“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; Schrödinger 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.
This week, in schoolyards across the country, there’s basically one topic of conversation — is Barnabas alive or not? We saw Pansy the Vampire Slayer hammer a stake into the guy a month ago, and here he is, still stuck.
But yesterday, this mysterious lookalike showed up, staggering around in the woods. The new guy — who looks just like Barnabas, and calls himself Barnabas — claims that he’s a victim of his shadow twin, who kept him prisoner somewhere and fed off his life essence. This is a preposterous story that can only be understood if you have a doctorate in particle physics.
So the schoolyard argument about which Barnabas is the real one has been taken up by Edward and Count Petofi, who’s currently making a quantum leap of his own, and is appearing in the guise and garb of Quentin Collins.
Edward decides that box-Barnabas is the vampire, and therefore man-Barnabas wins an all-expense-paid trip to Collinwood.
Petofi: Are you crazy?
Edward: You heard this man’s story. He’s a Collins, and he’s been through a terrible experience.
Petofi: And you really believe him?
Edward: Don’t you?
Petofi: … I don’t know.
Edward: What other choice do we have? We’re clearly in the presence of two distinctly different bodies.
Petofi: But they look exactly the same!
Edward: But we have both seen that this man can exist in daylight, and we have seen that the stake is still in the heart of this vampire!
Count Petofi just stands there and fumes, and you have to feel sorry for the guy. He used to be the wonderful wizard in his underground lair, moving the chess pieces around as he constructed his dazzling master plan. Now he’s just another middle-schooler, who knows that this must be a trick, but can’t quite figure out how it was done.
And I can’t figure it out either, by the way. For most of the show’s run, I’ve understood how Dark Shadows used the limited technology that was available to them. They recorded the episodes live-to-tape, just turning the cameras on and running through the show like a stage play, leaving empty space for the commercials. Editing videotape was a luxury, so the special Chromakey effects were all done in-camera, mixing two live video feeds into one image. If an actor was needed on another set, then everybody had to stall while he ran across the studio. Showing the same person in two places at once was impossible.
Up until now, I’ve been able to explain almost everything that we’ve seen — that’s a Chromakey shot, that’s a stand-in, that’s a still picture — but recently they’ve been learning new tricks. There’s been a gradual increase in the amount of editing that they’re able to do, and there are moments like this one, where they’ve clearly upped their game. It’s essential to the Dark Shadows mission that the show maintains its capacity to surprise, and this one is rock solid.
The rest of the episode is basically a series of philosophical arguments about whether this is the same Barnabas or not, with Edward serving as the voice of reason, patiently explaining the least explicable explanation, while the mad fanatic Reverend Trask points out the obvious.
“He was in his coffin with a stake through his heart!” Trask cries.
“The man you are thinking about is still in his coffin,” Edward says, as if he’s already told you this a hundred times. “That is not the same Barnabas. He was victimized by the Barnabas we all know, and you can see, he is in a terrible state.”
Trask’s counter-arguments are: the Devil is at work here (which he is), he has deceived you (which he has), you have made a mistake bringing him into this house (which we have), and his presence here is a danger to all of us (which it is). The score is currently four-nothing for Trask, but Edward has a knockout blow.
“Trask, in all of your fanatical ravings,” Edward sighs, “there is one salient point which you have failed to grasp.”
“And what is that?”
“Quentin and I brought this man in here in broad daylight. Even you are supposed to know that a vampire cannot live during the day.”
This is a devastating putdown, because Trask has forgotten one of the fundamental principles of vampire science. What a maroon.
Upstairs in the guest room, Count Petofi tries a different angle. Edward may think this is the innocent daywalker, but Petofi is a realist, and he knows that somehow, the vampire has changed his spots.
The conversation goes something like this:
“Barnabas,” Petofi says, in a casual I’m-not-an-impostor way, “now that we’re alone, you don’t have to playact anymore.”
“Believe me, it’s all right. I know the full story.”
“What full story?”
“I know that Angelique and Julia have been working together, to bring you back.”
“And now we can work together to fight Petofi.”
It’s marvelous; and all he has to do is repeat back phrases, and everyone else needs to come up with new material. Daytime Barnabas could do this in his sleep, which is pretty much what he’s doing.
Now, if his story actually is true, then just imagine the kind of life he’s been leading. He came here from England, with the hope of meeting some distant relatives. Instead, he’s set upon by his own ferocious evil twin, who drinks his blood and usurps his place in the family. Finally freed by some miracle, he shows up at the house, and everybody keeps throwing backstory at him.
This storyline is basically the superposition of the classic amnesia story and the evil twin story, two soap staples. If this was happening on a modern soap right now — and it probably is — then we’d spend the next three weeks discussing DNA test results.
But it’s hard to work up any sympathy for the newbie. This is what you get for looking like Barnabas. You should have thought of that before.
At this point, Schrödinger — unable to get the wave function to collapse — grows increasingly frantic. Alarms go off; grad students scramble. Schrödinger just starts smacking at the cat with his briefcase, desperately trying to get it to resolve into one state or another.
“As long as this thing exists, the family’s in danger,” Petofi says, setting the coffin alight. “You must admit that, Edward.” And Edward does, as he must, because preposterous premise has become fact. And the fire spreads.
And so the villain — who is himself a superposition of Count Petofi and Quentin Collins — invites a psychic — herself a quantum admixture of Charity Trask and Pansy Faye — to resolve the problem.
Meanwhile, the survivors at Schrödinger’s lab — each of them atomically decaying, observed and unobserved and impossible to predict — are being contained in a series of small boxes, each one equipped with a Geiger counter and a small flask of hydrocyanic acid.
And that cat — that unobservable cat, with its own theories about the Copenhagen interpretation — it lives and dies, in fractal patterns, visiting entangled decoherence on both the researchers and the researched-upon. There will be a collapse, Schrödinger demands. There must be. The cat leaps to the chalkboard, and writes an unfamiliar equation.
Tomorrow: The Collapsing Cat.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the first act, when Edward points at the unconscious Barnabas, the camera tries to zoom in on Barnabas, but it’s completely out of focus.
When Pansy says she remembers her father, somebody coughs in the studio.
At the end of act 2, Trask storms out of Collinwood, vowing to go and ask Charles Delaware Tate who bought Amanda’s portrait. But when we see him in act three, he’s entering Barnabas’ guest room with a cross, and nobody mentions whether he actually talked to Tate or not.
My favorite prop, the Ralston-Purina lamp, shows up today in the guest room that they put Barnabas in. The last time we saw it was in July, on the drawing room desk when Trask unwittingly signed his confession.
Tomorrow: The Collapsing Cat.
— Danny Horn