“Now, I want you to stay here, and look after the ladies, take them upstairs, and lock yourself in a room.”
Well, it’s true what they say, you can’t keep a good man down. Handsome rascal Quentin Collins has been stabbed in the chest, in the cottage, and in the prime of life, and that’s three strikes. We watched him bleed out on the carpet, and he’s currently the featured attraction at a swinging wake in the drawing room.
But dark sorcery has brought him back to life, sort of, by which I mean he’s lurching around with a glazed expression on his face. It’s not much of a life, more mannequin than man. Let’s say “life” with air quotes.
Barnabas is in this episode too, and he’s a vampire, so that makes two dead characters out of five today. Although I suppose from the point of view of the 1969 audience, everyone in the 1897 storyline is dead.
Actually, when you really sit down and think about it, we’re all dead — just a pack of not-yet-rotting corpses, advancing inexorably to the grave. That’s why I try not to really sit down and think about it.
So Quentin Collins is back from the dead after two days, which is faster than average for a soap opera character. Daytime soaps are mostly populated with characters that everybody thought was dead at one time or another; maybe three out of five soap deaths turn out to be a misunderstanding.
For example, Taylor from The Bold and the Beautiful died in a plane crash in 1994, except then she turned up alive and married to Prince Omar of Morocco. Then she died again of heart failure following a gunshot wound in 2002, except actually she was in a coma for three years, and spirited out of the hospital by guess who? Prince Omar of Morocco. The next time Taylor dies, I imagine they’ll go and have a chat with Prince Omar before they make any definite funeral arrangements.
But on Dark Shadows, we don’t have that kind of time to mess around, because the turnover is way higher. Angelique died three times in 1968 alone, and it doesn’t seem to have slowed her down one bit.
In fact, Angelique is the one who’s raised Quentin from the dead, and sent him stalking the halls of Collinwood for no readily discernible reason.
“When I give the command, Quentin,” she said to Quentin, who was dead at the time, “you will rise, and walk again. And you will do whatever I tell you to do. My wish shall be your wish, my goal your goal. And together, we shall bring Barnabas Collins to his knees!”
She looked very pleased with herself, so I assume there was more to the plan than that, but it sounds to me like one of those “Step three: Profit” type scenarios, which are long on optimism and short on detail. I mean, yes, Quentin’s going to rise and walk, and scare the pants off the ladies in the house, but how that’s going to bring Barnabas to his knees is anyone’s guess. I think Angelique just has a weird sense of humor.
Like, take Carl’s close encounter. At the start of the show today, Rachel reports to Judith and Carl that she saw Quentin sitting up in a rocking chair by the bed. They go downstairs and find that Quentin has left the casket, so Judith sends Carl back up to check things out.
What follows is a minute and a half sequence of a type that we’ve never really seen before — a spooky haunted house hide-and-seek game where Carl is looking for a monster that he is entirely unqualified to handle. He looks around Rachel’s room, even checking under the bed. He’s thinking about looking in the dresser drawers when there’s a flash of movement in the corridor, and he follows.
I think this may be the first “where’s that monster” hunt on the show, and it’s very effective. We know there’s something terrible lurking somewhere, but we don’t know where, an anxious scene leading up to a big reveal.
Typically on Dark Shadows, monsters follow the general guideline for soap characters: Say what you’re going to do, then do it, and then tell everybody that you did it, so the audience doesn’t get confused. This is known as the “I will bring Barnabas Collins to his knees” approach. But here, we don’t really know what’s going to happen, except it will be horrible.
Delightfully, it turns out that the zombie is hiding behind some curtains, waiting for the right moment to lurch out and smack Carl to the carpet. There is no reason why a zombie would do this, except that it’s dramatic and awesome, and apparently it brings people to their knees.
But Barnabas has his own bright ideas. Angelique really should know better than use supernatural mayhem to unsettle Barnabas; this is his strong area.
“As a very young man, I traveled in the West Indies,” he says, as if he ever talks about anything else. This Caribbean spring break trip has provided him with an extended lifetime supply of stories about all the cool people he met; he’s moments away from breaking out the vacation slides.
“In a remote village in Martinique,” he continues, “the inhabitants were filled with terror, because a young man had died, and come back just as Quentin has. Lurking — unseeing, unfeeling, driven by a mind outside his body. They talked of him with terror, and they had reason to, because — well, because he was a zombie.”
So, man — Martinique must have been a real hotspot back in the day. The whole island is about the size of New York City, and in the late 1700s, there were only about 100,000 people living there. If you add up all of Barnabas and Angelique’s stories, people in Martinique must have been practicing voodoo 24/7, just chicken bones as far as the eye can see.
Judith asks if there’s any way to stop a zombie. “The inhabitants of Martinique found a way,” Barnabas says. “They burned cypress and myrrh beside the empty coffin.” Then he forgets the rest of the recipe.
Taking a peek at the teleprompter, he explains that the scent soothed the zombie and brought it back to its grave, which was covered with cement. And they say kids don’t learn anything on their year abroad.
But the reminiscences have taken a lot out of Barnabas; the rest of the mission briefing gets a little hazy.
Barnabas: Carl, I’m going to leave you here in charge of the ladies.
Judith: Where are you going?
Barnabas: To the Old House. I know that — that Magda has some scent. And I want to make sure that she has the, the — the myrrh, and the — well, the things that she needs. Now, I want you to stay here, and look after the ladies, take them upstairs, and lock yourself in a room.
And isn’t that just the epitome of all that is Dark Shadows? A puzzled family, a monster on the loose, a vague extemporaneous ritual, and a flurry of Fridspeak. All we need now is a dream sequence, and the Dark Shadows bingo card is complete.
The plan works, obviously, because once you’ve got the cypress and myrrh, the rest takes care of itself. Quentin obediently gets back in the box, and now it’s time to make with the cement.
But Barnabas has a baffling agenda of his own. He’s determined to bring Quentin back to life so that he can die where Barnabas thinks he’s supposed to die, according to the ass-backwards rules that he’s inventing on the spot.
There’s a great “shifty Barnabas” moment as Judith takes charge of the arrangements.
Judith: I must ask you and Carl to perform the final task of pouring the cement over the coffin.
Barnabas: I — I don’t think that will be necessary.
Judith: You said the cement had to be poured over the coffin, to keep the body from rising again.
Barnabas: Well… surely you don’t intend to do that with Quentin.
Judith: Why not? From what you said, it seems to be the only answer.
Barnabas: It is only one answer… but given time, I’ll find another.
Judith: We have no time for that, and I see no need for another answer. Why are you hesitating?
And then she makes an impatient gesture with her hands, like she can’t understand why he’s being such a wuss about this. All you need to do is carry my undead brother’s casket out to the graveyard in the middle of the night, dig a hole, mix some cement, and then fill up the hole while he’s struggling to escape, all without anybody noticing. What part of that do you not understand?
And it’s true that Barnabas’ hesitation is difficult to parse here. His plan for this 1897 trip is to change the circumstances that lead to Quentin’s spirit attacking the family in 1969. He knows that in the original timeline, Quentin died after being sealed up in his room, and it was the act of unsealing that room that let the nightmare loose.
This cement-pouring scenario seems like pretty much the opposite of that, so things ought to be fine; seventy years from now, David is probably sitting up in bed, saying “There’s no place like home.” What is the problem?
But they keep giving Barnabas anguished thinks about whether he’s changing history or not, which encourages the audience to try to puzzle out what’s going on — especially time travelers like us, who have the box set and know how it all works out.
Obviously, in the “original” pre-Barnabas timeline, Quentin didn’t rise as a zombie, because that’s Angelique’s fault, and she’s only here because Barnabas is here. But did Jenny escape and stab Quentin? Or did Barnabas set that chain of circumstances in motion by encouraging Rachel to investigate the tower room? Also, is it really a good idea to teach the family how to practice voodoo ceremonies in the drawing room?
But when we get into these kinds of post-hoc justifications, I have to remind everybody that the Dark Shadows writers do not have an intricate plan for this. They don’t have a diagram pinned to the wall of the writers’ room, with circles and arrows charting how the timelines work. Seriously, they have no idea.
Yesterday, I quoted a bit from David Selby’s memoir My Shadowed Past. Here’s another quote that speaks to this point:
The writers were under constant pressure. Having dinner one night with [writer] Gordon Russell and his wife in their Brooklyn home, Gordon rolled his eyes, talking about having to keep coming up with new twists and turns in the story. He’d laugh if someone asked where a particular story was headed.
“I have no idea. Ask me next week because that’s when I’ll be writing it.”
That’s a common refrain that you hear when anybody talks about the Dark Shadows scripts — we had no idea, things changed all the time, we couldn’t understand it either.
These in-universe continuity questions are fun thought exercises for fans, but if you want to understand the show, then those are not the right questions.
The actual time period that Barnabas is trying to change is 1969, and the actual problem that he’s solving is that they’ve run out of ideas for things to do with the present-day Collins family.
Barnabas isn’t supposed to stop Quentin from appearing in the present day. His real mission is the opposite of that. He’s introducing the audience to this exciting new character, and by the time we go home, we’ll want Quentin to tag along. That’s the only change that really matters, turning a Dark Shadows without Quentin into a Dark Shadows with Quentin.
So that’s why a corpse who’s lying on his back, tucked into a box with his hands resting palms-down across his chest, somehow manages to push his way out through three layers of wood and dirt and concrete, because the only thing more powerful than made-up voodoo is the audience. We have a new favorite character, and like Moroccan princes and other soap fans have done throughout history, we refuse to let him die.
Tomorrow: Exquisite Corpse.
The David Selby quote is from his 2010 memoir, My Shadowed Past, which is available at DavidSelby.com.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Today’s teaser is a little different from the scene at the end of yesterday’s episode. Yesterday, Rachel saw Quentin in the rocking chair while she was still sitting in bed. Today, she gets up and closes the window first.
Judith tells Rachel, “If Carl — if Quentin — if Carl goes in there and says that Quentin isn’t there, will you believe that?”
Carl is left on the floor of the hall at the end of act 1. By the beginning of act 2, Barnabas, Judith and Rachel have brought him all the way downstairs to the drawing room, apparently without waking him.
There’s a squeak when Barnabas tells Judith about the cement.
As Barnabas is giving instructions to Judith and Carl in the foyer, the drawing room doors close by themselves.
We follow Quentin’s footsteps as he walks downstairs to his coffin. At the bottom of the stairs, he walks past a yellow blocking mark.
After a beautiful moment in the foyer with Judith and Barnabas both looking at the teleprompter at the same time, Judith says, “I suggest that we do whatever we have to do to ensure Quentin’s finding — finding — final peace.”
In act 3, when Judith says good night to Rachel in the drawing room, some mist from the cemetery blows through. Rachel tells Barnabas, “Even now, the dawn beginning… a new day over the hill…”
Tomorrow: Exquisite Corpse.
— Danny Horn