Episode 646: The Turning

“What we did was bury Quentin’s bones. His spirit is still alive, isn’t it?”

There are eight turning points in the history of Dark Shadows — moments where the focus and direction of the show changes permanently. You can’t really talk about the development of the show without these eight pivotal events.

Four of the turning points are character introductions, and four of them are backstage developments. In order, they are:

  • the introduction of Barnabas,
  • Julia’s offer to cure Barnabas,
  • writer Sam Hall joins the show,
  • the introduction of Angelique,
  • Jonathan Frid’s ten-city publicity tour,
  • writer Ron Sproat leaves the show,
  • the introduction of Quentin,
  • and MGM greenlights House of Dark Shadows.

Today isn’t one of them, by the way. I just thought I’d mention it.

646 dark shadows quentin zoom

Today’s episode is the first appearance of David Selby playing the ghost of Quentin Collins, a 19th-century ancestor who is destined to become one of Dark Shadows’ MVPs, but at the moment is more of a haunting memory veiled in misty glow.

One of the important things about these turning point characters is that once they join the show, they’re never allowed to leave. In fact, Quentin becomes so crucial to the show that David Selby actually plays four different characters over the next couple years, all of them named Quentin.

If you’re familiar with the upcoming storylines, the roster is: 1897 Quentin, 1970 Parallel Time Quentin, 1840 Quentin, and 1841 Parallel Time Quentin. They’re all different people.

And you could argue that the ghost that we’re meeting today counts as a 5th Quentin, because he isn’t really like any of the others. The real “turning point” Quentin shows up in March, when we take another uncertain and frightening journey into the past.

646 dark shadows hi quentin

But we’d better enjoy this ghost while we have him, because he’s not staying long. He only appears on screen for 42 seconds today, and then it’s more than a month before we see him again. They’re doing a storyline that’s kind of inspired by The Turn of the Screw, and the element that’s really faithful to the original story is that the ghosts are silent, and they don’t appear very often.

The two children, David and Amy, made first contact with Quentin using an antique telephone, and he’s led them through the abandoned west wing to find his room, sealed up and hidden behind a wall. For the next several months, the kids will be his spokespeople, relaying messages that they mostly receive telepathically.

646 dark shadows amy david communicate

Now, you could make the case that giving Quentin a brief appearance in the first scene of a Monday episode and then disappearing for a while makes the character mysterious and thrilling. The audience gets a little taste of the new monster, and then we spend the next month anxiously waiting for him to come back.

But, damn. Four weeks. In the four weeks after her introduction, Angelique was in 17 episodes, and she’d already killed Jeremiah, framed Vicki, forced Barnabas to propose to her, and turned Joshua into a cat. Four weeks is forever.

646 dark shadowa quentin cold

So here’s David Selby, all muttonchops and eye makeup, trying to figure out what this role is even supposed to be. He’d never heard of Dark Shadows before his audition, and he doesn’t really understand what he’s supposed to do, but he needs a job. David and his wife moved to New York City a couple years ago, and he’s been in some Off-Broadway plays, but he hasn’t clicked yet.

David auditioned for an agent in November 1968, who thought he might be right for a role on a soap opera. The agent sent him to a casting director, who brought him to meet Dan Curtis, the impulsive, impatient creator of Dark Shadows.

Here’s the story, as David wrote in his 2010 memoir, My Shadowed Past:

Dan was a character, a force of nature, a muscular man with a large head, which was topped by ringlets of dark brown hair. He did not like small talk. He had great passion for whatever he did, and he insisted on doing whatever he did his way. He gave  me an appraising look and sort of half-smiled — or was it a sneer — it was hard to tell sometimes, but he could light up with a big smile, glad to see you.

Where Marion [the casting director] was warm and motherly, Dan appeared, that first meeting, a little gruff — make that a lot gruff. Maybe that’s why Marion came with me — to hold my hand, give me a reassuring smile. She had probably asked Dan to come to her office and meet some actors for the role he was casting, but he, no doubt, refused. “I don’t want to do that. I don’t need to see every actor in New York. Just bring me a couple.” It was luck, good timing, That’s the way it is sometimes, luck smiles on you. Quentin could have been played by any number of actors. Dan didn’t care where I went to school, if I went to school, or what plays I had been in. Nor did he care that I had no experience in television. Wasn’t interested, flicked it all away with a flip of the hand.

“Who the hell cares?”

So David did a scene from Summer and Smoke with a friend from acting class, and that was it. When he got back to his apartment, he got a message from his answering service that Dark Shadows wanted him to come in for a camera test.

The next afternoon, I walked down Colmbus Avenue, past Lincoln Center, and continued down a tired brown-gray 9th Avenue, winding up at a yellow-reddish brick building with a small sign identifying ABC… I was shown the way onto an empty living room set in front of a camera and cameraman. I was told through a loudspeaker, like a voice from God, to turn this way and that — not to speak, not to emote. After a few minutes, I was excused. The next day, I was told I had the job — doing what I wasn’t sure.

A few days later, David had a contract, a costume, and no lines.

646 dark shadows quentin humor

The silence comes from The Turn of the Screw, the 1898 Henry James novella where it’s actually not clear whether the ghosts are meant to be real, or the hallucination of a high-strung governess, or a metaphor for the corruption inherent in a child’s journey toward adulthood.

But The Turn of the Screw is not a story about traveling back into the past so that Peter Quint can become a sexy teen idol with a trading card set and a hit record. It is the opposite of that.

So this isn’t QUENTIN COLLINS, the rising star of Dark Shadows. This is Quentin the unfriendly ghost, a short-term character like Barnabas, Julia and Angelique were supposed to be. All of the important characters stay past the point where they were supposed to leave. That’s the thing about turning points, you don’t notice them until after you’ve already turned.

646 dark shadows amy david beth quentin

Quentin’s not the only ghost debuting today; we also get 18 seconds of Beth, a former Collins family governess. She struts onto the set wearing a white gown and an imperious expression, Quentin’s previously unmentioned female counterpart. She doesn’t have any lines either.

646 dark shadows beth intro

Now, the time travellers reading the blog know that Beth isn’t actually the governess, but that’s obviously the intention here. If this storyline is Dark Shadows’ version of The Turn of the Screw — and it’s not, really, but let’s say it is for a minute — then Beth is a governess. Look at her clothes, and the way she carries herself. This is not a low-class domestic.

646 dark shadows amy david skeleton

But you can’t run an exciting daily soap opera spookshow on the little fragments of backstory that The Turn of the Screw provides for Quint and Miss Jessel. They need some real secrets and props, to give everybody something to interact with.

So there’s a skeleton in this closet — the corpse of Quentin Collins, sealed up behind a wall and left to die. There’s also a cradle, which David and Amy collected at the Old House and brought here last week, plus a phonograph, a letter to Jamison, and a curse.

David, now speaking as Quentin, can fill in some of the backstory. “My family has made the two of us very unhappy,” he says. “They must be made to realize that. They must pay for what they’ve done to us.”

646 dark shadows amy david cradle

So fitting those clues together into the Turn of the Screw model — letter, skeleton, cradle and all — this is the version of the story that I would imagine at this point:

Quentin is a reprobate, the black sheep of the family. He lives on the edge of the west wing, as far away from the rest of the family as you can get and still be indoors. He’s fallen in love with the governess, Beth, but the family doesn’t approve.

Quentin and Beth have a child together, probably out of wedlock. Quentin has a good relationship with Jamison, who’s away from home, and he begs Jamison to come back and intercede with Oscar, the head of the family. Possibly, Jamison could have saved Quentin, Beth and/or the baby, but he came back too late. The family sealed Quentin up in his room somehow, and pretended that he’d gone away.

It’s not clear how Magda’s curse fits into that story. She’s probably a witch, like Angelique, but ethnic and remorseful. The curse may be related to why the ghosts are still in the house. The worst thing that can happen to a ghost on Dark Shadows is not being able to rest, so maybe they’re cursed to stalk the halls of Collinwood until — what? Until Jamison comes back? Until there’s a boy and girl to take their place?

646 dark shadows amy david quentin burial

We’ll find out the answers to all of those questions in due time, but first, the kids have to haul a trunk into the room, and clear away the debris.

Amy:  This is never going to work.

David:  Why not?

Amy:  Well, look at it. It’s longer than the chest is.

David:  I’ll think of a way to get it in there.

Amy:  I don’t know why we have to do this anyway.

646 dark shadows david when you die

David is shocked.

David:  When you die, do you want your bones to just rot away in a musty old room?

Amy:  No.

David:  All right, then. All we’re doing is giving Quentin what his family refused to give him — a decent burial.

646 dark shadows david amy grave

So these middle-school age children squeeze a rotted corpse into a little box, which must have been a fairly gruesome ordeal, and then they carry the body outside, and bury it in the woods.

This is one of those Dark Shadows moments that they do in such a casual, matter-of-fact way that you can almost forget how bizarre this is for a popular daytime soap opera on network television. It’s spooky, edgy and utterly ridiculous, all at the same time.

646 dark shadows quentin close

And that’s one more reason why David Selby is perfect for this role, because he sees the show in the same way that the audience does. He’s a stranger, just walking in off the street with no idea what this show is, or what he’s supposed to do about it. He just knows that he has one scene, and no dialogue.

We’ve only got 42 seconds, so look closely at his face. He’s supposed to be stern and cold, and he pulls it off, but there’s something else, just under the surface. Time travellers: knowing what you know about Quentin’s future — doesn’t it look like he’s trying really hard not to laugh?

That mouth is not made for sneering. Those eyes are twinkling with starlight. Just like Barnabas, Julia and Angelique — his co-stars, and fellow turning points — he’s giving us more than anybody expected. We’ve only got 42 seconds to catch it before it ducks offscreen for a while, but there’s something special there, something worth waiting for.

Tomorrow: The Wire.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

The skeleton in Quentin’s room had a wig in the last episode; it’s bald today.

Roger tells Liz, “Well, I shall certainly talk to her, and get it stre-settled, once and for all.”

In act 3, after the scene switches from the woods to the storage room, somebody in the studio coughs.

David and Amy step on each other’s lines:

Amy:  Well, I wish you’d tell me what it is you’re after.

David:  You’ll see.

Amy:  Well, I hope —

David:  — as soon as I find it.

Amy:  Well, I hope you find it soon.

The end credits are still crooked.


Footnote:

David Selby’s memoir, My Shadowed Past, is available on his website. He autographs each book, which is lovely. On the same page where he describes his audition with Dan, he also mentions that Tennessee Williams kissed him on the lips. It’s a great book; you should get it.

Tomorrow: The Wire.

646 dark shadows beth quentin pose

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

22 thoughts on “Episode 646: The Turning

  1. And on this day, in millions of school children across America, a lifelong terror of Abraham Lincoln was born.

    1. I chortled audibly at that. (Not relevant to the blog, but common etiquette demands that I note this.)

  2. Danny, I’m glad you brought up the month gap between Quentin appearances. I was always fascinated by the fact that he doesn’t really start to be on the show until January 16th and then they went back to 1897 just 6 weeks later, that seems really fast doesn’t’ it?

    I mean they must have known by the middle of February that they were going to do it, what with Costume fittings and getting new furniture and props and stuff. I wonder how quickly David Selby’s fan mail started pouring in?

    Even in today’s short appearance, he makes quite an impression. He’s got oodles of charisma, even without speaking.

    1. It often becomes hard to apply logic to DARK SHADOWS. For example, the end of the Barnabas Cure story line is effectively 351, when he puts Carolyn under his control. 1795 starts in 366, less than a month later. I’d argue that other than 364 (Sara’s confrontation with Barnabas) and 365 (the actual seance that sends Vicki into the past), the bulk of the episodes within November of 1967 are forgettable. Looking at it from a modern perspective, that’s hard to fathom because the shift to the past should free the writers to really ramp things up — maybe even expose Barnabas’s secret or do anything before the big change. But they don’t. And it really does feel like a Hail Mary pass.

      So, who knows when they knew about 1897!

      1. Perhaps the ratings really shot up during that one week in 1796? Also, Barnabas being a Vampire again but on a mission for good was probably something that gave them ideas and maybe after that they decided to do another long term time travel story and they already had a ghost story from 1897 that they could work with.

        Just a guess, but as you wrote Stephen, it will be interesting to see the road to 1897 ramp up over the next few months.

        1. I do wonder if making Barnabas a vampire again was a key factor. He was starting to lose his edge during the next couple months. He’s not actively committing felonies and he becomes a sort of kindly uncle.

      2. I’m surprised to hear you say that — the episodes from 351-365 are some of my favorites in the first year. If you ignore the Ron Sproat episodes, as you obviously should, then they’re pure dynamite. That’s when Sam Hall started, and we had Carolyn and Julia plotting against each other, the farce runaround with the notebook, Tony as Humphrey Bogart — really good stuff. There’s also the “Julia runs around and acts crazy” episode, which is just pure uncut Sproat turned up to 11.

        I think Sam was the driving force behind the 1795 trip, even if he didn’t have his name on a script until 358. The “secret magic number of the universe” thing in 358 is the big tip-off — Sam’s the one who brings Barbados and voodoo to the table, which is what Angelique (and therefore the 1795 storyline) is all about.

        I’d buy that Dan, Ron and Gordon were thinking about a flashback prior to Sam’s arrival, but Sam was the architect — and he officially joined the show a week and a half before the seance. They really were running very close to the edge.

        1. I share your affection for the Hall episodes, but the Sproat episodes are especially Sproatish. Also, most of the major story beats up until that point are abruptly written out of the show (David and Vicki, who turns up just before 1795).

  3. The publication date of Henry James’ novel provides a clue as to why 1897 was chosen for the eventual time travel story. Had Turn of the Screw been published in 1878, they might have gone back to 1877 instead.

  4. David Selby is classically handsome and possesses a regal bearing – he is very similar to Alexandra Moltke in this regard – those two would have made a gorgeous couple.

  5. One of the things I most like about Quentin is his sense of humor. He’s just so damn serious as a spook, but once he’s alive, what a giggle. There should probably be an exclamation point there.
    Oh, sure, the laugh he laughs is the laughter of the damned, and of the drunk, but still….he was surprisingly chipper for a condemned man.

    Of course, Carl had a sense of humor…for a while. Carl was inappropriate, Quentin is merely cynical.

  6. I chuckle every time I see that skeleton. They got a lot of mileage out of it. You can tell it’s the same one because of the hinged line across his skull. The skeleton’s on the show enough to earn a bio in “Barnabas & Company.”

  7. Remember, folks: all these skeletons used to be people.

    I can think of no better afterlife than to have my mortal remains end up on an episode of a batshit soap opera that will be enjoyed by audiences half a century after its original airing.

      1. Borrow one from a university, community college, or maybe even a high school?

        Or maybe ABC’s props department had a real skeleton.

        Anyway, getting a real skeleton would be easier and cheaper than making a fake one.

        1. I worked in a law library and we had a skeleton for years. It was used for personal injury trials to show anatomy. At the time it was expensive, but useful. Now you can get one on Amazon for $200. They certainly got enough use out of the skeleton, so it was worth the cost over the years.

  8. More bloopers/continuity issues:

    When Amy and David are in Quentin’s room with the music playing and Quentin standing before them, Amy asks if David likes the music. He says it’s his favorite piece. Amy starts to say, “How could it be? You never heard it before last night when we…” Apparently, that is the cue for Beth’s ghost to come out of the shadows and interrupt her, but Amy stops in mid-sentence and looks over to the darkness where Beth is supposed to emerge. However, there is a long pause between Amy’s cut-off sentence, her looking toward the shadows, and Beth finally emerging.

    When Elizabeth and Roger are discussing Victoria, Elizabeth says that she given David and Amy only “a few lessons.” However, Amy has been at Collinwood for only a couple of days. Everyone is behaving as if she’s been there for quite some time. Also, originally Julia agreed to let Amy stay at Collinwood the first night she arrived, but the implication was that she would go back to Windcliff. Julia was insistent she needed to be there. But that seems to have been forgotten. There was never any follow-up discussion with Julia.

  9. Danny, another exquisite piece for us to cherish. you quite do me in. still, though, i have to ask, isn’t that really Trask’s skeleton? how can no one mention this? didn’t Quentin, originally, die in the drawing room? so, did the return to the past put Trask’s skeleton in place of Quentin’s? was fate demanding a body?

  10. All of this build up to Quentin’s first appearance and all we get is 42 seconds, and we don’t see him again for a while. Boo!

    Seriously though, it’s disappointing that this is all we get for a long while.

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