“There may be only one way of preventing tonight from happening.”
Last cliffhanger, Charity had a vision of Quentin’s death (stabbed or something — lots of blood on his chest). At beginning of this episode, she is wandering in the woods. Magda finds her and Charity says Quentin will die in 12 days — September 10. Reverend Trask comes home and finds that while Edward + Jameson have been cured, Charity is still possessed. She says she’ll kill anyone who comes between her and Quentin. Trask asks Magda to watch Charity. Quentin realizes there’s a full moon that night and he tells Magda he’s going to stop the change.
Or, at least, that’s what happens in today’s episode according to the original version of Dark Shadows Every Day, which I started in a school notebook when I was fifteen. I might have chosen my words more carefully if I’d known that I was going to show it to people thirty years later. Also, I apparently didn’t know how to spell Jamison.
So, the curtain rises on Young Danny, in the early evening of February 26, 1986, scribbling notes on the first page of my Dark Shadows diary. This was my analog version of a blog, which I wrote faithfully every day for the next eight months, until New Jersey Network tragically pulled the show from their schedule, just as Parallel Time was starting to get good.
Coincidentally, the day that I’m writing this post is almost exactly thirty years after I started the notebook; that anniversary is only five days away. And thirty years on, I’m still taking notes all the time, about almost everything. I have a terrible memory for names and dates and people and locations and pretty much anything that’s ever happened to me. The only way I can keep my life vaguely functional is through an elaborate system of notes and reminders and written records. In a pinch, I write on my hand. Memento is basically a home movie for me.
But I remember why I started keeping this notebook. In yesterday’s episode, Charity had a vision that Quentin would die on September 10th. After months of entertaining detours, the writers are signaling that they’re heading for the long-delayed climax of the 1897 storyline — the day that Quentin is sealed up in his room, waiting like an angry pharoah to be discovered by unwary tomb-raiders.
Obviously, I wanted to know how long Quentin had left — I absolutely adored the guy, and I was hoping that somehow he’d manage to avert his fate, and stay on the show. Naturally, the only way to know when Quentin would die was to write down everything that happened on the show, keeping track of Collinsport’s sunrises and sunsets, so that I could figure out how many episodes it would take for twelve days to pass.
Now that I’m older and wiser, of course, I understand that that’s not how time works on soap operas. The broadcast date is also the in-universe date on the show, even if the same night goes on for three episodes.
The producers don’t expect people to write down everything that happens in every episode of a daytime soap, so that they can keep track of what day the episode is set. That would be an insane thing for somebody in the audience to do. They established that it was August 28, 1897 because that episode aired on August 28, 1969 — and when Charity said that Quentin would die on September 10th, she meant the episode airing on September 10, 1969.
But there’s a time jump in the way — from Charity in August 1969, to Young Danny in February 1986. The ’69 audience knew that September 10th was 12 days away, so they understood Dark Shadows in a way that Young Danny didn’t. They also knew about Woodstock and Vietnam and the moon landing and the Doors. Young Danny didn’t really know any of that context; he didn’t even pay that much attention to what was happening in 1986. Who has time to attend to current events, when you have to update a daily dossier on your vampire soap opera?
So this notebook is a little window into what it was like the first time I watched these episodes, with no idea what was coming up. I didn’t have a Dark Shadows Wiki at the time; all of the information that I had about Dark Shadows was from fan-published zines, and I only had a couple of those. So I knew some cryptic names — Leviathan, Parallel Time, Nicholas Blair — but nothing else.
Thirty years later, I can rattle off the name of every major storyline, because I’ve seen it all. I have a DVD box set and several episode guides, and looking at today’s episode, I know where things are headed. But Young Danny had no idea — for him, the story could go anywhere. He was watching Dark Shadows like the teenagers in 1969, with no idea who would survive any given episode. I’m just a time travelling fraud, pretending to walk in his footsteps. Young Danny was the one actually watching Dark Shadows every day.
And he hated Charity Trask. The bulk of the notebook is a straight description of what happened in each scene, all the way down to marking where the commercial cliffhangers were. I wasn’t doing avant-garde pretentious lit-crit analysis; it was just a homemade episode guide. But there are some places where I allowed myself some editorial license, like in the general storyline notes that I wrote at the bottom of my first entry:
Charity has tried to kill 2 people so far: she poisoned Beth, who was saved by Magda’s gypsy herbs, and she attacked Quentin with a knife but she was subdued by Quentin and Edward.
Angelique wants Quentin to marry her. She recently cured Edward + Jameson from their possession, much to the dismay of Count Petofi. Quentin agreed to marry her within the month. Charity knows this and probably wants to kill Angelique. (The little homicidal…)
So, wow — I was really mad at Charity! A few episodes later, I wrote: “Charity leaves. As she goes, she says Amanda will be so unhappy she’ll be sorry she stayed. Charity goes out the door. (Forever, hopefully.)”
Thirty years later, I love Charity, in her new role as crackpot Cockney showgirl. Charity is hilarious, and really fun to watch. I don’t think she ever has a bad scene; at this point, it’s not even possible to have a bad Charity scene. As far as I can tell, this opinion is universally shared among all Dark Shadows viewers. But in 1986, I couldn’t wait for her to go.
Young Danny hated Charity because she’d tried to kill Quentin, and she might try to kill Angelique. And if she succeeded, then I’d never see Quentin or Angelique ever again, and that would be insupportable.
Like pretty much everyone else who watches the 1897 storyline, from 1969 to 1986 to 2016 and beyond, I was, am and will always be deeply in love with Quentin Collins. When I was fifteen, he had taken his proper place in my schoolboy pantheon of the kind of dude I wanted to fall in love with. So sexy and funny and sarcastic and wounded and all-round seductive — everybody wanted Quentin, from servants to showgirls, from warlocks to witches. Nephews loved him, and mad gods battled with time-hopping vampires for the pleasure of his company. This period of the show is probably the high point of the universal wantability of Quentin.
But Quentin was not guaranteed, as far as I knew. The first thing that we ever knew about Quentin was that he was dead — the lonely ghost, hidden away in the west wing like the terrible secret that he is. And for this entire journey into the past, Barnabas’ sole mission has been to discover the time and the manner of Quentin’s death. That irreversible fact has hung over the show for six months now, and it looks like we’re finally leading up to the moment that we lose Quentin forever.
So obviously I hated Charity. Watching the show now, I know that she’s more or less harmless fun, a little fireworks show that sets herself off every time she walks on set. The only irreversible fact about Quentin is that Dark Shadows will never let him go — after this, David Selby plays three more characters on the show, and all of them are named Quentin. But at the time — for me, and maybe other kids in those innocent days — Charity was a threat.
Young Danny was also super into Beth, for basically the mirror image reason. Quentin said that he loved Beth, and even if that was never quite one hundred percent true, I believed it completely. I guess I wanted Quentin to be faithful to somebody to support whatever Quentin boyfriend fantasy I had going in my head.
So I stuck up for Beth when I could, like when Quentin meets Amanda in a couple days:
Amanda calls Tim and says she doesn’t want to stay. Then Quentin comes in and meets her. He is obviously romantically interested. Uh-oh! What about Beth, you jerk?
I even added a corrective footnote on an episode coming up next week:
Angelique says Quentin’s been avoiding Beth lately because he’s going to marry Angelique. Beth is very upset and runs out. (NOTE: Quentin does love Beth. He’s only marrying Angelique because she said she would take the curse off of Edward and Jameson if he did. He had to agree.)
And there’s a particularly strong, if confused, reaction a week after that:
Quentin asks what Amanda’s doing, but she can’t explain. He wants her to meet him tomorrow night in the garden. (SLIME! WHAT ABOUT BETH?) (Then again, she tried to kill him yesterday, so he really has little obligation to her.)
Finding that in one of these diary entries — shouting paranthetical abuse to a fictional character, in all caps and underlined — makes me realize how distant I am, from that fifteen-year-old boy.
I’ve seen that kind of thing recently, in comments on this blog — somebody shouting at a character DIE ANGELIQUE BITCHARD DIE! — which isn’t very far from my SLIME! attack. Don’t bother looking for that comment now — I deleted it, because it’s a bit creepy and I wanted to protect the blog’s well-deserved reputation for Best Comments Section on the Internet, and also because maybe it hits a bit close to home. That was how I used to think about the show too, and this notebook gives me an embarrassingly direct sightline into my immature sensibilities.
The most surprising thing about these early notebook entries is that I didn’t know how to spell Jamison. That seems almost impossible to me, because it’s the kind of thing I’m usually really picky about, and they broadcast the correct spelling in my direction at the end of every episode.
But I wasn’t paying attention to the end credits yet. That would come in a couple months, and this notebook allows me to pinpoint the exact episode I was watching when I started paying attention to the writers. These entries get more elaborate as they go on, with more descriptions and quotes, and for one episode coming up I wrote down a page and a half of dialogue excerpts. After a while, I was noting interesting bloopers, and finally — about two months from here — I finished the entry with “This was a good episode, written by Sam Hall.”
So that’s another piece of this story for me. This blog is the story of Dark Shadows, both the on-screen story and the production history, and it’s also about soap operas and television and teenagers and the 1960s and a whole bunch of things. But it’s also a story about me, as one of those teenagers, watching a vampire soap opera every day, and loving it so much that I wanted to learn how it worked.
For Young Danny, there’s two months between “What about Beth, you jerk?” and “This was a good episode, written by Sam Hall”. I think that transition is the moment where I learned how to watch television, and think critically about what I’m watching.
You know what? I think I just figured out the exact day that I grew up. Or as grown-up as someone who watches Dark Shadows ever gets, I suppose.
Monday: Crash of the Kaiju.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Magda and Trask are talking about Charity, Magda says, “Maybe you should bring her back to the sanitarium.” Charity’s never been to the sanitarium, so she can’t go back.
Quentin tells Magda that there’s going to be a full moon tonight, but it already appears to be night. Several minutes earlier, Trask returned home and said, “Good evening, Quentin.”
There’s a tape edit during Tessie’s appearance to Quentin, apparently cutting out a good chunk of the scene. She only gets one line, and then she’s suddenly gone. Maybe they decided that her clawed-up face looked too scary for daytime TV?
Monday: Crash of the Kaiju.
— Danny Horn