“You drift away, love, you’ll drift back sadly changed.”
And then sometimes everything comes together, and they make all the right choices, and I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it lately but Dark Shadows is my favorite television show.
I’ve been super cranky for the last couple weeks, writing about the wrap-up of the 1897 storyline. The body switch story dragged on for too long, and Grayson Hall’s on vacation, and then we had a week that was mostly angry guys threatening each other. I’ve repeatedly invoked the current six-days-a-week shooting schedule to explain why the quality took a sudden nosedive, and I’m sick of writing about it.
But today — despite the Tasmanian Devil whirlwind of chaos at ABC Studio 16 — they manage to pick all the best available characters, and put them together for a final farewell. It’s one last look at the 1897 that we loved, before we move on to whatever comes next.
So here’s whatever comes now: Tormented pop star heartthrob Quentin Collins has shaken off his possession, and he’s back in control of his own self. But the evil wizard, Count Petofi, is still trying to invade Quentin’s body, and the madman is currently lurking in one of his many lurking spots, spellcasting.
Luckily, we’ve got the multi-talented songstress and mentalist Pansy Faye on our side, and she has a dream that conveniently explains the current plot point. If Quentin falls asleep — even for a second! — Petofi will take over his body. But if Quentin can stay awake long enough to catch the train to New York, then he’ll be out of range of Petofi’s magical mind transmissions, and he’ll be safe.
Naturally, this makes only the vaguest amount of sense, and yet everyone in the audience understands it. It’s a countdown, and countdowns are always arbitrary and fake. We like them anyway.
The catch is that Quentin is really sleepy for some reason, and that makes this the cutest possible countdown! We basically spend the whole episode watching a sleepy kitten try to stay awake. I don’t know why it’s never occurred to me that this is exactly what I want out of a television show.
Pansy comes downstairs, and finds Quentin slumped into a chair. “Oh, pray God it isn’t too late!” she cries, and then he opens his eyes, all blinky and adorable. She explains how dangerous it is for him to fall asleep, and then she hands him a glass of brandy, which seems counter-productive. Don’t they have any coffee or Four Loko or something?
Quentin says that the train to New York leaves in four hours. Rubbing his eyes, he says, “Ordinarily it wouldn’t be any trouble, staying awake for that long” — which is the cutest thing to have to explain to somebody — “but after not having slept for so many days and nights and…”
And then he sort of nods and closes his eyes, and somehow they’ve got everybody in the audience leaning forward, crying, No! Pansy, stop him! Watching somebody fall asleep should be incredibly bad television, but here we are. It’s only been a minute and a half, and we’re totally engaged. It must be magic.
Or maybe it’s just a matter of bringing together the right people. Quentin’s paired in this scene with the most interesting person in town besides himself, the unbeatable Pansy Faye. The writers have never really settled on what Pansy’s role is — teen rebel, loyal sidekick, lovelorn heroine, loose cannon, calculating murderess — and it doesn’t seem to matter. She’s passionate and alive, and she has a funny accent. It works anyway.
This really should be Magda — the spiteful gypsy finally transformed into a caring friend, completing the character arc that began in the first episode of this epic storyline. She should have seen the vision in her crystal ball, and rushed over to Collinwood to walk Quentin around the drawing room. But like I said, Grayson Hall’s on vacation, and luckily they have a perfect substitute.
And then Barnabas walks in, hooray! We haven’t seen him for over a week, and he’s another character who always makes things more interesting.
He crosses the foyer, and stops short when he sees Pansy walking a half-asleep werewolf around the room.
“What in the world?” he says, which is adorable.
“I’m in trouble,” Quentin moans, but Pansy corrects him.
“Not yet,” she says, “but he will be, if he closes his eyes!”
Close-up on Barnabas, who makes shocked acting faces. “Petofi!” he shouts. “He’s started his attack again!”
Quentin nods. “That’s what Charity says.”
“I’ve seen it!” she cries. “And it was ‘orrible!”
Then Barnabas asks Pansy to get Quentin’s bags from his room, and she says, “All right, sure. But mind you keep an eye on him! He’s got a way of driftin’ off!”
So let this be a lesson to you, writers of the world: do not underestimate the appeal of having your best characters work on a problem together. There’s a temptation to up the stakes by having a character struggle on his own, because it makes him more desperate. That temptation makes your story worse. Resist it.
Everybody with functioning televisual literacy knows that a countdown is entirely fake. That’s amplified in this particular case, because they make a point of showing the clock, and it’s 11:35. Ten seconds later, Barnabas says, “I’m afraid that four hours of this will be too much for him!” — so apparently the train to New York leaves at 3:30am? It’s the silliest bit of directorial self-sabotage we’ve seen in a long while.
But it doesn’t matter. The bad thing is going to happen or it’s not going to happen, as determined by whatever conclusion the writer is aiming for. If Quentin’s supposed to be skull-raped by the end of the episode, then Barnabas and Pansy will be called away for an emergency, or to fetch something, or to go to their piano lessons. On the other hand, if Quentin’s supposed to escape this trap, then Barnabas and Pansy succeed.
Whichever way this is supposed to go, they’ll get to the same result in the same amount of time, so the only question is — while we’re waiting to find out the results, is the show going to be entertaining or boring?
Will it just be Quentin doing repetitive thinks monologues where he reminds himself that he has to stay awake? Or do we get all the woodland creatures teaming up to save him?
And then something wonderful happens. Barnabas realizes that there’s someone who could help, so he runs off to the rectory to do one of my favorite Dark Shadows routines: Barnabas and Angelique talking about their feelings!
Now, I know that the Barnabas/Josette relationship is supposed to be huge and central for his character, but Barnabas and Josette scenes bore the hell out of me. They’re always the same, because at her core, Josette is just not that interesting of a character. She has two settings — in love with Barnabas or afraid of Barnabas — and once you’ve seen both of those modes, you’re pretty much done.
But Angelique is one of the most emotionally complicated characters on the show, mostly because the writers use her as a plot driver. She loves him, and she hates him, and she realizes that focusing on him is an addiction that’s destroyed her life many times over. With every turn of the wheel, she’ll have a brand-new motivation, designed to support another lunatic plot contrivance. Over time, her character has developed accidental depth, just from being pushed in one direction after another.
So you’re never quite sure how she’s going to react to something, and for me at least, that makes this couple endlessly watchable.
Here, I’ll demonstrate.
Barnabas: Quentin is in danger!
Angelique: And you want me to dispel that danger, and deliver him into the waiting arms of Amanda Harris? I’m sorry, Barnabas, I can’t do that! I’m too human — too jealous!
Barnabas: Angelique — people like you and I have lived long and troubled lives. We have both seen a great deal of unhappiness and despair. Now, if Quentin can be happy with Amanda, you have no right to deny him that happiness!
Angelique: What are you trying to say? That I don’t deserve love, that I don’t know how to love?
Barnabas: I haven’t said that at all! Now, surely there’s someone else.
Angelique: No. I’ve already found Quentin. He’s the only one I want.
Barnabas: But why Quentin? If he’s that important to you, why would you destroy him, rather than give him up?
So, I mean — right? The feels! The long and troubled lives, the don’t know how to love, the why would you destroy him!
I can’t explain it any better than that. Either you get why this scene is amazing, or I don’t know. Maybe watching television is not for you.
And finally, after months of mystery, she breaks down and tells the truth about why she’s so stuck on marrying Quentin.
Angelique: Before I came here this time, I was in the everlasting pits of Hell, where other creatures of my kind live. Only… my stay here on Earth made me dissatisfied with my life there. I longed to come back here — to Earth, to become a human being! I begged my Master for the chance! Finally, he gave it to me — on one condition, and one condition only.
Barnabas: And what was that?
Angelique: That I make one man fall in love with me, without any use of supernatural spells or powers. One man. One chance. That’s what I was granted.
Barnabas: And he is the one?
Angelique: Yes. So you can see why Quentin is the only man on Earth for me, if I want to remain here on Earth as a human being… and I do. I do!
Now, obviously, that makes precisely zero sense. Why would Satan make a bargain like that? Why does he want her to stay in Hell? And what would making a man fall in love with her have to do with anything?
It’s narrativium, that’s all; this whole episode is powered by a solid core of 100% narrativium. Why is Quentin so tired when everybody else is fine? Why does Petofi get a good signal right now, but not if Quentin was in New York? Why is Angelique engaging in incoherent negotiations with Satan?
But if we have to have nonsense — and this is Dark Shadows, so obviously we do — then let it be this nonsense. Put the most interesting characters on the show together in a room, talking about their feelings.
Meanwhile, Pansy’s still walking Quentin in circles around the room, telling him stories about her theatrical career. As she takes a breath between anecdotes, he sits down heavily, rubs his eyes, and groans, “I’m sorry — I just keep drifting away.”
“You drift away, love, you’ll drift back sadly changed,” she says, because that is how you write dialogue.
And then — just when you think that the episode can’t possibly get better — they do a musical number. God damn it, I love this show.
“I got an idea!” she cries. “Let’s you and me sing!”
“I don’t feel like singing.”
“Like it or not, you gotta do it. The show must go on! That’s the one and only rule there is, love. So let’s have a bright chorus from that new team, Pansy Faye and Quentin Collins!”
And then they sing “I Wanna Dance with You”, which just happens to be a single that dropped this week. It’s a romantic version of Pansy’s signature tune, performed by Nancy Barrett and some guy named David Shelby. It’s just been released by Philips Records, hoping to catch some of the magic that turned “Quentin’s Theme” into a top 40 hit, back in March.
They’ve already done a promo for this record a couple weeks ago, in episode 873, where they did it as a dream sequence and played the whole song. It was fine — they used some psychedelic lighting effects to make it a bit more interesting — but it was just playing the record, while Ms. Barrett and Mr. Shelby looked into each other’s eyes.
This time, it’s actually Pansy Faye and Quentin Collins, in-universe, singing their new hit single, and it’s even plot-relevant and everything.
I could go on forever about every scene in this episode, but you get the idea. All the fun characters, working together on a trumped-up countdown, singing and arguing and strolling in circles, like this was what they’d planned all along.
And that’s helpful, because there is an actual countdown going on, namely: two days from now, we leave 1897 forever. That’s why I’ve been so grouchy for the last couple weeks, because it’s been a whole year since Quentin’s ghost first appeared, and I really couldn’t stand the idea that the 1897 storyline would end in such a negative, dark way.
What we needed was a charming, silly runaround, with all the best people doing the things they do best. We needed Angelique to be emotional; we needed Barnabas to take everything super seriously; we needed Quentin to be cute and friendly. And I wouldn’t have said in advance that we needed the unflappable Pansy Faye to rally round for a closing number, but here it is, and it’s perfect.
So it’s okay for us to love this storyline, now and forever. I can spend the rest of my life saying “1897 is my favorite period of the show,” which it is, without having to grimace and apologize for the last few weeks. And it happened just in the nick of time!
Tomorrow: The Tate Murders.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
This one’s subtle. At the top of act 2, when the camera pulls back to show Barnabas and Angelique with the candles in the foreground, look past the door on the left and you can see a little bit of the stage light on the floor.
Pansy asks what Angelique is going to do, and Barnabas says, “Angelique can perform… certain psychic things.”
Behind the Scenes:
This week, Philips Records released the single “I Wanna Dance With You”, with vocals by Nancy Barrett and David Selby. This is a romantic version of Pansy Faye’s raucous “I’m Gonna Dance for You”, promoted on the show with a dream sequence in episode 873, and a reprise today, with Quentin and Pansy walking in circles around the drawing room, singing the song.
The B-side had the “Theme from Dark Shadows” by the Robert Cobert Orchestra. The single was produced by Cobert and Charles Randolph Greane, who’d produced the hit single “Quentin’s Theme”.
Tomorrow: The Tate Murders.
— Danny Horn