“I’d do almost anything to continue… but I won’t sacrifice a human life.”
It’s evening at the great estate of Collinwood, and governess Victoria Winters is standing outside on the terrace, alone in the moonlight. Then the peace of the night is shattered by the vampire, Barnabas Collins, approaching silently behind her.
Except it’s not shattered at all, really. Vicki is standing there, and Barnabas walks up behind her. Instead of doing something semi-normal like saying, “Hello, Miss Winters, what a lovely night it is, don’t you sometimes think that we would all be better off if we never had to see the harsh rays of the sun” or whatever, he chooses to approach silently, and reach out to touch her somewhere in the shoulder/neck region.
This gives her the opportunity to spin around with an alarmed shriek, and then we crash into the titles.
After that, obviously, he apologizes for startling her, and we go on with the scene. It’s a bit early in the game for me to suggest that this is one of the most contrived teasers in Dark Shadows history, because we’ve got another four years and there are plenty more weak moments coming up, but it’s pretty damn contrived.
If they plan on making a scary television show, then they need to come up with scarier moments than that.
But hey, it’s a new set! And it’s gorgeous, a super romantic evening set with roses and vines and a bubbling water feature. This is the first new set that they’ve made since they switched to color last week, and they really made it look special. The blue-gray of the stones against the soft pink of the windows… This would have looked dark and boring in black and white, but in color it’s soft and lovely.
So it’s the perfect ambience for Barnabas to try out some more of his vampire pickup lines.
We get “listen to the silence,” and some “I prefer the darkness to the daylight.” He trots out the old favorite about “the gentle rays of the moon” versus “the violence of the sun,” and this time it actually gets some traction.
He closes with, “Imagine what it would be like to exist only at night, only when the world is at peace. It would be a lifetime of moonlight.”
And then Julia says, “Are you interested in antiques?” No, wait, that was yesterday’s mood-breaking interruption, but it’s basically the same thing.
All of a sudden the lifetime of moonlight is a little more crowded, and Vicki goes inside.
Things get a little chilly out on the terrace.
Julia: I thought you were going to leave her alone.
Barnabas: It’s no concern of yours.
Julia: It would concern you, if I decide not to cooperate with you.
Barnabas: You won’t make that decision. Your experiments mean too much to you.
Julia: Yes… I’d do almost anything to continue them. But I won’t sacrifice a human life.
Barnabas: There’s no question of that. Miss Winters and I are only friends.
Julia: You can never be any more than friends. Never.
And man, look at her. She’s so angry that she’s literally baring her teeth at him. This is about more than just the cellular structure of his arterial system.
Now, there’s a creation myth about Julia’s character, which is that Grayson Hall decided on her own that she was going to play Julia falling in love with Barnabas. That’s what Grayson told everyone, for years and years, whenever anybody asked her about Dark Shadows. Here’s a quote from The Dark Shadows Companion:
“I had never even told [executive producer Dan Curtis], but the audience picked up on it and wrote in their approval. We were in the same predicament, they and I, both in love with the vampire, and both unable to tell him or show him. I was with Barnabas, talking to him, being with him, touching him, and they sensed it. My mail got too good for D.C. to kill me, so I stayed on.”
It’s a great story, especially because it appeals to the audience’s secret belief that the actors really are the characters that they play. We love to believe that, especially for daytime soap opera characters, who we spend time with every day.
But really, everybody who watches television believes that the characters are real. That’s why we love to hear about unscripted moments that were invented during rehearsal. As intelligent adults, we understand that writers and directors and producers create the characters, and then the actors show up and say the words. But there’s a little child inside of us, who wants to be told that Julia Hoffman is real, and she lives inside Grayson Hall.
So Grayson said that she invented Julia’s attachment to Barnabas, and we believed it, especially in the 70s and 80s when the show mostly existed in people’s memories.
That creation myth was so powerful that we still believe it now, even though we can watch the episodes and see that it’s obviously not true.
Up until today, Grayson has been playing Julia like a stone-cold scientist ice princess, who only cares about test tubes and doesn’t understand the true meaning of love. Check out Monday’s episode — yes, they’re sparring, but in a competitive way; they’re fighting for control of the project. There’s no hint of flirtation.
And today, the next time they see each other, they’re standing on the most romantic set the show has ever had, and they’re doing a love triangle scene. I’m pretty sure Grayson didn’t just walk onto the set and go rogue. She read the script, she interpreted the subtext correctly, and she played the scene.
Obviously, that’s not a criticism of Grayson Hall or her performance. Her character just got a very serious upgrade today, and that’s entirely due to Grayson’s skill and charisma.
I completely agree with the basic framework of the creation myth — they thought this would be a short-term character, but then Grayson was amazing, and Julia suddenly became one of the most important characters on the show. The one thing that I think is inaccurate is the idea that Grayson personally invented the love triangle with Barnabas.
Although it totally makes sense that Grayson remembered it that way. Julia was basically a weird novelty character in her first episode, completely different from any other character on the show. Two months later, she’s right in the middle of the most compelling storyline.
So let’s see what Julia does next, because obviously that’s the only question worth asking in the entire world. She goes upstairs to Vicki’s room, and knocks on the door. Vicki lets her in.
Vicki: Was there something you wanted?
Julia: No, I just wondered if there was anything I could do to help you get ready for your date.
And Julia flashes her a big, fake smile, as if the sentence that she just said was the kind of thing that any human being would ever possibly say.
Vicki: How kind of you. There is something you can do.
Julia: Oh, what’s that?
Vicki: You can help me decide which dress to wear. I can’t choose between these two.
Julia keeps smiling, because people are watching, and she’s already said that she won’t sacrifice a human life. But you know that on the inside, she’s having a Marvin the Paranoid Android moment: Here I am, a brain the size of a planet, and she’s asking me to help her choose between two dresses. It makes you want to cry.
But, obviously, Julia has a plan. She chooses a set of her most sincere-looking facial expressions.
Julia: Vicki — I don’t want to presume, but I wonder if you’d mind if I gave you a bit of advice.
Vicki: No, what is it?
Julia: Well, I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation with Barnabas Collins on the terrace, and his invitation to the Old House.
Vicki: What about it?
Julia: I think it would be wise… if you didn’t go.
Julia: Oh, because of Mr. Collins, and the kind of man he is.
Vicki: I don’t understand.
Yes, Julia says on the inside, I know you don’t understand. That’s why I’m trying not to use words that are longer than two syllables.
But don’t worry, she’s got it under control.
Julia: I’ve been working rather closely with Mr. Collins these past weeks, and I’ve gotten to know him fairly well. He’s — oh, how can I say — he’s a very sensitive person.
Vicki: Yes, he is, but…
Julia: Sensitive people are very easily hurt.
Vicki: I still don’t follow you.
Oh-kay, says Julia. I really have to break this down for you.
Julia: Surely the situation should be obvious. Barnabas Collins is a bachelor, and lonely. You’re a young, attractive girl. Is it so hard to guess at what I’m hinting at?
Vicki: You mean that… that he thinks of me as… more than a friend?
Oh my god, Julia thinks. I am so close to slapping you right now
Julia: Is that so unlikely?
Vicki: Oh, I’m sure that you’re wrong!
Julia: I assure you, I’m not.
Vicki: But he’s never given me any indication! He’s always treated me as a friend.
By the way, a little preview: Burke is going to stand with Vicki on that moonlight-drenched terrace in tomorrow’s episode, and he’s going to propose to her, and she’s going to act like it’s a complete, mind-bending surprise.
I’m not sure if the writers specifically intend for her character to have an autism-spectrum disorder, or if it’s just standard equipment for soap opera heroines to have no insight into other people’s feelings or motives.
And that’s the transformative power of Grayson Hall’s performance. She started out two months ago as Maggie’s weird doctor. Now she’s in a love triangle with the show’s main character, and she’s winning.
Barnabas may not be in love with her yet, and in fact, he’s going to spend the next four years chasing a long series of disappointing women. But the audience is in love with her. How could we not be?
Tomorrow: The Other Woman.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Burke is talking to Julia in the drawing room, he forgets his line and looks straight into the camera for it. He starts up again with the phrase “It seems to me…” and then pauses. He continues, “It seems to me… that that sort of thing… is very bad for her.”
Behind the Scenes:
On her way to Vicki’s room, Julia passes by a prop that Dark Shadows fans know as the Petofi box. That won’t mean much until we get to the late 1969 episodes, but I’m just flagging it here. She even looks at it.
Tomorrow: The Other Woman.
— Danny Horn