“I heard the dogs howling, Barnabas. I know what you’re up to!”
When we last saw our heroes, they were in the Collins family mausoleum, trying to figure out what happened to young David during the days that he was missing. They know that there’s some connection between David, the mysterious little girl named Sarah, and the secrets locked in the mausoleum.
That’s all pretty straightforward, at least as much as Dark Shadows ever can be. The problem is that there are four characters in the mausoleum right now — two on one side of the secret panel, and two on the other — and it’s not clear which side “our heroes” are supposed to be.
But we live, as ever, in interesting times. This is the fourth consecutive episode written by Gordon Russell, who joined Ron Sproat and Malcolm Marmorstein on the writing staff a month ago. Two weeks later, Marmorstein was fired, so now it’s just Russell and Sproat.
And Sproat be crazy.
Writing Dark Shadows is clearly a three-person job — the times when there are only two writers are the weakest periods of the show’s run. In a couple months, they’re going to find a third writer — but for now, here’s new boy Gordon Russell in the deep end, paddling for his life.
So things are going to get a little flexible today, and by “flexible” I mean that they’re not always going to make a lot of sense. The characters make a lot of snap decisions, often in contradictory directions.
For example: Sam dragged Dr. Woodard out to investigate the Collins mausoleum tonight, because he was convinced that there was something there that connected to David’s disappearance, and Maggie’s abduction. But now that they’re here, Sam’s decided that maybe he’s imagined the whole thing, and there isn’t anything peculiar about the mausoleum after all.
But there are two peculiar things in the mausoleum tonight, and here they are: Barnabas and Julia, on the other side of the secret panel, listening intently to the Hardy Boys’ conversation.
Dr. Woodard, excited by the idea that little Sarah might be a ghost, remembers a conversation he had with Julia, when she said that she’s convinced Maggie’s case involves the supernatural.
Furious, Barnabas whispers to Julia, “You told him THAT?”
Julia whispers back, “He threatened to take Maggie out of my care. I had to tell them something that would…”
Impulsively grabbing her by the throat, Barnabas snarls, “I ought to get rid of you right now and here!” Obviously, that’s not quite what Russell wrote in the script, but it gets the point across.
Startled, Julia lets out a strangled cry. On the other side of the wall, Sam hears this, and turns toward the secret panel.
Sam: I heard a sound! A faint scream! It came from behind this wall.
Barnabas relaxes his grip on Julia’s throat, as Woodard, who was all excited about the supernatural a minute ago, transitions back into “logical explanation” mode.
Woodard: It could have been some animal outside. It couldn’t have come from anywhere in this wall; it’s obvious, it’s solid rock.
Sam caves instantly, and completely loses confidence in his original suspicions.
Sam: I hope I’m not hearing things that aren’t there.
Woodard: You know, Sam, whatever the reason is that Maggie and David both showed up in this place… I just can’t figure it out.
Sam: Maybe you’re right. Maybe it was just a coincidence.
This resigned mood literally lasts for less than ten seconds, until Woodard says, “And yet…”
Woodard: Standing in this place, I have the feeling that Maggie is in greater danger than she’s ever been before.
This conclusion is derived from exactly no evidence, but they both commit to it unreservedly. They hurry out of the mausoleum, running to the rescue of a girl who is not currently in any danger at all.
Once the boys are gone, Barnabas and Julia can relax, and they settle into a pleasant round of hostile bickering.
Barnabas: Just a matter of time, he said, before they know everything.
Julia: You don’t really believe that, do you?
Barnabas: Of course I believe it, thanks to you — you and your meddling and your blundering.
He has no choice — he’s got to silence David. Julia tells him not to be a fool.
Barnabas reacts to this as anyone would — he opens up a coffin and shoves her face into it.
Barnabas: I suggest you think about something, Doctor. I want you to look inside, and think about being confined here for the rest of eternity. Think about an existence of total darkness and loneliness. Does that appeal to you?
Julia: Of course not!
Barnabas: I was entombed here once. Now I am free and I intend to remain free.
Naturally, a minute later, the mood of the conversation changes completely; it’s just that kind of episode.
She reminds him that David only knows about the room because Sarah showed it to him. If Barnabas wants to be safe, then he needs to find Sarah, and get her to stop telling people all of his secrets.
He walks to the front of the stage and makes dramatic hand gestures.
Barnabas: I tried to find Sarah, but she won’t come to me. Little David has seen her, and talked to her and played with her. Vicki saw her at the head of the stairs. Even Willie saw her and talked to her. Why won’t she appear for me? I am her brother. She knows how much I love her. Why does she reject me?
It’s gorgeous. And obviously, the next time we see him, he’s completely changed his mind again.
Left alone at the Old House, he paces in the drawing room and tries out some awkward Bond-villain dialogue.
Barnabas: You’re going to sleep, cousin David. You’re going to sleep for a long, long time.
Then Julia bursts in, clued in by the howling dognoise outside that Barnabas is planning violence. She grabs his arms.
Julia: I will not let you do it!
Barnabas: Doctor, when I make up my mind to kill somebody, you know you can’t stop me. You know that nothing on this Earth will stop me!
But suddenly the doors blow open, and a mysterious wind blows through the room. Barnabas can hear “London Bridge”, Sarah’s favorite song, echoing in the storm. Sarah is here.
Barnabas calls out to his sister, and Julia smiles.
Julia: Nothing on this Earth can stop you… except one little girl.
It’s fantastic; what a great ending. I think new boy Gordon Russell is going to work out just fine.
Tomorrow: This Maniac.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
During his scene in the mausoleum, Dr. Woodard moves from one side of the room to the other, and stands in the wrong spot, halfway out of the light and at the very left edge of the frame. After a beat, the camera jerks back a little, to keep him in the shot. Delightfully, this happens just as Woodard starts a sentence, “Standing in this place…”
When David enters the drawing room to talk to Dr. Woodard, he greets him with: “Doctor Hoffman? Er… Mr. Woodard?” The actors both chuckle at the mistake.
In the last scene, Barnabas chews up the words of a powerful line: “What if I’m unable — unable to find, er, Sarah. What if, what if David finds her again before I do, and she tells him more about me? I’m sorry, but cousin David… must… be… killed! Now! Tonight!”
Tomorrow: This Maniac.
— Danny Horn