“The dead sheriff was standing over me with a gun, and I woke up here.”
Paul Stoddard is missing, again. The Leviathans desecrated his grave a couple weeks ago, with the vague intention of dragging the corpse out of the ground and interrogating it, and when they cracked the coffin, they found the dead man grinning at them in a frozen, ghastly moment of post-mortem mirth. What could this mean? they asked. How could there be something out there that’s crazier than us?
So they burned the body, and by “they” I mostly mean Jeb Hawkes, the master of murder who’s currently standing graveside, comforting Paul’s daughter, as she grieves for a father who just keeps on disappearing.
“When I was a little girl, my father went away from me,” Carolyn chokes. “I told myself then that I was so small, I couldn’t keep him. Then I grew up, and he came back to me. I had another chance. And he went away again.”
Jeb approaches, the secret author of her pain. “Carolyn, this is not the same!”
“Maybe not,” she shrugs. “But I did lose him again, didn’t I?” He embraces her, and for a moment, he almost feels like maybe it wasn’t such a hot idea to murder someone in his girlfriend’s immediate family. And Carolyn cries, “Why are there so many ways of losing people, and so few of holding on?”
So you look at this couple, at this point in the show’s history, and you can’t help but think of the six words that could bring down a government: Don’t you think she looks tired?
I mean, they all do. Today’s episode feels like a wake, following a scorched-earth happy hour that left each of them with a series of monogrammed migraines. Today, two characters find a dead sheriff in the crypt, hacked to pieces by a wild animal, and two characters stand in the foyer of somebody else’s house, literally screaming about werewolves and betrayal, as if Collinwood is a post-apocalyptic wasteland where it’s okay to let yourself in, and discuss your classified murder plots at the top of your lungs.
And today there’s a scene with Quentin and Chris that takes place against a charcoal scrim, where the characters don’t look at each other, and Chris begs for death, and worst of all, his hair looks terrible. And they’re tired, like they stayed up all night trying to figure out where the storyline is going, and didn’t come to any particular conclusion.
Now it’s dawn, and Chris has turned back into himself, wrapping up his evening as a mindless engine of destruction, with fading whip welts on his face and an evaporating bullet in his gut.
Quentin can relate. “I know the feeling,” he says, and he actually does, for the first time in the history of reassurance. He used to be a big bad wolf himself, once upon a time. “When dawn came, and I was covered with blood… I wanted to die, too.”
“You didn’t have an enemy who knew your secret.” Chris shakes his head. “Bruno almost got me that time. Next time, I think he may. I’d rather you go ahead and kill me, now.”
By “you,” of course, Chris actually means the writers, and by “kill me,” he means “write me off the show, if you’re never going to let my storyline progress another step.” Once again, the werewolf story has settled into a standstill.
Chris tells Quentin, “We finally stopped pretending that we’re just casual strangers,” although they still kind of are. Weeks ago, Quentin learned that Chris is his great-grandson, and that he bears the mark of the werewolf because of the stupid choices that Quentin made at the end of the last century. That revelation should have inspired a new story thread about this stricken branch of the family, as they worked together to beat the age-old curse, but it didn’t. Chris and Quentin haven’t even had a scene together, until now.
“Nothing’s worked,” Chris says. “The portrait didn’t work, Sabrina’s moon poppy didn’t work. Quentin — I am what I am because of you. Now, you owe me something. I want you to kill me, right now.”
Quentin regards his anxious descendant, and says, “Look,” and then he forgets what he was going to say. He glances offstage and stifles a yawn, and then he just starts talking about something else.
Chris is absolutely correct; his predicament is Quentin’s fault. Chris was the hot young property when he arrived, a tormented hunk with a terrible secret, dating the daughter of the family and thrilling the 16 Magazine crowd like nobody else. Then David Selby came along, and the show hasn’t really committed to Chris’ storyline since then. He’s been uncured for 18 months and counting, and they really only bring him out when they want the werewolf.
Eventually, they’re just going to shuffle Chris quietly offscreen and tell everyone that he went to live on a farm. It turns out they never really had any intention of curing him, because his only value to the show is that he turns into a wolf once a month. He’s not dating Carolyn anymore; a curse-free Chris would have literally nothing to do. So he’s trapped, stuck in this worn-out storyline where he’s really only interesting when he’s played by Alex Stevens.
Man, I bet Don Briscoe is kind of bummed out about that — he had three months of teen-idol stardom, and then all that attention just went up in smoke. I hope he doesn’t develop chronic depression, and try to self-medicate with pot and acid; that would be awful.
Now, while Chris’ storyline stumbles are a problem for Mr. Briscoe and his well-wishers, Carolyn’s are a problem for the show. She’s supposed to be the heart of the Leviathan storyline; the whole point of Jeb jumping out of the mystery box is that he’s supposed to mate with Carolyn, and turn her into a magical fiendish space octopus. That’s why everybody else on the show is picking sides in an escalating war.
But both sides have apparently agreed to shield Carolyn from the big sinister secret, so in practice, she hasn’t had very much to do, except to fall passionately in love with Jeb, because of reasons.
As I’ve said before, I don’t know why Carolyn likes Jeb, and I’ve been scratching at that itch for a while. But today, I think I figured out the real problem with her character arc, and it’s all about the let’s-break-antiques scene.
This was Carolyn and Jeb’s first date, back in episode 940. I didn’t write about it at the time, because I had other things to say, and I didn’t realize how important it was until now.
The scene takes place in the antique shop, and it starts with Jeb gazing at her, and sighing, “I’m going to be very happy with you.”
She’s puzzled. “What made you say that?”
“Because I felt it,” he shrugs. “Haven’t you ever said or done what you felt?”
“Sometimes I do.”
“I do it all the time,” Jeb smirks, and swaggers across the room. “Everybody should. I always do what I feel. Right now, I feel like doing this.”
And then he picks up a porcelain figurine from a nearby display, and smashes it on the floor.
Carolyn is horrified, obviously. “Jeb, you shouldn’t have done that!”
He smiles. “Why not?”
“That was an antique, and it didn’t even belong to you!”
“Haven’t you ever felt like breaking something?”
She stops short. “Yes,” she says, “but…”
“Well, then, let’s see you break this.”
Then he picks up another figurine.
“Go on,” he says, offering it to her. “Break it.”
She looks into his eyes, and says, “I wish I could begin to understand you.”
“Maybe you can,” he says, “if you just free yourself. Go on. Just let it drop from your hand.”
He smiles, and opens a bottle of wine. She asks what he’s doing, and he says, “We’re going to celebrate.”
“I don’t understand.”
He hands her the drink. “Oh, you will… soon.”
It’s a weird scene, and it should have been followed immediately by a dozen more weird scenes along the same lines. This should have been the storyline.
After all, the whole point of the Leviathan threat is that they’re going to take Carolyn, a character that we love and root for, and turn her into a hideous gargantuan, rutting with her blasphemous mate and raising a brood of ambidextrous deathstalkers.
And in the let’s-break-antiques scene, they set up the idea that Jeb is going to change Carolyn’s personality, leading her step by step into his dark world, in the service of her “liberation” from boring traditional values, like respect for other people’s ugly decor. We should have seen her going down that path, becoming more and more estranged from the family and friends who aren’t part of this nightmare death cult.
Except they didn’t. The champagne was drugged, and she blacked out, and since then, they haven’t even touched on the idea that Jeb might be leaving a stain on Carolyn’s soul.
Now, this is a show that’s explored a dozen varieties of hypnosis and possession in minute detail, so it’s not like they don’t know how to write a story like that. They just didn’t. To the extent that we believe that Carolyn loves Jeb, it’s an entirely innocent, human infatuation with a handsome stranger, who she’s unfortunately not really allowed to know very much about.
Because they can’t change Carolyn.
This is an enormous problem for the show, and it’ll be one of the key pieces to the puzzle of Who Killed Dark Shadows. There are four core family members, and they are untouchable. They don’t experience any lasting change, starting around early 1968 and continuing until the end of the show. Sure, they have moments of temporary hypnosis and possession, everybody does, but they don’t actually change.
And if Carolyn can’t change, even a little, then that means there’s no future, just a status quo that leads inexorably towards entropy, and the heat death of this fictional universe.
So we need to discuss the First and Second Law of Collins Family Thermodynamics.
Thermodynamics, if you’re not hip to it, is the study of heat (thermos), and its relationship to work (dynamis). The First Law states that heat is work — that in order to make something happen, you have to expend energy, which then turns into other kinds of energy.
You lift up a ball, turning the energy in your muscles into heat and work, and giving the ball gravitational potential energy. You drop the ball, and that potential turns into kinetic energy as it falls, which becomes low-grade thermal energy and sound waves, when it hits the ground with a smack. Energy can’t be created or destroyed, but some of the ball’s kinetic energy decays into forms of energy that we can’t really use anymore.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that in an isolated system, that loss of energy increases over time, as more of it turns into forms that you can’t use. If there’s no source of new energy entering the system, then it tends towards entropy, a completely stable state that only gets less interesting as you go along.
For the Collins family, that means there are four constants — Elizabeth, Roger, Carolyn and David, plus a governess. (By late 1968, Vicki and Maggie become interchangeable, because of the law of conservation of governesses.) These constants expend energy, in the form of dialogue and haircuts, but there’s no new energy entering the system, in the form of spouses or surprising decisions.
Paul could have introduced a lot of new energy into the family structure, if they’d taken him seriously as a possible romantic partner for Liz, rather than killing him off after six weeks. And Jeb could do the same, except guess what happens to him.
So Carolyn is not allowed to fundamentally change, except to get a little sadder, and a little more tired, until the show runs out of things to do.
But the show is about to conduct a large-scale experiment in applied thermodynamics, which they call Parallel Time. This involves creating a new Collins family, adding more spouses and secrets, to see if it’s possible for Dark Shadows to delay its inevitable heat death. And I guess we’ll have to see how that goes.
Tomorrow: The Golden Key.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When the Collinwood scene opens in the first act, Carolyn is standing motionless on the landing, waiting for her cue to start walking.
There’s a cough in the studio when Bruno enters the Carriage House.
Bruno tells Megan, “The werewolf is Jed’s problem.”
Bruno tells Jeb, “When I got here, Megan came here.” He means that Megan was already here.
Bruno wants Jeb to confront Megan tomorrow, but Jeb says, “Not tomorrow! Tonight. Right now!” We saw the sun come up two scenes ago.
At the beginning of act 3, Bruno steps on Jeb’s lines. A minute later, Jeb steps on one of Bruno’s. They collide one more time, thirty seconds after that. Also, when Bruno says, “I didn’t know that that werewolf was loose!” he launches a bit of spittle, which lands on Jeb’s chin, and stays there. They ignore it.
Chris tells Quentin, “I want you to kill me, right now.” Quentin pauses, mutters “Look…” and then looks offstage to the teleprompter.
Behind the Scenes:
In the opening, the camera pans across a row of gravestones, with the following all lined up in the same area: Tom Jennings (d. 1968), Sheriff Davenport (d. 1970), “Jerimiah” Collins (d. 1795) and Jenny Collins (d. 1897). There are some other gravestones in the second row that I couldn’t make out.
The colorful afghan makes another appearance in today’s episode; Megan is using it as a blanket. We last saw it in January, covering a dying Charles Delaware Tate.
Thomas Findley’s hand is played by Charles Rush, who was a stand-in for a watch-wearing “Grant Douglas”, back in December. Rush makes four appearances on the show; the next one is September. When Findley rises from the grave tomorrow, he’ll be played by James Shannon, another regular DS fill-in actor. This may be the show’s only fill-in for a fill-in.
Tomorrow: The Golden Key.
— Danny Horn