“I refuse to allow my fears to be decided by the fears that exist in this house.”
Out on the wiley, windy moors of the East wing of Collinwood, Daphne Harridge follows the sound of a piano. It gets dark and it gets lonely up here, where the Collinses never tread. This wing of the house was closed off decades ago, and was probably never really occupied at all, because it turns out that the Collins family has a heartbreaking bloodbath every fifty years or so, which cuts down on the descendants something fierce.
But Daphne has bad dreams in the night, so she’s gone exploring, looking for the tinkling, impossible piano being played in an empty part of the world. Finally, she reaches the double doors to the room where the music must be coming from — but when she opens the doors, she finds that the room is deserted, just a blank studio space with an abandoned chandelier that even the spiders don’t pay attention to.
“I’m sure the music came from this room!” Daphne thinks, baffled. She leaves, shutting the doors behind her — but then she hears knocking, so she turns around and opens them again.
And there’s a fully furnished room, just sitting there, with chairs and lamps and all the trimmings. This is the real occasional furniture, which only appears occasionally. I don’t actually see a piano, so that’s still a mystery; it’s possible that there’s a piano bar that appears here on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and she just missed the changeover.
So here she is, a woman on the verge of a universal breakdown, catching sight of another world that was never meant to be. This may portend a splintering of the barriers between one universe and another, filling rooms unexpectedly with strange furniture of an unknown manufacture, rupturing causality and destroying interior design as we know it.
Daphne tries to catch her breath. “What’s happening to me?” she says, because obviously this is all about you.
Now, Daphne’s not familiar with what’s occurring, but we are: it’s good old Parallel Time, which we thought we’d seen the last of back in July. The show spent about four months in this concurrent band of time last year, because most of the cast was going to Tarrytown for six weeks to film House of Dark Shadows, and they needed to create a world in which Collinwood was occupied by Quentin, Angelique, and miscellaneous.
There’s no trip to Tarrytown planned this time — they’re not going to film Night of Dark Shadows until the show is over, which is the correct answer. But they’re running out of stuff to do in 1840, and they’ve definitely run out of stuff to do in 1971 — I mean, that’s why we’re in 1840 in the first place — so they’ve decided to burn off the remaining episodes on an unnecessary side quest.
According to the lore, Jonathan Frid decided that everyone else was having a lot of fun playing different characters in other time periods, and he was sick of being the main character all the time. He’d been America’s grooviest ghoul Barnabas Collins for almost four years now, and if they wanted to retain his services for another thirteen weeks, then they needed to make up a new moniker for him. So they decided to call him Bramwell, and then they went next door and assembled another universe for him to live in.
Now, I’m assuming that at that point, the producers of Dark Shadows had already been informed that ABC-TV would like to use their timeslot for other purposes as of end-of-day April 2nd, because otherwise, accepting Frid’s request would have been the stupidest possible thing to do.
I mean, ratings had been dropping precipitously by this point, and it was pretty clear that Dark Shadows was on its way out. But if they still thought they had a shot at getting one more thirteen-week pickup, then losing Barnabas Collins would be the last thing they’d do, no matter how Frid felt about it. They’d unexpectedly turned their no-hoper into a smash hit four years ago, by doing exactly the opposite of that.
Dan Curtis’ greatest gift was paying attention to what the audience was responding to, and pivoting the show on a dime to feature the characters and storylines that people liked. I suppose it’s possible that some members of the audience were sick of Barnabas, but there certainly wasn’t a groundswell for Bramwell. Giving Frid a new role was guaranteed to be a net negative. And yet here we are.
Like they did last year when they introduced the concept of Parallel Time, they’re using these glimpses through the warp of the concurrent band of time or whatever to give us a sneak preview of what this new storyline will be about, once we get there. Back then, the attraction was seeing our familiar present-day cast members fitted out with new personalities and backstories — Hoffman the housekeeper, Elizabeth the poor cousin, Carolyn the unhappy wife of an unhappy novelist — which naturally made us curious about the differences between them and the folks that we knew.
So it’s interesting that in this new iteration, they’re starting us off with two complete strangers — an Angelique lookalike named Catherine Harridge, and an unfamiliar dude named Morgan Collins. I mean, not “interesting” like I could strike up a conversation with someone about it at a party, with any hope of success. It’s the other kind of interesting.
There are two and a half weeks left in the 1840 story before we jump to this grave new world, and they’re going to give us a sneak peek at the Parallel Time story in every single episode. Clearly, they want to make sure that the audience is interested in following them over the rainbow. Unfortunately, it could just as easily be a signal that this would be an appropriate jumping-off point.
Anyway, what we’ve got here is a pair of stiffs that wouldn’t last in Regular Time for five minutes; they’d immediately be set upon by werewolves and gypsies and severed heads, and sent back straight away, crying for their moms. Get a load of this.
Catherine: Well! You look like a man with a most intriguing secret.
Morgan: One of the things I love about you, Catherine, is that you know me so well. I can’t say that about anyone in my own family.
Catherine: Isn’t it a burden of the artist, to be misunderstood?
Morgan: For most of us. But I’ve never been troubled by it.
Catherine: I know, that’s what I admire about you: your reluctance to abide by social convention.
Morgan: Such as?
Catherine: Well, the mere fact that we’re in this room alone together, unchaperoned. Your mother would take a dim view of that.
Morgan: I’ve always made my own rules, and as long as they don’t hurt anyone, I believe that’s the way you should live.
So, holy cow. I mean, where do you even start?
I suppose issue number one is the wig that they’ve put on this starched slab of gorgonzola, which is pasted down in thick, unforgiving waves that threaten to take over his head and form a whole new organism.
Keith Prentice is a handsome guy, and he’d just come to Dark Shadows from filming the landmark homosexual comedy-drama The Boys in the Band. He played Larry — or, as we will now always think of it, the Andrew Rannells part — and he was quite devastating, clearly the best looking guy in the cast, even more than the guy who played Cowboy (the Charlie Carver part) who was officially supposed to be better looking than anybody.
Prentice can walk and talk and dance and say funny things just like a real grown-up actor, if you give him a tight shirt and some room to move.
But here, he’s trying to act from underneath an enormous shellacked pile of alpaca carpet remnants, with a six-layer built-up muscle suit and an ascot, like he’s cosplaying as the armoire from Beauty and the Beast. They clearly put the wig on his head and then told him not to make any sudden movements, or it would crack. It’s beyond tragic.
Then you put him in a scene with Lara Parker, who’s gorgeous and passionate and entirely out of her mind, and you make him say, “One of the things I love about you, Catherine, is that you know me so well.” Then she’s supposed to admire his reluctance to abide by social convention, and this is your closing argument for why people should keep watching Dark Shadows. Just wait until people find out they won’t even have Barnabas; it’s self-sabotage all the way down.
And what is the big deal with them being in a room together unchaperoned? We’ve been in the early middle 19th century for months now, and that has never come up as a concern even once. Men and women have been alone together in rooms this whole time; the show doesn’t pay enough actors to offer everyone a chaperone when they want to have a scene together. When I last checked, this was a television show where a character could have up to three simultaneous girlfriends in one house, and make out with them wherever he felt like it, up to and including in someone else’s bedroom.
So the 1841 that we currently inhabit is way more modern than the Parallel ’41 that we’re being introduced to, which is not a good sign. Catherine and Morgan are super stagey, like they’re performing a play for Daphne’s benefit.
He is actually currently proposing marriage to Lara Parker, and he keeps his arms down at his sides for ninety-five percent of his screen time, like he’s an action figure. “Catherine, I can give you everything you’ve always wanted,” he says. “I just need a little time to think, that’s all,” she replies, and he says, “Then you shall have it,” and he kisses her very lightly on the mouth, and then he walks all the way out of the room. I feel like this is going to be a problem, in the coming days.
When he’s gone, Catherine smiles, standing there alone in a house that she doesn’t live in. There’s a rap at the door, and she calls, “Who is it?”
“It’s me!” says a voice, and the audience bursts into song:
It’s me, I’m Cathy, I’ve come home!
I’m so cold, let me in your window!
This is the start of our narrative collision with Wuthering Heights, an 1847 novel by Emily Brontë which isn’t a bad fit for Dark Shadows, because it’s mostly about hurt feelings, it’s populated by lunatics, and there’s sort of a ghost in it. Dark Shadows started as a mild adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel Jane Eyre, so it feels like an appropriate way for the show to end, with another 1847 Brontë, if you like going in circles.
We’ll get into this further once we’re in Parallel Time and it really starts wuthering, but the heart of the book is the stormy relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff, two high-maintenance passion factories who say things like:
“You teach me now how cruel you’ve been — cruel and false. Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry; and wring out my kisses and tears: they’ll blight you — they’ll damn you. You loved me — then what right had you to leave me? What right — answer me — for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart — you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine. So much the worse for me that I am strong. Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you — oh, God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?”
And then Catherine says that she’ll die if he leaves the room, and he leaves anyway, and she dies, as per.
So that’s a hell of a lot for these characters to live up to, just on dialogue alone. Imagine reading all that off a teleprompter. And at the moment we’re getting, “My proposal should not be that much of a surprise to you. Surely you know how much I’ve loved you.” That’s weak sauce compared to a Brontë; these characters are going to have to up their game considerably.
It occurs to me that that’s why these Parallel characters seem so stagey and drab, because they’re from literature, and that’s made everyone realize that maybe the Dark Shadows version of the 19th century has drifted a fair bit away from any sensible conception of history. So now we’ve got a Lara Parker character who, for the first time on this stage, isn’t an immortal time-traveling soap vixen serial killer who can shoot paranormal mumbo-jumbo out of her fingertips at will; she’s just a nice lady in a crocheted shawl, with a nice boyfriend and a nice sister, and an appreciation for people who gently defy social convention. This is not something that anybody asked for.
And along comes Parallel Daphne, who confesses that she followed Catherine here and waited in the corridor.
“And listened?” says Catherine, utterly shocked. “Daphne, that’s unforgivable!”
On our side of the border, there’s currently another character right down the hall, carrying his freshly-murdered wife’s limp body in his arms, looking for someplace to stash the corpse where no one will find it for a couple episodes, and meanwhile Parallel Catherine is shocked that her sister eavesdropped on one of the world’s least consequential conversations.
So the deal, according to the generous helping of exposition they push in our direction, is that there’s only one man that Catherine has ever really loved, ever since they were children, but he’s been gone for five years, so she’s going to go ahead and marry Edgar Linton instead.
There is no particular reason offered for why we should care about this tepid plot point, unless you happen to be one of those people who like pretty much anybody they point a television camera at, in which case you’re probably not even watching Dark Shadows, because your nurse is administering your afternoon meds while you watch a rerun of House Hunters.
Daphne apologizes for trying to interfere, and Catherine breathes, “Oh, no, no, I know you meant well. Why, you’re so thoughtful and considerate. I’ve always considered myself lucky to have a sister like you.” When Heathcliff shows up, he’d better be a real ball of fire, that’s all I’m saying.
Daphne says she doesn’t think that Catherine could ever be happy at Collinwood; there’s a coldness here, a kind of terrible hostility, and the audience agrees. So co- o- old, we sing. Let me in your window.
Naturally, if there’s a Brontë novel going on upstairs, you can’t be expected to keep it to yourself. Daphne rushes to the drawing room and tells the first person that she sees that she heard a piano playing in the East wing, and Kate Bush was there and she seemed very concerned about something.
Gabriel doesn’t understand what she’s talking about, but luckily, in walks Dr. Julia Hoffman and her pal Professor Stokes, just as Daphne is declaiming in the drawing room about an empty room that was suddenly full of furniture. Julia adopts one of her more emphatic eavesdropping expressions, and then enters the parlor with follow-up questions.
Returning to the room in question, Daphne recaps her entire experience to a rapt audience of two. At one point, she tells them that the parallel woman’s name was Catherine Harridge, and Julia says, “Harridge… but that’s your last name!” Daphne says, “Yes, I know!” which as far as I’m concerned is the kind of thing that makes life worth living.
Once she’s finished her tale, Stokes uncorks the crucial intel. “I presume you’ve never heard of something called Parallel Time,” he says, and he’s right, she hasn’t. Stokes figures that the audience hasn’t either, so he says, “The existence of two or more worlds in different time bands, running concurrently. The people you saw in that room were, in effect, the same as those you know in this world, but because they made different choices in their lives, obviously their behavior was different, although they looked the same.”
This explains everything except how Angelique and Daphne could be sisters, when they come from entirely different families and countries and centuries, no matter how many different choices they made. It doesn’t seem like that’s a different-choice-making type of arrangement.
But this is why they brought Stokes all the way here from the 1970s, literally for this scene and nothing else. They made a big deal about him two weeks ago, when he arrived unexpectedly by way of the Staircase Through Time, but he hasn’t appeared in another episode until now, and he’s not going to appear again until a couple weeks from now, when he walks back up the Staircase with Barnabas and Julia.
They knew that they were going to be introducing Parallel Time again, and I guess Stokes is the only one with the occult-expert gravitas to land this particular plane.
Once he’s said his piece, he tells Daphne that Julia will tell her more about their experience with Parallel Time as they go downstairs, which doesn’t seem entirely fair. After all, we brought him here just to define Parallel Time for people, and now he’s subcontracting his exposition to Julia. Also, I can’t imagine what Julia will be able to say to Daphne about their Parallel Time experience, which involved vampires and witches and the 1970s. Just explaining why they weren’t abiding by social convention will probably take the rest of the afternoon.
Stokes stays put just in case there’s another manifestation, which there is almost immediately, go figure. It’s Catherine and Morgan again, talking about how the past is forgotten but she still needs time to make a decision, so why they’re cluttering up the East wing for the second time in a row is anyone’s guess. We should put up a fence or something.
Speaking of which, Stokes said that they shouldn’t stay in the room because it might change to Parallel Time without warning, which could leave them stuck in that concurrent band of time with no means of escape. But the Parallel people are standing around in the room all the time, and it changes back to Regular while they’re still in it, and we don’t see a lot of Parallel people wandering around the East wing looking for a Brontë novel to be in. I can’t explain it; I guess it’s just one of those things.
Tomorrow: Don’t Panic.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Gabriel tells Daphne, “It’s your imagination, we’re the only ones alone — or, here.”
When Stokes opens the doors to the Parallel Time room, the camera pulls back and you can briefly see the edge of the set on the left side.
Morgan announces, “I refuse to allow my fears to be decided by the fears that exist in this house.” A moment later, he says, “I believe things that — would change if she were here!”
When Stokes says, “I presume you’ve never heard of something called Parallel Time,” Daphne steps in front of him, between him and the camera. The camera tries to pull in on Stokes’ face, but it does so uncertainly, and often out of focus.
Stokes shoves the doors open to witness Parallel Time, but one of them bounces back towards him and blocks our view of him.
After the Parallel Time scene, when Stokes opens the doors again, part of a camera with ABC stenciled on it can be seen at the bottom of the screen.
When Gabriel asks Daphne if Julia and Stokes found anything in the east wing, there’s a burst of studio noise. A moment later, the camera has a hard time following Gabriel across the room.
As Daphne kneels over Edith’s body, there’s a bang from the studio.
When Daphne is in Edith’s room, she hears Gerard’s footsteps walking down the hall, which is carpeted. As soon as he enters the room, which is not carpeted, his footsteps don’t make any noise.
When Gerard walks into the room and Daphne is hiding behind the screen, you can see the top of the set.
Gabriel wheels into the drawing room, and then the camera moves to pick up Daphne, standing still on the stairs until it’s her cue to run into the drawing room.
When Daphne tells Gabriel that Gerard nearly killed her, the camera picks her up just as she’s moving out of frame.
When Gabriel hears Daphne’s report, he struggles for his lines and looks at the teleprompter. “Now, don’t panic. We’re safe. Now just… just tell me exactly… what — he’s up in the room, and the room’s locked?”
Why would Daphne finding Gabriel’s cufflink in Edith’s room prove that Gabriel killed Edith? She’s his wife, he could easily have dropped his cufflink there at any time. I mean, the same would be true of Gerard, but even more so for Gabriel.
Tomorrow: Don’t Panic.
— Danny Horn