“I’ll have to live all over what happened last year.”
“Cyrus Longworth is John Yaeger, and John Yaeger is Cyrus Longworth!”
The rest is silence.
At least, that’s what it was like for me, in October 1986, as New Jersey Network reached the end of the Dark Shadows syndication package, and abandoned us here, in Parallel Time, with kinescope Chris Pennock staring into the camera for a fade-out that lasted six years.
You see, during the 1980s, clever and ruthless Dark Shadows fans had managed to convince otherwise rational public TV stations that broadcasting a vampire soap opera was in the public interest. It was a pretty sweet scam, but our luck had to run out at some point, and it turns out that point was episode 1006.
I wrote about New Jersey Network’s role in Dark Shadows syndication history a few months ago, in “A Limited Number of Tomorrows“, but here’s the gist: Dark Shadows is a very expensive show to rerun. Any show is, if it has more than 1,000 episodes, which is why on the whole people don’t do it. Making a package of episodes available for syndication for the first time requires a big up-front cost, to pay residuals for the actors, writers and directors. Once you’ve made that investment, you want a package that you can run again next year. But with Dark Shadows, once you’ve shown one year — episodes 736 through 1006, for example — then the audience expects you to pay residuals for a whole new batch of episodes.
New Jersey Network paid for the release of the mythical Third Year of Dark Shadows syndication, but at this point — “Cyrus Longworth is John Yaeger, and John Yaeger is Cyrus Longworth!” — they came to the rational decision that the station’s mission was to provide cultural, educational and public-affairs programming, and Dark Shadows was not super on-message. The fact that they were correct was not consoling in the least. NJN was the biggest and richest public TV station interested in showing Dark Shadows, and if they didn’t want to pay the residuals, then nobody would, and as far as we knew, we’d never see those episodes ever again.
We were determined to Save Dark Shadows, and it turns out that we actually did, just not in the way that we expected. We called and wrote letters and stamped our feet, and actually held protest marches in front of public-TV stations — in 1986 against New Jersey Network, and in 1989 at WNYC, who also picked up the show and then dropped it before we wanted them to. Public TV didn’t give in to our demands, but the demonstration of mass fan passion encouraged MPI Video to start releasing Dark Shadows on videotape in 1989, and when the Sci-Fi Channel started broadcasting in 1992, their opening slate of programs included Dark Shadows — two episodes a day, starting with Vicki on the train in episode 1.
So we got to see the Fourth Year after all — on video in 1992, and on Sci-Fi in 1995 — and now here we are, with the whole show available on DVD and YouTube. What lies ahead in the Fourth Year is kind of a mixed bag, but what the hell. We have nothing better to do. Let’s go ahead and save Dark Shadows.
But screw Cyrus Longworth and John Yaeger, and John Yaeger and Cyrus Longworth, is my way of thinking. For weeks, the Dark Shadows cast has been in Tarrytown, New York, making a feature film at an ersatz Collinwood, and leaving a skeleton crew behind to keep the TV show running.
There’s two current storylines, running more or less independently. On one track, there’s an adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, starring Jeb as Cyrus and Sabrina as Sabrina, and co-starring a couple of nobodies from the Leviathan storyline. Yesterday, my patience ran out and I declared war on the Jekyll and Hyde storyline, so those people are going to have to save themselves; I’m not going to bother with them.
Meanwhile, Quentin and Angelique are headlining a murder mystery mistaken-identity ghost story, which is a lot more fun and has a bug-eyed skeleton in it. If we’re going to Save Dark Shadows, then clearly this is the bit worth saving.
The inmates at Collinwood have discovered that a former houseguest named Dameon Edwards was murdered and stuffed into a basement cupboard about a year ago, and Angelique has just sent Dameon’s unresting spirit back to wherever it is irritating houseguests go, once you’ve kicked them out. AirBnB, probably.
Now they’re left with the corpse, which has somehow divested itself of all of its flesh and organs and yucky parts, leaving a complete middle-school classroom skeleton model with wires holding all the bones in place, plus big staring bug-eyes and a hinge at the top of the skull so that you can open it up and look inside, and yes of course that’s how skeletons work, what do you even know about how skeletons work?
So Angelique brings Quentin downstairs to view the remains, and he’s upset, which is understandable; there are a lot of dusty storage rooms in Collinwood, but that doesn’t mean people can dump unclaimed carcasses all over the place. It’s not hygenic, and it has a negative impact on staff retention.
“We’ve got to call the police!” Quentin says, in a rare moment of Collins family lucidity.
But Angelique is standing by, with the usual Dark Shadows challenge to civilized values. “The police?” she cries, as if this is a brand-new concept. “What will you tell them?”
“I’m going to tell them that Dameon Edwards was murdered in this house!” says Quentin, which is apparently not the correct answer.
“How will you explain knowing that these are Dameon Edwards’ bones?” Angelique retorts. “It’s a story too incredible for the police to believe!” So apparently in Parallel Collinsport, the police department expects you to file a detailed explanation for each dead body they pick up at your house, and if any aspect of the case is hard for them to believe, then they’d rather you just handle it on your end.
Quentin says, “But he was murdered!” and she snaps, “Angelique was murdered. What are you doing about that?”
And she’s got him there. He doesn’t know where to look. Nobody told him there was going to be this much domestic police work.
But hey, look who’s back! Julia and Liz were let out of school early — Julia was strangled, and Liz disappears about two-thirds of the way through House of Dark Shadows — and Lyndhurst’s loss is our gain. Roger will be back on the show later this week, and then Carolyn, Willie and Barnabas next week, which means that we never have to care about Cyrus, Sabrina, Buffie or Horace Gladstone ever again, except that we do, for weeks, but whatever.
Now, in Parallel Time, they call Julia “Hoffman” and expect her to do all the housework, so this isn’t as sweet a gig as it usually is, but at least they’re not squirting her with a hose and telling her it’s raining. At this point, it’s just nice to be indoors.
But Hoffman’s return to active duty is strangely muted, in a way that I can’t quite figure. Basically the only thing that we know about Hoffman is that she’s convinced that her former employer, Angelique, will come back from the grave, and return to take her proper place as mistress of Collinwood. When Angelique’s twin sister Alexis arrived for a visit, Hoffman insisted that it was actually Angelique, to the point where they had to ship her off to make an MGM feature presentation, just to get her out from underfoot.
While she’s been away, Hoffman’s fondest wish has come true — this really is Angelique, back from the grave, taking her proper place and everything — so you’d think this would be a pretty big moment for everyone concerned. And besides, when Angelique returned to Collinwood last week, she specifically said that she wanted to get Hoffman back, so she’d have an ally in the house. And yet here they are, reunited, and Angelique refuses to break the ice.
In fact, there’s an utterly peculiar moment where Angelique is in the foyer talking to her crazy Aunt Hannah on the telephone, just babbling out loud about their underhanded secret murder plans in the middle of Collinwood’s busiest transportation hub — “Don’t worry, there’s no one who’s going to suspect the truth!” she announces, over an insecure line — and then she turns around and Hoffman is standing right there!
It’s one of those “Can’t Let Me Know What” moments that daytime weepers generate for exciting act breaks, where a character says, “Whatever happens, we can’t let Blair know!” and then Blair comes in and says, “Can’t let me know what?” and everybody freezes, as we stay tuned for a word from Ken-L-Ration 100% nutritionally complete dog food. This is a totally acceptable bit of soapcraft, but the whole point of Hoffman is that you can let her know everything, and why are you still talking to Aunt Hannah? Hoffman is back! Engage with Hoffman! I don’t get it.
Still, I can’t complain about an episode that has a high ratio of skeleton-related sequences. I don’t think there’s ever been a boring skeleton scene on Dark Shadows; it’s absolutely sure-fire.
Now, Dr. Cyrus Longworth, as we’ve established, is a leading expert in the field of Villainology with a minor in being truly two, but this is Dark Shadows, where anybody with a flashlight and a master’s degree can perform a long-distance autopsy from six feet away. Watch and learn.
“It’s hard for me to be scientifically minded today,” says the forensics expert, “but my layman’s opinion is that this man did not die from the bullet wound. The bullet is lodged here, in the rib. The man probably died from loss of blood.”
I’m going to give you a minute to sit with that concept.
This man did not die from the bullet wound.
The bullet is lodged here, in the rib.
The man probably died from loss of blood.
As you can clearly observe, with the help of this trusty flashlight.
And then Quentin says, “Do you think I ought to call the police?”
So, I mean. Come on! How could New Jersey Network possibly say that this program doesn’t align with their educational, public-affairs programming?
Cyrus: Quentin, I can’t make that decision for you.
Quentin: Well, if I do, what will happen? He was Angelique’s “friend,” everyone knew that. I’m not afraid what the police will ask me, I didn’t kill him. It’s my guess Bruno did. But if I say something, it will simply stir up more talk about Angelique.
Cyrus: Yes, it will do that.
Quentin: And I’ll have to live all over what happened last year, and I don’t want to do that. And I would have to, and so would Daniel. And what would happen? Edwards would still be dead.
Yeah, this is why you’re not allowed to make your own decisions in this area. There is a process which is specifically designed to not let specifically you do specifically this.
Cyrus: And Bruno?
Quentin: Well, I’ll find out. Then I’ll take care of Bruno myself. You’ll help me bury the remains?
Quentin: Whether I’m right or wrong, I’m simply tired about hearing all of this.
So, wow. They never talked like this on Classroom Close-Up. Honestly, you don’t really need a ballistics report to determine the cause of death for Dark Shadows on public television. How can you save a show like this, when it clearly doesn’t want to be saved?
And then we see the boys come back from disposing of the deceased, still wearing jackets and ties, and it’s straight to the magic drinks cabinet.
“Well, the deed has been done,” Cyrus sighs, post-felony.
“Yes,” Quentin agrees, helping himself to the adult beverages. “Another thing to feel guilty about. I’m getting pretty good at accumulating guilts.” Because obviously this is all about Quentin’s feelings.
And that’s pretty much the last we hear about the life and death of Dameon Edwards, murder victim. Everybody seems to suspect that mad piano man Bruno Hess was the perpetrator, but nobody wants the hassle of dealing with the killer in the cottage, even though he tried to strangle Alexis, and will almost certainly commit another outrage on the public weal any minute now.
So there’s a gap here, some kind of time-skip across the space where murder matters. Quentin and Cyrus can dispose of the remains with no wear on the wardrobe, because it turns out the Dameon subplot was just a puff of smoke. Sure, Bruno probably killed him, or Trask did, or it was Angelique or Sabrina or he tripped and fell down the stairs or maybe he was a skeleton the whole time just pretending to be a guy. This may be unique on soaps, a murder mystery that everyone’s already solved and nobody cares about.
And meanwhile, in 1986, Young Danny figures that episode 1007 is probably where the whole Dameon Edwards kerfuffle snaps into focus, with an all-hands manhunt for the killer, which exposes the treasure trove of secrets and shatters the fragile peace of the great estate at Collinwood. Or something. But Dameon fell through the cracks, somewhere between 1986 and 1992, and he’s probably still there, unmourned and unloved, stuck in a stack of Bart Simpson T-shirts.
And in the strange half-light of the east wing, Quentin stumbles upstairs and finds a stray chunk of Dark Shadows.
“When I think of the way Barnabas just disappeared!” Elizabeth shudders, worrying about the exodus to Tarrytown. “We should close this room completely!”
“No!” Julia insists. “This room is his only chance of coming back to us!”
So the show is just as worried as the rest of us about the way they all ran off and abandoned the audience, and it’s working through a growing pile of accumulated guilts. It takes six weeks for Barnabas to come back, and six years for this episode to surface, and at this point, even the characters on Dark Shadows are concerned that they’re missing episodes of Dark Shadows.
“Barnabas, can you hear me?” Julia calls, to a man who’s currently upstate, chewing his way through the Collins family. “Are you standing in that hall in the other time, watching me, unable to make me hear you or see you, or has your curse, that terrible curse, been discovered?”
And she narrows her eyes, trying to squint through the space-time vortex, and catch a glimpse of 1007. “If only I knew!” she moans. “If only I knew!”
So there we are, all of us — Julia and Hoffman, Dameon and Young Danny. All we want is for Barnabas to return, to cast his dark shadow and make this nonsensical story make sense. And there they go, the lost children of 1970 and 1986, running home from school to watch a show that isn’t there.
Tomorrow: This Terrible Truth.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Cyrus tells Gladstone, “I gave that check to Longworth, as a loan.” He means he gave it to Yaeger.
Dameon’s skeleton is hanging from a wire in the hidden cupboard, and when Angelique opens the panel, the skeleton rotates a bit.
When Hoffman emerges from the drawing room at the end of act 1, you can see Quentin’s shadow through the other doorway, waiting for his cue to enter.
During an argument about Maggie, Liz tells Quentin, “She wants nothing but the assurance of your love.” He replies, “Isn’t she interested enough to find out?” which doesn’t make any sense; he must have skipped ahead a couple lines.
Quentin tells Cyrus, “I’m simply tired about hearing all of this.” He means “tired of”.
There’s a loud bang from the studio when Quentin tells Cyrus about the Parallel Time room.
Just before Quentin opens the doors to the Parallel Time room, we can hear Julia mumbling something off-mic.
Liz tells Julia, “I didn’t believe Roger, when he tried to explain this — this Time Parallel.”
Tomorrow: This Terrible Truth.
— Danny Horn