“Our mistake is thinking that there are limits as to what can take place on this planet.”
Maggie’s still locked up at the Windcliff Sanitarium, recovering from her recent vampire abduction. Dr. Julia Hoffman — the noted blood specialist, psychologist and all-around smart person — is hypnotizing Maggie with a penlight, trying to bring her repressed memories to the surface.
They took a field trip to the Eagle Hill cemetery yesterday, and they found the Collins mausoleum, which triggered some frightening memories. Julia noticed that there was a grave marker for Sarah Collins in the mausoleum, and now she’s trying to learn if there’s a connection between the 10-year-old named Sarah who died in the 18th century and the little girl named Sarah who helped Maggie during her incarceration.
That is an incredible leap in logic, and I’m using the dictionary definition of “incredible”, as in: impossible to believe. Julia is going to make a lot of these intuitive leaps over the next week, making connections that no real human would ever make given the current information. And every single one of her batty conclusions is exactly correct.
Julia is therefore a completely unbelievable Sherlock Holmes type detective, who pulls insights out of the air and is right every time. And the audience loves her and believes in her anyway.
The audience always loves the smart character. We’ll happily follow a smart character through the most brazen coincidences and obvious writer cheats, for one simple reason: smart people keep the plot moving.
An open-ended narrative is always the product of an uneasy truce between the writers and the audience. We want more things to happen, more secrets revealed, more exciting plot twists. The writers want to conserve story as much as possible, because they’re afraid that they’ll run out if they give too much away.
Stupid characters are on the writers’ side, because they slow everything down. If Lois Lane finally recognizes that Clark Kent is just Superman wearing a pair of glasses, then everything changes, and they have to figure out a whole new chapter of the story. We’re supposed to believe that Lois is a whip-smart investigative reporter, but she spends decades missing the blindingly obvious news story taking place in her own life every day.
But Julia Hoffman is not Lois Lane. She’s working overtime to get us to that next chapter, and we are grateful. Here’s how she does it.
Julia: You have a friend, who gave you her doll to play with.
Maggie: Yes. She’s my friend.
Julia: What is your friend’s name?
Maggie: Sarah. Her name is Sarah.
Julia: But what is her last name? Does she have a last name?
Maggie clams up, so Julia tries a different approach.
Julia: Yesterday, we were in the cemetery, and we had to hide. The place that we hid frightened you most of all.
She’s actually doing recap by hypnotism, a whole new form of soap opera scenecraft.
Julia: Was there someone there who would hurt you?
Maggie: No! Don’t hurt me!
Julia: What was the name of the person there who would hurt you?
Maggie doesn’t respond.
Julia: I am going to say a name. Now, listen carefully. The name is Collins.
Maggie: Collins? No! NO!!
So that’s ten points for the spooky hypnotising blood specialist, and she advances to the next round.
Next, Julia sits in Dave Woodard’s office and calmly informs him that she wants him to introduce her to the Collins family as a genealogist studying the old families of New England. Naturally, he’s stunned.
By the way, fair warning: I’m going to be quoting a lot today, because I love everything that Julia says. This advisory also applies to every other episode that she ever appears in from now on.
Woodard: But why can’t I introduce you as Dr. Julia Hoffman?
Julia: I have my reasons.
Woodard: Look, I know the Collins family. If they knew that you were trying to help Maggie…
Julia: You know as well as I do that they mustn’t even know that Maggie is still alive.
Woodard: All right, but if they realized you were trying to track down the maniac who did this to Maggie, they’d cooperate completely.
Julia: No one must know that I have anything to do with the case. It’s the only way I can work.
This is an incredibly strange plot twist. For Dark Shadows fans, seeing Julia Hoffman at Collinwood is so familiar that it’s hard to picture how striking this must have been at the time. She’s a doctor, not a detective, and so far, there’s no connection between Windcliff and the Collins estate.
This twist comes as a complete surprise to the audience, and if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that “complete surprise” is pretty much the best thing that I can ever say. The whole point of television is to surprise people.
Woodard agrees to this lunatic plan, mostly because he’s caught off guard; he never considered what he would say if this kind of thing ever came up.
Then they have the most amazing conversation.
Woodard: You’re going to have to let me ask you one more question.
Julia: What is it?
Woodard: Julia, we both know that Maggie’s case is far from the ordinary.
Woodard: Exactly how far from the ordinary is it?
Julia: I don’t know what you mean.
He points out that they’ve both used the term “unearthly” in their speculations about Maggie’s case. Julia says that “unearthly” was the wrong word.
Julia: Nothing that happens on Earth can be termed unearthly. Our mistake is thinking that there are limits as to what can take place on this planet.
Woodard: But there are limits to what a rational man can accept.
Julia: I know. And I would say that in this case, those limits have to be extended considerably.
And there you go; that’s as close to a Dark Shadows mission statement as you’ll ever get.
The next thing we see is Julia smiling and nodding as Vicki leads her on a tour of Collinwood. They’re not kidding around anymore; this storyline has places to go.
Just a few weeks ago, a plot point like “Woodard introduces Julia as a genealogist” would have taken a full week, with a day in the middle where Julia doesn’t even appear, and everybody spends the whole episode standing around and talking about her. Today, all of that boring stuff happens off-screen, during a commercial break.
Vicki is thrilled to meet a genealogist because she’s obsessed with the Collins family history, and there aren’t a lot of people who are interested in discussing it with her.
Vicki: You should talk to Barnabas Collins.
Julia: Barnabas — oh, yes, Dr. Woodard told me. Mrs. Stoddard’s cousin.
Vicki: Yes. He’s from England. And he knows everything there is to know about the family history, especially about the past.
Now, that is such a ridiculous line that I’m going to write it again, just to make sure you didn’t skim past it.
Vicki: He knows everything there is to know about the family history, especially about the past.
It makes your head hurt just thinking about it. Vicki is an idiot.
David comes in from playing outside, and he’s introduced to Julia. David says that he didn’t have any fun playing outside — he was hoping to see Sarah.
Julia perks up: “Sarah… Collins?”
They say no; she’s a girl from the neighborhood who David’s played with before. They don’t know her last name.
When David goes upstairs, Vicki says, “It’s sad, isn’t it? He has almost no one to play with. At times, I think he even imagines these friends of his.” Julia is struck by the idea that maybe Sarah isn’t real.
Vicki brings Julia over to the Old House, to see the renovations that Barnabas has done to bring the house back to its 18th century condition. It’s still daylight, so Barnabas isn’t around; apparently, Vicki just ignored Willie and walked right in.
Julia is very impressed, although several times she feels a strange chill that Vicki doesn’t seem to notice. They leave, but Julia says that she’s looking forward to coming back and meeting Barnabas.
Wrapping up, Julia has another session with Maggie. She asks Maggie to let her hold the doll for a minute.
Julia: We want to find out what the doll’s name is. The doll doesn’t have a name, does she? All right. We’re going to find out. Now, I want you to listen very carefully, and I want you to look at the doll very carefully, and maybe you’ll hear its name.
The first round: Julia says, “My name is… Elizabeth Collins Stoddard.” Maggie stares at the doll blankly; that name doesn’t mean anything.
Julia tries “Sarah Collins”, and Maggie recognizes Sarah as the name of her friend. Next up is “Carolyn Stoddard”, which doesn’t ring any bells.
Julia: All right. Let’s keep on trying. Are you listening?
Julia: My name is… Barnabas Collins.
Maggie: No. Please, not that name! No!
Maggie dissolves into tears. Julia rushes to her side.
Julia: All right, Maggie, it’s all right. It’s not the right name.
Maggie: Don’t hurt me!
Julia: Nobody’s going to hurt you, Maggie. It’s the wrong name. Here, take your doll. It’s the wrong name. It’s the wrong name!
Taking her doll, Maggie smiles again, and starts to sing “London Bridge”.
“The wrong name for the doll,” Julia says. “But the right name… for something else.”
Tomorrow: Kandor Crush.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
The scenes with Woodard and Maggie are clearly set in Woodard’s office, which is in the Collinsport Hospital. We spend most of episode 242 in that office. Today, it’s apparently a room in Woodard’s house — he says to Julia, “Don’t you realize that every minute that she’s here — even in this house! — she’s in terrible danger?”
In the last scene, Julia tells Maggie, “I want you to look at the doll very carefully, and maybe you’ll hear its name.” Maggie responds, “Doll talk?” like she’s the Incredible Hulk.
Tomorrow: Kandor Crush.
— Danny Horn