“No kidding, you’re my cousin? And you’re not a ghost!”
So, the guy’s been chained up in a coffin for about 170 years. When the box opens, he gets up, dusts himself off, puts on a hat, and shows up at the house, claiming to be his own great-great-great-grandson. How chill is that?
And, get this: It works. It totally works! Elizabeth comes downstairs, and she’s stunned by the newcomer’s resemblance to the portrait on the wall. He says, “The Collins blood always had a certain… persistent strength,” which obviously explains everything. She thought that “the original Barnabas” went to England and died, but he tells her that the family history must not have recorded that Barnabas married in England, and had a son. He’s the only surviving descendant of that branch of the family.
He doesn’t have an English accent, by the way. He sounds more like the Canadian branch of the family, with a detour through the Drama department. But he’s polite and courtly, and he’s got the same ring as the guy in the portrait, so she believes everything he says. Apparently guys who look like a portrait can get away with anything. The lucky stiff.
She apologizes for not being able to invite him to stay, but they have some guests in the house. “Please, even to think of it is sufficient courtesy,” he replies. “But I think you’ll realize when I say that… I prefer more independent quarters.”
And, there we go! Jonathan Frid has literally been on the show for five minutes, and already he’s flubbed a line. Better get used to it. There will be many, many more.
“I’ve always loved Collinwood,” Barnabas says. “It’s just as I remembered it.” Of course, as his own great-grandson, he’s never actually been here before. But he knows all about it, because stories about the house and the family have been passed down through the generations.
Or something. He’s kind of winging it at this point. He starts dropping names — Jeremiah and Josette lived in the old house on the estate; Joshua lived there even after Collinwood was built. You can tell he’s making it up because he can only think of names that begin with J.
Vicki comes in, and she’s introduced to the charming stranger. He kisses her hand, and says, “Do you let them call you Vicki, when your name is Victoria?” Vicki says yes, they’re not very formal. “But the name Victoria is so beautiful to me,” he purrs. “I couldn’t possibly surrender a syllable of it.”
You see? This is why vampires are trouble.
Barnabas takes his leave, promising to return later, and after he’s gone, the show kind of deflates a bit. Liz and Vicki have nothing to do but stand around and wonder where Willie is.
So let’s go over to the Old House, the broken-down deserted old wreck on the Collins estate that the family lived in before Collinwood was built. This is ten-year-old David Collins’ favorite place to play, because it’s 1967 and nobody cares what kids do. He appears to be playing a game called “Let’s see how high I can jump off this staircase before I hurt myself”.
And then a vampire shows up, which is the exact reason why you’re not supposed to play in a spooky haunted house after dark.
But it’s okay, because Barnabas isn’t biting people yet. This is a soap opera; first you have to go around and introduce yourself to all the other characters.
David recognizes Barnabas’ name and face, and assumes that he’s a ghost. Barnabas smiles, “Well, if I were a ghost, would you be talking to me so calmly?”
And the answer to that is yes, because this is Dark Shadows, and David’s been talking to ghosts all year. He’s a weird kid.
David introduces Barnabas to Josette Collins, an ancestor from over 100 years ago. Her portrait is hanging in the Old House drawing room, and David’s spoken to her before. She protects people, especially if you’re a Collins. You can tell when her spirit is around, because you can smell jasmine, her favorite perfume.
David doesn’t have a lot of friends, as you may imagine. The first time we see him playing with a friend his age is about two months from now, and she turns out to be a ghost too. The kid’s practically a necromancer.
David’s excited about showing Barnabas around the Old House — there’s a little attic that’s the best place to watch the sunrise. “Sunrise?” Barnabas says, with a theatrical look. David observes that Barnabas seems sad for some reason. Maybe he’s homesick. David asks, “Do you miss your home?” Barnabas looks off into the distance. “I did,” he says. “For a long time. But I don’t anymore.”
And when your cousin gets that look in his eye, it’s probably time to skedaddle off home, because he’s about to break into song, and anyway it’s almost bedtime. David goes back to Collinwood, and Barnabas does a soliloquy.
Now, pay attention to this part, because things are going to start getting a little soap-opera generic over the next few episodes, and this closing speech is going to have to sustain you. Tomorrow, the show is all misunderstandings and apologies. Today, it’s this.
“I was a Collins,” he says to the portrait. “Why didn’t you protect me? Where were you when I was turned into something my own father loathed? If his ghost is here with yours — tell him I’ve come home. I claim this house as mine — and whatever power you or he may have is ended. I am free now, and alive! The chains with which he bound me are broken, and I’ve returned to live the life I never had.”
He turns to look around the shattered room. “… Whatever that may turn out to be.”
Tomorrow: I’m Upset About Something.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
David bobbles a line with Barnabas: “At sunrise, when the water — when the ocean — when the sun comes over the ocean — everything begins to change color, right in front of your eyes.”
Behind the Scenes:
Jonathan Frid was cast as Barnabas Collins by producer Robert Costello; executive producer Dan Curtis was out of town. Legend has it that Curtis wanted to cast a different actor, but Costello either misunderstood him or deliberately made a different choice. By the time Curtis came back to New York, Frid was already working on the show.
Frid was mostly a stage actor before being cast as Barnabas; his only other television credits were in a few CBC dramas in the 1950s, and a brief role in 1964 as a psychiatrist, Dr. Field, on As the World Turns. But he had dozens of stage credits from more than two decades of work in the theater. He’s often referred to as “a Shakespearean actor”; he performed at the Toronto Shakespeare Festival and the American Shakespeare Festival, and he played lead roles in Macbeth, Richard III, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Taming of the Shrew.
The portrait of Barnabas had to be painted before Frid was cast, so Costello posed for a photograph, in costume and holding the props. Frid’s face was painted in before the portrait went up on the wall. Everybody acts like the portrait’s been there the whole time, but there was a mirror in that spot as recently as episode 197. The portrait was first seen in the credits of episode 204.
The portrait gag may be inspired by the 1847 serialized “penny dreadful” vampire novel Varney the Vampire, by James Malcolm Rymer. This book, which predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula by 50 years, establishes some of the major vampire tropes — a vampire with fangs, superhuman strength and hypnotic powers, who leaves two puncture wounds on a victim’s neck. Varney also bears a striking resemblance to the portrait of Marmaduke Bannerworth, and there’s a suggestion that he actually is Marmaduke.
Tomorrow: I’m Upset About Something.
— Danny Horn