“You don’t seem to be one certain age, the way others are.”
You know, when I started this blog back in April 1967, I figured the format was one episode a day, no more and no less. I would talk about the whole episode from start to finish, and I didn’t let stuff dangle over the side to pick up tomorrow. If there wasn’t a theme or a problem or a story that I wanted to tell, then that’s just how it went — so there are a bunch of posts back in the 200s that ended with “and that’s a really boring cliffhanger, see you tomorrow”. They had a lot of boring cliffhangers back then.
Eventually I realized, wait a minute, this is my blog and I can write it any way I want, so now I jump around a lot more, pulling things from different episodes together if it helps whatever point I’m trying to make. I think that’s made the blog better, and I get to have more fun without stressing out about the rules.
But that style means that I don’t really spend a lot of time talking about cliffhangers, which is a shame, because they’re incredibly important on Dark Shadows. This is a show that doesn’t just have an exciting story beat at the end of every episode — they build to a suspense moment every six minutes, just to get you through the commercial break. So I should really treat the cliffhangers with more respect.
And yesterday’s cliffhanger is a top-of-the-line nailbiter. Secret werewolf Quentin Collins is locked up in a jail cell, which happens to be in his own basement for some reason. The sinister Reverend Trask has learned Quentin’s dreadful secret, and they’re going to stay down here until the full moon rises. Once Quentin transforms into a slavering man-beast, then Trask can head for the police station and alert the authorities. I guess some people just live for tattling.
So the episode ends with the two of them on opposite sides of the bars, waiting for moonrise. Although now that I think about it, that’s basically the same cliffhanger as the day before, when Trask found Quentin manacled to the wall, and told him they would wait until moonrise. Yesterday, they just said, well, it’s not quite dusk yet, and then they moved locations and said, this time it’s really dusk. So maybe I shouldn’t bother trying to respect the cliffhangers after all.
Anyway, guess what, it all works out. The moon rises, Quentin feels the transformation beginning — and then the pain just drains away. He doesn’t change into a wolf man after all. He feels fine. After four months as a moontime man-beast, Quentin Collins is suddenly and entirely cured.
That could have been kind of an anticlimax, following two days worth of almost-dusk build-up, but Quentin is so delighted with his unexpected reprieve that the whole thing ends up being super satisfying. Trask was just on the edge of a huge victory, and now it’s been snatched away, and nobody even knows why. Quentin gets to strut around and say sarcastic things like, “Obviously, Trask, this eagerness of yours to take over Collinwood has begun to affect your mind!” It’s a nightmare for Trask, the poor lamb, and he was having such a nice time.
Once it’s all over, Quentin realizes that the mad god Count Petofi must be the source of this miracle. Petofi’s been shooting his mouth off for weeks about a werewolf cure — in fact, he’s even said that Quentin is already cured, and just doesn’t know it yet.
So we learn, to nobody’s great surprise, that Quentin Collins is untouchable. He’s clearly everybody’s favorite character, eclipsing Barnabas in sex appeal and plot point potential. There’s no way the show is going to let the star get damaged; they don’t even muss up his hair very often.
And now that I say that, it occurs to me that for all of his poor little rich boy first world problems, Quentin has a long line of characters who are now entirely devoted to helping him. There’s Beth, and Barnabas, and Angelique, and Magda, and Count Petofi — that’s a lot of high-powered characters, all of them eager to support Mr. Q. in any way that he needs it. Reverend Trask is a formidable guy, but against that crowd? Totally outgunned.
And Trask is distracted, anyway. There’s this pretty young woman named Amanda, who’s come to him for spiritual guidance in an unlikely crisis where she needs him to help her avoid some guy that she used to be involved with. It’s obviously a bunch of hooey, but it’s a form of hooey that Trask is peculiarly susceptible to.
This is actually a scheme that was cooked up by Tim Shaw — anybody remember Tim Shaw? — who’s taking a rather opaque form of revenge on Trask for reasons that I don’t feel like getting into right now. Tim’s idea of a revenge plot is to give the Reverend a new girlfriend, so he picked up Amanda in New York and told her to go be available at Collinwood. At some point this is supposed to turn into justice, although it’s hard to follow exactly how, because nobody really listens to Tim Shaw when he talks.
Anyway, the point is that Amanda has manipulated Trask into thinking that he’s manipulated her into moving into Collinwood, and here she is, standing in the drawing room, available for chemistry experiments.
Enter Quentin Collins, sprung from the big house in the basement of his big house. He hasn’t seen a woman since late afternoon, so naturally he’s thrilled.
“Oh! Mr. Collins,” she stammers, and Quentin smiles. “You remember me,” he grins disarmingly, and she is instantly disarmed.
“I appreciate the honor,” he continues. “I’m sure a girl like you has a lot of names to remember.” That line is about 25% compliment and 75% insult, but he gets away with it. It hardly matters what he says in scenes like this, it’s all about the body language, the eye contact and the tone of his voice. Sensible dialogue costs extra.
She says something sarcastic about how he doesn’t really know her at all, and he strolls over to her side, the raised eyebrow who walks like a man.
“I know you’re very beautiful,” he purrs.
Looking away, she allows, “And you’re very handsome. And neither of us are very happy, are we?” And then she turns to look at him.
“When you were a little girl,” he smiles, “what did you wish for, when you saw the first star?”
This is apparently a thing that you say to a person when neither of you is very happy. Do not attempt this in your own home; Quentin is a professional driver on a closed course.
And then, for Pete’s sake, look at this. He’s been in the room for sixty seconds. This is why they put him on the cover of 16 Magazine, riding bicycles with Bobby Sherman and the Cowsills.
“I’d like to get to know you a lot better, Miss Amanda Harris,” he murmurs. “Perhaps we can talk again someday. I’m afraid I have to go.”
Amanda tries to remember how to breathe. “I must make a phone call,” she offers.
“Well,” Quentin says, and he cocks his head at an angle that should look ridiculous and is absolutely one hundred percent not ridiculous. “You know, it’s been an unexpected pleasure. But then, this whole day has just been full of surprises.”
Okay. So there’s that. And now the question is: what the hell is going on?
The show has spent the last five months patiently explaining to us that Quentin is in love with Beth, a maidservant of dubious acting ability. We’ve seen him flirting with a bunch of girls, and we know that he used to sleep with pretty much anything, but once he’d hooked Beth, it looked like his final answer. Now they’re bringing in random females for chemistry tests.
Obviously, Quentin is designed to be a heartbreaker, so I’m not complaining. Besides, his devotion to Beth wasn’t really based on anything in particular. Why settle on a servant, and why this one specifically? What do Quentin and Beth really have in common, besides hanging around the house a lot?
As we’ve discussed, the only reason that the Quentin/Beth relationship even exists is that they cast her as his co-ghost back in 1969, when they thought she would just pose silently in the background and give people significant looks. They didn’t know at the time that they were going to jump to 1897 and put these two at the center of a huge ongoing storyline, so the fact that she was stiff and terrible didn’t register as a problem. She looked okay in an old-fashioned dress, and she kept her mouth shut. Now they’re stuck with her.
But lately they’ve started introducing extra females into Quentin’s life — three of them, so far — and Amanda has suddenly jumped into the lead in that race. It’s not a huge surprise that Quentin has several options, since soap operas are basically a love triangle delivery system, but they’re not setting these up in any pattern that I recognize.
The classic triangle is Quentin, Beth, and X, where x = whatever random female they want to throw at him. He and Beth are declaring their love, making plans and promises, and then all of a sudden Madame X comes along, scattering monkey wrenches.
Quentin’s job at that point is to be torn. Maybe the new girl is super attractive, or she has some kind of hold on him, but either way, he’s supposed to be looking over his shoulder, fully aware that Beth’s happiness is at stake.
But today he just sashays into the drawing room for some breathless eye contact with Amanda, as if Beth doesn’t exist. Amanda says, “Neither of us is very happy,” and he agrees, without hesitation.
All of this is totally in character for Quentin, so I’m not complaining that the heartbreaker is breaking hearts. But I have a question for the writers: When I’m looking at a Quentin and Beth scene, how am I supposed to feel about it?
This isn’t the same thing as asking “Who does Quentin belong with?” That’s the standard in-universe love triangle question, and the audience is supposed to be conflicted about it. That’s the point of the triangle, that it’s not clear which of the young ladies deserves the prize.
But when I’m looking at a scene where Quentin and Beth are making plans for the future, should I be invested in that relationship, or does it only apply until the next commercial break? I mean, I talked a couple days ago about the Dark Shadows diary that I kept when I was 15, and back then I was totally shipping Quentin/Beth. I was absolutely furious with him for cheating on her. I wrote words in all caps.
Looking at it now, I’m not sure what to think of a Quentin/Beth scene. Is this supposed to be romantic, or this the tedium that he needs to be rescued from? Is Beth an object of desire, or not?
If you look at the potential replacements, there are three possibilities — Angelique, Charity and Amanda — representing three different flavors of love triangle.
Angelique is the “blackmail wedding” triangle, where Quentin’s relationship is torn apart by a woman demanding a ring, or else. This is actually a common soap opera storyline, and it often ends with the couple genuinely falling in love with other, a situation which does not occur in nature.
After Dark Shadows, Sam Hall and Gordon Russell moved to One Life to Live, where they raised the blackmail wedding to an art form. Sam and Gordon introduced the Buchanan family, headed by patriarch Asa Buchanan, who got married 14 times to 10 different women over the course of three decades. Almost all of them started as a blackmail wedding, in one direction or the other. It’s just a great story, with lots of frustration and pain and intrigue. I would tell you more about this, but I’ll save it for my 40-year One Life Every Day blog, which I will never have time to write.
Charity is the “crazy stalker” triangle, which is usually a fairly easy type to handle. There’s no real danger of falling in love with the stalker; she’s an external threat who just gives the couple something to do with their time.
But Amanda represents the most dangerous of all — the “I’m strangely drawn to you” triangle. She’s an actual threat to the relationship, because Quentin sees her, correctly, as a step up from his current dance partner.
Now, it’s just possible to do both the “strangely drawn to you” triangle and the “crazy stalker” triangle at the same time, because the stalker is external, and Amanda is the only one tugging at Quentin’s heart. But you can’t do “strangely drawn to you” and “blackmail wedding” at the same time; it just doesn’t make sense. The response to the blackmail wedding is to say, no, I need to be with the woman that I love. If you’re confused about which woman that’s actually supposed to be, then it’s hard to know what you’re actually fighting about. At that point, what the hell, drop all of them and go find a fifth girl.
The whole thing is kind of a mess at the moment, just a sequence of unconnected scenes that can’t be reconciled into a coherent story. The only way that this could possibly work is if the guy at the center of all this romantic geometry happens to be one of the most charismatic soap opera actors of all time. So I guess it’ll work out okay.
Oh, and then at the end of the episode, Quentin uncovers his portrait and discovers that it’s turned into a wolf man. Obviously, this is an incredible cliffhanger; see you tomorrow.
Tomorrow: 3D Printing – The Early Years.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Quentin and Petofi are drinking brandy in the drawing room, there’s a moment where it seems like they’re both holding back a laugh. It appears to start when they start talking over each other’s lines. By the time Quentin says, “If you were, you’d be claiming all the credit for it — putting the stamp of Petofi on it!” they’re both giggling a little.
When Tim tells Amanda what she should say to Trask, he chuckles and then gives a little snort.
There’s something wrong with the lighting on the drawing room set, especially when Trask and Amanda are talking in act 3. It’s not super obvious, but it’s darker at the front of the set than it should be, and their faces are in shadow.
Tomorrow: 3D Printing – The Early Years.
— Danny Horn