“Listen, and you shall hear the rustling of the leaves in a thousand trees!”
Count Petofi is tired of his lifestyle, and who wouldn’t be? He lives in a murder dungeon in the basement of the old mill. He spends all his time talking to upstart lackeys. And every nine days, another gypsy receives the power of the golden scimitar and comes after his magical hand, and you can imagine how tedious that must be.
So he’s constructed a mysterious master plan, and all we have to do is wait for this week to be over, so somebody can explain to us what it is. For weeks now, Petofi has been slowly advancing on our heartthrob hero, Quentin Collins, rubbing his hands together and going mwah hah haaah, and it looks like he’s finally ready to pull the trigger.
So here’s Quentin, outmaneuvered by accessories. Petofi liked it; he put a ring on it. Now Quentin can’t get it off.
Naturally, before we do anything momentous, everybody has to stand around and talk about it for two episodes. Count Petofi’s full of big talk about traveling into the future, but on a soap opera, the real concern is that everpresent omnivorous Now, twenty-two minutes a day.
So here’s Petofi, giving his henchman another lecture on the subject of how he’ll escape the gypsies by jumping ahead to 1969. Grabbing a passing wine bottle, Aristede cries, “Well, we should drink a toast to that,” but Petofi objects, and snatches the bottle out of the boy’s hands.
“I want none of your bungling, none of your usual mistakes!” Petofi hollers, and then he pointedly drops the bottle on the floor, smashing it to bits. “Everything must be perfect,” he insists, although now he’s got wine and glass fragments all over the floor, so they’re not off to a flying start.
But there really is a big twist in the storyline coming up, and they want the audience to get excited about it. So they’re bringing up all the unresolved plot threads that have been hanging around loose lately — the gypsies, and Quentin’s missing portrait, and the price that Petofi says that he’ll extract when the time is right. They’re piling up evidence that something’s finally going to happen, and then they’ll be able to point at it and say that they planned it this way all along, which is nonsense.
No, they didn’t. Christ, I have this argument in the comments section every time something clever comes along. They did not have this planned out for months. The golden scimitar, and the time television, and the portrait, and the astral selves, and Chris Jennings, and the silver bullet found at Collinwood — it was not all leading up to the moment that we’re currently leading up to.
Barnabas’ exit strategy, with Julia and Angelique and the mirror, yes. That was a plan. They needed a way to let Jonathan Frid have a month’s vacation, and they came up with a silly plan, and they’re executing on it. In that case, you can tell that they’re leading up to something, because they’re not making a big deal out of it. They just show Julia chatting with Angelique and fussing with hypodermics, and then a month later, they do something clever.
But you can tell that the writers didn’t map out Count Petofi’s master plan three months ago, because he’s spent all this time telling us about how great his plan is going to be. He kept saying, “some day, Quentin, there will be a price,” because they hadn’t figured out what the price was going to be yet, and they were just filling the air with their own anxiety. “My plan is very cunning and complicated” is the thing that you say while you’re stalling.
The reason why I insist that the writers are making this up as they go along is because not having a plan is the clever part. They just piled up a bunch of loose ends and workarounds, until finally they said, oh wait, we can fit it all together like this! And when that actually works out — when it makes sense, and it means something, and it unlocks a whole bunch of new story ideas — then it’s dazzling.
I mean, not today, obviously. Today, they’re stalling. But on Monday, probably.
So do you remember how after Beth tried to kill Quentin, she went and got a job working in Count Petofi’s little basement bungalow? It wasn’t a particularly convincing twist, but right now, they’re doubling down on it.
Here’s how the scene structure goes: Petofi says, “It’s good that you’re here, Beth. Tonight, you will see things you will never forget.” Then he goes into the back room to meditate, and prepare for whatever he’s preparing for. Beth asks Aristede what Petofi’s talking about, and Aristede just smirks, because he knows and she doesn’t, and apparently now Beth is Aristede’s little sister.
Aristede says that something’s going to happen to Quentin tonight, so of course she asks what’s going to happen. “Take my advice, Beth,” he says. “Don’t ask. Just don’t ask!”
Then there’s a sting and a commercial break, and when we come back, Beth says, “Why shouldn’t I ask, Aristede?” and Aristede says that if Petofi wanted her to know, then he would have told her. But then again, if he didn’t want her to be curious, then he wouldn’t have brought it up in the first place. So where does that leave us?
This is followed immediately by Aristede walking into the back room and interrupting Petofi’s super vital meditations. He kneels down by Petofi’s chair, and says, “Excellency, is it a good idea to have her here? Remember, she once loved Quentin very much.” This is a personnel matter that really could have been dealt with at the six-month performance review.
So Petofi says bring her in, and Aristede brings her in. Petofi asks if Beth still loves Quentin, and she says no, and Petofi says okay. This conversation goes on for two days.
Then the mad Count senses that Quentin’s on his way, and they do a weird thing where Petofi instructs Aristede to wait in the back room and listen to their conversation. When Aristede hears Petofi say “unknown,” then he should come in and interrupt them, bringing you know what.
During Petofi’s conversation with Quentin, he builds up to a random sentence where he says “unknown”, and Aristede emerges from the back room, carrying Quentin’s portrait.
“Aristede, how clever!” Petofi says. “You must have known we were talking about this.” And then they just go on with the scene.
They talk about the portrait, and the price, and suddenly Quentin rubs his eyes and screams, “I can’t see!” because there’s a commercial break coming up. After the commercial, Quentin says that all he can see are vague outlines, so Petofi tells him to close his eyes, and when he opens them, he’ll be able to see again. So Quentin does, and he can.
Petoi says that Quentin should go home and rest, promising, “Tomorrow morning, everything will be very different!” Then there’s a big close-up on Petofi, who faces the camera and insists, “I mean it. It will be!”
So I know, I’m obsessing over weird little details today, and completely ignoring the perfectly adequate ominous dialogue. But all of this talk is just sound effects anyway; the only thing that matters right now is that Something Big Is About to Happen.
When Quentin leaves, Petofi does a final mission briefing for Aristede and Beth. Once again, Beth points out that she doesn’t know the plan, and Petofi says, “There is no time to explain now,” which is a laugh.
But here, have some content. The wicked wizard goes into the back room, as promised, and stares at the audience, fixing us with his weird bullfrog gravitas.
“Quentin Collins!” he cries, backed by the dream sequence music cue. “Your will must bend to mine, and there shall be no resistance! For I am the fire and the air, the water and the earth! I am the light of all the stars! Listen, and you shall hear the rustling of the leaves in a thousand trees, telling you that the winds of change have come upon you!”
That’s the end of yesterday’s episode, actually — I’m talking about both episodes today, because they’re basically the same thing, just an hour of anticipation. So that was Thursday’s cliffhanger — the fire and the air, the winds of change — and when we come back on Friday, Aristede and Beth are still standing around, sniping at each other.
She asks, “How long will this take him?” and he says, “You’re not getting impatient, are you?” and she says no, so he tells her, “Sit down and relax, when it’s over you’ll know it!” This is henchman talk for “we have another twenty-two minutes to kill.”
I mean, they do their best to keep us entertained while we’re waiting. They even bring in Magda, who we haven’t seen in weeks, to witness Quentin losing his absolute mind.
When Quentin sees her, he yells, “Stay away from me, gypsy! Don’t you come near me, do you hear?” He’s got a mad gleam in his eye. “I know what you want, but you’re not going to get it!” Magda is nonplussed.
Lost in whatever dream Petofi is bequeathing upon him, Quentin rubs himself up against the drawing room door, which means the Dark Shadows cast is finally going to admit how they feel about these doors. They’ve all spent years opening and closing the doors every two minutes; now they’re ready to take this relationship to the next level.
And then we go back to the old mill for another Beth and Aristede scene, where Beth says that she wants to know what’s going on, and Aristede says that she hasn’t been working for Petofi long enough to be taken into his confidence.
So by this point, the audience is just gritting their teeth. Come on, come onnnn! Just do the thing!
It’s just getting to me, I guess, all this anticipation. They really are trying, though; they even arrange for a scene with Quentin visiting Pansy at the Blue Whale, where she cheers him up with a musical number. She dances and sings “I’m Gonna Dance for You,” backed up by an invisible three-part band, and Quentin roars with laughter. Then he lifts her up and kisses her, spinning her around as he plants a big smooch on her.
Then he goes over to the piano — did we even know that the Blue Whale had a piano? — and he plays her song, grinning as she joins in.
She hugs him, cooing, “I didn’t know you could play the piano, Quentin!”
“The piano,” he says thoughtfully, launching into a strange interlude. “You know, my dear, many long years ago, I used to play it quite brilliantly. Until they came… until they came!”
He slams the piano shut, and cries out — and when Pansy asks him to play some more, Quentin mutters, “Play… What are you talking about? I never played the piano in my life!”
It’s a fantastic scene — noisy and surprising, two fun actors cutting loose — but then they keep cutting back to Aristede and Beth, and Count Petofi lurking in his lair, and it’s just really getting to me.
And it goes on, for minutes and minutes — Petofi and Quentin and Aristede and Beth — lots of Beth, actually, because apparently the purpose of this episode is to make Beth realize that she still loves Quentin, which she finally does realize, and she runs to Collinwood, where she finds him sleeping in a chair, and he doesn’t wake up, and we hear the rustling of the leaves in a thousand trees, all weekend long.
Monday: The Tortured Undead.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the reprise, Petofi’s spell is slightly different from what he said yesterday. “You must bend your will to mine” becomes “Your will must bend to mine,” and so on.
At the beginning of act 1, Aristede looks out at the studio to make sure of his cue.
Pansy coughs twice after she takes a drink.
Quentin picks Pansy up and kisses her, spinning around in a circle — and we hear a clatter, as he accidentally bumps her against one of the barstools.
Monday: The Tortured Undead.
— Danny Horn