Episode 281: Ancestral Exercises

“I believe a lot of things, but that doesn’t prevent me from being amused by them.”

On Friday, Barnabas’ pleasant costume party was interrupted by several strange incidents — Liz felt a piercing cold, the door flew open, and a bunch of candles blew out. For some reason, everybody decided that a ghost was trying to communicate with them, rather than the obvious alternative explanation, namely: it’s windy outside and we’re in a drafty old house.

So now they’re all sitting around a table with their fingers touching, conducting an impromptu seance. Just as they’re ready to give up, Vicki starts to moan: “Run… please, faster… I must run. Don’t stop me! Don’t STOP me!”

281 dark shadows vicki seance

Vicki’s eyes are closed, and she’s gone into a trance.

Vicki:  Faster… I can feel the stones beneath my feet. They hurt me. Why am I so cold? The rain, it stings my face!

Carolyn:  Can you tell us who you are?

Vicki:  I have nowhere to go! Nowhere! He’s getting closer!

Carolyn:  Who is chasing you?

Vicki:  My dress, I’ve torn my dress!

And, holy cow, is there anything you don’t have a problem with right now? You don’t like the stones, the rain, your dress… Honestly, we’ve gone to the trouble of piercing the veil between the living and the dead, and all you can do is complain.

281 dark shadows barnabas seance

Barnabas is horrified, because he knows what’s going on. This is Josette, the girl that he loved, who died when she jumped off the cliff on Widows’ Hill. She’s re-enacting the night of her death, and Barnabas is the guy chasing her.

So it’s a tough moment. The writers have been working overtime lately to turn Barnabas into a heartbroken romantic, and he’s never been more sympathetic than he is right now.

After all, he’s organized this whole party so he can get closer to the girl he has a crush on. After four sips of claret cup, she gets woozy and passes out, and then his ex-girlfriend shows up and and tells everybody what a jerk he is.

I think we’ve all had nights like that, haven’t we?

281 dark shadows barnabas no

Vicki’s improv routine goes on and on, until finally, she’s at the edge of the cliff, shouting, “Stay away from me! Please stay away!”

Barnabas breaks contact with the circle, stands up and yells, “NO!”

Vicki screams, and faceplants on the table.

281 dark shadows barnabas distress

Everyone else is startled, and confused.

Barnabas:  I couldn’t let her go on. If that was Josette… she was recreating her death.

Carolyn:  But she was about to tell us the name of the person who was chasing her.

Barnabas:  I couldn’t let her go through that death again…

Roger:  You shouldn’t have stopped her.

Barnabas:  It was the only way I could save her!

Barnabas really is in distress; he’s completely off guard, and not in control of the situation. It’s a nice character moment, continuing to position Barnabas as a tragic lover rather than a monster.

However: everything that we know so far about his relationship with Josette paints a darker picture than he’d like to believe. We know that Josette was married to Jeremiah, and on Friday, Carolyn said that she’s heard they were very much in love. (Barnabas shouted, “That’s not true!” and then had to apologize for his passionate crazy-person outburst.)

We also know that Josette was running away from Barnabas when she jumped off the cliff, and Josette’s appearance at the seance implies that she’s trying to warn Vicki about him.

So given that evidence — along with what we’ve seen him do to Maggie — the most likely interpretation is that Josette loved her husband, and Barnabas was a jealous stalker. Nothing that we’ve seen or heard indicates that they actually had a relationship.

Eventually, Barnabas’ backstory will be comprehensively retconned, and they’ll establish that Barnabas and Josette were engaged before she met Jeremiah. But for now, the clues that we have point to this not being one of the world’s great romances.

281 dark shadows vicki stairs

Okay, moving on. Vicki recovers from the seance, and says she needs to get some fresh air. On her way to the door, she looks upstairs…

281 dark shadows sarah stairs

… And there’s Sarah! The little ghost stares down at Vicki, and then walks away into the shadows.

281 dark shadows barnabas stairs

Vicki calls to the little girl, but by the time the others get to the stairs, Sarah is gone.

Barnabas is pretty upset by this, and no wonder — that makes two uninvited spirits crashing his party. Can’t a guy have a seance in a haunted house without all these interruptions?

281 dark shadows roger

The party breaks up, and the family goes back to Collinwood, where Roger has a drink and says funny things.

Vicki:  I wish the party hadn’t ended so soon.

Liz:  I should think you’d be happy that it’s all over.

Vicki:  Strangely enough, I’m not.

Roger:  Well, of course you aren’t; you had more fun than anybody.

Liz:  How can you call it fun?

Roger:  Because it was! Oh, Liz, you surprise me. You take it so seriously!

Carolyn:  You took the seance seriously.

Roger:  Well, I believed it, but that doesn’t mean I take it seriously. I believe a lot of things, but that doesn’t prevent me from being amused by them.

Yes, it’s Roger to the rescue again, perking up what would otherwise be a gloomy recap of the scene we just saw. Roger is the audience stand-in right now — he was the one who insisted on holding the seance in the last episode, and he wants to see more things happen.

281 dark shadows carolyn roger

He’s not acting, by the way. This is what I was talking about on Friday, that soap opera characters tend to drift over time to become more like the actor. From what I’ve read about Louis Edmonds, the actor who plays Roger, this is pretty much what he was like — a wry, witty theater queen.

When the show started, Roger was an angry, haunted man with terrible secrets. It’s only been a year, and look at what he’s become.

Roger:  And now to bed, and dreams of lovely ladies jumping off cliffs and all sorts of ancestral exercises.

Liz:  Don’t make fun of other people’s suffering.

Roger:  Oh, nonsense, Liz. What is the value of suffering if it isn’t to be enjoyed?

Liz:  Enjoy your own then, not other people’s.

Roger:  I think that all of the unhappiness of all of my ancestors is my rightful heritage, and you shouldn’t try to keep it from me. Good night, ladies.

He’s awesome. I like this version way better.

281 dark shadows barnabas vicki

Everybody goes to bed except for Vicki, who stands around in the drawing room and stares into space. Then Barnabas comes over, hoping to get another chance to talk to her. The seance was kind of an intense “lose my number” message from Josette, so he’s anxious to make progress with the new girl.

So what time is it right now? In the party scene on Friday, Roger mentioned that it was 11:00 pm. Then they had the whole seance, and the recovery, and then leaving the Old House and walking back to Collinwood. It’s got to be at least 1 am.

But they tend to stay up pretty late at Collinwood, and I guess they’ll need to, if their new main character is out of commission during the daylight hours.

Barnabas thanks Vicki for coming, and apologizes for being upset about the seance.

Barnabas:  In spite of everything, I must confess that I don’t believe in ghosts.

Vicki:  You don’t?

Barnabas:  Do you?

Vicki:  I don’t know. I believe in a past, and I believe in a present. And I think that sometimes, at some very special moment… they become confused. They meet. And I think that perhaps tonight was one of those nights. Do you understand?

No, not really. Is it possible that you got a concussion when your head hit the table?

281 dark shadows barnabas music box

Barnabas gives her a gift — Josette’s music box — and she’s thrilled. She admires it, he stares at her and makes super creepy vampire faces, and that’s the end of the episode.

So, at press time, the score is: one vampire and two ghosts. Who else could they possibly throw into this mix that would make things even more crazy and unpredictable? Tune in tomorrow to find out.

Tomorrow: The Examined Life.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

When Vicki goes into the trance, she calls out perfectly clearly, “I must run!” You can tell that she was supposed to mumble that line, because Carolyn asks, “What did she say?” and Roger says, “Something about ‘run’.”

The music cue for Sarah’s “London Bridge” theme starts with a little twinge when Vicki looks upstairs.

Vicki asks Barnabas, “Do you remember that dress, that little girl’s dress, that we found in the trunk with the other old clothes?” She’s referring to episode 278, but she’s not the one who found the dress. Willie found it, after Vicki had left.

Liz stumbles over Barnabas’ name when she’s talking to Roger: “How can you say that? Even Barnas — Barnabas was upset by what happened.”

Liz also loses track of her lines as she’s leaving the drawing room. She says, “I’ll give him our apologies tomorrow,” and then there’s an awkward pause before she says, “And… I think we should all get to bed.”

Tomorrow: The Examined Life.

281 dark shadows barnabas upshot

Dark Shadows episode guide – 1967

— Danny Horn

14 thoughts on “Episode 281: Ancestral Exercises

  1. boy that barnabas sure knows how to put on a party.

    but ugh – new Burke sucks. bring back the drunk! you’re right about Roger – i really couldn’t bear him during the Beginning series. he’s a trip now.

  2. After the scene where Barnabas shouts at the ghosts to go away, I’m somewhat befuddled by Barnabas’s concept of what it means to bring Josette back. So he wants Josette to come back, but not the actual spirit of Josette, so he wants someone new, someone in the present, but he wants to turn the present girl into Josette… It seems as if perhaps he hasn’t thought this through.

    1. At this point, certainly, Barnabas wants his IDEA of Josette, not the real thing. At this point in the story Josette jumped off a cliff rather than be with Barnabas, and he doesn’t want that. He wants a Josette who loves him and wants to be with him and who is pretty, to boot. Josette, the ghost, doesn’t want him and her showing up simply makes it perfectly clear that she literally thought death was better than being with Barnabas.

      This all gets changed when they go back to 1795, since that Josette loves and wants Barnabas, at least until it finally sinks in that in order to be with him she has to turn herself into a monster. But where the story is now, Josette wants nothing to do with him.

  3. First off, I really liked the episode. The entire Old House party is fun viewing.

    I think it’s really funny that while everyone accepts that Josette was trying to speak through Victoria at a seance, the little girl at the top of the stairs just has to be Vicki’s imagination.

    No matter how many supernatural encounters these folks have (and they are starting to really add up between ghosts and Laura Collins), they dig in their heels and insist whatever is going on has to be something imagined or dreamed or otherwise explained.

  4. Joan Bennett was really struggling in the after-party parlor scene; she kept stealing looks at the teleprompter so blatantly, I was waiting for her to just walk up to it and read the lines from a nose-length.

  5. I liked it better when Josette spoke through Vicki in French, seemed more authentic. I get that this is easier on the audience but the should have explained why.
    As for Burke, what exactly is he doing standing at the back of the room when everyone else is discussing the seance? Is he looking through the script like Sam got caught doing before?

  6. The more Louis-esque Roger becomes, the more I like him – I’m finally seeing this charming, fun guy Carolyn described to Vicki at the start of the show, rather than the moody self-involved asshole that’s horrible to his son.

    I also love the way Vicki insists on pronouncing Josette with a hilariously exaggerated Fraaanch accent, and everyone’s content to let her, even though she’s the only one. By the end of the week I firmly expect her to be talking like an extra from ‘Allo ‘Allo.

    (One tiny thing – Vicki talking about finding the dress isn’t a blooper – she does pull it out while she’s going through outfits with Barnabas in 278 – it’s the last thing out of the trunk, after the coats for Jeremiah and Joshua. They have a bit of a chat about it belonging to Naomi’s daughter; I think it’s the first time the relationship between Barnabas and Sarah is really spelled out, beyond her vague “don’t tell my brother” warnings to Basement!Maggie. This is how the dress ends up on the bed for Willie to find at the end of that episode.)

  7. Is it just me or has Barnabas had an extreme makeover in recent days? Looks like he’s sporting a new hair cut, and the cut of his clothes looks totally different suddenly. He’s become very oddly millennial all of a sudden. If his pants were a tad more pegged, he could walk down the street of any modern day city today and fit right in. Barnabas is suddenly “in fashion” again!

    The casting of the wide net to ensnare Maggie story line feels retread-ey to me. And how much longer do we have to have the music box and its tinkling melody thrust upon us? When we see it up close, it doesn’t even look like it has a mechanism at all in it.

    I loved the comment that someone made about the shot where Burke is standing way off stage right apparently chilling out while the rest of the scene is going on elsewhere.

    And I still think they missed the mark by not having Sarah Collins actually do more than appear at the top of the stairs. It would have been really awesome to have had her truly crash the party.

    Danny’s spot-on about the no-food-at-the-party comments. Dear God, at least have the handsome Willie move around with a tray of hors d’oevres or something! These people never seem to eat! I don’t think there’s a male on the show (besides Sam) who would fit above a size 30 waist. You need to keep up your strength to fight the supernatural!

  8. AM’s shortcomings as an actress are unfortunately on full display during the seance scene. Nancy Barrett could have done a much better job with it but of course that doesn’t fit with the story, such as it is. Anthony George is just slowly fading into the scenery and soon will be no more noticeable than a chair or an ottoman. The Ralston-Purina lamp is more interesting than him at this point.

  9. Carolyn: But she was about to tell us the name of the person who was chasing her.

    Why does Carolyn think this is important enough to be worth extending Vicki’s traumatic channeling of Josette?

    Does Carolyn regard this homicide from a bygone century as a Cold Case File that they’re trying to solve? The audience knows and Barnabas knows that he’s the killer chasing Josette. From Carolyn’s perspective, the killer is long dead and his identity hasn’t mattered for generations.

  10. I had a copy of Josette’s music box. It was stenciled plastic and it cracked. I think the musical mechanism from it may still be packed away somewhere. I checked a couple years ago and someone was selling one MIB for $400! I shall forego reliving that bit of nostalgia.

  11. Regarding Burke standing in the corner–he does at first go to that corner and lights candles. But you’re right that he then just stands there staring at the wall.

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