“I might be able to forget that I’m dead.”
Dr. Julia Hoffman is hard at work, treating a stubborn case of soap opera amnesia with her own unique mix of hypnosis, lies and trespassing. At the moment, she’s sneaking into the west wing with the late Quentin Collins, Collinwood’s Public Enemy #1.
Nine months ago, Quentin’s ghost walked these halls, driving the family out of the house and into a refugee camp for rich people at the mansion next door. But things change, and now — thanks to some timely intervention and a huge dollop of suspension of disbelief — he has survived, permanently preserved. Seventy-two years after his averted assassination, Quentin Collins walks the earth, alive and alone.
But just at the finish line, he was struck down by a speeding car, and in all the excitement, he lost his memory. Now his misremembered friend Julia has the difficult task of piecing him back together.
So she’s got him upstairs in his old room, and she’s playing his chart-topping theme song, hoping to reawaken his shattered sense of self. And now we’re watching somebody urgently waiting for someone else to remember the Song of the Summer.
Is everybody ready for some more backstory? Cause here comes young David, the phantom’s former possessed protégé, woken from a deep sleep by the haunted refrain. Like every kid in 1969, David is drawn to “Quentin’s Theme” like a magnet, and he shows up at the door just at the moment that Quentin announces no, he doesn’t recognize the song, and what are you even talking about.
Hearing David outside the door, Julia bundles Quentin behind a curtain, while he rolls his eyes and thinks, oh what the hell is it now. Life is already challenging for a recovering amnesiac, without all the shenanigans.
David’s kind of freaked out, as anyone would be — Quentin’s ghost possessed him, and spent several months almost killing him. Naturally, he’s upset that Julia is hanging out in his tormentor’s old bedroom, reopening wounds.
“Quentin’s back, isn’t he?” David says, looking anxiously around the room. Julia says no, of course not, I just happened to be standing here, and decided to host my own private top 40 countdown.
“He told you to do it, didn’t he?” the boy insists. “He tells you to do something, and then you have to do it! I remember! You’re hiding him!” Julia says don’t be ridiculous, of course I’m not doing the thing that I’m obviously actually doing. Julia usually lies at an average of 1.2 times per sentence; her truth-o-meter is permanently stuck at Pants on Fire.
After David leaves, Julia and Quentin have an extremely Dark Shadows conversation.
Quentin: So I take it that you and Barnabas aren’t the only ones who know Quentin Collins.
Quentin: That requires an explanation, too. Does everyone in this house know him?
Julia: No. The children do.
Quentin: How’s that possible?
Julia: He came back.
Quentin: Back from where?
Julia: The dead.
Quentin: Oh, so you think that’s what I’ve done. Well, no wonder you’re interested. A ghost with amnesia! You know, that could really be fascinating. I might be able to forget that I’m dead.
Julia: I treated you in the hospital, I know you’re alive.
Quentin: And the kids saw a ghost. How do you explain that?
Julia: I want you to explain it to me.
And then he’s like, no, I want you to explain it to me! And that’s pretty much the whole rest of this plotline, which lasts forever.
Obviously, the problem with bringing a blank-slate Quentin up to speed is that his life is utterly preposterous. Here are the four impossible things that he needs to believe before breakfast:
- You were haunting Collinwood as a ghost,
- Barnabas went back in time and saved your life,
- there’s a portrait that keeps you alive and young,
- and now here you are.
That’s what he has to swallow — ghosts, time travel and magical spells, and as long as you’re explaining the portrait, you might as well throw in the werewolf stuff too. Julia is basically saying, you know The Turn of the Screw, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Maltese Falcon and The Wolf Man? Well, that’s what happened to you this year.
So it’s no wonder he’s lost; narrative collision on this scale makes it hard to construct a coherent worldview. There’s a point where these stories just aren’t going to add up.
The really tricky thing is the time travel theory, which makes no sense and doesn’t pretend to. David remembers that Quentin was a ghost, which as of the 1897 intervention, he hasn’t been anymore.
Apparently, at some point during Barnabas’ time journey, the ghost went away, because Quentin didn’t die and never haunted the house in the first place. This is one of those grandfather paradoxes, because if Quentin wasn’t a ghost, then Barnabas wouldn’t have traveled back in time. But he did, and apparently he was carrying one of those meanwhiling real-time tethers, which kept track of how long he’d been in the past, and adjusted history in synch with the amount of time he’d experienced since he left the present day.
That’s not a very good description of how that works, but it’s not my fault; it’s not a very sensible plot point. It’s the kind of thing that works on a gut level for the audience, because we followed Barnabas through the time trip, and for us, there was a “now” when Quentin’s fate was changed. It’s only when you think about the present day family that it seems strange: from their point of view, Barnabas disappeared, nothing happened, and then six months later, the ghost was gone.
Every time travel story has to deal with the question of How Does Time Travel Work, and develop a consistent theory that explains it. Except for Dark Shadows, of course, which definitely didn’t, and neither did Doctor Who or Lost or Star Trek or pretty much any comic book. They just piled up a bunch of contradictory notions about how time travel might work, criss-crossing and handwaving as they went along.
You do sometimes see a work of fiction that has a specific point of view about how time travel works. In Back to the Future and Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder, changing the past means altering history for everyone, and nobody remembers the way things used to be except the time travelers. In 12 Monkeys and Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog, history can’t be changed — the time hopping is already accounted for in history, fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle.
But you’re much more likely to get a consistent theory of time travel in a single work of fiction, like Back to the Future and 12 Monkeys. The writer has complete control over the entire story at once, and can make it work however they want.
In serialized narrative, things get complicated. Plans change, new story ideas come up, and all of a sudden the way that time used to work isn’t the way it works anymore. In fact, for 12 Monkeys, the movie and the TV adaptation have different ideas about time travel, because it’s hard to stretch the jigsaw puzzle model to 26 episodes and counting.
So here’s the current version: Everybody remembers that Quentin’s ghost ruled Collinwood on Valentine’s Day 1969. Then Barnabas went away for a while and did something, and Quentin’s ghost went away.
They made that clear as soon as Barnabas came back to the present day, in mid-November. His conversation with Liz is especially striking, because of her casual way of referring to the science-boggling events in her life.
Liz: How do you feel now? Such a ghastly experience.
Barnabas: Well, I’m sure you’ll understand if I tell you that I’d rather not talk about it.
Liz: But the ghosts are gone now, and if you had anything to do with it, we’re most grateful. You cannot imagine how happy we are to be back in Collinwood.
This is an odd way to play it, but that’s how Dark Shadows operates sometimes, and as I said, on a gut level it feels okay. If Barnabas just came back and everybody went on with their lives, we wouldn’t think about it one way or another.
The element that exposes the weirdness of this premise is that as of the end of the 1897 storyline, Quentin is alive and immortal, traveling through time at the standard rate of one hour per hour.
The Quentin that’s currently giving Julia a hard time lived through every day from 1897 until right now, which means that on Valentine’s Day 1969, there was a ghost Quentin haunting Collinwood and a live Quentin visiting the Hi Hat Lounge at the same time.
Or, if not — and obviously, it must be not, mustn’t it? — then what parallel world has “Grant Douglas” been traveling through? Did he experience an early 1969 where Collinwood wasn’t haunted, and once Barnabas returned, his timestream dovetailed back into this one? Or what?
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
One of the cameras is acting up. In the teaser, when the scene switches from Quentin’s room to David’s, there’s a flash of blue streaks across the screen. During act 3, a scene with Liz and Julia also has blue streaks.
Early in act 2, when the scene fades from David in the foyer to Alexander’s drawing, you can hear a couple faint bars of Quentin’s theme, for no particular reason.
Behind the Scenes:
In today’s episode, Julia refers to Professor Stokes as Eliot. He’s previously been referred to as Timothy Stokes. Eventually, this turns into T. Eliot Stokes. This might be the first mention of Eliot, but I’m not sure and I don’t feel like checking. I’m sure somebody knows the whole history of Stokes’ evolving name, and they’ll probably post it in the comments within hours of this post going up.
Also, there’s a new stuffed animal in the antique shop. It looks like an otter or a beaver or something. I’m apparently not that good at identifying television taxidermy.
— Danny Horn