“Go on, go out! You’re protected by my indifference!”
A month ago, I declared that we had reached The End of Love — for Parallel Time at least, if not the whole series — because this months-long storyline revolves around protecting and maintaining one romantic relationship, which isn’t worth all this trouble.
According to how much the characters talk about it, we’re all supposed to care about volatile one-percenter Quentin Collins and his marriage to the parallel Maggie Evans, who isn’t even a governess so I don’t know how she got on the show. The main storyline is about the mostly-dead sorceress Angelique, who’s plotting to separate and destroy the couple by fair means or foul.
But Quentin and Maggie’s relationship has negative rooting value; they have nothing in particular in common, and by this point, they each believe that the other is in league with the Devil. Quentin can’t have a single conversation with his wife that doesn’t end in shouting and small arms fire. I’m just going to assert right now that if the end of this story involves Quentin and Maggie reunited, I for one am not going to consider that a happy ending. These people do not belong together, and the only good thing about them being married to each other is that at least they’re not able to marry anyone else, and ruin even more lives.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that love is dead, in Parallel Collinwood. Maybe we were just looking in the wrong direction.
Let’s see what’s happening over at Loomis House, the home of Will Loomis and his wife Carolyn. They also have a troubled relationship, by which I mean they basically can’t stand the sight of each other. Will is an alcoholic who used to spend every evening at Collinwood, joining in with the crowd of wannabe womanizers all jostling for Angelique’s attention, and Carolyn hated what he’d become.
And then along came Barnabas, a walking dead man from another dimension, and he took possession of Will and Carolyn’s lives. He assaulted her first, turning her into his blood slave, and then recruited Will. This has halted some of the drinking and lechery, but it’s kind of a lateral move, can-this-marriage-be-saved-wise.
Last night, in a final blow to their happiness, Will jumped from the Collinwood tower to a messy death on the rocks below, caught up in a kaiju war between his new master and his former mistress. Angelique tried to force Will into spilling Barnabas’ secrets, and he took a desperate leap into the night, finally declaring his independence for the split-second it took to reach the ground.
Now Carolyn’s come home from an overnight visit with friends, and her vampire houseguest breaks the news that her already-injured marriage is not going to get a whole lot better. Will is dead.
Stunned, Carolyn says the obvious — “Oh, my god, you can’t mean that” — and then she turns to face the beast who’s trying to console her.
“Did… did you kill him?” she asks.
“No,” he answers. “No, I did not.”
Which is technically true, except that he kind of did. Angelique is more directly responsible, but yes, Will is dead because Barnabas decided to meddle in the affairs of other universes. Having Barnabas in their lives put Will and Carolyn in a high-risk pool that they couldn’t opt out of.
And that moment — “did you kill him?” The fact that that’s the logical first question for her to ask pretty much says it all.
Barnabas tries to explain about Angelique, but Carolyn doesn’t want to hear about it.
“Don’t tell me anymore!” she shouts. “It’s not just her fault, it’s yours, too! You changed his life, when you came here! You made him your servant, and took away what little pride and self-respect he had left! You can’t just blame it on her! You’re as guilty as she is!”
She runs out the door, and he cries, “Carolyn!” in the way that soap characters always do when somebody leaves the set and they’re not allowed to follow. Then he goes and checks on the unconscious female that he kidnapped and is currently storing in a back room, which I think proves Carolyn’s point.
After that, there’s some broomstick science — a discussion between Angelique and her father about madness and medicine and the mysterious Claude North — but then we get back to the humans.
Maggie finds Carolyn in the Collinwood drawing room, staring helplessly out the window.
“Carolyn, I’m so terribly sorry,” says Maggie.
“Yes, everyone is very sorry,” Carolyn nods. “And I don’t know why. What did Will and I have, really? What did we bring to each other’s lives? When you think about it, there wasn’t very much. And yet, despite everything that was missing — I loved him. And I guess he loved me.”
So the good news is that they’ve finally discovered a human feeling that makes sense. A lunatic supernatural wildfire has devoured the lives of everybody on this parallel great estate, and now, for the first time, we’re actually expected to care.
Nobody mourned for Cyrus, because he was a monster, or Bruno, or Sabrina, or Larry, or Hoffman, or Fred the handyman, or Dameon Edwards. People have been regularly dying in and around this house for months, and if anybody actually expressed grief for any of them, it must have been a throwaway line in a scene that’s mostly about something else. I certainly couldn’t care less about any of them.
But Will’s death matters, because Carolyn has feelings. She’s lost two husbands now, between one universe and another, all because of pointless celestial turf wars. And we can feel something for this Carolyn, because she’s close enough to “our” Carolyn to be worth our time.
Hoffman never really felt like an alternate Julia, because they didn’t connect the dots between the two characters’ lives — there was no sense that Julia could have made different choices and ended up in Hoffman’s life. So she was an interesting presence in the story, but we didn’t really feel very much about her, and when she was killed, the audience was just happy that the real Julia took her place.
But this could be the Carolyn Stoddard that we know. She’s fierce, and intelligent, and she wears her emotions on the outside of her body, just like our Carolyn does, when things get difficult and stressful. You can imagine how she got here, under these altered circumstances — she wasn’t the princess of Collinwood when she was growing up; she was the daughter of a poor relation, and she’s been kicked around a bit. This world’s Carolyn could easily be ours.
So it makes sense that she’s flirting with self-destruction, the way that our Carolyn did when she couldn’t get her mother to see how dangerous Jason McGuire was. When things really go south, Carolyn gets dangerous.
As she talks with Maggie, she gets increasingly upset and reckless, first talking generally about secrets and then zeroing in on Barnabas in particular.
“Let me tell you about the real Barnabas Collins,” she cries, “the one who very few people kn-”
And then Barnabas walks into the room, putting the kibosh on any further discussion. Once they get Maggie out of the room, the conversation gets real.
Barnabas: You know, it would be easy for me to put a stop to what you’re doing to me.
Carolyn: Well, why don’t you? I’m not afraid of you, and I don’t care about myself anymore.
Barnabas: I’m not trying to hurt you, Carolyn, any more than I ever wanted to hurt Will.
Carolyn: But you did.
Barnabas: But it was beyond me! I was helpless to prevent it, and you know it! Now, I always considered Will a friend — and if you trust me, I will try to see that his death is avenged.
Carolyn: Will that bring him back?
Barnabas: No. But it will give you some small measure of satisfaction. After all, you and Will were very happy together, until Angelique came into your lives.
Carolyn: Yes. Yes, we were.
Barnabas: Come. Let me take you back to your house.
That’s where things ended in yesterday’s episode, in a truce. What happens today is absolutely devastating.
Today’s episode is written by Joe Caldwell. He wrote all the best episodes during his tenure in 1967, but since his return, he’s been struggling to get a handle on this Parallel Time thing. But given a real emotional moment for a character that he knows and understands, he comes up with the best writing on the show in months.
I’m just going to let this scene run, because it’s amazing.
Carolyn: Going out on another of your adventures to rid Collinwood of the evils of Angelique?
Barnabas: Carolyn, I’m doing everything I can.
Carolyn: Don’t you think you’ve done enough?
Barnabas: I told you how sorry I am for Will.
Carolyn: He died protecting your secret!
Barnabas: He died to keep Angelique from trying to destroy Quentin and Maggie!
Carolyn: And why shouldn’t Quentin and Maggie be destroyed?
Barnabas: I know you don’t mean that.
Carolyn: I do! Why should Will be destroyed, and every hope of happiness we had? All the years we were married, I kept telling myself, things will get better. And now there’s nothing. Nothing at all. And you expect me to say, oh well, as long as Quentin and Maggie survived, it was worth it. Well, I won’t say that, it’s not worth it!
Carolyn: I don’t care about them. I only care about Will. And he’s dead. He’s dead.
Barnabas: I’m sorry. If there were only something I could say, or do —
Carolyn: And I’m supposed to live out my life, watching them enjoy their life together? What if I have no intention of doing that? What if I have other plans?
It goes on, she’s absolutely on fire.
Carolyn: I’m sorry, Barnabas, I really am. But I loved Will. And he loved me, in his own way. And now —
Barnabas: You were going to get some rest, as I remember.
Carolyn: Rest? (laughs) Upstairs, in our room? Did you say rest?
Barnabas: Carolyn, I have to go out for something important. But I must know if you’re going to be all right.
Carolyn: I won’t be. But go on ahead anyway.
Carolyn: Oh, I’m not going to betray you, if that’s what you’re worried about! And do you know why? Because it doesn’t make any difference to me, who wins or who loses. What does it matter to me? Go on, go out! You’re protected by my indifference!
And then at a certain point she just starts drinking brandy, and she doesn’t stop until something even more terrible happens to her.
So that scene basically says everything that I would want to say about the failure of Parallel Time. Carolyn is identifying and exposing a major flaw in the construction of this story; she’s a conscientious objector to the narrative that she’s currently standing in.
She’s right, about the focus on Quentin and Maggie. She and Will have been treated like disposable pawns that only exist to support the Quentin/Maggie/Angelique love triangle story. In this storyline, Quentin is the Prom King of Collinwood, and Maggie is the Queen, and the only thing that really matters is what happens to the royal family. It’s okay if Will dies three weeks before the end of the story, because the ending — happy or unhappy — has to involve Quentin and Maggie.
And it’s not fair, because Carolyn and Will are better actors, and more interesting characters. There’s a ton of dramatic potential in this couple, and they’ve been pushed offscreen in favor of an endless number of tragic misunderstandings between the king and queen. The show has had all the time in the world to make me care about Quentin and Maggie, and they’ve failed — but now they’re showing how this process should really work.
In the space of a few episodes, they’re making me care about Carolyn and Will. They do more work just in that one scene between Carolyn and Barnabas than they’ve put into the last three months of Quentin/Maggie.
A couple days ago, I made a joke about Parallel Carolyn’s unresolved daddy issues, implying that the Paul Stoddard of Parallel Time faked his own death, as the Paul in our universe did. So there’s been a conversation happening in the comments, speculating on lots of the unanswered questions in this storyline, like: Why is Quentin the heir of Collinwood, instead of Liz and Roger? What is their actual relationship? Did Liz marry a Paul Stoddard, and what happened to him? How did Carolyn and Will fall in love, and why do they own the Old House? Did this version of Roger ever marry a woman, or is he gay, as he seems to be?
The fact that we don’t know anything about the background of these characters is troubling. Even Quentin and Maggie get a new chunk of backstory next week — apparently Quentin’s father was indirectly responsible for the death of Maggie’s father, a super interesting bit of history that would have deepened the audience’s interest, if they’d bothered to think of it four months ago and actually work it into the show.
When you think about it, these characters are unbelievably thin, which is ridiculous, considering the whole point of creating a parallel dimension is to see how the characters we know would be different under other circumstances. But instead of digging in, and giving the audience a sense of how the familiar characters ended up in this new arrangement, they just postulated new lives for everyone, assigning roles to people based on their gum card sales.
And as usual, in these troubled times, the people who are most underserved are the main Collins family members — the PT versions of Liz, Roger, Carolyn and the kids. The writers didn’t bother to invest in those characters at all, but we know about every random dude that Angelique had an affair with. There was plenty of time to give the core family some interesting scenes and conflicts, and instead they did repetitive, self-contradictory spellcasting sequences.
Some of this is excusable — they had to write all those characters out of the show for six weeks so they could make House of Dark Shadows — but they’ve been back for a while, and we still don’t really know them that well. They practically had to reintroduce Will last week, just so that people would remember that he exists before the dramatic sequence when he jumps out the window.
This moment of Carolyn’s fury is a judgment on the show and the writers, displayed in full view of the audience. This is a serious flaw that is currently choking the show, while the cancellation hatpin waits impatiently nearby, tapping its little hatpin foot.
So this is another milestone in the Decline and Fall of Dark Shadows, a spot where we can say: this is what they could have done to keep the show alive.
Dark Shadows as we know it is a combination of three basic elements: #1) a mashup of English lit and Universal Monsters, #2) a daytime soap opera, and #3) lysergic late-60s black box experimental theater.
As we discussed last week in “The Heat Death of the Universe,” this is the point where Dan Curtis and the writers were struggling to figure out what to do with the show, after they were done making the movie. The legend is that they had an epic 52-hour story meeting, where they ran through everything that’s worked and everything that hasn’t. And after all that time, the thing they came up with is essentially let’s do Turn of the Screw again. That’s not how this works.
If #1 is failing because they can’t think of any more stories to rip off, then the correct answer is to invest in #2: the daytime soap opera elements. There are lots of techniques that soap operas use to get out of a story slump, and we’ll be talking about those as we get back to 1970 and this show’s core family.
But the number one thing on the 52-hour agenda should have been: what are we going to do with Carolyn?
The show began with three young women in the main cast: Vicki, Maggie and Carolyn. But Vicki is gone now, and Maggie has wiped her backstory and become an empty shell of a governess. Carolyn is now the heroine of Dark Shadows. She’s connected to everyone, she’s got multiple layers of tragic past to play off of, the audience loves her, and she’s the best actress on the show. Barnabas, Julia and Quentin are the detectives and action heroes; Carolyn is the heart of the show. Her struggles and desires are way more important than any other ingenue they could throw at the screen.
They tried to do that in the Leviathan story, explicitly building the storyline around Carolyn, her past and her future. If they’d managed to go through with that idea — by revealing to Carolyn that her fiancee murdered her father, but he’s sorry now and wants her forgiveness — that would have been an epic storyline that could have sparked tons of new story ideas, if they’d actually followed through on it.
So Parallel Time is not the End of Love — at least, not yet. Yes, Quentin and Maggie are a nightmare, but here, for one week only, we’ve got an alternate take on how to present a love story.
Carolyn and Will didn’t have a happy marriage, but this is a recognizable picture of adult love and loss, in all its messy tragedy. Now that she’s lost him, Carolyn has the perspective to recognize that Will, with all his flaws, was worth loving. If the writers of Dark Shadows could look at this moment, and think about how to structure the storylines around real human feelings and relationships, then maybe this marriage between the show and the audience can be saved after all.
Tomorrow: Claw North.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Carolyn tells Barnabas that she’s got another plan, a door slams in the studio.
There’s a little edit during Carolyn and Stokes’ conversation in act 2, apparently cutting off part of a line.
When Barnabas returns to the secret room in the mausoleum, he lights the candles. The other times he’s visited the room over the last week, it’s been fairly dark, and they brighten things up after someone’s lit the candles. This time, the room is as bright as Dark Shadows ever gets, but Barnabas still makes a big deal about the candles. He waits until they’re lit, and then gasps, “Someone’s been here!” like he couldn’t see properly before.
Stokes tells Barnabas, “When I mentioned your rather irregular life to Will a few days ago, he conjectured you might have a girl somewhere. Is he right, Mr. Collins? Do you have a girl somewhere?” This is a phenomenal line — funny and revealing — so it’s a shame it’s not true. Will actually said that to Angelique, in episode 1044.
Behind the Scenes:
David Selby’s on vacation for two weeks — he escaped from jail in episode 1041, and he doesn’t appear in a full episode until 1051 — but he does appear in just one scene in today’s episode, talking to Carolyn in the tower room. Actors have weird vacation schedules.
When Roxanne sits in the cemetery, we can see the gravestones of John Hart and Thomas Findley — two men that Jeb raised from the dead as zombies during the Leviathan storyline.
And by the way, try saying “Parallel Carolyn” ten times fast. It can’t be done.
Tomorrow: Claw North.
— Danny Horn