Tag Archives: decline and fall

Episode 1200: The Woman in What?

“No one will find me, including the thing in that room!”

It’s difficult to build up an audience for a daytime soap opera; you have to catch lightning in a bottle just to get people’s attention in the first place. You need to create likeable characters that people can relate to, and put them in interesting and dramatic situations. You have to write dialogue that speaks to the audience, and touches on their concerns. You have to create an intimacy, a real connection, that makes the audience want to tune in every single day.

I mean, unless it’s the last two months of Dark Shadows, in which case don’t bother. Who even cares?

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Episode 1199: The Wuthering

“Sometimes I regret all these things we’ve had to do because of that room.”

Yesterday, Dark Shadows as we know it came to a close, as eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins and his boon companions Julia Hoffman and T. Eliot Stokes completed their journey to there and back again, returning home in debatable triumph. They’d traveled to the year 1840 with the goal of changing history, hopefully in a localized area and not one of those Nazis won the war type deals. All they wanted to do is stop Gerard and the unhallowed dead from tromping through Collinwood in 1970, leaving the house in ruins and killing a whole bunch of people that they liked.

Whether it actually worked or not is very much up for debate, because they never really had a clear idea of exactly what they were trying to stop. When they pulled this kind of maneuver the first time, in the 1897 storyline, Julia was told the chain of events that specifically needed averting, so it was child’s play to consult the chronometer and find out whether they’d done it or not. In 1840, they didn’t have a map, so the reckless wreakers of time crime just went around stomping on butterflies and hoping for the best.

Well, somebody must have done something clever while they were gone, because they climbed the magic stairs back to a world where everyone is alive, including them. Apparently, someone’s been living at Collinwood for the last four months in their place, doing things that the travelers don’t remember doing, which is yet another surprising choice on the part of the Dark Shadows writers. It would have been easy to have Elizabeth asking where they’d gone, we’ve been so worried, and so on, but Dark Shadows took the road less traveled, as they so often do, and personally I’m grateful to have one last impossible mystery to remember them by.

That’s the end of the show, really, with Barnabas, Julia and Stokes merrily skipping off to the historical center, where they’ll learn how the Nazis won the war. But everyone who watches Dark Shadows knows that just because you die, it doesn’t mean you have to lie down and stop bothering people. Death is just a change of address, and Dark Shadows still has one last story to tell. So off we go, into the unknown.

Continue reading Episode 1199: The Wuthering

Episode 1198: Goodbye to All That

“Without even planning it, I’ve committed the perfect crime.”

And then, I suppose, Gabriel and Edith’s children come home from boarding school to find an empty house. Their parents are dead, their grandfather is dead, Aunt Samantha is dead, Uncle Quentin has run off to Boston with the governess, and Uncle Desmond has run off to New York with a music hall performer. Nobody’s buried Samantha or their mother, or this strange Valerie Collins who they’ve never even heard of, because the funeral director has mysteriously disappeared, and the police are busting open brick alcoves all over Collinsport, just in case he’s behind one of them.

Aunt Flora is the only one left on the estate, and she’s gone mad, apparently; she can hardly answer a single question about the last four months without babbling about ghosts and vampires and mysterious decapitations. Uncle Quentin was tried for witchcraft, she says, but he was spared at the last moment by a witch, who accused somebody else of witchcraft, and then Uncle Desmond shot somebody, and somehow nobody went to prison.

Now they have to arrange for Aunt Flora’s stay at Rushmore Sanitarium, and sell Rose Cottage to young Mr. McGruder, and clear out the empty coffin in the basement of the Old House that their mysterious cousins from Philadelphia apparently left behind, before they too vanished without a word of explanation.

And then they’re alone, this unknown handful of necessary descendants, to repopulate the mansion and try to survive. Is it any wonder, on that terrible night, that they called upon the dark creatures of nature to bring their dead mother back from the grave?

Continue reading Episode 1198: Goodbye to All That

Episode 1189: Action in the Afternoon

“Free for an instant. Not free enough to run… Not free enough to forget.”

It’s not fair of me, I know. I’ve been cranky lately about the show’s slow pace, with an endless witch trial and a long series of pointless dream sequences, but this week, the show is making an effort to entertain again.

It’s Thursday today, and so far, we’ve had a death sentence, a murder, the discovery of an alternate dimension filled with Brontë characters, a cast member clubbed with a candlestick, and a kidnapping, and today we’ll get a jailbreak, a shooting and an invisible knife attack. I suppose this is technically what I asked for, and yet I’m still not happy. That will teach me to be more specific.

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Episode 1187: I Presume You’ve Never Heard About Something Called Parallel Time

“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.

Continue reading Episode 1187: I Presume You’ve Never Heard About Something Called Parallel Time

Episode 1183: Damn Daniel

“There comes a moment when one loses control of one’s own life.”

Prince of Fire, I call upon the flame to summon you. I call up all the dark creatures of nature to summon you here to me.

I summon you in the name of the charred and blackened stars that reigned at my beginnings, to rise out of the darkness of the earth.

In the name of every evil spirit, I invoke you! Appear to me now!

Damn, Daniel!

Damn, Daniel!

Damn, Daniel!

Back at it again with the white Vans!

Continue reading Episode 1183: Damn Daniel

Episode 1176: The Week Between

“I dream about her only because I hate her!”

Cockney mentalist Leticia Faye dashes into the drawing room of the sumptuously-appointed Rose Cottage, making a beeline for Flora with a bulletin from the courthouse.

“Oh, Flora!” she sobs, plunging into the woman’s arms.

Startled, Flora cries, “Tell me what’s happened!”

Leticia tries to pull herself together. “It’s Desmond!”

“What about my son?” Flora asks, and that’s how you know it’s Christmas.

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Episode 1169: This Wonderful Little Gathering

“We cannot love at will, any more than we could prevent our love.”

Oh, it was such a good idea at the time.

When Dark Shadows went to 1795, the show discovered that they could shake up the soap by traveling back into the past, using the existing cast but dressing them up in old-time costumes, and giving them new names and storylines. It was a spectacular way to move forward, interrupting a story that didn’t have anywhere to go, and breathing new life into the premise. While they were in the past, they figured out that you could have more than one monster on the show at the same time, and once they came back to the present, they started piling them up in heaps.

Problem is, they’re now doing time travel for the fourth time, and it turns out giving everybody a new character name every six months doesn’t automatically refresh the show; you also need to think up some new storylines. In fact, traveling to another time means that it’s possible to rehash the same plot points with a freshly neuralyzed set of family members, and there’s nobody around to say, wait a minute, this already happened, fifty-seven years from now.

Well, live and learn, I suppose, although on this show, it’s more like live and die and come back to life and then learn the same stuff over again.

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Episode 1164: Almost Helping

“I don’t know what is happening inside you, but it is evil.”

“Witchcraft!” cries Barnabas. “Of course I’ll help Quentin, I’ll do anything I can.”

He seems utterly shocked by the idea that Quentin’s been accused of witchcraft, even though everyone’s been talking about it for weeks. I know the dude only works nights, but seriously, how are you this out of touch? What have you and Julia been doing all this time?

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Episode 1150: The Strange Goings-On

“Nothing seems more important to me at the moment than the strange goings-on in this house.”

And so the afternoons wear on, Monday through Friday, and day by day, everyone’s getting a little bit older and a little bit wiser. That’s the usual arrangement, of course, and it generally works out okay, but it’s something of a problem for a television show like Dark Shadows, whose market share is determined by the audience’s appetite for the deeply unwise.

There’s been a steady drumbeat of cultural warning signs over the last year, signaling that the space that Dark Shadows occupies in the American consciousness is destined to be rezoned. There was that push for non-toxic children’s television, which resulted in the fall 1969 debuts of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and Sesame Street. There was the disaster at the Altamont free music festival in December ’69, when everyone discovered, to the surprise of an entire generation, that an enormous crowd of drug-addled young people is not innately loving and peaceful. There was the embarrassing string of House of Dark Shadows ads over the summer promising a “bizarre act of unnatural love,” and the shift in public opinion around April 1970 that made people start to classify Dark Shadows viewers as perverts, dabblers and scag freaks.

And then there’s another case study to consider, as we tumble towards 1971: the fall of Aurora’s Monster Scenes.

Continue reading Episode 1150: The Strange Goings-On