“I’m caught in something — a web!”
So Dark Shadows is pivoting, is the point, away from a weird story that nobody likes, and off into the uncharted territory of an even weirder story that nobody expects. And when Dark Shadows pivots, god damn, they pivot hard. Today, Fortune’s wheel takes a hairpin turn, directly into traffic.
There’s action and adventure today, up to and including frantic phone calls, rickety bridges, slammed doors, abrupt edits and giant fuck-off spiders, and if we’re not careful, we might lose a couple cast members before we’re done. And it’s only Wednesday, too. Nothing happens on Wednesdays, everybody knows that, but giant spiders don’t punch a timeclock. That is a thing you need to understand about giant spiders.
Now, I don’t have time to explain all the ins and outs of the two-pronged descent into madness that skitters down the front stairs today, by which I mean that I actually do have time, but I don’t feel like doing it, so you’re going to have to accept some absurd premises if you feel like keeping up.
Here’s lunatic plot contrivance #1: Sexy ex-amnesiac Quentin Collins has followed his oil-painted girlfriend Amanda all the way sideways to a shabby lobby operated by Death Himself, as a halfway house between life as we know it and whatever lies beyond. It’s a set, is what I mean. They’re standing around on a set.
Death Himself has decided, for motives that passeth all understanding, that he’s going to make one of those mythological examples of Quentin and Amanda which crop up from time to time, in case there’s a Renaissance and people need a new set of metaphors.
So Death Himself has made a bargain with Quentin — no, not a bargain, a reality show. He’s made a reality show with Quentin that he can save Amanda from limbo, if he can lead her through a dusty netherworld that Death is currently constructing on the fly, all the way to the magic door of safety which is pretty much guaranteed to be just one step farther than they can make it. Oh, except they can’t touch each other, an arbitrary rule that they don’t take all that seriously.
And there they go, out through the door and into whatever weird tunnel awaits them, armed with candles and suspension of disbelief. Quentin is leading the way, obviously, and she’s following behind him, holding his coat. This territory is equally new to both of them, but Quentin needs to lead Amanda, because she’s a woman and that is how mythology works.
In the other corner, lunatic plot contrivance #2 goes as follows: Everybody thought Paul Stoddard was dead for eighteen years, but it turned out he was alive the whole time. Stay tuned for late-breaking updates on that situation as it develops.
Lately, Paul has been struggling against a sinister extra-dimensional cabal based out of the local antiques shop, which he suspects is planning to use his daughter in some kind of ancient voodoo potlatch blood sacrifice that will guide a group of fanatics and hipsters and eccentric taxidermy enthusiasts to the threshold of a time to be. I know, it sounds super unlikely, but that is what’s going on in his life right now. Shit gets crazy sometimes.
So he broke into the antiques shop when nobody was around, and ascended the sacred stairs, and entered the secret sanctum, and he beheld what was there to behold. He didn’t take to it much. In fact, the unspeakable horror which he is currently unable to speak of would have turned his hair white overnight, if it hadn’t been white already, and if he was going to live until morning, which he won’t.
Now he’s sitting on the couch over at Professor Stokes’ place, staring into the middle distance with a haunted countenance and wondering if his life could possibly get any worse than it currently is. It’s about to.
Meanwhile, here we are, in the netherworld underneath ABC Studio 16. This is one of those caves with tunnels and stairs, and a full-length skeleton just hanging up on the wall like a Halloween decoration. You know, the underworld. It’s one of those.
I have several questions about this scenario, but let’s start with: Is this actually a physical space? Quentin and Amanda were both transported to the lobby of limbo by Death Himself, who kind of just picked them up via timescoop and dumped them here. We know that there wasn’t a body left behind when Amanda was taken, and it looked like Quentin just kind of walked out of his hotel room and into the dark dimension.
The suggestion is that these are their actual bodies, not just their astral selves or whatever, and this must be some kind of physical experience, because they’re not allowed to touch each other.
So if that’s the case, then what the hell are we looking at here? Is this a place? Are there actual tunnels that you can walk through, from the outside world all the way up to the portal of Hell? Who hung the skeleton up on the wall? What lives down here, and why?
And if you think about it, when Quentin finally emerges from this realm, he ends up in the woods somewhere in Collinsport. So I have to ask: Is Hell in Maine? Surely, somebody would have told us if Hell was in Maine. Wouldn’t they?
Meanwhile, on Professor Stokes’ couch, Paul is maintaining one of those long sullen silences you see so often among the shell-shocked and the recently dead.
Stokes tries to get through to him. “You must rid yourself of the shock of your experience,” he says. “Try to think of it as something that happened to someone else.”
He pauses. “Now, tell me what happened to him,” Stokes urges. “To someone else.”
Paul just keeps on staring into the atmosphere. Apparently “someone else” thinks that’s the dumbest thing that he ever heard. That makes three of us now.
And back to the netherworld, for a B-movie sequence designed to remind people that they’re not currently watching All My Children. Amanda drops her candle, which was inevitable, and then she gets confused and backs up into a sticky predicament.
Startled, she shrieks, “I’m caught in something — a web!”
And she is, too — a human-sized spiderweb, strung all the way across this imaginary cavern playspace they’re in, and here comes a enormous spider, made with shadows and sound effects and glue guns and hope.
Seriously. There’s an actual giant spider, direct from Kong Island. It is breathtaking. And it’s not just the looks of the thing, it also makes an unearthly chittering sound guaranteed to startle your pets, if you have any.
The show is committing to it, too. They go to commercial with an orchestral sting played over this shot of the spider puppet, and they open act 2 right back here, because there’s no way a couple of commercials for Kaboom cereal and Betty Crocker frosting mix would divert people from this amazing arachnid.
Horrified, as naturally he would be, Quentin picks up a big rock and smacks the spider to the ground. Then he throws the rock at the spider, who squeaks and scuttles away offscreen, muttering curses and imprecations. The spider is probably trying to think of this as something that happened to somebody else.
Then Quentin helps Amanda break free of the web, touching her at least three times with no apparent consequence. Maybe this really is just a cave in Maine.
Over at Stokes’ place, the Professor gets bored with offering advice to the comatose, so he walks into his bedroom and shuts the door. Left alone, Paul springs to his feet and dashes to the phone, where he makes a frantic attempt to alert the police.
“So, you can talk, Mr. Stoddard!” Stokes says, shimmering into the room behind him, like Jeeves offering Bertie his morning tea.
Paul’s not really in the mood for being startled today, so he utters a sharp cry and dives for the undergrowth, eventually barricading himself in Stokes’ room, where he can fall to pieces in privacy.
Downstairs, Quentin and Amanda have found their way to a rickety bridge, stretched out across some vast crevasse that we’re supposed to take mostly on faith. Quentin sees a light in the passageway beyond, which means this is the finale — if they can get across this bridge, then they’ll be safe, and transported back from wherever this is to wherever they want to go.
“We can’t cross that bridge!” Amanda yelps. “It’s the final trap!” She’s been really unhelpful this entire time. She just stands there, and says things like “How can we?” and “I feel there’s so little time left!” She’s right, of course, so it’s a shame that her final episodes have rendered her so dramatically inert. I’m sorry to say it, because she used to be fun, but if I had a choice of what to listen to for the rest of the episode, I would take the ear-splitting spider screech over any further Amanda dialogue. At this point, Amanda and I have said just about everything we need to say to each other.
Paul’s not having a big day for dialogue, either. Julia comes over and tries to talk him out from behind a locked door, and all he can do is scream, “NOTHING! I will tell you NOTHING! I will talk to the POLICE!”
So now we’ve got another problem, namely: What do you do with a character who categorically refuses to have a scene with Julia Hoffman? Well, we’re about to find out.
Quentin makes it across the bridge, which isn’t really that rickety after all.
Just take a step forward, he urges. Step towards me, towards the light, towards the life we can share once I’ve led you back from the shores of death. I know that it’s impossible. I know this is a metaphor, that you died back then, in 1897, because I abandoned you when you begged me not to. I met you that night, on the bridge.
I met you that night. On the bridge.
You told me that you loved me, that you couldn’t bear to part from me. I said we had no chance. I told you to find someone else, to love someone else, to forget me. I was not the hero of that story.
And there’s a sound like thunder from the other room, and everybody screams and pounds and says “What’s that?” All hell — where we’ve spent half the day, today — has broken loose.
We hear a wall fall down. We hear a man in pain. We hear a mirror, smashing to the ground. We hear the crash and clatter of a contract ending, a tearing of tendons and an ending of dreams. The kaiju walks, its heavy foot pounding the earth. Two people die today, in the red-hot grinding furnace of a pivot.
And Amanda falls, and with her goes the last scrap of storyline that Quentin ever had, the only thing that tied him to his own time and place. And Quentin falls too, as she tumbles. He falls out of the world, out of context, and out of ideas.
Something leaves through that magic door behind him. Something emerges into the sunlight of another day, but it isn’t Quentin, not really. Quentin dies, and Selby stays.
And Paul Stoddard falls. He tumbles out of the room, a broken man. Overlooked and overacting, a human shambles shuddering to a stop.
This is the pivot, live and in person, a breakneck turn in a new direction. This is what you said you wanted.
Tomorrow: The Pet Detective.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Paul dashes into the other room and slams the door, the brick wall shakes.
Julia coughs just before she enters Stokes’ house.
On the bridge set, there’s a studio light visible at the top of the set; it’s especially noticeable when Quentin is on the other side of the bridge, urging Amanda to cross.
During the end credits, there’s a studio light reflected in the mirror above Stokes’ fireplace.
Behind the Scenes:
Okay, there’s a lot to cover here. Dennis Patrick and Donna McKechnie get one more credit each, but this is the last real episode for both of them. Donna’s in the credits tomorrow, but it’s just the pre-recorded reprise of today’s final bridge scene, and then a brief bit of voice-over saying goodbye to Quentin. Likewise, Dennis is credited for episode 953, but his only contribution is a still photograph of his grinning face, representing the corpse in his coffin.
Dennis will make one more visit to Collinwood in the House of Dark Shadows movie, where he has a cameo role as Sheriff Patterson. His then-fiancee Barbara Cason was also in the film, playing Mrs. Johnson. Dennis and Barbara married in late 1970, and then moved to Hollywood, where they both had very active careers in television.
In the 1970s, Dennis appeared on lots of shows, including The Mod Squad, Kojak, The Six Million Dollar Man, All in the Family, Hawaii 5-O and The Incredible Hulk. In 1979, he played Vaughn Leland on the nighttime soap Dallas, who was one of the suspects in the massively popular “Who Shot J.R.?” season-ending cliffhanger. In 1980, Dennis was pictured as Leland on the cover of Time Magazine, in a lineup with other prime suspects.
Cagney & Lacey, Remington Steele, Simon and Simon, Murder She Wrote — basically, a lot of detective and mystery shows, throughout the 1980s. Then Barbara suddenly died of a heart attack in 1990, and Dennis never really recovered from that. He pretty much retired from acting, and lived a quiet life. He died in a fire at his home in 2002.
Meanwhile, Donna McKechnie retired from show business and was never heard from again. No, not really. She left Dark Shadows in early 1970 to appear in the original cast of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company; she played Kathy, one of the trio of Robert’s ex-girlfriends who sing “You Can Drive a Person Crazy”. But her big, career-defining success was playing Cassie in the original cast of A Chorus Line — a featured part in an ensemble cast, with a big solo number, “The Music and the Mirror”. Donna won a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. She was in a bunch of TV shows in the 1980s, including Cheers, Family Ties and Fame, and she’s toured the world in various fantastic musicals. There’s actually a ton more to say about her, because she’s had a pretty dramatic life, even for a Broadway dancer, but I’ll skip it.
But here’s her description of her final scene in today’s episode, as related in the book Barnabas & Company:
“In rehearsal, we went through the scene with a few Styrofoam boulders and a little peat moss — no big deal. Nobody told me there was going to be ten times as much dropped during the taping. So, when it was time to tape the scene, I was looking up, and I just got buried. I got peat moss in my eyes and in my mouth and ears and nose… and I was covered in rocks. They way things worked at the studio, at the end of that scene, the lights went out, and the camera and crew and actors all moved on to the next scene, in another part of the studio. So there I was, laying under all those Styrofoam rocks and peat moss, and nobody helped me get out. I had to dig myself out, and that was my last experience on Dark Shadows.“
Also: There’s some editing in today’s episode, including some drop-in shots during the spider sequence. Then there’s a lot of edits in act 3, cutting between Stokes’ house and the hellmouth bridge — both sequences were clearly taped as individual pieces and then spliced together. Unfortunately, they still aren’t very good at editing, so the transitions are abrupt and choppy. Also, they appear to have cut out the part where Julia and Stokes hear Paul’s last words, which is an important plot point in tomorrow’s episode.
Tomorrow: The Pet Detective.
— Danny Horn