Episode 261: Bigger on the Inside

“It could be a matter of minutes. Then again, it could be a matter of hours.”

On Friday, we had the first genuinely suspenseful Dark Shadows episode, with an exciting cliffhanger that promised an unpredictable change in the status quo. Today, they have to deliver on that promise. Let’s see what happens.

261 dark shadows barnabas underground

Last week, Maggie found the secret door in her cell, and now she’s making her way through the passages under the Old House. Barnabas is following her, but it’s a lot bigger and more complicated down there than you might expect.

It’s not just one secret hallway leading somewhere — it’s a whole maze of corridors, with doors and stairs and wrong turns. The Old House basement must be a TARDIS; it’s bigger on the inside.

261 dark shadows magic door

Maggie isn’t sure which way to go, but she hears a little snatch of “London Bridge” played on the recorder, and a door swings open.

This is an odd moment, because we’ve heard that music cue before, and it was just background music. This blurs the line between what we hear on the soundtrack, and what the characters can hear. At this point, I could probably get into some kind of film-crit discussion about postmodernism and the uncanny, but life is too short.

261 dark shadows maggie sees a light

And there’s more important things to think about, like: Where is all the light coming from? This is the basement, but there’s light sources all over the place, all pointed in different directions.

At one point, Maggie looks at a stairwell that’s slightly dimmer than the hallway she’s currently standing in, and says, “I see a light!” This is an area where you just have to take their word for it.

261 dark shadows sam looking

Maggie follows the recorder music, and makes her way through a secret door onto the beach below Widows’ Hill. She gasps, “I’m free!” and then collapses into the sand.

Meanwhile, Maggie’s father has come to the beach, following the tip that the mysterious little girl gave him on Friday.

So all three characters are converging on the same point, guided by the spirit of a dead little girl. This is a fairly new experience for the Dark Shadows audience; it’s called interesting television.

261 dark shadows maggie barnabas

Barnabas finds Maggie, and sneers, “Did you really think you could escape me?” He tries to pull her to her feet, but she screams, and Sam rushes to the spot.

261 dark shadows sam maggie beach

And Sam finds Maggie! She’s unconscious, but still alive. He tries to rouse her, because this is 1967, and the nearest phone is about a mile away. If she’s ever going to get to the hospital, then she’ll need to be more of an active participant in the process.

261 dark shadows barnabas listens

Meanwhile, Barnabas is watching from the rocks as Sam tries to wake Maggie.

You may have noticed that I’m using a lot of screenshots today, because the Dark Shadows team has finally realized that their television show is being broadcast on television. Typically, a Dark Shadows action sequence is just opening and closing a bunch of doors.

261 dark shadows could be hours

Things slow down a little when we get to the hospital, where grumpy old Dr. Woodard is frowning at unconscious people again.

Here’s some good old-fashioned Dark Shadows doctor dialogue:

Sam:  How long is she going to be this way?

Woodard:  There’s no telling, Sam. It could be a matter of minutes. Then again, it could be a matter of hours.

Sam:  Even days?

Woodard:  Possibly.

Happily, it only takes a few minutes before Maggie comes to. This is almost unheard of in Dark Shadows history; it’s a medical miracle.

261 dark shadows maggie relaxed

Maggie opens her eyes, and she greets Sam with a warm smile.

But something’s wrong — she wants the doll that Sarah gave her, and she asks her father when they’re going to the fair. She’s reverted to childhood. On the plus side, it’s nice to see her relaxing for a change. She’s had some hard days recently; she deserves a break.

261 dark shadows woodards dumb idea

The doctor takes Sam and Joe into the hallway, and tells them that Maggie has amnesia, a very common soap opera malady that means whatever the hell they want it to mean.

Amnesia is one of the all-time great soap opera plot devices, because it extracts you from the obvious, logical and therefore less interesting chain of events. In this case, the next step should be that Maggie tells everyone that Barnabas is a vampire, and they go and burn down his house. But that’s boring, and a waste of a good vampire. Amnesia allows them to sidestep that, and go someplace different.

How different, you ask? Let’s see what the eminent Dr. Woodard has up his sleeve.

261 dark shadows active listening

The doctor is concerned about Maggie’s immediate future.

Woodard:  Face the facts, whoever it was that kidnapped her may try again, and he might be successful.

Sam:  Well, we won’t give him the chance! We’ll put a guard on the thing 24 hours a day, and we’ll —

Woodard:  Ssh! Ssh! Quiet. I’ve got a much better idea than that.

Uh oh. You guys might want to step back a little bit. Dave Woodard has an idea.

Woodard:  I think that we should let it be known that Maggie is dead.

Okay, sure, that totally makes sense. Wait — what?

261 dark shadows woodards idea

Woodard:  I think I can arrange it so that everyone will believe it. The proper records, and the death certificate, they’ll all be signed so that it’ll look legitimate. Everyone in Collinsport will believe that when Maggie got here to the hospital, she died — including the person who kidnapped her. As far as I can see, that’s the only way that we can keep her completely safe.

It’s fantastic. That’s the only way? Just fake a death certificate. Final answer.

261 dark shadows keep talking

By this point, Sam is looking at Dave as if it’s taking all of his powers of concentration to figure out what the hell is going on. He’s thinking, I’m an alcoholic, and I couldn’t come up with this kind of nonsense on the drunkest day of the year.

Woodard:  My plan is to send her to a nursing home about a hundred miles north of here. One run by Dr. Hoffman — Julia Hoffman, you remember the doctor that was supposed to examine her blood sample before it was stolen? She’s already extremely interested in the case, and I think she could be convinced to cooperate.

I love this idea so much. In the coming days and weeks, when I refer to this as a lunatic plot contrivance, please understand that I mean that as a compliment. Good soap opera runs almost exclusively on lunatic plot contrivances.

Woodard:  We three must be the only three in the world, outside of Dr. Hoffman, who know that Maggie is still alive.

And the police, right? You’re probably going to want to inform the police, because this is an ongoing police investigation?

Okay, maybe not. Sorry, forget I even asked.

261 dark shadows crazy night

Okay, here’s the big finish. According to the clock on the wall, it’s 3:30am, and Barnabas shows up at the hospital.

He explains to Woodard that he heard a rumor that Maggie was found tonight. The doctor asks who he heard that from, and Barnabas says, “From several people. Everyone in town is talking about it.”

Woodard nods, and says, “I’m not surprised.”

Really? Cause it’s 3:30 in the morning.

Luckily, that’s not the craziest thing that somebody has said in this hospital tonight, so Woodard lets it pass.

261 dark shadows barnabas woodard

The doctor tells Barnabas that Maggie died, before she could say anything about what happened to her. Barnabas says that he’s terribly sorry to hear that, and then walks off with a satisfied smile.

They’re really getting the hang of this suspense thing. There are still a few bumps coming up, but the purpose of the show is starting to come together. Like the Old House basement, this story is bigger and crazier than you’d ever expect.

Tomorrow: Feelin’ Gloomy.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

When Maggie finds the secret door in her cell, the “brick” wall moves like the painted plywood that it is.

When Sam finds Maggie on the beach at the end of the first act, they play the dramatic music cue too early. There are two almost identical cutaways to Barnabas standing by the rocks, and they’re supposed to play the music during the second one. They end up playing it during both shots.

Woodard tells Barnabas that “[Sam] and Joe are in the hospital now.” He means they’re in Maggie’s room.

You can see the boom mic at the top of the frame in the last shot, as Barnabas walks away from Dr. Woodard.

Behind the Scenes:

Nurse Packard is played by Jani Darnaglo. This is her only appearance on the show. It’s actually odd that she’s here at all — she only has a few lines, and she’s only there to tell Barnabas something that Woodard confirms a minute later.

Tomorrow: Feelin’ Gloomy.

261 dark shadows barnabas acting

Dark Shadows episode guide – 1967

— Danny Horn

10 thoughts on “Episode 261: Bigger on the Inside

  1. Yay! I’ve been waiting for this recap. On my interminable to-do list, I need to find the piece (it was either James Thurber’s “Soapland” essay or the memoirs of radio actress Mary Jane Higby) which actually pinpointed the *first* known amnesia plot, and discusses how and why it caught on. On radio, it mostly applied to men, since the heroines were usually men and soap males were gullible, weak, petulant, “brilliant but temperamental” types who easily fell for vamps and, if they had amnesia, could not only just be lost for weeks (and Helen Trent or Mary Noble would have to hunt for them, just when their presence or signature was needed).

    Or, say, they could be convinced they were married to someone else “and the only evidence and help Belle needs to prove she’s Lorenzo’s wife is trapped in his head!” (And this was Lorenzo Jones, elderly comedic inventor and one of about six males to have their names in a soap’s title. If he was the subject of a soap opera seductress’ wiles, anyone was fair game.)

    I also owe you my thoughts on Willie the Renfield (I forgot that even his guilt over Maggie and attempts to help her, minus deadly milk, were in the Stoker novel, ala Renfield sort of snapping out of it and trying to save Mina, but not in the movie, because it was more fun watching Dwight Frye scream “Master” and eat bugs.)

    1. I have to say, I don’t think there’s much resemblance between Willie and Renfield. I keep meaning to write about this, but it’s hard to find an organic place to say “hey, do you notice how this character is not very much like another character that people say he’s like?”

      But I really don’t see any similarities, except that they have more or less the same hair color. In the novel, Renfield isn’t a “servant” of Dracula in the way that Willie is for Barnabas. Renfield is locked up in a sanitorium the whole time, and he dies just at the time when, plot-wise, Dracula could actually use some help. In the movie, he has almost no interaction with Dracula; I think it’s possible that Dracula kills Renfield in their only scene together.

      If we need a literary antecedent for Willie, then I think he’s more like Igor, or Jeeves. Barnabas wore a hat in his first couple episodes, and it didn’t suit him; maybe Willie/Jeeves persuaded him to throw it away.

  2. It’s actually something in the book only which I’d forgotten (outside of how Barnabas abuses Willie and movie Dracula throws Renfield down the stairs; they have at least two scenes, the pre-crazy dinner which went to Harker in the book, and the death).

    Anyway, book: Mina briefly winds up visiting Renfield and talking about her own experiences. Some of his dialogue is actually very Dark Shadows-esque: “”You’re not the girl the doctor wanted to marry, are you? You can’t be, you know, for she’s dead.”

    Mina is very charming to him: “Goodbye, and I hope I may see you often, under auspices pleasanter to yourself.”

    To which, to my astonishment, he replied, “Goodbye, my dear. I pray God I may never see your sweet face again. May He bless and keep you!”

    A 1977 BBC version expanded on that scene in a way that’s far more reminiscent, to my mind, of what’s been happening with Willie and Maggie. Mina talks about how “In this dream I had, dogs were barking on the heath. I thought I heard you shouting. Protesting. I couldn’t understand what you were saying. I dreamt that my life was slowly being drained away and that when I had no more blood, my soul would never find peace.” Renfield starts to worry about her when she talks about her soul. “What do you think, Mr Renfield? That in some way I, I could have been so sinful that I must spend my afterlife in purgatory?”

    Renfield is emotional now, fearful for her. It’s more of a big moment, where in the book, they’re pieces in a really long piece of Renfield insanity, where he talks about his delusions with awareness as past while gobbling bugs in front of the Harkers: “I pray God I may never see your sweet face again. May he bless you and keep you.”

    Loopier and less nervous than Willie, but I personally can see a similarity, especially when at the end he wants to be free *not* to help Dracula but to help Mina, but says “Dr. Van Helsing, I have nothing to say. Your argument is complete, and if I were free to speak I should not hesitate a moment, but I am not my own master in the matter. I can only ask you to trust me. If I am refused, the responsibility does not rest with me.” Similar to Willie’s lines about not being able to escape Barnabas’ power even when he *wants* to help Maggie. It took different directions obviously. I’d actually like to see more of the pre-Barnabas Willie episodes before he became “poor Willie” (which is really how I think of him) in his tavern-brawling con-man days.

    So that’s really what I see as the point of comparison, rather than Willie’s overall relationship with Barnabas (which is all Wikipedia mentions in their Renfield article, in passing, and then goes on and on about Willie and Barnabas specifically). In the movie, Renfield’s a completely willing slave and thrall and defies Van Helsing rather than trying to give him clues; in the book, he’s locked up longer and wavers back and forth but has moments of clarity when he sees what Dracula has done and will do to women (not enough to do anything, but). Whereas outside of the Maggie points of comparison, Willie feels like something between a battered housewife and a serf with the worst job security and insurance ever (and Barnabas doesn’t even have a title or a castle).

    The Igor comparison though: the director/translator who did the Mexican dubbing of “Dark Shadows” (and thought it was so bizarre and silly they ad libbed more than usual) thought Willie Loomis *was* a hunchback! Because he reminded them of the Igor types (whether in name or otherwise) in not only the Universal movies, but the Mexican horror and “Santo vs.” type of movies.

  3. I did a LOL — a truly Out Loud — as you pondered all the mysterious lighting in the Old House tunnels. I had the same thought. Sometimes, you just have to allow for such oddities.

    It was a great ending to this portion of the Barnabas/Maggie saga.

  4. OK, so Barnabas shows up at 3:30 AM to visit a girl he (supposedly) barely knows, with only the vaguest explanation of how he learned she was there and, oh yeah, she was found on the beach directly below the house where he’s living. Nothing suspicious about that at all.

  5. The light in the passageways is coming from the same place as the music…

    Hooray! AMNESIA! The classic species of brain injury, usually curable by (in comedy) another blow to the head – – or (in drama) some random thing that wakes the slumbering memories. But not always. In “Random Harvest”, Ronald Colman was cured when hit by a cab. There are other examples, but I forget what they are…

  6. Why didn’t Barnabus just lift Maggie up and cart her off? If he was strong enough to bend steel bars with his bare hands, he could have hoisted Mamzelle Maggie.

  7. “This is an odd moment, because we’ve heard that music cue before, and it was just background music.” This wasn’t just background music. In the previous episode, we actually saw Sarah playing this on a recorder when she first appears in Maggie’s cell.

    Also, there is a light coming from up the stairs when Maggie says she sees a light.

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