“When that time comes, and it will be very soon, my dear Josette will come to me quite willingly.”
Burke Devlin is dead. We might as well get that out of the way.
We’re about four seconds into the episode, and a breathless Mrs. Johnson runs into the drawing room to tell Elizabeth, “I just heard a report on the radio. They said Mr. Devlin’s plane went down over the Amazon.” Apparently, Mrs. Johnson listens to the Top 40 plot-point station from Gilligan’s Island, and the drive-time news roundup covers South American business-class mishaps.
They can’t find the body, so if you’re familiar with soap opera narrative tropes, you know exactly what happens next: Vicki and Barnabas are at the altar, and the justice of the peace says, “Should anyone present know of any reason –”
Then the doors swing open, and there’s Burke Devlin — shaggy hair, unkempt beard, torn clothing, deep tan, possibly accompanied by a macaque. He’s just in time to stop the wedding, and reclaim the woman that he stayed alive for.
So, to be clear: Not gonna happen. Burke’s dead, he never comes back, and you can feel free to forget that he ever existed.
And then — oh, wait. Hold on. Sorry.
*** *** SPOILER ALERT *** ***
I probably should’ve said that earlier. Oh, well.
So let’s check back in with Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, for one of the Great Moments in Accidental Phone Acting.
Liz: (on the phone) What do you mean, you won’t have a confirmed list until… Well, when will that be? Yes, I’ll wait.
Mrs. Johnson: What do they say?
Liz: They won’t have an accurate copy of the passenger list until they hear from the terminal in… in, um… oh, that place in Brazil.
She stamps her foot, and pretends to be listening to the phone while she remembers her line.
At the Old House, Barnabas is longing for the day that Julia’s experiments are completed, and he can make his advances on Vicki Winters, who will fill the role of his lost love, Josette.
“When that time comes, and it will be very soon,” he purrs, “my dear Josette will come to me quite willingly.”
Now, Julia has some warm feelings of her own for Barnabas, so she doesn’t have a lot of patience for this Josette nonsense. She asks the crucial, devastating question.
“Did Josette ever come to you willingly?”
Ouch. That’ll leave a mark.
He gets up with a moody frown, and she follows him across the room, challenging him.
Julia: Then why is Josette so important to you, when you were never very important to her?
This, it turns out, is the most important question that the show needs to answer right now. Burke is dead. This is our new romantic lead. And from what we’ve heard so far, the Barnabas/Josette love story was entirely one-sided.
Early on in the vampire storyline, Barnabas told Vicki and Carolyn the story of Josette’s death — running through the woods, being chased by something that terrified her, and throwing herself off the cliffs at Widow’s Hill. We also know that Josette was married to Jeremiah, and by all accounts, they were happy together.
And based on Barnabas’ sick obsession with creating a lobotomized Josette-substitute, there’s a very strong suggestion that Barnabas was never Josette’s lover. He was her stalker. This is a huge audience-sympathy roadblock that needs to be addressed.
Meanwhile, at Collinwood, Liz gets a phone call from Brazil, confirming the earlier reports. Burke was on the plane that crashed in the jungle. He’s dead.
And that death — off-screen, apparently a random accident, not connected to any other character or story point — is incredibly insulting to the character, and to anyone in the audience who cares about him.
The legendary soap writer Agnes Nixon said that the soap opera motto is: “Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, make ’em wait.” The sequence that just happened — the first report of a possible crash, getting confirmation, breaking the news to the fiancee — should take, at absolute minimum, a week. By all the rules of soap writing, just the question Was Burke on that plane? should be a strong enough plot point to sustain audience interest for days.
But Dark Shadows answers the question halfway through the episode. They don’t even trust that the audience will stay interested beyond a couple of commercial breaks.
Basically, they’re clearing the decks for the Barnabas/Vicki/Julia love triangle. Burke was just getting in the way — blocking any Barnabas/Vicki movement, but not producing any new story possibilties. Narratively, he was dead weight, so they cut him loose. And the audience — who can sense this kind of thing automatically, even if we’re not aware of it — is perfectly happy to let him go.
He’s not only merely dead; he’s really, most sincerely dead.
This brings us back to Barnabas, who leads Julia to the cliff on Widow’s Hill, where Josette jumped to her death. Let the retcon commence.
Barnabas: I still remember the first time I saw her. It was a gray, cloudy day, and we had all gathered at my father’s house to welcome the new Collins bride. I was not particularly anxious to be there. I had other things to do, more important things, I thought, than to welcome my middle-aged uncle’s new wife.
Barnabas was enchanted by her, but she was married, and he could only be “her good and faithful friend, Barnabas.”
Barnabas: I had to live with it for a long time, and then… I knew suddenly how I could win her.
Barnabas: She was young when she married him, and he was middle-aged. But as the years passed, she began to see that she was married to an old man. She felt as if life had been stolen from her. She began to fear time, and I knew that only I could defeat time for her.
Barnabas: Then she would be mine, forever. And she would have been… if she hadn’t been foolish, and frightened.
So, that’s a start. They’re finally starting to flesh out that story, and now there’s a suggestion that Josette might have returned his affection.
But there’s more work to do. The Barnabas/Josette story is going to power the next twelve months of Dark Shadows storytelling, and this version isn’t strong enough yet. We’ll see a brand new, updated version in a few weeks, and it’s completely different from what Barnabas tells us here.
This episode takes the show two steps forward — closing the door on Burke’s narrative dead end, and continuing to rebrand Barnabas in a more sympathetic position. The Barnabas reboot isn’t quite ready yet… but it will be, very soon.
Monday: The Shipping News.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Liz’s flub early in the episode about “that place in Brazil” is really worth seeing.
Barnabas tells Julia, “Your curiosity amuses me too, as well.”
Vicki faints, and Liz tells Mrs. Johnson, “She would be better off lying downstairs — upstairs in her room.”
Behind the Scenes:
This episode begins a record-setting run of episodes for Grayson Hall (Julia). She appears in 21 straight episodes, from 345 to 365. That says a lot about how important her character has become — they can’t make an episode without her. So far, nobody else has even come close to this — the closest is Alexandra Moltke (Vicki), who appears in 14 straight episodes between July and August.
Monday: The Shipping News.
— Danny Horn