“Did you ever try to find the exact center of a piece of fine crystal?”
The doctor is advising prudence. She asks the patient, “Are you sure you want it this way?”
“I am through arguing the point,” he sniffs. “The treatments must be accelerated without further comment.”
She reminds him that she will not accept responsibility for the consequences.
“If we don’t hurry,” the patient says, “it will soon be morning. Now, begin the treatment.”
And then she fastens the straps on his electric chair.
Because today, my friends, we are flipping the mad science switch. Dr. Julia Hoffman has spent the last few months working on a cure for Barnabas’ condition, and this is what she’s come up with. Last week, we saw the first version of the apparatus — a rat’s nest of beakers and tubes, all hooked into a bubbling cauldron of blood.
But somebody from the National Institute of Mad Science must have sent a stern note to the props department, because they’ve upped their game. Everybody knows that if you want to tamper in God’s domain, you have to go electric.
So let’s do a quick inventory of the new additions. We’ve got an oscilloscope going…
There’s a black box with some switches and knobs…
And then, naturally, we’ve got a couple of those Jacob’s ladder spark gap deals that create zappy electric arcs.
(By the way, a quick trivia question about these Jacob’s ladders: What are they actually used for, besides monster movies? Answer: Nothing.)
This might seem like a lot of needless expense, but the equipment is the whole point. Mad science is all about the spectacle. When Julia first pitched her experiments to Barnabas, she said that her first task would be to “purge his arterial system”, which sounded enough like actual science words to ring false in our ears. I’m pretty sure I understand enough of the phrase “I plan to alter the cellular structure of your plasma” to know that it’s probably not going to work.
So it’s best for everyone if they just stop explaining. Who needs science words when you have switches and dials and things that go zap?
Essentially, the mad science toolbox is medieval alchemy, plus whatever equipment you have lying around the basement. The mad scientist has special faith in the mixture of water, fire and electricity.
First you brew up some boiling fluids, because the bubbling looks like you’re bringing life to an inert substance. Then you pass an electrical charge through it — I apologize if I’m getting too technical here. Finally, you plug it into your vampire, turn it on, and then you just walk around tapping on things.
And, what do you know? It works! It totally works.
Barnabas: I can’t explain it, but I’m changing.
Julia: How? What do you mean?
Barnabas: All through me, as if new blood was rushing through my veins… new, young, fresh blood.
Julia: Try not to get too excited.
Barnabas: I can feel myself coming alive. It’s working!
So, there you go. Arterial system: purged.
Barnabas is walking around with a big silly grin.
Barnabas: There’s a room at the top of the house that looks out across the cliffs toward the sea. I will go up there, and I will watch, and then the sun will rise.
Barnabas: I will stand there, and I will watch the pale sky grow lighter and lighter — the colors of pink and blue, and then a golden light — and I will watch it come up out of the sea! The sun! The sun!
Oh, it’s fantastic. I could watch these two do this all day.
Julia isn’t as pleased as you might think she would be. Apparently, she’s concerned that she pushed the treatments too fast — she doesn’t want him to run outside to play in the sunshine, and end up a pile of optimistic dust. Still, you’d think she could crack a smile for five seconds. I think she’s mostly worried that if he’s cured, she won’t have a hold over him anymore.
But, looking at it from her perspective, it’s completely unfair. She did all the work, and who does he want to share his first sunrise with? Vicki Winters.
So now Julia has another problem. Here’s how she goes about solving it.
In the morning, Julia talks to Vicki about her plans to restore the west wing of Collinwood.
Julia: I was rummaging around, and I think I found the missing part for the chandelier in the foyer. I’m not sure, but we’ll have to see if the crystals match. Isn’t it beautiful?
Julia: It seems so clear — but if you look, there are a thousand colors inside. Can you see them?
She leads Vicki over to the lamp, and asks the most natural question in the world.
Julia: Did you ever try to find the exact center of a piece of fine crystal?
Apparently, Vicki hasn’t, which isn’t much of a surprise. She doesn’t get out much.
And then they do the most extraordinary thing. Julia is spinning the crystal in front of Vicki’s face.
Julia: Keep searching for the center. Look deeper and deeper.
Vicki: It’s lovely.
Julia: Let the colors flow past you, one after the other. Don’t stop… keep going… deeper and deeper, toward the center.
Vicki: Deeper and deeper.
But we’re looking at the crystal from over Vicki’s shoulder, and Julia isn’t looking at Vicki. She’s looking at us. She’s hypnotizing us.
Julia: When you reach the center, you will hear the tinkling of crystal. Do you hear it?
Vicki: I’m getting tired.
Julia: Don’t stop… deeper and deeper… The sound will come. Search for it. Listen for it. Find it.
And we hear the tinkling crystal sound.
Once we find the center of the crystal, we see a pulsing kaleidoscope effect, shooting rainbow colors at us. She’s hypnotized the audience, too.
So I think this is a new, crazy milestone for Dark Shadows — the show’s first big non-mimetic sequence. We’re seeing and hearing something that doesn’t exist anywhere but in a character’s mind.
Dream sequences don’t really count, because that’s basically just a regular scene with some mist around the edges. In the dreams, we’re still looking at the sleeping character from the outside; we don’t see the dream from the character’s point of view.
There have been a couple moments like this before — Willie heard a pounding heartbeat sound when he was opening the chained coffin, and David saw the flashing eyes on Barnabas’ portrait.
But this feels more intense — a sustained sequence when they’ve made the specific choice to bring us into the character’s hypnotic state.
And now I will invoke my traditional reminder: This is on network daytime television, at 3:30 in the afternoon. ABC-TV is hypnotizing housewives.
Julia leads the mesmerized Vicki all the way over to the Old House, and down into the basement. She makes Vicki open the coffin, and she sees Barnabas — immobile, with a sickly yellow-green light on his face to accentuate the grotesque shock of this moment.
Julia tells Vicki, “What you see here, you will never forget, and you will never remember.” And then they head back to Collinwood.
And here’s the super crazy thing: there’s still a whole other act left in this episode. Dark Shadows — the series that everyone thought was slow-paced, even by the standards of 1960s soap operas — is just zipping through the plot points. A couple months ago, the beats that they’re playing today would have taken a week. And there’s still another shock coming.
The sun sets, and Barnabas comes to Collinwood to see Vicki. She should be happy to see him, and tell him about her progress on the renovated west wing. But she has a vague feeling of dread, and his presence makes her uncomfortable.
Sensing that she’s disturbed, he reaches out a hand to comfort her — but then he suddenly pulls away, and rushes out.
He finds Julia in the basement laboratory, just chilling on the electric chair. He asks her if she notices anything different about him. She doesn’t know what he’s talking about, so he shows her his hand.
“Look again!” he shouts. “You and your treatments! Look closely, and maybe you’ll see me age before your very eyes! My hand! The hand of a very, very old man!”
It’s phenomenal. This is what the show is now. This is what they do.
Tomorrow: Mission Accomplished.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Julia first shows the crystal to Vicki, she says, “Isn’t it beautiful?” Then she completely forgets what she was going to say, and takes a very obvious look toward the camera so she can check the teleprompter.
Also, during Vicki and Barnabas’ scene, he garbles a couple lines:
Vicki: What was the request?
Barnabas: Well, it’s a rather stupid one, but, I’m afraid… but I’ve been thinking, this superstition of yours, of Widow’s Hill…
Vicki: Yes, I suppose I have been a little bit silly.
Barnabas: Well, this may even sound more superstitious, but if you could only come to think of it as a place of happiness and light.
Tomorrow: Mission Accomplished.
— Danny Horn