“This is no time to try to understand anything.”
This is a world of magical foxes, who approach young children and try to convince them to jump into a well. It’s a world where recipe books appear in the strangest places, filled with the most dangerous ideas. A world where stopwatches run backwards, where ancient stones murmur secrets in lost languages, where the walls are smeared with tears and blood and substances no one can explain.
This is a world where anybody — literally anybody — can address any god they can imagine, and get a fair hearing. In this world, “magic” is just another word for interior design, the careful placement of mirrors and candles and arcane symbols scratched into the carpet. Magic is so close to the surface here, it crackles and hums on the back of your hand. It will kill you. It will definitely one hundred percent kill you.
And the only rule that keeps this world turning is: Leave the mundanes alone.
Honestly, it’s not that hard. The simple, non-magical mudbloods want to live in a world of logical explanations. They don’t want to know about all the terrible things on the other side of the veil. They want you to lie. Just give them what they want.
For example: here’s violent lunatic Barnabas Collins, cursed with the standard set of dead-person powers. He can appear and disappear at will, he can hypnotize just about anyone, and he has open access to the sound effects library.
At the moment, he’s trying to save two children in a locked room from being engulfed by magical flames that are mostly not actually there. While their father runs to get an axe — partly to chop through the door, and partly just because it would make him feel better — Barnabas concentrates and wiggles his nose, and transitions right on through the door and into the line of fire.
“Barnabas!” the children exclaim. “Where’d you come from? How’d you get in here?”
“Never mind,” says Barnabas. This is the correct response. And then, just like that, the flames disappear.
“It’s going away!” the children say. “How did you do it, Barnabas?”
“I didn’t do anything,” Barnabas says, and he really didn’t. That’s how strong the ley lines are around this joint, you can trip the circuit breakers without even realizing it.
The kids can’t explain where the fire came from, and Edward’s still outside in the hall, so Barnabas mumbles, “This is no time to try to understand anything,” and unbolts the door.
Edward rushes to embrace his children, and then starts looking around for logical explanations. “How did the fire disappear?” he asks, and all Barnabas can say is that it went out as mysteriously as it started. Then Edward asks where the kids’ mother is, and I’m not even going to bother to repeat the nonsense they come up with for that one.
Urgently, Barnabas says, “I suggest we take them downstairs and call a doctor,” and he says it in such a persuasive way that nobody bothers to ask, A doctor for who?
But Barnabas has been hanging out with Julia and other mythopoetic trickster figures for so long that he’s got a whole sequence of preposterous lies and distractions that he can unfurl at any moment. Edward presses Barnabas to explain how he got through a locked door into the room with the kids, and according to Barnabas, it couldn’t have been simpler.
Barnabas: Well, it occurred to me that, after you went to get the axe, there was a ledge outside the window in that room. I knew there wasn’t time to knock down the door, so I ran to the other end of the corridor and got out that window, and made my way along the ledge to the window in that room.
Edward: You did it amazingly fast.
Barnabas: Well, I wasn’t even conscious of time. There wasn’t a second to spare.
Edward: I see.
And now you see how useful a mundane can be. Barnabas can say things like “I wasn’t even conscious of time,” and Edward just goes right along with it. On Friday, Edward said that he didn’t believe in the supernatural, and now I guess he doesn’t believe in physical reality either. This is an astonishingly helpful attitude, from the perspective of the resident make-believe beasties.
So I can’t account for why Barnabas is trying so hard to sensitize Edward to the supernatural influences in his immediate vicinity.
Edward: Do you have any idea what happened in that room between Laura and the children?
Barnabas: There’s no doubt now about her supernatural powers. You’ve seen evidence of it yourself.
Edward: Yes. I did indeed. I never believed that anything like that could happen. It doesn’t seem possible! And yet, if it is possible, what became of the body?
Barnabas: Edward, the circumstances around her death make it impossible to explain by ordinary logic.
And meanwhile, all the gypsies and witches and werewolves and hobbits and ninjas are all giving Barnabas frantic hand signals, desperately urging him to ixnay, ixnay! Why are you deliberately punching holes in Edward’s belief barrier? Your own continued existence depends largely on the family’s shared delusion that you go to Bangor every single day from sunup to sundown, including weekends and national holidays.
But the most incredible moment in this conversation is when Edward says, “And yet I must find some way of explaining her death,” and Barnabas says, “Why?” as if we’ve untied the tow ropes around Collinwood and drifted away from the basic principles of human civilization. This is the fourth unexplained murder in the last eight weeks — Quentin, Jenny, Dorcas and Laura (and possibly Dirk, who the last time we saw him didn’t look at all well). Apparently death is a thing that just happens on the great estate, and everyone on the outside is just grateful that this rule doesn’t extend past the Collins family’s lawn.
And here’s another example of how people think as soon as they step on the grounds. Quentin went to see his friend Evan earlier this evening, begging for his help in breaking Quentin’s werewolf curse. When they were in Evan’s house, the lawyer said that he didn’t know anything that could help, but then he accompanies Quentin back to Collinwood, and all of a sudden he’s full of bright ideas.
“Quentin,” he says, “you and I are not exactly amateurs when it comes to practicing the so-called black arts. I suggest we conduct a ceremony, and try to summon the Supreme Power of the underworld.”
Quentin’s eyes widen. Even he isn’t this reckless, and he walks around with a garrotte in his pocket. “The Devil? Is that what you’re saying?”
“That’s what I’m saying. What do you have to lose by trying?”
“Nothing, but I –”
“Then let’s try!” Evan purrs. “If we’re successful, then your troubles will be at an end.” which is an opportunity for a  if I ever saw one. Quentin really does have the most irresponsible friends.
And later on, we get to see the results of Barnabas’ dangerous hammering at the belief barrier. Quentin has sent Evan home to practice the dark arts on his own nickel, but Edward buttonholes Quentin for a quiet word about family matters.
Edward: I think the time has come for you and Carl and Judith and I to sit down, and try to reconcile all our differences.
Quentin: And what has brought this on, brother?
Edward: The realization that there is something unnatural about our lives.
Edward: What happened to Laura last night was something that went against the natural order of things.
And Quentin has this adorable reaction, where he looks all sensitive and misunderstood.
Edward: And I want to make sure nothing as freakish and abnormal ever comes into our lives like that again!
Then Edward notices Quentin’s unease.
Edward: What’s the matter with you?
Quentin: Nothing. I’ve got to go, Edward.
Edward: But I haven’t finished speaking to you!
Quentin: You have now, I’m going to be late.
Edward: What is so important, more important than family matters?
Quentin: I don’t think you’d understand if I told you. But you may be interested to know that I’m as interested as you are in the natural order of things.
Then Quentin walks out, to go tell his friend that he’s ready to try Satanism.
And so it’s revealed that Dark Shadows is not actually a soap opera; it’s an early prototype ABC Afterschool Special. That’s why teenagers like it so much — it addresses the difficult issues that they deal with every day.
Quentin knows that he shouldn’t give in to his friend’s peer pressure, but nobody else understands him. If his family knew the truth about his terrible secret, they would turn on him, calling him freakish and abnormal. I can’t tell them, I just can’t! he says, wiping away a tear with one hand and accepting a Daytime Emmy with the other. I bet Jamison’s all broken up about his mother’s death, too; maybe we should go and check.
Tomorrow: Dark Shadows’ Agents of THEY.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
The clock on Evan’s mantelpiece is stuck at 7:00 for the whole episode. We saw similar clock problems at Trask’s school a couple weeks ago, and this week the clock problems get worse. Time is entirely broken in Collinsport; naturally, I blame Vicki.
Quentin says, “Now, Evan — listen, I’m not asking you to perform a marracle.”
Edward tells Barnabas, “As far as I can see, you accomplished something that is humanly impossible.”
There’s a lot of Fridspeak in Barnabas’ conversation with Edward, including “I’m sure that she made the children make contact with her, and she tried to get them to go with her” and “Well, I can only assume that — well, that she died in that room, and consumed by her own flames.”
At the beginning of act 3, when Edward joins Nora in the drawing room, somebody’s shadow can be seen at the top of the stairs, moving around.
Edward asks Nora, “Have you been here sitting, thinking about your mother?”
When Evan pulls his cloak off of the coatrack, the rack wobbles amusingly for several seconds.
Behind the Scenes:
The figure that appears at the door at the end of the episode is played by Marc Ashton, in his only appearance on the show. I don’t know anything about him, and there’s no listing on IMDb or IBDb.
Evan’s place is made from a jumble of parts from other sets. I can’t really identify them, but I’m sure PrisonerOfTheNight could give us a catalogue.
Evan’s black magic speech is also recycled from parts of Angelique’s summoning in episode 627 and Nicholas’ black mass in 632.
Tomorrow: Dark Shadows’ Agents of THEY.
— Danny Horn