“There are many secrets you haven’t known before, but you will soon know all of them, because you will become a part of them.”
So, I guess this would be the morning after. Young David has been going around for the last several weeks telling everyone that Cousin Barnabas is dead, and sleeps in a coffin. On Friday, Carolyn thought it would be a good idea to sneak into the Old House basement and see what all the fuss was about.
The short answer: She found out. Julia’s mad-science-fair project to cure the vampire has aged him, transforming Cousin Barnabas into Great-Great-Grand-Uncle Barnabas. He needed to drink somebody’s blood, so that he could “revert” back to his youthful form.
Friday’s episode ended with the hands-down, no-contest, intentionally creepiest moment of the series so far. Barnabas grabbed his young cousin, tenderly brushed her hair away from her throat, and said, “Don’t be afraid of me, my dear. I’m not going to hurt you. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt… my own flesh and blood.”
So it turns out that there’s something way scarier than a blood-sucking ghoul who feeds on the life force of the innocent and pretty, and it’s a blood-sucking ghoul who fantasy-metaphor-rapes his own niece.
And the very worst thing about this whole astounding very-worst-thing plot point? She loved it.
When Carolyn comes to, she’s lying on the bed in Josette’s room. Julia, who has apparently become Barnabas’ executive assistant, conducts an exit interview.
Julia: Are you aware of what happened?
Carolyn, idly fingering the scarf at her throat: Yes.
Julia: And how do you feel about it?
Carolyn: I don’t know.
Julia: Do you feel as if you want to run out of the house?
Nope. Look at her face; this is not a girl planning to run anywhere. At some point, she’s going to want to update her Pinterest board, but that’s pretty much her limit, activity-wise.
Julia explains that Barnabas had to bite her, so that he could stop aging. Carolyn brightens, and says, “And I was able to do that for him?”
So this is a brand-new take on the post-feeding experience. Up to now, we’ve only seen two people after they’ve been bitten — Willie, and then Maggie — and the next day, they looked like a wreck, drained and haunted. Carolyn looks like she’s been to the spa.
There are a lot of different ways to make the audience feel “scared”, and they’re going for an interesting mix here that they haven’t done before. The goal is to grip the audience — to make them lean forward, watch more closely, and wait anxiously through the commercial break.
There are three layers of “scary” at play here. The most basic default level is Pretty Girl in Peril — putting a character that we like in physical danger. That was definitely part of the tension of Friday’s cliffhanger; Barnabas bit Carolyn’s throat, and we didn’t know whether she would survive the experience.
A second layer is what I’ve previously referred to as Suspense, which is putting the narrative itself in danger. This is the feeling you get when the story reaches a Crisis Point — a plot twist that changes the status quo.
In this case, Carolyn has been left on the sidelines of the vampire storyline — an occasional talk-to for Vicki, David or Joe. But in the last couple weeks, they’ve been positioning her to play a more important role, and — as of Friday’s cliffhanger — we now have a member of the show’s core family who’s learned the big secret driving the entire plot. The key to a suspenseful Crisis Point is that we know that something has to change — but we don’t know what the change is going to be, or whether it’ll make the story more interesting or less interesting. We’re actually anxious that the pleasure we take in the narrative is in danger.
And then this plot point exploits a third layer, which is the Transgressive. The fantasy-metaphor incest vibe feels wrong, and potentially dangerous for the show as a whole. The producers risk losing some of the audience, and making the network concerned that the show is becoming controversial. That’s thrilling, and you want to talk to a friend about it — can you believe they just did that? How did they get away with doing that on daytime television?
So there are three different levels of tension here — we’re worried for the character, for the storyline and for the future of the show. If they can construct a situation that impacts all three of those layers, we’ve got a home-run plot point.
(There, I’ve finally used the word transgressive in a blog post, which counts toward my Eagle Scout merit badge in Modern Culture and Media. Hooray!)
Now Carolyn and Julia are waiting for Barnabas to come upstairs — they’re not sure whether taking Carolyn’s blood helped, or whether the aging process had gone too far.
“He depended on me to help him,” Carolyn emotes. “I hope I haven’t failed him.”
So that’s super creepy.
But it’s a nice reveal, with Barnabas back to whatever passes for normal around here. The dialogue that follows is extremely Dark Shadows-y.
Barnabas: Yes, my dear Carolyn — Miss Hoffman, eminent historian, is really Dr. Hoffman, blood specialist and psychologist. Does that surprise you?
Yeah, I’d imagine it does. Is that really a coherent specialty?
He follows that with a choice example of Fridspeak:
Barnabas: There are many secrets you haven’t known before, but you will soon know all of them because you will become a part of them. Do you understand that?
It’s lovely, and as always, impossible to tell if that’s the actual line, or just his own extemporaneous jazz riff.
Julia is excused, and Barnabas gives Carolyn her briefing instructions. There are two current projects that she’s going to help with — convincing everyone that David’s been imagining things, and helping to turn Vicki into a new Josette. Carolyn agrees to help.
Then there’s a super cold moment.
Carolyn: What about me?
Barnabas, confused: What about you?
Carolyn: What’s going to happen to me?
Barnabas: I don’t know what you mean.
Ouch. That’s kind of a lose-my-number move. She satisfied his hunger, gave up her free will and her immortal soul, and now she doesn’t even get to be the rich dead girlfriend.
But the really scary moment is “I don’t know what you mean” — as if it simply hasn’t occurred to him that she requires any consideration at all, or that her life has any intrinsic value outside of being useful to him.
And, yeah, it gets even creepier.
Barnabas: Since we are of the same blood, I will not give you the same status that I gave Willie. He was a servant, nothing more.
Carolyn: What will I be, if not your servant?
Barnabas: Depending on how well you serve me, the reward will be far greater than Willie’s was.
Carolyn: What do you mean?
Barnabas: Serve me well, and I have within my power the ability to give you… the gift of eternal life.
Okay. Clearly, we’ve left the fantasy rape metaphor behind. Yes, she was physically violated by a family member, but this scene doesn’t feel like the aftermath of a rape.
What Barnabas has ripped apart so casually is Carolyn’s value system. Her affect is a bit spacey, but she’s clearly in possession of her faculties — she’s just as sharp and emotionally expressive as she usually is. But the blood donation has torn out her sense of what’s important — her family, her close friends, her own future — and that’s been replaced by the desire to feed Barnabas’ boundless ego.
What this feels like, actually, is a drug pusher getting the pretty girl hooked.
By 1967, there was a huge chunk of pop culture entirely devoted to providing a step-by-step guide to getting a girl addicted to heroin. Sometimes, these were intended as high-minded public education about a social issue; sometimes, the apparently-disapproving moral tone was an excuse to tell salacious stories of a young woman gone astray.
The basic story goes like this: an innocent teenager unwittingly falls in with a group of wayward friends. They encourage her to try marijuana, and she takes to it. At that point, a predatory older male offers her an even better kick. From there, the story can get as lurid as you like, using a standard catalog of degrading situations — casual sex, prostitution, armed robbery, selling drugs to schoolchildren, hiding from the police, pretty much any kind of depravity you feel like writing about.
A story like this always has a sequence about this first-experience rush; you need to establish how great it feels at first. This screenshot is from The Terrible Truth, a 1951 educational film by Sid Davis Productions, and Phyllis has just had her first enchanting experience with heroin. As you can see, the pose is pretty much identical to Carolyn’s drowsy, happy fugue state.
That’s how Dark Shadows keeps a little distance from the clear incest-rape vibe of Friday’s cliffhanger. There’s still a mostly-suppressed romantic tone in Carolyn’s voice, but the overall scene structure is more like a drug pusher, who’s pleased to have a new recruit working for him.
By the end of the episode, we get another standard trope from the Reefer Madness back catalog — Liz and Roger have stayed up all night, waiting for Carolyn to come home. Carolyn glides in with a shaky explanation of where she’s been.
She goes upstairs to bed, and Liz and Roger talk about how odd she seems. They know that she’s been upset over David, but that doesn’t explain why she’s acting, as Liz says, “like she’s a stranger in her own house.”
Over the next couple weeks, we’ll see Carolyn drifting even further into her new burnout lifestyle. She’s only got two years to get to Yasgur’s farm; she might want to start hitchhiking now.
Tomorrow: Disturbed Children.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When the clock chimes in the foyer and Roger looks at his wristwatch, the boom mic slips into the top of the frame.
Behind the Scenes:
There’s another clear example in this episode of the not-yet-retconned Barnabas/Josette backstory. A couple weeks ago, Barnabas took Julia to Widow’s Hill, and told her the current version of the show’s mythology — Josette came to Collinwood to marry Barnabas’ middle-aged uncle, Jeremiah. They were married for many years, and when Jeremiah grew older, Barnabas (who was already a vampire at this point) decided to share the “gift” of eternal life with her.
Barnabas alludes to that revised backstory again today. He tells Carolyn, “I was in love with the original Josette, and she might, one day, have returned that love if she hadn’t committed the most foolish act of her life. Vicki must do the one thing that the original Josette never did. Vicki must come to me willingly.”
That story is about to get a massive retcon, starting in three weeks. Every Dark Shadows fan knows that the upcoming flashback to 1795 changes a lot of what we’ve been told is the “official history” of the Collins family. But I’d forgotten that this version actually comes from Barnabas’ dialogue, recounting his first-hand experiences, only three weeks before history changes. Keep this in mind; it’s going to come up again.
Also, I think that’s the Collinsport Afghan on Josette’s bed at the top of today’s episode. It’s hard to be completely sure, because the original color master tape was lost, and we’re watching a black-and-white kinescope copy. But it looks like the afghan to me. It’s mostly been seen in Maggie’s cottage lately. It’s really not appropriate for Josette’s room at all, but they needed a blanket.
Tomorrow: Disturbed Children.
— Danny Horn