“Then we shall simply have to change the course of history, and find him.”
Let’s face it: 1840 has been letting us down on the visual spectacle. There used to be a monster in this storyline, split into two parts: the Head glowering in a glass case, and the Body roaming the woods like a murderous pantomime horse. There used to be vampires, feeding on the blood of the innocent. There used to be a guy in a wheelchair, which isn’t a monster but at least it’s something to look at. Now the only monster is a smooth-talking warlock, who rigs court cases, and casts spells that make governesses fall asleep.
These days, the show is dominated by people wearing old-fashioned clothes, gossiping with each other about who’s responsible for what. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have a zombie, or a skeleton, or even a severed hand flying around the room. Think back: isn’t everything better when there’s a mischievous, floating severed hand?
So it’s something of a relief that today we get a weird time door, shot at an oblique angle, giving us a glimpse of a 1970 light show where the outside used to be. It doesn’t last long, but I’ll take it. At least they still remember where they keep the chromakey.
This is the Staircase Through Time, a late-stage psychedelic head trip that can blow open the doors of perception and expand your awareness of the connection between all things. It is also, apparently, a college-professor delivery system. Sometimes a thing can be more than one thing, especially if psychedelics are involved.
So here’s Professor Stokes, ta-dah! He’s been delivered from the 70s, directly to your door. He was feeling left behind, because everyone he knows either died, went mad or moved to the nineteen century, and you can’t leave a diva like Stokes out of the party. He searched the ruins of Collinwood until he found the journal of Flora Collins, the literary equivalent of the radio on Gilligan’s Island, which tells you exactly what you want to know, exactly when you need to know it.
The journal said that Barnabas Collins mysteriously disappeared in 1840, and nobody ever found the body. He knew that meant that Barnabas and Julia must be in trouble, so Stokes took the first flight out of town. Apparently he went and sat in the spooky old playroom for 36 hours, until the ghosts got tired of him always hanging around, and grudgingly opened up the portal between this time and that. It’s not clear which ghost booked the tickets for him; I guess it was whoever was on duty.
Stokes doesn’t mention anything else that he read in Flora’s journal, which could have been helpful, if it said anything about the outcome of Quentin and Desmond’s trial, or Gerard’s takeover of Collinwood. Flora must have been journaling about those things, because it’s all she talks about, but apparently Stokes got as far as Barnabas disappearing and then there was a spoiler warning, so he put the book down and just trotted off to the departure gate.
I wonder if there are any other journals like that scattered around in the ruins of the great estate, like Fodor’s Travel Guides to other time periods. Collinwood’s economy is a mess right now, what with the roof all caved in. I hadn’t even thought of the timeline tourism industry. That’s why you need a guy like Stokes, for out-of-the-box thinking like that.
The Professor is met at the bottom of the stairs by Dr. Julia Hoffman, a fellow refugee from an uncertain future, which has probably already been overwritten by her butterfly-stomping temporal meddling. The doctor’s been here in the mid-nineteenth for months, awakening the dead left and right, and the monsters that she has unleashed upon the unsuspecting are putting a crack in the chronology something fierce.
Flora wrote in her journal that Barnabas has mysteriously disappeared, but the only reason that Barnabas mysteriously appeared in this timeline in the first place was because Julia unboxed him. Julia’s reckless antics are rewriting the diaries of the future, as she merrily rows her boat down an alternate timestream.
But Stokes is all business. He asks if Gerard Stiles is here, because he knows that Gerard’s restless spirit will be behind the catastrophe that will have recently destroyed Collinwood in the future.
Julia answers, “He is the master of Collinwood,” but she has more urgent things to discuss. “Eliot, there’s a witchcraft trial at Collinsport. Quentin Collins is on trial for witchcraft, and Desmond Collins has been put in jail, they’ve both been accused of being warlocks!”
All of that is information that Stokes could have picked up from Flora’s journal, but now we’ve got to go through it all over again. In fact, that’s pretty much the reason that Stokes is with us today, to be the recipient of a massive exposition-dump.
As we discussed in yesterday’s post, this is the week between Christmas and New Year’s, when everyone’s home from school and it’s possible for the show to pick up some lapsed viewers, and get them interested in the Collins family again. So from Monday through Wednesday, there’s going to be a lot of high-intensity recapping. Today, I’m afraid to say, is Tuesday.
But it’s not all recap today. This woman is the mythopoetic trickster Dr. Julia Hoffman, the greatest character in fiction. She doesn’t do boring.
Julia takes a moment to moan that they haven’t found a way to prove that Gerard is responsible for all the witchcraft, and then jumps straight into aliases and alibis.
“We’ve got to work out a complete history for you,” she says, settling in one spot and heaving a sigh.
It takes her literally three seconds, including the sigh. Seriously, go and watch this moment, it’s amazing. She says “work out a complete history for you,” one mississippi two mississippi three mississippi, “I’ll introduce you as a friend of mine from Pennsylvania. You’re a professor, at the college there. You’ve not met Barnabas, but you have corresponded with him on matters of philosophy, of interest to you both. Now, you’ve come in answer to an old invitation from him.”
And that’s all it takes. She’s probably forging the invitation in her head right now, and consulting train schedules. Julia can do almost anything well, and the thing she does best is come up with cover stories for time travellers and serial killers. It just bubbles out of her, effortlessly.
A neophyte might ask, why claim that Stokes has never met Barnabas, when it would be easier to say that he knows them both? That kind of consideration never occurs to Julia, in these moments. You just reach out your hand, and the lie finds you.
And then something else shows up, as it always does in the side-scrolling Playstation 2 platformer that is Julia Hoffman’s life. She’s saying to Stokes, “Now, we’ve got to get you some clothes,” — we’re doing wardrobe now, that’s what you do when you’ve just invented a new persona for someone — when there’s a rattle at the door.
It’s Gerard, standing right outside, and he’s heard her talking, and the door’s locked, and he wants to know what the hell is going on in there. The director inserts a dramatic music cue and a commercial break, because he thinks this puts Julia in a tight spot. It is to laugh.
When we return, Julia shoves Stokes behind a convenient stage curtain, and on her way to the door, she casually grabs a book from the table, opens the book to a random page, and then pretends that Gerard just caught her reading aloud to herself. This kind of thing comes at no extra charge when Julia’s around.
Gerard looks behind the curtains, but doesn’t notice that Stokes is behind one of them, whch is a bit hard to credit; when there’s a full-grown Stokes somewhere in the room, he usually makes himself evident. Still, Julia’s holding a book.
Gerard asks Julia why she’s here in Quentin’s basement murder lab, and she answers that “Charles Dawson found Judah Zachery’s journal in this room; I wanted to be sure there was no more evidence against Quentin.”
“So you would destroy it?” Gerard asks.
She looks him directly in the eye. “If necessary, yes,” she says, as if destroying evidence is the only possible course to take. “Wouldn’t you?” Julia believes that justice is something that happens to other people.
So Julia sends a shower of lies in Gerard’s direction, and then pulls Angelique aside for a private consultation in the drawing room. Angelique is a supernatural time travelling soap vixen, but from the other direction; she’s come from 1795 all the way to 1840, the slow way.
The short version is that this Angelique is an alternate model that didn’t do any of the stuff that we saw her do for the last three years of the show. She hasn’t married a second husband in 1968, she hasn’t appeared in the fireplace in 1897, and she hasn’t married a third husband in league with ancient space monsters in 1970. This is her first encounter with time travel shenanigans on this level.
So Julia has to quickly run through an explanation for why Professor Stokes will recognize Angelique when he sees her. “In 1968, you called yourself Cassandra,” Julia says, “and you were a student of his at a local college. He was the one who introduced you to Collinwood.” Angelique just stands there and takes it. What else can you do, when someone recaps a life that you haven’t lived yet?
“There’s only one thing that bothers me, though,” Julia says, looking thoughtful. “I don’t know how to explain about your being married to Barnabas. Because as far as he is concerned, Barnabas in 1970 is just an ordinary man. He doesn’t know that he was born in the 1700s.”
She means that Stokes doesn’t know when Barnabas was born; obviously, Barnabas would know that, although at this point it seems like anything is up for grabs. Julia is cross-indexing cover stories now, figuring out how to tell the impostor that she’s just invited to Collinwood why the impostor he knew in 1968 is here, without exposing the secrets of the impostor he knew in 1970. Nobody knows what’s going on in this storyline except for Julia, which is exactly the way that she likes it.
“The only thing I can think of,” she says, “is to say that you travelled through time too, that you have an obsession about Barnabas, and that you said if he didn’t agree to this story of your marriage, you’d tell everybody that he came from 1970.” And then the scene is over. That is the only thing that Julia Hoffman could think of.
Then Julia goes back downstairs and unloads a solid three minutes of recap, telling Stokes all about the complicated romantic lives of the storyline’s principals. She finally gets around to talking about who’s really to blame for the events of 1970, and Stokes reacts to the name “Judah Zachery”.
“Judah Zachery!” he breathes, with a close-up and one of those suspenseful bomp-bomp music cues. “The warlock?”
“Do you know of him?” Julia asks.
“How?” she continues. “Tell me! Tell me everything you know! You might be able to save Quentin’s life!” And then another close-up on Stokes, and a commercial break.
After the commercials, it turns out Stokes doesn’t know anything in particular. He says four sentences — Judah Zachery was beheaded for being a warlock in 1692, and his severed head disappeared — and that’s the extent of his expert occult knowledge. Julia’s the one who has to explain about Desmond finding the head, and everyone getting possessed, and the witchcraft trial. Then there’s a bunch more recap, and it turns out Stokes isn’t saving Quentin’s life, after all.
A couple minutes of chat later, Stokes pronounces, “Julia, you have just presented me with the most complicated crossword puzzle that I have ever heard of… and I have to solve it.” This sounds amazing, but I’ve got some hard news about Stokes’ participation in future storyline development.
Julia and Stokes go through all of this prep work — fourteen minutes worth, not counting commercials — and then Stokes disappears from the story, with no explanation. Two weeks from now, he shows up in one episode to expound on the theory of Parallel Time, and then another episode two weeks after that to accompany Barnabas and Julia back to the ’70s, and that is the beginning and the end of Stokes’ 1840 crossword-puzzle achievement. I hate to think that they brought him all the way here just to give Julia somebody to talk to for two-thirds of an episode, but that appears to be exactly what they’ve done.
Naturally, Julia’s exhausted by all that unnecessary work, and the next thing you know, she’s unconscious on the drawing room couch, surrounded by the purple and orange shapes that they’ve now decided are what dreams look like.
But this isn’t just a dream, it’s a vision: a message from the ghost of Roxanne, who beckons Julia through the front door, and outside to find the missing Barnabas.
“He’s dying, Julia! Barnabas is dying!” she calls, and then she says, “Follow me! Follow me! Follow me! Follow me! Follow me! Follow me! Follow me!” Julia is already following her, and is uncertain how to follow her any harder than she’s already doing it. Ghosts are like this, sometimes; they warn and they beckon, but they can’t actually come out and say what they’re trying to say. It’s probably a union thing.
So Julia follows her, follows her, follows her, to some random docks area. Julia says, “You must save him!” but Roxanne wails, “I can’t. You must follow! Follow me!”
“Oh, there is little time,” Roxanne continues. “Hurry, Julia! Hurry!”
And then we get a beautiful, classic Dark Shadows moment. Roxanne is emoting at the camera, and as she cries “You must hurry!” we can hear running footsteps. It’s Grayson Hall, hurrying Julia hurrying, all the way back to the drawing room set, where they’re planning to show her asleep on the couch in about six seconds.
Angelique happens by and wakes her up, and Julia tells her about this frustrating vision of a ghost who was desperate to help, but couldn’t manage to say that he’s in Trask’s basement, like a normal person. So Julia and Angelique run out of the house, forgetting about Stokes, to see if they can locate the street that Roxanne showed Julia in the dream.
Meanwhile, in the cellar, the unresting spirit of Roxanne whines at the wall, asking why Julia hasn’t come to rescue Barnabas yet. She is not good at taking responsibility.
But this is where we are, four weeks away from a climax, with a series of unfinished dreams and prophecies that never came true. Time is running out for this story to make sense, and we are trapped in an alcove with an unreliable ghost. Alas, Professor Stokes will not solve this complicated crossword puzzle. It might never be solved at all.
Tomorrow: The Mary Sue.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Looking up the staircase, Julia exclaims, “Someone’s coming! From where?” and then “Someone’s coming! But who?”
There’s one extra sound effects step on the stairs, which we hear at the same moment that we see Stokes at the top of the stairs.
Julia tells Stokes, “You couldn’t have come for a worse time for you, but you couldn’t be a better time for us!” No idea what she’s trying to say.
When Gerard opens the curtains to see if anyone’s hiding there, Julia says, “Well, why would anyone want to hide anyone from you, here in your own house?”
Julia scratches her nose when she explains to Gerard why she’s in the lab.
The music cue jumps due to a tape edit between Julia and Gerard leaving the lab, and their scene in the foyer. There’s a similar jump between Julia’s scene with Angelique in the drawing room, and Julia talking to Stokes in the lab.
Julia tells Angelique, “A man has come through — come down Quentin’s staircase.”
Stokes remarks on “seeing Gerard down there in Quentin’s laboratory,” while he’s standing in Quentin’s laboratory.
Julia tells Stokes that when she arrived in 1840, Gerard was living at Collinwood; he was actually living at Rose Cottage. Later in the conversation, Stokes observes that Gerard is staying on at Collinwood, but Julia corrects him, saying that Gerard is living at Rose Cottage — except that Gerard is actually living at Collinwood now, since he inherited Daniel’s estate. Julia has this backwards. I can draw a diagram if it would help.
Julia struggles a little with the massive amount of recap to Stokes, especially, “Yes, it was a complication, because — the very day — that G— Quentin and Tad were miraculously rescued at sea, and the day they arrived at Collinwood was the very day that Samantha and Gerard were married.” Later, Julia says that “The jailer’s wife mysteriously drown— died right outside Quentin’s cell!”
While Julia and Angelique are outside the chapel, the fog machine is going nuts to their immediate rear. Huge billows of mist blow onto the set, in the way that fog does not.
Behind the Scenes:
This is Donna Wandrey’s last episode; she played several different versions of Roxanne for 34 episodes, from June to December 1970. After this, she appeared on several more soaps through the 70s: As the World Turns, Ryan’s Hope and The Edge of Night. She had a couple more TV roles after that, as well as hundreds of commercials and industrial videos. She was a standby performer in the 1975-1976 Broadway run of Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests, and did a lot of regional stage productions. In 1985, she wrote an article called “I Am a Cult” for The Easter Review, describing her experiences at a Dark Shadows convention.
Tomorrow: The Mary Sue.
— Danny Horn