“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.
Now, one trope that Dark Shadows and H.P. Lovecraft have in common is the Doomed Investigator — the truth-seekers who poke into all the dark corners, and are ultimately consumed by what they uncover, sometimes literally.
The closest analogue to David’s role in Lovecraft’s work is the eponymous character in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Like David, Charles is an intelligent young man who reads the wrong books. He becomes obsessed with an ancestor who had a doctorate in the dark arts, and his research pulls him further and further into the darkness.
But in Lovecraft stories — as in Dark Shadows — there’s never just one investigator. As one soul falls into the pit, there’s always a friend, or a relative, or a colleague, who wants to get to the bottom of things. And then somebody has to investigate what happened to the investigator, and they get pulled in — a sequence that can go on forever, as long as the supply of detectives holds out.
Julia Hoffman arrives in Collinsport to find out what happened to Maggie Evans — and when she gets seduced and corrupted by the monster, Dr. Woodard wants to know what Julia’s discovered. Then David wants to know what happened to Woodard, and Carolyn wants to find out why David’s so upset, and the corpses just pile up.
“I have brought to light a monstrous abnormality,” Charles writes to his friend, Dr. Willett, “but I did it for the sake of knowledge. Now for the sake of all life and Nature you must help me thrust it back into the dark again.
“P.S. Shoot Dr. Allen on sight and dissolve his body in acid.”
The current storyline is the most investigator-heavy that Dark Shadows has ever produced; it’s composed almost entirely of overlapping forensics teams. Even Liz is an investigator now, and typically she’s an investigatee.
Standing in her way is Megan Todd, another slave to the Elder Things. According to Megan, David couldn’t possibly be in the room that he’s in, because a) she was just in there, b) the baby is sleeping, c) the terrible breathing noise is actually the radiator, and d) “rooms” are just a social construction, and when you think about it, is there really any difference between “outside” and “inside”?
But as Liz stubbornly reaches for the door handle, there’s a crash from downstairs, and the women run down to the shop floor to see what happened.
They find that a desk has been overturned, knocking the telephone to the floor. Somehow this proves that David was hiding in the shop somewhere, and in his blind panic to escape aunt-enforced justice, he ran straight through the furniture, leaving devastation in his wake.
Megan claims that she has no idea why David would want to lash out at telephones like this. With steel in her voice, Liz says, “Neither have I — but I assure you, I’m going to find out.” Megan says, okay, maybe you could do that from the comfort of your own home, rather than mine.
Once Liz is gone, David comes downstairs for some baffling post-game analysis.
David: That was close, wasn’t it?
Megan: When she began to open that door, I was terrified! I didn’t know how to stop her.
David: Neither did I. But someone did!
Megan: Who do you think it was?
David: I don’t know, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is: something had to be done, and one of us was there to do it.
I don’t know what we’re supposed to make of that. Apparently, the Leviathans have deep-cover interior decorators activating all over the place, ready to rearrange the furniture at a moment’s notice. This is going to play merry hell with the feng shui, if it keeps up.
Meanwhile, in a tangentially related storyline across town, we find two dueling investigators. Actress and art collector Olivia Corey showed up the other day, and Julia instantly recognized her as Amanda Harris, Quentin’s girlfriend from 1897, who was brought to life from a magical portrait, painted by the sporadically magical Charles Delaware Tate.
If Olivia recognizes Julia from the 19th century, she doesn’t admit it; it’s the curse of these characters that nobody confides in anybody else. Everyone is involved in some kind of time-hopping scheme, but instead of being upfront about it, they all pretend not to recognize each other. Olivia says that she’s actually Amanda Harris’ granddaughter, and what are you going to do, pester someone until they produce the long form birth certificate?
Julia bought a Charles Delaware Tate landscape a few weeks ago, which she hopes will lead her to the portrait of Quentin Collins. She suspects that Olivia has the same goal, and that’s why Olivia is planning an art show of Tate’s work. Apparently, Julia believes that you can’t just go up and ask someone if they like Quentin Collins, even though that’s an incredibly common conversation starter among teenage girls in 1969.
Olivia wants to see the painting that Julia bought, so Julia says she’ll send it over with the Collins family’s chauffeur. Olivia is thrilled, and I expect the Collins family will be, too; they’ve been hoping to get their Uber for Oil Paintings service off the ground.
As soon as Julia’s out of the room, Olivia summons Mr. Nakamura, her mysterious confederate. “Mr. Nakamura, things are going exactly as the way I planned,” she says, which isn’t quite the correct line but it’s close enough.
Meanwhile, Julia also has a confederate, because everybody does, these days. Usually, Julia gets together with Barnabas when she wants to play Junior Detectives, but Barnabas is currently occupied being the leader of the monstrous Elder Things conspiracy. So the doctor has a new companion, werewolf dreamboat Chris Jennings.
When the show came back from the late 19th, they announced that Chris could turn into a wolfman at any moment — he’s not tied to the lunar cycle anymore, for no particular reason. But it’s been four weeks and he hasn’t changed yet, because the show has other things to attend to. Right now, he’s following Julia around, as she tries to figure out if Olivia is actually Amanda. This is not directly relevant to his problem.
Now, Julia has a sample of Amanda’s handwriting — a love letter to Quentin, which she found in an old trunk full of papers in the west wing of Collinwood. This random scrap of paper was preserved for posterity, because the 1897 Collins family killed all of their servants, so litter just piled up everywhere, until they finally had to close off the west wing and forget about it.
Julia wants Chris to pretend to be Liz’s chauffeur, bring the painting to Olivia, and get a sample of her handwriting to compare it to Amanda’s.
“I think that Olivia Corey has a secret,” she announces.
“How can you think that,” Chris asks, “considering the life she leads? Everyone knows all about her!”
“Do they,” Julia replies, raising an eyebrow or two. “Do they know everything about her? Perhaps there’s one thing that they don’t know, and that’s the one thing that we have got to find out!” This is why we love Julia.
So that’s how we end up here, in a sequence where a werewolf chauffeur brings an oil painting to a famous actress, to find out if she’s actually her own grandmother. It’s just that easy.
Olivia hands the canvas to Mr. Nakamura, and pretends that he’s going to photograph the painting. Nakamura actually hustles it down to the hospital to get it X-rayed, which is another thing that people can do in Collinsport.
Anyway, the point is that everyone on this show is lying to each other about everything right now; I’ve never seen this kind of dedication to the principle of not trusting anybody.
Meanwhile, Liz is still grinding away at The Mystery of Why Was David in the Antique Shop Last Night. Everybody else has already agreed on a convincing cover story — David stole the old book from the antique shop, and he was worried that he’d be caught, so he snuck back into the shop to return it.
But Liz is doubling down on the suspicion, and she has a conversation with Carolyn that pretty much sums up what Dark Shadows is like these days.
Liz: When David came in here last night, he was carrying a box from Brewster’s. When I followed him in, he was nowhere to be seen, but the box was plainly in view on the counter.
Carolyn: Maybe he carried the book in that way.
Liz: No, Mrs. Todd said the box was hers.
Carolyn: All right, he didn’t carry the book in that way. It was a different box from Brewster’s.
Liz: Don’t you think that’s rather coincidental?
Carolyn: Mother, you’re getting as bad as David, when you find something sinister in a box from Brewster’s.
And you have to admit, she’s got a point; all David did was go shopping. In fact, so far I don’t think the Leviathan conspiracy has done a bit of harm to anybody, except for making some annoying phone calls. What if all these investigators are over-reacting, and we should just leave the Todds and their murder baby in peace?
But Liz is determined to get to the bottom of this, and she’s doing an excellent job. She walks into David’s room, and what’s he doing? Reading the book! These people can’t stop conspiring for five seconds.
Liz’s interrogation is spot-on.
Liz: What is this, David?
David: It’s just a book. I like the colors in it.
Liz: Well enough to have stolen it?
David: This isn’t the book from the antique shop.
Liz: Oh? Where’s it from?
David: I found it somewhere in the house. I don’t know exactly where. I’ll try and remember, if you like.
Liz: While you’re remembering, how about you remember your visit to Brewster’s last night?
And then she reveals that she just went to Brewster’s, and found David’s sales receipt. Liz is following the money. She is amazing at this.
But she can’t keep it up forever, unfortunately; the Leviathan storyline isn’t complicated enough to support this many detectives. Julia is the lead investigator on the show, and if Liz burns through all the evidence, it won’t leave Julia with anything to do, once she wraps up whatever she’s doing with Olivia.
So they solve this problem in the Dark Shadowiest way that they can, with a four-minute dream sequence.
This dream is going to turn into a sales pitch for the Leviathan conspiracy, and we’ve seen one of those before; Megan was recruited in a dream two weeks ago. But Megan’s dream was just Barnabas standing next to her bed and issuing instructions. They could do that again, if they felt like it, but this is Dark Shadows, and why do anything twice?
Instead, they take Liz to a nightmare funhouse filled with mechanical clowns, just exactly like they don’t do in H.P. Lovecraft stories.
There’s calliope music and flashing lights, and here comes David in a fat suit, reflected in a pink-saturated kaleidoscope.
“Step this way, Aunt Elizabeth! Just step this way, right into the funhouse! Come on!”
Approaching the boy, Liz asks, “Why did you bring me here, David?”
“To have fun, like everybody else!” And then he laughs, and the laughter is echoed by a chorus of mechanical clown figures. There’s not a single tentacle in sight; the blasphemous Elder Things are developing their range.
Liz asks what she’s supposed to do here, and David invites her to look in the mirrors.
“Mirrors!” she says. “Will they show me all the people I could have been?”
“No,” he chuckles. “They’ll show you all the people you really are!”
So she checks herself out in the mirror, and her reflection is green and ghastly. She screams, and he laughs out loud, and directs her to another mirror.
She doesn’t like her reflection in the second mirror either, so he pulls out his secret weapon: a nursery rhyme.
“Just listen!” he cries. “Fat and skinny had a race, all around the steeplechase! Fat fell down and broke his face. Skinny said, I won the race!”
And then he breaks into furious laughter, stamping his feet with joy. It is seriously the craziest thing. Violet Welles had the following brief — “write a dream sequence for Elizabeth that makes her a part of the Leviathan conspiracy” — and this is what she came up with.
Somehow, the poem has worn down Liz’s sales resistance, and she smiles. David is beyond thrilled.
“She’s beginning to smile!” he announces to the clowns. “She’s learning how to laugh!” I swear, there is nothing else on television like this.
David tells Liz to look in one more mirror, and when she does, Barnabas appears in the mirror.
She yelps in delighted surprise. “Oh! Is it a trick, or is he really there?”
“Well, what do you think?” asks David.
“Well, I don’t know! But I like it — yes, I like it!”
She laughs, and David laughs, and Barnabas, and the clowns; everybody’s having a whale of a time. This is nowhere near what Lovecraft would ever consider, as a way to align a character with the unseen horrors, but Lovecraft doesn’t have a soundtrack album or a View-Master reel, so there.
So this is the story, so far — a kaleidoscope, a hall of mirrors, where everything is refracted and doubled. Everybody has an alias and a secret motive; nobody is what they seem to be. It’s no wonder the detectives are spending their time tracking other detectives.
And here, the show is making the case for surprises and fun. No, it doesn’t make sense, but what’s so all-fired great about making sense?
Monday: Waiting for Quentin.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Liz tells Carolyn, “I saw him come in here late last night. I heard him leave. Yet when I questioned about him, he denied it.”
Barnabas asks, “What language is this?” Liz mutters, “I haven’t –” and then says, “I have no idea.”
In the dream, David tells Liz, “Well, that isn’t portant — important.”
When Liz looks into the first mirror, there’s a reflection of the ABC logo by her feet. In the second mirror, you can see the camera and the teleprompter. You can see both of these in the screenshots above.
The big thrill of the final shot is that we finally get a glimpse of Quentin — but he’s not quite lying in the right place, so we don’t get a clear look at him. The yellow marking tape that indicates where his head should be is several inches to his left.
Behind the Scenes:
David Selby finally shows his face, kind of, in the last moment of the episode — although the camera can’t quite get a decent shot. His credit says “Unknown Man: David Selby.”
And an urgent update on David’s room: another couple of toys that were missing on Wednesday have come back. The football player figure is back on his dresser, and there are at least two robots on the back shelves.
Monday: Waiting for Quentin.
— Danny Horn