“It’s different here. I don’t have to imagine things.”
Elizabeth Collins Stoddard is perturbed, and for good reason. Her houseguests vanished into a dimensional fissure they discovered in a closed-off wing of the house, and when they returned, months later, limping and gasping and covered in space dust, they issued dire portents of calamities to come.
The house of Collins will fall, they say, collapsing into each other’s arms and weeping deliriously, and when you ask them for details, they fall to pieces. We don’t know, they say, keening. Nobody would tell us anything. The future is super cliquey.
“It’s not like Barnabas to be so concerned, unless he really believes it,” Liz says to the governess during their daily stand-up. Although it is like him, really; Barnabas and Julia are utterly hysterical about everything. It’s just that most of the time they don’t bother the squares with it.
But this time, their nonstop acid-trip monster battles took them to the space-age world of 1995, where Collinwood was destroyed and everyone was dead, following an impending war with old-timey ghosts. So Barnabas and Julia are road-testing the novel idea of telling people what’s going on in their own lives, probably setting up an ironic self-fulfilling prophecy that will consume us all.
“It’s so inconceivable to me,” Liz puzzles. “Time has simply been the day I’m living. Now, to find out that there are different times — that a past and a future do exist somewhere…”
“We have to accept that now, don’t we?” Maggie replies. This is a typical example of a Collinwood staff meeting.
“There’s no telling what’s going to happen, is there?” Liz asks.
“No,” says Maggie. “Not even the computers can figure that out yet.” Which is super exciting, I didn’t even know we had computers. Where are they keeping the computers?
But Liz is still rolling. “All these centuries,” she moans. “All that man has accomplished… and yet we know nothing about what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
But tomorrow is not the problem. The problem is what’s going to happen later this afternoon.
Because we meet another new character today, and he’s terrible. They’re starting a story, and these days Dark Shadows has a policy of clearcutting all the middle-tier characters every four months, so if they’re kicking off a new storyline then they have to look at all the loose actors and say, okay, do we need somebody who’s Humbert Allen Astredo-y?
This one’s name is Sebastian Shaw, he’s an astrologer, and what you see above is the on-purpose costume that he’s wearing. I’m taking a break from talking about how awful Hallie is today, so I can talk about how awful Sebastian is.
Now, Chris Pennock characters are always a little bit hard to take. He’s an enormous slab of a monster man, and at this stage of his career, he hasn’t learned how to engage with all the puny humans who race around him at waist-level. His characters are always show-offs of one kind or another — Jeb was a rebellious world-crushing teen emperor thing who expected everyone to grovel before him, Cyrus was a snooty scientist who always knew more about whatever anybody was talking about, and John was a loudmouth rape machine.
And now there’s Sebastian the astrologer, one of the all-time mansplaining champions of the world.
Here, I’ll show you what I mean. Liz arrives at Sebastian’s office, which is constructed out of random set remnants, and she’s startled by his resemblance to her dead son-in-law, Jeb.
Sebastian looks off into the middle distance, and frowns. “You know,” he offers, “I read somewhere that there are only twelve different types of faces in the world. Yet we’re constantly amazed at people who look alike.”
So that’s pretty much Sebastian Shaw in a nutshell. That is the variety of bullshit that he talks. I’m pretty sure there are more than twelve different faces in the world; I don’t have exact figures in front of me, but it’s got to be at least in the mid-twenties, possibly higher. But Sebastian read something somewhere, and all of a sudden he needs to share that knowledge with the world.
He brushes past her. “I was about to have tea, Mrs. Stoddard,” he murmurs. “Would you care to join me? It’s an unusual Indian blend.” because of course it is. She says no thanks, so he asks her to sit down and forgets about the tea, which doesn’t exist anyway. I don’t know if you’ve ever been offered a cup of rhetorical tea, but it’s an aggravating experience.
She sits down. He doesn’t. Or possibly he’s so tall that you don’t even notice when he sits down.
“Where’s your crystal ball?” says the rube. “I expected to see a crystal ball.”
He glares at her, and spits, “I don’t think I can help you, Mrs. Stoddard, if you’re going to think of me as some kind of gypsy fortune-teller!”
She apologizes. Apparently there’s some kind of crucial distinction between the different varieties of soothsaying grifters.
Then he does a bit of cold reading, asking why Liz is so afraid of what’s going to happen. She says, happen when? and he says, this year. Then this happens.
Liz: What’s going to happen this year?
Sebastian: Tell me why you’re afraid, Mrs. Stoddard.
Liz: No, you tell me.
Sebastian: I’m not a psychic, Mrs. Stoddard.
Liz: You seem to be.
Sebastian: Well, I sensed a fear. You see, animals can sense when another is afraid. Why not human beings?
And ugggh, I already hate Sebastian so much. He probably read about the animals in the same place that he read about the twelve faces. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that somebody in this room has a subscription to Reader’s Digest.
She asks how he knows she’s afraid of this year, and he says, “Well, I’m an astrologer, Mrs. Stoddard. I know many things,” which I’m pretty sure means that he’s a psychic. I mean, he’s not, because he’s a con artist, but whatever.
He positions himself moodily by the candles, and peers up into the night sky that lives in his imagination. “Astrology began when man wondered how the planets and stars affected his everyday existence,” he explains. This is true, and astrology ended when men discovered that the answer was not at all.
But astrology is very in right now, thanks to all the hippies who spend a lot of time thinking about the stars, while they’re waiting for things to wear off.
The big pop culture moment for hippie astrology was the 1968 Broadway musical Hair, which opens with “Aquarius”, a rousing love song to the heavens.
When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius!
Age of Aquarius!
It’s a great song, about how people born in the late 1940s are going to lead us into a golden future of harmony and truth and mystic crystal revelations. It turned out that wasn’t really the case, but they didn’t know that; they’re not a psychic, Mrs. Stoddard.
The concept of the Age of Aquarius was based on the work of Edgar Cayce, a mystic, healer and bullshit artist from the 1930s. Cayce set up a hospital in Virgina Beach where he did psychic readings, and used magnetism and color therapy to cure people of probably not very much. Cayce believed in a lot of interesting things, including Atlantis, an advanced civilization of great understanding powered by a giant solar crystal, which disappeared for some reason even though they were way more advanced than everybody else and also they had a death ray. Seriously, Cayce predicted that in 1958, the United States would discover the secret of the Atlantean death ray. I don’t remember if we did or not.
But the important thing is that people were way more advanced in the past than they are now, for some reason, which is the same kind of thinking that animated H.P. Lovecraft’s Elder Gods fiction — that old things are smarter and more powerful than new things, and the fact that the old civilizations died out without leaving any noticeable traces is just proof of how complex and important they were. So the ancient period of spiritual wisdom was somehow followed by a period of spiritual decline called the Age of Pisces, which is responsible for all the war and famine and bad vibes that we’re currently experiencing.
But the Age of Pisces will give way to the Age of Aquarius, a golden age of love and understanding that will spread around the world, assisted by all of the communication and transportation and medical technology that we invented during the dumb old Age of Pisces.
Now, as we’ve discussed, the Altamont Free Concert in December 1969 demonstrated that the hippie ideal of peace, love and music is pretty dependent on other people taking care of the grown-up stuff, like parking and security and where does the food come from, so that’s a helpful historical marker for the point when the hippie fad burned out, and turned into something else. Like many fads, it didn’t go away completely, it just settled down into a more modest niche that could sustain itself, like bicycles and crossword puzzles. The cosmic spiritual awakening of Woodstock didn’t inspire the entire world to embrace peace, but it turned into a more durable long-term trend called New Age, which explains Austin and Northampton and Gwyneth Paltrow.
So 1970 is right on the cusp of that transition from the political, social and pharmacological revolution of the hippie movement turning into the New Age hucksterism to come, and here’s Sebastian Shaw and his Atlantean death ray to explain how it all works.
“You see, Mrs. Stoddard,” he preens, “if you know the stars, you know the person.”
Liz says that he makes it sound simple, and he smirks and says that it is very simple, which in this context means that it requires you to be in touch with the cosmic spirits, and that’s why I can understand it and you can’t.
Liz says that she must know what the rest of the year brings, and Sebastian says, “I can do several things. I can draw up a general horoscope, which will give you an idea of times that will be disadvantageous to you, or a more complete day by day chart.” That’s two things.
And then he starts talking about how money doesn’t really mean anything to him, which is the prelude to the rich lady opening her wallet.
Now, the interesting thing is that Dark Shadows is taking an up-to-the-minute trend that’s popular among the show’s core audience, and making it look predatory and villainous. He’s clearly excited about getting a foothold at Collinwood — when we first see him, he’s grinning about getting a visit from “the great lady herself,” and during their conversation, he says it would be an honor to do her chart. He’s clearly attracted to the money and/or the status he might attain through this connection.
When Liz asks him how much he charges, he makes a big deal about his principles, and that he’ll accept whatever she wishes to give. This happens again in tomorrow’s episode, too; Liz asks him for a price, and he snaps, “Mrs. Stoddard, please don’t make a shopkeeper out of me.” So that makes three things that he isn’t — a gypsy fortune-teller, a psychic and a shopkeeper — and there may be more to come.
Anyway, he goes on about his values, but it’s pretty clear that if she handed him a check for forty bucks, he would suddenly remember some new values, like overhead and processing fees.
And there’s a lot of looming going on, too. Some amount of looming is unavoidable when you’ve got Chris Pennock and Joan Bennett in the same scene, but he’s adding extra looming on top of that.
So introducing an astrologer who dresses like the Maharishi and acts like he’s running a yoga studio isn’t quite as pandering to the 1970 teens as it could have been. His first horoscope for Liz is going to show that absolutely nothing happens to her for the rest of the year, which is unlikely considering the extremely haunted house that she lives in. If Sebastian turns out to be the con artist villain that he appears to be, then this may be cranky social satire on a popular trend. I’m not sure where this is going to land; I wonder if we could consult the computers.
Tomorrow: Future So Bright.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Hallie saw the dress on her bed at the end of yesterday’s episode, it was lying across the end of the bed. In the reprise today, it’s lying lengthwise across the bed.
After Hallie says to Maggie, “Hey, it’s late,” the camera lurches a bit.
Liz tells Maggie, “So inconceivable to me, despite all of Elliott Stokes’ theories. Time has simply been the time — the day I’m living.”
Sebastian bumps the large candelabra when he approaches it, and it wobbles slightly.
When Liz tells Sebastian that she wants him to draw up her horoscope, the light fixture is blocking his light, casting three big round shadows on him, including one directly on his face.
Liz walks past the screen in Sebastian’s place, and you can see a couple studio lights reflected in the panes of glass.
When Liz is standing at Sebastian’s door asking if her chart will have information about the children, you can see shadows of people passing by behind her.
In act 4, the camera has a hard time framing the clock in the foyer. Then there’s a quick flash of the picture of nighttime Collinwood, which fades immediately to the gazebo.
We hear the clock in the foyer chiming the hour, which fades into a clock tower chiming. Between the two, the clock strikes nineteen.
Behind the Scenes:
In the Dark Shadows Almanac: Millennium Edition, Pennock writes: “Sebastian Shaw, hippie astrologer, was totally forgettable. I really do not remember a single day playing him. I must have been wishing I were someone else. In what seemed like a few days later, I was someone else!”
The book that Sebastian loans to Elizabeth is Astrology, written by Louis MacNeice, an Irish poet and playwright who wrote the book on commission and considered it “hackwork”. MacNeice died in 1963; the book was published in 1964.
Tomorrow: Future So Bright.
— Danny Horn