Episode 962: The Second Law of Thermodynamics

“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?

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 antiques 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.

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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.”

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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.”

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(Smash.)

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He smiles, and opens a bottle of wine. She asks what he’s doing, and he says, “We’re going to celebrate.”

“Celebrate what?”

“Your liberation.”

“I don’t understand.”

He hands her the drink. “Oh, you will… soon.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

38 thoughts on “Episode 962: The Second Law of Thermodynamics

  1. I love your take on unchanging characters (First and Second Law of Collins Family Thermodynamics). I do think that this was a problem for the show’s continuation, but a much bigger issue was the show’s marriage to monsters. It reminds me of producer Joseph Stefano’s rule for the classic Outer Limits series: Each episode needs to have a “bear,” something for the audience to be in awe of.

    Characters that change very little are not uncommon on soaps. Having watched All My Children in its earlier years, the “tentpole” characters of Joe, Ruth, Grandma Kate, and Mona didn’t change that much during their tenure on the series. But they reacted to what was going on with other characters. That’s the way I see Liz and Roger on Dark Shadows. I wouldn’t want them to become supernatural beings.

    And yet the anchor characters of Liz, Roger, Carolyn and David are all kind of stuck at Collinwood and the show consequently becomes claustrophobic. It’s a similar situation as to what happened to General Hospital by the mid-70s: the hospital was limiting the stories that could be told and they’d be at it for almost 20 years. So the new producer Gloria Monty broadened the canvas to open up all kinds of new stories. Dark Shadows does that to a degree with its time travel stories, but when they return to the present time, they are really stuck trying to come up with some sort of “bear” to keep the show interesting.

    1. Yeah, other soaps rejuvenate the show by bringing in new characters, who can interact with the core characters in new and surprising ways. There are weddings, and babies, and long-lost relatives, and new families.

      On One Life to Live, the Buchanans moved into town in 1979, and became a core part of the show. It’s hard to imagine that happening on Dark Shadows, that they would introduce another family that’s just as important as the Collins family. But soap operas do that all the time.

      1. But that’s just what Dark Shadows had been doing, fairly successfully at first: Barnabas and Julia put a lot of ‘new blood’ into the struggling plotline, just as the series was on the brink of cancellation. Angelique was a big boost, Quentin Collins sent the ratings soaring – even the same faces in different roles (like Petofi and Magda, Trask(s), Forbes, Stokes(es), etc.) helped keep things rolling. There were still more new faces coming, too.

        Just having new characters wasn’t enough, though. They needed something to do, new, different, interesting interactions to keep the show moving. Simply changing over to Parallel Time and telling the same story again couldn’t work. I’ve always thought that the upcoming storyline would have worked better as a ‘The Past’ story, although getting it into the established Collins history might have been tricky.

        In the end, though, I think it was a combination of issues just as unique as those that brought the show about to begin with. Dan Curtis wanted a new challenge, there were just not enough people in the ‘idea pool’ (THREE writers at any one time (except when there were two)? And nine for the series entire run (ten if you count Curtis)? Hard to believe it got that far with such a tiny group! ABC was really getting value for money, even with the period costume costs.), the show couldn’t maintain the momentum, and Frid didn’t want to be a vampire anymore – possibly the biggest blow to the ‘vampire soap opera’.

          1. DS was not just daytime drama (though it started out as something quite close to it), DS had the twist of ‘the supernatural’ as well, a relatively small niche of fiction. It seems to me that they should have tried fitting more soap opera into the plots, though I suppose they DID try to –

            “Why don’t you like my boyfriend? Just because he’s a hideous blob with tentacles, that leaves slime trails? How superficial!”

            “Look, I can’t see you anymore. No, it isn’t somebody else, it’s just, I become a furry lunatic murderer when there’s a full moon.”

            “Where were you? You went to that vampire again, didn’t you? DIDN’T YOU?”

            But, as the writers said, the ideas dried up.
            Guess they should have had more babies on…those wee’uns are ratings gold!

      2. Also the chore characters can have some character quirks that will make them repeat the same mistakes with different people. An habitual busybody will always have plenty of plots to get mixed up in. Same for a gossip. Then someone with aristocratic airs will put down a character with self-confidence issues – and there comes a plotline. People may change, but up to a point.

      3. In the beginning, there were the townies vs. The Collinses, but one by one the townies either died or were absorbed into Collinwood. Probably saved on sets or something.

  2. The principle of natural selection reveals itself as capable of yielding information which the first and second laws of thermodynamics are not competent to furnish. The two fundamental laws of thermodynamics are, of course, insufficient to determine the course of events in a physical system. They tell us that certain things cannot happen, but they do not tell us what does happen.

    Alfred J. Lotka (1922)

  3. 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.

    Which is TOTAL Quentin. Dude is seven layers of charm wrapped around a narcissus bulb. He can be in a supercouple with any female character because real true love is himself.

    This scene always pisses me off because I get sucked into Quentin’s charm, too. I forget about the risk/benefit analysis he did about his brother’s upcoming murder and just get lost in that soft, soft sweater… Sorry, it’s just that the sweater in that picture looks just like the one David Selby was wearing the last time I met him at a festival and he hugged me and kissed my cheek and laughed at my stupid joke and if I close my eyes I can still smell that sweater and sorry, I’m just getting a little wobbly over here.

    Buddy has dead girls in their Sunday best following his ghost around so it won’t get lonely, but that’s not enough. Dorian Gray became like that, but Quentin was all about Quentin from the start.

    1. In the screengrabs for this episode, Quentin looks as though he’s standing in male-model poses for a men’s clothing catalogue.

      1. And poor Chris, slumping on a fake rock, in that tired flannel shirt, bad hairstyle, bad lighting, sixteen minutes into his fifteen minutes of fame. No wonder he’s depressed.

        1. Ever since this discussion began, I’ve been wishing I was as familiar with my backstage timeline as I used to be, and that even when I was, it wasn’t as extensive as some others’.

          However, I think it might be possible, without knowing more, to imagine that the writers may have been keeping Chris’s story on simmer if it looked like Don Briscoe’s health was such that he might not have been up to the rigors of a front burner story at that moment in time.

          (From what I’ve read, Briscoe’s bipolar disorder seems to have been mostly organic rather than situational, and he was at a typical age for onset of symptoms.)

          1. also, Melissa, Donald Briscoe never recovered from being bashed in Central Park. it’s too late, of course, for any of you to hear me say that, but it really is part of the story. and it breaks my heart.

  4. The teenage Carolyn of the early episodes who called Joe a square at the Blue Whale and bandied word for word with Tony Peterson wasn’t quite the same as the twentyish, straight-haired, serious Carolyn who held everything together after her mother’s breakdowns. The Kitten with a Flip would have really dug Jeb. It would have been an interesting choice to see that girl break loose again after all horrible stuff she’d been through.

    1. I’m reminded of a moment from the Phoenix story, episode 137 to be exact, where Roger is advising Carolyn that Burke Devlin is the most improper of people that he thinks she should be associating with, and she boldly replies, “I LIKE improper people.”

      1. And don’t forget Buzz. In the early days, Carolyn was indeed attracted to bad boys, even if only to cause trouble at home. This is only four years after that, and while people certainly grow up in four years during their twenties, one might argue (hope?) there’s still that rebellious streak in Carolyn, which might explain her attraction to Jeb. But Danny and all are right–the writers fail to capitalize on this in terms of the story.

  5. I like it when Carolyn remains steady and sane. Somebody in that house has to be the “designated adult” and she’s good at it. I really hated it when she was under Barnabas’ vampire sway after he drank her blood to rejuvenate his 200 year old rubber mask & hands incarnation.

    1. Maybe (again) just sexist, or a big ol’ ‘mo, but I love Nancy Barrett’s breakdowns – like today’s show, she really sells the emotion with sincerity. In whatever role she did.
      I almost even buy that she loves Jeb…

      1. Yes – that break in her voice when she got over a certain volume, those impossibly huge eyes, that vocal range from the low, guttural gasp up to the high-pitched shriek, the tremor that started in the hands and spread to the whole body… Charity/Pansy gave her a lot of opportunity to go that way, and it must have been a lot of fun.

        1. I’m at the end, 1840 PT, and I’ve found at least one thing to dislike about very actor, except Nancy Barrett. Even when she went up, which was quite rare, she was likeable. I didn’t think this way when I was 10. She is fine wine.

      2. I know – she convinces me that she loves Jeb, too – which makes me so sad for her to think she’s THAT desperate for love she’d latch on to the likes of the Leviathan King.
        But then – turns out, Jeb was worthy of her love after all and Carolyn was the only one capable of seeing that side of him. And bringing it out.
        Monster lovin’ never runs easy!

  6. I remember that “free yourself, break something” shtick from the 70’s and there’s nothing freeing about it. Carolyn didn’t want to break anything and Jeb didn’t bother to find out what she did want, what would make her feel free. All he was doing was trying to indoctrinate her with “quit following your parents’ orders and start following mine.”

    1. My first time through these episodes 45 years ago, I perceived Carolyn’s “feelings” for Jeb as being a form of supernatural mind control. It was like Dracula holding Mina or Lucy in his thrall. I figured when Jeb was killed, it would be like Dracula getting staked: Carolyn would be released immediately from her mental bondage.

      I was surprised when Carolyn continued longing for her dead husband and saying how much she loved him. To me it felt like another Dark Shadows continuity blooper.

    1. And even better, sharing insights and getting new ones!
      Thanks, Danny, for making the internet a better place. 🙂

  7. Quentin indicates that Davenport has been shredded;
    I have (perhaps irrelevantly) the image of a post-mayhem Foghorn Leghorn gathering up his plumage and saying, “Fortunately, Ah always keep mah feathers numbered, for – for just such an emergency.”

  8. Let me preface this by saying I adore David Selby and Quentin. I’ve seen it mentioned in the comments of this blog before that David Selby, at least in the beginning before his performances became more nuanced, was a bit handsy. He certainly was no Roger Davis and even if he had been, he would be much more likely to be forgiven, what with his charm oozing all over the place.

    I enjoyed the two scenes where Quentin objected to whichever awful Roger Davis character was trying to put his hands in the wrong places: the one where he took Davis’ hand and moved it down and out of his face and the one where Quentin told Davis’ character that he had a problem with his hands.

    When Quentin talks to Carolyn in this episode in the Collinwood foyer, he puts his hands on her forearms. She removed them in a very low-key way and I wondered if that was real or an intended part of the scene. I hope it was intended. I would hate to think David Selby ever crossed into Roger Davis territory in the perceptions of the other actors.

    P.S. I just received my autographed copy of David Selby’s book (with an excellent photo on the cover) and am enjoying his rambling kind of narrative.

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