“I must go back to that time!”
For the last two and a half months, eccentric millionaire Actual Barnabas Collins has been time-tossed and unbound, falling backwards downstairs into a non-canonical dimension ruled by parallel people who don’t really count.
This is nothing new for Dark Shadows, of course; like all licensed properties, it’s spawned a sprawling network of untidy un-verses, just piling up on the store shelves. There’s Gold Key Collinwood, where Barnabas’ greatest foe is the Collinsport fire marshal; there’s Comic Strip Collinwood, where Barnabas is the reincarnation of the Egyptian god Osiris; there’s Paperback Library Collinwood, where Barnabas lights mummies on fire; and there’s View-Master Collinwood, which is pretty much the same as the regular kind, except shorter and in 3-D.
But all of those alternate dimensions have their own Barnabas, one apiece, as it should be. And then there’s Parallel Time, which was too lazy to create their own Barnabas, so they stole ours.
I know, I don’t want to get all Brexit about it, but come on, they’ve had him for two and a half months. It’s our turn again. If Parallel Time wants a Barnabas, then maybe they can share with Trading Card Collinwood, which isn’t even using theirs anymore. We want ours back.
And here he is, Actual Barnabas Collins, standing here in Actual Collinwood with Actual Julia, and all he can do is complain.
“I’m back in my own time,” he moans, “and in that other time, Maggie’s in terrible danger! How can I help her, Julia? How?”
Julia says, “What kind of danger is Maggie in?” instead of “Who cares? That’s not really Maggie anyway,” which would have been my preference.
But fine, let’s play it his way for now. Parallel Maggie is currently being threatened by the combined forces of ice witch Angelique, treasonous bestie Cyrus Longworth, parallel housekeeper Julia Hoffman and, um, Barnabas Collins, who’s mostly upset because he wants to be the one putting Maggie in terrible danger, and other people keep cutting in line.
Julia has a scrap of intel — she caught a glimpse of Parallel Time earlier in the evening, and saw Angelique and Parallel Julia conspiring — but she’s mostly thinking about her mirror-universe self.
“She was so cold, and cruel,” she shudders. “I don’t understand how my counterpart could be so different from me!” Julia doesn’t look in the mirror that often.
He asks if the evil twins were talking about Maggie, and Julia says, “What difference does that make? You’re away from all that now.”
“I have no intentions of staying away,” he corrects. “I must go back to that time!”
She goggles. “Go back?”
“Yes! I intend to find Maggie, and reunite her with Quentin!”
“Barnabas,” she points out, “that’s insane!”
Which it is. Why are we doing this? The whole Parallel Time storyline is based on the premise that Barnabas is trapped in a similar soap opera that we don’t want to watch, and now’s our chance to correct the situation. But Barnabas seems really set on the idea of helping Parallel Maggie.
So Julia says, fine, if you’re going to throw another six weeks of story down the parallel timehole, then I’m coming with you, which is the best news we’ve heard in months.
But then Barnabas declines, which is intolerable, and as usual, he has an illogical explanation for why. “I have no counterpart in that other band of time,” he vampsplains. “You do. There’s already a Julia Hoffman in that other band of time.” You can tell that Barnabas is talking science, because he keeps saying “band of time”.
And then he declares: “Suppose there’s a law that says that only one can exist in any given band of time, and the presence of two means that one must die!”
And this piece of improvised crackpottery that Barnabas has pulled out of precisely nowhere is now a physical fact of the cosmos, because Barnabas postulates are always true. Julia isn’t allowed into Parallel Time because there’s already a Parallel Julia, and things would get awkward. So that puts the kibosh on any story ideas about Julia coming to Parallel Collinwood pretending to be a long-lost lookalike descendant of the housekeeper, which now that I think about it would have been amazing.
But obviously it would have been difficult to pull that off editing-wise, which is why this “one at a time” concept tends to crop up on budget-conscious science-fiction shows. On Doctor Who, they call it the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, which everyone accepts because it’s so much fun to say. The new Twin Peaks uses it too, declaring that Agent Cooper and his Black Lodge doppleganger can’t exist at the same time, and one of them is going to have to die. There’s probably something on Lost about this that I can’t recall offhand, and ditto Sliders and The Flash, not to mention the well-known Star Trek principle of Conservation of Kirks.
Dark Shadows‘ technical capabilities have grown tremendously in the last year — for the longest time, they couldn’t edit at all, and now they’re doing Jekyll/Hyde transformations and pretaped Chromakey effects in the middle of an episode — but the last thing they need right now is another “double” storyline. So apparently Julia needs to stay home and wait, while Barnabas dives back into the other band of time. By the way, did we mention that there’s another band of time?
Now Barnabas is suddenly back in Parallel Time, a transition that happens offscreen because this is where Barnabas thinks he ought to be. It’s an incredibly casual transition, considering the angst that everyone’s been expressing about not being able to break through to the other universe. Apparently, Barnabas got the hand stamp, and he can go in and out any time he feels like it.
So to hell with suspense, I guess; we don’t have to worry about whether Barnabas can get home anymore. It looks like we’re now supposed to be on board with the concept that we care about Parallel Maggie.
If we needed any more evidence about how false these suspenseful scenarios really are, then this is it. There aren’t any physical laws about when Barnabas can travel from one fictional universe to another; it just happens whenever the writers want it to. It’s the same as a countdown sequence, where you know that the problem will be solved precisely one second before the bomb goes off. That’s especially true with this Parallel Time malarkey, because the room can change from Actual to Parallel entirely at whim.
But there is a point to today’s blatant bait-and-switch, which is to compare the counterparts. Even if the best character on the show is officially shut out of the storyline, she’s got a lookalike understudy, so life isn’t all bad.
“Mr. Collins, are you looking for something?” Hoffman asks, and then she raises her eyebrows so far that she practically falls over backwards. If she gets any more suspicious than this, she’ll have to do the remainder of the scene lying on her back, looking up at the chandelier.
“The last time I was in here, I had a book with me,” he says, “and I thought I left it here.”
“Did you?” she says, and the room gets even colder.
“Apparently not,” he allows, and then he goes on one of those Fridspeak journeys to nowhere. “I haven’t been able to find it. But it is possible that I did have it here, and someone took it.”
“Anything is possible, Mr. Collins,” she sneers, and he narrows his eyes, and she narrows hers right back. You don’t win a face-making competition with Julia Hoffman, I don’t care what time band you’re from. It can’t be done.
Barnabas tries another angle. “Why don’t you and I –” he begins, and then reconsiders. “Well, agree with each other for once, and have a good talk.”
She raises another eyebrow, and says, “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” That’s not her being sassy; she just doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. Nobody ever does.
“I think I should tell you that you’re fighting a losing battle!” he says, and then sidles up to her like he’s Parallel Bogart. “You’re on the wrong side, Hoffman.”
She just looks at him and says, “That makes no sense at all.” And she’s right, it doesn’t. It very rarely does, with this guy.
And then he tries a tactic that pretty much only Barnabas would try: he compares her to herself.
“You know,” he says, “one time, I knew a woman who looked remarkably like you. She was a doctor. She was a kind person, and a true friend, one who would never stand by and watch an innocent woman like Maggie Collins get hurt.”
So that’s a laugh. Julia would never stand by and watch an innocent woman like Maggie get hurt?
The reason why Julia is even on the show is that she hypnotized Maggie into not exposing Barnabas as the hideous man-ghoul who vein-raped her and stole three months of her life. Standing by and watching an innocent woman like Maggie get hurt is pretty much Julia’s core characteristic.
In fact, we just watched Julia urging Barnabas to remain in his own time band, so they could both stand by and watch as an innocent woman exactly like Maggie got hurt. There are differences between our Julia and Parallel Julia, but that is conspicuously not one of them.
Morally, there’s no difference between them. The one trait that they clearly share is their devotion and loyalty to the monster of their choice.
There’s absolutely nothing that you could say about this world’s iteration of Angelique that you couldn’t say about Barnabas, over the last few years. Angelique came back from the dead, and sucks the vitality out of the living. She gains access to Collinwood by pretending to be her own relative. She’s obsessed with recapturing the love of her life, and she’s willing to take out anybody who gets in her way. She hypnotizes people, drugs them, sends them terrifying dreams, and drives them to suicide. Barnabas is a lot better at it than she is, but he’s been doing it for longer.
So the funny thing that’s happening here is that Dark Shadows abandoned its moral sense years ago, but they’re still pretending that this is a story about good vs evil. Julia is kind, and Hoffman is cruel; Julia is a true friend, and Hoffman is, well, a true friend (of someone else).
But there is a difference, an actual reason why Actual Julia is better than Parallel Julia, which is that Julia is a higher social class than Hoffman, and this gives her more power to impact the story.
I know, that sounds awful, but it’s true. Julia is a doctor, and doctors are incredibly powerful on soap operas. When there’s a crisis, you call the doctor, and then everyone literally stands around and waits for the doctor character to tell them what to do. Julia can examine people, and make treatment decisions. Those decisions are mostly sedative-related, but still, she’s an active character in the scene.
As a doctor and permanent house guest, Julia also has complete freedom to go anywhere she likes, at any hour. She can leave the house and go meet fashion models and art collectors, or dig up a grave, or pretend to write a book. She can shop for antiques, and boss policemen around. There is no limit to what Dr. Julia Hoffman can do, as long as it makes the story more interesting.
And Hoffman is a housekeeper. She has no freedom, no social power, and nobody asks her for advice. There’s just no contest.
So it’s incredibly frustrating that Barnabas chooses Parallel Time, which is the lesser universe, with the weaker Julia. This week gives Hoffman the strongest story point she ever gets — investigating Barnabas, and discovering his dark secret — but that’s as far as this character is going to go.
Barnabas is right, Hoffman is on the wrong side. We all are, thanks to him. There he was, on the right side, the side where Julia lives, and he walked back through the portal to the wrong side, and he took us with him, the big dope.
Tomorrow: Follow the Money.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Barnabas tells Julia, “I want you to go downstairs, and get the key for that door, and come up back up here, and lock me in.”
Hoffman tells Angelique, “I gave him the letter for Quentin — from Quentin, and he told me I could leave the house.”
Angelique tells Hoffman that she can’t burn the diary: “This is the only link I have with the past!” What on earth is she talking about? Every single thing in the room is exactly the way that she left it when she died.
They’re doing a lot of editing these days, to manage the Parallel Time room changes, and it’s mostly been excellent. But the end of act 1 today is unbelievably botched. It’s three little scraps of other shots — Julia opening the doors from yesterday’s episode, Barnabas taking a step toward the desk (a shot scavenged from the next act), and then Julia saying “Why can’t I get through?” which is also from yesterday’s episode. It looks as if the footage they had was lost or ruined somehow, and they had to take other clips and just scotch-tape together whatever they could.
Barnabas tells Angelique, “But that passage in your diary obviously has to do something with the fact that you survived death!”
When Maggie’s pacing in her cell at the beginning of her scene in act 3, the music cue skips.
Behind the Scenes:
The traveling afghan is at it again, now popping up in the Old House drawing room. We last saw it at Buffie’s apartment, in April.
Tomorrow: Follow the Money.
— Danny Horn