Episode 767: Elegy for David C

“David Collins is nobody that exists.”

Back in ’97, Samuel Taylor Coleridge awoke with a splitting headache and a magnificent idea. Grabbing a pen and ink, his hands shaking with inspiration, he scribbled the first words of his masterpiece.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
David Collins is dead!

“That can’t be right,” Coleridge frowned, and scratched out the last four words, passing them along to the next available dreamer.

And so the crossed wires uncrossed, and the message wound its way from 1797 to 1897, whispering itself into Jamison Collins’ receptive ear.

But just imagine: if that mixed message had been traveling in the other direction, young Jamison could have become one of the great poets of his time.

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

This is what Jamison got instead.

767 dark shadows jamison barnabas i ching

Well, it began in the cellar of your house. — My house? The Old House? — Yes. I used to go there a lot before you moved in, to play. But somehow, this was different!

From the case notes of Dr. Julian Hoffman, ABC Daytime:

“It began in the cellar…” It’s true that the 1897 storyline began in that cellar, with Barnabas sitting at a table. But now the I Ching wands are in a heap, in no particular sequence. Barnabas is lost, irretrievable. The boy shakes him, and he doesn’t wake up. Perhaps he never will.

767 dark shadows carolyn roger party

Upstairs, we meet two lost souls — Carolyn and Roger — having a disagreement about throwing David a birthday party. “Birthdays are for people who get older,” Carolyn observes. She has a puppet, for some reason.

“You can’t keep it from him, you know,” Carolyn says. “He’ll have to find out sooner or later.”

“He mustn’t know,” Roger insists. “We mustn’t ever let him know!”

Carolyn consults with her puppet. “He’ll have to find out sometime, won’t he?” The puppet agrees. “Yes! Yes, yes, yes yes yes!” Carolyn breaks into a delighted giggle. Carolyn is extremely disconcerting during this entire sequence.

767 dark shadows david birthday

Elizabeth leads the invalid boy down the stairs, to take his place at the head of the table. They sing him a rousing birthday song:

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

But clearly there’s more than one demon-lover in attendance today. Liz asks David if he wants to cut the cake, but he says, “I can’t, not yet, because Barnabas and Quentin aren’t here.”

This is a sore subject. “Barnabas can’t be here,” Carolyn explains. “He sends his regrets.”

The boy asks, “Do you think he’ll come to my next birthday?” And then everyone looks uncomfortable.

767 dark shadows barnabas cake

From the case notes of Dr. Julian Hoffman, ABC Daytime:

This is the pivotal moment — not just for this dream, but for the entire 1897 storyline. If Barnabas is currently downstairs — a message no one understands, in a bottle nobody can find — and life is still going on upstairs, then that means the worst case scenario has happened:

Time is continuing in 1969.

Last year, when Vicki time traveled to 1795, everybody else in the show obligingly stood stock-still, frozen within one tick of the clock. When Vicki left, it was November 1967, and when she came back it was April 1968, but nobody had actually done anything during that time, except the Beatles and Jim Morrison and NASA and Robert F. Kennedy and the Viet Cong.

The Collins family stood in place, because all the interesting stuff was happening in the late 18th century. And we all assumed that the 1897 time trip would go the same way — Barnabas goes into his I Ching trance, and everybody else is waiting for that one tick of the clock.

But that’s not happening here. Barnabas is gone, and Quentin was never there, and the present-day Collins family carries the burden of staggering through each day, one tick at a time.

This is the show’s worst nightmare: 1969, without the kaiju characters. It is inexpressibly grim.

764 dark shadows quentin barnabas war

Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

767 dark shadows roger avant garde script

And here’s where things start to go severely avant-garde.

David:  And Quentin! Where’s he?

Roger:  Quentin who?

David:  Quentin Collins!

Liz:  Look him up, Roger.

(Roger gets up, and consults a large, leather-bound copy of the script.)

Roger:  Now, let me see… under Q… No. I don’t find a Quentin Collins listed here.

David:  But you know Quentin!

Roger:  But he can’t be here, he’s not listed.

So take that, Pirandello, with your Six Characters in Search of an Author. Two can play at that game.

767 dark shadows puppet carolyn

Liz asks, “What about the cake, David?” and Carolyn goes off on some weird puppet jag.

“I’m hungry, hungry, hungry!” the puppet exclaims. “I’m starving!… to death.

Roger cries, “Carolyn, I forbid you to talk like that!” David asks why, and Liz answers, “This is a surprise party, David.”

The puppet pipes up, “And I know what the surprise is!”

Frightened, David says, “What is it? Tell me!”

“Mmm-mm,” says the puppet. “I’m forbidden!”

767 dark shadows quentin david dream

Now, I remember watching this for the first time on New Jersey Network, when I was fourteen years old. Obviously, I was never really scared by anything in Dark Shadows, because I was fourteen and it isn’t actually very scary, but this dream sequence creeped the ever-loving hell out of me.

For one thing, David is just lost and pathetic. A little boy, dying, and everyone tells him lies — denying him even the comfort and fellowship that a devastating truth could bring in its wake. Roger is only thinking about the rules, and Liz is hardly there at all, and then there’s Carolyn, a ghoulish older sibling who’s openly mocking the dying kid, under a blood-red sky.

I’m hungry, hungry, hungry! I’m starving… to death. That stayed with me, I can tell you that much. That line would pop into my mind when I least expected it, and I’d shudder, just thinking about this scene. Why is Carolyn being so horrible? Is this the way she really acts, when she doesn’t think the cameras are on?

767 dark shadows quentin green

And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

767 dark shadows quentin david dream hair

From the case notes of Dr. Julian Hoffman, ABC Daytime:

So what is this “Quentin” that appears at the make-believe birthday party? He isn’t Quentin as we know him — in fact, the “Quentin” that we first met now feels like an entirely separate character. The only thing he has in common with Quentin is the facial hair. It’s no wonder Roger doesn’t recognize him in the script.

Maybe the ghost of “Quentin” that we saw a few months ago wasn’t really Quentin at all — he was an echo of an alternate future, a prophecy, telling us that 1969 is dying. If we don’t run away with Barnabas into the past, then these ticks of the 1969 clock will leave us hungry, hungry, hungry.

In 1897, the ratings are amazing — better than ever, and still going up — but on the other side of the clock, 1969 is dying. The sun is going dark. We’re watching entropy inaction.

767 dark shadows david lost

The lost boy says, “Do you think Barnabas will come to my next birthday?”

“It’s hard to make plans in advance,” Elizabeth says. “So many things to do!” And if that isn’t the mission statement for Dark Shadows, then I don’t know what is.

So this is what they’re doing, here on the obverse: a meditation on April Third, wondering what’s going to happen to them all. 1897 is and will always be their most popular storyline — but what do they find when they return to 1969? An uncared-for garden.

Nobody is paying attention to these characters, and they’re drifting away. By the time Barnabas comes back, triumphant, there may be nothing left of the family he worked so hard to save. Even now — at the series’ highest point — the seeds of its destruction are sown. After all, you can’t have a highest point unless things start to go downhill, and they do.

As Carolyn’s puppet might say: on April 3rd, 1971, Dark Shadows is going to a surprise party, and I know what the surprise is.

767 dark shadows barnabas honeydew

Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

And now, a word from the man from Porlock.

Tomorrow: Number One with a Bullet.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In the reprise of yesterday’s cliffhanger, Barnabas isn’t wearing his overcoat.

When Carolyn says, “It’s ridiculous, having a party for him,” someone in the studio coughs.

David asks, “Do you think Barnus — Barnabas will come to my next birthday party?”

When Jamison finishes his story, Barnabas asks, “Was all that — was all that was to the dream?”

A moment later, when Jamison gets up from the couch, there’s the sound of glass breaking, possibly a bulb exploding.

Tomorrow: Number One with a Bullet.

767 dark shadows birthday puppet

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

31 thoughts on “Episode 767: Elegy for David C

  1. Dark Shadows isn’t really very scary? Try watching it in an altered state of mind, like a bout of the flu, or after that extra drink that you shouldn’t have had that makes you queasy and profoundly sick, or that extra puff off a joint that makes you float a bit too freely when you’re frankly a bit too uneasy about floating, or god forbid when you’re tripping. Just try any of these scenes where you have wandered a bit too far from that mental anchor that would otherwise help you to keep your thoughts and outlook above it all. No, Dark Shadows isn’t scary–it’s friggin’ crazy!

    As for where the show is in terms of the compass of time. Well, perhaps 1969 was rather boring after all, particularly if like Dan Curtis you were born in 1927. Maybe 1897 was more fun, because you could be like a kid again and (re)invent your own world without having to actually be caught up in it for all its mundane boredom and idealistic disappointments. The more Dark Shadows goes along, the less time Dan Curtis wants to spend in the present day. In 1966 he’s there all the way, down to the last detail, chasing that filigreed fountain pen all over the place. But 1967, he can’t handle the whole year, he has to go back to 1795, and spends the first quarter of 1968 there as well. In 1968, his mind is all jumbled, and once he gets it clear he has to go to 1897 beginning by summoning ghosts who will eventually take him there, and spend most of 1969 there as well. He’ll give the new decade a try, but where does he pass the first part of 1970? In an antique shop. More of 1970? Not good enough–gotta make it somehow “parallel” or something. Back to present day 1970? Let’s just destroy Collinwood and get it over with, who cares? Let’s go to 1840 instead. Then, 1971? In between commercial breaks in one episode, he doesn’t even want to know about 1971 it’s so boring. Back to the 1840s until they just take the show off the air.

    Dark Shadows… was an experiment after all. When Curtis met with that network executive at the outset, the exec was willing to give Curtis 13 weeks, but Curtis wanted 26 weeks and got it. Under the threat of cancellation, Curtis decides he’ll just go out with a bang and have fun, bring Universal Monsters to daytime television, what the hell? Then it unexpectedly becomes a hit, and then the show becomes like a pop group and so you just go with it and see how long you can keep that top ten hit machine running. But like the Monkees, the Doors, the what have you, they’ll hit that zenith at some point, but it can’t last forever. The only option after that is self-parody and mediocrity.

    But Dark Shadows, not particularly scary? Well, maybe not. Maybe we can kick back and have a laugh about it, now that it’s all those years ago. But definitely still edgy! As pointed out above, next time you find yourself in a particularly altered and vulnerable state of mind, try having a viewing of this episode in particular, at the craziness of it all, as your mind melds with these scenes that have suddenly become all too crazy and ever present in your head.

    You wouldn’t be able to live in 1969, even if you tried. It would just be too crazy….

    1. Great comments, Prisoner! And I agree- this is a super scary episode! Terrific performances all around, and the staging/lighting/filming contribute to the eeriness. I was 11 when I first saw this in DS’ first run. Creeped me out then and still creeps me out now – all without influence of fever or drugs!

  2. Man, i loved this episode, and Nancy Barrett – who’s no slouch as a performer in general, in fact she’s one of the most reliable actors on the show who always seems to give 100% – delivers a brilliantly creepy version of Carolyn. That entire scene around the table, with the puppet, really weirded me out. I mean, DS is throwing out curve balls all the time anyway, but this whole thing is so apropos of WTF.

    I think i feel the sudden need to watch this episode again…

    1. Often a puppet can express things that the puppet-holder cannot. This is a standard gag among ventriloquists: the dummy says off-color stuff and the ventriloquist goes, “Hey, it’s not me, it’s the dummy.

      Here something very creepy is going on with the gag. Carolyn, instead of the puppet, is saying the creepy things.

  3. Another possible “blooper”: It’s 1969 yet Josette’s portrait is over the fireplace rather than Barnabas’s. (Granted, it is a dream but everything else in the set seems redressed for the “present”)

    This is my second-favorite Violet Welles’s dream sequence. I love how she embraces the theatrical conventions.

    I think DS has the ability to be “creepy,” which is more interesting to me than “scary.” I think even DOCTOR WHO of the time was “scarier” (behind the sofa) with its monsters.

  4. I love the Mad Tea Party comparison to this scene – I didn’t remember them showing anything from the current family when they were in 1897 – I know the DS Revival series showed the family in the present and 1700’s plots concurrently – which made the story more coherent because you got to see what was happening to poor Phyllis Wick at the same time you saw what was happening to Vicki – great post PrisoneroftheNight!

  5. I totally agree – this was a creepy dream sequence. A few other creepies: (1) In 1967 when Barnabas terrorizes Julia while she’s alone at Collinwood. (Ron Sproat adapted this from an episode of the show DS replaced, called “Never Too Young.” He was a writer on that show, too.) (2) When Megan is alone in the antique shop in 1970. She is frightened that someone is coming to kill her, and Marie Wallace turns in a great performance. (3) In 1970, Liz has the dream that turns her into a Leviathan follower – it’s set in a fun house at a carnival, and was a totally different setting for a DS sequence.

  6. Does the disjointed dialog in this episode remind anyone else of odd 20th century theater? I wonder if Violet Wells had Harold Pinter’s “The Birthday Party” in mind when she wrote this episode, which is after all about a birthday party. The creepy puppet makes me think of Samuel Beckett too. In any case, a nicely disturbing bit of theater, especially for “disposable” day-time television.

  7. Wow. An episode of “Twin Peaks!”

    I must say this dream episode has become an instant favorite. It was bizarre, and I’m not entirely sure what it was all about, but I liked it. Carolyn and her puppet rule.

  8. The credits list each actor playing his or her 1897 role, but, actually, they all play dual roles in that Joan Bennett plays both Judith and Elizabeth, Louis Edmonds both Edward and Roger, etc. Even Barnabas – though he has no lines in the dream sequence – and Quentin appear as both 1897 and 1969 versions. (Quentin as his ghost self and Barnabas as his non-vampire self, in a trance in his basement.) So everyone in the cast plays a dual role.

  9. Cultural/copyright note: Dan Curtis probably had to pay the people who claimed to own the rights to “Happy Birthday” for its use in this episode. For about half a century, a company maintained that you had to pay them if you sang this birthday song either on TV, film, radio or even in a restaurant. (That’s why so many restaurants have their very own lame song for patrons celebrating their birthdays.) Then a couple of years ago a judge ruled that the company didn’t own the rights and hadn’t for decades, and they had to pay back everybody who ever paid them.

  10. I just finished watching this episode for the first time, and it’s immediately jumped into Top 5 favorite episodes of Dark Shadows. I love the psychedelic side trip back to 1969, and I love how Quentin’s ghost is playing the sympathetic role in David’s dream. Good stuff all around.

  11. There’s a little blooper after David blows out his candles: everyone’s disappeared during his close up, and when he starts yelling “where did everyone go?” the camera pulls out again to show the empty chairs. But it pulls out a bit too far, and Quentin briefly comes into shot in the right; the camera quickly pushes in a bit to hide him, but the edge of his jacket is still visible.

  12. Let’s see, Barnabas knows that in Jamison’s dream, Quentin’s ghost explicitly says that he might have been able to avoid the worst had he known more about three particular things. So of course he doesn’t tell Quentin about those things, or encourage Jamison to tell him, even when one of them happens.

  13. I sure as hell wasn’t expecting anything like that. Kudos to whomever thought of using the puppet – that pushed the scene from weird to totally insane.

  14. At first when Jamison started to tell Barnabas the dream I groaned during the dissolve and said to myself, can’t they ignore the “show don’t tell” rule just this once? But that was a reaction based on all the boring dream sequences that have gone before. This one was delightful and now I know we have Violet Welles to thank for it. When I first started watching Dark Shadows I used to get baked for every episode. I remember remarking to my partner at the time that this show was written for stoners by stoners. This episode may well have been the one that sparked that comment, now that I think about it.

  15. Time is continuing in 2021, too. In a little over a month from when I type this, it will be the 50th anniversary of the last episode of Dark Shadows, the original series. I’ve already seen the last episode with 1971 Barnabas, Stokes, Julia and Elizabeth. At the moment, Danny is writing about episode 1224, inching closer to 1245. I’m doing my own time traveling between the high point (1897) and the low point (1841PT) of Dark Shadows, if 1841 parallel time can even still honestly be called Dark Shadows. I’m also time traveling backwards in my own life to the last time I watched these episodes, when they were first broadcast in 1969. This episode is quite familiar and as weird as I remembered. I view it differently now, after being stuck (luckily not in a basement) for almost a year. I wonder who will be able to be at my next birthday party?

  16. You can tell that David’s birthday party was a fantastic dream, because something happened that never happens in real life; Roger, Caroline and Elizabeth all spontaneously sang “Happy Birthday” IN THE SAME KEY.

  17. Just got done watching this episode for the first time. I was riveted. Truly one of the most bizarre and disturbing episodes in the entire series.

  18. Incredible episode, absolutely incredible blog entry. Quentin’s three points had us buzzing like office workers at the water cooler. Your heading illustration is perfect.

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