Episode 657: The Unpacking

“I still can’t understand it. About the clothes, I mean.”

There’s a long and depressing history of make-believe ghosts in American culture, going back to the late 1840s, when the Fox sisters discovered that they could convince people that ghosts were speaking to them by cracking the joints in their toes. The Fox sisters’ toes, I mean, not the ghosts’ toes. Ghosts don’t have toes. At least, I’ve never heard that they do. Look, it’s not important whether ghosts have toes.

The point is that David and Amy are currently trying to convince the Collinwood domestic staff that there’s a ghost in the house, by committing the most confusing version of spiritualist fraud in haunted house history.

The kids actually have made contact with a real ghost — the spirit of Quentin, a Collins ancestor who wants revenge on the familiy for locking him in a room 70 years ago and letting him starve to death. The angry specter has possessed the children, and he’s using them to further his evil ends, whatever they are.

Meanwhile, Barnabas and Maggie want to take the kids on a trip to Boston, for reasons that I’ll get into later. Quentin is furious, because the children are key to his long-term revenge plan, so David and Amy have to figure out a way to convince everyone to let them stay at Collwinood.

The kids solve this problem by pretending that there’s a different spirit in the house — ghost governess Victoria Winters, who disappeared into the past several weeks ago. So the real ghost in the house is telling the kids to pretend that there’s a make-believe ghost in the house, although it turns out that maybe the make-believe ghost might actually be real too.

Let me see if I can find another way to explain this. Nope, I can’t. That’s what’s happening on the show today. Sorry.

657 dark shadows maggie closet

Let’s try this from the top. Vicki has vanished into the past, traveling back to the 18th century with her ghost husband. The family has hired Maggie as the new governess, so Mrs. Johnson packed Vicki’s clothes into a box, and put them in the basement.

But now — and this is the purportedly terrifying thing — Maggie has opened the wardrobe, and there are Vicki’s clothes still hanging there, because they are magical ghost clothes!

This is unnerving for everyone, especially the housekeeper. If clothes don’t stay where you put them, then this could mean the end of laundry as we know it.

657 dark shadows david amy clothes

But that’s just the start of today’s heart-stopping thrill ride. Next, Amy enters the room, and tells Maggie that she’s put all of her clothes on the bed, so they can pack for the trip to Boston. But when they get to Amy’s room, all of her clothes have been mysteriously put back in the wardrobe too!

Obviously, this means that Amy is also a ghost. It’s like an epidemic around here.

657 dark shadows maggie david packing

Continuing with their devious plan, the kids hang around and ask irritating questions while Maggie repacks Amy’s suitcase. They keep giving each other knowing looks, so it’s obvious that they think things are going swimmingly so far.

But the odd thing is that they’re rattling Maggie by asking about what happened to Vicki — where did she go, why didn’t she say goodbye, will she ever write to them, and so on.

This does make Maggie nervous and short-tempered, but it’s hard to give David and Amy credit for this, since Vicki actually did just disappear, right in front of people. This is one of the reasons why Barnabas and Maggie want to take the children to Boston in the first place. It’s not super clear why the kids think this is a good tactic for postponing the trip.

657 dark shadows david amy no plan

And that really is their plan, which is baffling. When Maggie leaves the room, the kids have another conference.

Amy:  David, it didn’t work!

David:  I know. But can’t you tell? They’re getting scared.

Amy:  Yes, but not scared enough! We still have to leave!

David:  We’ll just have to scare them more.

Amy:  How?

David:  I don’t know! I’ll have to ask Quentin.

Amy:  What if Quentin doesn’t know?

Now, I have to remind you that the “Quentin” that they’re talking about is an actual ghost, currently haunting the abandoned west wing of the building that they’re standing in. They’re going to ask a real ghost for tips about how to pretend that there’s a fake ghost.

I have to remind you of this, because if you get confused and stop reading, then I’ll be left alone in the room with this storyline.

657 dark shadows amy barnabas foyer

We don’t get to see the strategy session with Quentin, but it must have been a doozy, because this is the next stage of their plan.

Amy:  I usually mind saying goodbye to Chris, but this time I didn’t!

Barnabas:  Didn’t you?

Amy:  No, because I’m so excited about going to Boston!

Barnabas:  I’m glad you are.

657 dark shadows amy thoughtful

Barnabas pats Amy on the shoulder, and walks away.

As he goes, Amy’s grin becomes a puzzled frown, because she’s thinking, How is this brilliant plan going wrong?

657 dark shadows david mrs johnson plan

But at least one phase of the operation is going well. David runs to Mrs. Johnson next, and tells her that he was in the middle of packing for the trip, and now his clothes are magically back in the wardrobe too.

This unpacking scheme isn’t making much of a dent in the Boston plans, because obviously if there’s a frightening ghost in the house, then the adults are even more likely to take the kids away, so I honestly have no idea what the hell they’re trying to achieve.

But at least David doesn’t have to pack, which is a plus. I wish I’d thought of this “I cleaned my room, but a ghost messed it up again” strategy when I was a kid; it could have saved me a lot of hassle.

657 dark shadows amy david barnabas drawing room

So it’s time for the final stop, an all-out assault that will put the kibosh on the Boston trip once and for all.

David:  Will you take us to the Boston Zoo?

Barnabas:  If you’re both good.

David:  We will be!

Amy:  I’ve never been to a zoo before!

David:  Oh, you’ll love it! They’re lots of fun.

Well, I don’t think they could make it any plainer. Why is this plan not working?

657 dark shadows maggie music box

Happily, everything works out okay in the end. Vicki’s music box magically opens by itself, and starts to play Josette’s theme. Inside the music box, Maggie finds a note that says, “I am alone. Help me! Help me!”

Maggie shows the note to Barnabas, and they realize that Vicki really is trying to communicate with them. Barnabas has to stay, and the Boston trip is cancelled. Hooray!

657 dark shadows david amy boston

But there’s still one more children’s conference.

Amy:  There’s one thing I don’t understand.

David:  What’s that?

Amy:  Maggie said the music box opened by itself. Quentin can’t do that.

David:  That’s right. He can’t!

Amy:  Then who did?

David:  I don’t know!

Oh, man! That means we do have to go to Boston, after all. We’re going to have to start all over again from the beginning.

Tomorrow: Did He Fall, or Was He Pushed?

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

One of the three cameras is severely busted today, showing dark green smudges over practically the whole picture. They use it anyway, because this is a network television show that literally does not have the money or time to fix a broken camera before they tape an episode.

Chris tells Barnabas that he’s been concerned about Joe for some time — he hasn’t been himself for months. Barnabas says, “Well, he’s been perfectly rational with me, until the other night.” Two months ago, Joe tried to strangle Barnabas with a curtain tie.

When Mrs. Johnson and David stand up and walk away from the fireplace, they talk over each other’s lines.

The fishing line pulling the music box’s lid open is clearly visible in the close-up, and you can see it when Maggie picks up the music box, too. But keep in mind that the picture we’re seeing on DVD is a lot sharper than the average broadcast in 1968, when people had to play with the antenna in order to get a clear picture. It probably looked just fine at the time.

Tomorrow: Did He Fall, or Was He Pushed?

657 dark shadows barnabas chris green

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

17 thoughts on “Episode 657: The Unpacking

  1. My guess regarding the plan: they’re trying to make it look like it’s specifically Vicki’s ghost that’s trying to make contact and possibly asking for help. Clearly they’re aware of Barnabas’ obsession with Vicki and know that if there’s any chance at all of communicating with her, he’d stay at Collinwood and try.

  2. I have to say, I just read my own post again, and confused myself. This may be the most confusing post I’ve ever written, including the Markov chain and the one where I do a therapy session with the show. It could be the way the post is written, but I’m going to go ahead and blame the episode.

    Why didn’t the kids just say that they didn’t want to go to Boston? Everybody asks fifteen times if they’re excited, and the kids go out of their way to say how much they’re looking forward to it. This episode has really gotten under my skin. I don’t usually hate-watch my own blog like this.

    1. Barnabas in his new role of butler might also be overstepping his authority when he talks about sending the kids to Boston and enrolling them in school there. That’s a decision Chris and Roger would make, as the actual guardians of the kids.

      1. This is when Barnabas, desperate for a storyline of his own, adopts a new role, that of a busybody, always interfering in other people’s business.

        Barnabas loses more than his fangs when he meets Dr. Lang. He loses agency. Before that, it was his decisions that propelled the story forward. But then, between Lang, Cassandra, Julia, Trask, Nicholas, Adam, Stokes, they get to propel the story forward, and he is more of an onlooker in his own story than a protagonist. The Dream Curse made it clear. Yes, it will return the curse to him, but in the meantime, everyone else will be having the dream, and it will be Stokes that will do something about it. All he has to do is wait until it comes to him…

  3. There is actually a different ghost haunting 1968 Collinwood. Because of the switch that was made where Barnabas saves Quentin in the past from haunting the Collinwood of the future, it is instead Gregory Trask who is locked in Quentin’s room by Judith to starve to death and die and it is his skeleton that will be found by David and Amy 70 years later. Thus, in reverse future time, or relooped past present, or future past transmogrified present past, whichever you prefer, Gregory Trask takes the place of Quentin’s ghost and wants to punish David for being the reincarnation of Daniel, who had disobeyed him and eluded his punishment when at his school in the past, and as he sees Amy as the reincarnation of Nora he wants to possess them both and take them back to his school, and from there will use them to enact revenge on the reincarnation of Judith that is Liz, driving everyone out of the big house and once again at last becoming the master of Collinwood.

    1. That’s right. It’s Quentin’s Theme played backwards, and in the backmasking Gregory Trask hears satanic messages that instruct him to haunt Collinwood in the future. Then Barnabas will return to 1897 once again to save the children, but rather than save Trask to prevent him from haunting Collinwood he’ll be unable to resist the temptation and will just wall Trask up in the Old House like his ancestor, setting the scene for another trial of tormented spirits convened in the Old House basement to try Barnabas after the ghost of Gregory Trask is released once Barnabas returns to 1969. Oh, and the second time he returns from 1897, Barnabas won’t have done Chris Jennings a bit of good his second trip back from the past either, and Chris Jennings remains a werewolf, which is a good thing what with the shortage of vampires on the show at the moment.

  4. “This unpacking scheme isn’t making much of a dent in the Boston plans, because obviously if there’s a frightening ghost in the house, then the adults are even more likely to take the kids away, so I honestly have no idea what the hell they’re trying to achieve.

    But at least David doesn’t have to pack, which is a plus. I wish I’d thought of this ‘I cleaned my room, but a ghost messed it up again’ strategy when I was a kid; it could have saved me a lot of hassle.”

    I love this. That is all.

  5. I must confess I did not realize how preposterous this episode and the preceding one were until I read this blog.

    At this point, instead of reading the blog to enhance my DS-watching experience, I am watching old DS episodes to enhance my experience of reading this blog.

  6. The packing/unpacking plan is weird, no question. But it does mean that they got to end the previous episode with Mrs Johnson’s prediction that Vicki is coming back, which is possibly the most terrifying cliffhanger serial television will ever produce.

  7. I think broadcast TV in the 60s was clear enough to see the occasional wire, if you had a good TV and a strong signal. Tube TV resolution is supposed to be equivalent to 720 x 480 pixels, which is SD. Now we’re watching on HD screens, and sometimes the HD reveal isn’t kind to certain elements of the show.

    What really bugs me are the very obvious dust specks on some the exterior Collinwood establishing shots. So sad and amateurish! It looks like dust on the camera lens.

    I’m posting this because I just had this Eureka Moment. If you took an actual in-person photo of the mansion, the camera aperture would be set to infinite (distance) focus. The lens dust would be so out of focus that it wouldn’t be discernible in the image.

    So I just figured out is that the exterior Collinwood shots are photographs of … photographs. More specifically, video camera footage taken of 2-dimensional photos. They could have been using postcards! The lens dust is visible because if you’re shooting a postcard up close, the plane of focus is extremely close to the camera lens, and the dust specks on the lens.

  8. Not only have Amy’s clothes been replaced, but Julia’s sweater from the time of Vicki’s seance is now in Amy’s armoire! It’s hanging on the door. Is Sarah involved in this, too? Is she helping Vicki make contact? Or is it They? Or is Amy a kleptomaniac? Or did set design just grab all the clothes they could find to fill up the closet?
    I love Prisoner’s ideas for the Re-Haunting of Collinwood. And Danny’s response made me laugh out loud.
    David might need more than a crowbar to free Trask, though, since he, like his ancestor, is bricked in.
    In 1968, the picture I got was closer to the kinescopes than the crisp, colorful images I can see now.

    1. I saw Julia’s sweater as well and wondered why Amy had it. It’s the same sweater Julia wore in her “crazy” episode, so maybe it’s haunted too.

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