“Don’t touch me! Your grandmother knows how easily I bruise.”
It always starts with a box.
The malicious spirit of Quentin Collins has taken over present-day Collinwood, and he’s in the process of slowly murdering young David. Desperate to save the boy and unable to think of anything else, Barnabas turns to the I Ching, an ancient Chinese secret that has transported his soul back to the late 19th century. There, his astral body meets up with his physical body, which is trapped in a chained-up coffin.
And like any travel experience, it takes forever, there’s hardly any leg room, there’s nothing to eat, and he doesn’t even know where he’s landed. This is why you should never try to check yourself in as luggage.
Finally, somebody comes along and offers him a snack. This is Sandor Rakosi, a helpful gypsy who’s come to Collinsport, Maine directly from a Universal Monsters film set. Sandor’s dream is to travel around in a caravan, selling fake elixir and throwing knives at people. There must be another Carpathian Mountains in New Hampshire somewhere, that’s the best I can figure.
It’s Barnabas’ habit, when he travels back in time, to become a vampire again — it’s kind of like ex-smokers who still smoke when they go on vacation. So he drinks some of Sandor’s blood, which takes the edge off his hunger, plus now he has a new friend.
He finds out that Sandor is living in the Old House, and it’s 1897. It’s super convenient that he immediately gets a native guide on this trip, although he may want to wipe the guy’s body fluids off his lips before they get involved in a conversation. It’s kind of insensitive.
Stupefied, Barnabas whips up some helpful thinks, to explain today’s lunatic plot contrivance to himself. Amazingly, at this point the writers have total faith that we’ll just go along with anything they throw at us.
Barnabas: (thinks): 1897! What did Julia and Stokes think? Is my body still there? Is this happening in my mind? Yet — I am here! Here, as I was when I was put in that coffin, when the coffin was chained! (out loud): I must find out all I can — about Quentin! — about Beth!
Sandor: Beth? What do you know about Beth?
Barnabas: What do you know?
Sandor: She works in the big house, that’s all.
Barnabas: She’s in love with Quentin!
Sandor: Where’d you get that idea?
And that’s an excellent question. Where did Barnabas get that idea? He didn’t even know Quentin’s name last week, and all he knows about Beth is from a couple of hauntings where her ghost was actually working against Quentin’s. But now Barnabas is receiving psychic messages direct from the writers, just to speed things along.
Barnabas is also executing a series of dramatic eye movements, because he’s got dark vampire eye liner again and he might as well use it.
Sandor: How do you even know about them?
Barnabas: A trick of time.
Sandor: You’re always talking about time. There’s only one time, now!
Barnabas: You are wrong, Sandor. There are many times; you only have to find them.
In a flash, the huggable butler personality that Barnabas has adopted lately is gone, and he is mysterious and dangerous once more.
And it’s not a moment too soon, because the battle that’s shaping up between Barnabas and Quentin is obviously going to be a competition over which of them is more interesting. Quentin’s got the home field advantage, coming with a full set of factory-installed secrets, so Barnabas needs to step up. Turning into a blood-soaked philosopher king again is pure strategy.
Over at Collinwood, Sandor’s wife Magda comes over to read tarot cards for Miss Edith, the dotty old matriarch who runs the great estate from her deathbed.
As Magda enters, Quentin sneaks up on her and puts her in a headlock. It’s just a tough night overall for gypsies and their necks.
Quentin wants Magda to help him win his grandmother’s trust. The choking is apparently part of his recruitment process. He must realize that he’s going to be competing with Barnabas soon; they’re both staffing up.
He releases her, and says that he wants her to do something for him. She holds out a palm for payment.
“You haven’t changed, Magda,” he chuckles. “There will be money.”
Her eyes narrow. “There is none now.”
This is all standard-issue ethnic casting. White people always think that every other race is unscrupulous and sneaky, because I guess none of us own mirrors.
He struts over to the bannister, to set up a really quite marvelous two-shot. He leans in like he’s going to kiss her, which is basically his approach to anything in his line of sight, and she stands there and does acting faces, because that is what Grayson Hall is for.
Quentin: Don’t forget that I know you haven’t had an honest thought in your entire life. You’re after the same thing I am — money. And you’ll do anything to get it, and so will I. Now, I’ll give you one-tenth after Grandmama dies.
Magda: What do I have to do?
Quentin: It’s so simple, I almost hestitate to ask you.
Magda: Tell me!
Quentin: Impress upon her how much I’ve changed.
Magda: (chuckles) Not even my cards could lie that much.
This is a Sam Hall script, by the way. That’s why everybody’s all witty and cynical. I can’t get enough of it.
He grabs her by the arm, and she spits, “Don’t touch me! Your grandmother knows how easily I bruise.”
That’s another one of those Sam Hall lines that I first heard in high school, and it’s never left me; I will take it with me to my grave. It’s possible that somebody said a better line than that on another daytime show on March 4th, 1969, but I doubt it. I bet the other soap writers just go home at the end of the day and sob.
Once Magda’s done with her lobbying session with Edith, Quentin shows up for a further sales pitch. He’s still alternately seducing and threatening, which means it’s time for another installment of the long-overdue national conversation about race.
Quentin: What did you tell her?
Magda: What the cards say.
Quentin: I should have liked to have heard that. Did the cards suggest a sum of money for the gypsies? (She turns away.) When she dies, you’re going to need a friend around here. I have no prejudices against your kind. If she should die tonight, which she may, you would be forced to leave here by morning. You know that.
This is pretty much the only time that Dark Shadows really touches on the subject of anybody being “your kind”, unless you count witches, werewolves, Frankensteins and unseen horrors, which I occasionally do.
In that respect, there’s another ABC soap in 1969 that’s more daring than the time-traveling vampire show. One Life to Live, which started airing in Dark Shadows’ old timeslot in July 1968, was specifically created to take on social issues, particularly racial, ethnic and class differences. When the show started, the cast included a Jewish family, a middle-class Polish family, an African-American family and a wealthy WASP family. By this point, OLTL has already started a controversial interracial-dating storyline.
Meanwhile, Dark Shadows has been going in the opposite direction. Over the last year, the show has basically killed off every character who lives outside the Collinwood estate, getting more and more insular, to the point where the show is pretty much only about a wealthy family and their servants.
As the 1897 cast takes the stage, it looks like they’ll be following a similar pattern — a world inhabited by the Collinses, their servants, and the weird ethnic family squatting in an abandoned building next door.
Quentin’s line about having “no prejudices against your kind” is a dark moment, especially considering what we find out later about Quentin’s choice in life partners. With the West Virginia twang in David Selby’s voice, there’s an ugly undercurrent hidden under Quentin’s tolerance for the brown people.
But Quentin is a villain, and villains do villainous things. In 1897, everyone in the family is terribly flawed, and their failings have a lot to do with how they handle money and power.
Edward, Judith, Quentin and Carl treat the gypsies like trash, but I don’t think we’re supposed to admire or sympathize with them. If the 1969 family acted like this — Elizabeth, let’s say, or Carolyn — that would be intolerable.
But there’s at least one way that Quentin’s motivations are completely aligned with ours — he’s desperate to know “the secret”, which Edith is supposed to pass on to Edward, the eldest son, before she dies.
“The secret” is a brilliant narrative trick. Quentin wants the Collins family money — at least, a healthy share of it — but for us, that’s not very interesting. Quentin is already living at Collinwood, which is where we want him to be, so we don’t really care if he has money or not. The money is just a MacGuffin that heats up family conflicts.
But we want the secret, too. If we’re shadowing Quentin right now — which it seems like we are — then he’s the one who needs to get it.
Keeping with the plantation melodrama theme, here comes Judith, dressed as Scarlett O’Horror. She makes a grand entrance down the stairs, and snaps at the gypsy.
Magda says, “I was just leaving, Miss Collins,” which is another little piece of economical scriptwriting. Judith’s attitude, and the phrase “Miss Collins,” tells us pretty much everything we need to know about her.
She summons her younger brother for a conference, and closes the drawing room doors.
Judith: I don’t want Beth to hear. She listens. They all do. They’re all determined to find something out — what, I don’t know. Everyone in this house is against each other.
Quentin: Or are you simply against yourself, sister?
Judith: What do you mean? What a silly thing to say.
That’s a little taste of the generation gap for you; in 1969, people used to say little hippie zen koans like that all the time. It’s another bit of scenecraft that aligns Quentin with the counter-culture teens in the audience.
I’m not actually going to go through this whole episode line by line; it’s just fantastic and that’s all there is to it. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the three-sided chair, a new piece of set dressing that gives the actors a whole new way to have a conversation without looking at each other. I love it.
But there’s one more scene that’s very important for Quentin — his reunion with his nephew, Jamison. When the boy comes in the room, Quentin’s hiding, and Jamison calls out, “Quentin, I know you’re hiding in here. Really, I’m much too grown-up for this kind of game.”
Then Quentin jumps out from behind the door, laughing.
Jamison: You scared me!
Quentin: Then you aren’t too grown-up at all! (He hugs Jamison.) Although you are bigger. Tell me — have I grown?
Jamison: Of course not!
Quentin: I have! Two inches!
Jamison: You’re crazy.
Quentin: You’re right. Who else would have you awakened in the middle of the night, to give you —
Jamison: You brought me something!
Quentin: I promised I would, and I did. It’s to take you away with.
Quentin: Mm hm, any time you want to go. All you have to do is shrink — (he takes a model ship from behind a curtain) — and set sail!
The boat is called “the Jamison Collins”, which proves that this isn’t just another con. Quentin really was thinking about Jamison while he was away; he didn’t steal the model from somebody during his walk up from the docks.
As you know, there are three steps to getting the audience to like a character — make a joke, make a friend, and make a plot point happen. Two of those have been no problem at all. Quentin is jokes and plot points incarnate; he does nothing else. But it looks like friends are going to be harder to come by — he’s more the “make an enemy” type.
But his relationship with Jamison is entirely sincere. All of the cynicism melts away; he really loves this kid.
And the thing that I like most about this is that it’s actually there to explain the plot contrivances that they built up during the “haunting of Collinwood” story. When that story started a few months ago, Quentin didn’t necessarily have a specific interest in David. Amy was actually the one that initiated contact with the ghost, and for a while, he seemed interested in both kids.
That dynamic changed when the writers decided to connect the ghost story and the werewolf story, making Quentin suddenly target Chris for no readily apparent reason. That gave Amy a reason to back off from Quentin, which created some more story-productive conflict, so they kept going. So then the story was that Quentin was specifically interested in David, and all they had to figure out was why.
Eventually, they hit on the idea that Quentin loved Jamison — originally mentioned as his younger brother, now his nephew — and Quentin wants David to join him, and become Jamison.
Naturally, by the time they get to 1897, they can’t ignore that, so that’s why we have Quentin bonding with his nephew. It’s one of those moments of accidental depth, where the haphazard nature of Dark Shadows planning create little contradictions that make a character more interesting.
So now both sides in the oncoming conflict have at least one ally — Quentin has Jamison, and Barnabas has Sandor — with Magda as the wildest of wild cards. It looks like this is going to be an interesting ride.
For the viewers, this whole story is a mystery box — we don’t really know what the shape of this will be. With 1795, we knew some established facts before the time trip — Josette married Jeremiah, Barnabas became a vampire, Josette jumped off Widow’s Hill, Sarah died. But 1897 is almost entirely closed to us.
We know that Quentin dies and gets sealed up in his room, and there’s a child buried in the woods. That’s it. We are Barnabas now, exploring this new world, looking for answers to questions that we don’t know enough to even ask yet.
Tomorrow: The Problem of Beth.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Sandor opens the gate and enters the mausoleum, the camera pulls back slightly too far, and you can briefly see the edge of the set. When he reaches for the ring in the lion’s mouth, the sound effect starts too early, and the lion’s head moves slightly as he pulls.
When Barnabas advances on Sandor at the beginning of act 1, you can see through the secret room door and the mausoleum gate to the rest of the studio and the adjacent set.
When Barnabas is talking to Sandor in the secret room, he wonders, “How can I find David, if I’m back in another time?” He means, “How can I help David”.
Quentin asks Magda, “Does Grandmamama like me more now?”
Quentin says, “A thousand dollars?” Judith replies, “It’s not enough for you, I suppoe — I suppose.”
Barnabas looks around the Old House, and moans, “It was… it was…” It takes a while for the camera to cut to Collinwood, so Barnabas mutters a third, “It was…”
Jamison says, “I’m much too grown-up for these — this type of game.”
If anyone’s interested in more info about One Life to Live’s groundbreaking social issue stories in the late 60s, Wikipedia has a very comprehensive article on Carla Gray.
Carla was introduced in October 1968 as “Carla Benari”, an Italian-American woman who worked as a receptionist at Llanview Hospital. She started dating an intern, Dr. Price Trainor, who was African-American. OLTL got some angry letters from viewers objecting to the interracial dating storyline. About six months in, the story came out that Carla was actually Carla Gray, a light-skinned African-American woman who’s been passing for white, and the daughter of Sadie Gray, who lived next to the Woleks. It was a whole thing. One Life to Live was cool like that. The show’s commitment to diversity and social issues waxed and waned over the decades, because long-running serialized narrative is complicated, but they did some really important stories about racism, drug abuse, mental illness, homosexuality and HIV that meant a lot to people at the time.
Tomorrow: The Problem of Beth.
— Danny Horn