“Spirits don’t usually attack people.”
This place is a message… and part of a system of messages… pay attention to it!
Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.
This place is not a place of honor. No highly esteemed deed is commemorated here… nothing valued is here.
What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.
That’s a quote from Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a 1992 work of speculative science-fiction by the Sandia National Laboratories about how to keep our descendants away from our long-term nuclear waste disposal system.
You see, playing with nuclear energy is a lot of fun, but you end up with waste that stays radioactive for 10,000 years, which presents you with a storage problem. You have to put the waste somewhere, but the warning label that you post needs to be legible to the Fury Road warriors who come along nine thousand years from now, and wonder if there’s something cool inside the big lead mystery box.
It’s an interesting problem, figuring out how to communicate with people that far in the future. The oldest known written language is Sumerian, which goes back about five thousand years, and even Old English, which was used about one thousand years ago, is essentially indecipherable to anyone but experts. We can’t predict what language people will be speaking in ten thousand years — my bet is on Sumerian, which is long overdue for a comeback — and we don’t know if they’ll be able to understand any existing language, or even what kind of symbols will still be meaningful. We don’t know what their culture will be like, what they’ll understand of their history, what kind of technology they’ll have, or what their intentions will be. All we know is that if they try to dig up the Fabled Lost Treasures of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant of Carlsbad, New Mexico, they will be disappointed, and then sick, and then dead.
So the people responsible for marking the site need to construct a system of messages designed to last for ten thousand years. All of the written messages will be translated into the six official languages of the United Nations — English, Spanish, Russian, French, Chinese and Arabic — plus Navajo, the local Native American language, because you never know. They’ll also leave blank space for the people of the future to write their own translation, probably in emojis and GIFs.
Now, designing structures and materials that will last that long is relatively easy; the hard part is anticipating all the ways that humans could possibly screw things up. For example, if they include vertical stone markers, then it’ll look like a monument to the honored dead — you know, the kind that humans have used across the centuries to indicate that there’s interesting stuff buried right under them. Markers that are visually attractive will be stolen and sold as objects of art. Anything that’s useful and removable will be stripped out by desperate people and reused as building material.
And the problem with this problem is that it’s actually too interesting, which is why the recommendations of the Expert Judgment report probably won’t be used. The experts came up with all kinds of creative ideas for building utterly haunting public art exhibitions that certainly would have communicated a sense of dread and wonder to the people of the future — and meanwhile, in the present day, the project would turn the site into a popular tourist attraction, with thousands of people showing up to visit the nuclear waste isolation site, which is the opposite of where you want them to go.
So our long-term nuclear storage system needs to look messy, ugly, scary, useless and above all boring, a location which doesn’t attract attention but still convinces people that long ago, humans put a curse on this place, and if you don’t heed their warnings, you’ll be poisoned slowly by invisible death rays.
In related news, purported television network the CW has just announced that they’re working on a new Dark Shadows television series — Dark Shadows: Reincarnation, an hour-long drama created by Mark B. Perry, executive producer of Revenge, The Ghost Whisperer and Brothers & Sisters. According to Deadline:
“The re-imagined show will be a modern-day continuation of the strange, terrifying, and sexy saga of the Collins family of Collinsport, Maine — a mysterious, influential, publicity-shy group hiding a ghastly secret: For the past 400 years, they’ve lived under a curse that bedevils their blue blood with every imaginable supernatural creature and horror.”
So there’s that.
Now, we’ve been here before — naturally, that’s the whole point of a reboot — and I believe Dark Shadows fans have earned the right to be a little queasy about another Dark Shadows television show. We had a revival show in 1991, which didn’t go terribly well, for reasons that basically boil down to it’s not a very good idea to remake Dark Shadows. There was also a pilot shot for the WB in 2004, which we’ll be getting to in just a couple of weeks, and that didn’t work either, probably for much the same reason. The 1970 feature film House of Dark Shadows proved that rebooting Dark Shadows doesn’t work even if you have the original cast, writers, producers and audience.
See, the problem with telling the story of Dark Shadows over again from the beginning is that it wasn’t really a story; it was a process. The original creators just did the most interesting thing they could think of each day, casting eccentric New York theater people and then paying close attention to what the audience responded to, so they could pivot fast to feature the characters and plot points that people liked. They ended up with a story where the original core characters — the modern-day Collins family — became less and less important, as the screen time was eaten up by the outré outsiders who gradually took control from the sidelines. Story decisions were based on the particular appeal of the actors on the show, and characters who should have been minor walk-ons ended up driving major storylines for years, based on the force of the actor’s personal charisma.
It worked at the time, because the audience experienced the show from day to day, with no reruns or streaming video that would call attention to the nonexistent overall story structure. But if you try to retell that story from the beginning, it doesn’t make sense; you have to set up a whole cast of core characters at the beginning who become progressively less important over time, and the story doesn’t build to a season-finale climax. It’s just one damned thing after another.
But as they said, Dark Shadows: Reincarnation is meant to be a continuation of the story rather than a retelling, which is a sound move. That means that they can pick whatever elements they want to from the original show that still feel compelling, and then make up new stories with new characters, free from the expectation that they need to introduce two dead blonde fire witches in the same episode. That’s the same thing that Big Finish has been doing with their Dark Shadows audio dramas, with entertaining results.
Here’s some more information on the new show, from Mr. Perry:
“As a first-generation fan, it’s been a dream of mine to give Dark Shadows the Star Trek treatment since way back in the ’80s when Next Generation was announced, so I’m beyond thrilled and humbled to be entrusted with this resurrection. And while I could never hope to fill Dan Curtis’ very large shoes, I do aspire to carry them a little farther into the future.
“I also want to reassure the fans of the original that this version will treat the show’s mythology with the same reverence given to Star Trek, but will also make the show accessible for audiences who aren’t yet familiar with the macabre world of the Collinses. My plan is to take as few liberties as possible with the Dark Shadows canon, while bearing in mind a quote from a 1970s episode delivered by the inimitable Oscar-nominee Grayson Hall as Dr. Julia Hoffman: ‘The Collins family history is not particularly famous for its accuracy.’”
So, I mean. A press release that specifically invokes the inimitable Oscar-nominee Grayson Hall as Dr. Julia Hoffman? It’s essentially impossible for me to hate on this show. I won’t do it; it can’t be done. Besides, you know what they say about guys with very large shoes.
And that quote — “The Collins family history is not particularly famous for its accuracy” — is just about the most obscure thing you could imagine. It’s from episode 1075, an August 1970 episode in the middle of the Gerard and Daphne re-Turn of the Screw storyline. Barnabas and Julia are looking through books, trying to learn what they can about how Carrie and Tad died, and Julia says that line right before they’re interrupted by Quentin and start talking about something else.
I don’t believe anyone’s ever called attention to that quote before. My post for that episode, “The Night of the Sun and the Moon“, is actually just a list of lines of dialogue, and I didn’t consider that line interesting enough to even mention. And yet Mark B. Perry has it right at his fingertips. Touché, Mr. Perry.
Still, it seems appropriate at this point to send a warning to him, and to the people of the future. Just think of them all, one season of Dark Shadows: Reincarnation from now, struggling to their feet, blinking in the sunlight, wondering where they are and how they can rebuild the world. Who knows what terrible sights they’ve seen? So let’s look at today’s episode, and find out what wisdom it may offer as the CW stumbles towards its next calamity.
Well, as the man said, this message is a warning about danger, which comes a bit too late as far as Gerard Stiles is concerned. There he is in the Collinwood drawing room, staring thoughtfully at a chessboard and quietly pondering his plan to behead everyone and steal their money, when Gabriel Collins emerges from a secret panel hidden in the back wall, sneaks up behind him, and sideswipes him with a karate chop. Gabriel’s having another in a series of bad days and he’s got a lot of feelings about it, which he’s going to express through the medium of garrotting people.
You see, Gabriel’s been concealing the fact that he doesn’t need to sit in that wheelchair anymore, and yesterday, his dead father Daniel popped up and delivered the following announcement to his descendant in English, Spanish, Russian, French, Chinese, Arabic and Navajo:
“LIES, Gabriel, LIES, LIES! Your LIFE is a lie! You will lie no more! I’m EVERYWHERE, Gabriel, EVERYWHERE with you! I will do to you what you did to me! I WILL MAKE YOU DIE!”
It was a pretty clear message, but entirely lost on Gabriel, of course, who decided to just keep on digging for treasure anyway.
So here’s Gabriel, wrapping rope around Gerard and trying to advance his interests, but you can’t just kill the most interesting character on the show two minutes into the episode like this. They’ve invested a lot of time into building this storyline around Gerard, and he’s still got work to do.
In fact, James Storm is currently halfway through an eleven-day streak of filming one episode after another, which is taxing the already-shaky grasp that he has on his dialogue. While he’s taking a moment of well-deserved rest, let’s check out his taping schedule for December 1970.
Last week, he was only involved in two episodes — 1162 on Wednesday, and 1164 on Friday. This week (December 7th to 11th), he’s shooting five episodes in a row: 1167, 1168, 1169, 1170 and 1172. Next week (December 14-18), he’s got another five episodes: 1171, 1173, 1177, 1176 and 1174/1175. These are all out of order, of course, so factor that in as well. The week after that (December 21-25), he’s got Monday off, then back to work for another three episodes in a row — 1181, 1178 and 1185 — and then he gets Friday off for Christmas. After that, he’s back for another four-episode week: 1182, 1183, 1184 and 1186.
This is the production technique I was talking about earlier, where the producers threw people at the screen until they found an actor with the right kind of charisma, and then they would tear down the show and rebuild it around that person. It’s happened four times so far, with Barnabas, Julia, Angelique and Quentin, and now Dark Shadows belongs to Gerard. All four of those superstars are just secondary players; none of them even know that Gerard is running the storyline.
We can’t let him die, so the day is saved by Leticia, who lets herself into the house without knocking or anything, because if you wait around for someone to answer the door at Collinwood then you’ll miss all the murder attempts. Startled, Gabriel darts behind a curtain, and lets himself out through the window while Leticia’s surveying the wreckage.
It wasn’t a great plan, really — sneak into the most-used room in the house within sight line of the front door, attack someone, and then jump out the window into the garden, leaving the secret panel open and the murder weapon on the floor covered in fingerprints and suspicious fibers, but Gabriel’s not vertical very often, and he’s not used to operating at this altitude. All the blood is rushing to his wheels.
As Gabriel slinks off uselessly into the night, we see Gerard wake up and take stock. Now, the interesting thing about a Gerard scene is that sometimes his mouth opens and words just tumble out, and — because he’s the core character now — everyone else has to go along with whatever he’s trying to say. We’ll see that technique, in just a moment.
“Someone tried to kill me,” he gasps, coming back to his senses. Leticia asks who it was, and Gerard has to admit that he doesn’t have the foggiest idea; this storyline is so crazy that it honestly could be anybody. He realizes that Leticia scared his killer away, and says that he’s grateful, and then they get into the forensics.
“I think whoever it was must have left by the window,” Leticia reports. “I thought I heard someone behind the drapes. Yet when I came over here, I didn’t see anybody.”
“They might have come in by the window,” Gerard observes. “Still, they didn’t leave that way.” And then he points at the secret panel, which is still hanging open.
Now, Leticia didn’t say that the killer came in by the window; she said that’s how they left. It would be ridiculous to imagine that a criminal would break into the house, entering through a closed window that would have been well within Gerard’s peripheral vision, get behind him and start strangling, and then, interrupted mid-murder, leap to the wall and open a secret panel that nobody knows about, and flee into the interior of the house. Obviously, Gerard just got the line backwards, and we’re not supposed to take it seriously.
Except then we’re in the secret passage, and Gerard doubles down on his blooper.
“Goes on a bit, don’t it?” she asks, as they navigate through the tunnels.
“Yes,” Gerard says, and points. “The staircase over there — there must be an exit around somewhere. It’s maybe up there that the assailant made his escape.”
Which is insane. Why would the assailant escape to the inside of the house?
And by the time they get back to the drawing room and find Gabriel sitting in his wheelchair and wisecracking, Leticia has drunk the Kool-Aid as well.
“This is no time to be funny, Gabriel,” she scolds, “there’s a murderer loose in the house.” I have no explanation for this.
Then there’s a little more Gerardspeak. Addressing Gabriel, he demands, “Did you know that there was a safety passage behind that panel there?”
“Of course I did,” Gabriel smiles. “We used to play there as children. Oh no, does that make me a suspect, Gerard?” except he pronounces it sus-pect, which is not how you’re supposed to. Gabriel’s way off script today too; Gerard is contagious.
By the end of act two, the whole show is off kilter. We find Gerard standing in Quentin’s jail cell for a friendly visit, and we hear the clanking of the jailer’s keys locking the cell. The wooden door leading to the cell is still open, but after a few seconds, it swings closed all by itself, apparently pulled by an invisible deputy.
Quentin says that Gerard has some explaining to do: “I just wondered how it happens that the prosecutor of my case happens to be your very good friend Dawson, and why is he so determined to crucify me!”
Gerard is shocked. “And am I to be held responsible for the actions against a — a former friend?” He means the actions of a former friend.
“Former?” Quentin asks.
“Had no one told you that Charles Dawson and I were no longer friends?”
“No. No one’s told me anything.”
Gerard says, “Well, I was furious with him when he said he would accept the case, that he would prosecainst again – prosecain — against you!”
The Gerardspeak is flying pretty fast by this point. “I told him our friendship was finished,” Gerard swears, “that I was going to stand with you, that I would not help him in any case, whatsoever!”
“Well, I don’t know what to say,” Quentin says. Yeah, there’s a lot of that going around.
They’re having trouble with the blocking, too. They’re shooting through the bars, which is fine, but the actors are so close to the bars that it’s impossible to find a shot where the camera can see both of their faces; it just shifts around, restlessly. Plus, they didn’t light this part of the set properly.
“I just wonder how it is that men like Barnabas and Desmond can be so much against you,” Quentin admits.
“Yes. I don’t understand it, either.” Gerard takes a seat. “But they will be… (sigh) … very interested to know that you and I have a, uh, common enemy.” There’s no explanation for why they would be very interested to know that.
“I was attacked last night,” Gerard reports.
“Someone tried to kill you?”
“Yes. I was in the drawing room. Someone snuck in through the secret passageway, through the panel.”
Which means Gerard does understand that the killer came in through the secret panel, and left by the window. So why was there dialogue about the assailant making his escape up the stairs and into the house? That’s the magic of Gerardspeak; sometimes it’s not even possible to reconstruct what the lines would have been like, even if he’d said them properly.
“Tell me something,” Quentin says, changing the subject. “Has Daphne received any more letters?”
“Yes, I’m afraid she has,” says Gerard, “even more mysterious than ever.”
Quentin nods. “I know.” What?
“All of the trouble started,” he observes, “when I began to receive those letters from Joanna. Now, it’s just possible that the source of those letters is the answer to all of our trouble.”
“Yes,” Gerard agrees. “Yes, you once told me that you had received letters in a very familiar pattern.”
“Well, perhaps Daphne received letters in the same pattern.” What?
“Take care of yourself,” Quentin warns, as Gerard waits for the invisible deputy to let him out again.
“Believe me,” Gerard smirks, “now that I’ve been alerted… no one will get rid of me.”
But they will, that’s the tragedy of it. After this insane marathon in December, James Storm has another six-day taping streak in mid-January, which finishes him off completely. That concludes the 1840 storyline, and Storm gets a couple weeks off. Then he comes back for two more episodes, and that’s it; he leaves the show. We don’t see him again until Night of Dark Shadows, and you know how that turned out, for him and for all of us.
So this is my warning to Mark B. Perry: Making Dark Shadows is really, really hard. Everyone who tries to make Dark Shadows fails, including the people who did it successfully in the first place.
This is what Dark Shadows does, it overwhelms you; it chews you up, and doesn’t even have the decency to spit you out. The best advice that I can offer for your new enterprise is do not drill here, do not dig here, do not do anything that will change the rocks or water in the area.
I offer this warning to the future, knowing that it won’t be heeded, because people generally aren’t very good at heeding things. The CW is going to go ahead and make another Dark Shadows, whether it’s a good idea or not. I wish them all the good fortune in the world. Besides, what are dead horses for, if you’re not going to beat them?
Monday: His Supernatural Ways.
More Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Gerard’s got a small tear on the back of his coat through the whole episode. You can see it when he turns to examine the secret panel in act 1, when he talks about Dawson in act 3, and when he crosses the foyer to the drawing room in act 4.
When Gerard and Leticia head from the drawing room into the secret panel, one of the candles that Gerard is holding goes out. It’s lit again when we see them in the secret passage.
When Carrie asks Gabriel about the mud on his shoes, he says, “Assuming it’s none of your business, which it isn’t, a servant was helping me from the carriage.” He means assuming it’s any of your business.
When Gerard asks Leticia why she came to the house this evening, there’s a scraping sound from off-screen.
About thirty-five seconds into the Gabriel/Quentin scene in act 2, a cliffhanger music cue starts to play, and then quickly cuts off.
Gabriel tells Quentin, “If you don’t do anything right away, you’ll have yourself to blame if anything happens to Tad.” He means if you don’t do something right away.
Gabriel tells Quentin that Gerard is “behind everything that’s happened — the trial, your trial, the changing of the will, everything.”
Leticia suddenly has a sense of a foreign spirit entering the house at the moment that Gerard walks in. She makes a big deal about it, but she’s been in the house with Gerard lots of times, including earlier in the episode.
When Gerard walks from the foyer into the drawing room in act 4, the boom mic can be seen very clearly above Leticia and Daphne.
When Daphne crosses the foyer to talk to Leticia, Gerard drops the note, and has to stoop down and pick it up again.
Gerard announces, “Now it’s time to close the little mystery about Joanna Mills.”
Behind the Scenes:
Barbara Tracey plays the stand-in for Joanna’s ghost at the end of today’s episode; she played the same role in episodes 1150 and 1151. This is her last DS episode.
The report mentioned above on how to communicate danger to people in 10,000 years is really interesting, and includes neat ideas like the Forbidding Blocks and the Landscape of Thorns. This link has the pdf of the full 1992 report: Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. There’s a good summary of the Department of Energy’s 2004 response to the proposals in a 2015 JSTOR Daily article, “Will Art Save Our Descendants from Radioactive Waste?”
Monday: His Supernatural Ways.
— Danny Horn