“Where would you go, with all that power in your suitcase?”
Once upon a time, there was a television show called Dark Shadows, and I swear to God it is getting crazier every day. We have now entered the phase of the show where absolutely anything is on the table.
For example: a man who collects magical artifacts is visiting a wolf man and a gypsy witch in their haunted house, when suddenly they rip off his hand and discover that he’s actually a mad god from a fairy tale kingdom that nobody knows how to spell. And then the conversation starts to get a little weird.
“Your hand, sir,” a dazed Quentin says, politely proffering the twist-off hand he just pulled out of the guy’s empty socket.
“No, don’t give it to him!” cries Magda the gypsy. “He is Count Petofi, demon from hell! One hundred years ago, he was a werewolf! One hundred years ago, they cut off his hand as payment for the cure!”
The man chuckles. “I do admit to knowing something of the strange, sad story of Count Petofi. Do you know, Mr. Collins, that the Count was the last recorded man to own a unicorn?”
Yeah, of course he was, thinks Quentin. That news bulletin from Narnia fits right in with the rest of my day.
“The saddest morning in the late Count’s life,” says the mad god from the forest kingdom of Ozhden, “was when he awoke after a night of a full moon, to find his unicorn had been killed by a wolf.”
And he means it, too. We are now watching a television show that includes unicorns.
You know, it was only six months ago that the writing staff was furiously arm-wrestling over whether the show was getting too silly. Sam Hall wanted a show where the Devil created the Bride of Frankenstein, animated by the spirit of a French Revolution psychopath, and Ron Sproat wanted a show where occasionally a character would see a ghost. Hall won, Sproat left the show, and now we have unicorns.
When Dark Shadows started, it was a show about canneries, governesses and manslaughter charges. Now it’s about magic beanstalks, chupacabras and phantom kangaroos.
This is a moment where the narrative collisions pile up in amazing new patterns. Magda is a gypsy from the Universal Monsters films, which take place somewhere on the Franco-Hungarian border, in a hazy twilight netherworld that basically shakes out as “somewhere more European than here” and “some time earlier than now”.
Transplanting Dracula and The Wolf Man to New England, as Dark Shadows does, means that there’s an 18th-century gypsy caravan parked outside Boston, four years before the Red Sox started playing at Fenway Park.
Now, they say that Count Petofi is from the Forest of Ozhden, or something like that — I don’t know how you spell it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was different in every script, so good luck finding it on a map. It sounds like Ozhden to me, which is vaguely Central European. They might be talking about Ogden, Utah, for all I know.
But apparently those Beantown gypsies — the ones that Magda grew up with, in Civil War-era Massachusetts — they’re the ones who cured Count Petofi’s werewolf curse, and took his Legendary Hand as payment. And according to Magda, that happened one hundred years ago.
Therefore: There were unicorns in New England during the Revolutionary War.
Quentin grabs a knife and tries to threaten the Count, demanding to know the secret recipe for wolf-be-gone, but Petofi slaps the weapon out of his hand and gives him a badass lecture.
Quentin: Why won’t you help me? You know what it’s like. Why won’t you?
Petofi: To get something, you must pay the price. A little bargaining, perhaps.
Quentin: I’m willing to bargain.
Petofi: No, Mr. Collins, you are only willing to cringe, to make inept excuses. You must learn, Mr. Collins. I paid my price. You must pay yours.
And then he just turns, and walks out of the house.
So the television show that recently offered us a Jane Eyre/Nicholas Nickleby crossover special has become a dark fairy tale, where the curses are even more metaphorical than usual. Now that he’s been unmasked, Count Petofi has to leave Collinwood for a while — like Rumplestiltskin, having other people discover his true name weakens him, at least for a while. They don’t actually explain why Petofi has to go away, or where he’s going, because we’re playing by magical elf rules that don’t have to be logical.
But Petofi is leaving a gift behind, for the residents of the great estate. He’s struck up an unlikely friendship with young Jamison while we weren’t looking, entertaining him with fabricated stories of adventures with Lord Kitchener in the Sudan.
Now Petofi gives Jamison a magic touch, which the boy will spread around by giving people a kiss on the cheek — and that touch will reveal who these people really are.
“You played some rather dangerous tricks with my Hand,” Petofi scolds Quentin, “but I should have expected that. You’re all children in this house. Never have I seen a group of people so willing to live lies.”
The mad god picks up his traveling case. “It will be fascinating to see which of you will be able to live and face the truth, and which of you will die. Already, one by one, the lies are falling away.”
He considers Quentin, with a smile. “You, at least, admit what you are. And because you are closer to the truth than the others, I’m leaving you a very surprising and rather interesting present. You won’t like it at first, but — you’ll thank me for it in time.”
“I don’t want anything from you,” Quentin grumbles, but Petofi takes it in stride.
“Oh, no, of course you don’t. But you can’t prevent me from giving it to you. Perhaps I’ll be back in a little while, when you have the Hand. Then I’ll undo some of the mischief I’ll be blamed for.”
And then he’s gone, leaving the survivors to try desperately to spin some of this cursed gold back into straw. For the third time this year, Dark Shadows has renewed itself by embracing an entirely new style.
They can’t keep this up, of course. They’re going to hit a turning point that brings the production back down to earth, and it’s coming sooner than you think. But oh, what a marvelous feeling, to fly this high.
Tomorrow: What Fresh Hell.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
At the end of the teaser, Quentin pulls Victor’s hand off — but it gets caught on something, and he has to quickly yank the extra cloth away in time for the camera to pick up the hook at the end of it.
Petofi asks Jamison to kiss him goodbye before he leaves. Jamison hesitates. Petofi asks, “Are you afraid? I thought we were friends.” Jamison says, “Well, we are; it’s just that — well, I don’t know how you’re going to stop me from being afraid — miss you.”
This episode is double-numbered to make up for the planned pre-emption yesterday for the Apollo 11 moon landing coverage.
When Worldvision offered this year of episodes for syndication, the video master for this episode was missing. Also, the video master for Friday’s episode (805) was damaged, and Worldvision didn’t realize there was an existing kinescope copy, so both episodes were skipped in syndication — making this week a little hard to follow when we were watching it on public television in the 80s. When MPI licensed Dark Shadows for home video release in 1989, they found the video master for 801/802, and patched up 805 with thirty seconds of footage from the kinescope.
Also: I’m pretty sure Quentin has actual muttonchops by now, rather than the paste-on versions he was using for so long. I don’t know exactly when the real hair grew in enough for them to stop using the fake ones, but I just noticed it today, and he looks even better than usual.
PS for baseball fans: I know, the Red Sox didn’t move to Fenway Park until 1912, but it was such a nice sentence that I decided not to let facts get in the way.
And a PS for the world: Count Petofi being sad about his dead unicorn is the gayest thing that has ever happened in human history.
Tomorrow: What Fresh Hell.
— Danny Horn