Episode 1230: Mortal Engines

“I’m thinking that the spirit of James Forsythe has gradually retrogressed.”

One-time parallel pop idol Quentin Collins manhandles his older brother Morgan into a bedroom at gunpoint, an eventuality which under other circumstances could be the starting point for an intriguing afternoon.

Morgan Collins, currently a wholly-owned subsidiary of 1680 power-broker James Forsythe, was found throttling his aunt Julia with a garotte under the impression that she’s Constance Collins, also of 1680, which she clearly isn’t, so I’m not sure where he got the idea. Morgan was stymied, but he plans to try again, and he’s going to keep on trying until he runs out of aunts.

So Quentin locks Morgan in the bedroom, with a pair of armed servants guarding the room, one in the hall and the other outside the window. This is how the Collins family of 1841 Parallel Time deals with civil unrest; they’ve also got brother Gabriel locked up in the tower room for exactly the same reason.

Morgan pounds on the door fiercely, with both fists. “Let me out of here!” he shouts. “Do you hear me? I’m going to get out somehow, and when I do, I’m going to kill you! I’m going to kill every Collins I can get my hands on! Do you hear me?” They do, but they don’t find his argument compelling. They’re already aware that he wants to kill them; that’s why they’re locking him up in the first place. This is not going to go over well at his pre-trial detention hearing.

So now there are two people whose response to this storyline is to become a crazed, ranting lunatic with violent tendencies, and neither of them is me, which is a miracle.

So here’s my dilemma: after today, there’s three more weeks of Dark Shadows, and there is a very strong chance that I have already said the last interesting thing that I will ever say about Dark Shadows. I’m currently perched on a pile of 1,060 blog posts, and the odds of something new coming to my attention during the sixteen episodes in front of me is pretty slim.

It seems more likely with each passing day that I’m just going to coast my way through these final weeks, serving up some warmed-over material based on stuff that I’ve written before. I can see the end of the road up ahead, and nobody’s waiting there to give me a MacArthur Genius Grant or anything when I cross the finish line, so I could probably go on autopilot, and just type some stuff until I’m allowed to stop.

I don’t like doing that, of course; as a creative person who’s put a lot of work into this quixotic endeavor, I’d like to build to a satisfying conclusion, wrapping up the larger themes of the blog and offering some payoff for the people who have been following all the way to the end. But it feels like I’ve already done that, back in episode 1198, with a coda at episode 1219, and now I’m just filling in time until the show sputters to a stop and I don’t have to do it anymore.

I’m not alone, of course; the people who were making Dark Shadows felt exactly the same way, at this point in the show. I suppose that ought to make me feel better, but it doesn’t, really.

And just to make sure we’re all feeling appropriately apocalyptic, the cameras have given up hope. One of the studio cameras has a fault that makes everything look green and red, like we should be watching this with 3D glasses.

I figured that once we reached 1971, there would be some kind of reasonable broadcast quality standards that would prevent this kind of thing from airing on network television, but apparently ABC Daytime was still being run on the honor system. The production company could put basically anything on a videotape and hand it over to the network, and as long as it had commercial breaks in the right spots, it could look any way they wanted it to.

So we’ve got a show where the cameras are slowly committing suicide before our eyes, as the script breaks down and the actors get appendicitis and the audience wonders if maybe they should give Somerset a try.

Worst of all, this is the end of the line for David Selby, who got sick and missed the last few weeks of filming. This is how he described it in his 2010 memoir, My Shadowed Past:

In mid-March of 1971, I was hit with an appendicitis attack and emptied my son’s piggy bank for cab fare money to Roosevelt Hospital. I would miss the last two weeks of the television show. I had never anticipated the show going off the air so quickly — just as suddenly as it had all begun — for me and Quentin. The fans must have been perplexed.

So this is a definite hammer blow for the show, right when it doesn’t need one. Dark Shadows lives and dies by the kaiju, the core characters who each had a turn taking over the show and twisting it into a new pattern: Barnabas, Julia, Angelique, Quentin and (to a lesser degree) Gerard.

For this closing storyline, Barnabas and Angelique have been transformed into less appealing characters, and Gerard was unaccountably underused, only appearing in two episodes. That means Julia and Quentin are the only characters left who still have a real claim on the audience’s affections. These are new parallel versions of Julia and Quentin, but they’re enough like the real versions that some of their power remains intact. After today, thanks to David Selby’s appendix, Julia will be the final kaiju standing.

And it’s a real shame, because Quentin is the only one who knows how to get anything done around here. He doesn’t really have his own storyline, but every week or so, he says that we have to do something to learn more about the curse, and then everyone goes into the basement or reads a book or something, and the plot moves forward another step. I don’t know what we’re going to do without him.

In this case, he wants to hold a seance to exorcise the spirit of James Forsythe from Morgan’s body, which we might as well try. We already did a seance a month ago and all we got out of it was Melanie screaming plague, die, plague, die, plague, die, plague, but after that people started to get the plague, so I’m going to call that a win.

In fact, Quentin is so story-productive today that he conjures up a whole new character — Thayer David, playing a grouchy parallel Ben Stokes. Quentin tells Julia and Catherine that he’s going to the cottage to ask Carrie Stokes to be the medium for the seance, and he doesn’t even get to the door; Ben just walks right in and starts threatening to kill people.

In this version of the story, Ben is Carrie’s father, which is a little surprising. In 1840 Regular Time, Ben was Carrie’s grandfather with old age makeup all over his face, but in this universe, he’s Carrie’s father. He’s still connected to the Collins family as an employee, and Quentin implies that there’s some backstory about how they’ve helped each other over the years. If you want to, you can imagine that this Ben is old Ben Stokes’ son, or not. It doesn’t really matter, one way or the other.

Ben’s upset that Morgan keeps coming over to the cottage, asking Carrie to help him, and then going downstairs to mess up the basement and steal things. Quentin’s perspective is that yeah, that sucks and it sounds like it was pretty traumatic for Carrie, but how about you bring her over tonight to do something even more traumatic, and we’ll call it even?

And Ben says yes, like a chump. It’s nice to know that even now, in his unexpectedly final half-hour, Quentin still has the power to charm.

Then it’s time for the episode’s farce sequence, with Catherine playing a trick on the guy who’s possessing Morgan. They need to have Morgan at the seance in order to exorcise him, and obviously if they invite him to join he won’t go, so Quentin has a wacky idea for a double-cross caper.

The dumb spirit inhabiting Morgan has decided over the last episode or so that he thinks it’s currently 1680, which basically ruins the character. As of last week, the Morgan/Forsythe melange was a refreshing change of pace, because he had his own weird ghost projects and he considered all of the other characters a waste of time. Now that he’s decided to kill someone that he thinks is Constance, he’s just become another mad killer locked up in a room, and we’ve already got one of those, up in the tower room.

But that gives Catherine the edge in this film noir scene, where a tall blonde walks into Morgan’s office, and hands him a line of bull about how they should team up and kill Constance together. He asks her why she’s got a kick against Constance, and the blonde says never mind all that, just stick with me and you’re gonna ride this all the way to the end of the line. And he falls for it, the big palooka. She slips him a Mickey Finn, and she lays him out pretty.

So they get everybody together for the big exorcism scene, where they’re going to force the invading spirit out of Morgan’s body. Unfortunately, they’ve decided to do this using a seance, which does the exact opposite.

This is what happens when you kill all the Trasks; there’s nobody left who knows how an exorcism is supposed to work. You always look at your Trask lying around in the junk drawer and think, when am I ever going to use this? So you throw it out, or you let it run off bleeding and buckshot into another universe, and then one day it turns out you need it.

This begins what I consider to be one of the all-time bonehead moments in Dark Shadows history.

“We seek the spirit of a man who once lived in this house, and died here,” Carrie intones. “We seek the spirit of James Forsythe!”

And it’s like, yeah, he’s right there, sitting next to you. You specifically went up to his room, told him a lie, and rendered him unconscious. Now you’re asking for the spirit of James Forsythe to speak to you through Morgan, and that is the exact problem that you were trying to solve.

So then we get a press conference with a spokesperson from the Department of Duh.

Morgan:  What is it you want of me?

Carrie:  Who are you?

Morgan:  I am James Forsythe.

Carrie:  Why are you speaking through Morgan Collins?

Morgan:  Because I must.

Carrie:  Why must you?

Morgan:  I am only a spirit, without form or substance.

Carrie:  But why did you possess Morgan Collins?

Morgan:  To be free again! And to right all the wrongs that have been done to me!

Carrie:  Who wronged you? Tell us, please!

Morgan:  He is here now! He has come to get me again!

Carrie:  Who is here? Tell us who!

And then Morgan shouts, “It’s Barnabas! Barnabas Collins killed me — and now he’s come to get me, and send me back!”

I mean, obviously he doesn’t, he says it’s Brutus, which we already knew and didn’t care about. But wouldn’t that be fun, if the show was still interested in surprising us?

Monday: The Curse of Collinwood,
or How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In the opening narration, Quentin says, “Since 1880, all who have entered the legendary locked room have met with either death or madness.” It’s 1680.

When Catherine kneels over Julia and says “Can you hear me?”, there’s some studio noise and footsteps.

When Quentin shoves Morgan into the bedroom, the first part of Morgan’s line is off-mic.

At a very dramatic moment when Quentin is holding a gun on Morgan and telling him that the servants have orders to shoot on sight, Quentin backs up a step and bangs into the door. This is a good one; I bet if it had happened in an episode that was part of the rerun package, it would have been included in the official bloopers tape.

I cleaned up this quote in the post: when Morgan bangs on the door, he shouts, “I’m going to kill every Morgan — Collins I can get my hands on!”

There’s some studio noise when Quentin talks to Julia and Catherine about Morgan’s condition. During this, he says a line that I cleaned up above: “I’m thinking that the spirit of James Falsythe has gradually retrogressed.”

When Ben is talking to Quentin in the drawing room, he crosses the set as he says, “Are you crazy?” He walks past a camera that pokes into the frame.

Quentin says, “Ben, you’ve been with the family a long time. Now, you know how much we care for you and Carrie. Now, you’ve been loyal to the family for a long time.” A moment later, he says, “Come on, Ben, we’re after the same thing! We’re out to conquer the same threat, can’t you see that?”

The throat-clearing man makes another appearance in today’s episode, in the middle of Morgan’s line: “You arrange to get me out of here [dude clears his throat], if I agree to kill her.”

Just before putting the powder in Morgan’s drink, Catherine looks up to make sure that the camera’s on her.

After Catherine puts the powder in Morgan’s drink, she walks over to give him a glass, with the vial clearly visible in her other hand. As he takes the drink, she remembers to put the other hand behind her back.

When Morgan falls to the ground, there’s blue marking tape on the rug.

Quentin says to Carrie, “Now, if you succeed… hopefully… we’ll be able to rid Morgan’s possession.”

Someone was supposed to close the drawing room doors before the seance, but everyone sits down with the doors open. A stagehand can be seen stepping into the frame and closing the doors. This is another one for the clip show.

Morgan says, “You must hear the truth!” Julia asks, “What is the truth? The truth about what?”

Monday: The Curse of Collinwood,
or How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

23 thoughts on “Episode 1230: Mortal Engines

  1. Wow — the picture quality on this episode is TERRIBLE! Unless, of course, Dan Curtis intended for it to be viewed through 3-D glasses…?

  2. “Master of Dark Shadows” is available for free on Tubi. If you have read this blog, there will not be much new, but I did finally get to see the famous wall with the names outside the studio. The bits with Barbara Steele were interesting, too.

  3. Danny,

    I really, really want to be included in the Zoom Celebration of Dark Shadows and your Opus. Please add my name to the list. I ‘m traveling from Memphis to Santa Barbara on April 2nd- the airline has already adjusted my flight time once, so I kindly request you and Lisa consider recording the Zoom. I don’t want to miss, but flying is dicey nowadays. Thanks for being there and for sharing your humor, history, insights and sassy smart writing chops with us all. ❤️😺🧑🏻‍🎨


  4. Of course you’re gonna coast, Danny. You don’t have much of a choice, since you’ve set a strict April deadline. Nobody can fault you for skipping the reflection and re-editing of your thousand other posts.

    Still good stuff, we’re with you till the end. Easy for us to say, of course ; we’re not writing the damn thing.

  5. One of your best opening sentences ever, Danny: “…which under other circumstances could be the starting point for an intriguing afternoon.” You dog, you! 😉

  6. When Quentin saves Julia, he take James/Morgan upstairs at gun point. When it shows them again, they’re both entering the room where Quentin is going to keep him locked up. Quentin then tells him about two armed servants guarding him, one outside the window, and the other at the end of the corridor. When did Quentin have the time to talk and to arm those two servants? Since he did, why doesn’t James/Morgan already know about them keeping an eye on him? It appeared Quentin and James/Morgan were together the whole time they were going upstairs to that room.

    Also, it appears Brutus is trying to prevent James/Morgan from righting whatever wrongs Brutus had done. His sister got a proper burial outside. Were her bones uncomfortable there? Are anyone else’s bones uncomfortable where they’re at? It seems to me that’s an odd thing to be worried about while dead. (As far as I know, Sarah’s ghost didn’t complain about her resting place. In fact, she looked very well-rested!) However Brutus may have profited when he was living has been paid for by the Collins family over the years. I doubt any action in the modern Parallel Time will have any real impact on the lots of long dead people from about 160 years prior. I highly suspect they all remain morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably, reliably, not only merely, but really most sincerely dead.

    I still believe James’/Morgan’s best solution is to ravage and torment Catherine Collins in a boat, with a goat, in the rain, on a train, in a car, in a tree, in a box, with a fox, in a house, with a mouse, in the basement, in the secret passages, in Quentin’s high-tech “Staircase in Time” (I’m sure he has one in PT!), in the East Wing of Collinwood, in the tower, in the cottage, in the gazebo, in the old house, in Eagle Hill Cemetery, here, there, and everywhere. That would punish the Collins family, but good! To start with, perhaps he could first offer a “truce” to Catherine. If she accepts, they could seal the deal with a drink. After all, Catherine is best at pouring drinks. Yes…..

    1. Standard PT Collinwood procedure; when servants see one family member pointing a gun at another, immediately get a weapon from the nearest cache and take up position nearby. (Weapons are located at approximately 2 foot intervals throughout the mansion, even in basements, attics, and secret passages.)
      It’s just common sense.

      And without pointless revenge-fueled vendettas from centuries ago, there wouldn’t have been nearly as many storylines for DS and they’d have had to go off the air two years earlier.

      Does James Forsythe make any pronouncements about who else in the current family has been reincarnated from the 1600s? Seems a shame to only have Julia and Carrie in that boat.

  7. So now there are two people whose response to this storyline is to become a crazed, ranting lunatic with violent tendencies…

    Technically it’s three, since Melanie is suffering from intermittent fits. Call it 2 1/2? Of course the family hasn’t locked her up (yet), even though she’s been “tetched” for much longer than the menfolk have.

  8. Danny: Marie Kondo this. Is writing about these last few weeks of the show sparking joy? If not, consider taking a step back, shelving it for the moment, and not letting either the artificial goal of the 50th anniversary or the sunk costs of your prior writing turn what should be a pleasurable side activity into a miserable slog.

    Of course, you could try MST3k’ing the sucker. It’s not like the show isn’t giving you ample material:

    Bramwell: You’re remarkably generous with the rest of your life, considering it belongs to me! Every minute you live is mine…”
    Servo: Oh, so when he says that to a woman it’s supposed to be romantic, but when I do it I’m banned from the gym.

    Morgan/James: He is here now! He has come to get me again!
    Crow: You know what could save this story line? If the candles blow out, and when they’re re-lit Morgan has been replaced with Vicki clutching the Collins family history book…
    Servo: Or even Phyllis Wick.
    Mike: Maybe Barnabas wasn’t a vampire in this timeline because Morgan went back to 1795 and stopped Angelique…
    Crow: Or even wound up with her. He’s a man, he’s a Collins, and he reads all his dialogue off the teleprompter. That’s basically her type.

    Mike: Quick piece of Dark Shadows trivia — this is the last appearance of Quentin because David Selby developed appendicitis.
    Gypsy: Why didn’t they just recast the role with, oh I don’t know, Tony Dow?
    Crow: Gypsy, what is it with you and Tony Dow recently?
    Servo: Yeah, how do you think that makes Richard Basehart feel?
    Cambot: Cuing screencap of shirtless Tony Dow. Screencap of shirtless Tony Dow in five, four, three…

  9. Having the candles blow out and then re-lit with Vicki clutching the Collins family history book in place of Morgan would have been GREAT! Perhaps she turned out to be Melanie’s twin sister, and she finally made it back where she belonged. She may have been playing in the playroom and then chanced upon Quentin’s Stairway in Time. It teleported her from Parallel Time to Time. That’s why her origin was a mystery! Meanwhile, James/Morgan is teleported to the original 1970 where Gerard’s zombie army has James/Morgan for supper. Crow’s a genius!

  10. I finally caught up to you, Danny! After a year of watching every DS episode (and after reading your incredibly entertaining blog since September) I’m excited to join the rest of the DS fans as you document in real time the final 15 episodes leading up to the 50th anniversary of the last airing of Dark Shadows. How much you have added to this experience!

  11. The quote from David Selby seems to suggest that he had no idea that the show would be off the air so soon; wouldn’t it have been a fairly generally known thing by now? The DS wiki says that the taping date was nine days before air, and the show was only going to be up another month. Why does the end seem to have come as a surprise to anyone in the production?

    1. They don’t seem to have told the actors very much. Remember the story about James Storm coming in for a costume fitting sometime after his final appearance, only to be told on his way out that the show would be ending before he could get back on.

      On the other hand, Dan Curtis, Lela Swift, and Gordon Russell clearly knew when they were setting up 1840PT that they would only have a couple of months. Each segment of the show had started from a more wildly ambitious bible than the one before. The last arc, the “Meet Gerard” portion that begins with the trip to 1995 in 1061 and ends with the Grand Finale in 1198, is the most ambitious of all. This time around, we only have three stories (The Lottery, Wuthering Heights, and Who Killed Stella?) and no characters pointing the way to any others. Resolve any of those, and the whole thing closes up very quickly.

      If they’d had the time to do a sprawling family saga, I would have liked to see a sequel to an alternate 1795. Barnabas’ son and his widow Josette would still be poor relations living in the Old House, not because of any characters previously unknown to us, but because Barnabas was a fool who, having inherited Joshua’s fortune, blew the entirety of it on a succession of idiotic schemes.

      The rest of the estate is still in the family, though not in the name of Collins- Barnabas’ sister Sarah (Joan Bennett) lives in the Great House with her husband, a very wealthy, very crude businessman (Thayer David) who bought the place from Barnabas before he died and now wants to get Barney Junior and Josette off the grounds.

      Daniel Collins died without children, but his nephew, Nathan Forbes Junior (Louis Edmonds,) is in control of the Collins interests in New York. Nathan Junior shows up and gets involved in some conflicts.

      Barney Junior is keenly aware of his status as the last bearer of the Collins name, and is determined to produce a son to carry it on. So when his wife dies, he remarries- not, as some had been expected, his old flame (Grayson Hall,) but her daughter (Donna Wandrey.)

  12. I know I’m in the minority but boy do I wish Morgan had succeeded in killing Julia! I’m not a fan for 1, and 2, it would’ve made this terrible storyline so much better!

    How sad that David Selby will not be in the rest of the episodes. He’s been great!

    I was glad to see Ben Stoked again. He was always a favorite.

    I wish I knew where the 3D glasses I once had were to see if they actually worked for this episode. LOL

    1. I recently received a pair of 3D glasses from MST3K for their Halloween Special “The Mask 3D”, so after reading your comment I wore them while rewatching this DS episode. They just made the color look even worse but everything was still 2D, unfortunately.

  13. I am so glad the round, tufted gold velvet banquette made it to 1840 Parallel Time. It’s the perfect seating arrangement for strangling Julia, but it’s not much good for anything else.

  14. i knew it! They rolled in that gold banquette just to have Julia strangled on, then wheeled it back out by the time Ben Stokes shows up 15 minutes later. They sure play fast and loose with the furnishings.

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