“No, Judith — you’re not mad, you’re just… burdened.”
Reverend Trask is comforting his distressed wife. “Now, Evan here has a paper that will lift a great deal of that burden from you, as soon as you sign it.”
But Judith is too upset to focus. “I can’t read anything right now!”
“There’s no need to read it, Judith,” her husband explains. “Just sign it.”
She says that she needs to talk to her brother Edward first, but the Reverend and his lawyer-accomplice shake their heads. Edward, they say, is dead. He’s not, actually — at least, he looked okay, the last time I saw him — but Trask and Evan seem pretty sure about it.
“Why can’t I remember?” Judith cries. “What’s happening? Everything is going to pieces, I want it to stop!”
“Judith, it will stop,” Trask says, “when you sign the paper.”
“Sign the paper,” Evan agrees.
Judith turns to look at Trask’s dead wife Minerva, who’s just sitting there, glaring at her with undisguised loathing.
“She keeps staring at me,” Judith mutters. “She’s watching me, and waiting. What is she waiting for?”
Trask insists, “Judith, sign the paper. That is the only way I can make you stop seeing this phantom that doesn’t exist!” He picks up the pen, and puts it into her hand. “Sign the paper, Judith. Sign the paper!”
Now, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, but I’m starting to get the feeling that they want Judith to sign the paper. This has all the earmarks of being one of those sign-the-paper parties.
And to be honest, Judith wants to sign the paper, because this is Joan Bennett’s ticket to summer vacation. Judith signs the paper, and then she gets shuffled off to a sanitarium for however long it takes for Joan to recuperate after being on Dark Shadows for another year.
And when Judith goes, Minerva goes too. She glares her last glare, and then retires to the world of the dead, to join Dirk, Rachel, Carl, Pansy, Laura, Edith and Jenny. And we might as well add Sandor and Angelique to that list; they’re not dead, but they might as well be, for all the screen time they’ve had.
There’s been a fairly thorough house-cleaning lately — in fact, if we count Judith, Sandor and Angelique among the fallen, and we might as well, then Dark Shadows has killed off half of the cast that they started with in 1897. It’s pretty brutal. They only have eleven functional cast members now, and some of them are Tim Shaw.
The thing is, they didn’t realize they were going to stay in 1897 this long. Barnabas used the I Ching at the beginning of March, to pass through the doors of perception and wash up on the shores of the late 19th. The plan was that he’d stay here for about four months, wrapping up sometime in mid-July.
Barnabas would meet Quentin, they’d battle some enemies together, and Quentin would acquire the werewolf curse. By late June, Barnabas would be desperately trying to lift Quentin’s curse, when he’s suddenly exposed as a vampire, and hunted by the family. Ducking and weaving heroically, Barnabas would discover the cure for lycanthropy, avert Quentin’s death, and come home in triumph, saving David and Chris. Then after that, it says “something mysterious happens” and the rest of the paper is tic-tac-toe games and some spilled coffee. The Dark Shadows writers never really got the hang of making plans.
And this is actually a great example of why they didn’t bother, because it’s the summer of 1969 and the world is full of surprises.
Quentin is a hit. I mean, they were expecting him to be popular — they have eyes, of course Quentin’s going to be popular — but they didn’t expect him to be “hit record on the Billboard Hot 100” popular. They’d already lived through the crazy Beatlemania-style reaction to Jonathan Frid back in May ’68, but now they’ve got two monster heart-throbs, and the ratings just keep going up.
So it gradually dawns on them, sometime in — I’m going to say May, for the sake of argument — it dawns on them that their plan for the end of 1897 is a terrible idea. Barnabas is going to cure Quentin from his werewolf curse and then go back to the 1960s, leaving Quentin behind? They should absolutely one hundred percent not do that.
That means they need to do some course-correction. The first couple weeks of June are very clearly pointing in the direction of the original plan, and then it suddenly swerves, and heads into unknown territory.
Now, I don’t actually have any backstage knowledge about this at all. My grand unified theory of What Happened to the Original 1897 is based entirely on the clues in the show. Let’s do a little storyline forensics.
We’ll start with the end of May, when the original plan is in effect, heading towards a mid-July conclusion. Magda has cursed Quentin, and made him a werewolf. But Beth reveals the big secret: Jenny really does have twin babies, Quentin’s children, who are living in town with Mrs. Fillmore. Magda realizes that her curse will be passed on to her own sister’s children, and now she wants to lift the curse.
Barnabas is late to this party — he spends May fighting with Laura and Dirk, and by the end of the month, he doesn’t even realize that the strange animal in the woods is a transformed Quentin. But he finds out that Beth bought a silver pentagram from Ezra Braithwaite — a clue that takes us all the way back to February, before he came to 1897. The mysterious child’s coffin that he found buried in the woods, with a pentagram around the dead boy’s neck — it’s connected to Quentin, of course, because it’s 1969 and everything is connected to Quentin.
Beth refuses to tell Barnabas anything, so he bites her, and then she spills the whole story for him. He’s all caught up now — werewolf, two kids, the curse, the whole deal. And that’s the end of May.
At the beginning of June, we get the first crack, where you can see them heading towards the story that never happens. Continuity errors are just prophecies that never came true, and the first unforced error is in episode 766.
Magda: I did think of someone who might be able to help us. An old woman who lived in the forests near Ozhdon. The one who turned the Count Petofi into a werewolf. That old woman knew more about these things than anyone in the world, I swear it.
Barnabas: But she was an old woman when you were a child!
Magda: It’s true. She’s dead now, for sure. But she had a daughter — Julianka! That was her name. If that daughter is alive, maybe she knows something of what her mother knew.
Barnabas: Well, where is she now?
Magda: Ah, who knows for a gypsy, the world is wide for us. But she is a member of the Romana family, and not long ago, there were some in Boston…
So that’s the setup for the third act of 1897. Magda will be off the show for two weeks, traveling to Boston, and when she comes back, she’ll bring the old gypsy’s daughter, Julianka, and she’ll be able to remove the curse.
“Well, let’s hope that she’s not too far away,” Barnabas frets. “We have no idea how much time Quentin has, before his destiny catches up with him. It could be tonight, it could be tomorrow, it could be any time. We must act quickly!”
And it’s funny that he says that, because tomorrow is going to be even more conclusion-focused.
Here’s the next day, episode 767. This is the one where Jamison tells Barnabas about his strange, prophetic dream.
In Jamison’s dream, David Collins — his unborn grandson — is having a morose last birthday party, before he dies of being possessed by a ghost. David’s father and aunt are shushing each other and making insincere excuses, while his apparently mad cousin Carolyn drops hints that he’s dying.
It’s all terribly bleak, and the only thing that perks the party up is the late arrival of Quentin’s ghost, who’s a strange admixture of the fearsome silent Quentin of 1969 and the sexy rogue with hurt feelings who we’ve grown to love.
A dream sequence is always a good opportunity to drop some new knowledge on the audience, and Quentin delivers the bad news.
David: I don’t want to die!
Quentin: Well, nobody wants to die. But you can’t pick and choose, David. I didn’t want to die either. But I had to.
Quentin: Three things happened. If I could have changed any one of them — if I could have known what they meant, while they were happening — maybe I wouldn’t have died when I did.
David: What three things?
Quentin: The first was the discovery of a silver bullet at Collinwood.
David: A silver bullet?
Quentin: Mm-hmm. And then the one person who could have helped me — who could have kept me alive — was murdered.
David: Who was it?
Quentin: I can’t tell you everything. Not yet.
David: What was the third thing?
Quentin: Ah. That — that was the worst. The one person in this world that I truly loved turned against me. After that happened, there was practically no time left for Quentin Collins.
And they even take care of the first step by the end of the episode. Quentin finds the silver bullet — dropped by Magda, when she was werewolf-hunting the previous evening — and he gets all upset about it, blaming Barnabas and losing faith that he’ll ever be cured.
Once they set up this “there were three things” motif, they have to build on it, from one step to another. That means step 2 should happen before the audience forgets all about step 1 — let’s say, in two weeks, when Magda brings Julianka to town. The old gypsy’s daughter is obviously “the one person who could have helped me.” Magda was just saying yesterday that Julianka was Quentin’s only hope, a prize worth a couple weeks’ round trip to Boston.
Julianka will try to help Quentin, but then she’ll be murdered somehow, and Barnabas will say, Aha, this is thing two — reminding the audience about the three things. This gives us a couple weeks’ countdown to the one person in the world (Jamison) that Quentin truly loved (ie, Jamison) turning against him (wonder who that’s going to be, oh right, Jamison). And then Quentin’s destined to die, but Barnabas saves him somehow, ta-dah, end of storyline. So there you have it, a nice clean four-month story that gets us back to 1969 just in time for whatever they’re going to do next.
We’ve got a couple weeks to kill before Magda comes back with the old gypsy’s daughter, so we spend them systematically exterminating the secondary cast members.
Episode 770: Dirk dies, and rises as a vampire.
Episode 771: Carl’s fiancee Pansy is killed by Dirk.
Episode 772: Tim poisons Minerva.
Episode 774: Dirk attacks Tim, Rachel and Judith.
Episode 775: Judith shoots Rachel.
Episode 776: Edward stakes Dirk.
Episode 780: Barnabas kills Carl. Edward and Trask accuse Barnabas of being a vampire, and the vampire hunt begins.
And it’s okay for them to indulge in this blood orgy, because pretty soon we’re going to head back to the 60s, and we’ll find Mrs. Johnson and Ned Stuart and Willie Loomis and Maggie Evans and Professor Stokes, all of them alive and ready to get going with whatever the next story’s going to be. It’s not like they’re going to have another four months in 1897 with half the cast dead and the main character hiding in a cave.
Except that’s exactly what they have, as of mid-June. It’s episode 778, and Magda comes back from Boston with a surprise.
Barnabas: You’re back sooner than I expected. What does that mean? Good news or bad?
Magda: Good news! Oh, very, very good.
Barnabas: Then you’ve located the daughter of the old gypsy!
Magda: No, but it don’t matter now.
Barnabas: What do you mean?
Magda: I went to Boston, and I asked King Johnny Romana where she was. He said she was dead. Dead, like her mother. The one who cursed Count Petofi.
Barnabas: I was afraid of that.
Magda: King Johnny Romana knew a way — a sure way of ending the curse!
Barnabas: And what is that?
Magda: You will see, Barnabas. The end of Quentin’s curse rests right here, in this box.
So that’s when the original conclusion of 1897 went out the window, Magda coming back with a body part instead of a whole lady. Julianka is dead, and now Barnabas is on the run, stuck in a cave and doing a one-man Addams Family revival.
And then we have a couple weeks of Hand shenanigans, filling time while they figure out what’s supposed to happen next. For one thing, it’s time for Joan’s summer vacation, so after Judith and Trask’s wedding, he immediately begins plotting to send her away to a sanitarium. And once she signs that damn paper, they can start introducing the new cast members who’ll keep the story running for another four months.
There’s one surprise guest after another all week, and probably the most surprising of all is Julianka, who they just said was dead three weeks ago. She looks amazingly healthy, considering how dead she was in June, and she’s also a lot younger than we expected.
Julianka: My grandmother — my great-grandmother — began the curse, when she put it on Count Petofi. She passed the secret on to my grandmother, who passed it on to my mother, who passed it on to me. I am the only one who knows. And I cannot reveal it.
That slip — “my grandmother — my great-grandmother” — obviously, it’s just a blooper, like all the other line flubs on the show, but there’s something beautiful and revealing about it. Three weeks ago, Julianka was the old woman’s daughter, and suddenly she’s the great-granddaughter. It’s no wonder she finds it hard to explain her own backstory; it keeps changing.
So that’s how quickly things have been changing backstage.
June 2nd: Julianka is the old woman’s daughter, our only hope.
June 18th: Julianka is dead, sorry.
July 7th: Julianka is alive, and now she’s the great-granddaughter.
Three versions of the same character, in five weeks. That’s why long-term planning on soap operas is a waste of time.
Now that they’re changing direction and keeping the show in 1897 for a while, there’s some urgent repair work that needs to get done. For one thing, Julianka needs to die in order to be Quentin’s long-delayed “second thing.” That means we’ll have to remind people that the first thing happened over a month ago, although by now “the discovery of a silver bullet at Collinwood” is a minor detail with absolutely no significance.
But the crucial problem is the vampire hunt. Barnabas has been hiding out from the Collins family for weeks now, and it kind of feels like they’ve forgotten about him completely.
They need Edward and Trask focused on sending Judith to the sanitarium, so “our cousin is a creature of the living dead who’s killed several members of our family” fades into the background for a while. The original plan was for the vampire hunt to happen at the climax of the saving-Quentin story, a couple of thrilling weeks that would end with Barnabas escaping back to the present day.
But now we’ve got weeks and weeks sprawling out in front of us, and you can’t leave the main character of the show hiding in a cave all that time… Can you? I mean, Ron Sproat could have done it — he would have absolutely adored it — but the writing team has moved beyond Sproat’s infatuation with locking up main characters in rooms.
So what we’ve got here is a show that’s prematurely executed half of the cast, and a main character who’s only allowed to interact with maybe four other people on the whole show. This is not a promising start for several more months of thrilling storytelling; something has got to be done. And we can get started on that project, as soon as Judith signs the paper and gets out of the way. Sign the paper, Judith!
Tomorrow: Dances with Wolves.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the reprise, Quentin sits by the gramophone and recites the lyrics to his hit single, “Shadows of the Night (Quentin’s Theme)”, and messes up two lines. First, he says “Shadow of the Night,” a mistake that you would think was impossible to make. Then he finishes the first verse with “calling me to you” instead of “calling you to me”.
Quentin approaches the Chromakey Minerva, who vanishes. As Judith says, “You saw her!” the camera cuts to a shot with the boom mic visible at the top left.
At the start of act 2, when Evan and Trask rush into the drawing room, you can see a camera with the teleprompter moving around the foyer.
This is a good one: as Evan begins his black mass ritual, a member of the crew runs in front of the camera, right through the scene currently in progress. As he goes past, he snarls, “Jesus, lady — what…” and then he’s gone.
In the final scene, as Quentin watches Aristede approach, the boom mic swings into view at the top left.
Tomorrow: Dances with Wolves.
— Danny Horn