“Dead people don’t just walk away.”
You know, I complain a lot about the lengthy recap conversations on Dark Shadows, but then I find myself trying to explain the current state of play to a reader who may have just stumbled onto the blog for the first time, and it’s hard to know where to begin.
Here’s where we left things on Friday — young David Collins is playing with his friend Sarah, who he doesn’t realize is a ghost. Sarah wants David to play with her, so she’s brought him to the family crypt where she’s buried, and she’s instructed him to open the panel that leads to the secret room, where her brother Barnabas was chained up in a coffin for 170 years.
And here’s the problem — if you, dear reader, have managed to cram all of those story points into your head simultaneously, then the next question is: Why has Sarah brought David to the secret room, and why is she telling him to open the coffin? And then I have to confess that I don’t really have any idea.
Unsurprisingly, it’s kind of a weird scene. David opens the coffin, and finds that it’s empty. He says, “Why would somebody put an empty coffin in here?” and Sarah answers, “Oh, it hasn’t always been empty. Someone was in it once, but he went away.”
From there, the conversation gets a little complex. David’s uncomfortable, Sarah’s mysterious, and neither of them has a particularly firm grasp on their lines.
David: Vicki is probably worried about me.
Sarah: But you said if I showed you a good place to play, that you’d play with me in it.
David: I know…
And then there’s a long pause while they try to remember who’s supposed to speak next.
But the kids aren’t the only ones groping for their cues today. Everybody’s off their game. At the start of the next scene, the camera pulls back too far, so we see Julia standing off to the side, waiting for her cue to walk into the room. It’s adorable, a little summer stock theater moment on national TV.
Part of the problem today might be that they’ve been filming episodes way out of order recently. Yes, I have a book that lists all the taping dates, and yes, I’m going to tell you what they are, because I’m a nerd and it’s my blog.
From Monday to Friday, here’s the taping order:
Last week — 302, 300, 304, 301, 305
This week — 303, 307, 308, 309, 306
Sometimes you can read the taping dates like tea leaves, and figure out what’s going on behind the scenes. Usually, a weird taping schedule is the result of a holiday, a strike, or something like the switch to color a few weeks ago. In this case, I have no idea why the schedule was mixed up like this. It was early August, so maybe it had something to do with vacation schedules, but I don’t know.
So this is actually the last episode filmed, at the end of two confusing weeks. The story slows down this week, with a lot of recap conversations — which means that it was probably hard to remember which version of this conversation they’re supposed to be having at the moment. The actors are clearly running on empty.
And why is everything slowing down? Because the entire storyline is focused on finding Sarah, and the writers still aren’t sure who she is, or what she wants. It’s fine if they want to keep the audience guessing, but it’s pretty clear they haven’t figured it out yet.
At the moment, Sarah’s behavior is entirely determined by plot mechanics. They need her to show David the coffin and the secret room today, because he’s going to end up trapped in that coffin by the end of the week. She’s got to get him into that room, even if they don’t have anything to do but squabble and then leave again.
So they’re counting on Sarah to drive the story this week, but her behavior is random and whimsical. She can show up at any time and completely change the course of the story, but there isn’t any compelling reason why she should do that today, rather than tomorrow or three weeks from now.
Meanwhile, they’re putting some actual story possibilities on hold, which isn’t going to help. Julia has been working on a cure for Barnabas’ vampirism, but on Friday, the injections were making him feel weak, and he suspected that Julia might actually be harming him. He told Willie that if it looked like Julia wasn’t acting in his best interest, then Willie should destroy her.
That’s a nice tasty little plot point, involving the three most conflicted and interesting characters on the show, and there’s an opportunity for multiple alliances to spring up between them that could drive character development.
Unfortunately, today they’ve forgotten all about it. Barnabas apparently feels fine. He says goodbye to Julia and walks over to Collinwood, as if nothing happened last week.
And so we move on to the next round of story-killing. Last week, Burke started digging up information on Barnabas, and he was getting close to some dangerous truths. That could be an interesting storyline to play out, especially if Barnabas is feeling weak, and suspicious of his own allies.
But then Barnabas goes ahead and does something intelligent. He tells Vicki that he’s learned that Burke has been investigating his background, and he’s puzzled and hurt. Vicki is horrified that her fiancee is treating Barnabas this way, and she promises to put a stop to it.
That’s actually a nice character-building moment for Barnabas, showing that he can manipulate people without having to resort to violence. If they’re working on a transition to a more sympathetic version of Barnabas, then it’s good to establish that he can still get things done without strangling somebody. Unfortunately, it shuts down more story potential.
So stay tuned for a whole week of people realizing that maybe that strange little girl in the weird clothes might possibly have something to do with Maggie’s abduction.
Tomorrow: Total Recall.
(More) Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
If you’re blooper-spotting, then you should definitely check out that moment with Julia in the Old House waiting for her cue. It’s priceless.
There are lots of pauses and flubbed lines today, including:
Sarah: You’ve got to promise that you won’t tell not a single soul about the secret room.
Barnabas: Now we have a new crisis: Mr. Devlin and his private little investigation of me.
Barnabas: Doctor… problems are solved not only through violence.
David: Well, you know that party that everyone went to, the costume party down by the Old House?
Also, you can hear something in the studio fall to the floor with a crash during Barnabas and Julia’s scene in the Old House.
And watch Sarah’s fingers when she plays “London Bridge” on the recorder in the last scene. She’s playing a lot more notes than the music cue does, and she continues to move her fingers after the music stops.
Tomorrow: Total Recall.
— Danny Horn