Episode 678: Chris Jennings Must Die

“So we’re at the mercy of a ghost.”

Let us put aside speculation, and confine ourselves to the facts.

On Monday, the unresting spirit of Quentin Collins directed young David to remove a small vial of strychnine from his rolltop desk. The next day, an unseen spirit entered the cottage of Christopher Jennings, uncorked his whiskey decanter, and decanted several tablespoons worth of strychnine into it. Chris helped himself to a glass, and now he’s flat on his back, thinking things over.

At Collinwood, Julia’s sleep was interrupted by the ghost of a sobbing woman, who led her downstairs and out the front door. Picking up Barnabas along the way, Julia followed the ghost, who led them to the scene of the crime.

Now, I’m fairly certain that we know whodunnit — it was the muttonchops that walk like a man, last spotted fleeing the scene and shouting, “You’ll never catch me alive!” The questions that we need to resolve are more along the lines of whythehelldunnit.

#1. Why did Beth go to Julia, rather than anyone else?
#2. Why is Beth suddenly trying to stop Quentin’s plan?
#3. Why does Quentin want to kill Chris?

There are solutions to all of these mysteries, which regular readers should be able to work out for themselves, without resorting to time travel by way of the DVD box set. Don’t bother with the head canon; all the evidence that we need is right here in this room. As the man said, You know my methods, Watson. Apply them.

678 dark shadows julia chris exam

Although I suppose we ought to attend to Chris, who’s quietly expiring on the linoleum. Julia needs to rev up the doctoring skills; there’s a mostly human life at stake.

So Dr. Hoffman goes into her human tricorder routine, touching Chris on the wrist and the face for eight seconds, and then issuing a status report. It isn’t good.

678 dark shadows barnabas glass

Barnabas picks up the empty glass that fell from Chris’ hand. “Whiskey,” he says, and sniffs at it.

Then he holds out the glass and says, “Julia, there’s something in this whiskey, isn’t there?”

678 dark shadows julia glass

Julia grabs it, muttering, Yeah, look at Watson over here, thinking he can sniff things. I didn’t go to make-believe medical school all those years so I could watch you sniff things. Give it here, you’re gonna hurt yourself.

678 dark shadows julia barnabas sniff

Without saying a word, she walks over to the decanter and gives that a couple of investigative sniffs.

“Strychnine, I think,” she gasps.

Barnabas is horrified. “He’ll die!”

Julia takes charge. “No, if I’m right, we can save him,” she says. “I’ll have to get some atropine. I don’t have any here at Collinwood.”

678 dark shadows julia barnabas stare

Barnabas, momentarily losing touch with his lifestyle, says, “We should take him to a hospital,” but Julia has no patience for that kind of talk.

Fixing him with a gimlet stare, she snaps, “Do you want the police involved, Barnabas? Do you think that’s wise?”

He collects himself. “No,” he says, frowning. “They can’t be.”

678 dark shadows julia barnabas wise

Strychnine is odorless, by the way. That’s not particularly germane to the current crisis, but I thought I’d mention it, because that explains the answer to question #1.

Beth didn’t wake Julia up out of a sound sleep because she has access to the medicine chest. Atropine is derived from deadly nightshade, and every building on the Collins estate is fully stocked with a generous supply of murder weapons. There’s probably a jug of atropine under the sink in the master bathroom.

Beth went for Julia because she is the only character on the show with the narrative clout to smell an odorless contaminant in an empty glass. That’s what Julia brings to the table.

678 dark shadows beth julia ghost

Now, question #2 — why is Beth suddenly trying to stop Quentin’s plan — is just basic story mechanics, when you’re a writer doing long-form serialized narrative and making it up as you go along. I mean, that’s kind of redundant, because serialized narrative is always being made up as you go along. That’s why you’re making daytime TV instead of writing a play; you suck at planning.

But Dark Shadows is running even closer to the edge than a normal soap opera, because they can’t fall back on traditional story fillers like “planning a wedding”. Dark Shadows runs on surprise, so the writing process is just throwing yourself at the ground and missing, five times a week.

And this week, it suddenly dawned on them that “Beth is working against Quentin” is inherently more interesting than “Beth stands behind Quentin and nods”.  I mean, that’s just simple arithmetic. For the purposes of generating story, something is better than nothing.

678 dark shadows quentin angry

And up until five minutes ago, the Quentin-Beth haunting was pretty much running on empty. This little cul-de-sac of a story has been going on for two months, and it’s still mostly about kids playing dress-up.

David and Amy only have one spooky outfit apiece, and it’s not even that different from what they normally wear. Let’s face it, trying on clothes is just not that heart-stopping of an experience.

678 dark shadows quentin kids ghost

Besides, two months is way too long for us to know as little as we currently know about what the hell Quentin even wants. His motivations are basically dark matter. We’re supposed to believe that there’s some secret backstory that’s exerting a gravitational pull. All of these story elements are orbiting something, but we can’t tell what it is.

Unfortunately, the writers still don’t know what the story is either, so they keep throwing in little clues that don’t currently add up to anything. There’s the cradle, and the gramophone, and the rotting skeleton, and the game, and the wire, and the curse, and interceding with Oscar, but none of those individual pieces connect to any of the others. The Quentin story is about 85% dark matter.

678 dark shadows chris julia questions

So that’s the answer to question #3, why Quentin wants to kill Chris. The werewolf storyline is pure dynamite, plus it has Barnabas and Julia in it, and nothing of significance ever happens on Dark Shadows when Barnabas and Julia aren’t around.

Chris had to transform into an animal and attack Carolyn next to her comatose mother’s coffin just to attract Barnabas and Julia’s attention, but now they’ve given the werewolf story their blessing, and that makes it the most interesting storyline on the show.

David and Amy talk about “playing the game”, but on Dark Shadows, the only game worth playing is Stand Next to Barnabas, and Quentin isn’t even on the scoreboard. The game is afoot, and so far Quentin is three feet behind.

Tomorrow: The Not Happening.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Amy is supposed to move around in bed as her dream begins, but she’s got her eyes closed and she misses her cue. Somebody shakes the bed to alert her.

Amy closes the wardrobe behind her, but the door swings open again.

Barnabas bobbles a line:

Chris:  You still think I did it? You think I did it on purpose?

Barnabas:  No, no — of course not. We just — (looks at the teleprompter) — are very glad that — well, that we were wrong about the poison.

Julia tells Chris, “A ghost led you here,” instead of “a ghost led me here.”

Tomorrow: The Not Happening.

678 dark shadows chris knife

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

15 thoughts on “Episode 678: Chris Jennings Must Die

  1. According to Douglas Adams, throwing yourself at the ground and missing is the secret to flying. Don’t panic.

  2. “So Dr. Hoffman goes into her human tricorder routine…” I’m sorry, but you deserve some kind of award for that great line right there, Danny!

    1. That’s a good one. I had a such giggle over “the muttonchops that walk like a man” that I decided not to jump off Widow’s Hill.
      “Give it here, you’re gonna hurt yourself”. Poor Julia, the loneliness of being the smart one. Love the Watson and Holmes, very appropriate.

      I think Quentin’s attempt to poison Chris is it’s own separate issue, unrelated to what he’s doing at Collinwood. At Collinwood, he’s up to no good, but with Chris, I think it was intended as a mercy killing, to put him out of his misery, and end the curse. He had to be put down, like Old Yeller.

        1. Oh dear, poor Donna, if only she had been around to date toothy Tom Jennings, her death wouldn’t have been quite so rippy-upy.
          I think a vampire was much more her speed.

          1. Oh, I could watch Donna The Vampire, that would be great character development.
            She has the prerequisites. Certainly the appetite.

            She could then bite Chris before the transformation, and Voila!

            Pet Werewolf.

            On a leash.

            Oh, that’s good.

            How about a silver collar?

            Better than Invisible Fence.

        1. Ah, I wonder if you’re right, Pedro! I had the assumption, from something the Beth ghost mutely suggested) that Quentin almost wanted to be noble, here: ensuring Chris’s demise not so much to protect the werewolf’s future victims but rather to put Chris out of his misery of guilt/self-detestation and the exhausting, futile hope that he can either control or break free of the inherited curse.

  3. Yes, it’s still possible right now that the writers have not decided to “mashup” TURN OF THE SCREW with THE WOLFMAN. It’s possible the connection between Chris and Quentin has not yet been determined.

  4. There have been some interesting speculations on Danny’s blog here about when the producers/writers thought of the 1897 storyline and when they might have started planting clues or plot points to it. I wonder if it might be right about now. The 1897 story is now only about a month away (I know, that’s an eternity in soap opera time). But when Barnabas and Julia are discussing the appearance of Beth’s ghost, they wonder what connection she has with Chris. Barnabas says that if his werewolf affliction is the result of a curse, perhaps there’s a connection there. He also makes it a point to observe that Beth’s clothing was Victorian, specifically from “the 1890s.” So is this episode the birth of 1897?

    1. I think its leading up to it. You got Quentin walking around like a zombie, David and Amy are crazier than two bed bugs, and Barnabas and Julia investigating the happenings. So yes this must be a pre cursor to 1897.

  5. re: Barnabas remarking on Beth’s 1890’s look, it’s interesting to realize that B basically slept through the entire 19th Century, and the first half of the 20th. He does a lot of reading though, and apparently he has familiarized himself with the ups and downs of fashion while he was locked in a coffin.

  6. I think it is very difficult, once one becomes aware of Jonathan Frid’s sexual orientation, to not see a gay angle in a lot of his scenes. I, at least, can’t un-learn it.

    This shades certain scenes and plot developments with a filter that almost makes meta-sense of them, as opposed to narrative sense, which the former threatens to unseat.

    In this cluster of eps, Barnabas has a strong sense of compassion for Chris, b/c he knows what it’s like to be a reluctant monster. But I can’t help seeing the solicitous and even gentle way he interacts with Chris as demonstrative of an affection more than mere empathy.

    I watched these shows 50 years ago in their first broadcast. I was too young to understand same-sex attraction, but I do remember thinking that Barnabas (whom I adored) sure was nice to Chris, (and sure worried a lot about Quentin, later on), and I thought it very different from the man to man interactions I saw irl around me.

  7. Amy’s a bit too young now but in a few years she’s going to wonder about that early morning when she walked in on her handsome brother and an older lady in a nightgown.

  8. Maybe Julia just has a fantastic nose for whiskey and knows from the scent of the whiskey what altering agent has been added to it.

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