“If he dies, the whole future of the Collins family will not be existing!”
Well, it’s another August afternoon, and everybody on Dark Shadows is down in the basement, wasting a perfectly nice day. I can remember a time on this show when people would take a walk in the woods on sunny days, and have genial chats with little girls who they didn’t realize were ghosts. It was awful; I hated those walks. Turns out all the cool stuff was happening in the basement. Take that, mothers of America!
The Amazing Count Petofi and His Magical Hand are still doing big box office in the basement; he’s attracting a surprising amount of foot traffic, considering that this is supposed to be a villain’s secret lair. The mad Count arrived in Collinsport a month ago, to retrieve a magic talisman stolen by the gypsies. He’s got it back now, but along the way, he’s discovered what an interesting place this town can be, so he moved into the old mill and set up housekeeping.
Now he’s executing on a multifaceted evil plot that involves bewitching just about everyone on the show, in one way or another. He’s currently got Barnabas chained up in a coffin in the back room, trapped in a box until he agrees to take Petofi with him to the far-off year of 1969. We’re in the past, by the way; it’s 1897 at press time. I keep forgetting to mention that.
Today, Petofi’s messing with young Jamison, who’s convinced that he’s a) his own grandson David from the future, and b) dying of some vague wasting disease that makes him lie around on the couch all day. I had that exact same illness when I was eleven too; the only cure is breakfast cereal and television and not going to school. Concerned, Quentin carried his nephew over to the old mill, because obviously the Bond villain’s secret hideout is a pediatrics emergency room.
Now, the idea of somebody being “possessed” with the spirit of an unborn descendant is illogical and unacceptable, if you think that Dark Shadows is supposed to be a hard sci-fi story with a coherent model of how time works. But we have left the world of logical explanations, and ventured out into the wilderness, where the only thing that matters is the impact that a story point has on Quentin Collins.
So, get this:
Jamison (moans): Quentin… Quentin…
Quentin: I’m here, Jamison. Right here.
Petofi: The Quentin he’s calling for… is that you?
Petofi: But how can that be? You told me he’s possessed by a David Collins, who lives in the year 1969.
Quentin: He is possessed, completely.
Petofi: Yet, that David Collins… calls to you?
And all of a sudden, everything is forgiven, and all the silliness that brought us to this moment is entirely justified. There is a terrible secret at the heart of this storyline that we forgot about entirely.
Barnabas traveled to 1897 five months ago with a critical mission — to make David Selby the new star of the show. Through trial and error, Dark Shadows managed to discover a hugely charismatic actor who’s funny and sexy and passionate and exciting, and they’d stuck him in a walk-on part as an evil ghost, who only spoke to people through a broken telephone. So they sent Barnabas spinning through time, back to a point in Quentin’s life when he would actually be of use to us as a character.
Five months later, the chemistry experiment is an overwhelming success; Quentin is just as popular as they could have hoped. The only game worth playing on Dark Shadows is Stand Next to Barnabas, and David Selby aced the test. The ratings have been climbing steadily, and they haven’t peaked yet. Obviously, we need Quentin on the show full-time, but there’s one teensy snagette: the silent evil ghost thing.
So the big question that the writers have to deal with is: When we go back home to 1969, how do we bring Quentin with us? He’s already there, as a sinister specter trying to destroy the Collins family. How do you transition out of that?
It’s a tricky problem, and delightfully, they’ve decided to figure it out in full view of the audience, and just make it part of the show. For an extra twist, they’ve added a spoiler — another kaiju character who wants to secure a place in 1969 for himself.
Like all the best serpents and supervillains, Count Petofi understands the nature of the story that he’s in. He knows that 1897 is going to draw to a close at some point, and he’s angling for a seat on the bus ride back to the present day.
So the Count’s got the main character of the show all wrapped up in a box, and he’s threatening to bring things to a screeching halt, unless everyone agrees that he can stay on the show. Unfortunately, Barnabas doesn’t think that he’s personally deputized to make those kinds of casting decisions from inside a coffin. Petofi really needs to speak to the manager.
And so we arrive here, in a scene where the tallest cast member is having a terribly urgent conversation with someone suspended horizontally about knee-level from the ground.
They’ve actually tried to do this before, two years ago in episode 247, with Barnabas lying on his back in his coffin and barking orders at Willie. At the time, I thought it was impossible to do this without looking ridiculous. I was right, naturally, but somehow they’re making it work.
Quentin: I told him you would give him anything, if only he would save Jamison.
Barnabas: But you’re wrong, Quentin! I cannot give him what he wants!
Quentin: Barnabas… perhaps I’m not making myself clear enough. Jamison is in that room, and he’s dying. What’s more important than that? What could Petofi want, that’s impossible to give him?
Barnabas: He wants me to take him to the future, to my own time, immediately!
Quentin: And won’t you do that? Even to save Jamison’s life?
Barnabas: Quentin… in my own time, in the future, there are many terrible questions. I came here to your time, because here — somewhere here, there are answers! I haven’t been able to find any of them, at least not yet.
Quentin: But you do know that they’re more important than Jamison’s life!
It’s fantastic, a real film noir standoff, with the crime boss manipulating the lead characters, and making them fight with each other. And they’re doing all of this from floor-level. Astonishing.
Barnabas and Quentin have to figure out how to untangle this thorny paradox, and there are only three things standing in their way. The first problem is that the show has no idea how time travel works. The second problem is that Barnabas is the one who’s supposed to explain it, and he can’t see the teleprompter.
“There’s nothing more important than Jamison’s life!” Barnabas cries. “If he dies — the Collins line in the future will never have existed! I know that, and so does Petofi know that. So in spite of his threats, I’m sure he’s going to try to keep Jamison alive.
“There’s only one hope — that if he dies, the whole future of the Collins family will not be existing!”
I’m not totally sure how that qualifies as the one hope, but I think I know what he’s getting at. And It doesn’t matter, anyway. The third problem is that Jamison is not the problem.
Because, if you review the rules as stated above, the only thing that matters is how this story point affects Quentin.
Quentin: Then — then a David Collins does exist in your time!
Quentin: How very odd.
Quentin: Your David Collins seems to know me. How could that be possible?
And there it is, the terrible secret, lying in plain sight — that Barnabas traveled through time because he’s trying to stop Quentin from becoming an evil spirit that haunts Collinwood seventy years from now. Quentin knows that Barnabas has come from the future, but somehow, Barnabas has always managed to keep the conversation away from the why. It’s a tricky social situation, to be sure: how do you tell your friend that you’re waiting around for him to die, so you can exorcise his ghost?
Luckily, Barnabas has always had lots of distractions on hand — Egyptian fire gods and comedy gypsies and whatnot — so we wouldn’t notice that he was dancing around this question.
But Quentin needs an exit strategy from 1897, just as much as Petofi does. And unfortunately, Barnabas is in no position to help.
“I cannot take him!” the vampire groans, from somewhere downstairs. “The truth is, I don’t know the way back! I can’t even take myself!”
So that’s where we leave them, this ill-fated trio. Barnabas, Quentin and the Mad Count Petofi, lost at the outer edge of the century, searching in the dark with no headlights for an off-ramp that could be anywhere, and may not even exist.
They don’t know when or how this will end — but when they finally get around to saving that little boy in the future, it means destroying everything that they’ve built here. And Count Petofi, at least, is willing to burn the whole goddamn place to the ground.
Tomorrow: Another pre-emption day special!
Time Travel, part 7: Here We Go Again.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Quentin says that Petofi’s offered to release Jamison, for a price. Barnabas asks, “That price I can only give, is that what he told you?”
In his scene with Quentin, when Barnabas says, “There’s nothing more important than Jamison’s life,” a fly lands on his chest.
In act 2, when the scene shifts from the mill to Jamison’s room, you can see Jamison in bed behind Beth, hurriedly pulling up the sheets to get ready for the scene. When Beth turns away from the window, Jamison is sleeping.
Jamison asks Beth, “Does it hurt when you die?” Beth takes an awkward look at the teleprompter before continuing the scene.
At the start of act 3, one of the lights on Quentin is out; it turns on as he begins the scene.
Beth is struggling to unlock one of the chains around Barnabas’ coffin. When Petofi enters and startles her, she leaps back — and the chain that she was holding falls to the floor, obviously unlocked.
Just before Petofi opens the time television cupboard for Beth, someone in the studio coughs.
When the camera pulls in on Beth’s fangs, you can see the caps that hold them to her teeth.
Behind the Scenes:
They use a pretaped clip of Barnabas biting Beth for her vision. The vision of Julia and David in Friday’s episode was also pretaped; apparently, either the technology is getting easier to use, or they’re getting better at using it.
Tomorrow: Another pre-emption day special!
Time Travel, part 7: Here We Go Again.
— Danny Horn