Episode 1145: The Unearned Curse

“It is a metaphysical attempt on my part to expand man’s natural horizons, that’s all.”

He’s not mad, really, just disappointed, and he’s also not a scientist, so how he ended up getting involved with mad science is anyone’s guess.

“Now, Gerard,” says Quentin Collins, “what would you think if I told you that by going up those stairs, you could actually travel in another time?”

Gerard is nonplussed. “Well, I’d say you were having a minor pipe dream.”

“But it’s true!” Quentin declares, with no elaboration. “This is my Staircase In Time.” Then he starts walking up the stairs, and nothing happens.

So I think it’s about time we ask some pointed questions about this staircase, starting with: What does it do?

I mean, we know it does one thing, which is to appear suddenly in an upstairs linen closet, and transport panicked doctors running away from zombies to an impossible playroom, minus one hundred and thirty years. So obviously, it does something; it’s essentially the first thing that happens in this whole storyline. But is that what it was designed for?

Because I’m sorry, but I don’t understand the user interface. We saw the staircase appear three times in 1970, under perplexing circumstances. In one instance, it was there in place of the playroom when David and Hallie opened the playroom door, and we saw what I believe were the ghosts of Tad and Carrie, urging the kids to get on board. At least, I think it was their ghosts, because the actual kids didn’t know about David and Hallie, and had no particular reason to try to contact them. Although I suppose the ghosts didn’t have much of a reason to get the kids to join them on the staircase either, because they were trying to possess the kids, and there’s a difference between spectral possession and time travel, which I’m pretty sure I used to understand.

And then there was the time when the ghost of Carrie appeared to Barnabas and Julia in 1995, and showed them the staircase through a doorway on the opposite wall of the playroom, which there isn’t one because past that wall is where they keep the outside of the house. Again, I’m a little fuzzy on the workings of the ghost-activated deus ex horologia.

The third time was when Julia was running away from the zombie pirates, and that time, it just turned up on its own, with no pilot and no steering wheel. Julia just jumped on and climbed the stairs, and on the other side was two months ago, which as far as I can tell was actually before the staircase was even invented.

So what is this contraption for, and how are you supposed to turn it on?

And what is it, anyway, mad science or the occult? There are no buttons or blinky lights, but there’s also no candles or pentagrams on the floor. There’s no astrology poster or crystal ball or Mark 7 respirator, or anything that would give us a clue about how to decode this baffling bit of stagecraft.

We get a nice long shot of the basement, so we can try to get some context, but all it offers is a random assortment of props suitable for a drawing room, a study and a woodshop. There’s a lamp, a clock, an untidy desk with a quill pen, a bookshelf with books, several tables and benches, a barrel, a wood planer and a couple of hammers. There’s also something on top of the bookshelf that looks like a bronze bust of somebody, but we don’t get close enough and honestly it could be anything.

This basement set ought to help us understand the genre of the story we’re looking at, but it’s entirely opaque. Is this science-fiction, magical realism, horror or miscellaneous? There are no signifiers around to make sense of the staircase, and nobody seems to care. It’s just a piece of unfinished set dressing, erected in an open space and lit well. There’s something hollow at the core of this story, so Dark Shadows does what it always does, which is to fill up the empty space with architecture.

“I’ve been working on this principle for years,” says Quentin, which is hard to figure. “And now I’m ready to put principle into practice. You see, I believe that time is extremely fluid and accessible.”

So there’s a thing that’s difficult to imagine somebody working on for years. How do you work on a principle like that? Other than smoking pot, obviously.

Now, it feels like I’ve been doing this a lot lately, just breaking down the dialogue and not making sense of it, but that’s what the show is like now — kind of a permanent dream state, where you can say anything you like, as long as you say it with confidence.

Gerard asks if his friend is serious, and Quentin says, “I’ve never been more serious about anything in my life.” We’re still talking about the staircase. And we accept it, as we always do, because what’s the alternative, watching Somerset?

Gerard asks if Quentin has written down any notes about his experiments or whatever they are, and Quentin says yes, and goes upstairs to fetch them. And as soon as Quentin’s out of the room, Gerard peeks out of the door, checks that the coast is clear, and starts casting a completely unrelated voodoo incantation on someone else.

So I want to take a second — and it’s insane that I have to point this out — to consider how casual Gerard is being about this entire scenario. He is alone in a room with what is surely the most promising plot twist generator of the year, and the only reason why he’s feigning interest in it is to get Quentin to leave the room while he incantates.

Gerard is currently being possessed by the spirit of Judah Zachery, a warlock from 1692 who’s angry at the Collins family for beheading him, and taking his favorite mask away. He’s currently fixated on getting Quentin accused of witchcraft, so that he can get beheaded and see how he likes it.

But it apparently never occurs to Judah that a Staircase In Time could offer a much better opportunity for revenge, namely going back to 1692 and killing Amadeus Collins directly, rather than plotting against a random descendant who has exactly nothing to do with it. How is it possible for the current Big Bad of the show to overlook a weapon of mass destruction, staring him right in somebody else’s face?

But the inner workings of Judah Zachery’s plans are fluid and inaccessible. He’s trying to get himself all worked up about Quentin, but he’s having a hard time finding a reason to hate him. Pretty much everyone hates Quentin in this storyline — his wife, his brother, his governess, the local undertaker — and he hasn’t really done anything, except for pointless carpentry projects.

In yesterday’s episode, Gerard introduced his henchman Charles to Quentin, who smiled, made small talk, poured them all brandy, gave them the run of the house and then politely excused himself.

“It’s too bad,” Charles said, taking a swig of his beverage. “Quentin Collins really seemed like a very friendly chap.”

“Yes, he is,” allowed Gerard. “But he is a Collins, and therefore must he pay for it.” He paced around the room. “As will all the Collinses — every last one of them. They will all pay.”

And it never seems to occur to Judah that maybe the vengeance thing is unnecessary, now that he’s got Gerard’s body. I mean, yeah, he had to wait around in a glass case for a hundred and some-odd, but now he’s alive again, in a handsome, healthy body and with a whole coven of worshippers. Nobody suspects that he’s a dead warlock, and there aren’t any gypsies after him. He could just forget about the vengeance, and go have a good time. Dude needs to quit while he’s a head.

Besides, it’s not like Amadeus was out of line. He was the judge in charge of Judah Zachery’s trial, and presumably that was just an assignment for him; it wasn’t personal. Judah was accused of being a warlock and a murderer, and he really was. Amadeus didn’t even entrap him; Judah’s crimes were discovered because he was the kind of guy who stands around ranting about how he’s going to kill everybody. Amadeus was just the guy on duty at the time.

And this is a problem with the whole storyline, this seems-like-a-friendly-chap business. Quentin actually is a friendly chap, if you’re not married to him, and the number one rule of vengeance stories is that the punishment should fit the crime. Oedipus killed his father and slept with his mother, Lear disinherited his only nice daughter, Fortunato drank too much wine, and Barnabas had sex with the wrong housemaid.

The Collins family is supposed to be in the wrong; that’s how tragedy works. Barnabas broke Angelique’s heart, Quentin killed Jenny, and Elizabeth was haunted by a murder that didn’t happen. They deserved to be punished, the Furies were hounding them for their crimes.

But in this case, Amadeus was protecting the community from an actual supernatural threat, and Quentin wasn’t involved in any way. When bad things happen to people who are doing their best, it’s not epic tragedy, it’s just sad.

“There is no such thing as time,” Gerard reads, when Quentin comes back with his mad science journal. Which is good, because if there was, we’d be wasting it.

Monday: A Dark Horse.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Gerard says, “Lamar, we must execute with all extreme caution.”

At the start of act 1, Quentin has a hard time opening the drapes to reveal his staircase. He eventually gives up on the left drape, and has to be satisfied with opening the right drape.

When Quentin mounts the stairs, a boom mic moves across the frame.

Gerard asks, “Tell me, Quentin — do you have the theories towards this staircase written down anywhere?”

Someone coughs when Gerard asks how long it’ll take to finish the staircase, and again about ten seconds later, after Samantha says she thought Quentin was alone.

In act 2, a fly lands on Trask’s jacket, then flies up and lands on his face. When Trask promises to keep Samantha fully informed, he brushes the fly away. A moment later, the fly lands on Samantha’s nose.

When Quentin gets up from a chair, we can see the studio lights. About twenty seconds later, the camera pulls back, and shows the studio lights again.

Samantha says, “Do you mean he hasn’t told you?” Daniel replies, “Would I be asking you, if I had?”

Gerard asks Lamar, “Why did you go to Samantha? I thought you two were at a great difference between each other.”

Gerard tells Daniel, “I am very best friends with Quentin.”

Monday: A  Dark Horse.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

34 thoughts on “Episode 1145: The Unearned Curse

  1. Well. In terms of Judah forgetting about revenge. The thing is that Judah is really not a “good time” kind of guy. Judah’s thing is killing lots and lots of people. Even his undirected headless corpse is single-minded on the subject.

    The other thing to note is that Judah isn’t perhaps totally dominating Gerard. It seems alot of the time that their motivations have sort of merged and become rather confused. Judah wants to kill Quentin but Gerard wants to be Quentin and to humiliate Quentin.

    After all, if it were just Judah’s motivations he could himself kill Quentin at any time with ease. Charging Quentin with witchcraft and going through a trial to get the state to kill him is an overly elaborate plan that seems to be more about what Gerard wants than what Judah wants.

    They never get around to explaining what the playroom was. It didn’t exist in 1840 and seems to have never been an actual physical part of the house. Or else its a room in parallel time that the staircase can connect to.

    1. Regarding the playroom, it did exist at least in the first episode of 1840, when Samantha enters the playroom along with Carrie. She was still mourning the passing of Tad (which we later find out that Tad and Quentin were still kicking) and couldn’t face going into the playroom earlier.

      Still, it doesn’t explain how a larger room could fit into what would later be a linen closet.

  2. Mad Carpentry.

    Explains the linen closet slash playroom slash staircase.
    And yet Quentin still hits his head on the doorframe under the balcony in the foyer…and can’t get the drawing room doors to close properly.

    But who installed the portal into Parallel Time? Seems like that would be in the same Home Handyman Book of Supernatural Weekend Projects that Quentin’s using.

    1. My thought was that all the time travel in the show had gradually weakened the universe in the area of the house. Quentin punching his staircase through to 1970 was the last straw and ripped all kinds of holes into parallel time.

      The holes in time might also explain why large areas of the house were eventually sealed and abandoned prior to 1970.

      1. Liz was losing too much of the help to the Parallel Collins family.
        Perhaps it’s the explanation for Carolyn’s childhood friend Randy, too?

  3. The secret to the Staircase is in its composition. It’s made from 100% recycled materials:
    •Splintered Séance tables
    •Ouija boards without planchettes
    •The gallows from which PhyllisVickiWickWinters swung
    •Broken I-Ching wands
    •Kitty-Josette’s portrait frame
    •Remaindered editions of the Collins Family History rendered inaccurate by time travel.
    •Busted Leviathan boxes
    •Used Coffins of vaporized vampires, toasted phoenixes, zombies gone walkabout
    •Retcon scripts
    •Antique Store bannisters
    •Unhinged Parallel Time Room doors
    •wooden stakes
    •Fashions courtesy of Ohrbach’s

  4. Too bad they didn’t haveGerard/Judah escape to 1970 Collinwood via the time travel staircase, with Quentin chasing close behind him – like that Time After Time movie.

    1. One of my unrealized ambitions is entitled “Five Quentins on a Staircase” in which all five versions of Quentin run into each other at the same time on the stairway. They compare notes on their lives, their ambitions and their romantic interests. The Quentins without portraits are extremely envious of the ones who have them. The poor Quentins plot against the rich Quentins.

      1. And one guy who keeps insisting he’s Grant Douglas, but has amnesia & can’t remember how he got there…

  5. Substitute one word, and you can describe our terrifying journey to 2018:

    Now, it feels like I’ve been doing this a lot lately, just breaking down the dialogue and not making sense of it, but that’s what the politics is like now — kind of a permanent dream state, where you can say anything you like, as long as you say it with confidence.

  6. I wonder if Dan Curtis was a fan of The Time Tunnel. That show ran from 1966 to 1967, and a few months later Dark Shadows is incorporating time travel to explain how its sudden star vampire came to be. Thereafter, Dark Shadows becomes gradually more about time travel, each year spending more and more time in some other time until finally it gets lost in time altogether.

    But time travel is a sci-fi concept. Dark Shadows uses the sci-fi concept, but drops the sci — a seance transporting a governess back in time 200 years, I Ching wands guided by one’s imagination for another instance, a simple wooden staircase appearing out of nowhere, a room in a house that randomly interacts with other time bands.

    You’d think that when Dan Curtis was handing out books of classic literature for his writing team to sift through, he might’ve at least thrown in a little H.G. Wells.

    1. PrisonerOfTheNight wrote, “I wonder if Dan Curtis was a fan of The Time Tunnel. That show ran from 1966 to 1967 …”

      Let me also mention another TV show called It’s About Time which ran for only 1 or 2 seasons, also in 1966-1967, about two astronauts who travel back to prehistoric times where they learn the ways of the cavemen. Then the story moved to the modern era as the cavemen traveled through time to arrive in 1967.

      It’s About Time was an extremely silly, mostly forgotten show with some sci-fi aspects by Sherwood Schwartz, who also created Gilligan’s Island, but it supports Prisoner’s point that Dan Curtis, etc., were very likely aware of time travel cropping up in TV shows of the period. Also, consider Twilight Zone was just a few years before this, and also dealt seriously with time travel.

      Link to opening theme from It’s About Time below:

      On a personal note, the main reason I remember the opening theme song (“It’s about time, It’s about space …”) was because of a short-lived bout of face-slapping that occurred at my school while It’s About Time aired on TV: The show would air on Sunday nights. Then some kids in my class would show up at school on Monday morning singing the theme song, which was still fresh on their minds from Sunday night, but the kid singing it would change the lyrics to:

      “It’s about time, It’s about space, It’s about time I slapped your face!” And then the kid singing it would slap — or pretend to slap — the face of a nearby student!

    2. I wonder if Dan Curtis saw my favorite episode of the classic Outer Limits, titled “The Man Who Was Never Born,” starring Martin Landau and Shirley Knight. That was a great time travel episode and it did not ignore the time trip paradox created.

    3. “I wonder if Dan Curtis was a fan of The Time Tunnel. That show ran from 1966 to 1967, and a few months later Dark Shadows is incorporating time travel…”

      Not long ago I watched a 1951 movie called “I’ll Never Forget You” starring Tyrone Power. Power plays a present-day man who is obsessed with the life of one of his ancestors who lived in the 18th century. He winds up trading places with his ancestor by fantastical means, and the two men are identical in appearance, so they can pass as each other. While living in the past, Power’s knowledge of “the future” keeps slipping out at inopportune moments, and his 18th-century family and friends quickly become convinced he’s some kind of sorceror.

      The movie plays so much like the 1795 flashback from DS that I’m convinced it must have been a key inspiration for Dan Curtis and/or somebody on the writing staff. The movie is on DVD (I rented it from Netflix), and I’d recommend it to Dark Shadows fans.

      1. Thanks for the recommendation.

        I looked it up, and it’s in the public domain; the full length movie is up on YouTube:

        The uploader provides additional background: It’s a remake of a 1933 film called Berkeley Square:

        Both films are based on a play by John L. Balderston (Berkeley Square, first staged in London in 1926 and written with Sir John Collings Squire).

        A 1929 book publication of the play has the following note: “The plot suggested by Henry James’s posthumous fragment, ‘The sense of the past.'”:

        https://catalog.princeton.edu/catalog/2401858

        1. And the next year, 1927, Balderston would dramatize Dracula for the stage–it was his version that gave us Bela Lugosi, who would then repeat the role on camera. It’s all recoverable networks now: Henry James/time-travel romance/Dracula >>>>>Dark Shadows.

  7. Speaking of time travel on Dark Shadows…

    I started rewatching the 1897 story, which is a summer ritual; and I finally got an answer to something that bugged me: How did Barnabas’ presence in 1897 cause Quentin to get stabbed to death by mad Jenny?

    Jenny had escaped from the basement of Collinwood. Dirk Wilkins was searching for her. He stopped by the Old House to see if she was there, and Barnabas talked with Dirk for awhile (basically about nothing) and then he and Dirk searched the house. Apparently, had Barnabas not been there, Dirk would have made it to the cottage in time to stop Jenny from stabbing Quentin.

    It makes me wonder if the writers actually had planned that. Maybe, but probably not.

  8. When Lamar visits Collinwood to warn Samantha of danger, as she shuts the doors the wall mirror behind Lamar wobbles a bit.

  9. Well, for what it’s worth, Amazon Prime says Dark Shadows is “Drama, Science Fiction”.

    I guess it’s like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. When I was little, my foster dad would pull out two or three flavors of ice cream and then we’d add in whatever candy, cake, frosting, etc we had on hand. Now you can just buy a pint of pre-mixed flavors, textures and have a delightfully toxic sugary concoction with a great deal of quality control behind it. The funny thing is, I’ve all but forgotten that pre-made ice cream of that sort is a newer concept.

    Dark Shadows took multiple genres and mixed them into a something wonderful. A lot of fiction does that now, but it’s not quite as fun.

    It seems close to today’s urban fantasy…. can we say rural fantasy? echh. No. That doesn’t work. I think classifying the show is like trying to classify some the best writers … Bradbury, Dan Simmons, Stephen King. Can’t put them in a genre bucket. Takes more than one kind to hold their stories.

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