During the time of the original run of Dark Shadows, I was about the age of one of its characters, David Collins. From what I remember about other soap operas over the years, there are usually children in the cast. But I’m not sure there have been children as important to plots and storylines as David was to Dark Shadows. I have to believe one of the reasons I fell in love with the show was that I identified with David. I longed to share in his adventures while, at the same time, feared for his well-being.
David Collins was born was born in 1956 to Roger and Laura Collins. However, one of the ongoing stories of the first year of Dark Shadows was whether or not David was really the son of Burke Devlin, who dated Laura before she married Roger. Roger resented David because of this possibility and expressed his animosity toward him with threats of putting him in an institution. David reciprocated these feelings and often acted out against his father.
When his mother fell ill and was committed to a hospital, Roger and David moved to Collinwood in 1967 to live with Roger’s sister, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, and her daughter (David’s cousin), Carolyn Stoddard. After another threat of sending him away, David sabotaged his father’s car, causing him to crash on Widow’s Hill. This act was the catalyst for a long storyline where Burke Devlin was accused of the crime. Ironically, by the time Elizabeth finally covered up the truth and caretaker Matthew Morgan took the blame, David and Burke had become good friends.
Jumping ahead to the second year of Dark Shadows, after vampire Barnabas Collins was introduced into the ratings-challenged show and it became a smash hit, David met the ghost of Sarah Collins (episode 256), the little sister of Barnabas who died in 1795. After she led him to a secret room in the family mausoleum (episode 315), he encountered Barnabas waiting outside and became terrified of him.
Until Sarah appeared to other characters, nobody believed David that she existed. The rest of the family thought he was just acting out again. Enter a television trope known as “Not Now, Kiddo”, a common twist of the plot where a child has some urgent news but is hushed by adults. Usually, the information the child holds is important and the adults regret ignoring it. Sometimes the adults are led into danger by not listening.
This is related to another television trope called “Crying Wolf”, where a warning is indeed heard, but is dismissed because of its source. In this case, why would anyone believe David when he is the same person who nearly killed his father and then lied about it? Soap operas and television shows are not the only media to make use of these tropes. In many of the best horror movies, there is a character whom no one believes. This creates suspense because you feel sympathy for the character while at the same time believe he’s getting what he deserves.
David’s curiosity initiated several storylines throughout the run of Dark Shadows. The poor kid was possessed at least three times. First, the spirits of Quentin Collins and Beth Chavez possessed him and Amy Jennings. Then, he was possessed by the Leviathans. Finally, the spirits of Tad Collins and Carrie Strokes possessed him and Hallie Stokes in an alternate 1970 timeline in which David ultimately died. Here, of course, is an even more familiar trope: the child in danger. And that is a role on Dark Shadows that David Collins was always prepared to play.