When I began the DSXP, I considered Collinwood to be the protagonist of the show. Yes, that’s stretching the concept of “protagonist,” but then again, the idea of what a protagonist must and must not do is something of an arbitrary bit of conformity.
So, okay, Collinwood’s a protagonist. If that’s the case, what is its story? Well, it would take about 450 hours to really tell it (give or take a few in 1795). However, we can boil down the structure of it to where it begins and where it ends.
Narratively, it begins in 1966. It ends in 1841 PT. We can consider 1795 to be, what? Backstory? That sounds good. Formative, certainly.
On my wrap-up video, I talked about its changes briefly, and I attributed them to love. That’s so sticky-sweet that I hesitated to mention it at the time. There’s much more time spent in the pursuit of love in the house and very little time spent enjoying it. So, we may get back to that or we may not. I’m still feeling my way through.
In 1966, it’s a prison. Liz deludes herself into thinking she’s keeping outsiders from prying into her secrets, but really, she’s just punishing herself for her guilt over Paul’s supposed murder. It’s a dead place. The one servant they have is on his last legs. Memories, represented by the Old House, are best left to decay and be ignored.
One of the “jokes” is that Liz is only conceptually guilty of murder; she never killed him. If only she’d gone back to reexamine her past — in that basement room — she’d have seen the truth. New mysteries and anxieties would have replaced the guilt, but that would have been progress. And she would have learned one thing: what we do on impulse may shape us, but it doesn’t necessarily destroy us. Usually, we’re our own wrecking crew.
Over the course of the series, the house and the grounds are constantly opened up. The past emerges, and although it’s almost always immediately frightening, often with ill intent, it ends up saving the day because of how we deal with it. Barnabas, Quentin, and Angelique are key examples of this. Julia and Willie have patience (liberally blended with fear) with Barnabas. Barnabas aids Quentin and heals himself of his conflict over Angelique.
This is a house so filled with repression and guilt that it spills over into an entire, other dimension, demanding exploration. But what is the viewer to do with this? We can’t go into other dimensions to rewrite the past. That’s all true, but only if you think of time travel as literal and linear. But rather than ignore the past, we always have the invitation to approach it differently. More importantly, we can do that in a non-destructive way.
The “prime storyline” ends with yet another return from saving the present by confronting the past. It’s a crime of cancellation (and maybe Mr. Frid‘s understandable crankiness at the prospect of donning the fangs again) that we never got to see him deal with the tragic events he experienced before leaving 1841. I’ve finally figured out about 80% of the story that really needs to follow, and the generalities of it (if not the nearly palindromic specifics) are so obvious, I’m amazed that various continuation stories never seized on it.
Metaphorically, the show keeps going, though. Where does it all end? In a room cursed by the past. The family is practically held hostage by it. Yes, it’s easy to say that “love pulls them through” when Bramwell and Catherine are forced to stay within. Okay. Maybe. But how? I think it’s more the case that their mutual company gives them the strength to simply refuse to let the curse — in other words, the past — dictate their futures.
I remember feeling that the Frid, Karlen, Parker, and Barrett characters all genuinely deserved the happiness they found at the end of 1841PT, and that this reflects on the great house.
The past, overall, is not negated. Nor should it be. But with the influx of other characters, we can change what it does to us.