“I must insist, I think this is a great deal of nonsense.”
We’ve seen a remarkable change in Barnabas’ character this week — not necessarily a change in his core values and moral system, but certainly a change in the way that he’s being presented. But as striking as that change is — killer ghoul on Monday, perky party host by Friday — he actually isn’t the only villain-school dropout in the room.
In fact, all four of the male characters in today’s episode have played the heavy in past storylines. When Dark Shadows began, just a little over a year ago, Roger was an unsympathetic absent father and possible murderer, and Burke was a ruthless businessman intent on revenge against the Collins family. And it was only a few weeks ago that Vicki and Carolyn didn’t feel safe in the same house as Willie Loomis. And yet here they all are in today’s episode, chatting away, like a happy group of friends.
There’s actually a tendency over time for soap opera characters’ personalities to drift a bit, usually in the direction of becoming more like the actors who play them. This is partly a result of the hectic schedule of soap opera production, which requires a round-robin of writers and producers to keep the story going, sometimes over decades. After a while, the actor is the only person who’s consistently been paying attention to what their character is supposed to be like.
And in Barnabas’ case, nobody has any idea what his character is going to be. The original plan was that Dr. Woodard would rescue Maggie from the Old House weeks ago, banging a piece of wood through Barnabas’ undead heart along the way. But the vampire got a reprieve, thanks to the fan mail that’s been pouring in, so they’re just making it up as they go along.
This isn’t an arc. They don’t have a plan. There is literally not a single person on the Dark Shadows production staff who has any idea what’s going to happen next.
So we might as well throw a costume party, and see what happens. Barnabas is planning to seduce Vicki and turn her into his dead girlfriend Josette, so he’s invited everyone to a party where they’ll dress up as the Collins family circa 1790.
The idea seems to be that Vicki will enjoy wearing Josette’s dress so much that she’ll decide to never take it off, and then I guess she’ll volunteer to join the ranks of the undead and feast off the blood of the innocent. Or something. Barnabas hasn’t worked out all the details; he’s more of a big-picture guy.
Everybody looks fantastic in their 1790s costumes, by the way. The show can’t afford a lot in the way of editing, special effects or sane scriptwriters, but these are New York theater people, and they know how to lay their hands on a decent ascot.
The one exception is the S.S. Elizabeth, who looks like a battleship that’s been disguised as a wedding cake. She spends most of the episode pursing her lips and looking annoyed with everyone, and no wonder. She’s probably worrying about docking fees.
But the real star of this scene is the boom mic, which is apparently exactly where it shouldn’t be.
I don’t usually point out the boom mic shadows, even in the Bloopers list at the end of each post, because they happen so often that they’re not worth paying attention to. But the boom mic is so much a part of this scene that it’s practically a special guest star.
The shadow makes its first appearance directly on Roger’s face, and then lingers there for about twenty seconds. Then the camera cuts to a different shot, where there’s such a clear shadow on the wall that you can practically read the serial number.
Roger finally turns away from the shadow so it’s not on his face anymore, at which point the camera stays focused on the shadow across his back.
Roger moves again, so we end the scene with the director clearly deciding that she might as well forget about the actors completely, and just focus the shot on the boom mic shadow.
Over at the Old House, Barnabas is talking to Josette’s portrait, because he’s a crazy person and that is what they do.
Barnabas: Josette… This time, don’t disappoint me. Let me come to you. Accept me. I’ve waited so long for you, Josette.
And then he stares off into space, like he’s Heathcliff or Lord Byron or Mr. Darcy or whoever the hell he thinks he is at the moment.
Willie walks in, and finds Barnabas holding Josette’s music box. And I’m just going to go ahead and quote a bunch from this scene, because I’m in love with Willie and it’s my damn blog.
Willie: What are you doing with that? Are you plannin’ to give it to Miss Winters?
Willie: Well, I don’t think she’ll accept it.
Barnabas: Why not?
Willie: You said you wanted her to come to you willingly. That’s not gonna be as easy as you think.
Barnabas: Isn’t it?
Willie: And even if she does — there’ll be others who’ll stop her.
And hey, do you remember when Barnabas was in charge of Willie’s entire soul? Now he can’t even keep his grip on this conversation. Willie is talking rings around him.
Willie: Burke Devlin, for one. He won’t let her come to you.
Barnabas: I don’t think that Mr. Devlin will pose much of a problem.
Willie: What are you planning to do with him?
Barnabas: What makes you think I’m planning to do anything with him?
Willie: I know you. I know you’re planning something. What is it?
Barnabas: Willie, my plans are my own. Now, my guests are waiting.
Willie: What are you planning, Barnabas?
Barnabas: I said, my guests are waiting!
So I just want to take this moment to say that anybody who says that Willie is playing “Renfield” to Barnabas’ Dracula is an idiot. The only thing that Willie and Renfield have in common is their hair color.
This is Renfield, as seen in the 1931 Dracula film. He’s a patient in an insane asylum who eats insects and rats. He’s not Dracula’s servant — in fact, they hardly know each other. In the one scene where they interact, Dracula throws Renfield down a flight of stairs and kills him.
Renfield is an insane creep. Willie is amazing. End of discussion.
Okay, back to the show. We finally gather everybody in the Old House drawing room for the wild dress-up party that Barnabas has been planning all week.
As each person enters, Barnabas admires how much they look like their 1790s counterpart. Elizabeth has a striking resemblance to Naomi Collins, Carolyn is the very image of Millicent, and so on.
Then he pours everyone a claret cup out of a punchbowl, and makes a toast: “To the past! And all its remembered glories.”
And… that about wraps it up as far as Barnabas is concerned. After a week of promises and plans, it turns out that there’s no food, and no activities outside of admiring how much you look like somebody.
My husband and I were once invited to a dinner party by some people that we didn’t know very well, and they served us some fish soup. We ate the soup, which we figured was the appetizer. Our hosts kept asking, don’t you want more soup? And we said no, we’ve had enough, and then we waited for the main course, which never came. Since then, the phrase “fish soup” has been our family code phrase for any disappointing social event.
This party is extremely fish soup. They don’t even get soup.
And so naturally they decide to have a seance.
It’s not really as simple as that — first they feel a chill, and then Liz thinks that someone touched her on the shoulder, and then some candles flicker, and so on. I won’t burden you with all the setup. Suffice it to say that this is Dark Shadows and we’re all dressed up, so we might as well have a seance.
Roger acts as the medium, and he has a wonderful time looking around the room and calling to the spirits.
Roger: Who is here with us? Who is in this room? Is it you, Naomi? Millicent? Josette?
Meanwhile, Barnabas is extremely nervous, and rightly so. The whole point of this party was to create a new, more pliable version of Josette. The last thing he wants is for the actual Josette to show up and tell everyone exactly what she was running from when she threw herself off the cliff.
This goes on for longer than you might expect. Roger keeps calling to the spirits, Barnabas keeps tutting, and for a minute it looks like this is going to end up as another slow, disappointing scene where nothing happens.
But then the candles blow out, and the front doors swing open with a bang. Liz feels a piercing cold.
And at this point, you remember that ghosts actually do exist in this fictional world. Just a couple days ago, we saw Barnabas’ dead little sister hanging out in Josette’s room, playing with her ball.
This is an unpredictable moment. According to the new rules of the show, just about anything could happen.
Then Vicki closes her eyes, and starts to moan. Roger takes charge.
Roger: It’s too late to stop now, even if we wanted to. Vicki is going into a trance. We’re about to be contacted by someone… Someone from beyond the grave.
Which is a pretty kick-ass Friday cliffhanger. See you next week.
Monday: Ancestral Exercises.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the first scene, Barnabas tells Willie, “It will be like seeing my mother again. The resemblance between the true — two — is striking.”
Barnabas has his ring on his left hand for this episode. He usually wears it on the right hand, and just switches to the left if they need it for a specific dramatic shot. There doesn’t seem to be one of those in this episode; he’s just wearing it on the wrong hand.
When Burke arrives at the party, he leaves the door open behind him. The door is magically closed when we come back from the commercial break.
During the big “the candles are blowing out” ghost moment, the camera focuses on a standing candleabra with six lit candles. Only four of them actually get blown out.
Monday: Ancestral Exercises.
— Danny Horn