“She’s got doom and disaster written all over her face!”
Edward Collins finds an unconscious stranger, just outside his front door. It’s a woman, with a strange hairstyle and an unfamiliar style of dress. He helps her to her feet, but she’s groggy and unsteady. Edward brings her inside, and she looks around like she’s in a daze, squinting and blinking as if she’s never seen the inside of a house before.
She’s docile, at least — clearly not a danger to anyone — and he’s able to lead her into the drawing room, and park her on the couch. Slumping in her seat, she stares at Edward, a puzzled look on her face.
“Can you hear me?” he asks, patiently. “Can you understand what I’m saying?” She just looks at him. He persists. “Why did you come here?” No reply. “Who are you?” Still not receiving.
At a loss, Edward cries, “Where have you come from?”
She squints up at him, and says, “I don’t know, man. I mean, where does anybody come from?”
So here she is, Dr. Julia Hoffman — blood specialist, hypnotherapist, mythopoetic trickster figure and newly-minted time cop — reporting for duty in a century other than her own. She has experienced the first full-fledged acid trip on network daytime television, and she’s done it in a sensible wool coat, because that is how Julia Hoffman works. You’re welcome.
She’s come from 1969, obviously, about three weeks after Woodstock — a consciousness-expanding cultural event so pivotal that you can hear its echoes all the way out here, in the late 19th century. Julia’s on a head trip that sent her tumbling through time, washing up on the shore of another Collinwood, seventy-two years in the past. I think we can all agree that this is pretty much the definition of far out.
Alice starts on this journey down the rabbit-hole because her best friend is in lockup, and she has to go pick him up. I don’t know what he did, they were probably giving him some kind of plastic hassle. You were always getting hassled by squares in the late 19th century, because there were so many of them. Practically everybody was a square back then, it was just wall-to-wall squares.
But Julia got the message, so she’s turning on and coming to get him. She’s got a set of I Ching wands, arranged in a pattern on the table in front of her, and she’s meditating over them, trying to open the doors of perception.
Luckily, this is Dark Shadows, which is full of doors. The whole show is basically the story of people opening doors and closing doors, and if there’s any time left over, then maybe they can say some dialogue. So Julia concentrates for about thirty seconds until she sees a door, as the shapes whirl round her head.
It’s hard to tell if Julia is currently attempting to picture herself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. She doesn’t mention it either way, so it’s left up to the viewer’s interpretation.
The colors are pretty subdued, actually, for a head trip — just the stark black and white of the I Ching wands, and an Octopus’ Garden undersea green. This might be the only living example of monochrome psychedelic art.
Julia opens the I Ching door, and behind that door — standing between the things known and the things unknown — there’s another door.
And then another, and another, and another.
So Julia keeps passing through one door after another, finally looking back for a shot that is essentially the lost episode of The Prisoner.
I guess basically what I’m trying to say is that all of these doors are connected to each other, like everything is connected to a greater whole, and when you enter this new realm of perception, you can see that we are soul and we are spirit, and we exist separately from the body, in an eternal dimension that is made of light. And there are no accidents, and no coincidences, because everything is connected, and if you think about it hard enough then you can actually see through the doors, and comprehend that everything is all made of the same stuff.
But then things start to get kind of scary, like everything is moving in this weird way, like it’s made of snakes? And it’s like she can see Barnabas, locked up in a cell, and she wants to tell him that he can just walk through the bars, just by thinking about it in the right way, but when she tries to tell him, it doesn’t come out right, it just sounds like music. Except it’s not really music, it’s actually time that sounds like music, like if you listen to time — and that is what she’s doing right now, she is listening to time — then it means you don’t have to be scared. You know? Like you don’t ever have to be scared.
So she says his name, but it comes out wrong, like she’s saying a word that she’s never said before. And he says “Who is it?” and he says “Who’s calling?” but he knows who it is, he just can’t hear it right. And that gets really scary because he’s still saying “Who is it?” and who actually is it? Like, who is the “me” that’s saying who it is? And then time kind of slows down, and then there’s a commercial about For Brunettes Only hair color.
So while we’re suspended here in time, between two ticks of a clock, I want to talk a little about where LSD came from.
The drug was first synthesized in 1938 by a Swiss chemist named Albert Hoffman. He was trying to develop a central nervous system stimulant that could be used to treat emergency respiratory depression, and he was studying derivatives of ergot, a fungus that grows on rye, because that is how you do science. It didn’t work.
But Hoffman came back to the synthesis in 1943, and as he was messing around with it, he touched his nose or his mouth, accidentally ingesting some of the substance. That’s when he realized that we are all connected to a greater oneness, in an eternal dimension that is filled with light.
Three days later, he decided to ingest some of it intentionally, and then ride his bicycle home and see what happens, because scientists named Hoffman are unbelievable badass mythopoetic tricksters.
LSD was used as a psychiatric medication in the late 40s, until the US Central Intelligence Agency decided that it was a magical mind control drug.
In 1953, the CIA started Project MKUltra, an illegal human experimentation regime that tried to develop mind control techniques that could be used on Communists, subversives, Fidel Castro and Grateful Dead fans. They tried hypnosis and sensory deprivation and date rape drugs and remote electronic signals that could maybe make you do stuff by radar.
They were especially excited about LSD over at MKUltra HQ, and for good reason; LSD is awesome. Just ask anyone who’s taken it, if you have a couple hours to spare. So they tried giving it to everyone they could think of, including mental patients, prisoners, drug addicts, the customers at secret brothels in San Francisco that were actually CIA safehouses, and each other. There was a period when CIA operatives were slipping LSD into their colleagues’ coffee with no warning, partly as an experiment and partly as a workplace prank. It turns out that LSD is really not that good of a mind control drug, unless the suggestion that you’re trying to plant is that people should go to Phish concerts and talk about how the acid isn’t as strong as it used to be.
Now, the legend is that it was this indiscriminate testing by the CIA that actually sparked the drug’s recreational use in the 1960s among college students and other subversive types, inspiring the counterculture revolution. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but I choose to believe it, because that is hilarious, and it makes me happy. It’s the ultimate trickster story — the authoritarians working so hard to control and punish everyone, that they end up promoting a pop-culture fad for universal consciousness.
It’s like Brer Rabbit begging the fox not to throw him into the briar patch, except that the fox is the CIA, and everybody in the briar patch is trying to stop a rainstorm with their minds.
So that’s how we end up with Dr. Julia Hoffman, time warrior, sitting on a couch in the wrong century. Time travel on Dark Shadows has been mostly seance-based up till now, a matter of calling up spirits who could draw you backwards or forwards through time, as appropriate.
Barnabas’ journey to 1897 was kind of a hybrid — it’s based on meditation, but there’s also some ghost-magic involved, related to him already having a body in cold storage when he arrived. Julia’s is the first one that you could actually call a trip, traveling via newspaper taxi.
And it’s delicious, here, to have Edward as the unwitting square on the receiving end of this student exchange program, because he is absolutely not equipped to deal with chemical tourism. He just has no idea what to do. His response is to stand over this strange new visitor, speaking slowly and deliberately, because this is obviously a communications problem.
“Miss,” he insists, “do you know where you are? Have you any idea?”
She just looks at him, as if she’s never seen anything like him before.
He decides to answer his own question. “You’re at Collinwood,” he says.
And she looks around the room, nodding. Far out, man. Collinwood.
Finally, he says, “Can you understand what I’m saying? Speak, if you can!”
This breaks the silence. “I — speak,” she stammers.
Then she says — and this is not me being funny, this is actual dialogue from the show — “Shapes… kept whirling, faster and faster!”
“What shapes? What kept whirling?” Edward asks, as if this is the pivotal clue that’s going to break the case wide open.
“I don’t know,” she mutters. “Everything went by so fast!”
Eventually, Quentin wanders by, and Edward goes to call the doctor. Quentin takes another stab at conversation, and he doesn’t get very far, so he looks in her pockets, and finds the time-tossed letter that Barnabas sent her from his cell. Quentin reads the letter, and finds out where Barnabas is, and then they do some plot points.
Meanwhile, I would like to point out that Julia has some stray twigs and leaves stuck to her coat from when she was found lying on the ground, just outside the front door. She has not brushed these off because of realism. There’s one twig in particular on her left shoulder, which is now one of my favorite actors on Dark Shadows. Later on in the scene, Edward puts his hand on her shoulder, and clearly makes a conscious decision not to brush it off. It should be mentioned in the end credits.
Thanks to the letter, Quentin learns that Barnabas is in stir underneath the Old House, so he stops by for a quick rescue. He shows the letter to Barnabas, who asks where he got it.
“From a woman, who is now at Collinwood,” Quentin says.
“A very strange woman,” says Quentin.
Barnabas is amazed. Could this be Julia? Could she have followed him back through time?
He asks, “Strange in what way?”
“Very oddly dressed,” Quentin answers. “And her behavior is quite peculiar.”
Yeah, that sounds like Julia, all right. Ready or not, the cavalry’s here.
Tomorrow: Just Shoot Me.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
After Julia falls to the ground outside Collinwood, the camera wobbles quite a bit, struggling to focus on the door.
When Charity opens the front doors, a boom mic swings past in the background, and a stagehand can be seen standing by the windows.
When Edward helps Julia up from the ground, you can see the edge of a camera moving on the left side of the screen.
You can also see a boom mic when Quentin opens the drawing room doors in act 2.
Edward and Quentin stumble on their lines when Quentin looks at Julia:
Quentin: I’ve never seen anyone like her in my life.
Edward: You’ve traveled more than I have. Have you ever seen anyone like this —
Quentin: Not even remotely!
Edward: — dressed in this attire?
In act 3, Quentin lets Barnabas out of the cell. The scene shifts to the Collinwood drawing room, and you can hear Quentin’s footsteps as he hurries over to the other set. Through a crack in the door, you can see Quentin arrive at the foyer set, and then wait a moment for his cue to enter.
Behind the Scenes:
PrisoneroftheNight has a props note about the rectory:
“The main room of the old rectory where Julia is brought to recuperate is taken from the set that was Eric Lang’s lab, which is also the basis for Evan Hanley’s drawing room. In the last act, as Barnabas is telling Quentin that he must go because it’s nearly dawn, as you look to the left of and above Barnabas’ left shoulder you see a dusty bookcase, and atop this bookcase is a bust sculpture that was in Professor Stokes’ apartment in 1968. The bookcase in the rectory is larger and wider, but the bust sculpture is the same.”
Tomorrow: Just Shoot Me.
— Danny Horn