“They didn’t dance that way in 1970!”
“I’m convinced that this room holds the key to what we’re looking for,” Barnabas tells Julia, without evidence. “I know this room didn’t exist in 1970, and yet — this room had something to do with what happened then!”
“Even though it didn’t exist?”
“Strange as that sounds — yes.”
So this is the curious incident of the playroom in the night-time, where, as Alexis Stokes once put it, the absence of the disturbances is more frightening than the disturbances themselves. Dark Shadows has once again declared its independence from material reality, and taken up residence in the world of dreams.
This non-existent narrative hidey-hole is the showroom of 1995 Collinwood, a post-apocalyptic outpost halfway between their future and our past. Barnabas and Julia have traveled inadvertently to this unfixed point in the space-time continuum, and they’re trying to figure out the nature of the catastrophe that brought the house down in 1970, so they can return to their own time band and turn these from the shadows of the things that will be into the shadows of things that may be. It’s basically a secular adaptation of the hind end of A Christmas Carol, except their problems are probably not going to be solved by sending people turkeys.
Barnabas and Julia know that the issue has something to do with young David, but they haven’t wrapped their minds around the Generation X slacker youth culture of 1995. Technically, David is a late Baby Boomer — late, as in the late David Collins — but becoming a ghost tends to freeze you at whatever age you were when you died, and nobody knows arrested maturity like a GenX’er. David’s definitely part of my generation: a child of divorce with reduced adult supervision, unfocused and disaffected. He has no idea what he wants to do when he grows up, which is fine, because he won’t. None of us did.
Barnabas and Julia try to talk to him, but the kid just shrugs, turns into Chromakey and walks away, probably planning to load up on guns and bring his friends.
Meanwhile, there’s an indie music festival going on downstairs for the benefit of Quentin Collins, another ageless young man who’s spent most of the last century just hanging out. In the wake of Collinwood’s destruction, Quentin was found wandering in the woods, mad with guilt and grief, and all he’s done in the last twenty-five years is sit in a mental institution and refuse to grow older.
Barnabas and Julia have brought Quentin back to the house to see if he can help them identify the evil forces that crushed the Collins family, but the ghost doesn’t want to be understood; he just wants everyone to leave him alone. So far, he’s been expressing this point of view through the medium of killing people who talk about him, which is an effective strategy, but not quite effective enough.
Now Quentin’s trapped on this uncharted island that used to be his childhood home, getting haunt-taunted by an unfriendly ghost who wants to reinforce who runs things around here. It begins, as hauntings typically do, with the sound of wind, and then it gets weirder from there.
There’s a gale blowing through the broken French windows in the drawing room, which Quentin interprets, correctly, as supernatural rather than meteorological. “No, leave me alone!” he shouts, at the wind. “I didn’t want to come back here! They forced me to come back into the house!”
The wind doesn’t reply, so he tries to cut a deal. “Listen to me, can’t you hear?” he pleads. “Look, if you let me go, I promise I’ll never come back here again!” And then the theremin kicks up.
The wind is still blowing, but layered over it is a repetitive ooo-wheeeeee type theremin whine, which terrifies Quentin. Lurching into the foyer, he sees the kitchen door slam open and shut a few times, and then he starts banging on the front doors, and the sound of his hammering echoes through the house.
And then it all stops — wind, theremin, banging — and there’s total silence.
Quentin moves away from the door, not sure what to make of the sudden cease-fire. He drifts towards the grandfather clock, cringing, and then turns to see the sinister specter himself, standing on the landing.
After a quick commercial break, Gerard the ghost starts to walk downstairs, as this storyline’s spooky music-box tune tinkles away on the soundtrack. Every storyline gets its own theme song these days, and this one is actually one of Bob Cobert’s leftovers from the last story.
The Complete Dark Shadows Music Collection has all of the show’s music cues with the numbers and descriptions that they used while the show was being made, and it reveals that the tune we know as “the Playroom Theme” was originally produced as an alternate version of Angelique’s theme from Parallel Time.
There’s a track called “298 1/2: Angelique’s theme and time warp melody”, which is the spooky music-box-and-strings version of “Ode to Angelique” that was played over the early scenes set in the Parallel Time room. And then there’s “298: Alternate time warp melody” — a different music box tune, which they’re using here as Gerard’s theme. So that’s convenient: Cobert wrote two spooky songs, and that was enough to tide them over for themes for the next eight months.
Anyway, it scares the shit out of Quentin, who stumbles into the drawing room and winds up on the floor, in a fetal position. And he stays there, until Barnabas and Julia come along and ask him what the hell is going on.
So the reason why I’m getting so deep into the aural aspect is that it’s unclear at this point what the difference is between the soundtrack and the sound effects. In other words: are the sounds that we hear supposed to be real, or in Quentin’s imagination, or are they part of the background music that the characters can’t hear?
Barnabas and Julia were coming downstairs from the playroom while Quentin was having this experience, and apparently they couldn’t hear any of it — the howling wind, the screeching theremin, or the music box — in the same way that they can’t hear the trilling violins while Quentin tells them that he saw the ghost on the landing.
Spending five minutes in this environment is utterly terrifying for Quentin, and they’ve communicated that to the audience partly through sounds of indeterminate origin. Was there really wind blowing through the house, which stopped all of a sudden? Did the theremin noise actually come from anywhere in particular, or was it just in Quentin’s head?
We’re seeing a weaker and more vulnerable Quentin than we’ve ever seen before — shaky, overwrought, unkempt and disconnected, half-covered in leaves and twigs from lying on the dirty floor — and the thing that makes that spooky, rather than pathetic, is that we can’t trust what we see and hear. The musique concrète party mix is designed to make the audience uneasy, and it works. This sequence is slow and dark and hard to understand, and it’s the best thing the show has done in months.
And then they go and do it again five minutes later, and it’s even weirder.
Barnabas and Julia leave the house and walk across the lawn, and they stumble on a situation out at the gazebo. It’s David’s ghost again, chilling with a blonde girl we’ve never seen before.
“They haven’t seen us,” Barnabas whispers. “Let’s make sure they don’t,” says Julia, and then they step into the underbrush, because I guess ghosts don’t always know if there are people around. Gerard will magically appear outside the Old House when somebody’s talking about him, but apparently the kids need line-of-sight. Ghosts are complicated.
And then we hear track 298 again, as we did when Gerard was menacing Quentin.
“That music again!” Barnabas whispers, and Julia hisses, “Where’s it coming from?” which is exactly the question I’ve been asking all day. How do these ghosts manage to emanate their theme song like this?
And then the spirits get up and get down, pacing around in a slow strut.
The judges are not pleased. “Barnabas, the way they’re dancing, it doesn’t make any sense!” Julia says. “They didn’t dance that way in 1970!”
“I know,” Barnabas breathes. “I don’t understand!”
Julia frowns. “It’s a minuet. Why are they doing that?”
“Maybe we should approach them,” Barnabas says, although why that’s a good idea now instead of a minute ago is unclear.
“No, if they see us, they’ll just go away,” Julia whispers, without evidence. “Let’s watch here, and wait, and see if we learn something.” So they do, and they do, and they don’t.
The kids bow courteously to each other, and then they walk away, leaving everyone just as befogged as before.
They just turn into Chromakey and silently fade away, paying no attention to Barnabas or Julia or the audience or common sense.
“Who could that girl have been?” Barnabas asks, and Julia says she doesn’t know.
“She must be important in all of this,” he decides. “Isn’t that curious, that David should be with someone that we never saw at Collinwood?”
“Maybe she came there after we left,” Julia points out.
“How much time has actually passed since we left?”
“I don’t know,” says Julia, except the answer is twenty-five years, and what are you talking about? “Quentin must know who she is!” Julia says, without evidence.
“Yes, there’s no doubt about that,” Barnabas agrees. “The question is, can we get him to admit it, and tell us about her?”
Personally, I disagree; I don’t think that’s the question at all. I’m not sure what the question is, but that’s not it.
So there’s your challenge: make sense of that sequence. Two ghosts, apparently for atmospheric reasons, materialize in the visible spectrum, conjure up a tune that nearby humans can hear, do a dance, and then walk off into the infinite, apparently unaware that there are people watching and listening, and the thing that the onlookers are most curious about is why they’re not dancing in a more up-to-date way.
And that, I believe, is the purpose of 1995 — to disorient the audience for two weeks, so that we forget about the failure of the Parallel Time storyline, and allow them to start over.
We don’t know why David’s ghost doesn’t seem to recognize Barnabas and Julia. We have no idea who the girl is, or why Quentin insists that David is actually Tad. We don’t know why Gerard killed Mrs. Johnson and attempted to murder Julia, but is satisfied with just scaring Quentin. Everyone keeps telling us different stories about what happened, and then confiding to each other that they’ll never tell the real truth. It’s like an unreliable narrators convention.
And on top of that, we can’t even believe what we see and hear, because the ghosts are creating mix tapes that we can’t understand. They’re dancing to their own tunes, staging a rave out on the back patio that we’re allowed to watch, but not participate in. They’re running the show now, and baffling the adults is half the fun. Here we are now, they say. Entertain us.
Tomorrow: No More I Love You’s.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When David turns into Chromakey at the top of act 1, there’s a super obvious blue line around him, which means they’re not lighting him properly in front of the blue screen. They’re usually way better at that. David and Hallie’s disappearance in act 3 is also flawed, but not as bad.
Not necessarily a blooper: the bust that dropped on Julia a couple episodes ago is now sitting upright on the floor of the foyer, as we see in act 1 when Quentin walks by. Maybe the ghosts have been moving it around.
We can see Gerard on the landing before we’re meant to; he’s supposed to be hidden until Quentin turns around.
When Barnabas walks into the drawing room, you can see the edge of the burlap they’re using to simulate dirt.
Barnabas asks Quentin about Daphne: “Was she the girl we heard talking with David, a short time ago?” I guess he means the girl they saw dancing with David.
Quentin says to Barnabas, “Now, you get out of my way, before –” except that Barnabas isn’t in Quentin’s way, and Quentin isn’t going anywhere.
When Quentin comes downstairs and finds Julia sleeping in a chair, he still has a crushed leaf in his hair from the previous evening.
The mic cuts out halfway through Julia asking Quentin if he feels any better.
When Quentin asks Julia about the locked attic, someone’s walking around in the studio.
The door to the playroom appears to be on the other side of the hallway now.
They’re not sure what to call the kids right now; there are credits for “David Collins” and “Carrie”. Also, Kathy Cody’s first name is misspelled “Cathy”.
Behind the Scenes:
Carrie’s ghost is played by Kathy Cody, who’ll be on the show until the end of the run. Cody was a child actor whose first role was in a TV commercial when she was six months old. She was a child model and actress, and went to Manhattan’s Professional Children’s School. At age 9, she was performing on Broadway in Here’s Love, a musical adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street, and then made a lot of guest appearances on variety shows and Christmas specials. At age 11, she appeared in a TV production of The Crucible, and then appeared in a string of soap operas — The Edge of Night in 1965, As the World Turns in 1966-67, The Secret Storm for four months in 1970, and Dark Shadows in 1970-71.
Tomorrow: No More I Love You’s.
— Danny Horn