“I’ll first give you the pleasure of viewing the dead, disintegrating body of Barnabas Collins!”
So, I don’t know. What do you feel like talking about?
“I never thought it would end this way,” Maggie says, taking a last look at the house she helped to destroy. She came to this moldering manse thinking it would be all cocktails and crabmeat, a dream house where she could live with her dream husband Quentin, who’s currently in custody. I don’t know how she thought it would end. It’s not even clear how it’s ending now.
“All the generations of the Collinses who’ve lived here,” Barnabas muses, and then he can’t think of a single thing to say about them. They were all parallel Collinses, who are mostly theoretical.
This is the end of Parallel Time as we know it, just darkness and flute music and regret. This alt-dimension storyline was cooked up to give most of the cast an excuse to go to Tarrytown for six weeks and make House of Dark Shadows, conceding Collinwood to Quentin, Angelique and some also-rans from the Leviathan story. It worked, for a time — plenty of shouting and choking and transforming into dopplegangers, set against a pink-and-orange color scheme — but all the fun leaked out of it before it was over. They started killing off all the characters, one by one, just to see if they could do it, finally winnowing down to a final four, and we’re only one immunity challenge and a tribal council away from the finale.
This is the twilight of a universe as it approaches heat death, a slow fade into stillness. Maggie and Barnabas are shuttering the windows, locking up the hatpins, and closing down the show. Dark Shadows has always been obsessed with the concept of death, and now it’s evoking its own: the extermination of the Collins family, and the end of all stories.
We’ve seen them abandon ship before, of course — a year and a half ago, when the ghost of Quentin Collins chased the family into exile. But they were defiant, in those days. “We’ll be back!” Roger shouted. “Have no doubt about that!” But that was back when the ratings were high, and everyone was bursting with ideas. Of course they’d be back; they had so many more stories to tell.
This time, Quentin isn’t perched on the balcony, the new King of Collinwood surveying his demesnes. They left him in charge of Parallel Time, and look what a mess he’s made of it; now he’s sitting in parallel jail, waiting for someone to come by and bring him a cake with a plot contrivance baked in it.
Do they know it by now, do you think? That the show is essentially over, that they’ve got 38 weeks left to run?
“Who will ever turn that light on again?” Maggie sniffles, as the group shuffles over to the desk to grab a tissue. “Who will ever live here again?”
This is the freedom of a parallel world — the ability to play out the doomsday scenario, to see what happens when you take away the safety railing, and let your narrative universe plunge to a messy death on the rocks below.
Doctor Who did the exact same thing, in the spring and summer of 1970. This was the first year of the Third Doctor, when they exiled him to Earth and gave him a job as the scientific advisor to a United Nations task force dedicated to finding things for Doctor Who to blow up. Normally on Doctor Who, the Doctor has a mystery box that can take him anywhere in time and space, to have adventures on alien worlds or hang out with Winston Churchill or whatever, but in 1970, they locked up the box, and marooned the Doctor in a headquarters filled with ham-fisted bun vendors.
It was partly a cost-cutting measure, keeping the show earthbound so that they didn’t have to create any fantastic inflatable alien dream-cities from scratch. Instead, they’d have stories set in plastics factories and oil rigs and scientific installations, where hideous monsters from beneath the sea would bang on the doors and reveal their secret plan to take over a limited portion of the Earth.
In the spring of 1970, Doctor Who also had a bit of a gap to fill in the middle of a story, and they made the same decision that Dark Shadows did — they sent the main character spinning through a fracture in reality, into a parallel world where people have made different choices. I don’t know why people in 1970 were so obsessed with different choices. It was probably something to do with Altamont. My interest in the history of this era pretty much stops at Altamont and the Beatles breaking up, so it’s either one of those or it’s Watergate, take your pick.
The story was called “Inferno”, a seven-part adventure that really didn’t have enough adventure to fill seven parts. It was about a big loud engineering project to drill all the way through the crust of the Earth, in order to find gold or gas or weird green pudding that turns lab techs into werewolves. It’s Longworth-grade scientific stupidity, really, but what are you going to do?
So the Doctor is trying to tell the lead mad scientist that he’s drilling too far or too fast or something, which he is, but the guy doesn’t want to listen, so at the end of episode 2, the Doctor saunters into Angelique’s room, and runs smack into a time fissure.
Tumbling into the mirror universe, the Doctor finds that it’s the same world — well, the same set, really — but everybody has an agonizer, and they’ve joined the Terran Empire. His friend the Brigadier is the Brigade Leader in this universe, with an eyepatch and no mustache and limited patience for eccentric strangers claiming to be from another world.
So the Doctor has a whole new set of peril options on the other side of the rainbow, and he spends episodes 3 through 6 dodging soldiers and trying to convince everybody to turn off the goddamn drill. Meanwhile, the Earth’s crust is leaking Do Not Touch juice, and everyone who rubs up against it turns into John Yaeger, and starts beating on barmaids.
As we’ve learned, parallel universes are good for two things: #1) Filling up the time between episode 2 and episode 7; and #2) Staging a catastrophe. Ordinarily in serialized narrative, you have to stop the countdown at exactly two seconds before the really bad thing happens, but these flammable dimensions were born to burn. It’s an opportunity to blow past the countdown and see what it feels like to fail, which in “Inferno” is the end of the world, and in Dark Shadows it’s locking up Julia in the basement and not having her on the show anymore.
So here we are, at the back end of everything, closing up Collinwood and putting a period at the end of a sentence we’d hoped would never end.
“It’s over, Barnabas,” Maggie says, thrusting the hatpin into the base of the skull. “All these years of Collinwood, over for all of us.” And Barnabas stands there and fusses with the doors, as he always has and always will.
They pull back from this, because it isn’t really the end of the show, not for another 38 weeks. They take a deep breath and move on, and find ways to fill up the time. But if this was a possible ending for Dark Shadows — quiet, melancholy, buried in lava — then this is what it would have looked like. Now we know.
Tomorrow: Dreams of Manderley.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
At the end of yesterday’s episode, Maggie said, “It’s over, Barnabas, all these years of Collinwood. Over for all of us.” In today’s reprise, she says, “Oh, Barnabas. All these years. All these years of Collinwood are over, for all of us.”
When Barnabas tells Maggie, “I can’t get over the fact that Julia’s gone,” someone in the studio coughs.
On his way out the door, Barnabas throws Hoffman’s scarf onto a small table, and it immediately falls on the floor.
Roxanne tells Barnabas that Stokes is “out looking for you”, but Barnabas went from Collinwood straight to the Old House, and then to Roxanne’s house, where Stokes started from. How hard is he looking?
During her trance, Roxanne tells Barnabas that she sees a woman. “Do you recognize her?” Barnabas asks, and Roxanne says, “It can’t be!” Barnabas takes a look at the teleprompter, and then says, “What, Roxanne? Tell her!”
After Roxanne leads Barnabas and Maggie through the foyer, we see Julia sleeping on her cot. The shot lingers, and Julia opens her eyes, to check if they’re still filming her.
Just after Barnabas and Maggie walk down the stairs to the basement, something crashes in the studio.
Julia tells Barnabas that Angelique killed Bruno, and “the doll with Bruno’s ascot in it is in a drawer in her room!”
Roxanne tells Barnabas, “I don’t want to remember but — what Claude made me do.”
In act 3, you can see that the clock on the mantelpiece in the Old House says 1:00. When Stokes walks in at the top of act 4, the clock on the table next to the door says 1:30. The mantelpiece clock still says 1:00. After Stokes leaves, there’s a close-up of the 1:30 clock, to indicate that time has passed. Also, that table is the one that Barnabas threw Hoffman’s scarf on, and it didn’t have a clock on it then.
Roxanne asks Barnabas what happened in town, and Barnabas announces, “Clentin — Quentin is cleared!”
Julia calls Barnabas and says that Maggie is coming back from the police station. Barnabas says, “I should have stayed with her, until — until I was ready to go!”
Behind the Scenes:
We don’t get a close look at it, but it looks to me like Roxanne owns a stuffed raccoon.
Tomorrow: Dreams of Manderley.
— Danny Horn