“The fact remains that every time there is a crisis involving Bramwell, you seem to have the most extraordinary emotional feeling!”
So here’s where we are: if you read yesterday’s post and it made any goddamn sense to you, then you’re aware that you and I are currently perched just outside the event horizon of the Great Unwinding, a long-prophesied series finale extinction event that threatens to erase Dark Shadows, and send us all tumbling back into the 4pm timeslot’s previous occupant, a dreary and unremembered soap opera called Never Too Young.
Never Too Young was a nine-month-long daytime soap flop about a group of rambunctious teenagers in Malibu Beach, aired every afternoon as a kind of eternal Beach Blanket Bingo. The show was told from the point of view of Alfy, who owned the local teen hangout, the High Dive. It included a lot of swinging music, both on the soundtrack and with frequent guest performers at the High Dive, including the Castaways and Paul Revere & the Raiders. The star of the show was Tony Dow (Wally from Leave It to Beaver), and his costar was the original kid from Lassie. Just thinking about Never Too Young is fairly grim, especially when you consider that this sun-and-fun beachside adventure was broadcast from September 1965 to June 1966, pretty much missing summer altogether.
And now we are threatened with the almost-certain obliteration of Dark Shadows from history, and an eternal plunge backwards into a timeline where there’s no such thing as a vampire soap opera. This will be a safer, sunnier, more predictable world, where late 1960s television was uniformly up-tempo and unsurprising, and it will be a hell on earth. The stakes could not be higher, and you know how vampires feel about stakes.
And this imminent, reality-crushing catastrophe has something to do with episode 1219, which does not, in fact, exist. So that’s a bit of a puzzle.
1219 is Dark Shadows’ “lost episode”, if you don’t count all the other ones. It’s actually kind of a miracle that only a handful of the more than twelve hundred master videotapes were misplaced, considering the general slapdash nature of almost everything involved in the production of the series.
There are actually 28 episodes with a master tape that was either missing or damaged, but for the other 27, the syndicators were able to find black-and-white “kinescopes”, copies that were made by pointing a film camera at a television set. ABC used this primitive pre-video technology to send copies of episodes to local stations that didn’t air Dark Shadows in the regular network broadcast timeslot. They phased out the practice in fall 1970, when everybody switched to sending videotapes.
Luckily, the kinescopes were preserved alongside the videotapes, so when the show was syndicated to TV stations and released on home video, the inferior kinescope versions were substituted for the missing episodes.
While the first three years of the Barnabas era were available for syndication starting in the mid-80s, episodes from the show’s final year weren’t seen until 1992, when MPI released them on home video. When they were preparing these episodes for release, MPI discovered that the master for episode 1219 was missing — there was just a blank videotape in the case, plus a little tuft of black and white fur that nobody could ever explain. When 1219 aired, ABC wasn’t using kinescopes anymore, so there was no substitute, and this is the one episode that’s completely missing from the archives.
Luckily, a fan named Wendy “Josette” Kernaghan had a collection of audiotapes that she’d taped off the TV when the show was being broadcast, so MPI — with some unspecified assistance by a mysterious figure in a lab coat — was able to reconstruct the episode by combining Kernaghan’s audio track with still pictures from surrounding episodes. They could use the last scene from 1218 as the first scene of 1219, and the same on the other end, using the first scene of 1220. To make the soundtrack sections easier to understand, they also recorded “host segments” with Lara Parker describing the events of each act. The one piece of audio that was partially missing was the opening narration by Keith Prentice, so Parker recorded that audio as well.
And that should be more or less that, except yesterday Carrie Stokes was standing on the south lawn of 1218 and tried peering into the future, and instead of seeing the reconstruction, she was somehow bounced backwards through time, triggering the Great Unwinding which, as I said, will inevitably result in the destruction of intelligent life in general and Dark Shadows in particular.
Right now — if the phrase “right now” still means anything — Carrie is just barely hanging on, as she drifts backwards through the early months of the show, and if she reaches the girl on the train arriving in Collinsport at the beginning of episode 1, then the Unwinding will be complete.
With some extrauniversal encouragement, she’s trying to slow things down by focusing on the pen — the Macguffin behind a long and repetitive shaggy dog storyline in fall 1966. The pen was supposed to be an important clue to the mystery of who killed Bill Malloy, but it turned out to be a complete red herring, and as usual the Collinsport police only “solved” the mystery by waiting for the killer to kidnap a main character and then get murdered by ghosts. If you try to pay attention to the pen story, it feels like it goes on for years, so Carrie is essentially using it like a drag chute, giving us some extra time to figure out what’s going on.
Carrie is being incredibly brave, enduring this dreadful experience that she only partially understands with kindness and determination, and she deserves our gratitude and respect. I bet anybody who’s spent the last year making nasty cracks about Kathy Cody characters is probably feeling pretty bad about that.
Anyway, if that premise doesn’t make sense to you, then you’re just going to have to go with it, because this is what we’re doing today.
By the way, the reason that I know all of this is that I’ve got David’s crystal ball, which I stole back in October 1967 and nobody noticed. I’m currently using it to make contact with Dr. Julian Hoffman, a blood specialist, occult expert and all-around mystery in science who has been examining this situation under the microphone for several years.
Working in the secret library under the Eagle Hill cemetery, Hoffman — one of the best men in this or any other field — has discovered a terrible conspiracy happening just outside our line of sight, which mostly involves stealing children and putting them where they don’t belong.
The first clue that we had was the incident in Fort Wayne, during Jonathan Frid’s May 1968 seven-day, ten-city publicity tour, back when the show first exploded in popularity. The crowds got bigger and bigger over the course of the week, and at the Glenbrook Shopping Mall in Fort Wayne, Indiana, there were twelve thousand people waiting for Frid. According to the ABC publicist on the scene, “The screaming was unbelievable. Eleven women fainted, there were 58 lost children, one broken arm, a broken leg, and $1,500 damage to trees and shrubs.”
The eleven overheated women came back to consciousness with dire warnings of the future, which turned out to be correct, as dire warnings so often are. And then somebody needed to go and find those 58 lost children, and that is how Hoffman has spent the last three years.
Based on what he learned by observing the skirmish going on between Maggie’s red and white corpuscles, Hoffman located the eleven women, and started gathering up as many of the lost children as he could find.
Whenever possible, he’s tried to reunite the children with their timeline of origin, but some of them — the ones that had no homes to return to, and who were fun to hang out with — have become his friends and partners. They call themselves the caretakers.
It started in the secret library, where Hoffman learned about the Stopping-Off Place, a spiritual bus station full of lost baggage, and he researched some of the forgotten travelers who got stuck there.
One of them was disgruntled governess Phyllis Wick, who was temporally displaced by Victoria Winters once too often. The first time Vicki was transported to the 1790s, Phyllis was hanged for Vicki’s crimes, but the second time was even worse, because Vicki just took over completely and stayed in the 1790s with Phyllis’ boyfriend, leaving Miss Wick to cool her heels in the waiting room.
While she was there, she managed to pick up a copy of the Collins Family History — the paradoxical duplicate that exists because Barnabas took it out of the courthouse in 1897 because Eve hadn’t come back from 1968 to 1796 to steal it yet — which is just the kind of thing that washes up on shore at the Stopping-Off Place every so often. Snap, crackle and popping with potential kinetic energy, the book taught Phyllis all kinds of interesting things by the time Hoffman showed up, and bargained with Mr. Best to release her, and her pet cat.
Joshua the disenchanted cat was inadvertently called into being by Angelique, who turned Joshua Collins into a housecat; when she flipped the switch and Joshua regained his sense of self, the cat was thrown to the astral winds, an unresolved quantum superposition of shipping magnate and plutonium-fueled lab animal who befriended Phyllis, while they were waiting for something to turn up.
Hoffman also located Regular Time Claude North, an unresolved and quantum-detangled lifelong bachelor haunted by dreams of the romantic front-burner storyline that his parallel self experienced after Barnabas Collins left the Parallel Time Dark Shadows. Lost and hopeless, RT Claude was recruited by Phyllis and Joshua on Widow’s Hill, and invited to join the caretakers. As the only member of the group with an analogue in the parallel universe next door, Claude was able to broadcast through the dimensional warp and communicate with Carrie Stokes in Parallel Time, and if you need a logical explanation for yesterday’s post, then I’m sorry but that is the best that I can offer.
And of course, there’s also the three-thousand-year-old poisonous Egyptian lizard from Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy’s Curse, who’s named Sue Agatha for some reason known only to herself. In the book, she was crushed to a pulp by Maggie in chapter four, but if you think that a Paperback Library heroine has the skills and upper body strength to kill an 18th Dynasty black ops field agent with a glass ashtray in the dark, then there’s a lot that you need to learn about ancient radioactive reptiles.
Frequently Asked Question about the caretakers:
Is the dotty old caretaker from Eagle Hill Cemetery a member of the group?
Answer: No. That guy’s an idiot.
Now, obviously, I could spend the rest of the day regaling you with tales of the caretakers’ adventures as they made contact with other forgotten and abandoned figures from Dark Shadows Every Day mythology, like Atlanta-Eleven Girl Fredda Lee and the unflappable Inspector Hamilton, but poor Carrie is just barely hanging on by watching people endlessly discuss a fountain pen, so we need to get down to business and figure out what’s wrong with episode 1219.
Hoffman had a hand in constructing this reconstruction, but he’s not sure why it’s causing the Great Unwinding, so let’s look at it together and see if we can find any clues to why this missing step is so important, and so dangerous.
As always, the episode begins where the previous day left off: with Daphne Harridge asking Carrie to take a reckless step into the unknown. In this lost version of the story, Carrie actually does see a vision of the future, with moody Bramwell Collins visiting a gravestone marked Daphne Harridge Collins.
Trying not to worry Daphne over an impending omen of death, Carrie claims that she couldn’t see whose name was on the gravestone, but Daphne is a natural investigator, as we know from Charlie’s Angels and Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and she’s not going to let this go. Intuiting that the grave was her own, Daphne receives the precise intel that she was looking for — do not marry this man — and then refuses to believe it. She said that she wanted to know if she and Bramwell would be happy together, but this incoming postcard from the infinite is blowing her a fairly conclusive raspberry, so she ignores it.
“What you saw was wrong; you mustn’t worry about it,” Daphne says, which just goes to show that you shouldn’t bother to waste money on external consultants; you’re just going to end up doing the thing that you wanted to do in the first place.
Next up, we have a cozy fireside chat between newlyweds Morgan and Catherine, and if I know Morgan, odds are this is going to end up as one of those “Are you aware that you’re looking in the direction of the Old House” bunker-buster international catastrophes that these two usually perpetrate on an average of 2.6 episodes per week, just wait and see.
As usual in this family, the conversation is about obstruction of justice. A couple weeks ago, a member of the family — probably Melanie, or Gabriel — stabbed Flora’s secretary Stella Young with a knife, although the show doesn’t seem particularly invested in figuring out who delivered the blow. Then, earlier today, Stella’s brother Kendrick Young was paying a social call when Gabriel — recently driven mad by his visit to the haunted room that either kills you or drives you mad — stabbed Kendrick with another knife, and then ran away into the woods.
Naturally, Morgan has decided that the problem is clearly the Young family, who should leave them alone and stop getting stabbed by people.
“I’ve been to the police,” he reports to Catherine. “I did everything I could to keep Kendrick from going to them, but he wouldn’t listen to me. He’s convinced that Gabriel killed his sister, and there’s… not a way to convince him [inaudible].”
There are several reasons why it’s difficult to understand Morgan’s line: we’re listening to an audiotape recorded off the television in 1971, he’s in the middle of pouring himself a drink, there’s a noisy thunderstorm happening just off-camera, he has a hard time keeping track of his dialogue, and most of the time he’s not worth listening to anyway.
Delightfully, the people who put this reconstruction together chose to illustrate this moment with a screencap of Morgan forgetting his lines, and reading them off the teleprompter.
“Of all the people Gabriel had to threaten,” Morgan bellows, “it had to be Kendrick! Of course, I hoped to convince him that when his sister was killed, Gabriel was sane, and that Gabriel wouldn’t have killed anybody!” This happens a lot to the Collins family, when they deal with outsiders who don’t have the same finely-nuanced understanding of the many possible shades of insanity.
“But the question is now that they find Gabriel,” Morgan continues, “he’ll be charged with murder, and Kendrick’s testimony is enough to convict him!”
So that’s Morgan’s first dialogue malfunction, and it occurs to me that maybe Morgan’s apparent inability to remember his lines is actually a clever way of sending coded messages about what’s happening with this episode. Morgan should have said, “the question is now that if they find Gabriel,” and then presumably the end of the sentence would involve some kind of question.
I’m just going to jot that down in my notebook:
The question is now that They find…
Now, that third person plural is pretty suspicious on its own, because — as you know — “They” is the name of the dark and shadowy organization that has been manipulating events from behind the scenes, since at least Vicki’s first trip to 1795.
I first became aware of They in December 1968, when Vicki told Jeff that if he loved her, then “They” would let him stay in a time period that he was in the process of being spectrally deported from. “They” did let him stay, long enough to get married, and then “They” took him back to the 1790s, and a couple weeks later, “They” allowed him to drag Vicki back too, which elbowed Phyllis Wick off the edge of existence and sent her spiraling towards the Stopping-Off Place, as per above.
I’ve been keeping an eye on They, and last month, I finally pieced together the clues and figured out who They is. “They” is a group of very rich and very angry New England widows, including Judith Collins, and They specializes in taking people and putting them in places where they don’t belong. They moved Vicki backwards and Peter forwards; They knocked Burke out of the sky over Brazil; and They brought Angelique back in time a hundred years and renamed her Miranda, among countless other time crimes, all with the aim of destabilizing Dark Shadows.
I haven’t figured out what They is actually trying to achieve, but this whole Great Unwinding apocalypse could be the final culmination of They’s plan. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this very post is the one where this crackpot plotline is finally explained, and wrapped up for good.
By the way, I just checked in with Hoffman to tell him about my suspicions, and he totally agrees. So there you go, it’s not just me.
Moving on, Morgan finally realizes that Catherine’s not listening to him, and he asks what’s up. She tells him that Daphne is planning to marry Bramwell, and then Morgan utters the second code phrase: “Daphne must have taken — lose of her senses!”
He means “taken leave of her senses”, obviously, so I’m going to jot that down too:
taken lose of her senses…
and we’ll see what that accomplishes.
Now, there’s an argument to be made that this isn’t really a coded message after all, that this is just a normal daytime television scene about a parallel universe where Wuthering Heights is happening in the wrong order, but listen to this:
Catherine: Morgan, don’t you understand that Bramwell is just marrying her out of spite for all of us?
Morgan: Well, have you spoken to Daphne? Well, couldn’t you make her see the folly of what she’s doing?
Catherine: I tried, Morgan, I tried! All I succeeded in doing was making her angry. Bramwell’s got her so deluded — she won’t listen to anyone.
I ask you: is it credible that they expect the audience to pay attention to this? This is clearly just the filler between code phrases.
Then we get what I think is the most significant passage so far:
Morgan: Well, have They set a date?
Catherine: No. They didn’t say anything about a date, but I have the feeling They’re going to do it very soon.
So that’s clear: “They” are going to set a date, and “do it” very soon. We need to figure out that date.
Morgan fluffs one more line in this scene, which offers us another potential clue. Catherine’s pacing back and forth and talking about how urgent the Daphne/Bramwell problem is, until Morgan decides he’s sick of hearing about it, and he wants to go back to talking about the thing that the rest of us are sick of hearing about.
“We must still deal with the curse!” he says. “If we can sign — find some way of solving it, we might — we might not have to go through that lottery again!”
So there’s another note to jot down on the pad:
If we can find…
Now, it occurs to me that all of Morgan’s dialogue mishaps have to do with finding things and losing things.
The question is now that They find…
taken lose of her senses…
If we can find…
Episode 1219 is the “lost” episode, and it seems like the question is now that if They find what They is looking for, will it be taken? And if we can find it… what are we willing to lose?
And then there’s the other clue:
They didn’t say anything about a date, but I have the feeling They’re going to do it very soon…
I’d say we need a detective to help us figure this out, and guess who shows up later in the episode? It’s Inspector Hamilton, from 1970 Parallel Time! He’s only credited as “Doctor”, which is suspicious from the start, plus the actor’s name is Colin Hamilton, so obviously it’s the same guy.
Hamilton never solved the mystery of who murdered Angelique, but that’s partly because he didn’t really try very hard; he mostly wandered around and had wry conversations with suspects. It’s possible that he was working a different case the whole time — a case that has led him here to the lost episode, working undercover.
The doctor’s here because Catherine heard some news and then fainted in the foyer, and the act opens with the doctor and Catherine having a private consultation in the drawing room.
“I know it seems highly unusual to you, Doctor,” Catherine says, “but I must insist that you do as I say. I have my own reasons.”
“I can’t imagine what They are,” says the “doctor”, so I figure he’s working the same case that we are. Hamilton’s on the trail of They, too.
At Catherine’s request, Hamilton just tells Morgan that she’s been under some emotional strain, but by the end of the episode, we learn the truth — Catherine is pregnant. And it’s here, at the moment that the very first pregnancy on Dark Shadows is discovered, that we’ve got Inspector Hamilton, on the scene.
Dark Shadows has never had a lot of use for babies; the show didn’t start out as a domestic kitchen-sink drama, and after Barnabas was introduced, it got even less domestic in a hurry. The only babies that we’ve ever seen are Quentin and Jenny’s kids, and of the four, two of them were just dolls and the third one died before we even saw him. The only actual live baby that we see onscreen is their daughter Lenore, and that’s only for a minute. There’s also Joseph, the baby Leviathan, although I’m not sure that he counts.
But this is the first time there’s been a pregnant woman on Dark Shadows, carrying a baby that was conceived during a commercial break. As we know, They likes to steal children and lose them somewhere, usually in a different century, so it’s a good thing that Inspector Hamilton’s here to keep an eye on things at this end, while we track down what’s causing the Great Unwinding.
But here we are at the end of the episode, and those are all the clues that I could find in the reconstruction, so where do we go from here?
We don’t have any time to waste, because Carrie Stokes is still falling backwards through the pre-Barnabas 1966 episodes, just barely hanging on. I feel like the answer to this mystery must be back there, somewhere, but Hoffman says that it’s far too dangerous for me to go back and actually watch those episodes.
The Great Unwinding has already begun, and those first 209 episodes were supposed to be the buffer between this blog and the honeypot trap of Never Too Young and Tony Dow’s twenty-year-old abs. Dr. Hoffman says that if I were to go backwards after I finish this blog and write about those episodes, it would accelerate the Great Unwinding.
So for all of the people who say that I should write blog posts about the first 209 episodes: I have a note from a doctor that says that doing that would cause the permanent destruction of Dark Shadows. It is very important to me that you understand that.
After all, what would Dark Shadows be, without its imperfections? The show is the ultimate example of the non-fatal flaw — a huge bag full of crazy ideas, created by and for eccentrics, full of contradictions and bloopers and paradoxes and misfires.
Those holes in the show aren’t a problem; that’s the available space that we can fill with our own ideas and theories and dreams. This insane post that I’m writing right now is only possible because Dark Shadows has given me so many opportunities to grab little bits of unexplored story, so that I can put them together and make something new. That’s what this whole blog is about. It’s what Dark Shadows is about.
So it’s okay if I never “complete” this blog by writing about the pre-Barnabas episodes. Dark Shadows is never “complete”; it naturally struggles out of anyone’s grasp who tries to tame it. It is a wild thing that’s not meant to exist in a cage. It is alive.
There are 1,245 steps to complete the ritual.
One of the steps is missing.
The ritual has only been completed once.
I wrote those words for the first time back in November 2014 — more than six years ago, now — and to be honest, I didn’t really know what I was trying to say. It just sounded interesting, and I figured that someday I’d figure out what it means. And, you know what? I think I’ve figured it out.
So let’s take a step back, and take another look at those clues.
The question is now that They find…
taken lose of her senses…
If we can find…
They didn’t say anything about a date, but I have the feeling They’re going to do it very soon…
There is an answer here, for what They is trying to find, and what we need to lose. All I need to do is figure out the date. And it’s right here, in the reconstructed credits: the grandfather clock in the foyer at Collinwood, with the hands pointing to 12:49.
Now, there isn’t an episode 1249, because the show ended at 1245. But if there was a 1249, then it would air on the Thursday after the final episode — Thursday, April 8th, 1971.
If you take those numbers — 4/8/71 — and you add them together, you get 83. That’s a strange way to come up with a date, but it’s the only clue I’ve got, so that’s where I’m going.
Hoffman says that he and Claude can work with Carrie, and keep the Great Unwinding from collapsing for another twenty-two minutes. If Phyllis can open the portal for me, then I can visit one 1966 episode for long enough to figure out what They is planning, undo the damage, and save Dark Shadows.
It might be dangerous, so I’m going to bring my two new animal friends, Joshua the quantum cat, and Sue Agatha, the ancient paperback lizard. Come on, guys, we’re going to go look at episode 83, from October 1966.
“Just pretend that neither the pen or the argument ever happened. Will you?”
It always starts with a box.
In this case, it’s the box containing discs 7-12, which I have not cracked since I bought this Dark Shadows Complete Original Series DVD set in 2012. I didn’t think there was anything in here that would surprise me, so I never bothered to check.
But that’s the thing about a mystery box, as Dr. Erwin Schrödinger observed; you never know what’s inside until you open it. Schrödinger figured that he would open the box and find either an alive cat or a dead one, but then his grinning, expectant face contorted with fear, as a furry paw reached up and grabbed him by the throat.
We open with girl governess Victoria Winters, who’s rummaging around on young David’s desk. And right from the start, we’ve got problems; David’s left his crystal ball on, which is a terrible security hole. A crystal ball is like having an Echo in your living room; even when you think it’s not turned on, it’s listening to you and silently judging everything that you say.
David walks in, and he’s just about as pleased as you’d expect someone to be when their room is being actively rummaged. He asks what Vicki’s looking for.
“I just came up to get my notebook and pen,” she says, “but the pen’s gone.”
“No, it’s not,” he says, “it’s right over there.”
“Where?” asks Vicki.
“Can’t you see anything?” the kid gripes. “I put it right here, and —”
He leans forward, to point to the pen that isn’t there. “I’m sure that’s right where I put it,” he says.
“Well, you must be mistaken,” she says, sensibly.
“But I know I put it right there!” He shakes his head. “I think I did.”
Remarkably, this conversation keeps on going. There’s no indication that the pen they’re looking for is important in any way. As far as we know, this might not even be a television show; it’s just people trying to clean up the studio, and the cameras are still on. Never Too Young fans who are tuning in to hatewatch their favorite show’s inferior replacement are just rolling their eyes in disbelief.
We fade to a shot of Roger Collins outside somewhere, holding a shiny silver pen which he regards somberly.
And then he goes ahead and puts the pen in a hole, and shovels some dirt into the hole, and puts a rock on top of it, and there’s a music sting, and if that doesn’t qualify as suspense for you, then feel free to change the channel to NBC and watch The Match Game. This is what Dark Shadows has to offer today.
We come back from commercial break, and guess what, it’s still happening. “Maybe it got mixed up in your things over here,” Vicki says, except it didn’t, because it’s not there, either. It doesn’t seem to be anywhere.
In fact, I believe we just saw the pen they’re looking for getting buried under a rock, so if we’re going to watch this entire BOLO broadcast in real time, then we have a while to wait. They’ll have to go out and buy a bulletin board so they can put up a map, and start sticking pushpins in all the places where they’ve looked so far. A bright young screenwriter might be able to spin this scenario out until Christmas, if they can keep the momentum going.
But just when I’m thinking that maybe there’s nothing in this episode that can help us, David says the most amazing thing.
“Maybe They took it!” he says, and if you’ve never heard a human, a cat and a lizard all gasp in astonishment at the same time, then this is your moment.
“Oh, David,” Vicki replies, “don’t start talking about ghosts and widows again!”
“WHAT!” I say, and the cat yelps, and the lizard says something in ancient Egyptian. I only figured out that “They” were a gang of widows a month ago, after years of painstaking research, and it turns out that Vicki and David knew about it the whole time, all the way back in episode 83.
We are clearly on the right track. Holy crap, you guys, I think we’re actually going to solve this mystery.
“Why not?” David says. “It disappeared, didn’t it? Why couldn’t They have taken it?”
“Because They don’t have any use for fountain pens,” Vicki declares. “But little boys do.”
All right, then. That proves it. Vicki is now certain that David is responsible for taking the pen, but we know that he isn’t, because literally everything that Vicki ever says is wrong. In fact, the rest of this episode is about Vicki’s unshakeable conviction that David has taken the pen, despite anything that anyone else says or does, and the audience knows from the start that she’s wrong.
People who like these 1966 episodes say that the “idiot” Vicki that I used to poke fun at in my early posts only became stupid after the producers handed the show over to Barnabas and Julia, while in this pre-vampire period, she was actually smart and sensible, and worthy of the audience’s respect. All I can say is that I’m finally watching the pre-Barnabas era like you asked me to, and as far as I can tell, Vicki has no idea what she’s talking about in one hundred percent of the scenes that I’ve watched so far.
So if that’s the case, we have to assume that what she’s saying is incorrect. If Vicki says “They don’t have any use for fountain pens,” then that means that They do. But what could the widows want with a silver fountain pen?
David’s angry, of course, because this ungovernable governess is giving him a plastic hassle about a crime that he didn’t commit. Roger returns to the house and wonders what all the racket is, so he goes upstairs to find the Category 3 school supplies crisis that’s broken loose in the upstairs hallway.
The combatants explain to Roger that they’re fighting about a pen, which doesn’t reflect well on either of them.
“It was in David’s room when I went downstairs,” Vicki says, “and when I came back, it was gone.”
“Well, I can’t help it if it disappeared!” David objects.
“Things don’t disappear, David!” she says, but she’s wrong. Things absolutely disappear.
For example, the master videotape for episode 1219 disappeared, replaced in its case with a suspiciously blank tape. Who would have absconded with an episode of Dark Shadows, and specifically that episode? It would be of no earthly use to anyone, not with Morgan taking lose of his senses all over the place.
Roger tries to take charge of the situation; all he wanted to do was collude with supernatural forces to steal a simple fountain pen and hide it under a rock, which shouldn’t be this difficult.
“Oh, Vicki, please stop it,” he sighs, “I’m sick and tired of this continuous bickering with David.”
“So am I,” Vicki says, a statement that does no good to anybody.
Roger tries to broker a peace agreement. “Well, if it’s simply the matter of a pen, I’ll be happy and delighted to buy you another one, just to get the whole matter settled.”
“That’s not the point,” Vicki says, which means that it probably is the point. But the point of what?
Roger wants to replace something that’s been stolen, in order to quiet things down and prevent unpleasantness. But the audience doesn’t want things to quiet down, and go slower. Four months into the show’s run, Dark Shadows is leaking audience members something fierce, and those numbers aren’t going to go up until it starts to get a lot noisier.
To demonstrate what I mean, the B story in today’s episode is about handsome fisherman Joe Haskell, quietly breaking up with his previous storyline and moving gently into another, less explosive one.
Joe has been dating poor little rich girl Carolyn Stoddard, and the relationship has foundered on the rocks for reasons that are mostly about Collins family politics. He’s a good man, and he’s adorable and fun to hang out with, but he doesn’t really have much to do with the real storylines. The big action is happening between Burke, Roger and Elizabeth, and the mystery of who killed Bill Malloy. Joe doesn’t have any ties with Vicki, who’s the main character, and Carolyn has more story potential if she spends time with Burke.
Now Carolyn’s broken up with Joe in a probably temporary fit of pique, and he’s decided that he doesn’t have any patience for dealing with her anymore. This is a bad move for a character on a soap opera, who’s supposed to be stirring up the drama, not shrugging and walking away from it. This story point — Carolyn’s breakup with Joe — should be a really big deal, and move the main story forward somehow. There should be a misunderstanding, or a kidnapping, or a devious soap vixen trying to break them up so that she can have him and probably steal somebody’s inheritance or something. That’s how good soap opera works.
But this is just a quiet, heartfelt chat in the diner with Maggie, where she’s sweet and supportive, and gently helps him to figure out that he’s not really happy with Carolyn, and he needs to find somebody new.
The right girl for him is Maggie, of course — honest, pretty, good-hearted Maggie, who appreciates him and makes him feel better. She’s been smiling to herself through the whole conversation, because it’s obvious that the two of them are literally made for each other, and even the music cues agree, making pretty noises when she advises him to find a new girl, and he looks into her eyes, and everything seems to be working out for the best.
It’s a trap, of course. Maggie isn’t a soap vixen; she is entirely what she appears to be, which is a delightful young woman.
That’s good for “Joe”, in the sense that this imaginary person with pretend feelings will be happy with his next fictional relationship. But it’s not good for the actual, real-world Joe — a serialized-narrative character who’s in competition with everyone else for screen time and storylines. Joel Crothers is going to quit the show two years from now, because Joe doesn’t have anything interesting to do; in the world to come, filled with monsters and eccentric New York character actors, Joe Haskell will still be stuck as the nice, sensible, honest guy, who accepts Maggie’s invitation to have dinner with her dad, and loses his connection to the real stories.
So, yeah, it’s a good scene, because both of these actors are adorable, and they’re having fun together. But a nice scene on a static show doesn’t add anything valuable to the world. As far as I can see in this episode, the pre-Barnabas period is easy to like, but impossible to love.
The person who commented the other day that “episodes 1-209 are, after all, ‘the real thing’ and more like 210-1245 than any of the ersatz material” is entitled to their opinion, but I disagree, and I don’t think they understand Dark Shadows. The beating heart of Dark Shadows — the thing that makes it worthwhile — is the process of paying close attention to what the audience is responding to, and quickly pivoting in that direction. In this case, that ended up meaning vampires and werewolves, but it could have been something else, if they’d struck on a different story-productive topic.
But the Dark Shadows of episode 83 hasn’t learned how to do that yet. The actual contemporary audience of 1966 is not responding to this, and if they don’t figure that out and change their approach, then the show is going to die, and deservedly so.
All right, back to the issue at hand: what’s the deal with the fountain pen, and the missing episode?
“It’s about that silly business upstairs with that pen,” Roger says. “Vicki, you told me not so long ago that you were anxious to have David’s confidence. Are you quite sure that accusing him of stealing is the best way to go about it?”
“But he did take it!” Vicki objects. He didn’t.
“Well, even so,” Roger replies, “perhaps this is one time that you should overlook it.”
He’s right, obviously; this fountain pen story point is an obvious dead end, and the sooner they all realize that and move on the better. Still, if he’s in league with the widows somehow, then I’m not sure he really has our best interests at heart.
Here’s what happens next.
Roger: Would you accept the idea that what we need around this house is peace and quiet?
Vicki: Of course.
Roger: Well, then, do this for me. Forget about the pen, and forget about the incident with David. Just pretend that neither the pen or the argument ever happened. Will you?
Vicki: I don’t think I can do that.
Roger: Well, why not? Believe me, Vicki, that pen is never going to show up again, because after this fuss, I know David will never bring it back.
Vicki: I suppose so.
Roger: And I’ll be more than happy to replace it for you.
Vicki: Oh, that isn’t necessary. It’s not the pen, can’t you understand that?
Okay, so that settles it. If Vicki says “it’s not the pen,” then that means it absolutely is the pen. That pen is important, for some reason. The widows do have a use for fountain pens, and Roger has taken lose of it for them, and hidden it underneath a rock.
We know that Roger’s not on our side, because he thinks that what we need around the house is peace and quiet, which could not be further from the truth. He wants us to forget the whole thing — the pen, the argument, maybe the entire show.
Because that’s the point, isn’t it? That’s the Great Unwinding. Carrie’s trying to move forward, but she bumps into something that shouldn’t be there in place of the 1219 reconstruction, and that sends her spiraling back through time, back into this period when Dark Shadows wasn’t really Dark Shadows, unwinding the story all the way back to a house full of peace and quiet.
And then, inevitably, Never Too Young.
I mean, look how cute Tony Dow was, back in the days before Dark Shadows came along and created all of these headaches. The widows are offering us an eternal summer of ’66, where we’re never too young. We could live there forever, with nothing ever changing, a world where we can have anything we want — for me, that’s Tony Dow, apparently, but if you don’t like him then there’s probably girls in bikinis or whatever — and Paul Revere & the Raiders sing us to sleep.
That’s what They wants. It’s what They’s wanted all along.
So let’s think this through. There’s a mystery box marked Episode 1219, and inside the box there’s either an episode or there isn’t; as long as it remains closed, then both quantum states can exist at the same time. Then MPI Home Video opens the box, and the wave function collapses, leaving a blank videotape and a hole in the show.
Dr. Julian Hoffman helped Jim Pierson, MPI and Josette Kernaghan to reconstruct the episode, filling the gap and allowing us to move forward, but there’s something blocking the way. Roger keeps offering a replacement, and maybe that’s what the widows are trying to do — they’re creating their own false episode 1219.
And it’s all about that pen. It’s discussed in 22 episodes of this pre-Barnabas period, and everyone who watches these episodes hates it. It first appears in episode 42, in August 1966, and they keep talking about it until episode 108, in November. That’s three months of daily episodes, and the audience is supposed to care about this obvious Macguffin that never leads anywhere. The pen doesn’t actually explain anything about Bill Malloy’s murder, and it doesn’t lead to any story advancement in the Roger/Burke rivalry.
They just keep talking about it, finding it and losing it, taking it and giving it away. They imbue it with an enormous amount of potential story energy, and then Matthew Morgan kidnaps Vicki and confesses to killing Malloy, and the pen just vanishes, with all that energy unused.
That fountain pen is in two states at the same time: it is both the most important object in 1966 Dark Shadows, and it is utterly inconsequential.
I know this is hard to follow, but stay with me; I’m going to write my way out of this, even if it kills me.
Because I have a secret weapon: Joshua, the collapsing cat. If anyone understands being in two states at once, it’s him; that’s his whole deal. He is both Joshua Collins and an adorable kitten, a living dead creature created in Schrödinger’s imaginary mad science laboratory. He can just be chilling on the bed and you think he’s minding his business, but all of a sudden he explodes, and turns into something unexpected. I mean, all cats are like that, but especially Joshua.
So he understands what the widows are planning to do with this insignificant and all-important quantum-entangled fountain pen: they’re going to write Episode 1219 back into existence, and slip it into the box before MPI opens it, creating a timeline where the episode is both lost and found, at the same time.
At least, that’s what the cat says, and I believe him, so that makes it true, because right now I’m the protagonist, and if I’ve learned anything from Barnabas Collins, it’s that you can stand next to a smarter character and agree with whatever she says, and that makes the story better.
So that’s why Carrie couldn’t break through and see past this episode, because there was both a reconstruction and the original episode in the way at the same time. Unable to move forward, she stumbled backwards, and triggered the Great Unwinding. That’s been They’s plan, all along.
We need to get hold of that pen and keep it away from those widows, so that they’re unable to create their ersatz 1219. Then Phyllis can bring Joshua to that tape library in 1991, and make sure that there’s a blank tape in that case, collapsing the wave function into a stable timeline that doesn’t have an episode 1219 in it.
Now, we know that the pen is under a rock, because we saw Roger bury it there, but there are lots of rocks out by the beach. How are we ever going to find it, in time to save Carrie, and the universe?
Well, that’s why we have a three-thousand-year-old poisonous lizard on our team, hooray! Sue Agatha can scurry from rock to rock until she finds the pen, and if she happens to run into any widows along the way, then it’s not going to be a good day for They.
So it turns out we needed to read those ersatz Paperback Library novels, after all. Just when we least expected it, Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy’s Curse gave us the exact lunatic plot contrivance that we need, to save Dark Shadows, and the world.
That means that we have to live in a world without an episode 1219, but that’s okay, because I’ve figured out what I meant, all those years ago:
There are 1,245 steps to complete the ritual.
One of the steps is missing.
The ritual has only been completed once.
Think about it: there was a time, from 1966 to 1971, when somebody watched every single episode of Dark Shadows all the way from episode 1 to episode 1245, one episode a day. I don’t know how many viewers were so faithful that they never missed a single episode, but I’m sure somebody managed it.
And what happened, the one and only time that the ritual was completed? Dark Shadows was cancelled.
Just imagine what would happen if someone could get the DVD set, or a subscription to Amazon Prime, and watch one episode a day every Monday to Friday for five years. The first time the ritual was completed, Dark Shadows almost died. Doing it again would be even worse.
Episode 1219 is the sacrifice that we have to make, so that we can keep this show alive in our hearts, forever. Yes, the show is slapdash and half-baked, filled with bloopers and contradictions, eccentric plot twists and outlandish decisions. That’s the joy of it. Dark Shadows is flawed and incomplete and surprising and utterly essential, and even fifty years later, it is never too old.
Tomorrow: The Forsythe Saga.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Carrie tells Morgan, “I didn’t want to come out in the storm, but I just had to swee — see Quentin.”
Catherine tells Morgan, “Well, the lottery, for instance, I’ve been thinking about how someone’s got to spend another night — terrible night in that room!”
David tries to retrace his steps, and says part of the same line twice: “Well, I think you left it over there on the desk. And I picked it up, and I wanted to see in the crystal ball, to see if I could see where you found it. And then I picked it up, and I put it — there, by the crystal ball.”
David tells Vicki, “He wasn’t there all the time. When I came down to tell you, he went up — he went out. Probably came up here, and took it.”
When Vicki talks to Joe in the foyer, something heavy falls to the floor in the studio.
Tomorrow: The Forsythe Saga.
— Danny Horn