Episode 290: The Ancient Truce

Deep within the night, opposing forces stalk each other. And their meeting, when it comes, will shatter the ancient truce between the living and the dead.” 

At the end of the last episode, Julia broke into the Old House, walked downstairs to the basement, and found Barnabas sleeping in a coffin. And just as a measure of how weird this soap opera has become — that’s not a surprise anymore. It’s daytime, the dude sleeps in a coffin. We know. Yawn.

The actual surprise is that Julia survives the experience. We’ve seen this scene three times before — with Willie, Maggie and Jason in the lead role — and none of them walked away happy. But in this case, Barnabas just stays asleep, and it’s like a bomb goes off. What’s Julia up to? What is she going to do?

Dark Shadows is on fire today. I mean, literally — today the show actually catches on fire.

290 dark shadows woodard angry

We pick things up at Collinwood, where Dr. Woodard is grilling Julia about her progress investigating Maggie’s condition. Julia’s eyes are open, so that means she’s manipulating somebody. Her usual technique is to throw out a bunch of distractions as fast as she can, so she can find the one that works. Today, that includes:

#1. Denial. (“What evidence do you have that I’m not treating Maggie?”)

#2. Taking it personally. (“What you’re really objecting to is not my treatment, but my manner.”)

#3. Implying that his demands are unreasonable. (“You’re angry because I’m not giving you a day to day report.”)

#4. Playing for time. (“I can’t give you any more reports — yet.”)

290 dark shadows julia tired

Then she hits on a new tactic, which is basically a judo move — using Woodard’s own distrust against him. She sighs, and looks off into the distance.

Julia:  Oh, in a way, I don’t blame you. I’m getting… a little impatient myself.

Woodard:  What do you mean?

Julia:  I’m sorry to say, I’ve made almost no progress at all.

Woodard:   You mean you haven’t come across anything?

Julia:  Not a thing.

Woodard:  I’m sorry to hear that. I know you had great hopes.

Julia:  Well, maybe I was wrong.

Woodard:  You know, that doesn’t sound like you, Julia.

Julia:  Oh, it’s me all right. So you can see why I haven’t been giving you any reports.

290 dark shadows julia fingers

And then watch what happens.

Woodard:  Are you telling me the truth?

Julia:  What do you mean?

Woodard:  Are you sure this isn’t just another tactic to get me to stay quiet and keep out of the way? You know something. I know you do.

She’s playing him like a fish. It’s amazing. Julia Hoffman was born to lie.

290 dark shadows vicki foyer

Woodard finally agrees that Maggie can stay at Windcliff for a while. He’s about to leave, when somebody knocks at the door.

Vicki comes downstairs to answer the door, and there’s a funny moment when she stops in the foyer to say hello to Dr. Woodard, and for a minute, it looks like they’ve completely forgotten that there’s someone waiting outside.

290 dark shadows vicki music box

There’s a couple minutes of hellos and goodbyes, and when the dust settles, we’re left with Vicki and Barnabas talking in the foyer.

She’s decided to give Josette’s music box back to Barnabas, because she can’t seem to stop playing it. On his side, he’d like her to keep it.

It’s kind of a dull scene, really, so it’s probably all for the best that just at this moment, the studio catches on fire.

290 dark shadows barnabas fire

I’m serious. There’s a fire in the studio, right now, while Vicki and Barnabas are having a scene.

They don’t stop the scene, because in 1967, videotape editing was difficult and expensive. They filmed each episode “live-to-tape” — running through the episode in real time, including pauses for the commercial breaks. That’s why there are “bloopers” listed at the bottom of every post; if somebody forgets their lines, or a sound effect doesn’t work, they just keep the camera running.

Today, that means that the actors keep going while something off-camera catches on fire. We don’t actually see the fire, unfortunately, but we hear people coughing, and then the spray of a fire extinguisher.

If you’ve never seen this, it’s one of the all-time great moments in television, and you should watch it right now. This scene is at 10:00, just before the second commercial break.

Now, Jonathan Frid often has trouble keeping his lines straight, even on days when the studio isn’t bursting into flames, so it’s amazing that he manages to string a sentence together. It basically sounds like this.

Barnabas:  Try it, and see. And if after a while, [ off-screen coughing ] that you’re still disturbed by it… then I’ll take it back. [ cough ] And please — [ fwooshh ] — don’t be afraid — [ fwooshh fwooshh fwooshh ] — of what — [ cough cough ] — being trapped [ fwooshhh cough ] by the [ cough ] past means. After all… [ cough ] one should be afraid of… being trapped by the present.

And actually, I think that line sounds better this way. It was never going to make a whole lot of sense anyway. They should set fire to the studio more often.

290 dark shadows julia apology

There’s a commercial break, they put the fire out, and we get another amazing Julia scene. I know, I’ve spent all week talking about how great Julia is, but she’s a big deal. As crazy as this is to say — if Julia hadn’t shown up, then there was a danger that the vampire storyline was about to get boring.

Vicki doesn’t realize that Barnabas is one of the living dead, but otherwise she seems perfectly happy going along with whatever he suggests. He’s come to her bedroom twice now, and both times, he’s chickened out and decided not to bite her. We need something new to spice things up, and here it comes.

290 dark shadows julia probe

Barnabas starts out by apologizing to Julia for being abrupt with her when she visited the other night. She says he can make it up to her by answering some questions that she has about his “ancestor”.

Julia:  Of course, the person I really care most about is your namesake, the original Barnabas Collins.

Barnabas:  A rather dull person, from all accounts.

Julia:  Oh, then perhaps I’ve uncovered some things that you’re not familiar with. I find Barnabas Collins — oh, not you, of course, the original Barnabas Collins — the most fascinating of all the Collinses.

Barnabas:  How can you? He went to England when he was very young, and died there almost obscurely.

Julia:  So the story goes.

290 dark shadows julia namesake

He’s alarmed.

Barnabas:  You mean, you’ve uncovered some new facts?

Julia:  I told you when I first met you that I knew a great deal about… a great many things.

Barnabas:  I can’t believe that you really have found out anything startling.

Julia:  Maybe I have, and… maybe I haven’t.

Just a quick reminder: The dude kills people with his teeth.

290 dark shadows barnabas talk

Barnabas:  If you’re willing, perhaps we could talk tomorrow, at my place.

Julia:  I’d like that very much. Shall we say, tomorrow… morning?

She arches a couple of eyebrows.

Barnabas:  I’m afraid that wouldn’t be convenient.

Julia:  Oh. Well, tomorrow… afternoon, then.

Barnabas:  I won’t be available until the evening.

She smiles.

Julia:  I understand. Completely.

290 dark shadows barnabas portrait

Now, those are just the edited highlights; the actual scene goes on and on, and gets crazier by the minute. She practically announces that she knows he’s a vampire, and dares him to make something of it.

Julia is just burning through story like a forest fire. As we’ve seen, open-ended narrative is the product of an ancient truce between the writers and the audience — we want more exciting things to happen; they want to hold back story in case they need it later.

We want Julia to succeed, because killing her would mean no more story progression. That’s the same logic that made Barnabas the central character.

290 dark shadows barnabas bed

So the final scene is kind of intense. Barnabas waits until Julia’s asleep, and then he sneaks into her room and strangles her.

290 dark shadows julia waiting

Except she’s anticipated that — there’s a dummy in the bed. She steps out of the shadows and into a shaft of moonlight.

“Good evening, Barnabas Collins,” she says. “I’ve been waiting for you a long time. A very long time.”

And then the entire show bursts into flames, and the ABC daytime schedule burns to the ground. See you Monday.

Monday: The Alchemist.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

The fire, obviously.

Behind the Scenes:

This is the last episode written by Joe Caldwell for a while; he’ll be replaced on the writing team next week by Gordon Russell. Caldwell will be back in a few months, filling in for three weeks when Malcolm Marmorstein leaves.

Monday: The Alchemist.

290 dark shadows julia barnabas

Dark Shadows episode guide – 1967

— Danny Horn

25 thoughts on “Episode 290: The Ancient Truce

    1. Julia…slickster of the day. I love how she played all over Barnabas…lol and he is so oblivious to her madness. She is almost laughing at him in his face.

  1. Oh my goodness, I’ve just rewatched that scene. It’s hysterical. What makes it even funnier to me is that the first time I watched it, before I read this post, I was hypnotized by Barnabas’s semiarticulate-vampire-on-the-make shtick, and I didn’t even notice all the commotion in the background. There weren’t just fwooshing sounds — there’s banging, as if they’re beating on something. The contrast between watching the scene “straight” and noticing the surrounding hubbub is like sketch comedy. And I’m amazed the actors were able to keep going so well.

    1. I thought it was banging at first, too, and wondered what they could’ve been pounding on and why. But watching the scene again now that I know a fire extinguisher was used, I think those sounds were also made by that. It seems to me that each “bang” we’re hearing could be the noise made by the burst of propellant gas expelling the extinguishing agent each time the release lever is squeezed.

  2. Even with the fire, this is one of the best DS episodes. That ending is magnificent. I knew it was coming and was still held in suspense. Nice lighting in the scene, too. I’m sorry we’re about to go to color.

  3. Barnabas has met his match and Dr. Hoffman has found her holy grail. The writers are like that classic Capt Quint line from Jaws “…either very smart or very stupid”. They took a show trying to survive on bland characters and plots with a spooky twist, and put it into the hands of 2 characters dependent on each other although the others survival threatens their own. Brilliant!

  4. I love the face Barnabas makes when julia goes for her notebook. When Vicki says maybe you can show her your library he turns and gives her a look that makes me think hes not to happy with that idea. Jonathan Frid’s facial expressions are wonderful, as always.

  5. Another brief blooper…Barnabas and vicki are talking in the entryway. As she is telling him about being not being too excited about the historical work julia is doing and Barnabas’ surprise, you can see someone walking by between the crack of the double doors.

  6. If you want to see the scene with fire offstage, check out these bloopers. The scene starts just after 4:50.

  7. I just thought, what a huge disappointment to have finally found a vampire and his method of murder is strangulation. I mean, what an insult. Why didn’t he want to just feed off her till she died? What a bummer – a Dracula that doesn’t just use his fangs.

  8. There are so many issues with cue pick up during this episode that, as a director myself, I would have made ALL of them do a script run-through at top speed to try and get out about 95% of the interminable, dragging pauses between each line. I guess a fire explains some of it here but the entire episode is one slow, inexorable slog to be sure.

    It starts with the always-barking Dr. Woodard and he transmits the disease to Dr. Hoffman who in turn gives it to Vicki and, of course, once Barnabas rolls into the frame, we are in full-on FridSpeak and then some.

    And to have such a compelling opening with Julia opening the coffin and then jumping us forward felt like something more than grave-robbing. How can you not cash in on such a great dramatic moment as that with some sustained something? The last guy who opened that coffin didn’t fare nearly as well as Julia.

  9. But the Big Payoff Scene is, as Danny describes, just about as good as it gets. Our narrative story line has ginormous leaps and bounds in the last 10 minutes which makes up for everything else that came in the middle.

    I think I am going to institute what I call Julia Prop Watch because there is always SOMETHING that she manages to get into her hands and create “business” with. Today, of all things, it’s her spiral notebook which she pulls at and picks at during her early scene with Barnabas. This is reminiscent of what she did with the fish tank net in her debut scene a few months back. I am also convinced that she does, flat-out, the BEST JOB OF ANYONE ON THE SHOW of reading the teleprompter because she perfects a kind of rolling of the head that she incorporates into her acting style which allows her to read the line, roll the head, pause, and execute the delivery to perfection. “What? I wasn’t reaching for a line. That was me ACTING.”

  10. I had to go back and watch the long back-and-forth scene between Julia and Barnabas as she is doing her cloak-and-dagger “reveal” to him that she is onto him. I have come to the conclusion that it is the best single acting scene in the series to date (at least from #210 to now). Maybe it’s the fact that, as actors, they both seem to be cut from very much the same theatrical cloth but the deliveries, the cadence, the nuances–all make for an absolutely thrilling 6 minutes of television.

    And then to have the capstone scene with the attempted strangulation and the “lights on” moment with the immortal, “Good evening, Barnabas Collins.” It’s a singular hallmark moment of the series thus far.

  11. This episode must have been a shock to those watching it on tv when it aired back in the 60’s. The moment Barnabas tried to strangle Julia in her room assuming she was in bed must have been nerve racking for viewers back then especially when Julia voice said hello Barnabas from across the room lol. Modern soaps will give you a sneak peak of what the next episode will be like but wow, nobody watching back then knew what the next episode would be like. I am certain those who saw this episode in the 60’s was holding their breath to hear every word and anxiously anticipated what the next few episodes will be like.

  12. One of my top 5 favorite Dark Shadows episodes. I’m not surprised there was a fire. The chemistry between Frid and Hall could have set off an explosion. They play off each other so perfectly. This is the relationship that kept me watching Dark Shadows.

  13. I always (always,in the Victoria Winters sense,, as I only started watching DS this century) believed the name “Woodard” started out as a typing mistake. Like the names “Jobes” and “Smoth” on the BBC’s “The Burkiss Way.”

  14. I just realized that Vicki mentions being afraid she’ll get trapped in the past no less than twice. A nice bit of (unintentional?) foreshadowing I didn’t notice the first few times I watched DS.

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