“He will look for some secret dark womb that will keep him safe.”
So, it’s yesterday, and Barnabas walks into the weird secret jail cell that he keeps behind a bookcase for some reason, and Dirk is gone! He died, and vamped himself right out of stir. Barnabas and Beth are just looking around, not sure what to do with themselves, surprise twist, big crescendo, credits, the end. You know? Yesterday.
And today, Young Danny tunes into New Jersey Network, and what do I see? Barnabas walks into the Old House, and there’s a dead white lady sitting in a chair who I’ve never seen before. Barnabas says, “No. NO!” and then Carl is knocking at the door, saying, “Barnabas? Let me in, I have to talk to Pansy!” And I’m like, who the fuck is Pansy?
So, surprise, turns out that when they first released these episodes for syndication in the mid-80s, Worldvision mislabeled episode 771. They thought it was from June 1968 instead of ’69, so they played it a year too early, right after the ghost of Reverend Trask bricked up Barnabas in the Old House cellar.
When they got to the actual place in the reruns where this episode should be, they skipped it, so I missed the only episode where Pansy Faye appears. But the characters keep on talking about her for the next five months, which was baffling, because as far as I was concerned, she was never on the show in the first place.
This concludes another chapter in the saga of Young Danny in the World Before the Internet. God, it was a nightmare.
But never mind that, this is a fun episode and I’m pretty sure I watched it at some point, because here we are talking about it.
Beth whimpers, “Oh, Barnabas, I’m frightened!” and Barnabas says, “You mustn’t be. We have no time for that!” Because the situation is that urgent, we can’t afford to stop and have feelings about it.
There’s a vampire loose on the great estate — well, two vampires, actually, but it’s the new one that we’re concerned about. Barnabas’ indiscriminate biting of everyone has made the Collins family suspicious, so he came up with a cunning plan — bite Dirk, turn him into a vampire and then let the authorities take care of him. That’s supposed to take the heat off of Barnabas in some cunning way that I can’t quite put my finger on.
But Dirk has died too soon, go figure, and now he’s out there somewhere wreaking havoc. You and I know that Dirk couldn’t possibly cause more trouble than Barnabas was already going to cause anyway, but try telling Barnabas that.
“I did not expect him dying so soon!” Barnabas says, checking the teleprompter, because we have no time for learning dialogue. “Beth, there is much to be done tonight. His dying was part — not a part of my plan!”
It’s marvelous. Barnabas stares relentlessly at the teleprompter for the entire minute-long scene, and as usual, it gives the proceedings a gorgeous sense of crackpot gravitas.
“To know where Dirk was, where he slept,” he continues, sitting down. “So that when the day came, and the vampire had to be found, you could lead them to him.”
He stands up again. “He will look for some secret dark womb that will keep him safe. We must find that place.” Beth asks how, and he looks at the teleprompter again, because he has absolutely no idea.
And then suddenly Carl rushes in — the middle son of the Collins family, back from one of those retrospective vacations that characters take to explain why they haven’t been on the show for two months. He is all atwitter.
“Oh, what a time I’ve had!” Carl moans. “Oh, Barnabas, you’ve got to do this for me, it’s the only way out! I swear it is!”
He sits down on the sofa. “Oh, you just can’t imagine what a time I’ve had, sitting on that train, not sure of what I was going to do or say. And then I thought — Barnabas! — and it made all the difference. I swear it did!”
And Barnabas says, “Carl, what are you talking about?” because Dark Shadows is amazing.
It’s time for another narrative collision, where they take a different kind of story and toss it into the show, just to see what happens. And this is a particularly disruptive collision — coming out of the blue, and completely derailing a thrilling vampire hunt.
Carl has no idea what he’s interrupting, and he couldn’t care less, because he has his own problems, and he doesn’t pay attention when other people talk.
Fumbling with his bag, Carl pulls out a present for Barnabas. “Fresh from Atlantic City, New Jersey,” he announces, “the queen of the boardwalk cities! Salt water taffy. Oh, wait till you taste it. Just one chew, and you think you’re smelling fresh air blowing in from the sea!”
And that’s it, the vampire hunt is over. Barnabas and Beth try to explain that they’re in the middle of something important, but it’s no use. Once you invoke the boardwalk at Atlantic City, you’ve given up on your action-adventure storyline. At this point, the only thing that the audience wants to see is a vampire serial killer politely chewing on a piece of salt water taffy. We never even knew that was an option before.
Television is a medium that thrives on surprise, where the only thing that matters is keeping the audience glued to the couch, waiting to see what happens next. That’s especially true for daytime soap operas, and even more especially true for Dark Shadows, which as of this moment has become the all-time champion surprise factory.
And the really amazing thing about this scene is that the vampire storyline is being interrupted for a sentimental love story, which is what soap operas are supposed to be about in the first place.
“You see, Barnabas, I just thought this would happen never to me.” Carl grins sheepishly. “Well, you know, I just thought I would go through life being one of the Collins brothers — you know, the unmarried one.”
His voice cracks, and it’s gorgeous and melancholy, and John Karlen really is one of the best actors on the show. We believe in Carl.
Barnabas is perplexed. “You’ve gotten married?”
Carl bristles. “Absolutely not! Why, I wouldn’t do anything like that behind my family’s back, as if I were ashamed of it or something! Oh, you don’t know Carl Collins — or, for that matter, Pansy Faye.”
“Pansy Faye?” Barnabas asks, struggling to keep up.
“Yes. You see, she wants a church wedding. Oh, you know how girls are.”
He doesn’t, of course; the only thing that Barnabas knows about girls is how their necks taste. But he’s getting sucked into this new musical comedy melodrama, because he has no choice. Carl Collins has a fiancee from Atlantic City, waiting just outside the door.
Until now, the official Most Interesting Thing on Dark Shadows has been a werewolf attack, which is guaranteed entertainment. But right now, if they tried to cut to a werewolf fighting with Bathia Mapes at the edge of the cliff on Widow’s Hill, the audience would be squirming in their seats, saying, Oh my god, when is this going to be over? I want to see Carl’s fiancee!
And oh my goodness, would you get a load of this.
Carl makes a formal introduction: “Presenting — direct from her triumphs before Her Imperial Majesty, Queen Victoria of England — that world-famous mentalist and most beguiling songstress, Miss Pansy Faye!”
Then we get a saucy musical number, obviously, because that is now a thing that happens on this television show. Pansy Faye sashays her way into the drawing room, singing her signature theme in a non-convincing Cockney accent.
I’m gonna dance for you! Gonna dance your cares away.
I’ll do the hoochie-coo, and the tara-boom-di-ay!
I’ll sing a happy song, as we dance the whole night long!
When the music begins, I’ll give you some spins,
I’ll even invent a step or two!
So, on with the show! You’ll love it, I know!
Oh, I’m going to dance for yoooo-ooo-ooou!
And then we cut to Barnabas, who’s thinking, What the hell has happened to my life?
This is the act break, too — they play a bonnnng! music cue, like this is a moment of urgent suspense.
And I suppose it is, really, because it is entirely possible that they have just irretrievably changed the format of Dark Shadows. How do you even recover from this?
Barnabas tells Pansy that it’s delightful to meet her, but he can’t stay and chat. Dirk has disappeared mysteriously, and they need to go out and look for him.
Then Carl gets an idea, which he says is the perfect way to introduce Pansy to Judith.
“Honestly, Carl, the way you go on about that sister of yours,” Pansy chuckles, settling herself permanently on the furniture. “I’m sure she’s just as nice as she can be. Sometimes I think you’re afraid of her.”
So that’s how we know where this narrative collision comes from. Carl has an unsuitable chorus girl fiancee, and he’s coming up with a scheme to introduce her to his terrifying older sister. This is a P.G. Wodehouse novel.
Now, if you’re not familiar with P.G. Wodehouse, then what the hell is even the matter with you. He’s one of the great English writers of the 20th century, specializing in comic novels and short stories. In the US, he’s mostly known for his stories about the dim Bertie Wooster and his gentleman’s personal gentleman, Jeeves. He also wrote a long series about Blandings Castle, one of those stately homes where impostors get themselves invited to stay so they can steal a pig, or woo one of the young ladies of the house, or both.
Wodehouse wrote more than 90 books, and at this exact moment in Young Danny’s life, I was absolutely obsessed with him. I had three great passions in high school — Dark Shadows, Doctor Who and P.G. Wodehouse. In my junior year, I did a three-week student exchange program with a school in London, just so I could track down all the Wodehouse books that were out of print in America. I was a pretty intense kid.
And this plot point is straight out of Blandings Castle. Carl is clearly a member of the Drones Club, a soft-minded Freddie or Bingo, who’s gotten mixed up with some dreadful chorus girl. If her name is Mabel or Flossie, then Carl probably isn’t going to marry her at the end of the book; if her name is Sally or Jane, then he probably will; and if she’s named Susan, then she’s probably a detective or a jewel thief. That’s how things work in Wodehouse stories — he wrote the same handful of books over and over, with different names and professions, and they’re worth reading anyway because he’s brilliant.
Carl is trying to get his fiancee accepted by his older sister, one of those formidable Wodehouse matrons called Constance or Dora or Aunt Agatha, and he’s turning to an older relative — Galahad, let’s say, or Uncle Fred — to help him pull it off.
Now, this is one of those narrative collision posts where I can’t actually prove that Sam Hall was thinking of Blandings Castle when he invented Pansy Faye; nobody ever mentions it in the list of classics that Dark Shadows mined for story points. But how else could you account for her? They started with the idea of “Carl’s unsuitable fiancee” and landed on a Cockney music hall singer. She’s not from Bram Stoker or Edgar Allen Poe. She’s not even from New Jersey.
There’s certainly no in-universe explanation for her. How could this woman leave London, and book passage on a ship to Atlantic City in the 1890s? The only way you could transport her here is in a cloud of narrativium, because you feel like stealing from Wodehouse today.
Plus, Pansy tells Beth that she wasn’t sure whether to believe Carl’s description of Collinwood — “like a castle, he says” — and in my opinion that proves everything, case closed. So there.
We’re also short on in-universe explanations for her psychic powers, but that’s par for the course on Dark Shadows. It’s hard to predict which characters will have the uncanny ability to access the spirit world, because the answer appears to be “anybody who tries succeeds.”
We’ve hardly ever seen somebody put together a seance, trance or summoning ritual and not get some kind of information out of it. The only real failure I can think of is Evan and Quentin calling on Satan last month, and even that had a dramatic payoff.
So this is the other half of the narrative collision, the thing that interrupts the musical-comedy interruption, and brings us back to Dark Shadows.
Pansy isn’t just a singer — she also does a mentalist act, closing her eyes and making things up. Carl believes in her powers, of course, so he decides this is the way to introduce Pansy to the family — she’ll help them find the missing Dirk, and Judith will be so grateful that she’ll accept this frightful new sister-in-law.
So Pansy makes contact with the other side, screaming “Dirk Wilkins is dead, and his murderer is in this room!” and then fainting. When she revives, she doesn’t remember what she said, and all of a sudden she realizes that she’s brushed up against something hot.
“That’s really scary, isn’t it?” she says. “I mean, not to remember — that’s not happened to me before.” But the ley lines are so strong around here that even the comic relief characters get drawn into the intrigue. Blandings Castle meets Collinwood in this episode, and it doesn’t win.
Then there’s a Chromakey bat on a stick, and Pansy is dead. Just wait till Young Danny sees this; he’s going to love this episode.
Tomorrow: Nothing Lasts.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Carl suggests that Pansy can find Dirk, Barnabas says, “I don’t see any reason to make Miss Faye do our work for us. I’m sure that we’ll find him, after we look for a few places.”
Carl says that he wants to help find Dirk, and Judith says, “Dirk, you know — Carl, you know nothing about it.”
Behind the Scenes:
Pansy is played (briefly) by Kay Frye. As far as I can tell, this was her first credit; for all I know, she never acted before in her life. You wouldn’t think something like Kay Frye could just happen spontaneously, but there you are. After Dark Shadows, Kay was in a TV-movie called The Coming Asunder of Jimmy Bright. She also had a small role in Shamus, a 1973 Burt Reynolds movie, and in a 1975 ABC Afterschool Special called It Must Be Love Cause I Feel So Dumb. After that, I suppose she just got out of everyone’s hair.
Tomorrow: Nothing Lasts.
— Danny Horn