Episode 317: The X-Files

“When I came into your room that night to kill you, I should have gone through with it.”

Today’s episode opens with Dr. Julia Hoffman walking into the Old House to find Barnabas getting ready to leave. Technically, she’s supposed to be coming over to continue her experiments; she believes that she can cure Barnabas of being a vampire. This usually involves injections, seasoned with dialogue about the structure of his blood cells.

But we’ve seen that situation so many times lately that they apparently don’t even need to mention the experiment anymore. Julia just walks in, and asks Barnabas what he’s up to. He calls her “doctor” a few times, but otherwise there’s no mention of the cure, or any other reason that she might be strolling in this evening. It’s actually surprising that she even bothers to knock on the door. Things have become noticeably casual at the Old House.

The main topic of the week is whether young David knows Barnabas’ secret, and what Barnabas is going to do about it. Julia urges him not to do anything rash, and he tells her to mind her own business. You’d think that watching people talk about murdering a child would be inherently interesting. Apparently, that is not always the case.

317 dark shadows woodard sam

So let’s head over to Sam’s cottage, where he’s invited Dr. Woodard over for some good old-fashioned ghost hunting. Sam has decided that there’s something strange about the old Collins mausoleum at the Eagle Hill cemetery, and he wants to investigate. As it happens, there actually is something strange about the old Collins mausoleum, so this may be the only time in Sam’s life that he’s actually correct about something. I guess everybody gets lucky once in a while.

This story point is building from Sam and Joe’s hunt for the mysterious little girl named Sarah two weeks ago, and last week’s search for David, who was trapped in the mausoleum. Although “building” is probably the wrong word for it, because the characters can’t seem to settle on what they believe.

Two weeks ago, Sam was the naysayer who thought that there must be a logical explanation for everything, and Dr. Woodard believed in the supernatural. Today, they’ve switched sides, and now Dr. Woodard is frowning and tutting as Sam talks about how strange everything is. It’s like watching a mash-up of The X-Files and Memento, where Mulder and Scully have both had serious brain injuries, and they have to flip a coin every week to decide who’s going to be the skeptic.

317 dark shadows sam gun

But the real headscratcher moment of the day is when Sam reaches into an unlocked desk drawer in the living room, and pulls out what is apparently a loaded handgun.

Brandishing the gun, Sam says, “I think I might take this along, in case I run into any atmosphere that’s unfriendly.”

That’s an unbelievably bizarre thing to say, because they’re only going out to poke around in a deserted cemetery. At the risk of a life-changing spoiler alert, I might as well let you know that there’s a zero percent chance of that gun being fired between now and the end of the episode.

The gun will be mentioned one more time, at the top of their next scene, when Dr. Woodard tells Sam to put the damn thing away before he hurts somebody. And that is the beginning and the end of today’s thrilling action sequence.

317 dark shadows julia chromakey

But who needs gunplay when you’ve got Chromakey? They’ve only been using this cutting-edge blue-screen technology for about three weeks, and there’s already a noticeable improvement. Last week, they were still having trouble with lighting the actors and the prop trees, and you could see a blue outline around the foliage. They seem to have that problem licked already — just look at the way they’re lighting that tree! It’s perfect.

The fact that the shot still looks completely fake and ridiculous is entirely beside the point. This is the completely fake and ridiculous effect that they were going for, and therefore it is an overwhelming success. Personally, I think that if television shows still looked like this, then today’s prime-time schedule would be a lot more entertaining.

317 dark shadows julia barnabas secrets

Julia has followed Barnabas to the mausoleum, and the conversation that they have is just incredible.

Julia:  Good evening again, Barnabas.

Barnabas:  Your curiosity is insufferable.

Julia:  I thought I knew all your secrets, but apparently there’s one here in the mausoleum that you never told me about.

Barnabas:  I would advise you to go back to Collinwood at once, for your own good.

Julia:  No. I’m here now, and I don’t intend to leave until I find out why you’ve come here.

And Julia’s line isn’t a challenge, or a threat. It’s a simple statement of fact, delivered in a casual tone that suggests that Barnabas is being a drama queen. As always, Dr. Julia Hoffman is simply unbothered.

317 dark shadows julia barnabas bonding

She continues to press him.

Julia:  Now, why are you here?

Barnabas:  That’s none of your business!

Julia:  I’ve already made it my business.

Barnabas:  When I came into your room that night to kill you, I should have gone through with it.

Julia:  But you didn’t, and you won’t now. You’ve shared all your other secrets with me, Barnabas. You have no choice but to share this one too.

Isn’t that amazing? They’re in a cemetery, in the middle of the night, and he’s threatening to kill her — and she sees this, correctly, as a bonding moment. How is he not in love with her yet?

317 dark shadows sam caretaker blocking

And now we come to one of Dark Shadows’ Great Moments in Blocking; students of the theater arts should find this particularly interesting.

Sam and Dr. Woodard are walking through the cemetery, grumbling about the storm that’s about to break. They stand still for about five seconds, apparently not registering the guy who’s standing right in front of them.

317 dark shadows sam caretaker suddenly

All of a sudden, Sam leans forward and pretends that he’s coming to a stop.

Sam:  Hold it! Hold it, Sam.

Woodard:  What’s the matter?

Sam:  Someone’s coming. I can’t see who it is.

And that’s not a typo — Sam actually says “Hold it, Sam.” It’s amazing.

317 dark shadows sam caretaker hold it

They pretend that they’re peering into the darkness, and Sam says, “I can’t see who it is, but we ought to make it out in a minute.”

The caretaker is still standing there, in the shot with them, not moving at all. He calls to them, and they all take two steps towards each other, and now they’re having a conversation.

317 dark shadows sam caretaker tree

And then we get a whole caretaker scene, with a tree branch perfectly positioned directly in front of the actor’s eyes.

As you know, I’m the first one to complain about a dull episode, but sometimes you get a day like today, when the show is just strange and impossible and completely unique, and I love it more than anything else in the world.

317 dark shadows julia barnabas trapped

Okay, let’s get to the inevitable bedroom-farce cliffhanger. Barnabas brings Julia into the mausoleum’s secret room so he can look for clues that David’s been there. He finds a broken pocket knife, and correctly deduces that David must have been trying to pry the door open from the inside.

Then they hear Sam and Woodard approaching the mausoleum. Barnabas and Julia quickly shut the secret panel, and they listen at the wall as the investigators prowl around the empty tomb.

317 dark shadows sam woodard tomb

Finally, Dr. Woodard notices the plaque on the wall for Sarah Collins. He goes through the list of things that they know about the mysterious little girl that everyone’s been looking for — her old-fashioned dress, her handmade doll, the secret place that she shared with David.

“Either all of this is an amazing series of coincidences,” he says, “or Sarah really is a ghost.”

So now Woodard believes in the supernatural again. Let’s see if he still remembers this the next time we see him. It’s an experiment!

Tomorrow: Interesting Times.

(More) Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In the opening teaser, something goes wrong with one of the cameras for a moment. The screen slowly fades to white, and then the fault is corrected.

Someone in the studio coughs just as Barnabas opens the mausoleum gate.

As they enter the cemetery, Sam tells Woodard that the Collins mausoleum is set apart from the other graves, but there are gravestones less than two feet away from the mausoleum entrance.

Behind the Scenes:

This is the last episode for Daniel Keyes, who played the Eagle Hill cemetery caretaker in 9 episodes, starting in January 1967. Keyes was supposed to return as the caretaker in a future episode, but he refused to cross a picket line during a strike that I’ll talk about a lot in a few weeks. Keyes was replaced by Peter Murphy in episode 337 and episode 360.

After Dark Shadows, Keyes played Ben Jessup on a CBS soap, Where the Heart Is, from 1969 to 1972. He also made brief appearances on NBC’s Texas, and ABC’s Ryan’s Hope. He also appeared in the 1970 film I Never Sang for My Father, and in 1972, he played Dr. Josiah Bartlett in the film version of the Broadway musical 1776. (The 1776 cast also included David Ford, who plays Sam Evans on DS, and Virginia Vestoff, who plays Samantha Collins during the 1840 storyline.)

Keyes was in his early fifties when he appeared on Dark Shadows, although he played the caretaker as if he was 140 years old.

Another fun trivia note, courtesy of the Dark Shadows Wiki — this is the first episode not to feature any of the show’s original cast members. (The character Sam Evans was part of the original cast, but the role was recast starting with episode 35.) The first present-day episode that doesn’t include any of the original 1966 characters is episode 475, about seven months from now.

Tomorrow: Interesting Times.

317 dark shadows julia barnabas coffin

Dark Shadows episode guide – 1967

— Danny Horn

15 thoughts on “Episode 317: The X-Files

  1. Why does Barnabas have two coffins, and why are they both just left in plain view both here and in his (maze-like) basement? Where did the second one come from? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Also, many fans say the function of the secret room and its locks dates back to the Revolutionary War, when Joshua hid guns and soldiers and whatever in there. Not sure if this is fanon or canon.

  2. If Barnabas was looking for evidence that a boy was stuck in that room for two nights, I’d have thought they’d be able to smell plenty of evidence as soon as they opened the door. It’s not as if the mausoleum came with an “en suite”!

    1. What I noticed is that people are too damn nosy when it comes to Barnabas, and because of that, he takes it out on Julia. I am glad Julia is standing up to him, however, I would have had Julia tell him after he grabbed her neck again, that he got one more damn time to grab her neck. I love it how she calls his bluff which infuriates him to no end…lol.

  3. David Ford really should have a star on the walk of fame for his blunders on this series. If Mitch got fired for being too drunk to remember his lines, Ford should be memorialized for screwing up almost all of his and never batting an eye.

  4. The whitescreen problem from the teaser crops up again as Barnabas enters the graveyard, just before that glorious CSO shot of Julia amongst the bushes.

    Sam seems pretty convinced that the mausoleum is connected to the Maniac; his dialogue suggests he expects to find the scoundrel hiding out there, so the gun kind of makes sense (though the way he casually shakes it out of his pocket – with his finger on the trigger! – is quite concerning…)

  5. The other day that caretaker was an expert on Collins portraiture, now he’s reeling off chunks of Joshua’s journal… who is this guy!?

    Maybe -he’s- the real ghost here. Perhaps that’s why Sam and Woodard can’t see him at the start of that magical scene.

    (My favourite part of that scene, by the way, is the line “I can’t see who it is, but we ought to make it out in a minute” – since it’s delivered over a whopping great close-up of the caretaker they apparently can’t make out, who looks slightly bemused by the whole affair.)

  6. An “unfriendly atmosphere” seems like a concept that Sam is dredging up from his past, maybe from a few late-night drunken bar brawls at The Blue Whale where he has worn out his welcome. To pack some heat in the form of a gun to take to the cemetery seems….. rather lunatic to me. But, of course, Eagle Hill Cemetery is becoming Ground Zero for much of the show’s action sequences these days. Might be some unsavory Caspers around that might vamoose if someone pointed a gun at them. Better safe than sorry.

    And what up with those fedoras that both Sam and Doctor Dave are sporting? It’s like Sam Spade Tribute Night. Throw in a guest appearance by the caretaker and you’re lurching towards a kind of MALTESE FALCON send-up.

    There is an alarming 2 minutes or so where the blocking has a tree center stage and ALL 3 ACTORS cowering behind it. The caretaker moves slightly but then stops so that the tree is front and center. It’s one thing to find your lighting, it’s quite another to be upstaged by a piece of flimsy prop wood.

    Meanwhile, back at the mausoleum with Barnabas and Julia, there is a quick almost jump cut where there is some missed opportunity. Julia has forced Barnabas to disclose his latest “secret” and why he is there and we hear a rushed “On the day of my discovery, they wrapped chains around my coffin….” For as much Fridspeak as we are constantly given, it seems odd that we would get “We now join a Barnabas monologue in progress.”

    It is gratifying though to see Julia and Barnabas holed up in the crypt behind the wall. The writers have pretty much resorted to eavesdropping to move the plot forward these past few weeks. It still is uncertain, however, just what David has processed mentally about overhearing Willie and Barnabas’ discussion while in the coffin. To my mind that would provide a lot of forward momentum for the plot to really take off. But then again, we’re still waiting for Sarah to materialize for Barnabas and God Knows how much longer that is going to take. She’s been around everyone else. Least she could do is London Bridge her way in front of Barnabas so that the show can mercifully obtain a much-needed jolt because it seems like we are in dire need of one.

  7. I also wanted to say that Danny’s outlining of the situation with the caretaker directly in front of Sam and Dave is utterly hysterical. I think we should start a sub-section of the blog entitled GREAT MOMENTS IN DS BLOCKING because we are treated to so very many. They should have fired up the dry ice to float through the cemetery which could have been used as an excuse for not seeing the caretaker.

    This reminds me of a great theatre story: there is a serviceable community theatre play that I did some years ago called INSPECTING CAROL which is about a beleaguered theatre putting on a production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL where an NEA inspector is coming to the theatre to see if it is still meritorious to receive the grants and funding that they have been getting to stay in operation. In true NOISES OFF fashion, everything that could possibly go wrong does, including all of the actors fighting and sets falling apart. One of the best lines in the show is when Scrooge is supposed to be experiencing the phenomenon of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come (the scary one) and he walks to the area of the stage where the tombstone usually pops up from the stage floor–heavy dry ice in use and very foggy–only to hear it fly up from the complete opposite end of the stage from where he is currently standing. In order to “cover” the mishap, he dryly states full-front to the audience, “Maybe we’re in the wrong cemetery.”

    Perhaps we’re in the wrong cemetery here. Or at least the wrong mausoleum.

  8. I’d like to point out that the characters exploring the mausoleum were named Sam and Dave. Now, it’s too early for an impromptu cover of “Soul Man” which won’t peak on the charts until November of ’67, but a snippet of “Hold On, I’m Comin'” would’ve been both welcome and appropriate to the scene.

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