When Dark Shadows first aired in the mid-to-late 1960′s, it’s doubtful the cast and crew envisioned a day when the episodes they produced would be watched and re-watched under the intense scrutiny of its fans. On one hand, since individual episodes would probably be seen only once, there was no long term need to pay great attention to detail and continuity. On the other hand, it was a soap opera where the ongoing story meant everything to its credibility, so it had to make sense in the short term.
We’re all used to the little bloopers and continuity errors of Dark Shadows. They are part of its everlasting charm. But to look at how well it did connecting its overarching plotlines, let’s examine the episodes immediately preceding the 1795 flashback and those immediately following it. You will recall that the 1795 flashback was when Victoria Winters travelled back in time to experience firsthand the origin of vampire Barnabas Collins.
Prior to the séance that sent Vicki on her journey in episode 365 (11-17-67), the ghost of Sarah Collins had appeared to nearly everyone at Collinwood. When Dr. Julia Hoffman proposed the séance, Elizabeth Stoddard believed that contacting Sarah’s spirit was the only way to save her nephew, David Collins, whom Sarah had warned that “the dead are angry and want to destroy someone in the house.” Elizabeth’s brother, Roger Collins, scoffed at first, but was reminded that they “learned something last time”, referring to the séance at a costume party in which Roger was eager to participate in episode 280 (7-21-67).
Elizabeth’s daughter, Carolyn Stoddard, also scoffed, but she was under the control of Barnabas Collins, who feared that contacting Sarah might reveal his identity as a vampire. Nearly 100 episodes later, when Vicki returns to the present in episode 461 (4-1-68), that is still Barnabas’s concern; however, it is now because of not knowing how much Victoria remembers about the past.
As far as physical continuity goes, at the séance in episode 365, the characters were seated around a table in the drawing room in this order, clockwise from the left: Elizabeth, Julia, Victoria, Barnabas, Carolyn and Roger (back to camera). When Victoria disappeared and Phyllis Wick appeared in her place, Barnabas stood behind her. We next see this scene in episode 461. The clock has stopped at midnight. From the very same angle, though, the characters are re-arranged, clockwise from the left, as: Elizabeth, Barnabas (standing), Carolyn, Roger (standing), Julia and Phyllis Wick (back to camera).
Due to the action that subsequently occurs in episode 461, it’s understandable why the cast played Musical Chairs. And it’s not really important to the story itself. As far as the scripted continuity goes, Dark Shadows does a remarkably good job (almost five months later) of remembering what was happening in 1967; except, of course, that it is now 1968. The relationship between Barnabas and Julia is still strained at best and Carolyn is still under the vampire’s power.
Of the other pre-1795 flashback relationships, one resurfaces and one does not. Although nothing serious ever developed between Carolyn and Tony Peterson, their off-and-on romance takes place both before and after the flashback. But Victoria’s realization that Burke Devlin died in a plane crash, even though all twelve bodes were “burned beyond recognition”, was one typical soap opera plot thread that never returned after episode 364 (11-16-67), the episode before the séance.
Dark Shadows then wastes no time in speeding along the “current” story lines. Even though there is ample intrigue following Victoria’s return, the next big arc kicks off a week later in episode 466 (4-8-68). That hardly leaves enough time to quibble about continuity. In my opinion, that’s when the series really started having fun. Now that we were more familiar with the characters of the past, they came back to both haunt and romance the characters of the present. Not all future shifts in time would be as competently handled as this one.