Episode 1133: Low Clearance

“But actually, I did not come here to discuss the dead.”

It’s another one of those mysterious messages that Quentin’s been finding lately, scattered around his mansion. They’re cryptic little postcards from beyond the veil, signed by an old, extinguished flame, and they’re starting to get to him. They say things like “Joanna is dead and you are responsible,” which is upsetting, and they have these impenetrable adamantium wax seals that can only be opened by experts.

This time, the wax seal is even more troublesome than usual, and he’s really struggling with it. Quentin’s been opening his own mail for years now, it shouldn’t be this big of a deal, but the paper is determined to resist his advances. It must be some kind of trick judo paper that uses the attacker’s strength against him; the seconds are ticking by, and he’s still wrestling with it. He lunges at the seal one last time, and still it eludes him, and that’s when David Selby mutters “Oh, shit,” on network television.

Or he comes damn close to it, anyway. There’s definitely an “oh, shhhhii–“, but he’s saying it under his breath, and he finally tears through the page just as he’s coming to the end of the phrase, so it’s a close call whether he actually completes the word “shit” or manages to stop himself at the last moment. Either way, he basically just cursed on daytime television, which you’d think people would notice.

And yet here we are, only fifty seconds into the episode, and they don’t stop tape and start over; they just keep filming, and then they broadcast it on television, and eventually it winds up on videotape and DVD and Amazon Prime — a silly, embarrassing moment, preserved forever for you and posterity, in that order.

Well, they can’t stop, I suppose. They’ve gone to all the trouble and expense of sealing the note with kryptonite and expelliarmus powder, and you can’t do a thing like that twice. That’s why this note was in such bad shape, at the end of yesterday’s episode.

You see, they taped these episodes out of order — first today’s episode, and then yesterday’s — so the recap at the top of this episode was filmed before the cliffhanger of yesterday’s episode. This kind of thing is bound to crop up once in a while, on a show that’s mostly about how great it would be if you could go back in time and fix other people’s mistakes.

So after Quentin makes a dog’s breakfast out of the note today, it has to go back to the props department for repair and restoration, which they don’t bother to do. They just rip the troublesome wax seal off — or they try to, anyway, tearing the top half of the paper in two — and then on the next day, they hand the tattered remains back to Quentin, who has to pretend to unseal a note that at this point is practically a liquid.

Meanwhile, back in our own timestream, Quentin has managed to open the envelope, and he’s trying to come to grips with the content.

“We said it was over,” he reads. “That we had no chance for happiness, that your wife would never allow what we both wanted so much. But for so long now, I’ve asked — ached to see you.”

So the answer to what could happen in this first scene that would make them start over again is pretty much nothing, although obviously a little dialogue flub is an everyday occurrence here at Collinwood, and nothing to get upset over. There’s also an obvious teleprompter check halfway through Quentin’s monologue, but at least they manage to keep the boom mic out of shot, through the clever trick of zooming in on the actor’s face and just staying there until the theme song kicks in.

Still, it’s easier to edit videotape than it used to be — it’s October 1970, which is practically civilization. They did a lot of on-purpose edits a couple months ago, when they wanted to use David and Hallie in the same scene as their lookalikes, Tad and Carrie. It seemed like Dark Shadows was getting closer to what we would consider a broadcast-standard television show. But today, coming very, very close to profanity doesn’t qualify as a problem that needs to get solved. It’s almost like they’ve stopped caring about what happens on Dark Shadows, which a lot of people have.

After the theme, Quentin is still reviewing the remnants of his inbox when a Trask walks in. In this time period, the incumbent Trask is named Lamar. He’s not a reverend, like his better-known relatives, but he runs a funeral parlor, which gives him a similar kind of gravitas that’s necessary when you’re Trasking your way into other people’s scenes.

There’s a door opening sound effect and then Trask is standing there, greeting Quentin and asking if he’s disturbing him, which he obviously is, but he starts talking anyway, because Trasks are addicted to the sound of their own voice.

“I had intended to come earlier,” he explains, “but poor Mrs. Waddleford has been called to the great beyond, and my services were needed.”

Quentin has no time for Waddlefords, beyond or otherwise. “Mr. Trask,” he asks, “did you ever perform services for a woman named Joanna Mills?”

Trask thinks it over. “Mills… Mills… it’s not an unusual name.” Then he brightens, to the extent possible for a Trask. “Yes, there was a Mills — Frank, yes. He was killed in an accident near Cornith Bend.” He means Corinth Bend, of course; there isn’t such a place as Cornith Bend.

“It was a most unusual accident –” says Trask, warming to his theme, but Quentin interrupts.

“Now, listen,” he says, “I’m really not interested in Frank Mills.” Then they both say “Joanna,” in unison.

Trask’s intel comes up short, so he tries to redirect. “Actually,” he says, “I did not come here to discuss the dead, but rather — the living.”

“Well, I’m afraid I cannot give you too much time tonight,” Quentin says, as he walks across the room to the world’s noisiest drinks table.

For some reason, they’ve decided to set up the boom mic directly over the drinks cabinet, and we spend the next ten seconds listening to every step of the brandy distribution process, instead of whatever Trask is jabbering on about.

Quentin takes the stopper off the decanter, and places it on the table, Clank! He lifts the brandy to the glass, Clink! and then Glub, Glub, Glub, Glub, Glub! I’m not exaggerating, you can hear the brandy pouring into the glass super clearly. It’s crazy distracting.

Quentin returns the bottle to the table, Clunk! and then places the stopper back on the decanter, Clink! Then he takes a sip, and we’re allowed to return to the scene, already in progress.

Trask is nattering on about his usual obsession. “As you may or may not know, Mr. Collins, I am most interested in the original Barnabas Collins, for I am convinced that he had something to do with the disappearance of my late father.”

Quentin takes a sip and asks, “What makes you think he’s still not alive?” which is one of those great bloopers where you can’t figure out what that line was supposed to be in the first place.

Trask scowls. “I have spoken with my father from beyond the grave.” Quentin raises his eyebrows, and Trask confirms, “Yes, Mr. Collins. His death will be revenged!”

“I’m leaving no stone unturned to find out what actually happened on this estate in 1797,” Trask asserts, as the camera pulls in for one of those nonsensical closeups of a character’s eyes that they’ve been doing lately. He means 1796.

Then he sits down with Quentin, and says, “Would it interest you to know that there is no record of the present Barnabas Collings owning a house in Cadogan Square?”

So it’s just a mess of a scene, which is nice every now and then. It touches on several different storylines without advancing any of them, which is fine, because none of them are very important. Now that he’s dumped his boring wife, Quentin doesn’t really have any problems in particular, other than his ongoing struggle with the written word, and Trask is stirring up exactly the same kind of trouble for Barnabas that has been easily un-stirred a dozen times.

The fact that neither of them accomplishes their objective in the scene doesn’t really matter; by now, the show is just a clattering carriage ride down to Cornith Bend, an unusual accident that’s getting more usual all the time.

So Quentin takes his leave and exits the drawing room, heading through the foyer to the far door, where he bangs his head on the top of the doorframe, and stumbles into whatever happens to him next.

Tomorrow: The Graveyard Smash.


More Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

After the scene shifts from Roxanne and Trask to the fire in the Collinwood drawing room, you can hear Trask slamming the cottage door.

Why does Roxanne leave Trask alone in her cottage? He’s still there when she gets back from Collinwood.

Angelique asks Barnabas, “Where did you get such a good friend?” Then she checks the teleprompter, and says, “Where did you get such a good friend, and how long have you been out of the coffin?”

They’re on the wrong camera when Angelique asks Barnabas about the lace around Roxanne’s neck; her face is obscured by his shoulder.

Quentin asks Barnabas, “You haven’t had any report of the headless man missing, have you?”

Quentin reads the second note: “I cannot live without seeing you the night.” They play the transition music cue and fade out while Quentin is still saying, “Joanna.”

Quentin tells Barnabas, “I had the idea that I could build a staircase — not the usual kind of staircase, but a staircase that could — well, with each step I went, we could go further and further from the time we live now.”

The camera bounces up and down when Barnabas asks Trask, “What could have happened to her?”

Tomorrow: The Graveyard Smash.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

43 thoughts on “Episode 1133: Low Clearance

  1. “I met a boy called Frank Mills / On September twelfth, right here / In front of the Waverly . . . ” Sorry, my mind was wandering . . . what were we watching a show about?

    1. Could the choice of that name have been a coincidence? “Hair” had been playing in NY for several years by 1970. Someone involved with the Dark Shadows series would have seen it by then. Or listened to the soundtrack LP. Or seen Liza Minnelli perform “Frank Mills” on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1969.

      I think it was a in-joke, like when Tony Peterson used the alias ‘Arthur Hailey.’ Arthur Hailey the novelist was too well-known by then for no one on DS to have recognized it as the name of a famous author. Interesting that Jerry Lacy was involved both times.

  2. I hate to be a stick in the mud about it, but I have a real problem with “all-purpose” slang words (ones that end up replacing dozens of OTHERS), and that definitely describes the word “shit” NOWADAYS. So it’s hard for me to have much enthusiasm about that Quentin moment. If only it’d been some other word!

    1. And Mister Quentin Potty-Mouth should know that there’s a letter opener right on the desk – same one that’s been there since 1795, when Millicent tried to give Nathan a ‘first-class stamp’.

  3. I love Lamar. I can’t help it, he’s just so comical. It’s fun to watch his eyes light up when he starts in on the shop talk.

    1. He is even more comical when you think about him growing up with his father and what the family life that eventually produced 1897’s Gregory Trask would have been like. We don’t really know when Roxanne became a vampire in the original timeline so its possible (discounting the audio dramas) that she could have been Gregory’s grandmother.

      We need a “growing up Trask” mini-series.

      1. Yeah–my guess is that Lamar has little or no actual memory of his father (if dad died just over forty years ago, how old do we think Lamar is?); I suspect that the missing father would have been an idolized figure (assuming Mrs. Trask was as fervent a true believer as the old witchsmeller pursuivant was) ,untethered to the dodgy reality–perhaps Lamar’s revenge quest was even some kind of loony deathbed promise to dear old mom. In any case, young Gregory Trask–yet to be born, obviously–would have seen the old man’s cockamamie obsessions and gone in the cynical opposite direction, learning hypocrisy at his addled father’s knee. I smell spinoff.

  4. 1840 Quentin is even shouty when he’s alone! Wonder why they didn’t do that first scene as a ‘thinks’ monologue?

    Super picky – if Lamar had been let into Collinwood by a servant, wouldn’t that servant have announced it (“Mr. Trask to see you, Mr. Collins.”)? Or did Trask just walk on into the great house? Guess it’s good that Quentin WAS yelling in the drawing room, so Lamar would know where he was without searching…

    Why does Quentin start going on about his (unbuilt) Staircase Through Time (or was it Into Time? Which technically, DOES exist since Julia used it to get to 1840…) Seems Quentin, without a decent storyline, has become – – a Recap Monkey.

    Again, super picky, but the wounds on Roxanne’s neck (given the relative sizes of the doll and the needles) should look like she’s been perforated with railroad spikes.

    Barnabas has a stumble on the word ‘Roxanne’, stuttering ‘Rox-roxanne”. Which, given the other screw-ups in this installment, hardly even counts as a blooper.

    And (not technically IN today’s episode, only mentioned in the intro) why is Julia so necessary to stitch Judah back together? Seems like anyone with a needle and thread should be able to mend him, and anyway, how was it done in The Past before Dr. Hoffman came to 1840?

    Given how ‘off’ Selby’s performance was in the episode, I’m tempted to think he found Briscoe’s stash in the dressing rooms – but I bet Pennock found it WAY before then.

    1. The hallmark of a truly gifted undertaker – the ability to enter and exit unobtrusively. Trask had probably been standing in the foyer half an hour already, waiting for someone to notice him.
      Maybe being shouty is what you have to do to survive in a mega house like Collinwood. If you don’t keep a loud, constant verbal blast going, you might get locked up in a closed off wing. forever.

      1. Now I’m picturing Lamar Trask as the Dark Shadows equivalent of Tony Wonder on Arrested Development. He’s hiding in the dumbwaiter until someone says his last name, so he can suddenly appear as if summoned by magic.

      2. Another hallmark in the life of an undertaker: daily social life would be relatively quiet, conversations with the “clientele” would be relatively one-sided. Maybe being “shouty” is what one would also have to do to maintain some semblance of sanity. Sanity in Collinsport being somewhat subjective.

        1. Mrs Johnson tends to be the voice of reason in Collinwood. I’d like a story where on her housekeeping duties she finds and deals with a ghost from the past. Better yet, she has to contend with the ghost of Abigail.

          1. Mrs. Johnson also has the unique distinction, of being the very first to interact with Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas on-camera. Yes, Barnabas did exchange pleasantries with Willie at episode 210 end, but as well known, that was a stand-in (not Frid) handing it to Willie.

          2. How about Mrs. Johnson becoming possessed by Abigail’s ghost? I’d love to hear her give Roger some Hell: “So, you don’t like my boiled dinners, Mr. Snooty Britches? Well, you better justmind you don’t get turned into a cat!”

    2. Its not clear that the body-sewing thing happened in the original timeline. If it did happen, it was unsuccessful given how things turned out. In the worst case, there was an 1840s ancestor of Dr. Lang running around that we thankfully never saw who participated.

      It would have required more than stitches though. If he was ever going to speak, she would have had to reconnect the Trachea. The esophagus isn’t strictly necessary (given that neither body or head seem to need to eat) but it would be nice extra to have. Connecting to the backbone would be somewhat needed or else the head is going to have a tendency to flop around.

  5. There was an in-story explanation for the lack of servants at Collinwood when DS premiered: Liz, for reasons revealed later, had gotten rid of them all. There was also a sense that the Collins were a “royal family in decline” in 1966. In a weird way, the Burton film maintains this theme — even Angelique sort of fills the “Burke Devlin” role of the early days.

    Edward in 1897 would later lampshade the obvious absence of staff with “the servants are hiding” line. They are offen mentioned but never seen. That might explain the cooks and cleaners but the Collins either don’t have a butler or he’s a drunk becaue they open their own doors.

    1. As the show went on, they did gradually start to build up a set of servants before they went in the vampire direction. At one point they had Matthew Morgan, Vicki Winters and Mrs Johnson. I always thought they should have had a butler in a non-speaking role at the house from the start.Or else have the Butler be a character who knows (or suspects) just about everything going on, but never takes any action or becomes involved in the plot.

      The rules for this sort of drama are that if you have the servants that would normally interact directly with the family (the butler, the nanny and maybe the driver), you can infer the rest and make then casual/changing members of the cast when needed in a particular situation.

      1. So it’s possible the Collins family overreached with the construction of the mansion; it turned into a bigger expense than they’d thought, what with upkeep and all those rumours going round the village about the strange things going on up there at Collinwood – they couldn’t get any decent help in.

        And of course the latest story about that poor governess Hortense getting her head torn off probably had a lot of the servants giving notice. The old wives were whispering about those strange attacks of forty years ago starting again, the men down at the tavern were grumbling into their ale about the sudden absence of the dockside ladies; and where’s that Braithwaite fellow disappeared to? He was talking to one of them Collins brood, last time he was seen.

        And wasn’t it odd how that Mr. Quentin Collins had suddenly reappeared, and his cousin Barnabas had shown up at the very same time, from England, he says; that weird sister of his, doesn’t sound very British, and so unladylike, nosey, always asking questions and wanting potions from the apothecary, and now Mr. Trask was saying that Mr. Barnabas has a wife, he’s been toying with Roxanne Shaw’s affections, and everyone knows Lamar was supposed to marry her. And some creature loose on the Collins property, story is he’s some kind of headless man!

        If I were you, Miss Harridge, I shouldn’t take that job they’re offering. Steer clear of the house on the hill if you want to stay alive.

      2. Collinwood needed a blind butler like the Alec Guinness character in Murder by Death. He wouldn’t have noticed the glaring ghosts, stairways to nowhere and occasional werewolf fluff in the corners.

        1. “Collinwood needed a blind butler like the Alec Guinness character in Murder by Death.”

          Or Sir Cedrick Hardwick in the Outer Limits’ “Forms of Things Unknown” episode.

      3. I like the butler idea! “It is simply not one’s place to interfere in the goings-on–natural or supernatural–of one’s employers.” Sebastian Cabot could have played it in his off-hours.

    2. It’s not long before Barnabas comes out of the coffin that it’s the last time we see a kitchen or dining room set. Early episodes showed characters eating breakfast in the kitchen. With those scenes gone it’s easier to explain that the only one who comes out into the main part of the house is Mrs Johnson, who goes to Elizabeth with things like dinner requests.

    1. I thought somewhat that they were downplaying Quentin with the plan to have Gerard be what Quentin was in the 1897 episodes. Their intention seemed to be to create a second Quentin-type star character but it never quite worked out.

      The problem with Tim Shaw is somewhat similar. The show was too small to effectively support to younger male leads. And unfortunately the way that gets dramatically solved sometimes is underutilizing one of the actor as happened with Shaw.

      As the show went on, its inability to sustain semi-independent “B” stories hurt in alot of ways. Its maybe at its worst in 1840 where there are actually alot of characters that not much is done with.

      1. Why couldn’t the show support younger male leads? I guess the challenge is that DS decided that Barnabas is the show or basically the leading man. But even decades later, the show ANGEL had two male supporting leads (Wesley and Gunn). By the final season, Spike — very much Quentin to Angel’s Barnabas — was practically another leading man.

        But of course, ANGEL and FLASH now are weekly series. There was plenty of room for Quentin, for example, to have his own plot lines independent of Barnabas (same with Chris Jennings) that would occasionally intersect for BIG moments, like most soap operas do.

        1. I wonder if, to some extent, the writers and producers were overwhelmed by the Barnabas and Quentin fandoms and by this time were looking for the next Big Deal, and impatiently disposing of anyone who didn’t take off like a rocket. In any case, it feels like a game rigged against the soap studs they are trying out: Bernau came and went; Prentice will do the same; Storm does what he can without the writing that made 1897 Quentin show off all his glittering facets (an acting opportunity never to be recovered, sadly); shortly we’ll meet Gene Lindsay as Randall Drew, a 70s soap actor right off the assembly line, and, as I remember, he’ll make no impact, either. Long gone are the days when Anthony George and Joel Crothers and even Roger Davis were balancing out the ensemble with looks and energy. Among the younger men, it’s the solid character actors, Karlen, Lacey, and, by now, Pennock, who find a footing and kept making their contributions. The leading men candidates are being funneled through revolving door.

  6. Seriously, Angelique could have, at the very least, made the half-hearted attempt to treat Roxanne a little nicer. Roxanne only has around a handful of episodes left. Manners still count, you know.

  7. On the subject of network announcers: it was a nice touch (early on) that episodes would end with Bob Lloyd thoughtfully intoning “Dark Shadows is a Dan Curtis production”. Lloyd, with soft and knowledgeable tone, came across not so much as announcing, but pondering, absorbing, processing that very fact. Possibly stroking his chin and looking off into the distance. At least that is how one viewer always imagined the recording session.

    “Dark Shadows is a Dan Curtis production”. Yes. Yes, it is.

    1. Along with his “…Dan Curtis Production” announcement, Bob Lloyd also did the sponsor billboards right after the opening titles and just before the end credits. I don’t know what happened, but around the time of the NABET strike in ’67, he was no longer announcing for the show. I assume he didn’t want to cross the picket line since AFTRA members were being asked to support NABET. The weird thing is that the other ABC soap at the time, General Hospital, kept their announcer (Ed Chandler) but he didn’t do sponsor billboards anymore either. Chandler just announced the title of the show, said “General Hospital will return in a moment,” and “Join us again tomorrow for General Hospital.” Maybe the network decided to do away with having sponsor billboards and Dan Curtis just decided that it was not work it to have Bob Lloyd doing the closing announcement. For a short while Grayson Hall and Alexandra Moltke did the closing announcement (as well as the mid break, which stated, “Dark Shadows will return in just a moment”). So Bob Lloyd’s exit might not have been strike related after all.

      1. Bob Lloyd’s last episode was taped on September 18th (328). Grayson Hall fills in on the episode taped the next day (332). The strike, as far as I can tell, began on September 22nd. If he was doing the announcing live during the broadcast of the show, his last episode aired on September 27th. Robert Gerringer’s (Dr. Woodard) last episode was shot on the day of the strike (the 22nd).

        The timing suggests it was probably strike related though its difficult to be sure.

        1. I think it could have been a combination of the two. He definitely didn’t do the announcing live during the broadcast because he did the opening slate at the beginning of each episode.

          1. I’d be inclined to think that Bob Lloyd did do the announcements live, right along with the broadcasts, because there are bloopers associated with his slating segments.

            There’s one episode where there’s a shadow over part of the slate and he can’t read one of the dates: “Dark Shadows, VTR date… I, I can’t read it… Take 1.”

            Then there’s the opening of episode 19, where he’s rehearsing his commercial break voiceovers. Before starting with the slating for that episode, you hear him in the “announcer’s booth” saying, “…by Vanish, another work saver from Drackett.”

            Announcements for the end credits were also live I would think, also to coincide with the “live” taping of the episodes. There are some end announcements where he comes in a bit late and (with headphones) you can hear him rushing into the booth to hurriedly seat himself. Other times you can hear him flicking the switch of a metal lighter and then taking a drag on a cigarette.

            @John Hammes:

            Here’s how I imagine the end credits announcements of Bob Lloyd:

            He’s leaning forward on the mic as he announces what’s to come on ABC, his face animating to match his often jovial inflections of tone.

            Then, a pause as he leans back in his chair, folding his arms as he tilts his head slightly to the right, his face proud and serious as he announces an ultimate truth:

            “Dark Shadows is a Dan Curtis Production.”

            1. To clarify, I meant that Bob Lloyd did his announcing as the show was being recorded/produced – live to tape. It wasn’t inserted into the show later, because as we all know, editing was a no-no, especially during the first few years of the show.

              What I am also saying is that he didn’t do the announcements as ABC was playing back that day’s episode. However, there was always an ABC staff announcer who did do announcements over the end credits – especially after Bob Lloyd was gone. Since they were live at the time, we don’t hear them on the syndicated and DVD releases because those were taken from the pre-recorded videotape.

  8. I think our revered blog master has been playing with his I-Ching wands again and is trouble this time.

    David Edelstein, I think you’re going to need to ascend a staircase in time or hold a seance or walk through a door in the East Wing and retrieve him.

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