Episode 973: Groundhog Day

“As each moment goes by, you have less and less existence!”

Here’s newlywed Jeb Hawkes, the world-crushing god-emperor and inspiration for a thousand terrible RPG modules, tiptoeing gingerly into his hotel room. He sets down the suitcases, looks left, right, and left again, and finally summons up the nerve to turn the lights on.

This is how far he’s fallen — the mighty murderous man-thing, triumphant at last, shaking off the shackles of his Elder Things upbringing, and running away with the girl he loves… but feeling no joy. Instead, we see a timid man, afraid of his own shadow. Not the shadow he casts, naturally, nobody fears that except groundhogs. Jeb is afraid of the shadow that’s been assigned to him.

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And here it is, that dreadful shade, casting itself on the wall and going boogley-boogley-boogley. That’s mandatory, by the way. If you’re watching the show, and the shadow doesn’t make that noise, then you’re required to do it yourself. Out loud. Every time. Boogley-boogley-boogley-boogley, the whole time it’s on screen. Try it, and see how satisfying it is.

This calamity is the result of a fiendish hex that Angelique put on Jeb, because he was tangentially involved in the entirely foreseeable train wreck of her second marriage. The witch cut a little shape out of black construction paper and placed it over Jeb’s heart, and that’s all you need to do, apparently. Unstoppable wriggling specter of death, set in motion.

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Jeb snaps off the lights and tells his bride that they can’t stay, which doesn’t go over big with the little woman. Carolyn hasn’t been married that long, but she knows enough about life to know that you’re not supposed to spend your entire honeymoon walking in and out of hotels.

The conversation that ensues is extremely frustrating for Carolyn, and, in a larger and more important sense, for me.

Carolyn:  Jeb, what is it you’re not telling me? What are we running from?

Jeb:  What gives you the idea we’re running from anything?

Carolyn:  You! You give me that idea! The way you act, and the way you look, and the things you say! Maybe there’s an explanation. If there is… I want to hear it. I want to understand.

Jeb:  Honey, there are just some things that you can’t understand, I’m sorry!

Carolyn:  How do you know that, unless you give me the chance?

Jeb:  Cause I know!

973-dark-shadows-carolyn-jeb-explain

She grabs him, and spins him around to face her.

Carolyn:  Jeb — I’m your wife! I have to understand what all this means!

Jeb:  All right. You want to understand it? It means the honeymoon’s over. It’s over! Now, let’s get out of here!

And the agonizing thing is that she’s doing everything right. She’s acting like a smart character, and she’s trying to move things along. But Jeb categorically refuses to make this story any better, and I wish I knew why.

The Dark Shadows writers have painstakingly constructed an emotionally wrenching tragic end to this tale, which they are one hundred percent determined not to use. It’s so simple that you can say it in six words: Jeb is not a normal man. Imagine what would happen, if we could only say that to Carolyn, and get her to believe it.

Honestly, I don’t care what happens at that point. She could investigate, or reassure, or declare war, or fall into a coma. The only thing that I want is for Carolyn to assimilate the obvious fact that Jeb is not a normal man. Even an inkling. Oh, what a stupendous relief that inkling would be.

And yet, after all this time, she still believes that the unholy pile of force-grown flesh lying next to her in bed is what he appears to be: a photographer from nowhere special, who won the heart of the prettiest girl in town.

Even now, when he’s acting nothing but suspicious, she doesn’t say, hey, y’know what, I don’t really understand what happened on our first date. I drank something, and I broke an antique, and then I woke up at home. Explain that, and we can work forwards from there.

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Now, I get why Jeb isn’t telling Carolyn the truth. Number one, he’s afraid she’ll stop loving him; number two, he’s not good at solving problems; number three, he hardly even understands it himself. Fine. Jeb Hawkes, if you’ll recall, is only about four months old at this point. His adult role models were Megan, Philip, Barnabas, Oberon and Haza, none of them qualified to raise children. He’s had no opportunity to learn or grow, and he has never handled a single problem without making it worse.

But Carolyn is a grown woman with a brain and a spine. She’s dated werewolves and lawyers and fishermen and Frankensteins. She’s spirited and strong, and you don’t want to be on the other side when she gets angry. And they refuse to let her be a grown-up.

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She’s allowed to know about the shadow — here it comes, boogley-boogley-boogley — but that’s the only information that she’s allowed. She gets to make a couple of inferences, but then there’s a hard cut-off, and she’s denied access.

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So we get scenes like this:

Carolyn:  Is it Nicholas Blair?

Jeb:  What made you think of that?

Carolyn:  Because he’s evil, and he wants to hurt you. I know that.

Jeb:  Oh, Carolyn, you know too much!

She doesn’t.

Carolyn:  It is Nicholas, isn’t it? Jeb — suppose I were to go to him.

Jeb:  Oh, no! Don’t do anything. I’ll do whatever has to be done.

Carolyn:  But when? Every night, the shadow grows larger!

Jeb:  Right now! I’m gonna do something right now!

Carolyn:  Where are you going?

Jeb:  The less you know, the better!

And I just don’t understand it. Why are they treating Carolyn like a child?

973-dark-shadows-carolyn-jeb-barnabas-dream

It’s especially frustrating because Carolyn’s had a long series of prophetic dreams, where she learns the really explosive revelation, over and over again. At first, it was just suggestion — Jeb holding up his hands, covered in warm, red Stoddard blood.

But after three dreams like that, she still wasn’t getting the message, so she finally had a dream where Barnabas shows up at her wedding, points at Jeb, and shouts, “You killed Paul Stoddard!”

And she still doesn’t even know that he’s not a normal man. That’s not even a question that interests her very much.

So it doesn’t work. The whole entire Leviathan story, from beginning to end, does not work at all. This story is supposed to be about Carolyn, but they never allow her to make any grown-up choices. It’s like if they went to 1795, and Josette decided that instead of throwing herself off Widow’s Hill, she’s going to start taking French horn lessons. Barnabas and Angelique and Sarah and Naomi and Zombie Jeremiah are just standing around, shuffling their feet and looking sheepish, and she looks up from her sheet music for a moment, and she doesn’t understand why everyone’s looking at her. No, I’m not going to throw myself off of anything. I’m going to play French horn for a while. That’s what I do now. That’s what it turns out this story was about.

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And they set this up so well. They brought her father back on the show, and they spent time on Carolyn and Paul bonding, and they kept him around until the Leviathan kid was ready to age up to an adult.

And then they killed Paul on the same day that the adult Jeb appeared, because that was the whole point of the story — that Jeb’s purported romance with Carolyn hinges on this one huge secret that everybody knows, except for her.

The first time that Jeb sees Carolyn is at Paul’s funeral. They did all those dream sequences, where she was supposed to learn the truth, or at least start asking some sharp questions. They were clearly leading right up to this very moment — or, preferably, four or five moments ago, before the audience gave up in despair and started making other plans for 4:00 in the afternoon.

I mean, at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that I was right — that the Dark Shadows writers never had a plan that went any further than three weeks ahead. Even when they really clearly did have a plan — and the Paul/Carolyn/Jeb thing was obviously sketched out, far in advance — it turned out that it wasn’t a plan after all, because they couldn’t figure out how to follow through on it.

So hooray, I was right. I understand how Dark Shadows works. Good for me.

Tomorrow: Your Declining Days.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Jeb rants, “And each day, every night, when it gets larger, and larger! And every night, it’s able to reach out a little further, and further!”

When Quentin and Sabrina are standing by the mirror, something intrudes into the picture at the lower right corner.

In act 2, Sabrina’s scene begins with a shot of the clock. As we fade in, she makes a circular motion with her finger around the clock face. In a minute, she’s going to move the clock forward from 7:30 to 8:00. Maybe she’s practicing?

There’s a close-up on Sabrina holding a sheaf of bills, and it’s obviously play money.


Behind the Scenes:

My favorite prop makes another appearance today — the Ralston-Purina lamp, which shows up at Bruno’s place and gets several nice shots. We last saw this lamp a month ago, in the Collinwood drawing room.

Tomorrow: Your Declining Days.

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Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

23 thoughts on “Episode 973: Groundhog Day

  1. It seems like some of the writers were working hard on the new PT storyline well in advance, cuz there’s a lot of story there, and ignoring the boring present one.

    Wasting our time. But it’ll be worth it when we get there.

    But for now, it might as well be The Dream Curse.

    Jeb is a bore.

    Bring on Cyrus.

    I have no love for Yeager, but Jeb is just a pain.

    And Sebastian is a more natural role.

  2. Danny, great call on the central promise of the Leviathan story as the chance to center a story on Carolyn and her growth–meeting her father, losing him, marrying, all life-changing events that somehow never change her. Such a writing fail.

    All the more so because–Nancy Barrett, am I right? Soaps are always a gamble, throwing untried actors into intense situations, and Dark Shadows intensified that algorithmically. So you get actors who probably auditioned well but got locked in their limitations (Roger Davis, Terry Crawford), actors who were right up to a point but got lost (I think Alexandra Moltke was probably fine for the earnest-governess-protecting-the-boy part, but she was never meant to play the time-traveling historical detective who’s ultimately a match for Barnabas). And there’s a sad history of exciting actors with roles the DS writers never figured out–I’d put Humbert Allen Astredo in that camp, but the all-time champ is Nancy Barrett, a really compelling actor who could take any role they threw at her and make it distinctive, but Carolyn is a wounded-eyed cypher whose role is never sorted out.

    Part of it, of course, is the central problem that the writing team or Curtis or the 1970s couldn’t imagine an innocent woman who was also intelligent and/or powerful: Elizabeth is magisterial, but implicated in murder, Julia is a wonder-working scientist but morally compromised, Angelique and Laura, the evil beauties, get fantastic things to do (although primarily by seducing and lying, like soap vixens–no Gloria Steinem in this world), Magda, given a character actress’s freedom from looking pretty and vulnerable, has magic, too–but Moltke got bored out of her mind (who wouldn’t, when–say it with me, everybody!–Vicki is an idiot) and when Maggie drifted into prim-governess territory Kathryn Scott jumped ship, too, pausing only briefly to do her best work as the wised-up Kitty Soames, who then dwindled into Josette and disappeared. Barrett hung in, waiting for the next time-travel or parallel-time opportunity to try a new characterization, but, my god, think what the series might have been if the damsels in distress had looked around, put two and two together, and fought the demons or saved them rather than obliviously dating them?

    1. Alas, that’s what TV was like then. The DS writers could imagine curses, vampires, Lovecraftian monsters, parallel dimensions, but not a strong competent woman who was not deeply flawed in some way. We had to wait until James Garner, bless his soul, cast Gretchen Corbett as Beth Davenport in “The Rockford files” That one was a first.

    2. It did happen. Then, cancellation.

      Parker left the evil behind for Catherine Harriage, played it strong and smart, though her love choices were, well, less than heroic. It was some of her best work on the show, along with her debut episodes in 1795. The scene in the Old House
      where she and Josette got caught up on recent events…in Fracais. Should have been on any and all best-of reels. I don’t speak it, so I don’t know if what they said made sense, but it made me believe that they did. It still does. Maybe someone here can translate what was said! Sad…..that it was the last time they did.

      Danny? Prisoner? Anyone? Ferris?

      1. Kathryn Leigh Scott reflects on this in her 1986 book My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows:

        “Lara and I had a great time together babbling French at each other as Josette and her lady’s maid, Angèlique Dubois, from the island of Martinique. This lasted only a few episodes before our appalling French accents were scrapped.”

        — p. 36

  3. Episodes. Plural?
    Were there more?

    I’d love to see that.

    Meanwhile, I’m in The Beginning, and Bechtel-skimming, scanning for two girl scenes where they don’t talk about the men. Vicki and Carolyn and Maggie, mostly, and Moltke
    Is GOOD. She’s even got subtle moves that make me re-watch. She was confident and competent.

    How they ruined her character later was incredibly stupid, and you could see it in her face,
    how frustrated she was.

    1. That’s why I said that if you want to reboot DS you have to redo the ingenues.

      My solution, for what is worth?

      Vicky is a real history buff. She does actually write some articles for a magazine and does some research. She wants to form a historical recreation group. When she finds out about Barnabas, she sees him as an informant for an interesting historical period. This will allow her to get in trouble without being an idiot.

      Maggie has had to scrapple to keep a roof over her head due to hear father’s drinking. She has become a competent hacker in the meantime, and uses her skills when needed. Her problem is her fiancé, Joe Haskell, who wants to supplement his income by running drugs in his boat.

      Carolyn had gotten involve with an urban terrorist group. Her mother’s lawyers got her off, but with the proviso that she is to be a dutiful daughter to Elizabeth from now on. This gives her a set of skills that she can use when needed.

      So, the ingenues are there, with more to do than say “I don’t understand”

      1. Great thoughts, Adriana. I especially like the brainiac detective Victoria who gets literally pulled into the past. (That’s close to reboot I’ve played about with–we all do, right?) I think it’s interesting that in the reboots we’ve seen (or not seen) to date, it’s frequently the damsels who get reworked the most: the 80s series only mildly tweaked them–Carolyn as a rich bad girl, Maggie as a working-class girl with psychic gifts (and a sex scene with Roger). But the Warner TV pilot eliminated Maggie and cast a powerhouse Juilliard graduate as Carolyn (Jessica Chasten–whatever happened to her?), and Burton’s film pulled Carolyn back into childhood, eliminated Maggie, and pretty much left Victoria out of the body of the film.

  4. I would have preferred to see the shadow stalk Michael (Michael Maitland) instead of Jeb. It would have been cool to have seen that little asshole be scared. Really scared.

    1. That would be cool.

      I would have liked to see it end with Jeb turning back into Michael, then Alexander, then Joseph, and then just a stain on the floor, all in one episode

    1. Role Playing Game module – in games like Dungeons and Dragons (the non-computer forms) you have to have a story to follow where someone has worked out all the places you can go, people/monsters you will meet, and all the hit points and abilities etc for them. If you had an especially intrepid Dungeon Master I suppose he/she could do that themselves, but that’s a hell of a lot of work. So people write these things and sell them as D&D modules. Of course if you have someone like Zibethicus (who reads here and occasionally comments) running your game you are likely to get little modifications to the purchased modules, like the time when we were supposed to run into a couple of gypsies and he brings out a print-out of a still of Magda and Sandor and says “and these people come out of the caravan” and all the kids groan…

        1. Yeah, I Googled it to find out.

          Hey! You kids! Get off my lawn!
          (Oh, who am I kidding? Kids don’t play on lawns anymore!
          But “Hey you kids get off my XBox” doesn’t work.)

          And yes, I thought it would have been better to see Jeb go backward through his ‘development’ as his existence ebbed – but the show’s budget wouldn’t have allowed for that many actors. Maybe just an episode with Jeb trapped in the secret passages under the Old House (where Sarah led Maggie), or behind the walls in Collinwood (where Maggie was also wandering), Jeb getting younger while the shadow keeps chasing him down…getting bigger…getting closer…boogley-boogley-boogley!

        2. My pleasure. Yeah kids today, they think they are nerdy…but NOTHING could possibly be as nerdy as sitting around for days on end playing one of these modules.

          It would have been absolutely fantastic if they had gone backwards through the Leviathan child’s different forms to just a stain on the floor! Maybe they just didn’t watch enough Ed Wood/Roger Corman films.

            1. 😦 I may never read a Marilyn Ross novel, unless they become available in digital form or online…remember that DS was never aired in my country.

  5. I think you should do a post sometime on the life and times of the Ralston-Purina lamp and explain Ralston-Purina to any whippersnappers. – Hey we said get off the lawn! LOL

    1. That lamp saw a lot of shit go down. It’s probably been in therapy ever since. Seriously, I would love to know what happened to it.

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