“Now you’re dead, and you’re going to stay dead.”
Pursued relentlessly by the muffled-tympani sound of a beating heart, black sheep and future poltergeist Quentin Collins races downstairs to the study, to check on his dead grandmother.
This is the first running of the Telltale Heart Grand Prix, and as Quentin applies the brakes and shudders to a stop, he finds Edith sitting up in her casket at the finish line, grinning at him like being dead is the most fun she’s had in years.
So there we are; it’s happened. The haunter has become the haunted.
Here’s what all the racket’s about: earlier this week, Quentin stole his grandmother’s will, which was hidden in the lining of her casket for some reason that I’m sure made rock-solid sense at the time. The will is now in his possession, and he’s planning to give it to a gypsy, who promises to forge him a better future. The fact that this kind of behavior is exactly why Edith left him out of the will in the first place is painfully obvious, but it’s too late to do anything about that now.
So eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins, who’s visiting the 19th century on a dare, has decided to use some unspecified vampire powers to place a hoodoo on Quentin, and make him believe that Edith is reaching out from the grave that she’s not even buried in yet.
You see, first he asked Quentin to give the will back, and Quentin said no, so this is step two. This is how people negotiate in Barnabas’ world.
Exhausted, Quentin falls asleep, and things just get worse from there. Edith is all up in his dreams, shaking her finger and yelling “Give back the will, Quentin! Give back the will!”
Then there’s this gorgeous little teenage rebel moment, where she’s chasing him around the room, and he suddenly remembers that he’s 19 years old and he doesn’t have to be treated this way anymore.
Just look at that stubborn little face! That’s the look of a young man who’s planning to move into his own place with some other guys from his band, as soon as he saves up enough money from his lifeguarding job this summer.
Of course, the dream ends the way that all teenage rebellions end. He chokes his grandmother and buries her in the woods, and then her shaky hand emerges from the grave, reminding him to pick up all of his records and put on a clean shirt, because we’ve got company coming over.
So if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that Dark Shadows is trying to make their villain a little less villainous. We’ve been in 1897 for two weeks now, and so far, Quentin’s been running the table — sauntering back into Collinwood, insulting his siblings, hassling the female domestics, and playing with knives. He’s the savvy trickster who admits to his own flaws, because it gives him the authority to point out everyone else’s.
And yet, here he is, the rebel with nothing to lose, and he’s losing it. All it took was a kettle drum and a dream.
They’re carving out a little more emotional space for Quentin, to give him room to grow, and the fact that they’re doing it so early suggests that they know he’s not going to be the villain forever. I mean, yeah, he just dreamed about strangling his zombie grandmother and burying her in the woods, but maybe that’s his way of reaching out and asking for help.
Quentin’s friend Evan comes over to smoke pot and play video games, and Quentin tells him that his creepy cousin Barnabas is being super weird all of a sudden.
Evan gets that dangerous gleam in his eye.
Evan: Why don’t we have a ceremony tonight, at the cottage? Perhaps we can summon a friend of ours, to deal with Barnabas Collins.
Quentin: What “friend” are you talking about?
Evan: Someone from the flames of the netherworld…
Quentin: Are you serious?
Evan: Of course! If our plea is strong enough, the powers of darkness will respond!
And haven’t we all had a friend like Evan, at some point in our lives, who comes up with awesome ideas like that? Quentin says he’s not sure, and Evan says, look, do you want to do something about Barnabas or not? Because obviously plan A is holding a black mass in your parents’ backyard.
So, to summarize this half-hour of television: Dark Shadows has decided to take an unstoppable force of supernatural destruction, and rebrand him as put-upon and misunderstood, for the benefit of the nation’s teenagers who have started scribbling “Mrs. David Selby” in their notebooks during math class.
To do this, they’re going to conduct a ritual, to call up another villain to fill that slot in the storyline. So they’ve roped in young Jamison — a symbol of innocence, and another important Dark Shadows demographic — to help them get through this awkward little moment.
Because they’ve spent several months building up Quentin as the Big Bad who grabbed the show and shook it like an Etch-a-Sketch, shaking all the Collinses out of Collinwood and sending them into exile. Turning Quentin into a teen idol and tagging in another antagonist is a risky move, and they need to tread carefully. So Evan’s gathering the young set around the altar, and giving them briefing instructions.
Evan: I want you to stand right there, and to look directly into the flame.
Jamison: What for?
Evan: Because it is an important part of what I must do, that’s all. Now, while I’m talking, I want you to try to concentrate very hard. Can you do that?
Jamison: I’ll try.
Evan: Good. Now, you keep looking directly into that flame, and do not take your eyes away, because if you do, the spell will be broken. Do you understand?
Yeah, I think so. This is going to be a Blue’s Clues black mass, where the kids at home are instructed to play along with Jamison.
So it’s just another day of irresponsible afternoon television, where we call upon the raven and the viper and all the dark creatures of nature to pretty please come and make our show even more surprising and bizarre than it already currently is. And all we have to do is to be like Jamison, and keep our eyes locked on the television, no matter what happens.
Just keep watching, kids. I’ve got a good feeling about this one.
Monday: Let’s Twist Again.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Quentin tells Evan: “There is someone who suspects us. A man who claims he’s a cousin. Barnabas cousin — Barnabas Collins.”
Evan tells Sandor: “That won’t do. Suppose you pinish — finish por — forging the will, and then we can’t agree on a price.”
Monday: Let’s Twist Again.
— Danny Horn