“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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Danny Horn