“Another blunder! This may mean your life.”
We take you now, live, to a young boy’s subconscious mind. David Collins is having a nightmare, and everyone’s invited.
Of course, his subconscious doesn’t have to work very hard here. David’s whole life is a terrifying nightmare, so bad dreams for him are essentially just edited highlights.
The dream sequence is a perfect example of Better Living Through Chromakey. They started using “blue-screen” effects three weeks ago — and by “they” I kind of mean “anybody in the entire history of television” — so it’s amazing that they’ve already figured out what it’s good for.
So far, they’ve only used Chromakey to pretend that they’re filming outside, with varying degrees of success. Even under perfect conditions, 1960s Chromakey effects are always going to look slightly unsettling. With this sequence, the Dark Shadows team figures out how to use that to their advantage.
The scene starts with David tossing restlessly in his sleep. There’s a cross-fade to a shot of the sky, and then we’re back in David’s bedroom. Sort of.
There’s vaseline on the lens filter, obviously, because that’s how you make a dream sequence. David’s standing in front of the blue-screen, which starts out with an image of his room.
But the two images aren’t really aligned properly — he’s too low, as if he’s standing in a trench. It’s hard to say whether that’s an accident or if that was their intention, but it establishes a creepy, unreal atmosphere.
David spins around, staring wildly around the room. While his back is turned, the image of the bedroom fades away…
and it’s replaced by the Eagle Hill cemetery, with Barnabas in silhouette, framed against the gate of the Collins mausoleum.
David turns, and sees Barnabas walking toward him.
He freezes as he realizes that Barnabas is walking closer…
and David begins to scream.
Barnabas opens his mouth…
until all David can see are the vampire’s fangs.
Finally, he wakes up, sobbing and screaming.
That’s how they decided to use a minute and a half of network television.
There’s really no good way to follow that opening, so they don’t even try. For the next ten minutes, they just fill in with Vicki and Burke scenes, because they know nobody’s really paying attention anyway.
Finally, they cut to something we care about, i.e. the four-alarm wide-awake nightmare taking place at the Old House.
In yesterday’s episode, Sam and Sheriff Patterson put on a show at the Blue Whale, pretending that they accidentally let it slip that Maggie’s memory of her abduction has returned. This is actually just a trap, designed to trick the kidnapper into revealing himself.
So far, the trap is working pretty well. Barnabas is freaking the hell out.
Julia drops by, and Barnabas greets her with, “Doctor, you’ve blundered! It may mean the end of everything.”
A month ago, Julia hypnotized Maggie with her magic memory-erasing medallion, to forget about Barnabas and his vampire secrets. If Maggie’s memory is returning, then that means that Julia has failed, and he’ll be exposed.
Astonished, Julia says that’s not possible. She permanently destroyed all of Maggie’s memories of her time at the Old House.
But Barnabas insists that Maggie is remembering everything, and they have to do something about it right away.
They launch into another round of the same argument that Barnabas has had with Willie and Julia pretty much every day for the last few weeks. Barnabas wants to kill somebody that he thinks is a threat, and they try to talk him out of it.
In fact, this topic has become so familiar that it’s easy to lose touch with the fact that it’s absolutely bonkers. We’re watching people on a daytime soap opera earnestly discussing whether it’s a good idea to slaughter an innocent young woman, in order to cover up for the horrible torture that she endured at their hands.
But they’re not talking about whether killing Maggie is “good” in the sense of morality, justice, ethics or even good manners. They’re talking about whether it would be effective. This is a conversation about strategy.
We are way past the point where it’s possible for the humans in the room to suggest that killing is wrong, that Maggie is a nice person, and that there are people who love her and depend upon her. Barnabas has successfully dismissed all of that as “sentiment” and “squeamishness”.
By now, there are only two legitimate objections:
#1. This person doesn’t know or remember anything, so they’re not really a threat to you.
#2. You’ll get caught.
That’s it; those are the only terms of discussion. They don’t say that even if Maggie is a threat, and even if Barnabas wouldn’t get caught, then he still shouldn’t kill her, because ending a human life is not a thing that you should do. Nobody points out that Barnabas has no right to sustain his own ghoulish existence at the expense of other people’s lives, or that he has committed serious and terrible crimes, and he deserves to be caught and punished.
What has happened to this television show? How did it drift so far away from civilized human discourse? Gently, day by day, the focus has shifted to Barnabas’ storyline, and we’ve been invited to empathize and identify with him. We share his secrets; we see events from his point of view. And now we have a television show that’s increasingly popular among high school kids, which is saying that it’s okay to slaughter people if they’re going to tell someone that you’ve committed a crime.
We are bad people. This television show is evil. Come back on Monday, we’re probably going to kill the kid too.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Just before Vicki and Burke rush into David’s room, the camera is positioned too far to the left, and you can see Burke standing and waiting for his cue.
Vicki tells Burke that “David’s never kept secrets from me before.” Except for when he tried to kill his father, obviously, and all the other times.
Barnabas and Julia step on each other’s lines during their argument:
Barnabas: You must make sure that she doesn’t remember.
Julia: She doesn’t. She never will.
(There’s a pause as Barnabas turns to check the teleprompter.)
Barnabas: I’ll give you one more chance, Doctor, to find out if she doesn’t. Go to her… now, tonight, and make sure that her memory is gone!
Julia: But it —
Barnabas: This time for good!
Julia: It is gone!
Barnabas: (simultaneously) Don’t argue with me! Go to her. Before it’s too late.
— Danny Horn