“He will beg for death. Death will be a mercy.”
It always starts with a box.
Someone is always too greedy, or too curious, or too clever. They go looking for trouble, and they find it. They open the mystery box, and evil is loosed upon the world. And they don’t even clean up after themselves, which is just typical, isn’t it?
Barnabas and Julia go to her room to find the notes that she’s been keeping on her experiments, and they find that Dr. Woodard’s already been there. He’s pried open the lock, and stolen Julia’s notebook, and now somebody is going to have to do something terrible.
Barnabas says, “We must act, immediately, before Woodard can tell what he knows… and you’re going to help me.”
So this is going to be a tough day for Julia — the character that we love, the character who makes us laugh, who always has three clever lies for every situation, who can stare death in the face and strike a bargain.
She was introduced on the show as Dave Woodard’s friend — he brought Maggie to Julia’s sanitarium, kicking off the bizarre chain of events that led us here. And now she has to help kill him.
Well, I guess, technically, she doesn’t have to. There are other options, like for example taking responsibility for your crimes, turning yourself in, showing remorse, and auditioning to be allowed back into the human race. But this is Dark Shadows, and we burned that bridge long ago.
So this episode isn’t really about the death of Dr. Woodard. It’s about the death of Dr. Julia Hoffman, former human being.
And like everyone who’s about to die, Julia goes through the stages of grief, as described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.
According to Kübler-Ross, the five stages are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Chromakey.
The first three stages — Denial, Anger and Bargaining — are essentially all part of the same protective cocoon that people retreat to when something disastrous has happened. These early stages are all about keeping control over a situation that you can’t actually fix. Denial is the first protective layer, keeping the pain at arm’s distance.
Julia: How can I help you?
Barnabas: With your knowledge of medicine. You’re going to devise a way of killing Woodard so that it would look like an accident.
Julia: Then… I would be an accessory.
Barnabas: Yes, you would.
And here’s the craziest thing about the whole situation — he’s grinning. He’s leading someone into damnation. This is like Christmas for him.
Julia: I can’t be an accessory to a murder!
Barnabas: You’re already an accessory.
Julia: I’m not responsible for you!
Barnabas: Of course you’re responsible. You helped me. You protected me. You share the responsibility for any act of violence I must commit.
And he’s right, of course he’s right. The Serpent always tells the truth. Just knowing what Barnabas did, and not turning him in, makes her complicit in all of his crimes. Every excuse that she’s told herself all this time has just been… well, denial.
She turns away, and shuts her eyes.
Barnabas: Do you want to know how Woodard will die?
Barnabas: It will be a painful death. A very painful death.
Julia: I don’t want to hear about it!
Barnabas: You’re going to hear about it, like it or not. I’ll see to it that Woodard endures more pain than any human being has ever known.
Man, he’s having a good time.
Barnabas: He will endure an agony long before he is dead. He will beg for death. Death will be a mercy.
Julia: Don’t. Don’t kill him that way!
Barnabas: I must. You refuse to help me.
Why is it important for Barnabas to take Julia down with him? He could just go and kill Woodard on his own; he can probably think of several ways to do it without getting caught. But he’s taking deliberate pleasure in making Julia share in the guilt.
Is he pleased because now he’ll always have a hold over her? Or does it just make him feel better that he’s not the only monster?
Julia: There… is a way he could die painlessly.
Julia: A drug… injected… that would cause him to die almost instantly.
Barnabas: And will this drug cause him to die… a natural death?
Julia: Yes. It would appear to be a heart attack.
Barnabas: Good. At last you’re proving to be of use to me.
She slumps down onto the bed, still lost in a haze of denial. You know, I bet she’s thought about what it would be like to be alone with Barnabas in her bedroom. This probably wasn’t what she had in mind.
Julia: Why did I tell you? Why?
Barnabas: You had no other choice.
Julia: I couldn’t stand the thought of the death you described. Anything seemed preferable.
Barnabas: How humanitarian of you.
Then he leads her out of the room, and over to her lab in the Old House to prepare the injection. And there’s nobody on screen who points out that murder is wrong, that there’s a higher moral code than just protecting your own interests at any cost. This is afternoon television; kids are watching. Oh, and PS: They’re going to get away with it.
Anger is the second stage. It’s another way to try to assert control over the situation — by finding someone else to blame. We’ll have to be quick to catch this one, because it doesn’t last very long. It’s not easy to maintain this stage while you’re standing in a room with a psychopathic killer.
Julia’s got her black medical bag, and she’s prepared an injection of what appears to be Windex. She thrusts it at Barnabas.
Julia: Here. Take it. I never want to see it. I never want to look at it again.
Barnabas: I’m not going to take it, Doctor.
Barnabas: You keep it. I have no use for it.
Julia: What are you saying?
Barnabas: You’re the doctor. You’re the one who’s going to administer the injection.
Here’s where we get a little flash of anger.
Julia: You’re asking me to commit a murder in cold blood? You’re insane if you think I’d ever agree to that!
But she can’t sustain it. It’s hard to accuse someone of being insane when you’re discussing how to retrieve your notes on curing a vampire.
The third stage, Bargaining, is the crucial one. Really, all of the first three stages are just different flavors of Bargaining. This is the stage where you come up with something — anything — that might change the outcome. You tell God that you’ll be a better person. You offer to work harder, or listen more, or return all the money, or glue it back together. Bargaining is the agonized heartcry of: There’s got to be something that I can do.
Julia: There may be another alternative to killing him, Barnabas.
Julia: Yes. I could go to Dave. I could talk to him.
Barnabas: Talk to him?
Julia: Yes! He’s a doctor. He knows what my experiments could mean to medical science. He may agree to cooperate with me, for the sake of the experiments.
It’s useless, obviously. Bargaining never actually makes things better. It’s just the thing that you do until you finally realize that there’s nothing you can do.
So what happens after the Bargaining doesn’t pan out? That’s the fourth stage: Depression. This is actually the crucial moment of the grieving process, when you finally admit that you don’t have control of the situation. You can’t fight your way out of it; you can’t change what’s happening. You’re going to have to go ahead and murder the guy.
Woodard: You protected Barnabas Collins… knowing what he was! You protected him!
Julia: For the sake of the experiments! For the sake of knowledge… valuable knowledge!
Woodard: And to get that knowledge, you’re willing to sacrifice human beings’ lives! You, a doctor!
Julia: Nothing happened to Maggie! She’s still alive!
Woodard: No thanks to you. Willie Loomis, a hopeless maniac. How many more would there have been after him? You were just going to stand by and do nothing!
Julia: I tried to keep Barnabas under control. I wasn’t always successful.
Woodard: There’s no excuse for you, Julia. There’s no excuse in the world for what you’ve done!
We remember this one. This isn’t the first cold-blooded murder on this show, and it certainly won’t be the last. But this is the one that Dark Shadows fans think about, and talk about. Does anyone ever mention Tessie Kincaid, or Maude Browning, or Wanda Paisley? Has anyone got a teardrop tattoo for Nathan Forbes, or Eric Lang, or even Jeremiah Collins?
But we remember Dave Woodard, because he’s speaking the truth. Julia knew what Barnabas did, just like we did. She protected him, because she wants him to stay on the show, just like we do. We opened the mystery box, and let the evil loose into the world. And we like it. This is our fault.
It took three hundred and forty episodes to get here, but this is where Dark Shadows really begins. This is the fall from grace. The murder of Dave Woodard is Dark Shadows’ original sin.
And so we come to the final stage. In Kübler-Ross’ model, the fifth stage is “Acceptance”, but this is Dark Shadows, where nothing is acceptable.
We see the shadow of a bat flapping outside the window — and then Barnabas appears in the room. He’s the wrong size and in the wrong position, and they’ve messed up the lighting, so it looks like the back of his head is part of the curtain.
Woodard gasps, “Until now… I’d hoped it was really a nightmare.”
“Consider it a dream,” Barnabas purrs, “from which you will never awaken.”
It’s weird, and unfinished, and unfair. And if you were watching the original syndication package — as I was in 1982, when I was in sixth grade and they were showing it every afternoon on the NBC affiliate in New York — then this is the last episode of the show.
You see, they sell syndication packages in sets of 26 weeks — that’s half a year. The first time Worldvision tried to sell Dark Shadows reruns to public TV stations and local network affiliates, they only managed to sell that first 26-week run. WNBC didn’t get the ratings they’d hoped for, so after 130 episodes — from 210 to 340 — they decided to take it off and forget about it.
So there I was, eleven years old, completely in love with this insane show, and it was just building to the most thrilling crisis point — and then it was gone. No explanation, obviously; there was just something else on TV instead.
And you know, I never did see what happened to Dr. Woodard. Gosh, I can’t wait until Monday to find out.
Monday: The Night of the Doctor.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Barnabas says to Julia, “How can I allow Woodard to live, knowing what he knows? And you yourself, with all of your sentimality — sentimentality — must know that he has to die.”
When Barnabas tells Julia, “There will be no risk,” they cut to a camera that isn’t focused on anything.
Julia tells Barnabas, “He’s a doctor. He knows what my experiments could mean to medical silence — science!”
And then, obviously, the Chromakey Barnabas appearing in Woodard’s office is one of the less effective effects. Making it even worse, the image of Barnabas is supposed to be large enough to block out the bat shadow on the windowshade. But it isn’t, so when Barnabas first appears, you can still see the bat shadow behind him.
Behind the Scenes:
The “bat signal” shadow on the windowshade is not the “bat by Bil Baird” marionette that we saw in episode 330. It’s just a shadow, and Baird isn’t credited.
To be fair to these early Chromakey effects — this was cutting-edge technology, done on a daily soap opera where setting up effects shots took time away from cast rehearsals. Plus, they couldn’t actually see the finished product in the camera. These days, you could punch in the input from one camera to the other, so you could make sure that the image looked good as you were filming it. They couldn’t do that in 1967, so instead they would draw the picture on a filter with a crayon to approximate the size and placement of the Chromakeyed image. For real, they used a crayon. Lela Swift talks about it in one of the bonus DVD interviews.
Monday: The Night of the Doctor.
— Danny Horn