whatta ya know! — it worked again. Except this time they had experience and they could really milk it for a while.

    All the time, though, they were just trying to keep the shark swimming — keep everyone employed, keep the advertisers (and audience) happy. But there was certainly some advance planning… And then adjusting to go with what was selling with the audience.

    And, yes, a big part of the genius is being able to adjust and adapt. (Good job, DS writers!)

    PS — One of my favorite “games” when watching/rewatching DS is to try and figure out who wrote the episode before it’s revealed in the final credits. (When I watch regularly, I get pretty good at it.)

    1. I wonder how involved Art Wallace remained after he wrote the bible for the show as originally conceived. (It got pretty far from his original outline by 1968, except there was still a mother named Elizabeth, a daughter named Carolyn and a governess named Victoria, albeit not for long.)

      I play that game, too, guessing the writers. Sometimes I’m right; sometimes wrong. In this stretch, I noticed that Ron Sproat got the kids trapped but Gordon Russell freed them.

  9. I’m afraid this is going to be one of my rare disagreements with what you have to say, Danny. Actually, I strongly believe that the writers really did envision a connection between Quentin and Chris from the get-go. They surely hadn’t worked out all the details, but they planted the seeds in this episode. Why do I believe this? One thing: the name Magda. Of all the names they could’ve chosen for the mysterious spirit to contact the gang unexpectedly, could they have chosen a much more Gypsy-sounding name than Magda? Or, if not Gypsy, at least Eastern European. Think Lon Chaney, Jr., The Wolfman, and the Gypsy connection. Magda warns of a curse (which is what ties Quentin and Chris) and of the children unleashing an evil (Quentin). I think that right there ties Quentin and Chris via Gypsy-induced lycanthropy. The writers realized they needed a second major plot to keep things moving between full moons, and they knew that a breakout character with a curse would need a good explanation that could turn into a lengthy plot of its own. The 1790s worked so well, so why not the 1890s? They killed two birds with one stone with the haunting of Collinwood. And the name Magda tells me that’s what they planned all along. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. 😉

  10. It also sounds like Lynch, and Twin Peaks…I hope that “We know what we’re doing”, and “We’ll tell you when we get there” answers pan out.

    Could Art Wallace have envisioned this? No.

    Plot points are figured out on a day-to-day basis.

    Devil’s in the details.

    Man. That’s a lot of ’em.

    Lynch winged it.

    So did DS writers.

    That’s why I love them both.

  11. I used to love Lost but once I realized they didn’t have a clue about what they were doing, I grew to hate it. I still get angry thinking about all the time I wasted on that darned show!

    After it was all over, Damon and Carlton slowly let it slip that no, obviously, they didn’t have the whole show planned out from day one, because that’s a completely insane thing to even think of doing for a network television show.

    Babylon Five was planned out from start to finish. RIP, Jerry Doyle.

  12. One minor point that hasn’t been mentioned: Two little kids are locked in a room. And who wrote the episode? Why, Ron Sproat, of course.

  13. Don’t get me started on “Lost.” I followed that show religiously, was blown away by the “Through the Looking Glass” episode ending season 3, and was bitterly disappointed in how it end. Further, the show’s creators broke faith with their audience by lying to them. That’s just wrong.

    Shows do evolve and end up in different places that where it’s creators intended. The 1970’s comedy “Barney Miller” started as a contrast between his home life and life as a police Captain. They dropped the home life because the 12th Precint was far funnier. “The Odd Couple” dropped the Pigeon sisters after season 1, even though they were a carryover from the Neil Simon movie.

    Two of my favorite shows from recent years are “Fringe” and “Person of Interest.” Both shows veered far from what their creators originally intended. “Fringe” was intended to be a 21st Century “X-Files” where an FBI agent investigated cases involving “fringe science.” But, when they dropped the bombshell that one of the main characters was from parallel universe, the show’s creators embraced that mythology and it drove the show – for the better. As a result, “Fringe” became a show about parallel universes and time travel.

    “Person of Interest” began as a crime drama and some of its fans wish it had continued that way. However, the show’s creators understood that creation of an AI would have profound societal implications – far more than just identifying potential criminal victims. So, the last two seasons of the show embraced that idea and i thought it was brilliant.

    Since DS was a daily soap opera, I doubt that they had any idea where they were going when they started down this road. But, guys like Sam Hall were smart & talented, and adapted when things worked. I am watching these early Quentin episodes for the 1st time (one of the few gaps in my viewing history) and they are brilliant. Now, if they could just get Vicky Winters out of the way….

  14. This is a problem I have thought about in terms of history. Often we regard history in an almost ho-hum fashion because we know how the American Civil War or World War II or the Cold War came out. The South lost, Hitler offed himself, the Berlin Wall was demolished.

    What were people so worried about at the time? They were worried, of course, because they didn’t know how it was going to come out. They were too busy being in the middle of it. Would the Cold War end with a whimper as it did, or with a global bang as it seemed at the time that it might?

    Talking about planning, though, today’s episode brings back the fact that there is a panel in the drawing room that leads into the west wing. That panel was used rather mischievously by Roger back in episode 87 when Vicki was locked in the west wing by David. But while they have brought back the secret panel-door, they have ignored the fact that some viewers might remember it. I suspect that most of the people watching at this point in 1968 hadn’t watched until Barnabas turned up, so the secret panel is new to them. They are not bothered by the fact that Roger seems to have forgotten about it. (My confabulation is that Roger doesn’t think of it because he assumes David doesn’t know about it.) Of course, Roger opened the panel by moving a nearby lever whereas David did it by directly opening the door itself. So that gimmick evolved or devolved, whichever way you want to look at it.

    Random thought: Don Briscoe’s voice reminds me of someone else’s, and I couldn’t think who until it occurred to me recently that maybe it’s Jeff Daniels.

    1. I often find myself thinking about that too (thank Rassilon it’s not just me). I feel that’s why the old adage about history repeating is so often proved true – people don’t really pay much attention to how historical things came about, just that they did, and then they were resolved, and we moved on to the next storyline… which could be why people don’t notice the same precursive circumstances happening again, the same small, forgettable details aligning to create the Big Events which we’ll all look back on and wonder “how did it get that far – again?”.

  15. Skimming through the comments I wish I knew what was coming up so I could look for clues in the episode I’m watching for shades of future episodes, but as it is, I’m a newbie.

    The tipping over of the grandfather clock made me sick! What a waste of a great time piece! I also thought it creepy that David could feel a hand pushing him. I like that the show is getting pretty creepy!

    I like the comparison to LOST, which I was a devoted fan of beginning with Season Two. I discovered the show the week before Season Two started when my roommate had rented the first disc of Season One. We were hooked and so excited to be able to watch the entire first season before Season Two started. It was disheartening to realize that the creators didn’t have everything mapped out from the beginning however I’ll always treasure the experience of being a fan, gathering with my family/friends each week to watch and be blown away by what new revelations happened and try to figure it all out.

    My memories of DS will always be of my good friend Andrea introducing me to the series, the movie with Johnny Depp (because I’m a huge JD fan), and finding this blog. Unfortunately because I’m in 2020 I’ll also always associate the series with COVID and beginning to work from home, which hasn’t been bad, as on my lunch I get to watch DS.

  16. Helpful hints from the Dark Shadows writing staff for dealing with 2020 and beyond:
    Read some classic fiction.
    Try to make something happen every day.
    Try to avoid the crazy guy.
    Be flexible. Develop work-arounds. Prepare to pivot at short notice.
    Don’t worry if you don’t know how it’s going to end.
    Find something nice to look at.
    Bonus: Remember it’s polar bears all the way down.

  17. A brilliant one for the blooper list: in the teaser scene, Carolyn says “I don’t believe you”, then dries on the rest of her line (“You were frightened, all right…”). Chris murmurs it to her, barely moving his lips! She recovers and delivers the rest of the line, barely missing a beat…

  18. Wait! No ones talking about when the flashlight “gets taken” from David, but actually just throws it away. But then finds it again right at his feet! What the what?! LOL

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