Episode 267: The Least Torment

“Death is fascinating, when one considers the wide possibilities that it offers.”

It’s a new day, bringing another opportunity for Liz to wander over to the cliff on Widows’ Hill. She looks down and sees the waves crashing against the shore, just like in the opening titles. It kind of looks like she’s come outside to watch an episode of Dark Shadows.

267 dark shadows barnabas push

But then we see Barnabas emerging from the darkness behind her. There’s a musical sting when you see his ring, and he approaches her, with his hands extended.

For just a moment, they’re playing with the idea that he’s going to come up behind her and push her off the cliff. He wouldn’t have any reason to do that, and he hasn’t made any specific plans for the extermination of random pedestrians, so it’s a funny little narrative trick to try.

They’re almost testing the audience, to see if we’re paying attention to Barnabas as a character, or if we think that he’s just a mustache-twirling black hat who’ll take any opportunity to commit impromptu mayhem.

I know that it’s weird to say that he’s not that kind of psychotic serial killer, but if you can’t trust a psychotic serial killer to follow his own pattern, then what can you do?

267 dark shadows pass the time

Once that’s settled down and everybody understands what kind of scene we’re having, they embark on a very 1967 Dark Shadows conversation — heavy on subtext, light on sense.

Liz:  I didn’t expect to see you here.

Barnabas:  Well, I come here quite often, as a matter of fact.

Liz:  Why?

And that’s a rookie mistake, right there. You never ask Barnabas an open-ended question like “Why?” because he probably has a three-minute monologue prepared.

267 dark shadows barnabas reading

Right on cue, Barnabas gets that glassy, faraway look in his eye that means it’s time to read off the teleprompter.

Barnabas:  This is an interesting place. A place where… decisions were made. A place where life ended, and death began.

Liz:  Why does that interest you?

Barnabas:  Because death is the most fascinating and unknown prospect that man has.

Liz:  How can death be fascinating?

Barnabas:  It’s fascinating, when one considers the wide possibilities that it offers.

Sorry. Wait. What?

267 dark shadows barnabas fridspeak

Liz:  What could it offer?

Barnabas:  A form of eternal existence.

Liz:  But death is non-existence!

Barnabas:  Death… I wonder. No one has clearly defined death.

Honestly, it’s one of those moments that really challenges the audience to figure out what the hell is going on in this conversation. People said that Twin Peaks was ground-breaking, but Dark Shadows was having conversations like this in 1967, in the middle of the afternoon.

On a line-by-line basis, try to spot whether Barnabas’ line is a) a wistful soliloquy reflecting on his own haunted existence, b) a Dracula-style “never drink wine” inside joke, c) Jonathan Frid reading the lines in the wrong order, or d) all of the above. It can’t be done.

They start theorizing about whether death brings eternal peace, or eternal torment. Liz points out that life can be a torment, and Barnabas chews up his reply pretty comprehensively.

Barnabas:  It still remains to be seen which the least… contains the least torment.

267 dark shadows barnabas vicki

Liz and Barnabas eventually drift back to Collinwood. Liz goes upstairs to bed, leaving Barnabas standing alone in the foyer, looking around for someone else to have a scene with.

He visits with Vicki for a while, and tells her all about the conversation he just had with Liz. He thinks that Liz was considering jumping off the cliff, and he asks Vicki if there’s anything that he can do.

As we saw last week, they’re starting to position Barnabas as the protector of the Collins family. The storylines are crossing over today, and it’s gradually adding more depth to his character. I’d say that was interesting, but Vicki’s in the scene, so it’s hard to muster up a lot of enthusiasm.

267 dark shadows dance talk 1

The episode keeps drifting along. These episodes are only about twenty minutes long without commercials, but this one feels endless. Vicki leaves Collinwood to join Burke for a date at the Blue Whale, and then we see Burke sitting in the Blue Whale waiting for her.

Burke takes a drink. He plays with his glass. He walks up to the bar and orders another drink. He takes a drag on his cigarette. He looks at his watch, and then at the door. The bartender hands him a drink. He paces back to the table, and takes another hit off the cigarette.

I know I’m hitting this pretty hard, but it’s a full 90 seconds of Burke waiting in a bar, and it’s not like we’re expecting Vicki to walk in with a treasure map and a spider monkey. She’s going to come in and have some dull dialogue, and then they’re going to dance and have some more dull dialogue.

267 dark shadows dance talk 2

The one interesting thing about this scene is that they’re only allowed to say two lines and then do a complete revolution before they say anything else.

So they have one exchange, and then they pivot, and they’re not talking, not talking, not talking…

267 dark shadows dance talk 3

Still not talking… not talking…

267 dark shadows dance talk 4

… until they get Vicki’s face in the light again, and they say two more lines. Then they have to do another complete revolution before they can talk again.

It’s incredibly distracting, which is probably for the best, because all they’re doing is repeating what Barnabas just told Vicki about Liz wanting to commit suicide.

They fade out on the dance, and when they come back from the commercial break, they’re still dancing. I rest my case.

Tomorrow: Suicide is Painful.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Barnabas isn’t the only one to lose track of his lines in the clifftop scene. Liz dries up completely when Barnabas says that death offers “a form of eternal existence.” She has to look at the teleprompter for her next line, and it’s practically behind her.

She also bobbles this one:

Liz:  You have helped me more than you know.

Barnabas:  Well, I’m pleased then.

Liz:  You’ve helped me enormously. What was once only a solution — an alternative to a solution — is now the solution.

Barnabas:  Your meaning is not quite clear to me.

Tomorrow: Suicide is Painful.

267 dark shadows barnabas cliff

Dark Shadows episode guide – 1967

— Danny Horn

8 thoughts on “Episode 267: The Least Torment

  1. Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
    You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette
    The wall to wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget
    Ohhh, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll suicide

    David Bowie must have been watching this episode while he wrote that.

    Another thing Bowie had in common with Dark Shadows is that he used the William Burroughs cut-up method to write lyrics, which is also what Jonathan Frid liked to do with those words scrolling through the teleprompter.

  2. I have to say that it was bizarre seeing Vickie and Burke flirt so heavily in this episode. It kind of just came out of nowhere. Yeah, they have had drinks together and met on a date or two but the dates were mainly just them talking about other people’s situations.

    I know this is Burke 2.0 but they were acting like they have been hot and heavy for each other for awhile. It was just kind of jarring.

    And I want my drunk Burke back!

  3. What about Burke and that pay phone? He was really going to town on it. When Vicki showed up they kind of joked about it, but then he looked back at the phone like he wanted to say something else about it. If the rest of the scene had just been Burke complaining about the pay phone, I would have been in heaven. He really wanted that dime back.

  4. Asking Barnabas “Why?” is akin to asking Sheldon Cooper “Why?”. I can imagine, just off screen, sitting on a couch of rich faux Corinthian leather: Leonard, Howard, and Raj all sighing “Nooooooo!”

  5. Vicki may not be the most exciting character, and definitely not the best portrayed, but I feel like at this point in the series they are still trying to find ways to get her involved in all the storylines because she still seems to be the central character. Seems to me that as the writers came to realize that Barnabas was going to be the focal point she became less and less involved, kind of just a narrator and conscience to Carolyn and Elizabeth.

  6. Oh that dance… the way they stop and gently sway, arrhythmically, until they’ve said their line, then back to the actual dancing… it’s like neither of them are mentally or physically capable of moving and talking at the same time…

  7. I quite like the glimpse of the family register at the end, though – interesting to see the characters’ ages confirmed, and having Roger and Liz’s entries in one hand and Carolyn’s in another is nice attention to detail.

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