Friday, July 14, 2017

What date did Barnabas and Julia arrive in 1995?


Continuity is a soap opera's great strength. It's also its great weakness. The serial format really lets writers dive deep into character relationships and conflict, creating worlds that are notoriously easy to confuse with reality. The Collins family of DARK SHADOWS, for example, isn't so much a tree as a fractal, splintering into divergent futures and timelines that span hundreds of years. Even casual fans of the series can name members of the family across several generations. When your lead is a 200-year-old vampire, understanding these multi-generational relationships is kind of essential.

These complicated details become a lot more dubious on closer examination, though. A character can be dropped from a storyline, only to be reintroduced several years later ... but how much time as really passed? On soaps, a single Halloween party can be dragged out for as long as necessary, squeezing weeks worth of infidelity, murder, comedy and conflict into a period that -- technically -- only takes places within a few hours. When four weeks of episodes only comprise a single day, how much time actually elapses during an entire year?

On DARK SHADOWS, it's difficult to nail down a specific date without the aid of a newspaper or some other milestone. Even then, the production can be incredibly coy with the specifics. A newspaper front page seen in episode 238, broadcast May 24, 1967, appears to have an April 26 date, a muddied detail probably created by an inability to give the propmaster a specific broadcast date. As the series progressed, it became necessary to buff out these sorts of incidental details. When you've got a character travelling back in time from 1969, but returning "home" in 1970, it's best not to bog things down with too much indicia.

Which brings me to this: When, exactly, did Barnabas and Julia arrive at Collinwood in 1995? One fan managed to nail down the specific date of Ice Cube's 1993 song, "It Was a Good Day," but Cube was a lot more generous with the details than Dan Curtis. But there are certain assumptions we can make that can help narrow things down quite a bit.

At the start of episode 1061, Barnabas Collins and Julia Hoffman are fleeing Collinwood in a parallel version of 1970. Timothy Stokes (who's a major creep in PT1970) has set fire to the mansion, forcing Barnabas Collins and Julia Hoffman to flee to their own timeline through the dimensional rift in Angelique's room. Once there, they discover they've missed their mark. Yes, they've returned to their own timeband, but have arrived 25 years in the future. Collinwood, as well as the family that once lived there, is in ruins.

Because of the disastrous timeslip, it should be impossible to determine the exact date of their arrival. Except the writers let slip a few crucial details that suggest the date lines up with the episode's date of broadcast: July 20.

First off, we can assume that any given episode of DARK SHADOWS more-or-less takes place on the day its broadcast. Sure, we lose a few dates here and there (the first five episodes of the series appear to take place in a single 24-hour period, for example) but the narrative has a way of self-correcting as things move forward. These bumps tend to happen at the start of a new storyline, which is how someone can travel forward in time from 1969, but return "home" in 1970. And episode 1061 is absolutely the start of a new storyline.

We're given two milestones in 1995 to help establish the date. Both are tombstones: David Collins (1956-1970) and Henry Beecham (1967-1995). Thanks to the Halloween aesthetics of DARK SHADOWS, neither tombstone appears to have been recently installed. So, we can assume that Mr. Beecham has been dead and buried for a few months, at the very least. (Both tombstones conveniently omit specific birth and death dates.)

There's also a continuity error that suggests the duo have arrived in a warmer season. When Barnabas left 1970 Parallel Time, he was wearing his Inverness cape. Upon his arrival at Collinwood in 1995, though, that cape is conspicuously absent. Throughout the next few episodes we see Barnabas and Julia trekking around Collinwood and Collinsport at night without aid of winter clothing, suggesting its not especially chilly outside. (Note: Bangor, Maine, is expected to get no warmer today that 69.1° F.)

Finally, Julia says it's been one month since she was last in the main time-band of DARK SHADOWS. Ordinarily, that wouldn't mean much for a soap opera, but in this case she's pretty accurate. The episode she refers to was 1035, broadcast June 12, 1970. If you put all of that together, there's absolutely no reason to believe that Barnabas and Julia don't arrive on July 20, 1995, 25 years after the broadcast date.

Complicating matters is the show's habit of self correcting its own timeline. As I've mentioned already, DARK SHADOWS likes to reset its odometer whenever a new arc begins. They not only do that in 1995, but when Barnabas and Julia return to 1970, as well. When they return "home" in episode 1071, Quentin Collins tells them the date is Aug. 3, 1970. Julia backs up his date, saying they left parallel time on the same date ... meaning no time has passed while they were in 1995. The problem? Barnabas and Julia say they were in the future for a week, placing their arrival time at July 27, 1995.

This is the only firm date we're given during this block of episodes, but I'm still hesitant to accept it. The show's insistence that it's HAPPENING NOW! (in this case, using the Aug. 3 date on the Aug. 3 episode) is just an attempt to retroactively alter its continuity in order to realign the story's calendar with the broadcast calendar. I'm not going to unfriend you on Facebook for subscribing to the July 27 theory, but I would reserve the right to comment on your posts with snarky gifs.

So, what was going on in the world on July 20, 1995? The Ramones released "¡Adios Amigos!", their fourteenth and final studio album, that week. (It included such DARK SHADOWS-friendly song titles as "Makin' Monsters for My Friends," "It's Not for Me to Know," "Take the Pain Away," and "Cretin Family.") FREE WILLY 2: THE ADVENTURE HOME made America stop caring about killer whales for a while, probably because we were distracted by the devastating sex appeal of Paul Rudd in CLUELESS. (Both movies opened that week.) And, in Chicago, a scorching heat wave caught the city unprepared, killing 739 people between July 13-20. Talk about a shitty week. Maybe we ought to run with July 27 after all.

Weirdly, a Google search consistently turned up one photo taken that day in Bangor, Maine. Back in 2015, Stephen King shared a photo on Twitter of himself and his dog, Marlowe, which was taken July 20, 1995. He didn't identify what he's working on in the photo, but his next major project, the serialized "The Green Mile," would be released early the next year. Or maybe he's drafting a poison pen letter to Stanley Kubrick. Who knows?

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