Episode 825: The Watched Pot

“She travels with a certain Timothy Shaw, a man who for a short time had the use of my hand.”

If you remember yesterday’s episode, and there’s no particular reason why you should, then you’ll recall that Quentin Collins is currently engaged in a medium-stakes game of chicken with the legendary Count Petofi. Quentin wants the mad Count to free his buddy Barnabas, who’s currently encased in a carbonite coffin with nothing but a dated copy of Ladies’ Home Journal for company.

To understand Quentin’s plan, you need to keep in mind the location of the following characters: a) Johnny Romana — King of the Gypsies! — who’s searching in the woods for b) Magda Rakosi, gypsy fugitive, who’s being sheltered by c) Beth Chavez, Collinwood domestic. If d) Count Petofi doesn’t release e) Barnabas Collins into f) Quentin’s custody by 12:45am, then f) Quentin has instructed c) Beth to bring a note to a) King Johnny, explaining the whereabouts of d) Petofi. But to make sure that d) Petofi doesn’t mess with c) Beth, f) Quentin has lied to d) Petofi, claiming that the note is actually in the possession of g) Angelique, who doesn’t actually have anything to do with this whatsoever.

825 dark shadows beth magda rug

Oh, and Charity Trask — now inhabited by the spirit of psychotic showgirl Pansy Faye — gave Beth a shot of poisoned brandy, because she’s suddenly in love with Quentin, and she wants to knock out the competition.

As this is one of several simultaneous active crime scenes, let’s take a second to walk through the forensics. At the end of yesterday’s episode, Charity — let’s call her Charity for now, we can come back to that issue later, if there’s time — was eagerly watching Beth gulp down some after-dinner toxins.

It’s now some time later, and Magda strolls into the drawing room to find Beth flat on her back on the floor. Charity is not among those present; she must have remembered a previous engagement somewhere.

825 dark shadows magda sniff

Naturally, after taking a pulse or two, Magda makes a beeline for the empty brandy snifters, and sticks her nose in for a sniff. She raises her head for a moment — this is the gypsy equivalent of sending a sample to the lab for testing — and then leans in for a verifying whiff. Completing the analysis, she puts down the glass and heads for Beth’s room, which is stocked with antidotes.

So — obviously Magda can identify poisons with her nose, because she is part police dog and part Julia Hoffman; that’s obvious and can be accepted without question. It’s also perfectly natural for Charity to murder someone and then just leave the room, with the body and the poisoned glassware strewn about, because Charity is not the maid, and she’s not responsible for tidying up the common areas. We already have a maid, and just because she’s currently expiring on the hardwood does not mean that other people have to fill in for her. She needs to talk to her supervisor.

825 dark shadows beth magda poison

But there are a couple of lingering questions. First, Magda cures Beth with magical detoxifying gypsy herbs, which were where, exactly? She left the drawing room in a very purposeful way, and she specifically mentions “gypsy herbs” a couple scenes later, so where is her Collinwood stockpile?

Also: once Beth has revived, they start worrying about Quentin and Petofi, and nobody ever gives a thought about reporting the attempted murder. They don’t even scold Charity; everyone just goes on with their evening. Beth didn’t die, so apparently there are no consequences for anybody.

825 dark shadows petofi quentin countdown

I’m sorry, I hate to hammer on these things, but seriously these two episodes are driving me out of my mind. The problem, really, is that they keep drawing our attention to specific details — especially the current time — but then they backtrack and decide that it’s not important anyway.

Yesterday, Quentin set a very clear schedule for the evening’s entertainment. He came over to Petofi’s place at 11:45, and told Petofi that he had until 12:45 to deliver the vampire. Quentin needs to walk out of the room at 12:45 precisely, so that he can get back to Collinwood by 1:00am, in time to stop Beth/Angelique from contacting King Johnny and the gypsies.

But Quentin and Petofi do a clock-ticking countdown scene, where Quentin gives Petofi updates at one minute, and then at ten seconds and five seconds, and they make a big deal about Petofi cracking under the pressure, and agreeing to let Barnabas go. And then we see the clock — and it’s 1:00. Beth should already be on her way to King Johnny with Quentin’s note.

825 dark shadows barnabas quentin petofi awkward

And then Petofi has to go and get the keys to the padlocks on Barnabas’ coffin, and Quentin has to open all the padlocks, and take the cross off Barnabas’ chest, and then Petofi has an awkward little post-hostage exit interview with Barnabas, where he says they’ll cross paths again. Petofi asks Quentin not to tell King Johnny where he is, and Quentin says, “You can rely on my word.”

So, all in all, it’s got to be at least a quarter after by the time they leave Petofi’s place, and maybe 1:30 when they get to Collinwood, which means that if Beth hadn’t been knocked out with poison brandy, she’d be halfway to King Johnny’s, not that she has any way of knowing where he is.

I mean, Quentin does claim that Angelique is psychically monitoring the situation remotely, and she’ll know if Petofi has blown the deadline, but Quentin knows that’s a lie, and that he told Beth to head out at 1:00 sharp. So what the hell?

Ugh, I’m sorry, I know that I’m nitpicking, but either the time matters or it doesn’t. If it does, then Petofi should be anxious to speed things along; the guy who cracks at the chime of 1:00 should be pushing Quentin out the door. If the time doesn’t matter, then why did we do anything that we’ve done for the last episode and a half?

825 dark shadows beth magda reassure

But obviously this is not actually a problem. It’s actually that the show has been so good lately, offering really emotionally charged, character-led conflicts, and unexpected plot twists. So a couple days of aimless time-shifting stands out, and feels like a problem. When we were in 1969 six months ago, this kind of thing would have been absolutely electrifying.

There are big moments here — Magda escaping from King Johnny, Charity poisoning Beth, Quentin rescuing Barnabas from Count Petofi. They just don’t happen to feel like big moments, because each one ends with a little shrug.

Charity poisoned Beth, but then Magda cured her, and everything’s fine. Petofi kept Barnabas chained up in a coffin for a couple weeks, but now Quentin’s negotiated his release, and they all end up nodding goodbye to each other. And yes, Magda was on the run from King Johnny, but she’s spent the last couple episodes hanging out in the Collinwood drawing room, and everything is fine.

825 dark shadows istvan magda pants

Except who’s that lurking in the hallway outside Beth’s room? It’s none other than Istvan and his magic trousers, and suddenly life is worth living after all.

825 dark shadows magda istvan pants

So, yeah, I suppose we’re back where we were three days ago, and nobody has said anything sensible all day. But when did we get all hung up on plot logic like this? Give me a big man and some tight pants, and all is forgiven. After all, it’s Christmas. Isn’t it? It’s got to be Christmas somewhere in the world.

Monday: Hungarian Crime Story.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Quentin jumps the gun on his line:

Petofi:  It is impossible. Even if I were to offer to cure you tonight, to go through some ridiculous contrived ceremony —

Quentin:  No!

Petofi:  — would you believe me?

Quentin:  No.

When Istvan ties a gag around Magda’s mouth, he shifts position and the green burlap on the floor moves. He also loses one end of the gag, and Magda has to hold it between her teeth to keep it from falling off completely.

Beth isn’t listed in the end credits.

Monday: Hungarian Crime Story.

825 dark shadows magda gypsy

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

15 thoughts on “Episode 825: The Watched Pot

  1. I think Quentin gave 12:45 as the deadline because when he also mentions 1:00 as the time Beth would leave with the note he figures Petofi would stall to 1:00 anyway and he’ll still need to have time to get Barnabas free and away from Petofi’s place before King Johnny arrives, which would be 15 minutes after Beth arrives with the note at 15 past one… no that’s not it, or is it?

    What I’m curious about is why the sudden shift in the Charity/Pansy character? She, Pansy that is, seemed quite harmless at first. Perhaps it’s a clue as to what would have happened if John Karlen hadn’t scored that theater gig. He wouldn’t have found out about Barnabas — so no need to kill Carl — he and Pansy would have married and taken up residency at Collinwood, then the Pansy character would have fallen for Quentin, and in an impulsive moment would have poisoned Beth to get her out of the way.

    Then again, how did Pansy happen to come to possess Charity to begin with? Perhaps her spirit was wandering restlessly in the vicinity of her demise; it spotted Charity at one point, sensing her as repressed and wanting to be more like someone like Pansy. So Pansy’s spirit jumped in and waited, for the moment when her inhibitions would be released so that Pansy herself could live again — it could just as well have occurred on the odd chance that Charity might have gotten to drinking and then had one too many.

    Oh, I don’t know. I suppose I don’t blame the writers for not bothering or even being able to explain every last detail when their schedule was tighter than that of a daily newspaper. The show works, even if the storylines occasionally don’t seem to.

    1. There was no plan for Carl and Pansy that didn’t involve both of their deaths. That’s why Pansy was introduced — to kill someone that Carl cared about, so that he would go after Barnabas and then get killed himself.

      When you say “then the Pansy character would have fallen for Quentin, and in an impulsive moment would have poisoned Beth…”, that line of thinking is based on the idea that the DS writers knew that several months in the future, they want somebody to poison Beth. This is not the case.

      These kinds of moments — the sudden switch in characterization, the plot points that are ignored the next day — that’s how you know that the DS writers do not have any plans longer than two or three weeks away. In the case of this week, they don’t even know on Monday what they’re going to do on Thursday.

      “Pansy poisons Beth” isn’t even a plot point that lasts from one day to the next. It’s a single cliffhanger, apparently meant to be a way to keep Beth from delivering the note to King Johnny. The poisoning is undone early the next episode.

      I think that they might have an idea about how to retcon the skeleton in the sealed room. They definitely have the portrait/werewolf set up, and they may be thinking of this as the way to get Quentin into the present day. But I don’t think they have any idea about the rest of it. They’re just letting the Petofi story rattle along until a conclusion presents itself.

      1. Yeah, there was no planned connection between Pansy Faye (as played by Kay Frye) and Charity’s possession weeks later (an eternity in DS time). As we discussed at the time, this was all leading to a big vampire hut, once Barnabas’s secret was exposed, which would wind up the storyline. We can only speculate but it seems like killing Quentin was part of that plan, which they realized would be bonkers because he was the new breakout star so they rewrote like crazy to keep the focus on him in his home turf of 1897.

        What I love about DARK SHADOWS is that while this period is my favorite, it’s also when the series has gone completely off the cliff. They killed off pretty much all the characters and isolated its main character (Barnabas) from almost everyone left. It’s fun to watch them rebooting the series on the fly. Of course, there are major plot issues along the way — namely Edward and Trask’s obsessive pursuit of Barnabas becomes a part time leisure activity they mention every once in a while, even though Barnabas still hangs out at his former residence.

        Violet Welles wrote Pansy Faye’s farewell episode, which is one of my favorites, and she later wrote the one where Petofi makes everyone “see the truth about themselves,” so Charity becomes “Pansy-like” (though she still thinks of herself as Charity). Charity’s own storyline had run out of steam. Rachel was dead and Tim had returned almost as a different character himself. Charity learning Quentin’s secret was good for short-term tension but it limited her narrative options. Petofi turning her into a woman he’d never even met (gotta love that guy) had the benefit of giving Nancy Barrett a new character to play (and play very well). There was even the bonus of Trask still interacting with her as his daughter, so instead of the equally pious dutiful child and hypocrite father, their scenes sparkle as he’s completely baffled by her new persona.

      2. Yes, Danny, of course you’re right. I just had a moment where I forgot that Dark Shadows isn’t really a soap opera in the conventional sense — that it’s really an avant garde serialized theater production presented as a teleplay — and I was trying to make sense of some of the loose ends in terms of story, having forgotten that the writing serves less so the overall story and more so the immediate needs of any given moment.

        Dark Shadows is the TV equivalent of the rock band The Doors, which you have included in several previous posts. Besides the fact that they share almost exactly the same life span as active entities, they are both groundbreaking and experimental, never the same from one year to the next, and once a particular change has been made there is no turning back. Each are borne of disparate influences that gel as something unique, and that something can only happen once, and only for a relatively short time. Sooner or later, Dan Curtis and Jim Morrison will each lose interest in what they have created — in the last few months in both cases — where the belief just won’t be there anymore, because they’ve taken it as far as they can go without repeating themselves.

        So, carry on. 🙂

        1. Wow. That is the best analogy to explain Dark Shadows that I have ever seen. I’ve been trying to argue that “DS is a story that can only be told once”, and this is exactly why. You need these people, in this time, reacting to this environment. Nobody tries to reboot The Doors.

          I’m not sure when I’m going to use that analogy in the blog — plans are for the weak — but that needs to get kicked upstairs to the main feature (with attribution, natch). As always, you (specifically and the comments in general) are brilliant.

  2. This episode has one of those great Dark Shadows lines that sounds great but is actually utterly ridiculous, Magda’s “I’m very good at coming into rooms”.

  3. Johnny Romana – King of The Gypsies!
    Magda Rakosi – Fugitive of The Gypsies!
    Istvan – Muscle Hunk of The Gypsies!

  4. First of all, yes, I realize that I’m posting here years after everyone else has moved on. It’s like walking through the virtual ruins of an empty Collinwood, but in my time line, I’m at episode 825, and I just can’t catch up to the rest of the group tour.

    re: this episode, it was a mini-buddy movie really. Beth and Magda become great friends, and Quentin saves his new pal Barnabas.

    But I really feel sorriest for Petofi, who keeps telling Quentin that he likes him, but keeps not becoming his friend. Petofi also tries to be chums with Tate, but that well is too poisoned to support a healthy relationship. They can’t even have a civil conversation about art. As for Barnabas, with which Petofi has proposed a road trip, he can’t even keep him in the house using locks and chains.

    Off-topic, fans of the blog should check out Mr. Horn’s two video lectures, on YouTube, about “flying saucers” and the development of Superman over the early years. Just as witty, entertaining and informative as his DS work.

    1. No worries JRM, the blog is timeless. I started reading sometime in 2018 and now I’m going through again to accompany my rewatch and to read through the new entries in the comments. It’s di enjoyable to meet new people!

  5. If Dark Shadows has taught me anything, it’s that time on this show does not matter. Or it matters to the writers who are always under the gun but not to the stagehand whose job it is to change the hands on the clock. (Really, I wonder whose job that was?)
    The kids in the audience have no concept of time. Kids know that school lasts forever and vacation is over so fast and it will take FOREVER to get to be an adult and by 35 you’re OLD. Other than that, time is meaningless. They watch Dark Shadows differently. What is a deadline to a kid? Tell them it’s time for bed and you’ll find out.

    I always thought King Johnny and Amanda Harris were just unnecessary padding anyway. I love Thayer David’s Petofi but a lot of what he does is just killing time. Edward doesn’t stay a valet; Trask’s confession never gets him arrested; Barnabas is released without Petofi learning how to travel in time. It’s fun anyway.
    Plus without King Johnny, there would be no Istvan and I wouldn’t want that.

  6. Two thoughts: Where in the world is Angelique? Shouldn’t she have already swooped in to rescue Barnabas?
    And, Magda/Julia probably has those curative herbs preloaded in a syringe like the equivalent of a good 1969 sedative.

    1. My sentiments exactly. Where is Angelique? I looked back to see if she’d been burned up or sent back to hell or something. But it looks like she just went off to polish her skis.

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