Category Archives: October 1969

Episode 864: Down the Hatch

“Do you deserve to live? Why? To playact at your black arts, to be a dilettante warlock?”

The hatch in the ground is at Shipwreck Point, obviously, because they didn’t have plane crashes in 1897. But I guess now we’re using plot points from Lost, because Dark Shadows borrows from every story it can find, including stories that haven’t been written yet. To achieve this kind of effect, you usually need an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of typewriters. But Dark Shadows can only afford three monkeys, so they have to type extra hard.

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Episode 863: Sin and Sincerity

“But why should God be angry at Judith?”

Barnabas is staked, Quentin is swapped, Charity is possessed by a woman she hardly knows. As usual, the Collins family is full of supernatural ne’er-do-wells, who scream and scheme and stay up late, desperate to save each other from their latest fate worse than death.

Meanwhile, the grown-ups in the family go to work, and manage their investments, and take care of the property. They pay servants. They sign documents. They make decisions.

Some of those decisions are terrible, of course, especially in their choice of spouses, who tend to be monsters and murderers and reincarnations of people, but at least the grown-ups don’t dabble in the dark arts. Judith wouldn’t know a dark art if it came up and bit her, which, come to think of it, it actually did.

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Episode 862: Z-Jay

“Why did you come out here at this hour, and why are you wearing that gown?”

As you know, I hate to speak ill of the dead, especially when they’ve gone to a lot of trouble and they’re only trying to help, but I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a ghost successfully deliver a coherent warning to anybody. Either they moan a person’s name and nothing else, or they issue a bunch of unheralded pronouns and don’t explain the context. They put all this spectral energy into piercing the veil between the living and the not, but when they get through, it turns out they haven’t really figured out their messaging.

The current example is even more baffling than usual. Kitty Hampshire — known Josette lookalike and alleged reincarnation — finds a note in her bechamber that says, “Know yourself. Be who you must be.” Then she hears the hypnotic chimes of a music box, which direct her to a vintage gown hidden in the cedar chest. Putting it on, the damsel in this dress drifts down the stairs, and out to the cliffs atop Widow’s Hill, a popular nightspot for the young and doomed. This is all standard practice for gothic heroines who are gradually becoming aware that they’re somebody else.

Arriving at the rendezvous point, Kitty finds the specter of Jeremiah Collins, who was shot in the face a hundred years ago. “YOU MUST LEAVE THIS PLACE!” he bellows. “LEAVE COLLINWOOD, AND NEVER RETURN! IF YOU STAY — HE WILL KILL YOU!”

So Kitty just stands there, and screams her head off. And Jeremiah, honestly, what did you think was going to happen? You’re an undead creature with an untreated head wound. You are scary. That is a thing that you are now; you need to recognize that, and adjust your strategy accordingly.

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Episode 861: The Unvisited

“I feel a presence of someone!”

Previously, on Dark Shadows:

The Doctor came to a halt, his arms folded. “I won’t do it,” he said obstinately. “Whatever you want — I won’t do it!”

The Time Lord spoke one word. “Daleks.”

The Doctor spun around. “Daleks? Well, what about them?”

The Time Lord paused, as if collecting his arguments, then said, “Our latest temporal projections foresee a Time-stream in which the Daleks will have destroyed all other life forms. They could become the dominant creatures in the Universe.”

“That has always been their aim,” agreed the Doctor grimly. “Go on.”

“We’d like you to return to Skaro at a point in time just before the Daleks evolved.”

Immediately the Doctor guessed the Time Lord’s plan. “And prevent their creation?”

“That, or alter their genetic development, so they evolve into less aggressive creatures. At the very least, you might discover some weakness which could serve as a weapon against them.”

The Doctor tried to look as if he was thinking it over. But it was no more than a pretence. He couldn’t resist the idea of a chance to defeat his oldest enemies once and for all. “Oh all right. All right. I suppose I’ll have to help you — just one more time. Return me to the TARDIS.”

“No need for that, Doctor. This is Collinwood.”

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Episode 859: If I Were You

“Oh? And what a strange suicide that would be!”

Fridays have always been fairly freaky on Dark Shadows, but this week they’ve upped the ante with a body swap story featuring the mad wizard Count Petofi’s hostile takeover of teen idol pop star Quentin Collins’ body. Petofi claims that he’s stolen his co-star’s face because he wants to escape from a pack of gypsies baying for his blood, but I think there are some other things at play. I know what I’d do if I suddenly looked like Quentin Collins, and I wouldn’t be wasting my time researching I Ching hexagrams.

But body swap stories tend to be light on the benefits and heavy on the downsides, a way to explain and reaffirm the status quo as the best of all possible worlds. This goes back to the first example of the trope, an 1882 comic novel called Vice Versa.

I’ve been reading Vice Versa lately, and it’s pretty funny. It’s about a pompous English businessman named Paul Bultitude who can’t stand children, up to and including his own son Dick. In the opening chapter, the winter holidays are over, and the boy’s about to go back to boarding school. Dick isn’t looking forward to it, so Mr. Bultitude delivers a pompous lecture about the joys of school and boyhood, ending with a wish that he was a boy again.

As it happens, Bultitude is holding a magic stone that his brother-in-law brought back from India, a region with a high rate of magic stones per capita. His wish is granted, and he’s turned into a perfect duplicate of his son. Delighted at the chance to skip school, Dick wishes himself into his father’s body, and then sends his perplexed dad off in his place.

The novel follows Mr. Bultitude through a very uncomfortable week at his son’s terrible punishment school. He tries to act like the mature gentleman that he is, in order to demonstrate that he’s not actually Dick — which gets him bullied by the other boys, persecuted by the headmaster, and generally ill-treated by everyone.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but I assume that it ends with father and son going back to their own bodies, wiser for their experiences, and then they go and burn down the school, to the delight of all. That’s the point of body swap stories, seeing the world from the other person’s point of view, and learning to appreciate other people’s perspectives. Except for the movie Face/Off, of course, which is about figuring out whether it’s better to be born looking like Nicolas Cage, or to be born as somebody else and become Nicolas Cage later on in life.

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Episode 858: The Woman Who Wasn’t There

“You can’t just go on killing until you find the right hexagram!”

If the 1897 storyline has an overall theme — and it absolutely doesn’t, but let’s say it does for a second — then it’s this: Can villains build a better world?

It’s been about two years since the villains took over Dark Shadows, first with Barnabas and Julia stealing all the screen time, and then the rise of Angelique as the antagonist’s antagonist, reducing all the other characters to the role of chess pieces. By 1968, the continuing saga was essentially just the story of the Collins family enduring the intrusion of one monster after another — Adam, and Cassandra, and Nicholas Blair, and Danielle Roget, and a swarm of vampires, and finally a werewolf and a handful of angry ghosts. For the most part, the villains were the characters that drove the plot; they were the ones with story arcs. The would-be heroes basically turned into goldfish, swimming in circles in the background, as the villains clashed at stage front.

So as the 1897 storyline begins ambling towards a conclusion, the show is essentially asking, why do we even bother having characters who aren’t villains? If we assemble a diverse cast of gold diggers and grave robbers and spell casters, can they produce a long-term, productive storyline? Or does it all end with a big smoking hole in the ground, and a handful of singed survivors? At the moment, the smart money’s on big smoking hole, but stay tuned.

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Episode 856: The Switcheroo

“Do you think I’m fool enough to leave the power of the Hand in that body?”

Over the last ten months, mercurial trickster Quentin Collins has been just about everything it’s possible for a Dark Shadows character to be. Lover, scoundrel, zombie, ghost, mortal enemy and loyal friend, brother, father, uncle and antihero, black sheep and white knight, victim, villain, werewolf and wife-killer, teen idol, trading card, day player, pop star and devotee of the dark arts, he has seen and done and been it all. In a fiercely competitive narrative environment, he’s adapted to every new situation, the undisputed champion of 1969.

Now, a powerful wizard sits alone in the back room of his crummy old basement lair, calling on the fire and the air and the water and the earth — and hey presto, with a wave of the wand and a puff of smoke, Quentin Collins changes his mind again.

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