Episode 302: The Serpent

“I find it very egotistical of you to think that only your kind can come back from death.”

The moon rises over the great estate of Collinwood, and at the Old House, Barnabas and Julia are spending a quiet evening at home. She’s preparing an injection that she hopes will cure his vampirism, and he’s browsing through a family album, dreaming of the people that he’d like to kill.

302 dark shadows julia barnabas album

She observes that he’s been looking at the family portraits a lot lately, and she knows why — he’s worried that his sister, Sarah, has returned. He scoffs.

Barnabas:  Don’t be absurd! Little Sarah has been dead for almost two hundred years.

Julia:  So have you, Barnabas, but you’ve come back. Why can’t she?

Barnabas:  What a ridiculous question. Sarah was dead when she was ten years old; she was the soul of innocence. She hadn’t been afflicted by the same problem I had.

Julia:  I find it very egotistical of you to think that only “your kind” can come back from death.

This is what passes for casual conversation at the Old House these days. Isn’t it wonderful? I could listen to them bicker all night.

302 dark shadows barnabas julia white

Barnabas tells her to mind her own beeswax, but she says that she has a stake in this.

Julia:  The initial injection created a dramatic change in the structure of your blood cells. But there’s some emotional disturbance that you’ve been having that’s been very detrimental to our experiments.

Julia has the trappings of a doctor, including a white coat — or, at least, a pale blue coat that would look white on a black-and-white TV screen. (Now that they’ve switched to color, they should probably get her a “white coat” that’s actually white.)

But this isn’t just a medical experiment, with material effects on Barnabas’ blood cells. This is alchemy, and the physical change in his body is connected to his spiritual journey — restoring his humanity, and his capacity to feel empathy and love. The “emotional disturbance” is relevant.

302 dark shadows julia barnabas chase

Barnabas admits that he knows Sarah has come back. Julia asks how he knows, and he says that he heard her singing.

Julia cocks her head to the side, and says, “Where were you when you heard her singing?”

He turns away, muttering, “Never mind.”

She tries again. “Where were you, Barnabas?”

302 dark shadows julia barnabas where were you

He takes a few steps toward the fireplace, unable to look at her. “It doesn’t matter where I was,” he says. “The important thing is that I heard her, that’s all.”

She follows him across the room, relentless: “I think where you were might very well have something to do with why Sarah tried to contact you. Where were you, Barnabas?”

By the way, the blocking is just amazing in this scene. Like almost every soap opera scene, it’s just two people in a room, talking. They could have had this whole conversation sitting down in the armchairs. But instead, Barnabas is on his feet, stepping away from this mad woman who’s pressing him to admit what he’s done, and she’s chasing him around the room.

That’s pretty much basic stagecraft — even the director of a high-school play would be able to figure out how to do that. But it’s remarkable here, because soap opera directors in the 60s just didn’t bother to set up shots like that.

302 love is a many splendored thing

Here’s a December 1967 episode of Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, where they have a very similar scene — a woman who clearly has something to hide is being asked a series of pointed questions — but they do practically the entire four-minute scene sitting down.

At one point, the woman gets up, picks up a cigarette and sits down on a sofa to light it, but it doesn’t mean anything. It feels like the actress just wanted a cigarette, and if it’s 1967 and you want a cigarette, nobody stops you.

But when Dark Shadows is good, they actually pay attention to blocking and setting up interesting shots. This is good Dark Shadows.

302 dark shadows julia barnabas do you mean

Okay, back to the scene. Barnabas admits that he went to Maggie’s room the other night, planning to kill her. But he heard Sarah singing, and he couldn’t go through with it. Julia is amazed.

Julia:  Do you mean that Sarah actually stopped you from killing Maggie?

Barnabas:  I told you. I heard the song that she used to sing, and I began looking for her.

Julia:  Well, why didn’t you kill Maggie first, and then look for her?

I’d like to take a moment, just to let that line of dialogue sink in.

“Why didn’t you kill Maggie first, and then look for her?”

Amazing. Only on Dark Shadows.

302 dark shadows barnabas julia monologue

Barnabas walks back across the room; he’s still in flight mode.

Barnabas:  Doctor, it’s time for the injection.

Julia:  The injection can wait. I want to know why a little girl of ten can make you react this way.

Barnabas:  I don’t think you’d understand, doctor.

Julia:  Try me.

So Barnabas digs deep, faces the teleprompter, and starts to monologue.

Barnabas:  Sarah was an exquisite child. She was the sum of everything that made living on this earth worthwhile. The holiness of her heart’s affections were pure and gentle. I loved her in a way that I loved no other human being.

302 dark shadows barnabas julia alchemist

Now that the alchemist has earned her moment of catharsis, she gets down to work.

Julia:  Has it occurred to you that, perhaps, it was you who brought her back?

Barnabas:  That’s ridiculous.

Julia:  It is altogether possible that you could have willed her to come back… unconsciously, of course.

Barnabas:  But why?

Julia:  Maybe because she symbolizes that side of yourself that you’ve lost.

And that’s why Julia is scary — she’s the Devil, and she speaks the truth.

302 dark shadows barnabas julia back

This is a very common trope in fiction, going all the way back to the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. “Good” characters are sensitive, and they care about hurting people’s feelings. It’s the “bad” characters who’ll actually tell you the truth.

Think about Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Benjamin Linus from Lost. Think about Loki in the Avengers movie, bringing the tension between the heroes to the surface.

The Devil isn’t really “the Prince of Lies,” because lies can’t hurt as much as a well-aimed dagger of truth. Barnabas is a guy who kills people with his teeth, and he’s being chased around his own living room, tormented by a serpent who’s armed with nothing but insight.

302 dark shadows burke vicki fire hazard

Meanwhile, on the Collinwood terrace, Vicki and Burke are talking about whether she’s going to accept his marriage proposal.

He gets frustrated, walks a few steps away, and lights a cigarette. Vicki makes up her mind — and says yes, she’ll marry him.

Delighted, he throws the lit cigarette away, and Collinwood catches on fire and burns to the ground. The end.

Tomorrow: The Back of My Mind.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Liz flubs a couple lines when she’s talking about Julia’s research. First, she says, “You devote every day to it, and most of all — most of your evenings.” She also says, “We’ve nearly — never really discussed your work in detail.”

On the terrace, Vicki comes in too early with a line, stepping on Burke’s:

Burke:  Now, I’ll admit you’ll find me an unpredictable character, occasionally temperamental, sometimes maybe even a little unreasonable.

Vicki:  You sound as —

Burke:  But I can promise you one thing. You’ll never be bored with me. There won’t be one dull moment in our lives.

Vicki:  You sound as though you have my mind all made up for me.

Also: the first act is in the Old House, with Barnabas and Julia together. In the second act, Julia returns to Collinwood, and tells Vicki that Barnabas is going to come by later that evening and take her into Collinsport.

Barnabas shows up at Collinwood in time to hear about Vicki’s engagement, and then he and Julia leave together. Obviously, the writers wanted to get Barnabas over to Collinwood so that he could react to the news of the engagement. But within the context of the narrative, why would they come back to Collinwood separately, and then leave again together?

Behind the Scenes:

In that December 1967 episode of Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, the conversation that I was talking about is interrupted by a familiar face. It’s John Karlen, who plays Willie. He played Jock Porter on Splendored Thing, during a period when his character was temporarily written out of Dark Shadows.

Tomorrow: The Back of My Mind.

302 dark shadows julia barnabas evening

Dark Shadows episode guide – 1967

— Danny Horn

17 thoughts on “Episode 302: The Serpent

  1. “Barnabas is a guy who kills people with his teeth, and he’s being chased around his own living room, tormented by a serpent who’s armed with nothing but insight.” I love it. And I find myself fascinated by the idea that Sarah embodies what Barnabas has lost.

  2. DS seems to be doing fewer recap scenes before the credits since they switched to color.

    Heckuva draft in the Old House today, there are candle flames blowing sideways.

    Oh, just to have five minutes in Barnabas’ dressing gown armoire!

    I really want to have Liz tell Vicki, “Well, if you get married to Burke, and things don’t work out, just bean him with a poker, and bury him in the basement.”

    MORE B&V kissyface?! And to top it off, Burke huffs on a ciggie before he sucks face again – Tony George with ashtray breath! Dreamy.

  3. And Barnabas is just now noticing the uncanny resemblance between Burke Devlin and Jeremiah Collins?! Okay, it IS 170-odd years since he’s seen his cousin, but really.

    1. It’s an odd one, that, the resemblance between Burke and Jeremiah. So far, the only people* that look like past Collinses, so we’ve been told, are modern Collinses. Perhaps Burke’s a distant relation? It is a small town…

      *I’m deliberately ignoring Josette, since both Vicki and Maggie are said to closely resemble her, despite AM and KLS sharing just a few casual similarities (e.g. they both have eyes in their face). Obviously there’s a Doylist reason for Maggie looking like Josette and a Watsonian one for Vicki looking like “Zshosetteh”, but at this point the show doesn’t seem to have made up its mind.

  4. You didnt’t really go into detail about Liz and Julia’s scene together, but it was a good one. I liked how Liz called Julia out for twisting the focus of Liz’s questions back on Liz. Maybe if Dr Woodard was half as astute as Liz, he would have figured Julia’s scam out by now.

    Also feel that Joan Bennett is so much prettier and younger looking in color. It will be interesting to see what Louis Edmonds looks like.

    1. “It will be interesting to see what Louis Edmonds looks like.”

      Yes, I keep saying…where the heck is Roger? It’s as if he doesn’t even live at Collinwood anymore.

    2. I also thought that the Liz and Julia scene was very important. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that Liz is on to Julia’s ruse.

      Let’s see how this plays out.

  5. That dressing gown looks to me like the snazziest thing Barnabus has worn in some time. It’s like today someone let him know they were in color.

  6. Fantastic episode. I do have to this episode was crammed with great scenes from everyone, the last scene with Barnabas and Julia was good incredible. I am beside myself.

  7. I wonder if anyone at the time noticed or commented on the superior production in Dark Shadows. The exterior shots, camera angles and shots, even the background music which was a whole orchestra instead of boring organ music. From the clips i’ve seen of other soaps of the time DS seems way ahead of them visually and in audio. I would dare say DS set precedent but yet I seldom hear any credit for this given. Perhaps the amount of bloopers due to their ambitiousness overshadowed that.

  8. Roger and Carolyn have apparently been placed in cold storage (along with Mrs. Johnson) but gosh, that leaves even more screen time for Vicki! Yuck.

    The reason Barnabas keeps moving around in that scene with Julia is that he’s trying to hide his copy of “Playboy’s Guide To Dating Younger Women.” The robe is a dead giveaway that he’s adopted Hugh Hefner as a role model.

  9. Good lord! Dan Curtis seems to have collared the writers and demand they set every scene possible in that new garden set! “Do you know how much that fountain cost me?! If I’m paying that much for it, we’re gonna use it, dammit!” And nobody running sound seems to have figured out what level the burbling water should be set at. It’s always the third character in every scene out there.

  10. Barnabas is wearing one of those magnificent brocade smoking jackets in this episode. There are two or three in the series, I think Louis Edmonds wears one at some point. A vampire in a brocade smoking jacket…so freaking awesome…

  11. Very cagey, about Eden’s serpent. It’s Eve who lies. She said that God said not to eat or touch it. Either Adam was a poor Sunday School teacher or Eve wasn’t paying strict attention. The, in the most misunderstood line of prose ever written, Adam throws it back in God’s face, “The woman YOU gave me. . .” It’s all God’s fault.

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