“I did it from right here — with this coin.”
Tumbling through time, Barnabas and Julia have come to a hard stop at 1995, lured by the siren call of alternative rock and Richard Linklater movies. No one has a mint-with-tag Beanie Baby or anything, but you can tell it’s 1995 because everybody keeps dying hard, with a vengeance.
The Collinwood of the future is in ruins, abandoned and left to rot after a particularly brutal cancellation twenty-five years ago. The main characters who aren’t dead are irretrievably insane, stumbling through a devastated ABC Studio 16, waiting for someone to turn on the cameras again. They don’t cancel soap operas like this anymore; they have a much more humane system, where actors who can’t be placed in foster soaps get their own web series.
Here in 1995, Carolyn Stoddard Hawkes, Dark Shadows’ signature twenty-something sweetheart, is now pushing fifty, and apparently she’s been pushing it with her face. She looks awful. She’s spent the last couple decades becoming that loneliest of creatures, a cat lady who doesn’t have cats.
But from our perspective, this is still the Carolyn Yet to Come, and if Barnabas and Julia can find out what caused all this daytime trauma, then maybe it’s avertable. Like A Christmas Carol, The Terminator and 12 Monkeys, the question of this story is whether the future can be changed if everybody stops acting like a jerk for five seconds.
Of course, this isn’t the only possible future for Carolyn. If we skip in time to the fall of 2013, there’s The Flip Side, the Big Finish audio play by Cody Quijano-Schell, that brings Nancy Barrett back in her original role. She’s paired with Christopher Ragland as Jonah, the nephew of the Blue Whale’s bartender, for an hour-long expose on whatever happened to Carolyn Stoddard. (If you haven’t heard The Flip Side, or any of the 50 original-cast Dark Shadows audiobooks, check out the end of this post for a special offer from Big Finish for Dark Shadows Every Day readers!)
Nancy Barrett first appeared in the Big Finish audios in 2009, but spent most of her time playing Charity Trask and Pansy Faye; it was in 2013 that Big Finish started to assemble a consistent “present day” of Collinwood, set somewhere around a decade after the show ended. Other characters have moved on or moved out — David and Amy are in college, Maggie’s been released from Windcliff and is now running the Collinsport Inn, Sabrina is struggling to cope after Chris’ death.
And Carolyn, in her early thirties, is basically nowhere at all. As the story opens, she’s getting drunk at the Blue Whale with her friends, and that is pretty much the beginning and the end of what Carolyn’s been up to.
Meanwhile, Jonah, who’s working for his uncle at the Blue Whale, has gone through some alarming changes. He murders himself, for one thing, just hits himself with a bottle, leaves his own corpse in the back room, and goes out front to serve drinks. This isn’t the real Jonah — or at least, not the one that usually works here.
This Jonah has a searing grudge and a magic coin, which gives him a handful of psychic powers, including the ability to make people angry at Carolyn. He whispers in their ears, fanning the flame of their insecurities. He plants the suggestion that Carolyn thinks of Maggie as an employee, that she treats Amy like the poor little orphan girl, that she doesn’t respect Sheriff Hardy after he let the previous sheriff die. And they all walk out on her, leaving her alone in the bar with this dangerous faux-Jonah.
Most of the story is an increasingly tense conversation between Carolyn and this mysterious villain, which moves gradually from small talk to a couple of flirtatious dares, and then a close examination of everything that’s wrong with her personality and her life.
The villains in these audio stories tend to be the sadistic serial-killer type, because there’s a lot of time to fill, and we can’t see what they’re doing. So mean Jonah can’t just walk up and clonk nice Jonah with the bottle; he has to talk to him first, showing off his magic coin and the terrible mess he’s made of their uncle. Big Finish villains like playing with their food.
So it’s a slow-drip torture session, really, where Jonah goes step by step through all of Carolyn’s character flaws, criticizing her intelligence, courage and life choices. He invokes various potential futures and parallel time bands, where Carolyn became a vampire, or a werewolf, or the queen of the Leviathans. You’d think that our Carolyn would come off well in that kind of comparison, but the way they discuss it, it’s like at least the Leviathan Queen has done something interesting with her life.
In 1995, the show is puzzling over a similar question, asking what would become of Carolyn if we took away her family and left her alone for twenty-five years. The answer seems to be that she’d waste away, neglecting her hair care regimen and curating a collection of souvenirs from a past that she only partially remembers.
Barnabas is desperate for Carolyn’s help — he needs to know what happened the night Collinwood was destroyed, and she’s the only survivor. But she doesn’t trust him after all these lonely years, and she doesn’t believe that she can help anyone.
Trying to break through, Barnabas points to a picture in her photo album.
“Who is this, in this picture?” he asks. She draws a blank. “It was taken a little less than twenty-five years ago. It’s a girl — a young woman. A woman with courage, and spirit, who cared more for her family than anything. Now do you remember?”
She shakes her head.
“Carolyn, it’s you,” he tells her. “It’s you.”
Meanwhile, in 2013, Jonah is not nearly as supportive. The Big Finish Carolyn doesn’t have a catastrophe to blame her failures on. She’s had all of the opportunities that money and freedom could give her, and she’s wasted them. She hasn’t made anything of herself; she’s just drifting through life. And along comes this angry Agrajag, who’s traveled across a dozen dimensions just to tell her what a loser she is.
“I finally worked it out,” he explains, after showing her a vision of a parallel Carolyn. “That Carolyn had bad points, like you; she was selfish, flighty, vain. But unlike you, she still had a husband, she worked in the antiques shop, she had friends who respected her. She still had something to live for.”
That’s harsh, obviously, but you can see where he’s coming from. If you look at 1970 Collinwood and imagine the future, you can easily see Maggie ending up where Big Finish suggests — making her own way, running a small business in town. The children are going to grow up and go to school, and choose a path in life. But we’ve seen Carolyn at age 24, with a high school degree, a dead husband and nothing in particular to do.
Although, to be fair, Quentin doesn’t have a job either, and the only thing he did between 1897 and 1970 was go to the Hi Hat Lounge and buy a watch.
These two stories are like the two sides of a coin. In 1995, Nancy Barrett is a young woman playing twenty-five years older. In 2013, she’s an old woman playing thirty years younger. This makes processing The Flip Side a little challenging.
All of the original cast members who star in Big Finish audios are in their seventies now, and you can hear the passage of time in their voices. This mostly works okay, because the actors are playing “older and wiser” versions of their characters. Kathryn Leigh Scott’s Maggie doesn’t sound like a woman in her mid-thirties, and David Selby’s Quentin doesn’t sound like an ageless young man with a portrait in the attic, but the characters are supposed to be more mature and reflective, and it’s fairly easy to accept the change.
But Nancy Barrett sounds like a sozzled old barfly, which cuts against the grain of the story; she’s playing Jo Grant with the voice of Iris Wildthyme. The story is all about Carolyn struggling to grow up, hitting her thirties and still dancing for guys at the Blue Whale. So the story’s working against her voice a bit, and you have to make a special effort to keep your disbelief appropriately suspended.
But the script is asking the right questions about Carolyn’s future, because the character as we know her on the show is primarily defined by her relationships with other people.
Carolyn has more love interests than anyone else on the show — Joe, Burke, Buzz, Tony, Adam, Chris and Jeb — and even more than that, if you count Jeb as four people. On Dark Shadows Wiki, the bulk of her article is a huge “relationships” section.
And yet Carolyn is mostly unchanged when these relationships end. Joe, Burke and Buzz were childish fancies. Tony, Adam and Chris were more substantial, but each of them disappeared from her life quietly, offscreen. Tony was never invited back to the house, Adam went upstairs to polish his skis, and she just casually decided that she wasn’t really interested in Chris anymore.
She did finally land on Jeb as a life-changing romance, but he was thrown off a cliff almost immediately, setting her back to square one. She doesn’t have a job or a hobby, or any interests outside the family, and she wastes the time she has left chasing after a Jeb-alike. As the series ends, she’s got no real direction — she’s stuck in 1970 forever, in a holding pattern.
But Barnabas believes in her, at least — a woman with courage, and spirit, who cared more for her family than anything. And his faith in her awakens that spirit, and she runs to the Old House to tell everyone that she hasn’t changed, not really, and she’s going to help fix history. She’s a fighter, a protector of her family, and she writes down the clues that Barnabas and Julia will need, in order to fight the creature that destroyed her life.
That’s the strength that Carolyn needs to fight Jonah, too, and the tension of The Flip Side is whether she can find that fierceness, or accept Jonah’s judgment that her life is going nowhere. The story is a meditation on who Carolyn really is, and the answer, when it comes, is both surprising and satisfying.
Tomorrow: Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me.
A SPECIAL OFFER FROM BIG FINISH!
Big Finish wants Dark Shadows Every Day readers to discover the world of audio Collinsport, so they’re taking 25% off the entire range of Dark Shadows audiobooks when you use the code DSED25OFF.
There are 50 Dark Shadows audiobooks, with performances by a variety of original cast members: Jonathan Frid, Nancy Barrett, David Selby, Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Jerry Lacy, John Karlen, Chris Pennock and a bunch more.
They cover a huge range of characters and time periods — Maggie’s time at Windcliff, Quentin’s travels after 1897, the continuing story of Charity Trask and Pansy Faye, an afterlife face-off between Angelique and Josette, and a whole series of Tony Peterson/Cassandra Collins murder mysteries.
My two favorites are both Quentin stories: London’s Burning, by Joe Lidster, pairs David Selby with Louise Jameson as Pansy Faye’s sister, and Roy Gill’s Panic introduces Quentin to Lela Quick, a fast-talking screwball-comedy heroine played by Susan Sullivan.
To get the discount, go to the Dark Shadows audiobooks range, add items to your basket, and enter the code DSED25OFF on the basket page. The offer is valid until Dec 31, 2017. I hope everybody enjoys it, and thanks to Big Finish for setting this up!
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Barnabas tells Julia, “You’d better come into the drawing room with me. I don’t want to let you out here alone.”
In the photo album scene, Barnabas says “Carolyn, it’s you” three times. It sounds to me like he does the first one too early — it would make more sense for him to say it twice in the scene.
Barnabas notices a weird tone in Julia’s voice, and she explains, “We’re both very tired. We could say anything, you could hear anything.” Barnabas says, “Well, maybe,” and then looks at the teleprompter. “But in any case… we both… are tired.”
When Barnabas approaches Carolyn at the desk in the Collinwood drawing room, somebody’s shuffling around just off-camera. When he says, “I know how difficult it’s been for you,” a stagehand’s arm is in the shot.
Tomorrow: Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me.
— Danny Horn