Episode 669: My Boyfriend’s Back

“I’d like to meet the man that invented supermarkets, and wring his neck.”

We’ve talked a lot lately about the failure of the 1968 storylines, and I think it’s high time we move on, and talk about the failure of the 1969 storylines. You can’t live in the past forever, except for Angelique, apparently, and I don’t think I’ll ever figure out how she manages it.

647 dark shadows amy david wire

So let’s leave sentiment behind, and take a cold, hard look at this cold, hard dud of a story. I hate to agree with anything that we read in that douchey TV Guide review the other day, but there was one point that was right on the money — the David/Amy possession story is unbelievably irritating.

There, I’ve said it. This wretched Turn of the Screw spooky kid motif is just not working on any level.

The spirit of angry ancestor Quentin Collins is determined to take revenge on the family that’s forgotten him, and he’s been silently issuing sinister instructions to the innocent youngsters. But it’s been a month, and so far, they haven’t really achieved anything in the way of results.

They started out well, I’ll give them that. A month ago, David stretched a wire across the staircase and sent his father careening to the linoleum. That had action and energy; you can’t beat a cold-blooded patricide. But then, like Roger, the story went downhill fast.

645 dark shadows david amy hi

By now, the kids have settled into an unsettling routine, alternately scowling and grinning as they make feverish plans to do hardly anything. They talk about “playing the game” with various people, and they say it in a creepy manner, but after Roger’s non-fatal spill down the steps, the scares they’ve been working on are just not scary.

Basically, the only thing that they’ve done of any consequence is that they unpacked Vicki’s clothes, although that might have been Vicki doing that anyway. And that’s pretty much the reign of terror so far.

You know, it’s possible that “spooky kid” only works in an environment where everything else is normal. A couple of kids can skate pretty far on vague suggestion, if they’re not competing for chills. But Dark Shadows now takes place in a world where a werewolf can jump through the window at any time, ghosts are writing notes and knocking over grandfather clocks, the matriarch is in a witch-induced death coma, and the most responsible person in the family is an ex-vampire. Spooky kid hardly registers.

669 dark shadows maggie mrs johnson foyer

But today, I’m happy to say, “playing the game” ups its game, and here’s Mrs. Johnson to get things started.

Yesterday, I wrote about how dull and lifeless Ron Sproat’s dialogue can be. I really can’t stand listening to generic filler talk where everybody sounds the same. But today, the world sounds different, right from the start.

The housekeeper brings a shopping bag into the house, and Maggie says, “Oh, Mrs. Johnson. You’re back!”

“Yes, and surprised to be in one piece,” says Mrs. J. “I’d like to meet the man that invented supermarkets, and wring his neck.”

669 dark shadows maggie mrs johnson why

Maggie tells her that Chris is moving into the old caretaker’s cottage, and Mrs. Johnson starts grumbling.

Mrs. Johnson:  At least the Collinsport Hotel is friendly and comfortable.

Maggie:  The cottage isn’t?

Mrs. Johnson:  They should have burned it down when Matthew Morgan died!

Maggie:  Why?

Mrs. Johnson:  Because nothing good ever happened there when Matthew Morgan was alive, and nothing good happened there after he died!

Maggie:  I’ve never been inside the place, but it looks charming from the outside.

Mrs. Johnson:  Charming, indeed! You should know the things that happened down there, you wouldn’t think it was so charming. I think the place is cursed!

Now, this isn’t Tony Award-winning stagecraft or anything, and Maggie is just there to deliver the straight lines, but I think the improvement is obvious. Mrs. Johnson is expressing strong emotions in her own voice, about things that are rooted in her experience. Yesterday’s conversation between these two went like this:

Maggie:  Where did they get the clothes? Did they explain?

Mrs. Johnson:  They said they found them, and they were playing dress-up.

Maggie:  There’s nothing wrong with that. I used to play dress-up when I was a child.

Mrs. Johnson:  I don’t know, Maggie. I don’t know.

And now, all of a sudden, she’s threatening supermarkets. I like this better.

669 dark shadows mrs johnson cursed

And so, housewives and teenagers of America, I’m happy to introduce Violet Welles, a new member of the Dark Shadows writing team who’s currently operating in stealth mode.

After Ron Sproat leaves next month, there’ll be a fill-in for a couple days, and then Violet will officially join the staff in March. But in a late ’80s interview in the fanzine The World of Dark Shadows, she revealed that she’d been ghost-writing for Gordon Russell, who joined the show in July 1967.

At the time, she was a press agent for several Broadway shows, not a professional scriptwriter — but she was friends with Gordon, and she liked helping him out with characters and dialogue. In the interview, she says, “I’d been ghosting for years on everything he’d done,” but that’s all the details I have on the pre-Dark Shadows days.

I’m going to save Violet’s story for March, when she officially gets her name in the credits. But this is definitely an episode where it’s clear that the credit for Gordon Russell is at least partly fictional. He’s a good writer, but he doesn’t write character-based dialogue like this.

669 dark shadows david maggie amy cards

Here, have some more. The children have been instructed to rattle the grown-ups, and Mrs. Johnson’s anti-cottage rant gives them an entry point.

David:  Is Mrs. Johnson going to be all right? We couldn’t help but overhear the conversation about the cottage.

Maggie:  Yes, Mrs. Johnson does seem to be nervous about that. I don’t know why.

David:  She’s been sort of jumpy, lately. Have you noticed?

Maggie:  No, I haven’t.

David:  I don’t know what it is, but she just seems to be bothered by the littlest things. She never used to be that way. She never used to see things.

Which is a nice little turn. David is coming across as sly, which is refreshing. For a while now, the kids’ sneaky behavior has been limited to saying “yes” when they actually mean “no”. This is the first time we’ve seen them really be manipulative.

669 dark shadows mrs johnson dusting

And Mrs. Johnson is just awesome today, growling and snapping at her loser son Harry.

“Uptight? What in Heaven’s name does that mean?”

“Well, let’s get started! I don’t want to spend any more time here than I have to!”

“Oh! He must have locked it. What a ninny you are, Harry!”

She’s just great. Mrs. Johnson is finding her inner Abigail.

Now, the plot of today’s episode is pretty standard stuff, just moving people around from one set to another. If you toned these scenes down to Sproat level, I would be complaining about how boring the episode is. But a little extra sparkle in the dialogue makes everything come to life.

Speaking of things coming to life, while I’ve been going on about the script, they’ve managed to get Mrs. Johnson alone in the cottage, and here comes trouble.

669 dark shadows johnson quentin surprise

Yes! There he is, the man we’ve been waiting for, the one and only Mr. Quentin Collins (deceased). We’ve only seen him once before, and it was only for 42 seconds, so his return appearance feels like a special occasion.

669 dark shadows quentin response

Now, a lot of my personal excitement about Quentin’s return to the show is based on being a time traveller. I’ve watched the show before, and I know the character that Quentin’s going to turn out to be. To the audience in January 1969, this is just the frowning man with the eyebrows and muttonchops.

But even looking at this moment from that perspective, it’s still good news. David and Amy have been acting as his advance team for weeks, talking endlessly about what Quentin wants, and where Quentin wants us to go, and so on. They’ve been giving him a huge buildup, to make sure everybody understands how important he is.

So this means the story can start moving again, and we can finally find out what Quentin wants.

669 dark shadows quentin glare

What he wants, apparently, is to screw with the housekeeper for a while. It’s not an ambitious first quarter goal, but I suppose it establishes a baseline we can work from. If the world can be divided into the people who have terrified Mrs. Johnson and the people who haven’t, then, you know. He’s got that going for him.

669 dark shadows johnson quentin ghost

It’s not much, I admit — a little uptick in the dialogue, and a walk-on part for the muttonchops. But this, Lord help us, is the future of Dark Shadows.

Tomorrow: Small World.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Maggie tells Mrs. Johnson that Tom Jennings is moving into the cottage, instead of Chris Jennings. She says “Tom Jennings” twice.

When he gets to the cottage, Harry puts his hand on the doorknob, and then looks out at the studio for his cue. After five seconds, he gets the cue, and starts rattling the knob.

When Mrs. Johnson tries to open the locked door, the camera’s pulled back too far, and you can see the top of the set.

Amy and David are standing outside as Maggie approaches from off screen. She yells a muffled, “Amy! David!” and you can tell that she’s just off set and holding a hand over her mouth.

Behind the Scenes:

This is the last time we see Harry Johnson on Dark Shadows, which is fine with me because he’s terrible. He was usually played by Craig Slocum, but today Edward Marshall fills in as a recast. Marshall will appear again in June as Ezra Braithewaite.

From 1967-68, Marshall was an understudy for the Broadway production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead; Dark Shadows is his first screen credit. After this, he made one-episode appearances in a number of well-known TV shows, including Happy Days, M*A*S*H, Mannix, Archie Bunker’s Place, Lou Grant and WKRP in Cincinnati. In the early 80s, he had small roles in the comedy films 9 to 5 and Carbon Copy, and that’s about all I know.

Kathryn Leigh Scott mentions Marshall in her 1986 book My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows, but she gets the memory mixed up a bit:

At the four pm rehearsal for the next day’s show, which introduced Harry, I discovered that an actor still hadn’t been cast. I thought of Ed instantly, a fine young actor I’d met in Uta Hagen’s class. I quickly mentioned his name and promised that I could find and deliver him, lines learned, by eight the following morning. Panic.

By ten that night, I’d called his home number and answering service nonstop. Like any actor “between jobs,” Ed was waiting tables. Finally he called, long after I’d rehearsed apologies to Dan, Bob, Lela and anyone else who might be irritated at not finding a Harry at the studio in the morning. Ed raced to my apartment, grabbed the script, said “Thank you” a million times and fled home to learn his lines. Harry became a running role in the story and Ed was with us for some time.

Another little props item: In the cottage, Mrs. Johnson dusts a black sculpture of a bobcat fighting an eagle, which was previously seen at Nicholas’ house.

Tomorrow: Small World.

669 dark shadows quentin cottage

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

43 thoughts on “Episode 669: My Boyfriend’s Back

  1. Yeah, this storyline was definitely hurt by having to stop it cold to wrap up Vicky in 1796. I just wonder if we’ll be able to tell at which point the show knew it was heading towards 1897.

  2. “Basically, the only thing that they’ve done of any consequence is that they unpacked Vicki’s clothes, although that might have been Vicki doing that anyway. And that’s pretty much the reign of terror so far.”

    Aren’t you forgetting Cavada Humphrey/Alex Stevens’ tumble down the stairs?

  3. Well, that didn’t result from the actions of David and Amy. If anything, it’s a further argument in favor of Quentin involving himself directly instead of delegating to minors.

    1. Didn’t they lead her to his room? (I’m going by memory–haven’t seen the episode in a while.)

    2. David and Amy get on my nerves. Two little weird ass demon children from hell. I do not like their story lines although I have to get through them to the next part…tsk.

      1. I’m with you on that. I haven’t been able to stand David since season one when he tampered with Roger’s car. He shows signs of being a sociopathic personality. Amy isn’t quite as bad, but there’s something repellant about children being possessed by the spirits of evil beings.

  4. Oh, no!
    Once again I’ve been thoroughly enjoying something that doesn’t work on any level! Oh, why, why, why do these things keep happening to me? Just kidding. Lost my mind, just for a second.

    One thing I enjoy about this period is the spooky, cobwebby closed-off west wing/attic sets. Reminds me of our old basements filled with strange antiques, and steamer cases full of clothes from the past. I found grandfather’s white wool spats.

    The same feeling happens again at the antique shop, in the Leviathan story. The antique shop is probably my favorite thing about that story. It’s a nicely sinister set.

    1. That could have been a DS episode in itself. “The steamer trunk in the Collinwood attic is restless today. From out of the past, a pair of wool spats seek to grab a foothold in the present.”

      1. The creepiest thing, and my favorite, was Grandma’s old black fox furs. The same way they used to make rugs out of tigers, they took the entire skin of a black fox, head, tail, limbs, and gave it a luxurious black satin lining and a clothes-pin type device hidden in the jaw. You wrap it around your neck and use the clamp in it’s mouth to bite it’s tail, and that’s how they stayed on. They had little glass eyes and were very old, and creepy.

  5. I see what you mean about Violet Welles bringing some sizzle to the script. The supermarket remark was good, tells you something about Mrs. Johnson’s generation.

    Clarice Blackburn was born in 1921, so I think we can assume Mrs. Johnson is the same age. I guess it was all little markets back then, I was born in ’57, so for me, there have always been supermarkets, that was an adjustment that happened before my time.

    I must admit, “ninny” is one of my favorite words, along with nincompoop, fiasco, debacle, debauched and besmirched. Fun words to use at parties. Guaranteed to make strange new friends, you’re not sure you want to know.

  6. I don’t know why but two characters are just rubbing me the wrong way – Amy just seems too overbearing and irritating – I don’t identify with this character for some reason – too much theatrical dramatics and artificiality in the acting style- compared to young Sarah Collins whose two scenes with Barnabas were both emotionally shattering and genuinely heartbreaking. Also I absolutely do not like what they did to Maggie – I’ll say this over and over they took away the soul of Sam’s feisty daughter in order to get her some luxury digs at Collingwood. But I love the references to the past stories of the Cottage by Mrs Johnson – cheers to real CONTINUITY!!!

    1. So very true in terms of the Maggie character. The character transplant performed by the eminent soap surgeon Dan Curtis is out of step with the circumstances that made the Maggie Evans character who she was. In the series bible Shadows On The Wall, Art Wallace states in no uncertain terms not once, but twice, “Maggie Evans is a cynic”. This because of her once happy childhood having been interrupted by the death of her mother, but more significant, Sam’s sudden withdrawal following ten paintings that he mysteriously sells, the windfall from which he recklessly squanders. The senseless death (manslaughter) of her father and the unexplained withdrawal of Joe within months of each other, the same unspoken estrangement of their relationship with Joe as had occurred with her father following the Burke manslaughter affair, should have made her doubly cynical.

      But instead the girl that Art Wallace originally described as one who “looks at the world through a wry screen of disbelief, protecting herself against hurt by a rich fund of humor”, “the kind of gal who is everybody’s pal…and nobody’s friend”, and who “is a lonely person…hoping for something and expecting nothing” has arrived at Collinwood outwardly untouched by anything that would have troubled her in her former life as the daughter of Sam Evans. As with Vicki, as governess Maggie is strict but forgiving with the children, but also a touch naïve, which will make it possible to become the victim of pranks and be easily duped by the likes of David and Amy, and later one of the Leviathan kids. Just as had once happened with Vicki, Maggie will eventually be tricked into venturing into a sealed-off wing of the house and be trapped as she desperately wanders in circles. To top it off, as had Vicki, she will also develop the same tentative romance with Barnabas that never really goes anywhere.

      But I suppose it’s better than hiring a fourth actress to play Vicki Winters. Curtis seemed reluctant to leave his original Jane Eyre inspiration behind, and it’s always useful to have an audience identification character on hand, which seemed to be the most important function that the Vicki Winters character served in her time on the show.

  7. Sorry one more item – Maggie would have probably known some of the Cottage history from when Laura Collins lived there and her father Sam became involved in the Phoenix story through his artistic abilities and subsequent burning of his hands and participation in the investigation and seance arranged by Dr Guthrie.

  8. Oh, crap.

    Now, I’ll have to get 1-209.

    Seaweed an’ all.

    B/W Millay.

    Actual houses.

    Actual cars.

    With bad brakes.


  9. Opening titles to Craig Slocum: “I won’t even bother with ‘Today the part of Harry Johnson will be played by Edward Marshall’ because nobody cares that it’s not you, Craig.”

  10. According to the KLS memoir, she did it, but at this point she was essentially playing Vicki.

    Vicki ruins everything. Vicki is an IDIOT.

  11. ok, i just screamed out loud when Quentin’s hand appeared in the shot to pick up the candle; my dog even started barking.

  12. Ahhh… Harry Johnson… A character that promised so little. And always lived down to every expectation!

  13. KLS seems to have a lot of memory problems I her Scrapbook Memories. She made up the story about David Ford’s next to last appearance on the show… the alleged Teleprompter crashing on the bed incident…

    Did she also make up the story about Louis Edmonds forgetting he was in the last scene of an episode and having to run down to the set and play the scene in his underwear while he was shot in close-up? Good story… But is there any verification for this?

    1. yes, Louis tells the same story, and so does Lela Swift in an interview, where Louis is also there off-camera. I love the moment where she says to him as an aside “have you forgotten Louis?” and you hear his voice saying “how could anybody?”

  14. Despite my extremely lukewarm partial support of Ron Sproat in my comment on the previous episode, everything you say here about the comparative quality of the scripts is true!

    I like your comment about Mrs. Johnson finding her “inner Abigail,” too. As I was watching the episode, I thought of Abigail. Just like Abigail, Mrs. Johnson is ranting and raving like a kook about those “sinister children” and some ghost in the cottage, but she’s also the one who’s RIGHT!

  15. Also, I know that the return of Elizabeth is imminent, and I know that Louis Edmonds is on a break, but I was thinking during this episode that it’s mighty peculiar that Roger STILL hasn’t returned from London, apparently, after the death of his sister. It’s never even been mentioned whether anyone was able to contact him about it or not.

  16. A big part of the problem is David Henesy, the actor who plays David Collins. He’s just flat, and always has been. He should NEVER have major screen time, and any time he does, the show gets irritating. He drags other actors down to his level too.

  17. Making my way through the series for the first time, I’m really enjoying the DS take on The Turn of the Screw, so for me this review is every bit as douchey as the TV Guide review. The kids are great, and genuinely spooky. I usually despise child actors on TV, I could never stand Wil Robinson for example, but these two can ACT – in fact they often out-act the adult actors. David Collins has gone back to being that creepy kid we met back in the pre-Barnabas era (don’t let anyone tell you those days didn’t exist – they did – and they are much better than they are generally made out to be…well, if you’re in the mood for cut-price Dallas with a ghost they are – and who isn’t?!!). The jaunt back in time to 1795/6 was fun, but the whole Sapphire & Steel vibe of the current storyline is more to my taste.

  18. This effectively highlights my issue with Sproat, despite my fondness for the pre-Barnabas era.

    I don’t mind slow stories – I used to rewatch Sapphire and Steel endlessly as a kid, trust me, even at its most glacial DS is a freakin’ bullet train in comparison – but slow and functional, I cannot take.

    There’s lots of ways to tell a story, and narrative is just one of them. I’ll never say no to a nice, well-written character piece where nothing of any consequence actually happens, but Sproat’s endless repetition and character-free dialogue is anything but well-written, and for me, that’s where the problem lies, not the pacing or lack of plot development.

  19. OK I’m gonna nitpick and say that a house as big as Collinwood would have a back door or service entrance where things like groceries could be brought directly into the kitchen.

  20. I thoroughly enjoy the Amy and David possession storyline, so I’m surprised to see that so many fellow fans dislike it. They’re super-creepy and the kid who plays Amy is fantastic in the role. Plus, they make the perfect herald of Quentin later in the arc. Different strokes, I guess, but I love this part of the show.

    1. I’m with the pro-haunting folks. These are my favorite episodes of the entire series. I like the slowness and the singular focus, I love the West Wing set, and I think the kids are terrific. The flat affect is just right.

  21. Also, I really wish Danny would do commentaries for episodes 1-209. It saddens me, each time I watch the show, that I can’t start laughing my ass off at Danny’s brilliance until episode 210.

  22. I’ve spent the dull moments in these episodes musing about my dream team of DS writers. There would be a head writer and a story editor, five principal writers, and three associate writers.

    I have no idea who the head writer and story editor would be, but I know what pattern I’d want to them to implement. Mondays would be written by Ron Sproat, who cared about keeping the show intelligible for first time viewers and about keeping characters consistent. He’d start the week with an episode that would serve those purposes, and one or two of the associate writers would get a workout putting life into his dialogue. Mondays and Tuesdays would be Violet Welles and Gordon Russell, who would introduce the new story points and ramp up the pace of the action. We’d spend Thursdays with Joe Caldwell, who would present a heartbreaking little play about what the story means for the relationships among two or three of the characters. Then on Fridays, Sam Hall would stroll in and send everything sky-high with his lunatic inspirations.

    Among the associate writers I’d like to have seen Malcolm Marmorstein. He had a rather narrow set of limits, but one thing he could do that no one else could was write dialogue in a particular idiom of flowery gibberish that sounded gorgeous when spoken by Jonathan Frid. So I would have him do the final version of all Barnabas’ lines. I don’t suppose there would be much else for him to do, but that would be enough to justify keeping him on staff.

  23. Yay for no more Harry Johnson!! And this replacement Harry has the same irritating drawl as the original, though he’s much better looking.

    I like the kids but I am getting tired of Quentin being teased. It was great to see him. He was seriously spooky and I felt bad for Mrs. Johnson being trapped in the cottage. How weird that the door locked from the outside.

    That evening ABC aired “Bewitched” episode 156 “Cousin Serena Strikes Again” Part Two where Darrin’s client who has recently been turned into a chimp by Cassandra, I mean, Serena, ends up missing!

  24. I felt sorry for Mrs. Johnson, a servant doing her job, spending a long day cleaning a house for new inhabitants, probably aching and dead-tired, and some ghost pops up to scare her half to death.

  25. I also vote for Danny to cover the first 209 episodes. There’s some good writing in there, and some tidbits that are pretty interesting. Mrs. Johnson’s first name is Sarah, for instance. Elizabeth tells Carolyn about a love affair she had before she met Paul, and very nearly admits that Vicky is her daughter. David tried to kill his own father by sabotaging his ultra cool Mustang. Tons more goodies!

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