“My eyes have the power to restore you to me!”
It’s been four months since the terrible flashlight man came into our lives — a dark stranger, appearing with no warning just outside Angelique’s room, gazing in a perplexed manner at a scene that he could see but not participate in. “Elizabeth!” he cried, but she couldn’t hear him, and neither could Hoffman. “It is hers, it will always be hers,” Hoffman said, and it was, and it will, and the goggle-eyed man from another place just stood there on the threshold, saying, “Quentin! Husband?” and generally making an ass of himself.
His name is known to us now: he is Barnabas Collins, the Destroyer of Worlds.
Trespassing on our favorite show from an alternate world where I hope they appreciate him more than we do, this monster has brought a wave of supernatural violence to our sleepy little soap town, killing two thirds of the cast and driving the ratings into the earth.
Hoffman is dead. Carolyn is dead. Will is dead. Bruno is dead. Cyrus and Sabrina and Larry and Dameon are dead, plus Chris is missing, and Liz isn’t looking too well. Barnabas Collins has swept through our show like a buzzsaw. Everybody said that bringing a vampire onto a soap opera was a terrible idea, and they were right, especially this vampire.
So here we are at Collinwood, the motel on the road to nowhere: a mansion full of empty space, occupied by empty people.
This is the end of the first four years of Dark Shadows’ fifteen-year run, when the show’s bizarre year-long swerve into the supernatural comes to a predictably disastrous end. If our world is a place where everything’s the same except that people have made different choices, then introducing a bunch of spooky nonsense is the different choice that they shouldn’t have made.
A year ago, Aunt Hannah showed up with her tarot cards and crystal ball, and everyone on the show started to get interested in black magic. Cyrus, the friendly town doctor, started reading up on voodoo and necromancy, and he left the hospital to set up a mad science lab in his basement. All of a sudden, it was revealed that Angelique was a witch and had been all along, and she’d seduced all of her lovers and hangers-on through spells cast at the fireplace, rather than, you know, being gorgeous and amazing.
And then, mid-year, Angelique died at one of their stupid seances, and then everybody went and made Mansion of Dark Shadows for a couple months, leaving a huge hole in the show. Quentin, Angelique, Carolyn, Will and Hoffman were gone, leaving Collinwood in the hands of Liz, Roger and Trask, where nothing happened. Meanwhile, Cyrus and Sabrina went down to the basement and basically never came back up.
Fortunately, that meant they had to bring in some new characters, including Philip and Megan Todd at the antiques shop, a blessedly non-supernatural back-to-basics soap couple. Their tangled relationship troubles were building to a crisis point, with the revelation that Philip wasn’t as happy to be married to a woman as he seemed to be — and then suddenly the antiques shop burned down, Megan and Philip disappeared, and we went back to Collinwood for more spooky bumps in the night.
And then, four months ago, the crowning absurdity: a vampire from outer space appearing in the hallway, trespassing in our timeline.
Apparently there’s some kind of parallel universe taking place outside Angelique’s room, an alternate Dark Shadows that’s probably just as troubled as ours is. In this other dimension, Barnabas Collins — the ancestor that Will wrote his book about — was turned into a vampire. I have no idea how, and I don’t really care; the last thing we need on this show is a flashback to the 18th century.
And Barnabas’ arrival is when everything really started to go wrong. Quentin came back to Collinwood married to Maggie and the relationship immediately fell to pieces, they resurrected Angelique as an undead creature pretending to be her own twin sister, Will got obsessed with the bloodsucker in the basement, and Cyrus’ experiments turned him into a Robert Louis Stevenson novel. Things were already getting grim when the vampire broke free, and by now, it feels like it’s completely out of control.
But with hindsight, you can see what they’re really up to. This is the Great 1970 Wrap-Up, a narrative house-cleaning where they kill most of the cast, burn down the house, and basically start the show over again, with a brand-new main character.
And here he is: Claude North, the mystery man who saved Dark Shadows.
Admittedly, they have no idea what they’re doing with him, here at the start. He’s introduced as a kind-of supernatural creature himself, so clearly they haven’t made the decision yet to pull back on the voodoo. This isn’t the powerful, scheming trickster that America knows and loves; this guy is just a spoiler in the weird, meaningless romance between Barnabas and Claude’s soon-to-be-ex fiancee, a blank slate called Roxanne.
Still, there is some of the Claude that we know here, the antihero with dark eyes and dark eyeliner. Even under that fuzzy mop of hair that he sports for the first year or so, you can see how handsome he is, and he’s got that passionate intensity that makes him so compelling to watch. Also, he has a magical dagger that he thinks we’re going to care about. Feel free to ignore the dagger. It doesn’t mean anything.
“Roxanne, look at me!” he announces, standing right in front of her. She doesn’t turn her head much, so you have to position yourself correctly if you want to get her attention. “I am Claude North!” he says. This has no effect. Roxanne’s being used as a black magic mad science sacrificial guinea pig type victim, and there’s only so much you can do with her.
Frustrated, Claude cries, “There must be some way I can get through to you!” And then he pulls out the dagger.
“Surely you remember this!” he insists, and displays the unforgettable object. “Look at it, Roxanne, and speak to me!”
And she looks, I’ll give her credit for looking. But she doesn’t speak. The closest she gets is opening and closing her mouth like a goldfish.
“You do remember it, don’t you?” Claude insists. “You remember it, but that’s all. It no longer has the effect on you it once had.” There will be no further information about the dagger.
And here’s the silly thing that Claude needs to learn to stop doing — the idea that he has some kind of hypnotic eyeball power, that he can look into somebody’s face and make them do what he wants. I mean, it’s kind of true, because he’s handsome and charismatic, but not when he’s making the hypnosis face. That makes him look like an idiot.
“Keep looking at me, Roxanne!” he says, hypno-style. “My eyes have the power to restore you to me — if you will it!” She won’t.
“Keep looking into my eyes — and come back to me, Roxanne! Keep looking into my eyes, and come back to me!”
It doesn’t work, obviously; the hypno-face is not a thing that works. This is the last silly supernatural idea that survives in the immediate post-fire period of the show, that he thinks he has magic powers. He gets over it.
Ugh, and look at Roxanne, just standing there, with her “no vacancy” thousand-yard stare. The only thing that’s dumber than saying Claude North is attracted to women is saying that he’s attracted to this woman in particular.
“I’ll take you away from this place,” he rages. “I don’t care about the deal I made with Stokes. I’ll return his money to him, tell him the truth — that I can’t live without you!”
Which is crazy, because that’s the catchphrase that everybody knows — “I can’t live without you!” — and here he is, on his first day on the show, saying it to the wrong person.
But Dark Shadows still thinks that the vampire is good box office, so Claude gets interrupted right when we might be getting somewhere.
“Someone’s coming!” Claude hisses. “Roxanne, I must hide — and you must do nothing to reveal my presence here! Do you understand?” And yeah, dude, I think she can handle that. Doing nothing is pretty much Roxanne’s core competency. And then Claude goes and hides in the closet.
So I know it’s a spoiler for pretty much the next decade of the show, but sometimes the world hands you a metaphor, so here, at the start of his journey, I want to acknowledge where this character and this show are going.
Next week, Claude gets stabbed and left in the woods to die, which is clearly idiotic and gets retconned almost immediately. It turns out it was a magical dagger, or he was only pretending, or who even cares, it doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about Claude. Claude is going to be fine.
And then there’s the fire. By the end of next week, Collinwood is going to burn to the ground, which is fine with me. The Collinses have had it coming for a long time, and at a certain point you just have to tear down the house and start over.
Barnabas and fake-Hoffman disappear through the time rift, back to their own daytime TV schedule, and we never see them again. In fact, for years people hardly even remembered them — when Dark Shadows went into reruns, the syndication package always started just after Barnabas leaves. It was only when they released the Complete Series on DVD and data-crystal that people got to relive the disaster of the first four years.
So as far as most people remember, the series begins with Collinwood in ruins. Quentin and Maggie move into Loomis House with the kids, and they struggle to regain their reputation and fortune. And of course, their biggest obstacle is the dark, brooding charisma machine: Claude North.
At first, he’s furious because he blames them for the death of Roxanne, but that gets quickly retconned back and forth a couple times until they land on the backstory that they stick with for the rest of the series — that Quentin’s grandfather cheated the Norths out of their home and their business, and now Claude is back for revenge.
A new mansion will rise from the ashes, but this time, it’ll be Northwood. At least, it’s Claude’s for a while; you know soap operas. Things change.
And then there’s Philip, and the love story that defines the next ten years of the show.
The consuming fire of the Great 1970 Wrap-Up clears away all the failing supernatural stories, including Angelique, Cyrus and what’s-his-name from the other time band. It’s finally sunk in for Danny Curtis that he needs to focus on the characters that people actually liked, and that includes Megan and Philip, who we thought were gone for good when the antiques shop burned down.
It turns out they’re alive and back on the show, and over the next few months, Claude and Philip are going to cross paths several times. And each time they meet, there’s a growing sense of excitement and unease, as they recognize that they’re attracted to each other.
What follows is one of the best-known soap romances of all time; basically, there’s Luke and Laura, and there’s Claude and Philip, and everybody else is a distant third. And this was 1971, just two years after the Stonewall Riots marked the start of the gay rights movement. The American Psychological Association still listed homosexuality as a mental illness until 1973.
So this was an unbelievably bold move for ABC to allow this story to slowly unfold, step by step, in a way that was so thoughtful and romantic that viewers weren’t just okay with the concept — they were actively rooting for the guys to overcome their many obstacles, and end up in each other’s arms. It takes more than two years, and it’s basically the best soap storytelling that there’s ever been. I can’t wait to get through the next few weeks, and finally start writing about the real Dark Shadows, the show that we remember and love.
So I don’t know what happened to that strange Dark Shadows on the other side of Parallel Time. Barnabas leaves our world next week and goes back where he came from, and good luck to him. Maybe in that other band of time, they’ll also figure out that the supernatural stuff is a dead end, and if they want the show to survive, they need to focus on real characters with real feelings, and bold story choices that keep the audience coming back for more. Or maybe they just keep doing the same tricks, until the show runs out of steam.
All I know is that I’m happy we’re on this side of the border, with Claude and Philip and all of the drama to come. We have so much to look forward to.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the teaser, it takes a little bit too long for Claude to put the dagger in his pocket, and then hold out his hands to embrace Roxanne.
In act 1, you can hear Maggie dialing the phone in the Collinwood foyer, after the scene has moved to Claude talking to Roxanne at the Old House.
When Barnabas walks into the Old House and finds Roxanne standing in the hall, the boom mic pokes in at the top right.
At the beginning of act 3, as Barnabas crosses the landing, he coughs.
Also, the whole show is kind of purple today. There have been a lot of problems with the cameras recently; I’m hoping this is temporary.
Behind the Scenes:
Claude North is played by Brian Sturdivant, who previously appeared on the show in January as the Bellboy in Mr. Best’s afterlife waiting room. In our universe, he’s only on Dark Shadows for three episodes, and then I’m not sure what happens to him. IMDb says that in 1971, he had a small part in a Roger Corman WWI pic called Von Richthofen and Brown, and a part in a TV-movie about a social worker called The Coming Asunder of Jimmy Bright. IBDb says that in 1972, he appeared on Broadway for three months in a background role in Vivat! Viva Regina! And then I don’t know what happened to him after that. I really do actually think that he’s handsome and potentially charismatic, and I wish they’d kept him around.
Today, the episode format of the show changes slightly, from a teaser and three acts to a teaser and four acts. Here’s the whole history, if anyone cares: from episode 1 to 34, the format was a teaser, three acts and a final tag. From episode 35 to 589, it was a teaser and four acts. It changed to a teaser and three acts in 590, and now it’s back to a teaser and four. This time, the first act airs immediately after the titles, with no commercial break. This is the format for the remainder of the series.
— Danny Horn