In November, 1968, several story lines were winding down on Dark Shadows.
Man-made creature Adam killed his mate, Eve, in episode 626. After a failed attempt to return her to life in episode 633, he wandered off into the woods for the final time. (He was last mentioned in episode 637.) Sorcerer Nicholas Blair was also destroyed in episode 633, his reign of terror at Collinwood ended.
The long-running question of Jeff Clark’s identity was resolved when he realized he was indeed the spirit of Peter Bradford living in Clark’s body. He married Victoria Winters (played by Betsy Durkin since episode 630) in episode 637, but then was separated from her when he was pulled into the past. Vicky soon joined him and the last we saw of her was during a one-week flashback when Barnabas returned to 1796 in an attempt to help save her from the gallows.
Amid all the departures, a new monster joined the show in the form of Chris Jennings, cousin of Carolyn’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Joe Haskell, and twin brother of Tom Jennings, a handyman who became a vampire when he discovered Angelique’s coffin. When Chris first appears in Collinsport in episode 627, it is two months after Tom is believed to have died and there is great concern for the well-being of their younger sister, Amy (who at first mention is referred to as “Molly”).
The past of Chris Jennings is immediately painted as a mystery. He states that he is “never in one place for a very long time”. But Joe recounts that he and Chris were high school friends. Chris was a smart guy who went to college to study architecture; but something happened to him and he started disappearing into the mountains. “I’m not always easy to reach,” explains Chris.
When Chris reads a newspaper weather report in episode 632 and panics at the forecast of “clear, cold, full moon”, it doesn’t take a monster expert to realize that Chris is a werewolf. That night, he asks the proprietor of the Collinsport Inn to lock him in the most isolated room and ignore any noises he hears coming from inside. And thus actor Conrad Bain’s guest stint on Dark Shadows comes to an untimely end as Chris transforms into a beast, kills him and drags his bloody body across the floor.
From the first time Amy tells Julia that she saw a wild animal dressed like a man in episode 639, the story is drawn out for nearly three months as the groundwork is laid for an even larger story arc, which would lead into what may have been the height of Dark Shadows’ success: the 1897 flashback. The werewolf curse of Chris Jennings is vital to this story; however, it seems to take a backseat to the bigger picture of the haunting of Collinwood by the ghost of Quentin Collins.
The plots of Chris Jennings/werewolf and Barnabas Collins/vampire are eerily similar. Although Chris creates no elaborate story to explain his appearance, both characters enter the story with mysterious pasts. Both begin romances with women of Collinsport: Chris with Carolyn and Barnabas with Vicky. Both place Maggie Evans in danger. And both generate suspicion among the other characters, their stories peaking when they are nearly discovered.
More significant, though, is their relationship to children, which in turn motivates them to act. Barnabas is obsessed with the secrets of the ghost of Sarah, yet powerless to bury them. Chris is obsessed with the safety of Amy, yet powerless to protect her. These children and these obsessions are instrumental lead-ins for historical flashbacks, 1795 revealing the origin of the vampire and 1897 revealing the origin of the werewolf curse.
The primary difference is that Barnabas Collins is a member of the Collins family, but Chris Jennings is not. Or is he? I won’t reveal every twist so that you can enjoy a few of your own.
As the 1897 flashback began, Dark Shadows was about 60% through its ultimate run. After a year of struggling, it found its voice with the arrival of vampire Barnabas Collins in episode 211. It then added a Frankenstein-like monster when Adam was brought to life in episode 475. It showed us the first onscreen transformation of werewolf Chris Jennings in episode 640. Every 200 or so episodes (or roughly every ten months) a new creature was introduced. What in the world would come next?