“Enter Julia Hoffman, bearing flowers.”
INT. JOSETTE’S ROOM – DREAM.
Vicki, wearing a bride’s veil, is staring at herself in the mirror on the vanity in Josette’s room. Barnabas walks in, and tells her that she’ll be a beautiful bride.
Hesitantly, Vicki asks, “I will be a bride… won’t I, Barnabas?” He says that she will. She asks where Burke is, and Barnabas says, “He’s here, Vicki. Right here. Look on the bed.” She turns, and sees Burke’s corpse on the bed, covered in a shroud.
Which raises the question: What is the purpose of “love” in an open-ended narrative?
Okay, maybe it doesn’t raise that question, but I have a blog post to write, and you have to do something during the dream sequences.
So let’s think about it for a second. Often, in a regular closed narrative, “love” is the MacGuffin — it’s something that the main character searches for or tries to win, but it isn’t meaningfully experienced during the story. Even the nine-year-long How I Met Your Mother just got around to introducing Ted to the Mother in the final season. The story ends with the lovers united, and a general expectation of permanent off-stage contentment.
But soap operas are supposed to be the never-ending stories, eternally open narratives that will never reach a happily-ever-after curtain close.
In fact, the only way for a soap couple to be united forever is when the show fires the actors and sends their characters off to a happy ending somewhere off-screen. This is essentially the same thing as telling a kid that the family dog who got run over was sent to live on a farm. (On One Life to Live, my favorite non-vampire soap opera, the farm was always London, for some reason. After a while, the number of Buchanan family members in London outnumbered the ones who were still on the show.)
So if the open-narrative soap opera format can’t give us any satisfying resolution, then why are the storylines on a soap almost exclusively devoted to romance? What do we want from a soap opera love story?
While we consider that question, let’s check in with the waking world. It’s daytime now, and Julia is aimlessly pacing around in Josette’s room, trying to figure out why Barnabas’ dead ex-girlfriend has such a hold on him.
Julia (thinks): To Barnabas, this woman is so special that he wants no other woman. Why must every woman he loves be a shadow, a reflection of Josette? She’s dead and buried. Why can’t she stay that way?
Then she hears a noise, and she jumps, convinced that someone is watching her. She tries to calm down, but she gets the feeling that the spirit of Josette is in the room.
Julia: All right, I know you’re here, and I’m not afraid to face you. I see you! No — it isn’t a woman, it’s a man! Dave? Dave, is it you? Dave! Speak to me!
So, yeah, Julia is potentially losing her mind. Last week, she helped Barnabas kill her friend, Dave Woodard, and they’re playing with the idea that maybe she’ll just go crazy and be sent away.
Everyone else who’s spent this much time with Barnabas has ended up in an insane asylum — Maggie and Willie both suffered some kind of amnesiac psychological breakdown — so the next logical step in the story is to send Julia off to the farm too.
But maybe there’s an alternative. Vicki comes over to the Old House to see Barnabas, and she finds Julia in Josette’s room. Burke’s plane crashed in a Brazilian jungle, but Vicki’s trying to stay busy.
Julia: Is there any word from Burke?
Vicki: No. But I decided what I’m going to do. I’m going to restore the west wing of Collinwood.
Julia: Oh, I think that’s a very good idea.
You do? says the skeptical audience. Cause she doesn’t own it, and she doesn’t have any money. But maybe the skeptical audience is too materialistic.
Vicki says that she’s come to ask Barnabas to help her with the project, and things get chilly.
Vicki: He really does have such exquisite taste.
Julia: Yes, he has exquisite taste… and he also has a great many other matters to attend to.
Vicki: What do you mean?
Julia: Other matters, other commitments… Isn’t that clear enough to you? He’s a very busy man.
Vicki: Julia! You sound angry, and you have no reason to be.
Julia: I am angry, because people seem to think nothing of taking advantage of Barnabas. They don’t realize he has far more important things to do. Oh, I don’t care what he says, I know he would prefer to be left alone. Do you understand that?
Yeah, it’s a fun scene. This is why you don’t send Julia to the farm.
That evening, Barnabas comes to Collinwood to visit Vicki, and she tells him what Julia said. She doesn’t know why Julia was so upset — because Vicki can’t understand other people’s motives — but she’s concerned that maybe Julia was right. Is she taking advantage of Barnabas’ good nature?
Barnabas reassures her, “Vicki, I’m not being polite when I offer to do something for you. You’re very dear to me. Surely, you must know that by now.”
It’s almost a romantic moment, so it’s probably best that Julia walks in with a peace offering for Vicki.
Julia: Enter Julia Hoffman, bearing flowers, because she’s sorry she raised her voice to you this afternoon. Will you forgive me?
Julia says that she’s been overwrought because she’s working too hard. Vicki accepts Julia’s apology with her usual bland good nature, and leaves the room to get a vase for the flowers.
With Vicki’s back turned, Barnabas snatches the flowers out of Julia’s hand, and slams them on the desk.
Barnabas: I think, Dr. Hoffman, we have some talking to do.
Julia: It’s true, I have been working very hard.
Barnabas: Tell that to Vicki, not to me. You see, I happen to know just how hard you’ve been working… and I know exactly what it is you’re doing. Just keep in mind that the crux of our relationship is that of doctor and patient, no matter what delusions you may have.
Julia: I think, Barnabas, no matter what delusions you may have, our relationship is more… involved than that of doctor and patient.
Barnabas: Well, I suggest that you control any feelings you may have, and I insist upon you behaving in a reasonable fashion to Vicki Winters. Is that clear?
But she’s right — they are involved, in a crucial way. They’re involved in a story, and on a soap opera, that’s more important than an officially romantic connection. Girlfriends, fiancees and wives can come and go, especially on this show. But a half-insane co-conspirator? That kind of relationship can keep you in storylines for years.
Ultimately, that’s the point of “love” in an open-ended narrative. When the soap audience says that they want two characters to be together, we don’t necessarily mean happily married. We mean we want them to be literally together, in the same room, working on a plot point.
A soap couple works because the characters have chemistry. When they’re together in a scene, they’re cute, or passionate, or funny, or — as in this case — batshit crazy.
Barnabas never does get around to having a “love story” with Julia. Instead, he has a long string of narratively unfulfilling Josette-substitutes, and along the way, he picks up another spurned-lover crazy person who might possibly be just as much fun to watch as Julia is.
I know that’s hard to believe, but she’s coming up soon — we’ll meet her about four weeks from now, and she’ll put a hard stop on any dull romantic entanglements that Barnabas might have for the duration of the series. And for a soap audience, that’s what love is all about.
Vicki comes back into the room with a vase, and she’s horrified — the beautiful flowers that Barnabas touched have instantly shriveled into a dried husk.
That pretty much says it all. Stay tuned for more hopeless, ghoulish romance.
Tomorrow: Mad Science.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In Vicki’s dream, Barnabas tells Julia, “Doctor, you had better go. It’s very chilly in here.” This is an odd thing for Vicki to dream about, because she doesn’t know that Julia is a doctor. Still, it’s hard to say what the rules are in a Dark Shadows dream sequence.
During Julia’s soliloquy in Josette’s room, she’s pacing around the floor, trying to figure out if there’s a ghost in the room with her. Just as she says, “I know you’re here, and I’m not afraid to face you,” you can see the shadow of a stagehand on the left side of the screen, and there’s some studio clatter.
Behind the Scenes:
At the beginning of the episode, Vicki needs to get from the couch in the Collinwood drawing room set over to Josette’s room for the next shot. They do 20 seconds of establishing shots — the moon, the Old House exterior, the mirror — and she makes it in time.
That’s Peter Murphy standing in for Burke’s corpse under the sheet in Vicki’s dream. Murphy joined the show a few weeks ago, as a recast for the crazy old Caretaker. Since then, he’s been the ghost of Dr. Woodard haunting Julia on the Collinwood terrace. We’ll see him later this week, playing the back of Barnabas’ head.
Barnabas’ line to Julia — “I am neither good nor gentle. I do not forgive.” — was used verbatim in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows movie. (Thanks to Stephen Robinson for the knowledge.)
Tomorrow: Mad Science.
— Danny Horn