“The question is: why are they here, and what are they after?”
Okay, it’s what, Tuesday? And Julia is freaking out about a ghost. Yeah, right on schedule.
Sorry to drop you into the middle of things like this, but this is how we roll in the six-nine. This is what television does now.
Julia’s in another dusty storage room in Collinwood’s extensive dusty storage room district, looking for clues. She’s not really sure what kind of clues she’s looking for; she’s just kind of browsing.
You see, the children have been kind of weird lately, and there was this silversmith who died in the drawing room — well, actually, it started with the antique telephone, and Mr. Jughans, and then the strychnine, and when they dug on the spot where the ghost was pointing, they found a little coffin with a dead kid inside, so they took the pentagram necklace from around the kid’s neck, and the grandfather clock fell over. It’s been a whole thing. Just try to follow along.
That’s kind of all you can do right now, because this is the point where the show gets noticeably faster. The writing staff dumped the slowest guy on the team last week, and all of a sudden everybody is in a desperate hurry.
The last time they put their foot on the gas like this, it was the summer of 1968, but the show didn’t really get faster then; it just got weirder. They piled one strange thing on top of another, and just kind of stacked it up as high as they could until it fell over. There were two vampires, plus a Frankenstein and a lady Frankenstein, and a guy who was basically the Devil, and one of the vampires was a witch, and people traveled through time, and everyone was talking at once, all jockeying for airtime.
But they’re not going to make that mistake again, not when there’s a chance to make some new mistakes. There’s a lot of different elements in the current storyline, and they don’t really fit together in any kind of coherent way, but at least they don’t argue with each other all the time. Last summer, every bonkers story idea needed to be a whole character, and they each hated all the others. Now the story elements are mostly props, like the gramophone, or the dead silversmith, or the photo that Julia’s about to unearth in an old family album.
Today’s featured object is an extremely unlikely photograph of a tall young woman, standing in the Collinwood foyer and looking at nothing in particular. This is one of the ghosts currently infesting the house and leading everybody in circles. It’s been established that this woman was a servant in the 1890s, so I don’t know why somebody took a picture of her and stuck it in a photo album. Maybe they were having a scavenger hunt or something.
Now, once you’ve found an old photograph, there’s not that much you can do with it except look at it, and that doesn’t make for gripping television. I mean, 1960s soap operas tend to be kind of sedate, but there’s a general expectation that the pictures need to move, at least. That’s pretty much baseline.
So the door slams shut on Julia, and then we get the usual bag of haunted house tricks — the window blows open and the curtains billow, the chandelier starts swaying around, and the candle blows out.
Julia gets kind of overwrought about it, crying and pounding on the door, although this is honestly not the scariest thing she’s seen lately. A few weeks ago, she watched a vampire smack a rampaging werewolf in the face with his cane. This is nothing. She’s just being high-strung.
So Barnabas comes in, and the haunted house routine comes to an abrupt end — but when Julia tries to show him the photograph, it’s mysteriously vanished from the album. They stand around and talk about it for exactly one minute and six seconds, and then we’re done with that, and we’re off to look at something else. I’m telling you, we do not have time to dawdle these days.
So it’s off to the next sequence on today’s program: the young bachelor werewolf at home. Chris is returning from a pleasant date with Carolyn, humming and smiling — and all of a sudden, he’s doubled over with pain.
Chris makes a frantic call to Barnabas and Julia, and they rush over to the cottage to help. This is the agony that Chris always feels just before he turns into a werewolf, but there isn’t a full moon, and he shouldn’t be changing. I guess everybody’s in a hurry today.
Barnabas: How much time do we have before the change begins?
Chris: I don’t know — fifteen, maybe twenty minutes…
Barnabas: That’ll give us enough time to get you to the mausoleum.
Chris: No, we can’t do that — the pain, I just can’t get there in time!
But Barnabas gets Chris on his feet and bundles him into the car, then drives off to the mausoleum, where they can keep the werewolf locked up all night. Julia stays behind, so that she can stand near the clock and look worried. It’s 1:10 am, if anyone’s wondering.
Then the scene fades to a shot of the clock in the Collinwood foyer, because we are super obsessed with what time it is today.
And then somebody knocks on the door, and we get a look at his wristwatch. That’s what Dark Shadows is these days, just an endless series of timepieces.
Carolyn answers the door — and standing on the mat, big as life, is Jeff Clark — Vicki’s husband, who married her and then traveled back to the 18th century with her, apparently forever. The last time we saw him was four weeks and a hundred and seventy years ago, heading off into the sunset with a new bride and a rap sheet. Now he’s standing on the porch at 1:10 in the morning. Isn’t life funny?
But as it turns out, the guy who strolls into the house uninvited and refuses to answer simple questions isn’t Jeff Clark after all. He’s a brand-new character named Ned Stuart, who’s decided to show up at Collinwood to look for his old friend, Chris.
So let’s just consult the resume for a second. When Roger Davis came on the show, it was during the 1795 storyline, and he played a young lawyer named Peter Bradford. When Vicki returned to the 1960s, she met a young amnesiac named Jeff Clark, who was actually Peter. Vicki and Jeff/Peter just left the show a month ago, and now Roger Davis is back, and calling himself Ned Stuart.
That means Roger is now the king of identical characters who show up for no reason with different names. They all wear the same clothes, and they have the same mannerisms, and they’re all obnoxious.
This feels like recasting, but it’s not — it’s actually the opposite of recasting, whatever that would be. Déjà casting?
Of course, they’ve had actors playing multiple characters before; that’s how they did a four-month flashback to the 18th century, using the same cast. They’ve also used the classic soap opera trick of bringing a popular actor back to the show after his character’s death by giving him a previously unmentioned identical twin.
But this is something new, one of those quiet Dark Shadows milestones that you don’t necessarily notice as it’s happening. This is the first truly casual déjà casting. Ned isn’t another incarnation of Peter/Jeff, he’s not a twin brother, and he’s not part of a new timeline. He’s just a different character, played by the same guy. A character leaves the show, you wait a month, and then the actor shows up as somebody else.
So that’s how things are, in this fast-paced futuristic world of Nineteen Hundred and Sixty-Nine. Clues appear and disappear before our eyes, the werewolf can’t wait for a full moon, and people show up at Collinwood in the middle of the night and claim to be different people. No wonder everyone keeps checking what time it is. What time isn’t it?
Tomorrow: Mostly Charmless.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In act 1, Julia tells Barnabas, “Someone wanted me to leave this room!” The ghost actually locked her in the room.
At the beginning of act 2, Barnabas asks, “Julia, are you absolutely convinced that the woman we s-s-saw in the photograph was the woman we saw the other evening?” He stumbles on the word “saw”, because he realizes that the line should be “the woman you saw in the photograph”.
Barnabas tells Chris, “If we go now, we’ll make it. If we keep here arguing, then it will be dangerous!”
Tomorrow: Mostly Charmless.
— Danny Horn