“You see, I came to this time hoping desperately to escape what I am.”
And now it’s this! Hooray! The dreadful Leviathans are now and evermore squeegeed from our lives, scrubbed from the world and leaving only the laundry-fresh scent of pine, because here in soapland, there’s nothing that can’t be fixed by a good all-temperature detergent.
So the facts are as follows: eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins has been saying for weeks that he feels drawn to another band of time, which is hard to explain, and yet here I am, facing three solid months of explaining it every single day.
This is Parallel Time, a mirror universe from beyond the sun, where everything is exactly the same as our world except the attitudes and the decor. There’s a whole other set of Collinses living on the far side of this fissure in the fabric, and Barnabas is about to find himself hip-deep in a sea of familiar faces. I think it’s something to do with physics.
Anyway, we’re here now and we’re not leaving until we make a motion picture. The secret origin of this Parallel Time idea is that a good chunk of the cast is about to scoot sideways to Tarrytown, New York, where they’ll be working on House of Dark Shadows, a feature film version of the same show that they’re currently starring in. This is one of those things that seems like a great idea until you actually go and do it, except that it didn’t seem like a good idea at the time either, except to Dan Curtis, the madman-in-chief executive producer who somehow managed to convince everyone that they should make a movie while they were still producing a daily television show.
So the writers wrote a feature film screenplay, which they’d never done before, based on a story that didn’t have any real structure. Now the producers have all decamped upstate, and they’re expecting nine of the most prominent cast members to slip out the back door of the studio, and spend the next six weeks in a drafty old mansion, filming an epic.
This essentially leaves Collinwood in the hands of Quentin, Angelique, Aristede, Sabrina, Jeb and Amy, plus, I don’t know, is Garth Blackwood available? There’s no real way to make this a sustainable version of Dark Shadows, but that, as far as I can tell, is no longer the objective.
Transcending time more or less by accident, Barnabas is instantly discovered lurking in someone else’s house. This is Carolyn Stoddard Loomis, a new model with an updated hairstyle, new accessories and a swinging brown velour top. And you have to give it to them, because this really does seem like a version of Carolyn that we can recognize, without actually being the Carolyn that we know. It’s a subtle, eerie change, and they pull it off perfectly.
Worst of all, she doesn’t know who Barnabas is, because this is a parallel world where Dark Shadows never really got off the ground. They proceed to have a conversation which basically deconstructs the entire premise of Barnabas’ original storyline in nine sentences.
Carolyn: How do you know my name?
(Barnabas smirks, thinking, Here we go again…)
Barnabas: I am Barnabas Collins.
Carolyn: (chuckles) Are you. You’ve been dead for two hundred years! How well I know that.
Barnabas: I’m his descendant. There’s a portrait of him in the great hall.
Carolyn: There’s no portrait of any man who looks like you, in the great hall or anywhere.
And then she strolls to the door, to alert the authorities.
So this is a world where the old tricks just aren’t going to work. Twice now, Barnabas has used that portrait in the foyer as his passport photo, and he’d grown accustomed to it being a permanent “get out of jail free” card. But in this world, people are more sophisticated than that.
This is a world that’s already had the moon landing and the Manson family, where there’s civil rights demonstrations in the streets, where Parallel Paul McCartney is about to marry Parallel Yoko Ono, breaking up the Rolling Stones. The parallel people of this world have let go of the fiction that everything is probably fine.
But Barnabas has a copy of The Life and Death of Barnabas Collins, a biography of his mortal parallel self, and he starts flipping through the book to find a sketch that he thinks will solve everything. Carolyn stands near the exit, saying sensible things like Why are you in this room? and Does Julia Hoffman know you’re here? and Don’t come near me, I don’t trust you.
And then Barnabas grabs her and bites her on the neck, because these people have seen a lot, but they’ve never seen anything as crazy as this.
Then it’s off to the drawing room, where Parallel Liz is shuffling helplessly through a stack of envelopes, while Parallel Hoffman stands behind her, making facial expressions.
Liz: There’s no use my being anything but honest with you, Julia. I keep looking for a check, and it’s not here; it’s most embarrassing.
Julia: I know it must be, Mrs. Stoddard.
Liz: When Quentin was here, Roger and I always got our monthly checks on time.
Julia: I’m sure Chris just overlooked it.
Liz: Chris knows our position. It’s almost as if he’s trying to insult us!
Julia: I’ll talk to Chris myself.
(Liz turns to face Julia, who smiles.)
Liz: Would you really? That would be most kind. (She sits down.) Such a nuisance, money! I felt that way even when I had plenty of it. I guess that’s why I let Roger manage it for me. There’s no doubt that our side of the family has no financial sense.
And Julia just stands behind her, not having it.
Sam Hall is writing the episode today — he always writes the openers to the time travel storylines — and it’s obvious that he’s done with the movie, and back at work. There’s nothing brilliant or decorative about that conversation, but it’s a good solid intro scene that explains a chunk of the premise without sounding like an infodump.
Obviously, Julia has heard all of this before, but Liz is pretending that it’s new information to cover her embarrassment, while Julia stands in the back, silently annotating the conversation with her eyebrows. It’s a good scene, is what I’m saying, and it goes a long way towards making the audience feel comfortable with this sudden storyline-altering swerve into the twilight zone.
Julia takes a call from Quentin, the master of the house in this reality, telling her that he’s coming home tonight with his new wife, and asking Julia to prepare. When she hangs up, Liz and Julia perform a stylized backacting sequence, with more recap that doesn’t sound like recap.
Liz: They’re coming tonight?
Liz: I suppose everything will be changed. I knew her father. He was a painter, you know; he lived in the village. Moved away years ago. There were two little girls. It will be odd, having one of them come back as Quentin’s wife.
Liz: I’ve been worried about Quentin, since Angelique died.
Julia: (smiles, knowingly) You needn’t have worried!
Liz: I do hope he’s going to be very happy, at last.
The camera pulls in tight on Julia’s face, lost in happy memories. “He was happy,” she sighs, “happier than he will ever be again. He had everything.”
Seeing Julia going into an Angelique trance, Liz intentionally spoils the moment. “Did he tell you what room he wanted?” she needles.
Julia returns to the surface of the earth. “No, I’ll take care of it,” she says, and exits, and that’s how life is going to be, here in Parallel Time.
So I’m not actually going to quote every line of dialogue in this episode, but it’s impressively economical, focused on establishing as many plot points and as much background per line as they can manage. This isn’t one of those episodes where people knock on doors and force other people to say “Please come in.”
Barnabas just tells the newly-compliant Carolyn, “I will need your help,” and she responds, “I will help you,” and then there we are, figuring out coffin storage and hiding from housemaids.
For the last two weeks, everybody’s been talking about Quentin’s new wife, but they haven’t told us her name. And today, halfway through the episode, the big reveal: it’s Maggie!
This is not actually the huge surprise that they seem to think it is. They were just toying with a Quentin/Maggie romance a few weeks ago, and Maggie doesn’t have supernatural powers or anything, so this is a fairly ordinary item in this repertory-theater Parallel reshuffle. It’s not like he married Mrs. Johnson, which now that I think about it would have been the best Dark Shadows story ever. Ah well, the road not taken; there must be a lucky band of time out there where Dan Curtis made different, and better, choices.
These time travel recasting moments are funny, because it’s the exact same structure as The Muppet Movie. The characters drive down the road, and then, at various stops along the way: it’s Sweetums! and Scooter! and the Electric Mayhem! and that’s a pleasurable surprise, to the extent that you like that character.
In this case, Maggie is playing the old-time radio “can this girl from a small mining town in the west find happiness as the wife of a titled Englishman” type role, where she’s innocent and happy because that’s how poor people behave, and Quentin is dark and moody and haunted because the writers have read a lot of novels lately, looking for story ideas.
Anyway, Barnabas brings Carolyn downstairs to her own basement at the Old House — aka Loomis House, in this reality — and she acts like it’s a magical Fraggle hole to Narnia that’s bigger on the inside. This is an easily accessible room in her house; you have direct line of sight from the front door. No idea what’s supposed to be so breathtaking about this.
Although this may be metaphorical, now that I think about it. Maybe she always knew this room as the basement, but Barnabas is bringing her to “the coffin room,” which is a different place, in a non-literal sense. But don’t get me started on conceptual architecture, we’ll be here all day.
They’re doing a great job with color here — I’m really enjoying this fresh new season of parallel decor. Down here in the underworld, the basement is a vivid sea green, with a dash of purple on an accent wall.
“This will be the room,” Barnabas says. “We must find a coffin.”
She asks, “Barnabas, why don’t you tell me?” which is puzzling to me, but Barnabas gets it.
“Why I know so much?” He strikes another pose. “Can you imagine another band of time, running parallel to your own? We live in them both, but they are different, because we have made different choices.”
The answer to the “can you imagine another band of time” question is no. It’s a tremendously silly idea that only makes sense theatrically. So instead she just looks at him, and he forgets what he was going to say.
I know, I’m just quoting everything again, but I’m really impressed with the return on investment you get from this dialogue. Every line has a job to do.
Carolyn: What choice did I ever have?
Barnabas: In that time, you are heiress to Collinwood.
Carolyn: Oh! I should like that time.
Barnabas: No, you wouldn’t. Because today, you see, your husband was killed.
Carolyn: Will? Maybe I would mind that less than you think.
Barnabas: Not Will. The man’s name is Jeb Hawkes.
Carolyn: But I know no one by that name!
Okay, sure, the “I know no one by that name” is pure Star Trek barbarian from outer space lingo, but other than that, solid, right?
Barnabas: In the time I come from, Julia Hoffman is a doctor.
Carolyn: Perhaps she’s happier then.
Barnabas: Maybe she is. But how did she happen to come to Collinwood?
Carolyn: With Angelique, of course.
Barnabas: They were friends?
Carolyn: It was hard to tell who was in charge of the other.
Barnabas: What do people actually know about Angelique?
I like the way that Barnabas immediately assumes that the Angelique of this parallel world is under suspicion; it’s cross-dimensional profiling. Apparently everybody is allowed to make different choices but her.
Carolyn: She always wanted to marry Quentin, always. Since she was a child.
Barnabas: She lived here as a child?
Carolyn: Yes, her father raised her. Tim Stokes.
Carolyn: She outgrew him, once she became a Collins.
Barnabas: It’s all so similar — and yet so different!
Yeah, it sure is. That “Stokes!” moment is pure Muppet Movie.
Meanwhile, arriving on track 3: another narrative collision, this one courtesy of Daphne Du Maurier. This band of time involves an amusingly twisted version of Rebecca, a 1938 novel which was made into an Oscar-winning 1940 Hitchcock film. I don’t have time to really get into it right now, but suffice to say that the Dark Shadows adaptation starts out amazingly faithful, and then veers wildly off track by the end of the week.
So, if you know Rebecca, then Angelique is Rebecca, Quentin is Maxim, Hoffman is Mrs. Danvers, and Maggie is the new wife who doesn’t actually have a first name. If you don’t know Rebecca, then you’re about to, because here it is, happening.
The crux of the issue is that the innocent and dull-witted second wife slowly realizes that she should have done a more thorough background check before she accepted the proposal. Her new husband is haunted by memories of his dead first wife, which wife 2 thinks is because he still loves wife 1 more than wife 2, but really it means that wife 1 had some serious design flaws that he’s still trying to shake off.
The housekeeper is captivated by her own memories of wife 1, and resents wife 2, so she tries to sabotage the wife 2 relationship by constantly reminding everyone that wife 1 was more intelligent, interesting, sophisticated, popular, beautiful, talented, captivating, thoughtful, generous, refined, and just all-round better in every way that counts. She’s not wrong, to be honest, but there’s not much you can do about it, unless somehow wife 1 rises from her grave to reclaim her prior place as an intelligent, interesting and sophisticated zombie-leech creature, and what are the odds of that?
So Hoffman sets a table for the happy couple by the fire, just like Angelique liked it, and she serves crabmeat, which is Angelique’s favorite food, and champagne, which was Angelique’s favorite beverage. Crabmeat also happens to be Maggie’s favorite food, so that seems like a tie to me; maybe she’s just as good as Angelique after all.
But Quentin is haunted, like I said, and he’s not amazing at expressing his emotions in a productive way.
He barks at Hoffman, and then at Maggie, and then at Hoffman again, and then he stalks off into the night. Things move fast in Parallel Time, I guess.
So the writers are back in the saddle, which is good news, and the only thing that will sustain us during the dark times to come. Because the cast is heading upstate, running out of the house and up to Tarrytown, and here we are, left in the drawing room, with all this excess crabmeat.
Tomorrow: Bad Marriages.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Carolyn tells Barnabas, “Well, someone will shortly, that’s for sure,” someone coughs in the studio.
When Barnabas rips out the first page of the book, he tells Carolyn, “No one will know — realize it’s the same copy once I take the inscription out.”
Barnabas tells Carolyn that in his time, Julia is a doctor. “Perhaps she’s happier then,” Carolyn says. Barnabas responds, “Maybe she wizz.”
When Quentin carries Maggie into the house, you can see her panties.
When Quentin runs out of the house, there’s the sound of a door opening, but the door is already open.
Tomorrow: Bad Marriages.
— Danny Horn