“What do you have against other people?”
Attention all bachelors: Carolyn Stoddard — the young and beautiful heiress of the Collins family fortune — is back on the market, looking for another dangerous serial killer to sweep her off her feet.
I don’t know what it is about Carolyn, but practically everyone that she’s ever dated is responsible for at least an attempted murder or two. Her first boyfriend, Joe, tried to strangle Barnabas, Burke went to prison for manslaughter, Tony poisoned Professor Stokes’ sherry, and Adam threatened to assassinate Carolyn’s entire family, up to and including Carolyn.
Seriously, the only good guy that she’s ever been out with is Buzz Hackett, the motorcycle beatnik. I wonder what Buzz is up to, these days.
Today, Carolyn is passing the time in the Collinwood drawing room with her latest butchering boyfriend, Christopher Jennings. Chris is one of those quiet loners that you hear about on the news, who everyone agrees is a fine young man, if you don’t count the monthly murder sprees.
Carolyn has recently invited Chris to come live in an isolated cottage on her family’s estate, which is near enough for regular drawing-room dates, but far enough for him to get away with whatever he needs to get away with.
She asks him how he likes the place, and he says, “Oh, it’s fine, it’s just what I need. It’s private. It’s away from other people.”
“What do you have against other people?” she asks, which is one of those questions that you shouldn’t ask these quiet loner types. They sometimes bring their manifestos folded up in their jacket pocket. I’ve heard my share of date-night manifestos, and take it from me, it’s not worth it.
Chris shrugs and says, “I just seem to function better that way. I seem to solve my problems better when I’m alone.” “Solve my problems” is code for “polish my hatchets and update my list of victims.”
Now, we know Chris’ terrible secret, of course; we’ve been enjoying it for the last six weeks. But there are three important unanswered questions about C. Jennings:
How did he become a werewolf? Why is he so terrible at preparing for the full moon? And why the hell is he wearing a tie?
Because it’s a real mystery what these people do all day, when they’re not hallucinating or doing a perimeter check for poltergeists.
Chris says he’s going away this weekend for some totally innocent reason, and Carolyn says that she was planning something for them on Sunday. He suggests they do it next Sunday, and Carolyn says, “Or during the week.” Chris grins, and says, “Okay. During the week.”
In other words, they have no particular demands on their time. Chris was studying to be an architect back in the day, but then he suddenly quit college and started going off into the mountains alone, which is a completely non-suspicious way to arrange your schedule.
There’s a vague suggestion that he’s supposed to be writing something. He told the hotel clerk at the Collinsport Inn, “I sometimes move around and act out what I’m writing,” but then we all got distracted by the brutal murder of the hotel clerk, and we never got around to hearing any more details about what Chris does for a living, when he’s not brutally murdering hotel clerks.
But it’s not surprising that the show is light on details when it comes to Chris’ schedule, because lately Dark Shadows has been drifting into an adventure-show style, where the characters don’t really have an external life, outside their story-related activities.
This is unusual for a soap opera, a genre which traditionally thrives on incidental detail. The radio soaps of the 1940s and 50s were mostly about women sitting around in the living room or at the kitchen table, talking endlessly about what everybody else in town was doing. You couldn’t have a male character with no known source of income; it would be the sole topic of conversation for all of Elmwood or Parkersburg or Rushville Center.
But we’ve now seen three able-bodied young men, apparently thriving in Collinsport on a budget of exactly squat. Jeff was unemployed for most of the time we knew him, and they only mentioned it when there was a plot-relevant job offer from Roger. Joe lost his job with the fishing fleet, and then spent a month or so lying on a hospital bed. If he hadn’t been carted off to Windcliff, I don’t know how he would have supported himself.
And now there’s Chris, the unreliable introvert, who seems to get his three squares on charm alone.
But, as I said, the show’s been drifting off into its own insular narrative space lately. Dark Shadows was never super engaged with the world outside of Collinsport, but now the landscape is shrinking even further.
The characters who used to populate Collinsport have all faded away, for one reason or another — all those lawyers and doctors and bankers have either receded quietly into the background, or they’ve been brutally murdered by one of Carolyn’s boyfriends.
In fact, Chris moving into the cottage is part of the latest trend, which is to scoop up all the surviving cast members, and invite them to live at Collinwood. Maggie, Amy and Chris have all moved to the great estate in the last few weeks. I think Professor Stokes may be the only regular character left who doesn’t live on Collins property.
And the major theme of the show right now is how difficult it is to ever leave the grounds. David and Amy spent a week desperately scuttling a plan to take them to Boston for five minutes, and now everything pivots on getting Chris to stick around too.
Even the antagonist is home-grown — the kids discovered Quentin’s angry spirit locked away in a parlor in an abandoned wing of the house. Dark Shadows villains used to come from Hell and Martinique and French Revolution-era Paris; now the scariest place in the world is a room in your mansion that nobody uses anymore.
But if there was ever a time to stay inside and bolt the doors, it’s January 1969. On Monday, they’re going to swear in Richard Nixon as President of the United States, a tough-talking “law and order” enthusiast, who’s promised to crack down on the hippies and Negroes and peaceniks and all the other troublemakers threatening America’s peace of mind. We’ve had massacres in Vietnam, and race riots in Baltimore, and there’s more to come.
1969 has the People’s Park riots, and the Stonewall riots, and Charles Manson, and Woodstock, and the Weather Underground, and the Nixon Doctrine, and the Altamont Festival, and the Haunted Mansion, and the moon landing, and the Zodiac Killer, and Sesame Street, and the Rolling Stones, and the Chicago Seven, and the silent majority, and it’s basically a huge, crazy mess. If 1969 comes knocking on your door, you’re going to want to reflect for a minute before you invite it in.
The battle at Collinwood with Quentin’s ghost ultimately turns out to be a fight for possession of the house. That’s an important piece of real estate, and it’s worth fighting for it, because outside this great estate, there aren’t a lot of safe places to run to.
Monday: The Phone Book of the Dead.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Maggie knocks on the cottage door, the set wobbles a little.
Behind the Scenes:
Some more prop-spotting — the colorful Collinsport Afghan, last seen at Maggie’s place, is now in Chris’ cottage.
Monday: The Phone Book of the Dead.
— Danny Horn