“He is my cousin, as you are my cousin, in this time or any other time!”
“The countryside near Collinwood,” says Nancy Barrett, “lies quiet and serene on this night, in Parallel Concurrent Time. But in the great house, the web of evil being woven by Angelique will begin to ensnare its first victim — Maggie Collins — who will be placing herself in double jeopardy by her presence at her husband’s side, for Angelique is not the only force that could conspire for Maggie’s destruction.”
So, a few things. First, nobody calls it Parallel Concurrent Time. Second, the first victim of Angelique’s web of evil was Alexis, and the second victim was a random day player handyman, so Maggie is either the third victim or the fourth, depending on whether you count Dameon or not. Also, that’s not what “double jeopardy” means.
Still, Nancy’s talking about a character that we recognize doing things that we more or less understand, so hooray, Dark Shadows is saved.
Six weeks ago, Joe Caldwell rejoined the Dark Shadows writing team, after a two and a half year break. Caldwell’s first tour of duty was June to October 1967, a period in which he wrote pretty much every worthwhile episode that had been written up to that point, setting a new standard for characterization and plotting. (See the episode 987 post for a rundown on Caldwell’s 1967 work.) Now he’s come back, as a replacement for exiting writer Violet Welles, and the show that he’s returned to has almost nothing to do with the show that he used to know.
When Caldwell left, vampire Barnabas Collins was the undisputed villain of the series. Barnabas had just manipulated his frenemy Julia into murdering Dr. Woodard, who’d uncovered evidence of their many crimes. Next, Barnabas was planning to dispose of Burke, who was standing in the way of the vampire’s plans to seduce Burke’s naive fiancee. In Caldwell’s last episode, Burke left on a plane for Brazil, and there was a suggestion that Barnabas would cause some kind of disaster. The next day, Burke’s plane crashed leaving no survivors, and while it wasn’t clear how Barnabas could have arranged that, it seemed to be his doing.
The show that Caldwell returned to, six weeks ago, could not have been more different. For one thing, the entire 1967 cast was upstate filming House of Dark Shadows, so there weren’t any characters that he recognized. The only Collins family members still in attendance were Quentin and Amy, who Caldwell didn’t know, and the rest of the cast was mostly villains, mildly redressed in Parallel Time drag — Alexis, Bruno, Cyrus, Trask and Gladstone.
As jarring as that early PT period was for Caldwell, it’s a pretty good indicator of the direction that the show has taken. The thoroughly evil and unrepentant Barnabas who killed Dr. Woodard is now the hero of the show — still sleeping in a coffin and biting people, but generally an okay guy, compared to the rest of the cast. The core Collins family seemed like such a big deal, back when blackmail was a front-burner issue, but they’ve become essentially irrelevant, unless they’re directly involved with a monster, a seance or an exorcism. Caldwell left a show where a little dead girl showed up every now and then to warn someone of impending disaster; he returns to a show stocked with witches and multiple murder plots.
He’s arrived in Parallel Concurrent Dark Shadows, where the names and faces are the same, but the content and tone are completely different from the show he knew. He’s familiar with the Collinwood drawing room set, and that’s about all you can say.
So Caldwell’s been struggling to make an impact, and the clearest example is the haunting of Dameon Edwards, a failed spook subplot that didn’t end up meaning anything. Dameon was an unnecessary day player gigolo who apparently had an affair with Angelique back when she was alive and married to Quentin, although we already had at least two other people who also had a vague infidelity backstory with Angelique.
When Caldwell summoned Dameon from the grave for a couple of inconclusive weeks of supernatural theater, it was a 1967-style haunting. The ghost appeared silently, offering cryptic warnings. He left little clues around the house — blood-spattered sheet music, a piano playing itself — that didn’t really point to anything. And in an extremely 1967 sequence, Dameon quietly led young Amy down to the basement, where his body was buried, and then disappeared before she could figure out what was going on. It didn’t really make sense, so after a couple weeks of melodramatic speculation and a cryptic dream sequence, Caldwell had Angelique banish Dameon’s spirit, and then everyone forgot all about it.
Essentially, Dameon was a symbolic stand-in for Caldwell himself — a character from the past resurfacing unexpectedly, who’s trying to be helpful but ultimately just makes everyone confused.
So what a relief it must be to write an episode where Barnabas obsesses over biting Maggie, hits Willie with his cane, and finally breaks into a girl’s bedroom for a midnight snack. Today’s episode has crosses and coffins and arguments, and dognoise, which is amazing — when was the last time we heard dognoise? This episode’s even in black-and-white, as if ABC mishandled the original videotape just to make sure Caldwell feels at home.
The situation, if we can transition back into the parallel concurrence of May 1970, is about as simple as Dark Shadows could possibly be. Time-tossed vampire sees a girl he likes. He feels a sudden rush of anguished yearning that can only be expressed through non-consensual venipuncture. He tries to resist temptation by establishing absurd ethical guidelines that last for less than five minutes. Result: Supper time.
It’s a lot of stuff that I’ve already discussed on the blog before, but honestly it’s just a relief not to have to explain PT Angelique’s over-complicated brain patterns again. If the only way around that is to step back into Dark Shadows ’67, then sure, let’s do it.
So, that other force that Nancy brought up a minute ago, the one that could conspire for Maggie’s destruction? You’re looking at it.
After months of painful separation, Quentin and Maggie have reunited as husband and wife, and as Quentin’s mysterious chest pain mysteriously subsides, they reaffirm their love, and so on and whatever. It’s not actually that important.
The important thing, as always, is how Barnabas feels about it, and apparently he feels stalkery and unwell. As the man and wife get down to the business of reuniting, Barnabas politely excuses himself, and then he hides around the corner so he can eavesdrop and yearn. “Maggie,” he sighs, using his inside voice. There isn’t a verb associated with that thought; it’s just a generic moan on the subject of Maggie.
It’s unclear where that’s coming from, exactly. Towards the end of the Leviathan story, Barnabas was starting to have feelings for regular non-concurrent Maggie, and then they ran away to a magic castle upstate, where they had walks in the woods and candlelight dinner dates. The concurrent Maggie is neither the movie Maggie nor the TV show Maggie, but I guess at a certain point a Maggie is a Maggie, and if you’re going to fall in love with one of them, you might as well get the full set.
But it’s not super clear what brought this up, all of a sudden. Barnabas has snacked on the locals a couple times so far, but more as a recruitment tactic than an innate need for blood. For the most part, biting people is a way for Barnabas to establish dominance and submission, providing him with a sidekick or two that he can use to deflect inconvenient plot difficulties, like protecting him during the day or explaining to people that he’s a descendant.
Here in PCT, Barnabas is bunking with Will and Carolyn Loomis, who we find together, muttering about sedition. Originally, Carolyn was Barnabas’ blood slave and Will was super judgmental about it. They’ve switched positions now, and Will is trying to play peacemaker as Carolyn pokes at Barnabas with an imaginary stake.
And it’s here, in Loomis House, on a little plot of studio space far from Jekyll’s lab and Angelique’s potion factory, that Joe Caldwell finds a little piece of home. It’s called Carolyn Stoddard getting angry.
Barnabas: Quentin is extremely ill, and his wife has just returned.
Carolyn: Your concern doesn’t impress me in the least. You care nothing for them, and you know it.
Barnabas: That’s not true. Quentin is my cousin!
Carolyn: Quentin is not your cousin! That’s in another time, here he’s nothing to you!
Barnabas: He is my cousin, as you are my cousin, in this time or any other time! You are a Collins, and I am a Collins. That’s why I prefer not to harm you.
Carolyn: You’re not a Collins. You’re not even human!
Will interrupts by shrieking, “Carolyn, that’s enough!” but it isn’t enough at all. They could go on this way for weeks, if they wanted to. Two characters that we love, having feelings at each other — so much like the family we know, but rearranged, in order to play a brand-new game of What If.
In this case, the proposal goes something like: What if Carolyn found out that Barnabas was the devious monster that he actually is? What if she recognized the many ways that he and his friends had manipulated her family, in order to perpetuate his unholy and unwanted existence? What if she laughed bitterly as he pretended to care about a family that he actually treats like a herd of pliant, alibi-providing dairy cattle, occasionally sipping at their delicious fluids as he prods them into another defensive formation?
I mean, it doesn’t last very long. But it’s a fun idea to play with, isn’t it?
Yeah, I’m being hard on Barnabas today, but this is 1967, remember? Barnabas is the bad guy; that’s why he owns the show.
Barnabas: Let me remind you of one simple fact. Expose me, and it will mean destruction for your husband, and yourself.
Carolyn: You wouldn’t.
Barnabas: I would, without hesitation.
So I guess that’s about as far as the sentimental “you are a Collins” stuff takes you. I would prefer not to harm you, but I will if I feel like it, because I am Barnabas Collins and I am more important than anybody.
But as Joe Caldwell knows, you can’t just write a scene about Barnabas lecturing and threatening people. This magic brew requires one more ingredient, the thing that makes Barnabas Collins fascinating, rather than loathsome. He also has to confuse people.
Barnabas: You must not allow me to leave this room.
Will: How can I stop you?
Barnabas: I give you complete power over me, this one night only.
Will: I don’t understand.
Barnabas: The cross… do you still have that cross?
Will: Yes, why?
Barnabas: You will get it, and bring it back here, and you will not let me see it, unless…
Will: Unless you try to leave.
Will: I still don’t understand.
Barnabas: There is no need for you to try to understand. Get the cross, and bring it back. I must not leave this room!
And Will goes and gets it, because what are you going to do, spend the rest of your life saying “I don’t understand”?
Will gets the cross, and just for fun, he holds it facing Barnabas, who instinctively cowers. “Put it away!” Barnabas growls, and when Will hesitates, we get a little burst of spell-casting music. Grasping his temples, Will drops the cross, and Barnabas triumphs.
So what is all this dom-sub edgeplay actually about? Barnabas appears to think that Will can use the cross to keep Barnabas in this little cubbyhole behind the bookshelves, but when Will tries it for half a second, Barnabas effortlessly takes control.
“You will use it only when necessary!” Barnabas orders, which I don’t know what that could possibly even mean. Of course, we can’t let Will really get the upper hand, because then the whole master-servant relationship would switch back, and Will would chain up the vampire and go back to writing tedious YA fiction. But if Barnabas still has veto power, then what’s the plan here?
It all falls apart within seconds, of course. Maggie stops by to tell everybody that Quentin’s feeling okay, positioning herself in front of the bookcase so that she can talk about how helpful Barnabas is, and how much she likes him. This is a service that ingenues provide, it’s all part of the basic package.
The penny drops for Will, who realizes what all this cross business is about.
“It’s she you’re hiding from, isn’t it?” Will hisses. “When I was writing the book, you mentioned how much she reminded you, in the other time, of Josette! And this Maggie reminds you of that one, doesn’t she?”
Barnabas tries to play it cool, but a dog howls at that moment, and Barnabas acts like he’s trying to pretend he didn’t just get an erection. Unmasked and unmanned, he tells Will to open the panel and forget the whole thing.
And here we are again, another spin in this endless cycle of backacting, as Will grabs for the holy relic, and Barnabas tries to explain that he was only kidding.
It ends in violence and disarray, naturally, because this is 1967, and Barnabas just remembered that you can beat the shit out of Willie and everyone will still talk about how reluctant and redeemed you are.
Now, there are a lot of questions that we could ask here, as we struggle to comprehend the last four and a half minutes of afternoon television. The one I’d like to spotlight is an old favorite: Why is this night different from all other nights?
Barnabas told Will, “I give you complete power over me, this one night only.” But why just one night? If he makes it through to dawn without slaking his thirst on the blood of the innocent, does the fever pass? Is one moment of successful self-control all that Barnabas needs, in order to re-up his membership in the human race?
But these are the kinds of questions that keep us watching this marvelous madman, who loves and yearns and burns with fury. Caldwell owns a calendar, he knows it’s not 1967 anymore, and yet it still works, this blurry, concurrent kinescope copy of Barnabas Collins, who calls himself a cousin, and then reaches for the cane.
Tomorrow: Diagnosis Murder.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Maggie and Quentin are arguing about whether it’s dangerous for her to stay, Barnabas breaks in: “Mrs. Collins, if you’ll excuse me, if there’s nothing else I can do –” Maggie thanks Barnabas for his help, then turns back to Quentin for another couple lines. Barnabas breaks in again to say, “Please excuse me, if there’s nothing any further I — nothing further I can do — good night.”
Behind the Scenes:
The master videotape for this episode was either lost or damaged beyond repair, so the version we see in syndication and home video is a black-and-white kinescope copy, originally made to provide a copy of the episode to local ABC stations who aired Dark Shadows in a different timeslot. There are 20 episodes over the course of the series that we only have in kinescope form, and this is the last one, hooray. There’s one more missing tape — episode 1219, in February 1971 — and unfortunately, they’d stopped making kinescope copies by then, so that’s Dark Shadows‘ one actual missing episode.
Tomorrow: Diagnosis Murder.
— Danny Horn