Episode 288: The Unreflected

“Even historians have a certain amount of feminine vanity.”

It’s another cloudy day at Collinwood, and occasional governess Victoria Winters is daydreaming at the drawing room window, staring outside at nothing in particular while she listens to Josette’s music box. David walks into the room, and the music fades.

Then we realize that she’s not holding the music box. We were just hearing the music that plays inside Vicki’s head. Apparently we can do that now.

This raises the possibility that all of the incidental music that we hear on the show is actually just happening in the characters’ minds. So when something surprising happens, they turn around and say to themselves, Dunn! Dunn! DUNNNNNN!

288 dark shadows julia farce

In walks Dr. Julia Hoffman, noted blood specialist, mesmerist, and pathological liar, who’s staying at Collinwood under an assumed identity — Miss Julia Hoffman, historian. She gets away with this, despite the fact that she runs a well-known sanitarium only a hundred miles away, because it’s 1967 and you can’t just Google people.

It’s an unusual plot device for a soap opera, especially in the 1960s. A character might pretend to be pregnant, or unmarried, but you didn’t see a lot of soap doctors pretending to be family historians. It just wouldn’t come up.

This is actually a farce plot; it’s closer to a P.G. Wodehouse novel than anything on television. Wodehouse wrote the popular “Jeeves and Wooster” stories, and his most common plot device was for a character to gain entrance to a mansion or country estate by pretending to be a nerve specialist, or a portrait painter, or a pig expert. Wodehouse never wrote about a doctor/vampire hunter pretending to be a genealogist, but it’s only because he never got around to it.

The farce influence will be important in the upcoming storyline, because that genre brings a lot of useful storytelling devices into play — mistaken identities, outrageous coincidences and spirited MacGuffin hunts. A few months from now, they’re going to spend two weeks chasing after a notebook that at one point will be hidden inside the grandfather clock in the Collinwood foyer.

This is all part of the larger project of rebranding Barnabas as a loveable rogue, rather than a bloodthirsty serial killer. If that’s your goal, it helps if you can lighten the mood a little.

The same thing happens in 1969 with Quentin Collins, who starts out on the show by possessing children and murdering harmless old people, and then spends a couple weeks in a screwball comedy treasure-hunt storyline involving several forged versions of his grandmother’s will.

288 dark shadows julia david

Julia is actually super adorable with David; she makes jokes and smiles a lot when he’s around. At one point in this episode, she affectionately tousles his hair, which should feel weird considering that they’ve basically just met, but instead it feels genuine and warm. Julia can sometimes seem like a stone-cold mendacity machine, so it’s nice to see a more human side here.

288 dark shadows david portrait

David shows Julia a book of Collins family portraits. This is a device that they use a lot on the show, and often in a way that makes you wonder how book publishing works in the Dark Shadows universe.

In this scene, Julia is flipping through pictures of portraits that we’ve seen on the walls — Joshua Collins, Jeremiah Collins, Barnabas Collins — and then stops on a picture of Sarah Collins, Barnabas’ little sister who died when she was ten years old.

There are two curious things about this scene. First, just to nitpick, the picture that they’re looking at is clearly a photograph rather than a portrait, and they didn’t have photographs in the 1790s.

More importantly — David makes a big deal about being surprised by this picture.

David:  Wait, let me see that.

Julia:  Why?

David:  I’ve never seen it before.

Julia:  The picture of Sarah Collins?

David:  No. Hmm. I never even heard of her. And I know all about my ancestors.

So the implication is that somehow this page has been supernaturally inserted in the family album, to help David and Julia figure out that the weird girl that David met outside the Old House a few weeks ago is actually the ghost of Sarah Collins.

And, I have to say, we’ve seen Sarah in action quite a bit, and this particular caper seems to be above her pay grade. She’s more the “leave an old toy lying on the floor” type of girl.

288 dark shadows julia mirrors

But the really important moment happens when Julia talks to Vicki about Barnabas’ restoration of the Old House.

Julia:  Do you know if it’s authentic in all details?

Vicki:  Well, as far as I know, it is.

Julia:  I saw an engraving once, and there were mirrors in the drawing room, huge gilt mirrors. And when I was at the Old House yesterday, I don’t remember seeing them. Maybe they were put into another room.

Vicki:  No, I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember seeing any mirrors anywhere in that house.

This is supposed to be a clue that Julia suspects that Barnabas is a vampire, but it’s a very odd one. They still haven’t done a scene where Julia notices the most obvious clue, which is that nobody has ever seen Barnabas during the day. That’s a thing that people would notice. The absence of old mirrors is not a clue. Old mirrors get broken.

288 dark shadows julia trickster

Anyway, Julia borrows the book and heads over to Barnabas’ place, where she talks her way into the house.

Barnabas told her yesterday that he doesn’t want to help with her Collins family history, and today he looks her in the face and says, “I don’t want to sound rude, but I can’t imagine what we have to discuss.”

288 dark shadows julia inside

And then forty-five seconds later, she’s sitting inside his house while he looks at the book that she brought. She is a mythical trickster-figure and there is no stopping her.

While Barnabas is occupied looking at the pictures, Julia pulls a compact out of her purse and checks him out in the mirror.

288 dark shadows mirror


This — let’s face it — is possibly the silliest moment in all of Dark Shadows up to this point. It defies all reason.

288 dark shadows julia suspicion

Barnabas turns and sees the mirror, and barks, “What are you doing?”

Julia giggles and puts the compact away, simpering, “Even historians have a certain amount of feminine vanity. I was just checking my makeup.”

And that’s fantastic. A huge, high-camp farce plot point that involves both mortal danger and makeup. I love this scene more than I can ever say.

288 dark shadows barnabas stunned

Julia exits, and for the second episode in a row, Barnabas is left standing awkwardly in his drawing room, with a stunned expression on his face.

This won’t last forever. Next week, we’ll have several days where Vicki and Burke spend the episode talking about an abandoned house. But for today, at least, Dark Shadows is perfect.

Tomorrow: That Hoffman Woman.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

David tells Julia that one of the portraits is David Collins, his namesake. This elder David is pictured right in the middle of the 1790s family, with Jeremiah, Joshua, Naomi, Sarah and Barnabas. We eventually meet a lot of the Collins ancestors, going all the way back to 1692, and we never see another David Collins.

When Julia shows Vicki the picture in the album, she says, “It’s Sarah Collins, the sister of the original Barnas-bas Collins.”

Standing at the door of the Old House, Julia says, “Then I’ve made the trip in vain. But, since I have made the trip… why don’t you let me show you — them to you anyway?”

The order of the pictures in the book changes when Julia shows the book to Barnabas. If you watch closely, he actually flips to the same page twice.

The image that Julia sees in the compact mirror doesn’t really match the line of sight from the mirror to Barnabas. Maybe Barnabas really does appear in the mirror, but she’s pointing it in the wrong direction! After all, we’ve seen his reflection at least twice so far — in episode 241, and in episode 278 (pictured below).

Behind the Scenes:

The mirror sequence was inspired by the 1931 Dracula film. In a key scene, Dr. Van Helsing notices that Count Dracula doesn’t appear in the reflection of a mirror set in the inside top of a humidor. There are several shots of the mirror’s reflection, with Dracula missing from the shot.

This episode was recorded at the end of a six-day taping week. They had to do a six-day schedule for a few weeks, because pretty soon they’ll take a week break while they switch over to using color cameras. That’s right — Dark Shadows will be in color by the end of next week!

Tomorrow: That Hoffman Woman.

ep 278 mirror

Dark Shadows episode guide – 1967

— Danny Horn

15 thoughts on “Episode 288: The Unreflected

  1. I used to run home everyday from junior high school to watch Dark Shadows at 3pm, Central Standard Time. The remake (Jean Simmons-Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, Ben Cross-Barnabas, and Barbara Steele-Julia Hoffman) had a great cast, but didn’t last.

  2. Danny!!!! This is brilliant! You are an awesome writer!

    We must share the same mind when watching DS, because every line you elaborate on, or any blooper you mention have ALL been ones that I noticed too! I literally was laughing out loud reading this episode synopsis. Awesome job!

  3. One of my favorite things about this blog is how knowledgeable about theater – especially old timey theater – and literature Danny and many of my fellow commenters are. I have the PG Wodehouse books and the reference is spot on. I also enjoyed the Hayes/Kaufman theater reference a few entries ago. I’ve been reading a few entries a night. I think this blog should be published, Danny. It’s truly a work of pure genius. It’s become required bedtime reading for me, and it’s taken me all these years to really get “into” Dark Shadows.

    I was one of those who made fun of those who ran home after school to see it but I had a very pushy junior high school boyfriend and we were 3 years into the thing and I couldn’t keep the story straight. He drove me crazy with Quentin and Angelique like they were friends of ours. It made me NUTS at the time and I wanted nothing to do with Dark Shadows ever. It’s truly marvelous to be able to discover something from my childhood that I never quite got before. Thanks for helping me really enjoy it for the first time.

  4. The mirror scene is interesting because there was an episode, not sure which #, during Maggie’s ordeal in Josette’s room, where Barnabas’ reflection did show up briefly in Josette’s mirror on her vanity table. Either they didn’t catch it or they didn’t think about that vampire weakness until they decided to keep him around.

    1. I think you are right Ed, but I remember assuming that it was deliberate. Didn’t Maggie notice that his reflection was not in the mirror? Didn’t she seem to gasp a little?

  5. Throughout the episodes including and around this one, Julia shows an uncanny (for a historian/genealogist) ability to read people’s body language. “You seem frightened,” “You seem nervous.” She hones in on people’s emotional reactions as if she were trained in psychiatry. (Yet no one suspects except once maybe Burke does.) Of course, she uses her skill to manipulate people rather than to help them. It’s all about what Julia wants for Julia.

    1. Miles you are so right.Julia is playing Barnabas to the hilt and Barnabas apparently is not ready for Julia. What he is about to see is his antiquated 1797 “macking skills” just are not cutting it.

  6. Yes, I, too, cannot say enough awesome things about Danny’s blog and work here. I think we need to platform it out to other media outlets to try and get it more exposure. I am not sure how long the show has been fully loaded onto Amazon Prime (which is where and how I am watching it now) but the ease and comfort of streaming and being able to binge tons of episodes might give the show a renewed popularity.

    I understand that many of you blogged awhile back and I seem to be pretty late coming to the party but I think that blog will stand the test of time and Danny’s work here is not only Herculean but substantive, academic and beyond hilarious. I am having as much fun getting to his blog entries after each episode as I am watching them!

    The Wodehouse reference above is just so on-the-nosey. I was a huge Jeeves and Wooster fan myself and the books are just a sheer comic caper delight from start to finish. I love how Danny has introduced discussions of what constitutes “camp” and “farce” in recent blog entries here and there is so much to be said that DS encapsulates, among many other genres and styles, both of these incredibly. It is hard to escape capturing the show under the auspices, finally, of “melodrama,” though, as the cadenced acting, the musical stings, and the nuanced eye-brow lifting supercilious EVERYTHING that the show actually is brings it firmly under that roof.

    One thing about Julia’s lightning-fast education into All Things Vampire–while we love that she is onto Barnabas at every turn, the business of knowing how to use mirrors to see if a person is actually reflective in the glass, the vast storehouse knowledge that she seems to have suddenly–where did all of that come from? Does coming to Collinwood automatically arm oneself with a kit that includes garlic, a wooden stake and a copy of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA?

  7. RE: DS book publishing. Even in the 1960s they had vanity presses. I recall characters in Wodehouse, from much earlier, who privately published books of poetry in squishy mauve leather. It’s easier today, where a dog can publish a book with the right sponsor, and sell it on Amazon. Back then it took real money, but the Collins family is loaded. Apparently. They have enough moolah to keep on staff a governess who dreams her days away building myths about her ancestry and hobnobbing more with the undead beast next door than her charges.

  8. Danny wrote: “I love this scene more than I can ever say.”

    Oh, Danny, me too, me too, me too! And what I most especially love is that Julia seems to have known precisely how much we would love it!

    My favorite image from perhaps the entire run of DS (actually, yeah, from any series ever) is at the 16:15 mark when Julia actually beams right at us, boldly and cheerily shattering the 4th wall, as if to assess our reaction and ensure we’re as purely happy in the DS camp as she wanted us to be. And this smile she bestows on us is right in the midst of the most adorable micro-scene:

    Julia, after very deliberately and repeatedly grimacing up at the stormy night sky while trying to convince Barnabas to invite her into the weird cosiness of his old house– even if for no other reason than to protect the precious book she keeps lifting protective up to her chest–finally gets her way when he stiffly steps back and admits her with a curt, “Come in But I can only give you a few minutes of my time.”

    Walking past Barnabas while affectionately caressing (or maybe drying) the book, Julia apparently forgets she has already entered the house and once more begins to grimace exaggeratedly up at the stormy sky before pretending she just meant to assess the ceiling and chandelier. Then, wthout further hesitation, she makes her way over to Barnabas’s armchair in front of the fireplace and it is 100% certain that she perceives the armchair as her own, just as she did during her previous visit when she twice settled herself uninvited there while Willie (and then Barnabas) stared bemusedly down at her.

    “I … assume that’s the book you’re talking about?” Barnabas haltingly prompts while standing over her, so near that their knees are almost touching. And I can kind of almost believe he is attracted to Julia’s total alienness against his will, or maybe he is just resolved to test whether his vampiric powers can conquer her bold spirit.

    “Yes. Now…” whispers Julia, dancing a bit in her very own comfy chair and casting that huge, unexpectedly sincere and happy smile right in our direction! ❤ ❤ ❤

    And then, still beaming, she glances up at Barnabas and opens the portrait book and it looks for all the universe as if she’s about to provide him (and us) with a singsongy fireside story time hour to heal our weary, cold souls.

    And I love this single minute of DS so much I am almost giggling and teary-eyed each time I watch it.

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