“You think he went upstairs, knowing a strange man was lurking there, and told him to frighten you?”
In the first week of February 1969, David Selby was on daytime television four days out of five, with dark eye makeup and glued-on muttonchops, making faces at the camera. But on the inside, something even more mysterious was taking place, as Selby described in his 2010 memoir, My Shadowed Past:
Perhaps the few months of silence that Quentin endured gave me a chance to get acquainted with him. The fun an actor gets to have when creating a character. While in Illinois I discovered an Edgar Lee Masters poem, Silence. I rediscovered it when conjuring Quentin. Silence was my bridge to Quentin.
And there is the silence of the dead.
If we who are in life cannot speak
Of profound experiences,
Why do you marvel that the dead
Do not tell you of death?
Their silence shall be interpreted
As we approach them.
So, I cautiously approached Quentin — trying to learn what he was, who he was, what he wanted, what he desired, what he was seeking, what he was curious about, angry about. He could walk into a situation and know who was his enemy, who was a fool. He could be much smarter, much more charming, more ruthless than I ever could be. He liked brandy. He could be self-deceptive, vain (check the pompadour), foolish, hyper, lonely, ridiculous, macho (where was Gloria Steinem when they needed her), and he was inflicted with a false confidence. But first, would he, could he talk?
So that’s the question on the table this week. The restless spirit of angry ancestor Quentin Collins has been skulking around the great estate for two months now, ever since that strange little orphan girl found the antique telephone with a direct hotline to the dead. So far, Quentin has been quietly coaching from the sidelines, more mime than man.
And frankly, I haven’t been super impressed with the storyline so far, which kicked off with some top-shelf attempted patricide and then cooled considerably. The rare glimpses of Quentin in action have been thrilling, but I like my stories fast and furious, and a lot of the time, we’ve been watching eleven-year-olds just stand around and fret.
Considering the intensity of my Quentin-related fanboy feels, it’s about time we get around to the moment when I finally acknowledge that, okay, this Quentin storyline is getting good, so that’s what we’re going to do.
Not today, obviously. Today is mostly tedious. But sometime this week.
Friday’s episode ended with governess Maggie Evans snooping around in the west wing of Collinwood, which is supposed to be deserted but gets a surprising amount of foot traffic. Maggie knows that something’s up with young David, and she needs to understand why he’s been sneaking off to the west wing.
Naturally, like all governesses, Maggie is heavy on the “I’m going to get to the bottom of this” and light on the actually knowing what to do when she gets there. When she opens the door and finds a strange man in a frock coat glaring at her, she stands there and shrieks her head off, and that’s your Friday cliffhanger, all wrapped up in a bow.
Picking up where they left off, Monday starts with Maggie still standing there with her mouth open. Quentin is staring at her, clearly wondering why the hell she even bothered to open the door if she’s just going to stare at him like that. Meanwhile, Maggie’s brain is sending nothing but Abort, Retry, Fail? messages.
Finally, Quentin takes a single step towards her, in the manner that you would if you saw a deer on your front lawn and you wanted it to get away from your hydrangeas. You’re not actually planning to chase the deer or anything, you’re just trying to trigger the flight response.
It works — Maggie turns and runs — and Quentin just smiles. And that’s pretty much the only thing that happens for this entire episode. Some days, you peak early.
So Maggie runs downstairs, babbling about a strange man in the west wing, and you can pretty much tell from the blocking of this shot exactly how the rest of the episode is going to go.
This is not a “call to arms” moment, where Maggie says “strange white man in the attic” and everybody else leaps into action, storming off to the western frontier with a blunderbuss and a butterfly net. Instead, the other characters arrange themselves around the room in a tableau of vague puzzlement.
At this point, anybody with a functioning sense of televisual literacy knows what this episode is about, even if you didn’t see the episode three weeks ago when exactly the same thing happened to Mrs. Johnson. It’s one of those “you’ve got to believe me!” type scenarios, where nobody does.
So the rest of the day is pretty much pro forma. Chris and Carolyn go to cobweb central and poke around with a flashlight for a while. Maggie stays in the drawing room over-explaining everything and getting increasingly worked up. Chris and Carolyn go back downstairs and report that they didn’t see anything, big surprise.
Then it’s Maggie and Liz’s turn to go to the west wing, this time bringing David along as bait. Chris and Carolyn stay downstairs and share some puzzled dialogue. Maggie insists that they’ll find something dreadful in the west wing, and they don’t. This is how the “you’ve got to believe me” sequences always end. It turns out they don’t got to.
And, as I say, this is incredibly obvious after the first ten seconds, because it’s Monday and we’ve watched television before. “Oh my god there’s a strange man” was big enough to close a Friday. It’s not going to escalate any higher than that midway through Monday.
But there is a nice Quentin moment, which sets up some of the developments later on in the week. It starts with David in his bedroom with the dearly departed, just catching up on current events.
Suddenly, Carolyn and Chris open the door, and they pose for a half-second with their sight lines clearly targeting the space where Quentin is standing.
But David is alone, of course, and Chris and Carolyn were simply staring at a specific patch of empty space, as anybody would upon entering a room. This is a standard “you’ve got to believe me” style fake-out, because it’s a Monday and that’s the best we can offer.
So then there’s a little scene where David says something innocent, and Chris and Carolyn chuckle, and ruffle his hair, and they give him a shiny nickel to buy licorice hoops at the general store. Or something like that, I don’t really pay attention to these kinds of scenes. They probably tell him it’s time for bed. People say that a lot on Mondays.
Once the hayseeds have cleared the room, David turns to the camera and does a spooky kid riff for a second.
And then he turns, and Quentin’s just sitting there in the armchair, smiling, because Quentin is always there, even when the rubes can’t see him.
This is actually a big step for Quentin, because until now, the kids have always made a big deal about going to see Quentin in the storage room. They’ve had multiple conversations on the theme of If we’re not allowed to go to the west wing, how will we contact Quentin?, because he was tied to a specific spot in the house.
But he appeared in the drawing room the other day, and now we’ve got a clear message that Quentin is always nearby, watching and smiling and scheming.
It’s not much in the way of story progression, but it’s setting up developments later in the week, and that’s something. The dead are still silent, but only for now. Keep listening.
Tomorrow: The Four Maggies.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Maggie opens the door to the storage room at the end of the teaser, you can clearly see Quentin standing there staring at her. Then they cut away to the other side, so that Maggie can scream before the official reveal of Quentin standing there staring at her.
Just after Maggie and Liz sit on the couch in the drawing room, the camera swings wide as it tracks them.
Liz loses track of this line: “Maggie… I can’t dismiss the fact that a strange man possibly got – in – to – the — west wing. But I can’t — and I intend to get to the bottom of it. But I can’t possibly believe that David had anything to do with it!”
Another Liz fluff: “Maggie, I know you had a bad scare, and I doubt — don’t doubt for a minute that you saw something.”
The rolling end credits are crooked.
You can get a copy of David Selby’s memoir My Shadowed Past at his website, Davidselby.com. It’s dreamy and rambling and warm and completely loveable, 135 pages of impressions and reflections about that extraordinary year when he went from struggling actor to having his own trading card set. He personalizes every copy with a signature. It is a beautiful thing.
Behind the Scenes:
The clothes-dummy fake that David and Quentin use to gaslight Maggie is named “Mr. Jughans,” a reference to boom mic operator Max Jughans. “Mr. Jughans, keep it up” may be a joke on Jughans’ struggles to keep the mic from drooping into the frame.
Tomorrow: The Four Maggies.
— Danny Horn