Monthly Archives: May 2016

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Episode 870: The Collapsing Cat

“Have I come back to tragedy and death again?”

We left off yesterday with Erwin Schrodinger and his magical cat, trapped in a thought experiment about quantum indeterminacy that threatens to destroy us all.

Here’s how it works: The theoretical cat is placed in a sealed chamber with a Geiger counter, a hammer, a flask of cyanide, and a small chunk of something radioactive, which may or may not decay over the course of an hour. Within that hour, there are two possibilities:

#1. The atom decays, which is detected by the Geiger counter, which trips a sensor that makes the hammer smash into the flask, releasing the cyanide and killing the cat.

#2. The atom doesn’t decay, which means no Geiger, no hammer, no cyanide. In that case, the cat is alive at the end of the hour, and it can go about its business.

Now, according to quantum mechanics, the atomic decay in the radioactive substance is in both states simultaneously — both decayed and not — until it’s observed, at which point it resolves into one state or the other. And if the cat’s life is determined by the unresolved atomic decay, then the cat is both alive and dead at the same time — until you open the box and look inside, which causes the wave function to collapse into either “alive cat” or “dead cat”. And then you feed the cat, or bury it, as appropriate.

But Schrodinger and his imaginary thought-experiment grad students completely missed the third alternative, which is that the cat would look at all this equipment, and figure out what’s going on.

At that point, you have an undead cat, sitting alone in a steel box with a flask of cyanide, a hammer and an active source of plutonium, and nothing to do for the next fifty-five minutes but think about the future. Schrodinger has created a dangerous supernatural entity, and provided it with an arsenal.

You don’t resolve a situation like this by opening the box. Opening the box is the beginning of act two.

Continue reading Episode 870: The Collapsing Cat

869 dark shadows barnabas staked

Episode 869: Schrodinger’s Vampire

“We’re clearly in the presence of two distinctly different bodies.”

You know, everyone talks about quantum superposition, but nobody does anything about it.

The scientific protocol is as follows: You put a vampire into a box, while the actor goes to Illinois and appears in Dial M for Murder. After four weeks, there’s a fifty-fifty chance that audience interest in the story has decayed.

While the mystery box is closed and the audience can’t observe the vampire directly, the storyline exists in two states simultaneously, a superposition of “dead vampire” and “alive vampire”. This is soap opera quantum mechanics. When you open the box, the two possible quantum states collapse into one, and the audience can observe whether the vampire is alive or dead.

The problem is that Edward Collins and Count Petofi have just opened the coffin, and there’s both a dead Barnabas lying in the coffin and an alive Barnabas collapsing on the cave floor. They’re supposed to choose one or the other; Schrodinger will be simply furious when he hears about this.

So here we are — at the peak of Dark Shadows’ ratings success, cresting the last great surprise before the show begins its long, gradual decline. In this moment, the show’s rising popularity meets its impending defeat; it is simultaneously a blockbuster hit and a soon-to-be-forgotten novelty.

It’s time for reality to collapse into one position or another — and on Dark Shadows, when things collapse, they really collapse.

Continue reading Episode 869: Schrodinger’s Vampire

868 dark shadows barnabas pulse

Episode 868: A New Man

“This man is dead! We know he’s dead, don’t we?”

So I suppose you could say that there’s good news, and bad news. The good news is that Dark Shadows hits its all-time ratings peak this week, thanks to the return of TV’s cool ghoul Jonathan Frid, who’s just coming back from a month-long vacation.

Barnabas has been off camera for four weeks now, chained up in a coffin with a stake through his heart. Yesterday, we finally saw him again — but he’s still staked, still chained, not getting much use out of that FitBit we got him for Christmas. And yet, here he is, the deceased Barnabas Collins, lying around in a doctor’s office and getting his pulse taken, like the show-off that he is.

We’re going to spend the next few days trying to figure out if this really is Barnabas, or some unlikely lookalike with the same name and address. Either way, there’s some kind of narrative sleight-of-hand going on, and everybody’s tuning in to see how they’re going to pull it off. The ratings have been going up steadily all year, thanks to Quentin and the 1897 storyline, and this week is the apex of Dark Shadows’ popularity. That’s the good news.

Continue reading Episode 868: A New Man

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Episode 867: Nothing Up My Sleeve

“I know that vampires sleep very fitfully.”

Okay, ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to show you a little game called Find the Vampire. It starts out very simple, all I need you to do is remember this card — Barnabas Collins.

Simple enough, what card do you have again? Okay. You can turn it over, take one last look. Now Barnabas Collins is right here in this coffin — let’s say it’s in a cave, all right? Barnabas Collins, in a cave, in a coffin, with a stake through his heart. That’s a dead vampire. He’s not going anywhere.

Great, now it gets a little tougher; we’re going to add another card into the game. This one is a mysterious presence at the rectory, Julia was left behind to take care of something when Barnabas was destroyed — that’s Barnabas, in the cave. This is a different card, over here, something in the rectory.

Now, I’m going to add one more card to the game, make sure you’re still — which card was yours again? The vampire, right, keep your eye on the vampire. Julia leaves the game, and then Angelique takes over, there’s a switch, and now we’ve got another mysterious presence, in the cove at Shipwreck Point. That’s a cove, not a cave. Don’t get those mixed up. The vampire’s in the cave, there’s something in the cove, one, two, three, and if I ask you, find Barnabas Collins, which card would you choose?

Continue reading Episode 867: Nothing Up My Sleeve

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Episode 866: The Briar Patch

“Would you like to try and resist this hand again, my dear?”

The story so far: Count Andreas Petofi, magical gangster from the Boston Carpathians, is engaged in a tense low-speed chase with a pack of howling vengeance gypsies. For all his bluster, all Petofi really wants to do is run away and hide — in somebody else’s body, living in somebody else’s house, and traveling to somebody else’s time zone. It’s not much to ask, really, and so far it’s been going pretty well.

But as the poet said, the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley, and this one is drifting in an agley direction. It turns out he’s not the only mouse in town.

Continue reading Episode 866: The Briar Patch

864 dark shadows pansy angelique

Episode 864: Down the Hatch

“Do you deserve to live? Why? To playact at your black arts, to be a dilettante warlock?”

The hatch in the ground is at Shipwreck Point, obviously, because they didn’t have plane crashes in 1897. But I guess now we’re using plot points from Lost, because Dark Shadows borrows from every story it can find, including stories that haven’t been written yet. To achieve this kind of effect, you usually need an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of typewriters. But Dark Shadows can only afford three monkeys, so they have to type extra hard.

Continue reading Episode 864: Down the Hatch

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Episode 863: Sin and Sincerity

“But why should God be angry at Judith?”

Barnabas is staked, Quentin is swapped, Charity is possessed by a woman she hardly knows. As usual, the Collins family is full of supernatural ne’er-do-wells, who scream and scheme and stay up late, desperate to save each other from their latest fate worse than death.

Meanwhile, the grown-ups in the family go to work, and manage their investments, and take care of the property. They pay servants. They sign documents. They make decisions.

Some of those decisions are terrible, of course, especially in their choice of spouses, who tend to be monsters and murderers and reincarnations of people, but at least the grown-ups don’t dabble in the dark arts. Judith wouldn’t know a dark art if it came up and bit her, which, come to think of it, it actually did.

Continue reading Episode 863: Sin and Sincerity

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Episode 862: Z-Jay

“Why did you come out here at this hour, and why are you wearing that gown?”

As you know, I hate to speak ill of the dead, especially when they’ve gone to a lot of trouble and they’re only trying to help, but I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a ghost successfully deliver a coherent warning to anybody. Either they moan a person’s name and nothing else, or they issue a bunch of unheralded pronouns and don’t explain the context. They put all this spectral energy into piercing the veil between the living and the not, but when they get through, it turns out they haven’t really figured out their messaging.

The current example is even more baffling than usual. Kitty Hampshire — known Josette lookalike and alleged reincarnation — finds a note in her bechamber that says, “Know yourself. Be who you must be.” Then she hears the hypnotic chimes of a music box, which direct her to a vintage gown hidden in the cedar chest. Putting it on, the damsel in this dress drifts down the stairs, and out to the cliffs atop Widow’s Hill, a popular nightspot for the young and doomed. This is all standard practice for gothic heroines who are gradually becoming aware that they’re somebody else.

Arriving at the rendezvous point, Kitty finds the specter of Jeremiah Collins, who was shot in the face a hundred years ago. “YOU MUST LEAVE THIS PLACE!” he bellows. “LEAVE COLLINWOOD, AND NEVER RETURN! IF YOU STAY — HE WILL KILL YOU!”

So Kitty just stands there, and screams her head off. And Jeremiah, honestly, what did you think was going to happen? You’re an undead creature with an untreated head wound. You are scary. That is a thing that you are now; you need to recognize that, and adjust your strategy accordingly.

Continue reading Episode 862: Z-Jay

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Episode 861: The Unvisited

“I feel a presence of someone!”

Previously, on Dark Shadows:

The Doctor came to a halt, his arms folded. “I won’t do it,” he said obstinately. “Whatever you want — I won’t do it!”

The Time Lord spoke one word. “Daleks.”

The Doctor spun around. “Daleks? Well, what about them?”

The Time Lord paused, as if collecting his arguments, then said, “Our latest temporal projections foresee a Time-stream in which the Daleks will have destroyed all other life forms. They could become the dominant creatures in the Universe.”

“That has always been their aim,” agreed the Doctor grimly. “Go on.”

“We’d like you to return to Skaro at a point in time just before the Daleks evolved.”

Immediately the Doctor guessed the Time Lord’s plan. “And prevent their creation?”

“That, or alter their genetic development, so they evolve into less aggressive creatures. At the very least, you might discover some weakness which could serve as a weapon against them.”

The Doctor tried to look as if he was thinking it over. But it was no more than a pretence. He couldn’t resist the idea of a chance to defeat his oldest enemies once and for all. “Oh all right. All right. I suppose I’ll have to help you — just one more time. Return me to the TARDIS.”

“No need for that, Doctor. This is Collinwood.”

Continue reading Episode 861: The Unvisited