“This is gonna be soft and soothing. And you’re gonna listen to it, and you’re not going to hear anything.”
Here’s today’s supervillain human resources moment: Barnabas has promised Dr. Woodard a sample of Willie’s blood. I guess it’s basically the same concept as a mandatory drug test, but Willie’s taking it pretty hard; he’s shaking and sweating and begging Barnabas to reconsider. The doctor saw a “skirmish” going on in Maggie’s vampire-infected blood, and Willie’s convinced that his blood will reveal the same thing.
Now, I’ve seen television before in my life, so the fact that Barnabas is clearly not concerned about the situation means that he probably has some kind of plan in mind.
The interesting question is: Who are we supposed to be rooting for?
Going by the Dracula playbook, we’re halfway through Chapter XII. The vampire’s dined on Lucy’s jugular several times, and she’s under his hypnotic control. But Professor Van Helsing is on the case, and he’s starting to understand what’s really going on. By this point, we should all be firmly on Team Van Helsing, praying that he can figure things out in time to save the girl.
But here’s the crucial difference — in Bram Stoker’s novel, this is the point when Count Dracula disappears from the narrative. He remains just offstage, lurking in the shadows, and the next ten chapters are all about how awesome Van Helsing is.
Van Helsing is witty and sharp, with a funny accent and a quick mind, always thinking three steps ahead of everyone else. When Dracula moves offstage, Van Helsing steps forward and takes command.
But it doesn’t work out that way for Dave Woodard, a bargain-basement Van Helsing if there ever was one. He’s not a bad character, really — he’s got a kind of gruff charm, and he gets the occasional funny line — but the daytime-TV format isn’t helping him.
Traditionally, the soap opera doctor doesn’t experience a lot of lightning-bolt insights. They’ve got to keep the show going, half an hour five days a week, so if he makes a quick diagnosis and cures the patient, then they have to go out and find a whole new sick person. At a certain point, they run out of characters, and people have to get amnesia so they can start all over again.
Besides, they’ve got new viewers tuning in because they’ve heard about the vampire. It’s okay for Stoker to stash Dracula offstage in the middle third of the novel, because you’ve already paid for the book and you’re pretty much stuck with it. On daytime TV, if they want people to watch their vampire show, then they need to produce the vampire on a regular basis.
So on one side, you’ve got Barnabas — drinking blood, hitting people with his cane and impersonating his own great-grandson. On the other side, you’ve got Dave Woodard, squinting into a microscope and talking about how baffled he is. There’s simply no contest. Advantage: ghoul.
This demonstrates one of the major priniciples of long-form narrative: The most interesting character is the most important character. There’s a fierce natural-selection struggle going on in every long-running series, whether it’s a TV show, a book series, a movie trilogy or a superhero comic. The boring character is left out of the reboot.
So here’s Barnabas, explaining why Willie should let Woodard take a blood sample:
“Now, Willie, look at it this way. This could, in some remote fashion, help Miss Evans. And it may help you. Now, unknown to yourself, you may have some very… tragic… malady.”
Yup, we’ve got a nice big helping of Fridspeak today, and strangely enough, the fact that Jonathan Frid can only remember half of his lines at a time makes Barnabas even more fun to watch. You find yourself paying extra attention to him, because there’s no way to predict what he’s going to say next.
For example, when Woodard reassures Willie that lots of people are afraid of giving blood, Barnabas says the following five things:
#1. “Now, in a way, isn’t that understandable?
#2. “After all, blood is the life force.
#3. “It reaches into the deepest recesses of both the heart, and the brain.
#4. “It is the familiar of our complete being.
#5. “To surrender even one drop of it is to suggest a partial surrender of one’s utmost self.”
Now, can you guess how many of those sentences were actually written down in the script like that? Of course you can’t. Nobody can.
It is the familiar of our complete being! The other actors must have been terrified every time he opened his mouth.
Meanwhile, at the Blue Whale, Vicki and Burke are on another super-grim date, slow dancing as they recap every single thing they ever knew.
Vicki thinks she hears a dog howling. Burke explains, for the fifth time today, that there must be a connection between Willie’s blood and Maggie’s disappearance. And somewhere, just offstage, Abraham Van Helsing is whispering, “No, no! Be more eccentric! Develop a funny accent! Or all is lost!”
Later, Barnabas explains that he switched Willie’s blood sample with another slide that he stole when he trashed Dr. Woodard’s office a couple days ago. Willie is relieved.
And then Barnabas knocks him to the floor, and accuses him of being “unloyal”. Because that is how he rolls.
Monday: Family Planning.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Vicki and Burke are dancing, she reacts to hearing a dog howl. Burke says he doesn’t hear anything, which isn’t a surprise, because they forgot to play the sound effect.
There’s a really nice, clear boom mic shadow by the stairs during Barnabas and Willie’s first scene in the Old House foyer.
Monday: Family Planning.
— Danny Horn