“I have things for you to do, other than to make preposterous statements.”
Two days ago, Barnabas killed Willie’s best friend, and then grabbed Willie by the throat and made him bury the corpse in an unmarked grave. Today, Willie is helping Barnabas unpack vintage dresses from a trunk, and they’re making plans for their upcoming costume party.
This must be one of those Great Moments in Human Resources, because the improvement in Willie’s workplace environment is simply off the charts. I know that working in the service industry can be unpredictable, but that’s got to be one of the fastest turnarounds in history.
This week, the show is all about rebranding Barnabas as a mischievous rogue with a broken heart.
His previous brand was “remorseless ghoul who gorges on the blood of farm animals,” so anyone in the audience who’s missed a few days is likely to get a bad case of whiplash.
So that’s why Barnabas suddenly has a lot more patience with the domestic staff. In this scene, Willie is directly challenging Barnabas’ plans for seducing Vicki, which just yesterday would have earned him at least a death threat and a stern look.
Willie: I think you should stay away from her.
Barnabas: It would be rude of me not to invite her to the party. My cousins accept her as one of the family, why shouldn’t I?
Willie: Cause that’s not what you’re really doing.
Barnabas reacts with a twinkle in his eye.
Barnabas: Oh? And what am I really doing?
Willie: You know as well as I do, you said so yourself.
Barnabas: Well, if we both know it, why this need to discuss it?
Willie: She never hurt anybody, and nobody should hurt her.
Barnabas: I agree.
Willie: You know that isn’t true.
Barnabas: I intend to create an exquisite and entertaining evening for her. How could that possibly harm her?
I love these Barnabas/Willie chats; they’re the best thing on the show right now. Every scene that they do has its own unique tone.
Right now, Barnabas is pure Downton Abbey, playing the role of an impatient Lady Grantham dressing down a mildly insubordinate footman.
Willie: Does it have to be Vicki?
Barnabas: Now, Willie. I must warn you that you’re beginning to irritate me. I don’t want to hear any more of this. Is that understood?
Meanwhile, Willie’s in a completely different scene.
Willie: Barnabas, wait.
Barnabas: What is it?
Willie: It’s dangerous. Don’t do it.
Barnabas: I thought the discussion was closed.
And look at Willie’s eyes; he’s haunted and fantastic. John Karlen switches off between several different acting styles depending on the scene, typically some combination of Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Jimmy Stewart about to commit suicide in It’s a Wonderful Life.
Today, he’s mostly doing Streetcar, with a dash of “Mary, it’s George! Don’t you know me?”
Willie: Don’t do it, Barnabas. Don’t have the party.
Barnabas: Not have the party? When all my plans are going so nicely? Now, please. That’s out of the question.
Yes! He actually says the word “please”. You could probably hire today’s version of Barnabas as a babysitter, no problem.
Barnabas heads over to Collinwood for some more party planning. He asks Vicki if she’d be interested in coming over and helping to select the costumes.
Naturally, she’s thrilled, and she says, “Of course! I love going through trunks of old clothes.”
And I’ll bet she does, too. One of these days, Vicki is going to say something that surprises me.
All of a sudden, Liz feels spontaneously uneasy about the whole affair, and says that she may not be able to come. She’s got kind of a superstitious feeling about pretending to be a group of Collins ancestors.
Liz: I feel there’s something wrong about getting that close to the past.
You can tell that Liz has been hanging around with Vicki and Barnabas for too long, because she’s starting to say “the past” as if it means a specific thing.
But don’t worry, fans of the past — Liz talks herself back into going by the end of the scene. They actually do this same scene three times this week; whenever an episode is running short, Liz does some more soul-searching about the party.
Speaking of souls, look who’s hanging out in the Old House waiting for Barnabas to come home — it’s the ghost of his dead sister, Sarah! She’s sitting on the clothes trunk and playing with her ball, like dead children often do.
She disappears just before Barnabas and Vicki walk into the room. Later on, they’ll start using Chromakey to make ghosts actually vanish on camera. They haven’t gotten that ambitious yet, so the camera pans to the door, and Sarah just gets up and walks off the set.
Then we’ve got Barnabas and Vicki having a whale of a time choosing outfits for the party; she’s grinning away like a three-year-old.
Barnabas has definitely made a smarter selection of victims this time. With Maggie, he had to go through weeks of making dogs howl before he could get her into Josette’s room. Vicki walks right upstairs, no questions asked.
They go through the trunk together, and choose characters for each of the party guests. Vicki finds a dress that’s marked M.C. — Barnabas says that belonged to Millicent Collins; it’ll be perfect for Carolyn. Looking at a dark coat, Vicki asks if that would be good for Joshua Collins. Barnabas says no, that was owned by Jeremiah Collins.
I hope everyone is taking notes on all these Collins ancestors; this is all going to be on the test.
Eventually, Vicki goes back to Collinwood, and she has a scene with Liz that basically just recaps her previous scene with Barnabas.
The show is definitely picking up steam right now, but there’s a problem — Barnabas and Willie are the only characters who are doing anything interesting. When Barnabas isn’t on screen, there’s nothing for anyone else to do except talk about him.
But don’t worry, they’ve got a plan for this. We’ll see a marked improvement in this area by the end of next week.
Okay, it’s back to the Old House for one more weird scene before we wrap up for the day.
Willie looks over the clothes that Barnabas and Vicki picked out, and he finds a child’s dress in the pile. He picks it up, and realizes that he’s seen it before.
Willie: Remember the little girl I told you about who was playing outside the house?
Barnabas: Yes. What about her?
Willie: She was wearing a dress almost exactly like this one.
Barnabas: That’s ridicuolous. This dress was worn by a little girl a long, long time ago.
Willie: I don’t think I’m wrong.
Barnabas: Well, obviously you are. Now, come. I have things for you to do, other than to make preposterous statements.
Barnabas and Willie leave the room, and then Sarah appears again. She walks to the bed, and says, “My dress! I found my blue dress!”
The dead child picks up the dress and admires herself in the mirror, and that’s how we end another extremely peculiar half-hour of network television.
Tomorrow: Party Animals.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Alexandra Moltke trips on the word “melancholy” in the opening voiceover.
As the end credits roll over a shot of Josette’s room, a stagehand can be seen walking behind the curtains in the middle of the shot.
Tomorrow: Party Animals.
— Danny Horn