“There’s a spirit at Collinwood that will not let you do what you plan!”
Haunted homeowner Quentin Collins strides down the hall in the east wing of his enormous mansion, headed for the suite occupied by his sister-in-law. Flinging open the doors, he finds himself face to face with an episode of Dark Shadows.
Quentin knows this room well; he’s in and out of it all the time these days. It’s mostly orange and pink, with a portrait and a piano and several dreadful secrets. But the doors have flung him into an unfamiliar space — the same room, but dark and empty and underutilized.
His son Daniel and niece Amy are standing in the middle of the room, having an argument. They don’t hear him when he calls, and he’s held back by some invisible barrier that he can’t penetrate. All he can do is stare in amazement at this new, grittier reboot.
This isn’t the television show that Quentin knows, but you can tell that it’s daytime programming, because the boy says, “Maybe if we stand here, something will happen!” and the girl says, “But I don’t want anything to happen!” That’s the new ad campaign for Parallel ABC Daytime.
And that’s how Quentin discovers Parallel Time. If he could somehow cross through into this strange desert otherworld, he would find a house still occupied by his family and friends, but they’ve made different choices, by which I mean that they all stayed put, instead of fleeing the house to make a movie somewhere.
I know that we’re accustomed to thinking of Quentin’s world as the one that’s Parallel, but really, it depends on which side of the door you’re on. We’ve spent the last five weeks making ourselves at home in this dimension, and it’s not very polite to suddenly switch sides again, at the first sign of an exit ramp.
So Quentin gets a bulletin from classic Dark Shadows, where Dr. Hoffman has been going around telling everybody that Barnabas is trapped in another band of time. Apparently, everyone in otherspace is already hep to the existence of alternate timelines; some universes are more up-to-date than others.
Quentin calls to the kids, and then whirls around to find them standing behind him, wearing different clothes. They’re not better clothes, necessarily. They’re just different.
Obviously, the children don’t know anything about the scene he was just looking at; these kids are products of the parallel education system, where there’s more school choice and fewer AP imaginary science classes.
Quentin asks Amy if she knows anything about Barnabas Collins, but she doesn’t — another strike against parallel charter schools, I’m afraid — and Daniel asks why Quentin wants to know.
“No reason,” Quentin answers, but Daniel insists, “There’s got to be some reason.”
“Daniel, please,” Quentin sighs, “just do as I told you,” which means go find somewhere else to play, up to and including in traffic. Then Quentin opens the doors again, and it’s back to his own insane world of nightmare problems.
But obviously there is a reason for asking these questions, which is: when is Barnabas coming back? He’s the main character of the show, and we haven’t seen him for over a month, ever since he passed through the looking-glass and got himself encased in another padlocked coffin. Then he and most of the cast took off upstate to make a Dark Shadows movie that takes place in a third dimension, with another Barnabas and another Dr. Hoffman, and a whole different continuity to contend with. Meanwhile, we’ve been stuck here in otherspace, which is nice enough but the novelty is starting to wear off, and how long is it going to take to get the vampire back on our vampire show?
The viewers probably don’t know where everybody’s been for the last month, because this is April 1970 and they don’t have the internet yet. If the viewers want up-to-the-minute backstage bulletins, they have to wait for the next issue of 16, or possibly the issue after next, so they’re stuck with a mysterious spring break that nobody has bothered to explain. All they know is that the show is less good than it was five weeks ago, and that was already kind of less good, so we could really use some Barnabas and Julia right about now.
But finally, the show is starting to acknowledge this frustrating gap in service, starting with Quentin’s mad vision of multiple existence. The kids at home are asking where Barnabas is, and finally, the kids on the show are asking too.
Rooting around in the attic for new story ideas, Daniel runs across a familiar-looking parallel portrait, repainted and covered in dust. And then we hear that magical sound — the thumping heartbeat which serves as our version of the bat signal, telling the audience that the vampire’s on backorder, and we’re currently restocking.
At the sight of America’s grooviest ghoul, Amy falls into a swoon, and she’s given a dark vision of the future, because that’s what fainting is for.
“Chains… trapped… chains… trapped…” she murmurs, and she’d probably keep it up indefinitely, given the chance. Like all teenagers in April 1970, she’s dreaming about Barnabas, that mysterious visitor from another world.
Once again, we find that Dark Shadows doesn’t work without Barnabas Collins, an inconvenient truth that we’ve had to learn several times over. The kids understand this better than anyone, and that knowledge is not kind. Overcome with longing for a show they used to love, and rejecting this backdoor spinoff that nobody asked for, the children slip to the floor, lost in dreams of the world they once knew. One of these days, we’re going to have to pop open the mystery box and make those dreams come true, for a time.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Dameon speaks to Quentin and Angelique in the drawing room, there’s a boom mic at the top left.
At the end of that scene, there’s a problem with the mic during Dameon’s last couple lines — it sounds like something’s brushed against it, or he’s breathing too heavy on it.
Behind the Scenes:
The stand-in for the hanging Quentin is Joseph Mosca, whose only appearances are today and tomorrow. He also appeared in a couple episodes of The Mod Squad, in 1969 and ’70.
— Danny Horn