444 dark shadows gazebo millicent nathan

Episode 444: Anatomy of a Speed Bump

“I ask you to believe one thing, because it’s as true and as real as anything you’ll ever hear.”

Well, that scoundrel Nathan Forbes is at it again, manipulating the wealthy and naive Millicent Collins into marrying him, and giving him access to the Collins fortune. Exposed as a liar and an aspiring bigamist, Nathan is banned from Collinwood, plus Millicent tried to stab him with a letter opener, so figuring out the seating chart for the reception has been pretty decisively moved to the back burner.

Right now, the emotionally fragile Millicent is walking around with a box full of dueling pistols, looking for someone who’s willing to shoot Nathan in the face. It was that kind of breakup.

But Nathan, ever resourceful, has come up with a completely bonkers drawing-room-comedy-style plan, where his associate Noah attacks Millicent, wielding her cousin Barnabas’ cane. It’s all very fraught and complex.

Then Nathan jumps in and delivers some Batman ’66 style punches, and with a WHAM!, a POW! and a ZOK!, he chases the nasty bad man away. Millicent is overcome with emotion, and the whole production is a runaway success.

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443 dark shadows fan mail

Episode 443: Fan Club

“I lose track of time. The days are all the same here, and no one ever bothers to tell me what day it is.”

He is dead, alas! Reverend Trask is dead. The world is a little duller now — noticeably quieter — and we’re down another antagonist, which poses a real problem. We’ve been shedding characters like crazy as we approach the end of the 1795 storyline, and here’s the point where the cast really starts to look thin.

As we’ve seen recently, Barnabas has taken on a new role as the monster who hunts other monsters, kind of a cross between Godzilla and Dexter. That story structure turns out to be very productive for the show over the next couple years, but in order to work, you need an opponent who’s in the same weight class.

Angelique and Reverend Trask were both Barnabas-sized problems, and it was satisfying to see him take them on. Now that they’re gone, the only villain left is Nathan, who’s more of a charming con man than a threatening monster.

But he’s the best that we have to work with, so over the next week, we need to turn Nathan the adorable rascal into Nathan the predator.

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442 dark shadows last brick trask barnabas

Episode 442: Cask Party

“Death is a valid reason.”

TRUE! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? Writing about Dark Shadows every day has sharpened my senses — not destroyed — not dulled them. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

Well, not the whole story. There’s, like, 800 more episodes; we’d be here all night. But let’s see if we can focus on the next twenty-two minutes.

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441 dark shadows dead maude

Episode 441: Weekend at Maudie’s

“You made them take my dead body away! They threw me in the water!”

So stop me if you’ve heard this one before — sanctimonious witch hunter Reverend Trask comes back to his room, and finds the corpse of streetwalker Maude Browning lying on his bed.

Now, just to be clear — violence against women is not funny. Murdering somebody to cover up for your crimes is not funny. And yet — Reverend Trask walking into his room and finding a dead prostitute in his bed is extremely funny. Let’s see if we can break this down a bit.

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440 dark shadows header trask nathan

Episode 440: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Vampires

“You don’t know what you’re saying! The horror of that hand!”

In yesterday’s episode, vampire-about-town Barnabas Collins was down at the docks, looking for a bite to eat. He was just about to feed on streetwalker Maude Browning, but she screamed and fought him off, and it attracted attention. He scrambled away, leaving behind his signature silver wolf’s head cane.

So Barnabas needs to learn one of the fundamental rules of crime: If you’re going to go out and attack people, leave your identifiable accessories at home. This is no time for expressing your individuality; you need to be able to blend. This is why hipsters can’t be criminals.

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439 dark shadows henchman ben barnabas

Episode 439: Something About That Hate

“I have feelings, Ben. I can hate. And I can do something about that hate.”

Henchmen. Right? It’s a complicated relationship.

Barnabas wakes up today and climbs out of his coffin, and the first thing he says is, “Good evening, Ben. Did you see Trask today?” That’s the kind of boss he is. No small talk, no pleasantries. Just straight to business.

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438 dark shadows skull trask

Episode 438: Drag Me to Hell

“What really upsets you is the fact that you chose the losing side in this battle between the Almighty and the forces of Evil!”

At the top of today’s episode, vampire recluse Barnabas Collins asks his servant for an update on current events. Ben says that he was at Vicki’s witchcraft trial today, and stayed late to hear the verdict.

Barnabas pauses, and says, “I don’t like the expression on your face, Ben.”

Look, dude, you’ve had just as much time as the rest of us to get used to the look on Ben’s face. It’s a bit late in the day for constructive criticism in that area.

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437 dark shadows gaol peter vicki

Episode 437: There’s Just Us

“It’s got to stop now! It’s gone on for too long!”

It’s another trial day for Victoria Winters, who’s currently in custody on suspicion of witchcraft. As usual, she’s hanging out in her cell with Peter, her lawyer and boyfriend. He seems to spend a lot of time in these unstructured jailhouse discussions, just racking up the billable hours.

“Peter,” she says, “do you ever have nightmares?”

“Of course I do,” he replies. “I’m on Dark Shadows. Most of my scenes are with you. My whole life is a nightmare.” But he only says that in my imagination.

Vicki’s spent the last several months on this uncertain and frightening journey into the past, traveling to 1795 to witness the events leading up to Barnabas Collins becoming a vampire. Or, at least, the audience has witnessed those events. Vicki talked her way into a prison sentence six weeks ago, and now she’s well on her way to an execution.

“It’s got to stop now,” she says, trying to shake herself awake. “It’s gone on for too long! It’s got to stop now! It’s got to stop!”

Amen, sister. It’s been 437 episodes, and Vicki finally says something that I agree with.

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Episode 436: Quivering with Emotion (Backup Plan, part 2)

“Why isn’t she here? Because she’s vanished.”

So I guess it’s true — you start out thinking that the past was a golden age, but then you go back for a visit, and it’s just one disappointment after another. Plus, after a while they accuse you of witchcraft and execute you.

Writing this blog every day has been my own uncertain and frightening journey into the past, back to my younger days when I watched one episode of Dark Shadows a day, in order and without fast-forwarding, because it was on television and DVDs didn’t exist yet. And the way I remembered it, 1795 was the perfect jewel of a storyline — tragic and hand-crafted and brilliant. I’d completely forgotten that it goes into unexcused overtime like this.

And here I am, sentenced to watch episode after episode about Vicki’s witchcraft trial, which is just spinning in circles and refuses to end. It seems like every witness gets to come back for a bonus round, with more accusations and objections and pointless sidebars at the bench. Well, I can’t take it any more; I’m going for the Backup Plan instead. Episode overruled!

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435 dark shadows innocent ben peter

Episode 435: Next Stop Kansas

“It can’t be! That woman is dead!”

The sun sets, the coffin opens, and guess what, there’s more bad news. It’s like every time Barnabas gets up, there’s some depressing new development. He’s got to be wondering why he ever bothered to rise from the dead in the first place.

This is probably the first truly original concept born from this unholy union of monster movie and daytime soap opera — the idea of a vampire waking up and saying, Man, this has been such a crappy week.

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