“Being startled is the most interesting thing that’s happened to me all evening.”
Eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins has used the ancient Chinese secret of I Ching to jump the turnstiles of time and transport himself back to the late 19th century, which he slept through the first time.
Here in 1897, Barnabas is pretending to be his own great-grandson, who’s the grandfather of the guy that he’s pretending to be in 1969. According to his cover story, the original Barnabas Collins sailed to England in the late 1790s, where he settled down and had tons of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all of them identical. There are apparently hundreds of Barnabi of every age and gender littering the English countryside, all looking moody and forgetting their lines.
It’s a thin story, especially because he doesn’t have an English accent, but luckily there’s a portrait of the original Barnabas on the wall in the foyer, which he uses like it’s a driver’s license.
Barnabas was desperate to find Quentin, the evil spirit who’s tormenting the family in 1969, but now that he’s met the guy, he can’t think of anything to say. You’d think he’d be better prepared than this; he’s had negative seventy-two years to think about it.
Shortly after they’ve been introduced, Quentin walks over to touch one of the swords that’s hanging decoratively on the drawing room wall. This is how members of the Collins family say hello; they fondle whatever murder weapon is closest at hand.
He asks Barnabas which boat he arrived on, and Barnabas says, “The Pride of Jamestown. It arrived in Collinsport this afternoon, at 4:30.”
Quentin says, “Yes. So it did.”
And then Quentin just stares at Barnabas for a while. When Barnabas said that he wanted to communicate with Quentin, he probably should have been more specific.
Barnabas tries to make some small talk about the portraits, and Quentin takes that as his cue to grab one of the swords and point it directly at Barnabas’ neck.
“I would advise you not to make a move,” says Quentin, who’s clearly been dreaming of a moment like this for his whole life.
And look at that, for a shot. It’s marvelous. He is gorgeous and confident and clear out of his mind, frock-coated and mutton-chopped to the hilt. This is why we bother to have a Dark Shadows.
“Cousin Quentin,” Barnabas sputters, “is this some kind of practical joke?”
Quentin snaps, “No, it certainly isn’t.”
“Then you’d better explain it.”
“I intend to. You see, it just so happens that I returned recently from England myself. I spent the better part of six months there. So I had ample time to discover that there is no English branch of our family, and there never has been! Now, I’ll give you exactly five minutes to tell me who you are and what you want here — or so help me, I’ll run you through!”
So the question is, why five minutes? That seems like a terribly long time just to stand there and produce alibis. Barnabas could probably blow off the first three minutes entirely, just standing there humming while Quentin scowls at the stopwatch.
But the threat isn’t meant to be taken literally, it’s just tough guy talk. Quentin is having the time of his life right now.
Quentin: I suggest you start talking. Five minutes can go by rather quickly, when a man is about to die.
Barnabas: Even though I don’t know you, I find it hard to believe that you could be so cold-blooded.
Quentin: I can be, and I will be!
Barnabas: What are you afraid of?
Quentin: Nothing! It just so happens that I know you’re a fraud.
Quentin said “It just so happens” twice in a row, because it’s awesome confrontation talk. So obviously what would be great is if Barnabas would grab the other sword off the wall, and say, “Well, it just so happens that I am not left-handed,” and then they could swashbuckle up and down the staircase for a while.
That would actually be the best Dark Shadows episode of all time, especially if we could work the werewolf in somehow. Oh, I want to go back in time and write Dark Shadows. I’ll have to see if I can scrounge up some I Ching wands.
But Barnabas has his own way of handling the situation. He smiles at Quentin, and somehow magically transfers his method of chewing up dialogue.
Quentin: I just told you I was there for over six months. Now, how come I never… came into any… people that were related to me, by the name of Collins?
Did you see that? I think Barnabas has weaponized Fridspeak.
Barnabas: I think the answer to that is rather obvious.
Quentin: What do you mean?
Barnabas: I submit that it’s possible your reputation arrived in England before you did. Any man who would put a sword to another man’s throat, moments after they met, is hardly the sort of person that relatives would want to meet.
And look at that little face! That is the visual translation of “I know you are, but what am I?”
This is the amazing magic trick of the 1897 storyline, the thing that we never would have expected — they’ve turned Quentin into a child.
Five days ago, Quentin’s spirit had the power to set fires, throw furniture around the room, and make people disappear and then reappear in other people’s clothes. He could twist up your mind and your memory, and kill people just by looking at them. He was a supernatural force, remaking the world in his own diseased image.
And now the Big Bad is just a little boy, a frustrated teenager stuck in the house with his irritating family. Nobody listens to him, and everyone criticizes him all the time. His grandmother won’t tell him the family secret. The girl he likes keeps telling him to go away. He can’t even boss the gypsies around.
And then Judith comes in and spoils his fun, like a big dumb girl.
Judith: Quentin, put down that sword!
Quentin: Stay out of this, Judith! This man’s an impostor.
Judith: Don’t be absurd. It’s perfectly obvious that he’s a Collins.
Quentin: He isn’t from England, and there is no English branch of our family over there.
Judith: Well, I don’t care if there is or there isn’t; you have no right to behave like a barbarian. Now, put down that sword!
So Quentin puts down the sword, because whatever, who even cares.
For just a moment, Quentin was finally going to be the hero of the family, who unmasks the impostor in a particularly dramatic and impressive way. They’d have to treat him with more respect.
And now it’s all ruined, because dumb Judith yelled at him like a dumb jerk, and he is too an impostor. You don’t even know what an impostor even is.
She even makes him apologize, which is stupid and totally unfair, and then Quentin has to stand around and be in one of her dumb tea parties.
So this is the terror of Collinwood, the creature who can dress people up like dolls and wreck their lives.
I mean, not yet, obviously. He’s still got some growing up to do.
Tomorrow: Prisoners of Emily Post.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Just after Quentin asks why he didn’t run into people with the name Collins, there’s a clanking sound, like something falling over in the studio.
Just after Quentin takes the sword away from Barnabas’ neck, the boom mic appears overhead.
Barnabas tells Beth, “Barnabas Collin is my name.”
Sophie introduces herself to Barnabas as Sophie Baker, but she’s listed in the credits as Sophie Barnes.
Sophie’s compact is an anachronism; the Dark Shadows Wiki says they were invented after the turn of the century.
At the end of the credits, the logo for Dan Curtis Productions is supposed to stop in the middle of the screen. Today, it overshoots and fades out quickly, halfway off the screen.
Behind the Scenes:
Sophie Baker, the latest victim in Barnabas’ centuries-spanning crime spree, is played by K.C. Townsend, in her only episode. Townsend appeared in several Broadway shows in the 60s and early 70s, including the 1971 revival No, No, Nanette, where she played Flora from San Francisco, one of Jimmy’s kept women. Her film career was not notable — she played “Couple on Table” in the 1971 Buck Henry comedy Is There Sex After Death?, and a stripper in the 1979 film of All That Jazz, and those were the highlights.
Tomorrow: Prisoners of Emily Post.
— Danny Horn