“So much happens in this house! So much what you can’t understand!”
The mad wizard Count Petofi, currently assuming the guise and garb of black sheep pop star Quentin Collins, is holding the temples of the renowned painter Charles Delaware Tate. He’s guiding the artist on a magical mystery tour through the cosmic corridors of the I Ching, hoping to discover the hexagram that leads to another time. It’s actually going really well so far.
Gazing into the infinite, Tate describes what he sees. “It’s the drawing room at Collinwood,” he breathes. “It’s different… and the people are different, too. There’s a little boy, and a little girl, and a woman. Another woman’s just come into the room. They’re greeting her, and calling her Julia.”
Which is just entirely unfair. Tate’s watching a better episode of Dark Shadows than we are!
Cause yeah, sorry, I’m just sick of 1897 at this point. I love the storyline — overall, it’s the best period the show ever had — but we’ve been on vacation in another century for almost eight months, and I’m ready to go home. I miss Julia. So my interests are now perfectly in synch with the mad count; we both want an exit ramp.
Count Petofi has spent the better part of the last six weeks trying to figure out how to use a Chinese divination technique as some sort of a carriage ride into the future, where he can escape from the gypsies by jumping into Quentin’s immortal portrait-maintained body. If that sentence makes no sense to you, then I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to go back a few months to catch up. The Dark Shadows writers have decided that onboarding new viewers is unnecessary, and there’s only so much I can do.
So Petofi summons Beth, Quentin’s on-and-off girlfriend with such low self-esteem that she’ll believe anything a guy says, no matter how much sense it doesn’t make. He proceeds to say the most perplexing things he can think of.
Petofi: Beth… I have found the 49th hexagram! The one that can lead to another time!
Beth: No, Quentin!
Petofi: I have to, it’s the only way I can escape Petofi!
So let’s break that down for a second. The fact that he’s referring to himself in the third person is totally fine — Beth still doesn’t know about the body swap, so she thinks that this is Quentin.
But Quentin never said anything, to Beth or anyone else, about wanting to find an I Ching hexagram that transcends time. That’s Petofi’s plan, and Beth knows it, because he used her as a test subject more than a month ago. This should be her tip-off that this isn’t Quentin.
Beth: You’re mad!
Petofi: Now, listen to me! Petofi’s not the only reason I must do this. We must do this to get away from Angelique, forever!
That’s another tricky one. Does Beth know that Angelique is a witch? Does she know why Angelique wanted to marry Quentin, and why he agreed? For that matter, why did Angelique want to marry Quentin?
So as far as I can tell, Beth should be asking several follow-up questions. What “Quentin” is saying makes no sense, to her or to me.
But that’s not the point. This is a clockwork episode, constructed to move characters and props around the game board, in order to deliver a pre-determined cliffhanger. These moves don’t need to make sense in terms of characterization or continuity; they only matter in the moment, to move a person from here to there. In a farce like this, it’s the plot that matters, and the characters adapt as well as they can.
Still, the weird thing — and there’s always a weird thing, isn’t there, when we contemplate the baffling electrical disturbance that we know as Dark Shadows — is that this carefully choreographed series of ticks and tocks doesn’t include the one crucial step. This episode is secretly a whodunnit, except you don’t realize it until tomorrow, and the solution to the mystery is pretty much impossible.
So let’s look at the steps, to see how we get from here to there.
Tick. Petofi tells Beth that he’s going to use the I Ching to transfer his astral self along the psychedlic spaceways to 1969, and then she’ll join him.
He’s packing a suitcase, so that he can transport some crucial props to the future with him. He tells Beth to go cash a check for him, so he has some money for the trip, and then he rolls up the magic portrait that keeps him from being a werewolf. To get these items to 1969 unharmed, he’s planning to bury the suitcase, one hundred yards from the cornerstone of the west wing. When he arrives in the future, he’ll dig it up.
Then Beth asks what happens if he doesn’t remember where the suitcase is. He smiles like he’s the smartest man in the world, and reaches into his inside pocket.
“I’ve drawn a map!” he says, unfolding it for her. “I’m going to take it with me.”
So that’s kind of — wait, what? You can bring the map with you, when your astral self projects into another time, just because it’s inside your jacket pocket? Then why do you have to bury the cash and the portrait? You could just hang on to them while you’re doing the I Ching meditation. But there’s no logical explanation that would apply here. We need a suitcase, money and a map, apparently, and here they are.
Tock. Tate walks into Collinwood with no invitation, opens the drawing room doors, and finds Pansy sitting on the couch, perfectly still, just waiting for the scene to start. This kind of thing happens all the time in clockwork episodes.
“Quentin’s going to the future!” he tells her, for no particular reason. “He’s going to go there and leave me — but I’m not going to let him!” Then he rushes upstairs, because that’s where his next scene is supposed to be.
Tick. Barnabas decides that he wants to be friends with Pansy, the woman who staked him in his coffin. “I know that I look like the vampire that you destroyed,” he admits, “but you must believe me, that I am a victim of the vampire, just as your fiancee was!” Pansy executes an instant about-face, and now they’re friends, as required by the plot.
She tells Barnabas that Tate said Quentin’s going to the future. “So much happens in this house!” she says. “So much what you can’t understand!” Amen to that.
Tock. Tate barges into Quentin’s room, and demands that Petofi reverse the magic spell that took his artistic abilities away. Petofi laughs and tells him to go to hell, so Tate grabs the portrait, because he’s apparently forgotten that Petofi has a magical hand that can do terrible things. Petofi reminds him.
Tick. Downstairs, Pansy asks why Barnabas is bothered about Quentin going to the future. “I’m simply worried about what’s happening in that room upstairs,” he says, which is not an answer to her question. He asks her to distract Quentin for him, saying, “You’d be doing everyone in the family a great favor.” He offers no evidence to back up this extraordinary claim.
Pansy reflects. “That Quentin, he can be mean,” she says. “I know Miss Judith, and she worries about him. I’d like a little peace and quiet in this house, too! But that Quentin — he wouldn’t listen to me.” At least three out of those four sentences do not apply to any version of Pansy that we know.
Tock. The touch of Petofi’s hand has rendered Tate completely docile; he’s got a thousand-yard stare and a quiet demeanor. Petofi rolls the painting up and puts it in the suitcase, and sets the bag aside. Then Petofi directs Tate out of the room, and tells him to go back to his studio.
This is the crucial step in the whodunnit, by the way. Knowing this won’t help you figure it out, but I’m flagging it anyway, for future reference.
Tick. As Tate stumbles out the door, Pansy comes in. She’s found out that today is Quentin’s birthday, and she insists that he come downstairs with her to celebrate.
Tock. Petofi and Pansy head downstairs, where they find Beth, just returning from cashing the check. He sends Pansy into the drawing room to open the champagne, and gives Beth her briefing instructions.
Petofi: I want you to go upstairs, and get the suitcase. Here’s the map. Now, listen — be sure you put the money in the suitcase before you bury it. And make sure that you bury it on the spot I marked! Afterwards, you’ll come back to where I’ll be. If the body is still in its trance, you guard it until it disappears. Remember — it’s the 49th hexagram! Everything else will be in the book. Now, please, Beth — do what I say. For our sake, huh?
So that all makes sense, kind of, except that now she has the map, which means he won’t be able to take it to the future. But whatever.
Tick. Barnabas was hiding somewhere, until he saw Petofi and Pansy leave Quentin’s room. Now, he sneaks into the room and rummages around. It’s not at all clear what he’s looking for, or why he thought it would help for Pansy to distract Petofi.
He has just enough time for a fruitless peek inside the closet, when he hears footsteps and hides behind a curtain. Beth opens the door, goes straight for the suitcase, and walks out.
Tock. Pansy and Petofi toast to the future. Petofi sees Beth coming downstairs with the suitcase, followed by Barnabas. Petofi calls to Barnabas, distracting him for a moment, and Beth gets away from him.
Tick. Excusing himself from the revels, Barnabas heads outside, and tries to figure out where Beth has gone. It’s not clear why he wants to follow Beth. He doesn’t know that the suitcase is important, and he didn’t really have much of a reason to search for anything anyway. Also: Beth is only going a hundred yards from the west wing, so how hard could it be to find her?
Tock. Barnabas returns to the house, and finds Pansy, drinking alone in the drawing room. She says Quentin went somewhere else in the house, and she didn’t see Beth come back in. Barnabas’ plan — which doesn’t exist — has failed.
Tick (1897). But Petofi’s plan is going fine, and here he is, in some random room of the house, concentrating on the I Ching hexagram. He sees the magic door, and passes through it…
Tick (1969). Petofi enters Collinwood — and it’s filled with unfamiliar furniture. Finding a newspaper on the desk, he reads the date: “October 28th… 1969! I’ve made it. I’m here! 1969!”
So there you go, that’s the thrilling cliffhanger we’ve been building up to, and it really is a remarkable achievement — a memorable climax to the story. So it’s a shame that I’m now going to spoil everything, by talking about why it doesn’t make sense.
Tock. In the next episode, Petofi snaps back to 1897, because Beth interrupted his I Ching trance. He’s furious, of course, but she’s got a reason: “The portrait — your picture! It’s gone! It’s not in the suitcase! I went to the woods — I opened the suitcase to put the money in — and the painting wasn’t there!”
So… okay. Problem number one: What has Beth been doing all this time?
We saw her leave the house with the suitcase, while Petofi and Pansy were toasting Quentin’s birthday. Barnabas was right on her trail, but the party interrupted him for about twelve seconds. Then he went out to chase down Beth.
Meanwhile, Beth was supposed to walk to a tree, one hundred yards away from the cornerstone of the west wing. Then she opened the suitcase to put the money in it, and discovered that the portrait wasn’t there. And then I guess she waited around for a while?
Barnabas was still looking around, trying to find her. Pansy said that Beth didn’t come back into the house. So what was Beth doing, between the time that she discovered the painting was missing and the time that she interrupted Petofi’s trance?
But the big question is: Who stole Quentin’s portrait?
The last time that we saw it, Petofi had just put the whammy on Tate. He rolled up the picture and locked it in the suitcase, and then he sent Tate out of the room.
Pansy came in just at that moment, and invited “Quentin” downstairs for the birthday celebration. They left the room, leaving the portrait in the suitcase.
When Barnabas saw Petofi and Pansy leaving the room, he sneaked in, on whatever errand he thought he was accomplishing. But he didn’t touch the suitcase, and then Beth came in, took the suitcase and walked out.
So who took the portrait out of the suitcase? It doesn’t seem like anybody had the opportunity.
We don’t find out until next week, when it’s revealed that the villain is — Charles Tate! Somehow, he got access to the portrait after Petofi packed it into the suitcase, and before Beth took it outside.
So Petofi hypnotoaded Tate and sent him away — but instead of going back to his studio, he hid somewhere upstairs. He waited until Petofi and Pansy left Quentin’s room, and then he went into the room, opened the suitcase, took out the portrait, closed the suitcase and walked out with the portrait — before Barnabas could see him.
Because Barnabas was waiting for Petofi and Pansy to leave the room, too. Is it possible that Barnabas saw them leave, but completely missed Tate going in and out of the room?
And even if he had — Beth walked into the room a minute later. How did Tate get out of the house with the picture, without being spotted by either Beth or Barnabas, who were pretty much walking back and forth between Quentin’s room and the front door for the rest of the evening? This is like a locked room mystery where it turns out that nobody got into the room, and the crime just happened spontaneously on its own.
I mean, I know, it’s just a TV show, and a typically incoherent one at that. Plus, this episode has some great Pansy moments, and Petofi is crazy and wild-eyed, and the climax with Petofi reaching 1969 is just stunning. Still, I wasn’t the one who decided this should be a clockwork episode. They started it.
Tomorrow: The Violent Majority.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Quentin tells Beth, “I don’t want to start a new life with the threat of a new moon, and a full moon, hanging over me each time!” He also says, “My body will be in a trance. Now, after it disappears, you will know that it is time to join us.”
Behind the Scenes:
The drawing room set changes from the 1897 set to the 1969 set over the course of the episode, but the change actually happens in stages rather than all at once. The couch and chairs are replaced while they’re still doing 1897 scenes, and then the lamps, telephone and desk are changed for the final scene.
There are six scenes set in the drawing room, but in some of them, you only see a small part of the set, so it’s hard to say exactly when the switches are made. But here’s what you can see:
Act 1, Tate tells Pansy that he’s seen the future: She’s sitting on a red couch. There are red padded chairs facing the couch. Various round lamps around the room, old telephone on the credenza. Act 2 picks up with Tate and Pansy again, no visible change to the set dressing.
Act 3, Barnabas tells Pansy a secret: They huddle in a corner of the drawing room, where you can’t see much. It’s all shot by one camera.
Act 3, Petofi and Pansy drink champagne: The couch has changed from the 1897 red couch to a green 1969 model. We still see the round lamps and the old telephone.
Act 3, Barnabas finds Pansy’s drunk the rest of the champagne: There are now green chairs facing the green couch. There’s also a sideboard with a clock and a green shaded lamp.
Act 3 finish, Petofi enters the 1969 drawing room: All of the lamps have been changed to modern style, and the old telephone has become a modern telephone. The green chairs are facing the green couch. The sideboard has been replaced with a desk, holding some books, a lamp, and the newspaper.
Tomorrow: The Violent Majority.
— Danny Horn