By PATRICK McCRAY
Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 950
Quentin’s attempt to convince Carolyn that Jeb killed her father is thwarted when the selfsame Jeb enters and announces that Philip Todd has confessed to the murder. Barnabas arrives and, alone with Jeb, our two heroes warn him that he and the Leviathans will never emerge the victors, but Jeb slides away with menace and confidence. As Barnabas and Quentin debate strategy, Jeb continues to woo Carolyn, and it’s becoming evident that it’s for more than ceremonial reasons. As Carolyn dreams of Jeb as the gloating, murdering incarnation of his child-selves, Quentin and Barnabas steal the Naga Box. Barnabas attempts to smash it with his cane on the Leviathan altar, but a bat emerges from it and attacks him, fulfilling their threat against him.
I awaited this episode for a long time. Years. Far more years than one would think. It brings me profound joy. I’ll explain in a moment, and I’m sure you’re breathless with anticipation.
Before we pop the cork, though, let’s talk lobster.
The Leviathan storyline is like a great lobster dinner that begins with an enormous quart of terrible chowder. And you have to eat all of the chowder before they’ll bring out the lobster. At first smell, it seems okay. Smells good. We’re hungry. Looks okay. But because it’s Manhattan style, it’s a little weird. Not chowder as most humans know it. But not by definition terrible. And yet.... Barnabas is the villain. Julia’s the hero. Who are the Todds? Why do I care? But Quentin’s kinda back. That’s good. And there’s Roger Davis with a puppet-android of himself (still making public appearances, I hear). So that’s okay. Quentin wanders around Hell. And we finally get Paul Stoddard! But, um. Barnabas is the villain. Not even under his own steam. Who are the Leviathans? What the hay do they have to do with anything? Isn’t this show about the Collinses? Why do I care? Two words: Sky Rumson. And what’s up with all the kids? In the acting department, well, they’re no David Henesies, and they’re getting a lot of attention and… what on Earth am I watching?
And how much of this chowder do I have to eat? Because the more I get into it, the weirder it is. Like, cartoon-fish-skeleton-on-my-spoon weird. Just… well, now it’s bad. There, I said it. And I have to finish the whole quart before they’ll serve that lobster.
But, somehow, I soldier through. We’ve now eaten the chowder.
And in episode 950, the lobster is served.
There’s a lot going on in 950, and most of it is on the bridge of the USS Collinwood… the Drawing Room. Because in 950, three eras of DARK SHADOWS converge. With Barnabas, restored at last to his full heroic nature, we have our first great hero, galvanized into action against the Leviathans. He faces the future of the show in the last* of their long-standing leading men, Christopher Pennock, and the first of his characters, Jeb. Between them? Quentin, the catalyst of the show at its most creative and freewheeling. His memory is restored. He’s well aware of his powers. And although his philosophy differs from Barnabas, the two are finally united in the modern era against a new villain, and one powerful enough to ostensibly demand their combined attention.
Given how fast the series would later move, I kindasorta wish they’d just started with Jeb as an adult. Once Pennock enters the scene and brings in the surly, discontented, revolutionary near-youth to counter the refined (if conflicted) ethicist, Barnabas and his cavalier, scoundrel cohort, Quentin, we see everyone in a slightly new light, and the show revitalizes in an instant. For me, it is an all-too-rare glimpse of what I’d always imagined DARK SHADOWS would be when I was a kid and saw my first glimpses of Quentin and read the names of the Marilyn Ross books. So many of them pitted Barnabas and Quentin against appropriately ominous-sounding threats. It gave me an image of DARK SHADOWS as the story of two occult-busting monsters, teaming to show the bad guys besting the worse guys. As they openly confront Jeb and then try to steal the Naga Box, even though they bicker to minor extents, we really see a rare glimpse of that dynamic duo in action. Sadly, that energy petered out. There’s very little to throw against an immortal except for threats to his heart, and they’d just killed Amanda Harris, so yet another true love, too soon, would have slid the show into parody. Similarly, the combination of Quentin and Barnabas was too powerful a team of problem solvers to leave united. Pitting them against each other would have gotten monotonous, forcing the writers to the journey into the light made by one of the two, thus rendering huge chunks of storytelling irrelevant. We see how well a temporary return to evil did for the robustness of the series with the ‘conversion’ of Barnabas.
So, Quentin gets marginalized and David Selby recycled into reflections. These should not go too unrecognized. While there’s little encouraging to say about QC2 in PT, QC1 is a damn fine variation on the character, essentially fusing QC2 with Barnabas.
No discussion of the episode is complete without noting Chris Pennock, whose energy on the show is wholly unique. He plays Jeb’s love-driven evolution into goodness with a very deliberate pace. Do I see it coming? Of course. Carolyn could have turned the head and changed the heart of Genghis Khan. But Pennock and the writers reserve just enough unpredictability with Jeb that it’s clear that his path will be neither easy nor obvious.
At this point in 1970, the DARK SHADOWS staff was about three months away from shooting HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, which more-or-less started filming (or at least talking away major series regulars) on March 18. We are also three years to the day away from the accords that would end the Vietnam War.