“I find most mortals difficult to understand.”
So I guess there’s no way around it; I have to write about the Quentin/Amanda/”Mr. Best” storyline. Two weeks ago, I got so exasperated with my Quentin/Amanda post that I didn’t even finish writing it. I got as far as Mr. Best showing up on the bridge, and I couldn’t go any further. I just stopped writing and hit Publish, and that was that. My thinking basically went like this: Some of my posts are heartbreaking and brilliant; some of them are not. I guess this is one of the ones that’s not.
But here I am, dragged back to the scene of the crime. The Quentin/Amanda story is wrapping up over the next two days, and I can’t just pretend it’s not happening. Can I?
So, okay, here we go. Itinerant werewolf Quentin Collins has been wandering the earth for the last seventy-three years, searching for the magic oil painting that keeps him alive and eternally youthful. This search has been astonishingly unsuccessful so far. It’s not just that he hasn’t found the portrait yet; he hasn’t even come close. As far as we know, all he’s done is change his name a couple times and rent an apartment.
Meanwhile, there are four other people who have also spent time looking for that portrait — Quentin’s ageless ex-girlfriend Amanda Harris, his similarly age-defying ex-fiancee Angelique, the time-traveling psychedelic sleuth Julia Hoffman, and the artist formerly known as Charles Delaware Tate. Every single one of them got closer to it than Quentin did.
The order at close went something like this: Angelique was first across the finish line; Julia came a close second, independently discovering the portrait while it was in Angelique’s possession; Amanda a somewhat distant third, even with the assistance of a henchman and an X-ray machine; and Tate an even more distant and doddering fourth. Quentin was hardly in the race at all. And according to Angelique, the portrait was on public display in a New York gallery for several months last year.
Now, I remember how difficult life was before Ebay, but honestly, I have to wonder how hard Quentin was even trying. He seems to have spent all his time transferring his identity from one bland alias to another. It’s a good thing that Big Finish has spent the last several years inventing side missions for Quentin’s gap period, because the Dark Shadows writers have given it very little thought. He seems to have just been on pause the whole time.
So the point in this story where I hit a wall and couldn’t even talk about it anymore was the dreadful flashback that explained what happened when Amanda found Quentin in New York, immediately following the disastrous denouement of the 1897 storyline.
Quentin loved Amanda, you see, and he decided that he was too dangerous to be around her, what with his inadequate art-accumulation skills. So they met up on a bridge somewhere, and he told her that she should go find somebody else. Quentin Collins can’t be tied down, because he is saving himself for me and all the other horny teenagers reading 16 Magazine.
Quentin: Suppose it did take twenty years, and I came back then. We couldn’t possibly love each other! Not like we do now.
Amanda: Why not? Just because we’re older?
Quentin: You would be older! Don’t you see? I would still be the same!
Amanda: What do you mean?
Quentin: I mean there’s no chance for us!
In my opinion, that pretty much puts the kibosh on the whole “epic love story” concept. He’s breaking up with her because of the possibility that she might become less attractive than him.
“I want you to take this locket,” he continues. “I want you to remember me… but not for long.” So that’s something of a mixed message.
And then he walks away, and she does that soap opera “come back!” thing where you should obviously follow the person, except you’re not allowed to leave the set until the scene is over.
Naturally, Amanda’s next move is to consider jumping off the bridge, which at the very least would teach him a lesson about giving people time-limited parting gifts.
And then a magical charity elf shows up, who knows everything about her predicament and begs her not to jump.
“Amanda,” he urges, “you’re so beautiful! Other men will love you. If I were different, I might love you myself.” She does not find this argument compelling. “If I were different” is not a solid opening for a pickup line. He needs to workshop that some more.
So she jumps, and then finds herself on a fairly stunning avant-garde set — a couch, several ferns, a clock, a candelabra and some assorted bits of statuary, all lit up in purple and looking like nothing on earth but an experimental Off-Broadway stage production, which is exactly what it is.
This is the “stopping-off place,” a region somewhere between New York and the afterlife, where dead souls gather and collect themselves, before continuing on to their great reward.
And then who should appear but the spooky charity elf, who it turns out is in charge of the dead, and he makes the following bargain.
Elf: You were meant to live a long, natural life. I’m going to give you the rest of your life.
Amanda: What do you mean?
Elf: Say that I’m an incurable romantic. Say that the sight of a lovely young girl ready to die for love touched my heart. Whatever the reason, I’m giving you the rest of your life to find Quentin Collins.
Amanda: Quentin left me because he’s never going to grow old. Even if I leave here and find him, it would only be to lose him again.
Elf: Amanda, you know a place like this has very strict rules, but I’m going to break them for you. You’re going to stay as young as he does, for the rest of your natural life. And if you find him before the time you were really meant to die, and if you can convince him to stay with you this time — the two of you will have each other forever. I promise.
This is an incredibly irritating story point, for several reasons.
First up: this makes Amanda into a victim. It’s been a while since we saw her in 1897, but she was pretty kick-ass at the time — smart, suspicious, headstrong, greedy, a pawn in somebody else’s plan who decided that the Tim/Trask storyline was boring, and went and started her own story somewhere else. Amanda was a lot of fun.
And now she’s a pawn again, pushed around by any random guy who feels like taking control of her life. In the two passages quoted above, she actually says “What do you mean?” in both conversations. This is not okay.
Also: she already has a lunatic plot contrivance that makes her live forever and not get old. She’s the creation of Charles Tate, who dreamed her up and then painted her into existence. And everybody in the audience knows that; it’s the most memorable thing about her character.
But she has several opportunities to say that, both to Quentin and to the charity elf, and instead she just stands there, while everybody mansplains her off the bridge. Nobody mentions her oil painting past for the rest of her time on the series; she just turns into a pretty girl in peril.
But the most important problem with this story is that it’s ordinary.
Yeah, there aren’t any other soap operas on television at the moment that would do a supernatural romance, where a character makes a deal with Death to win back the love of his life while an unspecified countdown ticks away, but there are plenty of other places where you could see a story like this.
The point of Dark Shadows is to show you things that nobody else would even consider, like a witch, a gypsy, a werewolf and a time-traveling vampire teaming up to fight a wizard with a magical hand, and getting distracted because the witch insists on talking to the vampire about their relationship problems. The show runs entirely on surprise, and there’s really nothing here that’s particularly Dark Shadows-y. They even strip out the interesting parts — the werewolf curse, Amanda’s backstory — that could make this more complicated and fun.
So when Amanda runs from Quentin just at the moment that he shakes off his amnesia, and remembers who he is — and she runs into Death, who asks if she’s ready to go — and then she stands there and tries to re-litigate, rather than run back to Quentin who’s literally ten feet away from her, inside the building that she just left — then that’s why I’m having trouble sustaining enough interest in this storyline to finish my
Tomorrow: King Kong vs Godzilla.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Amanda begs Mr. Best to let her go back into the house, he hesitates, looks at his watch — and forgets what he’s supposed to say. He sneaks a peek at the teleprompter. Amanda just keeps on saying the same thing again. Mr. Best finally starts to say something, just before they cut to another scene.
There’s some audio bleed in the scene where Quentin faces the portrait.
Mr. Best leaves Amanda alone in the Stopping-Off Place, and she walks toward the desk. The camera pulls back a little too far, and we see a brief glimpse of a crew member passing by on the left of the screen.
When Amanda bangs on the door, the whole frame shakes.
Julia tells Quentin, “There are many things you have to think about. I don’t mean to sound callous — I don’t feel at all callous, but — you’ve got to start thinking about…”
Behind the Scenes:
This is the last of Emory Bass’ three episodes as Mr. Best. He’ll be back a year from now, in February 1971, playing a minister.
The Bellboy is played by Brian Sturdivant, in his first appearance on Dark Shadows. Before this, he was on Broadway in late 1969 in “A Patriot for Me”, which ran for five weeks. Dark Shadows is his first screen credit. He only appears once as the Bellboy, but he’ll be back in July as the overly enigmatic Claude North.
As of this episode, David Selby is billed as “Quentin Collins” again; he was “Grant Douglas” for the last month or so.
And finally, the door that Mr. Best shows Quentin at the end of the episode is the good old I Ching door. I’d recognize it anywhere.
Tomorrow: King Kong vs Godzilla.
— Danny Horn