“I just wanted to make sure that you weren’t dead.”
Dawn has not yet come to Collinwood. You can tell, because they’ve got the establishing shot up, and it’s dark blue. They’re playing the sub-theme music cue, and somewhere in the studio, fading film star Joan Bennett is standing in front of a microphone.
“Dawn has not yet come to Collinwood,” Joan says, in a world-weary tone which indicates that she’s one sentence into a three-sentence introduction, and it’s not going to get a lot better from here. “The earth hovers between night and day, as though terrified to bring into being the days and nights that lie ahead.”
And it’s amazing, watching it now, to think that there was a time when it was okay to open a television show like this. They don’t take practice swings like this anymore. When your show starts, you start the show.
“But time is indifferent to terror,” says Joan, and you have to admit she has a point. “And the earth obeys the primal command creating nights and days, creating the moment when fear no longer stalks… but stops to strike.”
In other words: it’s October 1967, and you don’t have a remote control. If the earth obeying primal commands isn’t a stop-the-presses level event for you, then you’re going to have to get up, walk across the room and do something about it.
We fade to a pretty, blonde girl asleep in her bed. A young boy is standing nearby, watching her, and he reaches out a hand to touch her shoulder.
She bolts awake, with a startled shriek. “Oh! David!” she gasps.
The boy shrugs, and says, “I just wanted to make sure that you weren’t dead.”
And you know what? That works. Simple, spooky, a nice little puzzle that would make you pause before reaching for the knob. You want to find out what he’s talking about.
I think they’ve figured out how to make Dark Shadows.
This is Joe Caldwell’s last episode for a while, and I’m going to miss him. Caldwell is the best writer that they’ve had on the show so far — the first guy to figure out how to strike the right balance of plot complications, eye-catching spectacle and touching character-based moments.
When Caldwell left the team in June, it was on a high note — his last episode was the high-stakes, high-camp standoff between Julia and Barnabas, when she basically dared him to come to her room and strangle her. This kicked off the smartest, craziest story idea they’ve had so far — Julia’s secret experiments to cure the vampire.
But as the summer turned into fall, one of the writers was fired, and the other two started running in circles. They’ve hardly touched on the experiment story at all — Barnabas and Julia have just been defending their secret from an endless series of potential threats.
So Caldwell came back, bless him, and he’s spent the last week and a half showing them what a real writer can do. He started with Julia and Barnabas murdering Dr. Woodard, and then did some gorgeous character work, spending a whole episode exploring David’s helpless despair. They killed off Burke, and then Caldwell ramped up the intensity of the Barnabas/Vicki/Julia love triangle.
Most importantly, he brought us back to the mad science experiment, and the glorious, deranged spectacle of bubbling beakers, sparking electricity and a boiling bucket of blood. By the end of the day, they’ll have some exciting storyline momentum that can carry them through until the new writer shows up in November.
But let’s get back to Carolyn and David. He says that he’s sorry that he woke her up; he just wanted to make sure that she was all right.
Confused, she asks, “Why would I be dead?”
“People die,” he says, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
Then he gives her the wooden toy soldier that Sarah said would keep him safe. He wants Carolyn to have it — she needs protection. He’s very urgent and insistent about it, so she takes the soldier, and tells him that he can go back to bed now.
David leaves, and then there’s a lovely little scene, where Carolyn just starts to despair.
Liz: Carolyn, what is it? Please, tell me.
Carolyn: There’s nothing we can do for him.
Liz: What are we going to do?
Carolyn: If only he weren’t so quiet… It’s almost as if he’s listening to something we can’t hear, as if everything he says is a response to something else, and not to what’s really happening.
Carolyn is fantastic, by the way. I haven’t had much of a chance to say that lately, because she hasn’t really had a storyline since they dug up her dad in the basement, three months ago.
This is another reason for us to be grateful to Joe Caldwell; he’s managed to put the spotlight back on the lovably dysfunctional Collins family, instead of bland outsiders like Dr. Woodard.
Meanwhile, things are cooking over at Julia’s secret laboratory in the Old House basement. Eager to get things rolling with Vicki, Barnabas insisted that Julia give him an accelerated treatment. She did — and now his hands are aging, as he becomes the centuries-old corpse that he really is.
This scene is pretty much a recap of yesterday’s cliffhanger, but there’s some lovely dialogue.
Barnabas: I’ve been granted privileges given to few other men.
Julia: What privileges?
Barnabas: For most men, time moves slowly… so very slowly. They don’t even realize it. But time has revealed itself to me, in a very special way. Time is a rushing, howling wind raging past me, withering me in one relentless blast… and then continues on.
It’s dialogue that only Jonathan Frid can get away with. They’re playing to his strengths.
I’m going to pick up the pace, because there are so many good scenes today. In the morning, Carolyn is visited by the ghost of Sarah Collins, who stops by to tell her that David was right, and they shouldn’t send him away to an institution.
Disturbed but oddly heartened by the experience, Carolyn goes to David’s room to give him the good news — she saw Sarah, and now she believes him.
He rushes toward her, in panic.
David: No! No, you didn’t!
Carolyn: I thought you’d be pleased that I’d finally seen her.
David: I don’t want you to see Sarah! I don’t!
He breaks away from her.
David: She came to Dr. Woodard, and he believed what I was telling him… and now he’s dead.
Carolyn: David, Dr. Woodard died a perfectly natural death.
David: He saw Sarah, and then he died. I don’t want you to see Sarah.
Carolyn: David… doesn’t it matter that someone believes you?
David: Everything I said was a lie. All of it! None of it was true! I made it all up!
He begins to sob, insisting that he made it all up. Carolyn holds him close.
Carolyn: It’s all right… it’s all right. Now I can help you. At last, I can help you.
It’s phenomenal. This is just good soap opera construction. People that we care about, facing terrible danger, and desperate to help each other. I love it.
And Caldwell’s got one more crazy trick up his sleeve. We go back to the basement laboratory, where Julia is strapping Barnabas down for one more ride on the electric blood machine.
She wants to produce a counter-reaction, so that he goes back to the way that he was before the accelerated treatment. She talks about it as if it’s super easy to just make electricity go backwards. As they used to say on Doctor Who, she’s reversing the polarity of the neutron flow.
So we get one more scene of boiling fluids and electric zaps. Once the noise dies down, Julia turns to examine the patient…
And that’s when the screaming starts. Thanks, Joe. You’ve been amazing.
Tomorrow: Secret Aging Man.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In Carolyn’s second conversation with Liz, there’s a moment when they both start speaking at once. Carolyn lets Liz say her line, “What made you change your mind?” A moment later, Carolyn puts the toy soldier down on her dresser, and it falls to the floor with a noisy clatter.
Behind the Scenes:
In an interview on one of the Dark Shadows DVDs, Caldwell says that he regrets leaving the show at this point: “I wasn’t on the show when Lara Parker came on, when Angelique came on, and I’m sorry now that I’d left to do that documentary, because I would have been there for a lot of the fun, when they went back in time, and that was too bad.”
That’s Peter Murphy again, standing in for the back of Barnabas’ head in the final shot. Tomorrow, we’ll see the full impact of Barnabas’ new course of treatment, which involves a lot of special makeup. They couldn’t stop the recording to do the makeup, so instead we’ve got Murphy in a hairpiece, seen from the back.
Murphy joined the show a couple weeks ago as the strike-breaking recast Caretaker. Since then, he’s been the ghost of Dr. Woodard, and Burke’s corpse in Monday’s dream sequence.
Also, there’s another sighting of the Petofi box in this episode — it’s on the table in the hall when Carolyn walks to David’s room.
Tomorrow: Secret Aging Man.
— Danny Horn