Monthly Archives: July 2016

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Episode 908: Jim Henson’s Gaslight Babies

“Well, you can think that way if you want. You’ll only be joining an ever-increasing mob!”

So I like the Leviathan story, is apparently what’s happening. Looking back over the last month of blog posts, I’ve devoted a lot of them to things that I like about the storyline.

It’s silly, obviously, and they have no idea what to do with the monster or the conspirators. For once, the writers have a clear idea of where they want to be in four to six weeks, but from day to day they’re stumbling around from one thing to another, and they cover up plot inconsistencies by having the characters say “yes, that was a prophecy, we totally meant to do that for reasons that we would rather not explain at this time.”

But Dark Shadows storylines are always silly and riddled with holes, and there’s a lot to enjoy in these early days of the Leviathans. They’ve brought Liz’s ex-husband Paul back, continuing an important early story thread that we assumed they’d just forgotten about. The resolution of the “Payment Due” mystery last week was clever and thrilling. There’s a tight focus on Barnabas, Julia, Carolyn and Liz — four of the best characters on the show, who didn’t always have a lot to do during late 1968 and early ’69. I don’t believe in Megan and Philip, and I think the story’s use of Quentin is entirely inadequate, but there are lots of things to like, and I’d say on the whole it’s a net positive.

This is somewhat remarkable, because the reputation among Dark Shadows fans is that the Leviathan story is terrible and show-destroying. That may turn out to be true, as we get further into it — but right now, it’s worth pointing out that there’s a lot here to love.

Continue reading Episode 908: Jim Henson’s Gaslight Babies

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Episode 907: Barnabas v Julia: Dawn of Justice

“I’m in the curious position of knowing the criminals, but not the crime.”

There’s a popular myth that vampire Barnabas Collins is “redeemed” at some point during the run of Dark Shadows, and becomes a “sympathetic” character. In fact, that myth is so popular that pretty much everyone believes it except me, and even I believe it sometimes.

Still, it’s difficult to identify a moment in the series when he isn’t willing to murder someone, or cover up a murder, in order to protect himself or further some goal that he has. It is true that sometimes the person he’s planning to murder is not very nice. Whether that counts as “sympathetic” depends on your opinion of mass murder as a lifestyle choice for fictional characters.

At the moment, Barnabas is participating in a conspiracy led by the Leviathan people, an ancient and perplexing time-traveling death cult that appears to be mostly interested in Carolyn Stoddard’s love life. This cosmic conspiracy now includes several members of the Collins family, as well as the people who run the antique shop where Carolyn works.

As a collective, the Leviathan-minded characters have done the following:

  • Opened a box
  • Adopted a baby
  • Boarded up some windows
  • Read a book
  • Bought some clothes
  • Gave medicine to the baby
  • Stayed out later than they were supposed to
  • Talked to somebody at the Blue Whale
  • Pretended that a weird noise was the radiator even though it wasn’t
  • Invited their ex-husband to move back in
  • and drew circles on a couple of calendars.

And that, I think, is the extent of the current reign of terror. Except for Barnabas Collins, of course, who intentionally ran somebody down with his car, and is now planning to finish the job by choking the life out of the unconscious victim in his hospital bed.

As usual, the only person who’s even thinking about murder is Barnabas. Everybody else is basically fine.

Continue reading Episode 907: Barnabas v Julia: Dawn of Justice

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Episode 906: Little Caesar

“They’re like an organization — they’re evil, Liz! Terribly evil!”

They blew into town a month ago, and started making noise. A bunch of trouble boys, call themselves the Leviathans. There’s something squirrely about ’em, I know that much.

It’s all tied up with the Stoddard family, up on the hill, especially Carolyn. These guys have plans for Carolyn, big plans, and by the time they’re done, they’re gonna give the human race a sock in the kisser.

Continue reading Episode 906: Little Caesar

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Episode 905: Waiting for Quentin

“The room will undergo a change.”

And then the door opens, and a wristwatch walks in.

See, there’s this mystery man in town who we’re not sure who it is, but he’s tall and dark-haired and possibly sideburned and it’s supposed to be Quentin. Last week, we saw him — or parts of him, anyway — watching Megan and Carolyn through the antique shop window, and then sneaking into Collinwood to silently check out the furnishings. We got a hint of sideburns when he was looking in the window, but the rest of the time, we just saw his trenchcoat, his shoes and his watch. I can’t explain the watch.

So it’s time-tossed werewolf vagabond Quentin Collins, of course, the reckless idol of American youth, who we last saw three weeks ago, at the tail end of the 1897 time-travel storyline. Quentin left Collinsport to search the world for the magical portrait that keeps him alive and young, and now that Barnabas and Julia are back in the present day, obviously he needs to join them again, and resume his leading role on the show.

When we saw the mystery man last week, they made a big deal about his wristwatch for some reason. He kept putting his wrist next to things — a portrait, a doorknob — and holding it there, while the camera zoomed in for a close-up. Quentin was never particularly attached to timepieces, as far as I recall, but I suppose he’s had seven decades to pick up a new hobby.

In Friday’s episode, the silent mystery man walked into the antique shop, and the first thing he did was hoist his wrist up in an awkward position, and leave it there so the camera could give us another thrilling wristwatch shot. I don’t know, maybe it’s a metaphor for something.

Continue reading Episode 905: Waiting for Quentin

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Episode 904: Watching the Detectives

“They’ll show you all the people you really are!”

See, this is what I’ve always said about homeschooling. I get that public schools are overcrowded and underfunded, and kids don’t get the personalized attention they really need. But you go outside the core curriculum, and what happens? Demonic possession. Every single goddamn time.

Today’s case study: young David Collins, who’s been reading a book of forbidden ancient wisdom. It’s put him under the spell of the four-headed snake, and turned him into the servant of an Elder Thing. Specifically, he just bought the Elder Thing some slacks.

Now he’s in the Chosen Room of this unholy antique shop, the dwelling place of the snuffling, tentacled pig weasel that holds David’s soul in abeyance. David has brought the blasphemous abomination some new clothes from Brewster’s department store, so it has something to wear when it moves into the next horrifying stage of its horrifying development.

But then, wouldn’t you know it, Aunt Elizabeth is just outside the door. She saw David enter the Elder-occupied antique shop, and it’s way past his bedtime. She insists on looking for him in every room in the house, up to and including.

Her hand is reaching for the Chosen Doorknob. We are teetering on the verge of a Liz-less future.

Continue reading Episode 904: Watching the Detectives

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Episode 903: Sentences Taken at Random from H.P. Lovecraft Stories That I Have Not Read

“I’m sure that there’s a rumor around that the Todds keep a pet rhinoceros.”

I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it.

I did not shriek or move, but merely shut my eyes. Strangeness had come into everything growing now. Terrified, I continued to repeat, “Warren, what is it? What is it?”

Continue reading Episode 903: Sentences Taken at Random from H.P. Lovecraft Stories That I Have Not Read

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Episode 902: Bringing Up Baby

“I had Philip look all over the house, for a monster of some kind.”

Now, granted, I don’t have any kids myself, but I think if you’re going to care for a telepathic space baby that came out of a box, you’re probably better off doing it within the confines of a private residence.

That’s what the Whateleys did, in the H.P. Lovecraft story The Dunwich Horror, which is what this cockamamie Leviathan storyline is based on. They had a whole farmhouse and a barn all to themselves, where they could raise their hideous blasphemies in relative peace.

But Megan and Philip have been chosen by the Leviathan people to house a monstrous god-creature at their antique shop, a site which has two obvious drawbacks as a storage area for unseen horrors: employees, and customers.

It probably would have been easier if they’d just closed down the shop for a while, until this all blew over. Then they wouldn’t have to worry about people examining their forbidden space artifacts, or asking impertinent questions, like why is your child mostly packaging material.

Continue reading Episode 902: Bringing Up Baby

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Episode 901: Sympathy for the Devil

“You gotta keep your bodies off each other, unless you intend love.”

Barnabas Collins has been brainwashed by cosmic horrors from beyond the mind, who are employing him as a kind of unpaid Faustian process server. Paul Stoddard has just learned that he made a bet with a baby twenty years ago, and lost. Young David Collins has shoplifted himself into a growing army of imaginary snake worshippers.

And to make matters worse, over the weekend, the 1960s ended, which is kind of a bummer.

Continue reading Episode 901: Sympathy for the Devil

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Episode 900: The Long Con

“You begin to sound like some hysterical woman novelist!”

It’s been twenty years since Paul Stoddard was in town, and you can tell, because he is not in tune with the reality of modern Collinsport life.

Tonight, he noticed that someone had tattooed a four-headed snake on his wrist while he wasn’t looking, and then he had a worrisome conversation with a harbinger at the Blue Whale. Returning to his hotel room, he drew a pentagram on the rug with chalk, placed a candle at each point, and sat down in a chair in the middle of the unholy sign, just to stop the threatening voices who demanded payment.

That’s all that happened, and he’s super stressed out about it. He needs to pull himself together; this is a slow night for Collinsport. There’s a very good chance that he might actually survive until morning, and think how silly he’ll feel.

Continue reading Episode 900: The Long Con

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Your Lies and Spells (Blood & Fire)

“What demon have you summoned up with your lies and spells?”

Soap opera is a hungry beast. It chews through stories, as fast as you can write them. It eats ideas and feelings and relationships — stripping them down to the bone, and beyond. Creators retire and actors die, fashions change, networks rise and fall. And the soap opera keeps going, driven by its remorseless hunger for more story. You can cancel it, but it will be replaced by another, just as ravenous. Soap opera can not be stopped.

In its day, Dark Shadows was the hungriest of all, chewing up stories and characters and whole generations, every few months. And that’s why it stopped, in the end. The writing team stuffed the beast with tears and wit and English lit for all of 1969, but found their cellar depleted within a year.

Here on the blog, we’ve just reached the Leviathan story, an ambitious tale for a washboard weeper, and one of the first signs of trouble. The show will go on, for another sixteen months or so, but we’re already starting to line up suspects for the Who Killed Dark Shadows murder mystery dinner theater. As we go along, we’ll uncover a lot of different explanations for why the show eventually got itself cancelled, but the most important one is the simplest — they just ran out of stories to tell.

Dark Shadows flourished because they thought outside the box, busting out of the normal confines of a 1960s daytime soap, because it was fun and they didn’t know any better. They built themselves a new box — a mystery box, stranger and more exciting than anyone else’s — and they spent a few years exploring all its dark corners and secret passageways. But once they’d investigated the contours of that space, it turned into a familiar toy box, with a particular set of tropes and a limited set of characters. After a while, there just weren’t any new stories left to tell.

So that puts Big Finish in something of an awkward situation, because they’ve spent the last ten years making more than 60 new Dark Shadows audio dramas, continuing and expanding on a franchise that ran out of juice four decades ago. If the original creators couldn’t think of anything new to do with this story, then what hope does anybody else have?

Continue reading Your Lies and Spells (Blood & Fire)