“This has the terrible sound of a family disintegrating.”
Happy birthday, Dark Shadows! Today’s episode aired on June 29, 1967, which is just a couple days past the show’s first anniversary. It’s an exciting milestone, because until very recently, it looked like the show was going to get cancelled at the end of the first year. The ratings were declining, and they’d never been that great in the first place. The end seemed inevitable.
And then they introduced a vicious, psychotic madman to the show, and America fell in love. Dark Shadows was renewed, and now they have the interesting problem of coming up with a new storyline for the undead creature that they never intended to keep around for this long.
This episode takes the first steps toward a new direction for Barnabas. When we saw him last, he was the vicious monster relentlessly pursuing Maggie through underground tunnels, determined to end her life.
But that was three days ago. Today, he’s… something else.
We find Barnabas quietly lighting candles in the Old House drawing room. Willie enters, and reports that he’s cleaned up Maggie’s cell in the basement — nobody will be able to tell that she was here.
Willie asks, “What are we gonna do now?”
Barnabas hardly looks up. “About what?”
“Well, she’s dead,” Willie says. “Maggie Evans is dead.”
And in a beautiful moment of accidental dialogue-chewing, Barnabas sighs, “Well, there isn’t one… much can do about it.” Which is true; there isn’t.
By now, Willie is in full-blown Jiminy Cricket mode.
Barnabas: Yes, her death was a surprise to me. I’m still not certain of the cause.
Willie: Aren’t you? Well, I’ll tell ya. We’re the cause. We put her through somethin’ that no one should have to go through. I’ve done rotten things in my life, but nothin’ like this. I hate myself for it.
Barnabas: And me? Do you also hate me?
Willie: You know how I feel.
Barnabas: Yes, I do. Take care, Willie. I can tolerate only so much opposition.
But you can tell that Barnabas’ heart isn’t in his work today. A month ago, if Willie had stepped up like this, Barnabas would have reached for the cane and smacked him in the face.
I mean, yeah, obviously he threatens to murder Willie by the end of the scene, but compared to some of his previous performance reviews, that’s practically a hug and a raise.
Roger comes to visit, and Barnabas becomes the sympathetic best friend. Elizabeth is planning to marry the unscrupulous Jason McGuire, and Roger is worried about what this will mean for the family, and the estate. And now Carolyn is punishing her mother by threatening to marry Buzz Hackett, the beatnik motorcycle-enthusiast.
Concerned, Barnabas says, “This has the terrible sound of a family disintegrating.”
That’s a deeply peculiar thing to say, but there’s something beautiful about that line, and Jonathan Frid delivers it with a cultured gravitas that makes it sound like it actually means something.
And somewhere outside the studio, in that cramped, dark room where they lock the writers up until they churn out another day’s script, a little bell goes off. There’s a new idea in that line, a new role for Barnabas to play.
Meanwhile, outside the Old House, Willie runs into the mysterious little girl who helped Maggie escape from the basement.
They have another one of those inconclusive spooky-kid conversations, where Willie doesn’t connect the dots even though she’s basically broadcasting “I am dead people.”
Willie: Where do you live?
Sarah: Around here.
Willie: Your mother and father must be looking for you.
Sarah: I can’t find them. I’ve been looking for them for such a long time. I can’t find them anywhere.
Willie says that he’ll take her home, but she points at the Old House, and says that she lives right there.
Still not getting the message, Willie tries to lead her down the hill into town, but when he turns around, she’s disappeared. It’s not super clear why she showed up in the first place, but I guess ghosts are supposed to be mysterious like that.
Barnabas offers to have a talk with Jason, so Roger brings him over to Collinwood. They have a fairly predictable encounter — first, Barnabas makes vague threats about investigating Jason’s activities, and then Jason counters that he could ask similar questions about Barnabas.
The interesting thing about this scene is that it’s the debut of Barnabas’ future job. He admits at the start that Jason’s relationship with Liz is none of his business, but announces, “I am expressing concern for the future of the Collins family.”
And another little bell goes off somewhere. This is the first time that Barnabas has appointed himself protector of the family. We’ll be seeing a lot more on that theme, as soon as he stops locking young women in coffins.
Barnabas heads home, and Willie reports that he found a little girl outside. “Strange kid, seemed kinda lost, had no sense of direction. When I asked her where she lived, she kept pointing at this house.”
Barnabas turns toward the door, his expression tinged with surprise and regret. I guess if you’re a psychotic madman at his sort of scale, you need more than one Jiminy Cricket. He’s practically surrounded.
Tomorrow: Doctor Strange.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Jason tries to talk over one of Roger’s lines:
Roger: Do you really think that if by some fluke you should marry my sister —
Jason: Never mind what I mean!
Roger: — you would get control of this estate?
Jason: Never mind what I mean.
Behind the Scenes:
There’s a film insert of Roger walking up to the Old House; this is one of a number of generic scenes that the producers recorded on location before the series began. The clips were sprinkled into the series over the course of the first year, but they’re running low on clips by this point. We saw Vicki and Carolyn approaching the Old House in May, and David playing on a swing in June. The last film clip they use is just a couple weeks away.
Anyway, the thing that makes this particular clip notable is that it saddles Roger with an inconvenient prop for most of the episode. In the film clip, Roger is approaching the Old House, and he’s using a flashlight to find his way. This makes perfect sense when filming on location — but characters are constantly walking back and forth between Collinwood and the Old House on the show, and you never see anyone else carrying a flashlight.
But it would look strange for Roger to have a flashlight in the film insert and then lose it when he arrives at the Old House set, so he has to carry it around during his conversation, juggling it with the glass of sherry that Barnabas offers. He’s still got the flashlight when he returns to Collinwood with Barnabas. Then Roger goes upstairs, and he’s still carrying the flashlight. We never see him put it down; he might still be carrying it for all I know.
Tomorrow: Doctor Strange.
— Danny Horn