“If Gerard stays dead, he’ll haunt us for the rest of our lives!”
“Daphne, I’ve been trying to identify something,” Julia says, waving an ornament in the young woman’s face. “I wonder if you would help me. This medallion — look at it, have you ever seen anything like it before?”
Nonplussed, Daphne says, “No, I don’t think I have. Why?”
“Well, look at it more closely,” Julia urges. “It’s very old, I thought it might be familiar to you.”
“I’m certain I’ve never seen it before,” Daphne says, but I have — a bunch of times, back in 1967.
But Dark Shadows has been looping in strange circles lately, since they went to 1995 and back again. They’re currently giving us a mash-up of the 1969 “haunting of Collinwood” story and the 1967 “Maggie’s abduction” story, with a dash of 1897 “Petofi’s magic touch” thrown in. It’s been a while since Julia picked up the medallion and hypnotized us all into watching daytime television, but the ratings are slipping and maybe we could use a refresher.
“Look at it more closely,” Julia insists. “See the way the light gives out? Keep looking deeper, and deeper. Try to find the center of the light.”
Daphne tries, and apparently she accomplishes it, which is better than I’ve ever been able to do. I’ve been looking at this show about as closely as it’s possible to get without banging my head on the screen, and if there’s any recognizable shape to all this, then it’s news to me.
And it seems like things might get even more perplexing than they currently are, because yesterday was Joe Caldwell’s last day on the writing team. Caldwell has been filling in as the third writer since Violet Welles left the show back in April, but apparently he’s got a limit, and yesterday was it. From here on, the three-person team becomes a two-person team — just Sam Hall and Gordon Russell, typing furiously for the last six months of the show.
Although I’m not sure that we’ll notice that much of a difference, because nobody’s really been on their game lately anyway. For a long stretch of the series, you can tell who’s writing the episode by listening to the dialogue — Sam Hall’s well-hidden nastiness played as wit, Ron Sproat’s ill-fated attempts to slow the show’s roll, Gordon Russell’s dialogue filler, Violet Welles’ character-defining screwball asides.
But lately, everybody sounds the same. Hallie is just as annoying in one episode as she is in another, whether it’s Hall, Russell or Caldwell. I don’t really pay attention to who’s writing the episode anymore; they just sort of happen.
Still, giving Hall and Russell 50% more episodes to write doesn’t really help the show get through this rough patch. Everyone openly admits that they were running out of ideas during this period, and all they could do was remixes of old stuff. This would have been a great time to hire a new writer with fresh ideas, so why didn’t they get anybody to replace Caldwell when he left?
Well, it might have something to do with how utterly baffling the current storyline is. It all centers around a quintet of ghosts from 1840, who have been coming to life in borrowed bodies. David and Hallie are possessed by the spirits of Tad and Carrie, Carolyn has merged with somebody named Leticia, and Daphne has apparently embodied herself from scratch, using household items found around the home. And then there’s Gerard, the pirate king, who keeps them all jumping.
Julia’s found Daphne at Windcliff with David, who’s Tad, praying to the pirate’s star in a burning pentagram, and if that doesn’t make sense to you now, then there’s really very little that I can do. The important thing is that Dr. Julia Hoffman is improving the show by yelling at it.
Julia: Unless something is done to stop Gerard, the house will be in ruins, the family will disappear, and the children will die!
Daphne: Oh, none of that will happen, none of it, if you’ll just leave me alone here with the children tonight. At this moment, I’m the only hope they have of staying alive!
Julia: You’re talking about Tad and Carrie. I’m talking about David and Hallie! Their lives must be restored!
Daphne: There’s nothing I can do for David and Hallie anymore.
Julia: There is a great deal that you can do to help! Now, I want you to come to the Old House with me, and tell me everything you know about Gerard, and the two children. (She sees Daphne hesitate.) The children will die. Quentin will be destroyed!
Literally two minutes ago, Julia didn’t even know that Daphne existed on this earth, and now she’s bossing the ex-ghost around and criticizing her priorities. They’ve been keeping Julia in the library lately, reading diaries and chasing her own tail, making exactly zero progress in anything she’s trying to do. But now she’s got a lead at last, and she’s damned if some Charlie’s Angel is going to keep her from scowling the story into a higher gear.
Daphne: If I go with you, what happens to the children now?
Julia: They will remain here, and they will be well taken care of. I give you my word. Now, will you come with me?
Daphne: All right. I’ll go. But I’m not going to let you destroy Tad and Carrie to bring David and Hallie back.
Julia: (sighs) I think you want what is really best for the children. Sooner or later, you will help us, in order to allow them to survive.
And that’s it, Daphne obediently marches out the door. Julia Hoffman is back in charge of the show.
Television is always better when you put the smart characters in charge; they get bored and ask impertinent questions, which helps to drive the plot. Julia’s been on the bench for weeks, reading books and not learning anything in particular, while the ghosts slowly slipped the children’s souls out of their bodies. It’s been a rough period, but Julia’s finally got her hands on a decent informant. Check out how much tumbles out of Daphne, on the basis of an utterly ridiculous inquiry.
Julia: Do you think Quentin is a reincarnation of the Quentin Collins that lived in 1840?
Daphne: Dr. Hoffman, how could I possibly know that?
Julia: Because you were in love with the Quentin Collins who lived in 1840, and you love this Quentin. Are they similar?
So Daphne stands up, and sighs, and sings like a canary.
Daphne: Well, the first Quentin was more of an aggressive man, with a will of iron. He led a very troubled life, and it was never very easy to get to know him. But the Quentin I know now is a gentler man. He’s easier to know… and to love.
Well, that’s an unfortunate answer, because we’ve already seen an aggressive Quentin with a will of iron — in Parallel Time, where they succeeded in making their most charismatic actor into a boring jerk. I don’t want to go all the way back in time to meet another “troubled” Quentin, I like the one that we have.
But apparently the one time period that Dark Shadows cannot avoid is 1847, and Jane Eyre. This is our fourth governess in the last four years, and guess what, Q40 is her Mr. Rochester. So we’ve got all of that to look forward to.
But let’s head back to the center of the light, for the most baffling time trip of all. Julia’s twirling the hypno-medallion, and Daphne is ready to cooperate.
Julia: Now, concentrate on the events that are destined to take place before the disaster at Collinwood. First, there will be a murder. Do you know who is destined to be murdered?
Daphne: Destined to be murdered?
Julia: Do you know who the person is?
Daphne: Yes, I know who it is!
So here’s my question: How?
Because Julia saw Daphne’s ghost in 1995, and that Daphne could have told Julia what was going to happen in 1970, but this Daphne is currently in 1970, and as far as we know, she doesn’t have magical future-sensing powers. So what’s going on?
Julia: What is the name of the person? Tell me! Who is it?
Daphne: The person who’ll be murdered — is me!
Julia: You? I don’t understand. Do you know how it’ll happen, and when?
Daphne: The green flag will be waved in the window three times. Three times at the window!
Julia: The window of the tower room! I saw the green flag there, when I followed David! When will this happen?
Daphne: I don’t know.
Well, of course she doesn’t, because it hasn’t happened yet. What is the matter with you people?
I mean, I get how exciting this scene is, dramatically. This is the moment that puts everything together — the ghosts, the flag, the clues — and naturally Julia is right at the center of it. See the way the light gives out? That’s Julia, at work.
But I’m not entirely sure that the writers even realized that hypnosis doesn’t help people predict the future. At this point, it’s hard to keep track between 1967, 1847 and 1795, so who’s to say what’s the future, and what’s the past?
Julia: Do you know if it’ll happen before or after the destruction of Rose Cottage?
Daphne: First, Rose Cottage. And then — the murder.
Julia: Then there may be time to save you. Do you know when Rose Cottage will be destroyed?
Daphne: The destruction of Rose Cottage — will be tonight!
So I think that’s the answer to the question: why didn’t they replace Joe Caldwell with a new writer? By this point, the show has drifted so far away from normal television that nobody else would even understand it. Imagine the onboarding process for somebody new — the tangled timelines you’d need to explain, in order to get them through their first week. Dan Curtis, Sam Hall and Gordon Russell know that the show is headed for a crash landing, and that’s not a situation where adding another person would help. It’s better to just brace yourself, and ride it out.
Tomorrow: The Burning.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the opening narration for episode 1096, Quentin said, “Barnabas Collins and Julia Hoffman learned that a terrible cratastophe occurred at Collinwood.” Today, he says, “Barnabas Collins and Julia Hoffman are still searching desperately for a way to avert the catastophe that threatens to destroy the great house in 1970.”
Julia asks Daphne who brought her back to life, and Daphne looks at the teleprompter for her response.
At the end of act 1, Julia and Daphne leave the room with the candles on the floor still burning. One of the candles has been knocked over, and its flame is very close to the edge of the Oriental rug.
Quentin tells Julia, “She’s afraid of what happened — what might happen to the children, and she’s frightened, understandably so, I think.”
Why did the Windcliff staff leave Tad and Carrie alone in Tad’s room together? How did they escape? Tad just says, “Don’t worry, nobody saw us.” Are there any locks in this looney bin?
Carrie tells Tad, “We’d better be going, anyway. It’ll be soon that they discover we’re not there.”
Quentin enters, and Julia says, “Well? Did you talk to Spokes?”
During the hypnosis scene, Julia asks, “Who is the murderer?” when she actually means, “Who is going to be murdered?”
Tomorrow: The Burning.
— Danny Horn