Episode 1124: We Had Faces

“There will be a knock on the door, a man will enter, and before he leaves this room, I will know where my body is.”

So here we are, having a nice conversation with Roxanne of all people, when the door opens and in walks Lamar Trask, descendant and undertaker. This Trask is just as judgey and accusatory as all the others, and he has an old letter that he claims will prove once and for all whatever it is that he thinks he’s talking about.

Barnabas tells him to put his letter away and stop bothering people, but Trask insists. “Evil has many faces, Mr. Collins!” he announces, and then the camera pulls allllll the way in for another one of those terrible too-close close-ups that they’ve been doing for the last few months. It’s been happening since the 1995 storyline, and I have to admit it’s killing me.

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Episode 1123: Jay-Z

“Tonight I have finally met the man I am going to kill.”

He is the greatest single threat that the Collins family has ever encountered, the Big Bad magnified to the status of Big Worst. He is the man behind the curtain that you should not pay attention to, because if you get close, he’ll sear the flesh from your bones with the cleansing power of his unending hatred for everything in the universe, up to and including you.

The Catholic Church hated him so much that they murdered him, and then put his head on public display, so that everyone would know the true face of evil. And even his head — now stored in a see-through Tupperware container and hidden behind the draperies in the very room where you currently stand — even his head has the power to screw up your afternoon to a pretty devastating extent.

At least, that’s what I’m told. For all I know, this refugee from the antiques roadshow is just another dime-store decapitation, cluttering up the credenza.

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Episode 1122: The Lost World

“It’s time I start finding some of the lost world that we can’t understand or even see.”

Time-tossed vampire Barnabas Collins is leaving his family’s mansion, when he catches sight of a pretty young woman who looks like someone from Charlie’s Angels. This is Daphne, the mystery ghost who is destined — a hundred and thirty years from now — to collude with an angry fire god to destroy Barnabas and his entire way of life.

So obviously he wants to stop and say hi, and find out what the hell is going on, with an eye towards possibly not having this girl embark on her weird post-mortem vengeance spree. He approaches her at a traffic stop, and asks for her license and registration.

Now, when we saw Daphne’s ghost in the future, she was a governess, which is one of the all-time most destructive professions in history. Barnabas asks why she’s here in the woods, and she says that her carriage broke down, which is exactly what governesses always say. A governess’ carriage breaking down is basically a prelude to a wave of terror that she will blame on everybody but herself.

He accuses her of waiting for Gerard Stiles, a name that she doesn’t recognize, because Barnabas doesn’t know where this moment is in her personal timeline, and he wasn’t fully briefed before embarking on this irresponsible time cop assignment.

“But you haven’t told me your name,” he points out, and she says she doesn’t want to. “I’d hate to have to force you!” he growls, and then another character emerges from the underbrush.

“Why would you do that, Barnabas?” Desmond asks, and why indeed? Barnabas already knows her name. It’s practically the only thing he knows about this entire decade.

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Episode 1121: Quentuplets

“There was one night I concentrated very hard, and tried to reach you.”

So Quentin is still on Dark Shadows, which is a huge surprise to everyone except the people who watch Dark Shadows. There’s always a Quentin, and there always will be, even after there isn’t a Barnabas anymore. And decades later, when the show turns into an audio download, you click play, and what do you hear? Quentin. The guy has a portrait; there’s nothing you can do.

So this I guess is Quentin number three, who’s the identical great-uncle of the original Quentin, or the other way around, if you want to be strictly chronological about it. Number two was the Parallel Time Quentin, and number four is the Parallel Time Quentin of number three, and then there’s Quentin number five in Night of Dark Shadows, and on and on, tumbling through time in endless iterations. It’s Quentins, all the way down.

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Episode 1120: House of Hurt Feelings

“Read the book, and you will know why the head must be destroyed.”

And meanwhile, from out of nowhere: a good television show.

It’s one of the great mysteries of 1970 Dark Shadows, that it can careen from low point to high point as often as it does. The Parallel Time story rattled to an incoherent close in July, killing the villain a week early and throwing in an unnecessary new love interest at the last minute. Then Barnabas and Julia traveled to 1995 for two fascinating, moody weeks that showed a sharp uptick in writing and production — and then it all fell to pieces over the next few months, as they returned to 1970 and forgot what they were aiming for.

And now here we are in October, in 1840 of all places, and the show is worth watching again, because Dan and Sam and Gordon have simply scrapped all of the previous stories and continuity and started over again, with a brand new soap opera. Barnabas and Julia aren’t on the show today, and nobody talks about them; the only character who we know from longer than two weeks ago is young Daniel, who’s now a dying old man and hardly even counts.

The star of this new show is Gerard Stiles — gun runner, smuggler, best friend and fortune-hunter — who has the same name and hairstyle as a ghost that used to be on the show, but otherwise there’s no resemblance. Gerard doesn’t threaten children or governesses, and he doesn’t do magic tricks with dollhouses. Why would he?

But this is how it works on this show, which has reinvented itself and risen from the ashes for another cycle. Once again, they’ve discovered that the best way to make Dark Shadows is to start from scratch and do something else.

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Episode 1118: Getting Ahead

“You seem to have a terrible effect on everyone but me.”

It always starts with a box.

In the red corner, breaking the chains that bind him and emerging once again from his family’s secret mausoleum to feast upon the juices of the living, we have returning champion Barnabas Collins.

And in the blue corner, with the purple satin drape over his glass cage, we have challenger Judah Zachery, a severed head who’d have a king-sized chip on his shoulder if he still had a shoulder.

This will be the final engagement that determines the ultimate fate of the Collins family — a mixed martial dark-arts battle royale between good and evil, or more accurately between somewhat evil and entirely evil.

It always starts with a box. Sometimes two boxes. It depends on how many boxes you have.

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Episode 1117: Meanwhile, Again

“When I saw your grave in 1970, I knew I had to find a way.”

Meanwhile, a hundred and thirty years in the future, another unfathomable time dilemma snakes its way across the room, fizzing and throwing sparks. Time flies, they say, and Barnabas Collins is a frequent flyer.

He sits down, and thinks about the magic Chinese sticks on the table in front of him. Two weeks ago, the whole neighborhood burst into flame, and the outlook post-inferno is decidedly bleak. The few survivors are scattered, broken, unable to heal. His best friend is missing, possibly kidnapped by ghosts or eaten by zombies, or maybe she’s the patsy in one of those lunatic time-travel conspiracies where people load up a sacred altar with books and boxes and instructions and failure and send it all into the future, where it catches fire and explodes into fragments, accomplishing nothing. He isn’t sure. So he throws some sticks on the table, closes his eyes, and gives the situation a good hard think. It’s called crisis management.

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Episode 1116: That’s Us In There

“I cannot go through eternity alone!”

Samantha tells Julia how Roxanne is feeling, and then Barnabas sneaks into Collinwood and leaves a note for Ben, and then Gerard thinks about killing Samantha but doesn’t, and then Ben and Julia read Barnabas’ note and go over to the Old House where they talk about Roxanne for a while, and then Gerard talks to Samantha about Gabriel, and then Samantha finds Roxanne, who’s been bitten in the gazebo.

So Samantha runs into Collinwood to get Gerard, but by the time Samantha and Gerard get back to the gazebo, Julia and Ben have taken Roxanne to the Old House. Julia sends Ben out to get alcohol, which I don’t know if he ever does. Then Gerard finds Julia in the Old House, which makes him suspicious, but then he stops being suspicious and goes home. And then Barnabas shows up and has a fight with Julia. Okay, that’s over with; now we can talk about something else.

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Episode 1115: The Gun Runner

“You will hear the sound of my voice in your mind!”

I remember the days when I loved Nicholas Blair.

He showed up at the house with a smile and a mysterious hat, claiming to be the brother of a woman who didn’t exist. He smiled, and he winked, and he hypnotized people, and there were wheels within wheels. He was a Satanic mob boss with the keys to the car, and everything he said was interesting.

It didn’t last, of course; nothing truly beautiful ever does. It turned out he was all mouth and no trousers, a confidence trickster who gradually lost our confidence. He never had the clever master plan that he kept suggesting that he had, a fact which became increasingly apparent as the weeks dragged by and he refused to progress the story. By the time he burned, we were glad to be rid of him.

That’s always the way with Dark Shadows, I’m afraid; the beginnings are always better than the endings. A storyline starts out full of promise, and gradually becomes a bore. It turns out that writing a daily soap opera is incredibly difficult, especially the way that they do it on Dark Shadows, which is to write storylines with a definite beginning and end. With a structure like that, you have to make sure that the overlapping plotlines all crescendo at the same time, and the only way to do that would be to plan every story beat in advance, which would take so much time that nobody would be available to write today’s episode. So it falls apart, somehow. Still, you can’t beat the beginnings.

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