“I have a small nagging wonder at your even being here.”
When we last left Quentin, he was strapped to a table under a slowly descending swinging axe, not at all in danger of being brutally killed. Quentin was trapped in this entirely non-lethal predicament by Aristede, who rigged up some “Pit and the Pendulum” machinery, and then left him here to not die.
The clock was not winding down and time was not running out, and the pendulum was not inching ever closer to our hero. It was inching, yes. I will concede the inching. But towards what?
Because let’s face it, Quentin’s going to be fine. This is a man who survived being buried under several feet of concrete. He’s been shot, stabbed, deceived, disinherited, cursed, cooked, choked and criticized, and here he is, totally and self-evidently fine. Quentin Collins is death and taxes.
In fact, Dark Shadows loves him so much that they brought the whole show all the way to the 19th century just to meet him, and they’ve extended their trip another four months beyond what they planned, so they could hang out some more. Everybody loves Quentin; he’s become the entire focus of the show. Granted, there are multiple ongoing prophecies about his death, but none of them involve machinery borrowed from the Edgar Allen Poe version of Batman.
Besides, all the laws of narrative tell us that nobody ever dies from a countdown. If there’s a Friday cliffhanger where somebody’s going to die in exactly X minutes, then it’s guaranteed that the situation will be resolved in X-minus-one minutes and 59 seconds. That’s the whole point of a countdown.
This can’t possibly be the way that Quentin Collins goes down. God help us, we’re watching a show where this insane scenario is actually mundane.
So let’s go and look at something important, like Barnabas and Angelique having a conversation about their relationship.
“Why didn’t you tell me about this Aristede?” he demands. She says, “We’re not in the habit of confiding in one another, Barnabas,” and he whirls around and snaps, “But you should have told me THIS!’
The “this” that they’re referring to, not that it matters, is that the man who left Quentin in his unthreatening trap has demanded that Angelique bring him the legendary Hand of Count MacGuffin, and Angelique doesn’t feel like dealing with it.
“Barnabas,” she says, “wouldn’t it be safer, just to give him what he wants? For once, not to have some elaborate plot that might not work out?”
“How human you suddenly sound,” he observes, and it’s not a compliment. Acting like a human is not an advantage on this program. Dark Shadows is absolutely saturated with elaborate plots that might not work out. The show itself is just one long elaborate plot, and here it is, not working out.
“I wish I could trust you,” Barnabas sighs. There’s a long, complicated and desperately sad history contained in those six words, multiple lifetimes worth of terrible mistakes. But the amazing thing is that you don’t even have to know that in order to understand the scene. You could pick it up right here, with those words, and you’d be fine.
A soap opera is designed for continuous onboarding of new viewers, and it’s easy to imagine the housewife or teenager or pot smoker tuning in for the very first time — late to the party, but absolutely up to date on the subject of how to enjoy this conversation. That’s why Angelique is still standing in the same room as Barnabas, after all these years of sorcery and special effects and betrayal, because these two characters hum with tension whenever they’re together.
Angelique looks at the floor. “Just leave me out of it,” she shrugs.
“I can’t!” says Barnabas. “I have a small nagging wonder at your even being here.”
Hard as it is to believe, the scene actually continues after that line; the network doesn’t burst into flames and burn to the ground. They just keep talking.
“You can control this Aristede if you wanted to,” he says. “You could make him lead you to Quentin.” She shakes her head, and he sneers. “You expect me to believe that, when you have made me what I am?”
“Barnabas, Aristede has a medallion!” she cries, because that is a problem in her world. “I don’t understand it, I have no control over it!”
“Why would he have a medallion?” says Barnabas. “He’s not from the gypsies! Julianka is — well, is their effort to get that Hand.”
And a newcomer could still keep up, even after that blithering line reading. You don’t really have to know what they’re talking about, because it wouldn’t make sense even if Jonathan Frid had a copy of the actual script. This isn’t dialogue, it’s just sound effects that they’re using to provide context for their facial expressions.
The only important thing is that these characters are speaking in an urgent tone of voice, and they’re one hundred percent committed to whatever it is that they think they’re supposed to say. This is incoherence, locked in a tense standoff with the impossible to understand.
Barnabas says that Angelique should keep her appointment with Aristede, but she can’t take the Hand with her.
“Barnabas,” she protests, “if I have no power over him, neither will you!”
“I have advantages that you do not.” He frowns. “Now, is his medallion in the form of a cross?”
Angelique says no, and then she puts the box back on the table. He’s won this round.
“How arrogant you are,” she chuckles, crossing to the other side to make him stop upstaging her for five seconds. “It must please you very much to have saved the day when I cannot!”
“I am saving him for his sake,” Barnabas declares, looking off to stage left for some reason. “Not for yours, or for mine. But for him, and David Collins, and Chris Jennings. They are my reasons.”
He turns away, and says, “And now we must start planning.” So off they go, cooking up another elaborate plot that might not work out, just like all the others. How human they suddenly don’t sound.
Tomorrow: Meanwhile, in the Present.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Barnabas has another fumble in the woods, with Aristede.
Aristede: Who are you?
Barnabas: Who are you, is more to the question.
Aristede: Stay away from me!
Barnabas: You’ll stay here.
(He looks at the teleprompter)
Barnabas: I would willingly go, but you will not let me.
(Another pause. He checks it again.)
Barnabas: If you told me what Quentin is, you would be much better off.
Also, when Barnabas saves Quentin by pushing the table away at the last moment, the sequence ends with a shot of the axe striking the table — a demonstration that the next swing would have been fatal for Quentin. There are a couple problems with that. First, the swinging axe was golden-colored, not the dull gray metal in this shot. More importantly, the axe was about to cut Quentin’s flesh, not the table. It was swinging maybe a foot above the top of the table when Barnabas pushed Quentin away. For this shot to make sense, Quentin would have to be completely flat.
Tomorrow: Meanwhile, in the Present.
— Danny Horn