“Nothing must disturb the sleep or sully the name of that other Barnabas Collins who died in this time.”
Trapped in a false dimension and freshly liberated from a chained coffin not specifically his own, the strange and brutal Barnabas Collins, fugitive vampire in a world he never made, is onboarding a new employee.
“Please let me go,” Will pleads, “and I won’t tell anyone anything about you.”
Barnabas gives the trainee a lopsided grin. “Go, if you want to go.”
Will concentrates. “I can’t get away!” he grimaces. “You know I can’t.” He stares helplessly into a future he doesn’t care for. “What are you going to do with me?”
It’s a close-up so we can’t know for sure, but the smart money says Barnabas is steepling his fingers. “Surely you’ve learned enough from our conversations recently to realize the position that you’re in.”
“I must do your bidding?” Will gulps.
“Precisely. Your agonizer!”
Will takes a step backwards. “No. Wait!”
Barnabas is firm. “Your agonizer, please!”
We’re currently caught in the whirlpool of Parallel Time, a narrative collision between two versions of Dark Shadows that can’t make sense of each other. The new timestream that we’re in is exactly like the one we’re familiar with, except people have made different choices, and compared to the Barnabas Collins we know, the parallel Barnabas must have been the world champion of choice-making.
Our Barnabas managed to take a fortune, a fiancee and a fish factory, and whiz it entirely down his leg, but the PT Barnabas must have been taking night classes or something, because he figured out how to get all the way through a wedding without shooting a family member directly in the face.
Flash-forward to the recent transporter malfunction in the east wing, and out crawls an evil twin from the dark dimension. I don’t think there’s any way to view this scenario without admitting that our Barnabas is the one wearing the goatee.
Parallel universe stories are fun, because they create illuminating contrasts, presenting a new perspective on the core continuity. Except on Dark Shadows, of course, where it’s just another opportunity to assault and enslave people.
Meanwhile, in an even more parallel timeline, there’s a version of Dark Shadows that airs weekly on Friday nights, and calls itself Star Trek. As we’ve seen recently, Star Trek and Dark Shadows are basically the same show — or at least they will be, by the mid 70s — so we might as well see what’s happening on the other side of this coin.
Specifically, I want to look into “Mirror, Mirror”, a season two episode that aired on October 6, 1967. In our reality, Dr. Woodard encountered the ghost of Sarah in the mausoleum that day, but in this alternate band of time, four members of the USS Enterprise crew are spending the afternoon negotiating a treaty with some conceited jerks called the Halkan Council.
The Halkans are yet another tedious space race who own an entire planet and still can’t figure out how to stop wearing tunics. They sit around on little benches positioned on the lawn at odd angles, patiently explaining to passersby how much better they are than anybody. For some reason, these space hipsters have been put in charge of a planet chock full of dilithium crystals, and they refuse to give any of them to Starfleet because it might violate their race’s history of “total peace”, which is not even a phrase. Honestly, the Halkans look like humans from Earth, so who even sold them the franchise to this planet in the first place? They’re just being bitches about it.
That thrilling space adventure turned out to be a colossal waste of time, so the fearless foursome beams back up to the Enterprise, travelling through an unexpected ion storm, which sounds like lightning from the surface but actually happens in space somehow. As everyone knows, beaming through bad weather creates unexpected space-time fissures; ion storms are basically the east wing of space.
So when Kirk, Uhura, Scotty and McCoy manage to materialize on the landing pad, they step into a worst-case scenario they never saw coming. They’re in the Mirror Universe now, which is exactly like ours except people have made different choices, mostly in the areas of grooming, decor and human resources.
In this universe, the Federation has been replaced by a bloodthirsty Terran Empire, where everyone is constantly murdering everyone else. It’s all the same guys, except everyone’s a Bond villain, plotting and scheming, and torturing henchmen for making careless mistakes.
Stenciled on the walls is the logo of the Terran Empire — a sword slicing through the Earth — instead of whatever it’s supposed to be. People get promotions by assassinating their boss, everyone is required to carry a personal agonizer, and nobody has any patience for the Halkans’ do-gooder bullshit. This is what happens when the crazy supervillain who says he’s going to take over the world actually takes over the world.
Worst of all, Mr. Spock’s got a goatee, and he’s even more frowny than usual. Oh, and Kirk has some kind of magical invisible killing machine called a Tantalus Field, which nobody’s ever heard of but allows his girlfriend to instantly murder anyone she’s watching on TV.
The good guys catch on pretty quick, so they keep shtum and pretend to be their looking-glass counterparts while they try to figure out what’s going on. Luckily, they have their own positronic Professor Stokes to explain things.
Kirk: Correlate following hypothesis: Could an ion storm of such magnitude cause a power surge in the transporter circuits, creating a momentary interdimensional contact with a parallel universe?
Kirk: At such a moment, could persons in each universe, in the act of beaming, transpose with their counterparts in the other universe?
Kirk: Could conditions necessary to such an event be created artificially, using the ship’s power?
And then Kirk switches it off and he’s like, see, you guys? The magic candy machine agrees with everything I say.
But the real point of this phenomenon is to show how Kirk and Spock can connect with each other across any known reality, because they’re super best friends with a bond that transcends facial hair.
Spock: I do not threaten, Captain. I merely state facts. I have found you to be an excellent officer; our missions together have been both successful and profitable. However, I shall not permit your aberrations to jeopardize my position.
Kirk: Do you think we should destroy the Halkans?
Spock: Terror must be maintained, or the Empire is doomed. It is the logic of history.
Kirk: Conquest is easy, control is not. We may have bitten off more than we can chew.
Of course, Barnabas isn’t worried about that; he can chew just about anything. Who needs Halkans anyway? Up till now, we’ve been getting along fine without Halkans, and if they were destroyed, I for one don’t see how it would make the slightest difference.
But Barnabas has basically the same hallway conversation with Parallel Quentin, who’s usually a whiny dick but is suddenly super approachable, because Barnabas and Quentin are cross-time bros.
It’s the first time they’ve met, and once again, Barnabas is using the portrait in the Collinwood foyer like a driver’s license, introducing himself as the descendant of the Barnabas Collins that Will wrote about. This time, the phony “cousin from England” backstory is even more make-believe than usual.
Quentin: You’ll have to forgive me if I seem tongue-tied. Why haven’t we met before, Barnabas?
Barnabas: You no doubt read the book of Mr. Loomis’, in which he spoke of one of the sons of Barnabas Collins who went in search of Andean gold.
Quentin: Yes. He died in Peru.
Barnabas: Well, my disappointment in contradicting you is matched by my pleasure in telling you that he survived!
That’s an unbelievable line that I encourage you to go back and read to yourself a couple more times, because it gets better the more you look at it. Once again, it’s that combo of exquisite manners and borderline-incomprehensible Fridspeak that lets them get away with any lunatic plot contrivance they feel like putting across. The next bit is great, too.
Barnabas: Oh, in obscurity and poverty, I must admit, but with sufficient vigor to sire four sons of himself! One of who was my grandfather.
Honestly. Nobody can do this quite like Frid. Nobody even tries.
So, Peru — that’s the story we’re going with, this time around. This iteration of Barnabas Collins is from the Peruvian branch of the family, who I guess eventually figured out where the Andeans were stashing their gold, and now, here he is.
“Is it true that I am speaking to one of my cousins?” says this false Frid, and Quentin introduces himself, giving his new friend that special Quentin smile that makes you feel like the luckiest person in the world.
So the starship captain and the star-crossed vampire want the same thing — to return to their proper time band, using whatever materials are close at hand — but the underlying motivations are a bit different.
James T. Kirk wants to make the galaxy a better place, no matter how many astonishingly beautiful women he has to make out with. He doesn’t just want a leap home; he also wants to save the parallel Halkans, and reform the Empire, and generally make everyone nicer.
But Barnabas has no concern to spare. He just wants to wangle an invite to the east wing, and the ion storm therein. To the extent that he changes the timeline, he’s a corrosive influence. He’s already changed Will’s life for the worse, burning his manuscript and destroying the only thing that he really cares about. This is a whole new Collins family to wreck, and Barnabas grasps the opportunity with both hands.
The emotional arc of “Mirror, Mirror” is that Kirk redeems people, just by caring about them. The emotional arc of Parallel Time is that Barnabas makes everything worse until he burns your house down.
Okay, we’re about three-fifths of the way through a Star Trek episode, which means it’s time for an urgent call from Mr. Scott in Engineering, announcing a meaningless countdown.
Scotty: We’ve got another deadline too, sir! The two-way matter transmission affected the local field density between the universes, and it’s increasing, we’ve got to move fast!
Kirk: How fast?
Scotty: Half hour at the most!
Kirk: If we miss?
Scotty: We couldn’t get out of here in a century!
So that’s a laugh. Twenty minutes ago, Scotty didn’t even know there was such a thing as parallel universes, and all of a sudden he’s totally on top of the optimal amount of field density. I wouldn’t worry about it, if I were you. This is one of those TV countdowns where you have exactly one second longer than however long it was going to take in the first place. I’m pretty sure they’ll be fine.
Meanwhile, terror must be maintained, so Barnabas visits the cemetery to sully his mirror counterpart’s grave.
“I should have had a grave like this,” he moans, “my Josette and I. Peace should have been mine, and hers.” He picks up a hand full of dirt and regret, and allows it to slip through his fingers.
“If there is a spirit here who looks kindly upon me, I beg his help!” he cries, appealing to himself. “I am lost among strangers, trapped in a time that is not my own! I do not wish this curse of mine to affect anyone here! Help me if you can!”
And then his parallel dad shows up, still swanning around in his fabulous purple Gallifreyan robe, and he basically tells Barnabas to go fuck himself.
Joshua: I command you to leave this place, and trouble my son’s spirit no more!
Barnabas: You do not know that I am trapped in a world not mine own! And I want help, wherever it is, wherever it could come from!
Joshua: I know only that evil is in this place!
Barnabas: My name is Barnabas Collins, and Joshua Collins is my father!
Joshua: Do not profane those names!
So, yikes, when you’re not even good enough to pass the entrance exam to be Barnabas Collins, you have made some serious errors in your comportment.
Kirk’s in kind of a lecturey mood as well, so he gives the goatee a piece of his mind.
Kirk: The illogic, the waste, Mr. Spock! The waste of lives, potential, resources, time. I submit to you that your empire is illogical, because it cannot endure! I submit you are illogical, to be a willing part of it!
Spock: You have one minute and twenty-three seconds.
Kirk: If change is inevitable, predictable, beneficial — doesn’t logic demand that you be a part of it?
Spock: One man cannot summon the future.
Kirk: But one man can change the present! To be the captain of this Enterprise, Mr. Spock! What will it be — past or future, tyranny or freedom? It’s up to you.
So Kirk is correct — this style of weird Bond-villain mismanagement scheme where everyone’s constantly backstabbing each other is doomed to failure, even if you happen to be the President of the United States, because everyone is too stressed-out and paranoid to get anything useful done. This is how you end up with an unconstitutional Muslim ban, and a health insurance bill written by people who don’t understand health insurance. It’s not a rocket-sled to results.
But the funny thing is that if that’s true, then the Terran Empire should have imploded a long time ago. Apparently the instability hasn’t kicked in yet, because the mirror Enterprise is literally in the exact same place as the regular Enterprise, doing exactly the same thing with exactly the same staff. I’m not sure what the expiration date is supposed to be on the tyranny, but something’s holding it together. There might be a problem with the field density.
Anyway, Kirk and the crew transport themselves home, and the Halkans probably get killed, which serves them right for being so stuck-up and hogging all the dilithium. Barnabas doesn’t get that far, but he does get a glimpse of his own universe, which is so evil that even the evil people have evil counterparts, and Barnabas sees the evil mad scientist who protects his evil secret yelling, “Barnabas! Has the whole galaxy gone crazy? Barnabas! What kind of uniform is this? Barnabas! Where’s your beard, what’s going on, where’s my personal guard?”
Tomorrow: What Does a Crazy Woman Want?
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the reprise, Barnabas has his fangs in while he talks to Will, giving him a noticeable lisp.
When Barnabas releases Will and throws him to the floor, a metal object drops out of Will’s hand, and makes a sound when it hits the floor. Once he’s on the floor, Will puts his hand over the object.
In act 1, after Barnabas says, “It is time you do precisely what I tell you to do,” Will looks to the teleprompter for his reply: “No.” Then Barnabas has to turn and look at the teleprompter too.
Barnabas tells Quentin, “I don’t want to interfere with any private matter. But I do know that… Mr. Loomis is telling the truth, when he says that his… his latest novel is… quite fictitious.” Then he looks at the teleprompter for five seconds.
Someone in the studio coughs at the very beginning of act 3.
In act 3, Joshua is using a special echoey ghost mic, and Barnabas has a regular mic — but when Barnabas talks too loud, he gets picked up by the reverb mic. On the first word that he says — “Barnabas!” — there’s reverb. He follows with “Barnabas Collins?” and he’s picked up by the correct mic. There are a couple more lines later in the scene where Barnabas gets some inappropriate reverb, including “wherever it might come from,” “My name is Barnabas Collins!” and “Wait!”
Tomorrow: What Does a Crazy Woman Want?
— Danny Horn