Episode 366: The Phantom Menace

“Something happened during the séance… something unnatural.”

A long time ago…

Vicki is confused. That’s not a particularly startling development, because she generally goes around in a state of ongoing bafflement, but this time she has a good reason.

The last thing she knew, she was sitting in the Collinwood drawing room, having a perfectly ordinary séance with her employers, just like anyone might at the end of an average day at work. Then a ghost started speaking through her mouth, and now she’s standing outside the Old House, and it’s a bright, sunny day.

As she approaches the house, Barnabas Collins opens the door, and he’s young and alive and engaged to Josette, and it’s the past.

366 dark shadows vicki barnabas front street

So I’m just going to put this right out on Front Street. Vicki isn’t going to figure this out right away, but you and I have no secrets.

This episode begins an uncertain and frightening journey into the past, traveling back to 1795 to find out how Barnabas became a vampire. And this isn’t just a quick flashback, as the audience must have assumed at the time. We’re going to be here for the next four months.

This has to be one of the most surprising storyline twists in television history. The only other example that I can think of is the third year of Josie and the Pussycats, when they suddenly sent the whole cast into outer space for a season. It’s that groundbreaking.

The 1795 story completely redefines what Dark Shadows is about. We thought this was the story of Victoria Winters, girl governess, and her struggle to find love and family connections in a big, dark house on a hill. Now it turns out that was Episode IV of a much larger story, and we’ll get a series of prequels playing out over the next few years. Welcome to Episode I.

366 dark shadows vicki barnabas cute

And look how cute young Barnabas is! He’s all perplexed. A complete stranger has appeared on his doorstep, and she knows his name. Like so many other people on the show, he’s happy and carefree, right up until the moment that Victoria Winters enters his life.

Vicki:  Why don’t you recognize me?

Barnabas:  Because I’ve never seen you before.

Vicki:  But you have, hundreds of times.

Barnabas:  Are you quite sure you’re feeling all right?

Vicki:  I feel fine.

Barnabas:  You said that you were lost in the woods. Do you live around here, in Collinsport perhaps?

Vicki:  Why are you dressed that way?

You see what I mean? You just can’t talk to people like this.

366 dark shadows the past is pink

The past is pink, by the way. They’re indicating that this is a more innocent period by giving everything a rose-colored glow. It’s an odd choice, but very effective. The normally drab walls of the Old House are pink, and Barnabas’ shirt is a reddish-purple, and then along comes Sarah, who’s alive by the way, and she’s the pinkest of all.

Barnabas chides Sarah for coming outside when she’s supposed to be upstairs taking her nap. Then she spots Vicki, and exclaims, “It’s her! My new governess!”

366 dark shadows vicki barnabas confused

Barnabas shoos his little sister back inside the house, and tries to figure out what he’s supposed to do with the lunatic woman standing on his porch.

Barnabas:  Miss Winters, if you don’t know where you are, perhaps you could tell me where you’ve been, or where you’re from.

Vicki:  Why do you have to keep talking to me as though I’m a total stranger?

Barnabas:  Because you are.

Vicki:  No! How would I have known your name when I saw you?

Barnabas:  I’m sure I don’t know.

Vicki:  Because I know you! Now, why must you keep pretending that you don’t know me?

Barnabas:  I’m not pretending. I consider it my loss that we’ve never met before, but we haven’t.

This conversation goes on for a full five minutes, and for a while, it seems like we might stay out here on the porch all day.

366 dark shadows vicki barnabas wrong

But it’s worth every second, because young Barnabas is adorable. He’s soft-spoken and charming, and he’s far more patient than he needs to be under the circumstances. The son of a prominent, wealthy family would be completely within his rights to tell the strangely-dressed vagrant at the door to get off his property. But he’s lovely.

Barnabas:  Now, listen to me, Miss Winters. I’m going to take you inside, and I want you to lie down until you recover.

Vicki:  I don’t want to lie down. I just want to know what’s wrong and what I’m doing here.

Barnabas:  Miss Winters, are you a governess, or are you not?

Vicki:  Yes, I am. But…

Barnabas:  Well, then, I suggest that you get hold of yourself before my mother comes back.

The point of this whole hare-brained storyline is to reboot Barnabas, and get the audience to love him. We’re five minutes in, and it’s working already. He’s got all of the charm of the 1967 Barnabas, and none of the rage.

366 dark shadows vicki barnabas collinwood

They choose an interesting moment for the act-closer.

Vicki:  But don’t you remember? We were sitting around the table in the drawing room of Collinwood.

Barnabas:  You’ve been in Collinwood?

Vicki:  Well, of course. I live there!

Barnabas:  I don’t know what you’re talking about. No one has lived there yet. The building is still under construction.

366 dark shadows vicki stunned

That’s the line that gets the dramatic sting, and Vicki’s stunned commercial-break face. This is a brilliant little detail that clarifies that this storyline isn’t just about the vampire curse. This is the origin story for Collinwood.

That’s important, because the show turns out to be bigger than just the story of Vicki, or Barnabas, or any specific group of people. More than anything else, Dark Shadows is the story of the house. The characters just happen to live there.

366 dark shadows vicki barnabas super pink

Barnabas finally brings Vicki inside, and if you thought things were pink before — inside, it’s even pinker. People who like pink: today is your big day.

366 dark shadows family history

Barnabas is convinced by now that this perplexing creature is Sarah’s new governess, so he takes her upstairs and asks where her luggage is. She doesn’t know what he means.

Barnabas:  You mean to say that your belongings consist entirely of the book you’ve been carrying?

Vicki:  The book… It’s the family history! But I don’t know how I got it, I don’t know how I got here!

Now, I know she’s having a stressful day, but that’s kind of a scatterbrained moment. How do you not notice the thing that you’re holding?

Anyway, things settle down eventually. Vicki has another scene with Sarah, and that’s pretty much the end of the surprises for the day.

366 dark shadows vicki forbes hug

Oh, right. Except for this.

366 dark shadows nathan vicki who are you

Vicki goes back downstairs, and she finds Joe hanging around in the drawing room. She runs to his arms, and gives him a hug, overjoyed to find a friend in the middle of this strange nightmare. But this isn’t Joe.

Forbes:  My… aren’t you a pretty one.

Vicki:  Please, Joe! I’m serious!

Forbes:  I don’t know who Joe is, but if that’s who you want me to be, it’ll be my pleasure.

And that’s the kind of fun we’re in for. Joel Crothers is the only hot guy on the show right now, but he’s been trapped playing Joe, a boring nice-guy character who’s mostly a talk-to recap monkey for Maggie, Vicki, Carolyn or anybody else who has something they want to get off their chest.

366 dark shadows vicki nathan navy

But this, as I said, is not Joe. This is Lieutenant Nathan Forbes of the United States Navy, a rogue and a scoundrel who’s apparently a Collins family friend.

Like Tony Peterson, who was introduced a couple weeks ago, Forbes is a visitor from a different narrative universe, thrown into Dark Shadows with the general remit to poke the characters with a stick and see what happens.

One inspiration is clearly Tom Jones, the original sexy scoundrel from Henry Fielding’s 1749 English comic novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. The character was fresh in people’s minds in the mid 60s because of the popular film adaptation made in 1963, which won the Oscar for Best Picture.

366 dark shadows nathan vicki tom jones

Here’s the moment that might as well be a direct quote from the Tom Jones screenplay:

Vicki:  What’s the matter with you?

Forbes:  Absolutely nothing. I happen to admire pretty women.

Vicki:  And you happen to be engaged to my best friend.

Forbes:  Well, I’ve been fought off by the ladies in some strange ways, but that may be the strangest. Now, who, may I ask, is your best friend?

Vicki:  You know that perfectly well. It’s Maggie Evans.

Forbes:  Maggie… that’s a nice name. I once knew a scullery maid named Maggie Stuart. She was a trifle on the plump side, but she knew the way to a man’s heart. Why don’t we sit down?

There’s another major literary influence on the character — which explains why Tom Jones is wearing a naval uniform — but we’ll touch on that in a couple weeks.

(By the way, a note for readers who think that Forbes is fun and sexy: If you haven’t seen the 1963 Tom Jones film, that should be the very next thing you do. It’s fantastic.)

366 dark shadows vicki nathan spirit

So this, really, is when you understand how 1795 works, and what it’s for. Up until now, we’ve just seen Barnabas and Sarah, and they’re just the living versions of their regular characters. Here’s where the audience is let in on the big surprise — that everyone we meet will be played by a member of the 1967 cast, trying on new characters.

And those new characters are a lot more interesting than their ’67 counterparts. This encounter signals that the new show is going to be a lot more fun than the old one.

366 dark shadows naomi forbes vicki

By the end of the episode, Naomi shows up, and she’s just as nonplussed as everyone else with this strange young woman who calls everyone by the wrong name, and can’t explain where she comes from.

And so it goes on, and on — we’re going to spend four months in this makeshift laboratory experiment of a storyline. We’re going to meet new characters every day for the whole week, each one crazier than the last. Just you wait and see.

Our phantom isn’t that menacing these days — she’s nine years old, and dresses like an American Girl doll — but the clones are ready to attack, starting tomorrow. May the Forbes be with you.

Tomorrow: Making History.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

There’s a long pause while Barnabas leads Vicki upstairs. You can hear people rustling around in the studio, and then someone says, “Excuse me.” Then more footsteps and rustling, and someone coughs.

When Nathan comes in, he takes off his hat and cape, and puts them on a chair. They both fall on the floor. Nathan just leaves them there and goes on with the scene.

They’re also not sure what to do with the 1790s pants. You can see very clearly that Nathan dresses to the right. The same thing happens with Joshua’s pants in tomorrow’s episode.

Tomorrow: Making History.

366 dark shadows joan bennett

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

26 thoughts on “Episode 366: The Phantom Menace

  1. I have so much love for this story. It’s been, what, almost 60 years, and it stands as one of the most groundbreaking stories ever attempted by any show ever. The cast seems so invigorated by this experiment. Everything is lit so brightly here – and the first several episodes are set in the daytime, suggesting that a certain person brought the darkness onto Collinwood.

    Usually the precis is about as specific as: “Collinwood. A storm rages outside the great estate while something vaguely interesting might be happening to a character you vaguely care about.” Today Joan Bennett’s narration dumps the entire premise – Vicki’s time travel – into the opening as if we’re as stupid as Vicki.

    We’re not as stupid as Vicki, show!

    Finally, what a day for JC to go commando. Oy.

    1. Oh, I think the opening narration is justified — they just changed the entire premise of the show overnight, and nobody has a DVR. I think the standard estimate about soaps is that people watch maybe three days a week. Anybody who missed Friday and Monday is going to be pretty surprised when they show up tomorrow…

  2. I love this blog. I know, I know, you already know that, but I’m recapping for those who might be new.

    And what a fantastic observation regarding Dark Shadows being about the HOUSE, and not so much about the characters who occupy it at any given time. I’d never thought of that before, but given that we will in the years to come encounter haunted wings and secret passages and staircases that transport one through time (with the help of magic sticks), that makes so much sense.

    I always loved the opening narrations of each episode. I’m not sure why, but they — along with the rarely-varied music that played beneath them — just really set the tone for what you were about to watch, Heck, I’ll admit that I wish the blog actually included each of those narrations!

    No, I take that back. Because saying that would be to imply that I don’t think the blog is absolutely perfect the way it is, and I do. 🙂

    1. Yeah, I’m not as crazy about the opening narrations, especially in 1795, where it’s really just explaining that Vicki is taking an uncertain and frightening journey into the past every day.

      I think they perk up a bit around 1969, when they start referring to everyone as “one man” and “one woman”. The joke in our house is: “Tonight, one man, one woman, one fish, a potato and an electric kettle must face the enemy who threatens all that they know.”

  3. Now soaps going backward in time and having everyone in the cast take on parts is just something soaps do, usually as just as one story not as the entire episode, but then they’re hour long shows now. Was this the very first example? My favorite instance is James-Gunnar-Barbara on “As the World Turns” and my least favorite is Reva traveling through the painting on “Guiding Light.” I think the most recent example was the 1969 storyline on “One Life to Live.” But perhaps “General Hospital” should consider it. Or “The Bold and the Beautiful” could perk up the repetitive Liam-Hope-Wyatt story by letting us know only hasn’t been going on for one lifetime, it really IS never ending.

  4. its a salmon colored world.

    i jest, but its an excellent contrast to the old house that we’ve known. this is fun!!!

  5. I know it’s early in this storyline, but it became frustrating how Vicki insisted on calling people by their modern counterparts’ names for the duration of this storyline.

    1. I’ll salute whatever runs up that flagpole…but seriously, it’s great to have Joel Crothers doing something other than wear turtleneck sweaters and be understanding!

  6. Okay, picky me…

    I thought Barnabas in the 1960s was so committed to restoring the old house to its original state. Then why is it so dark? Is he still trying to decide between ‘Dawn Rose’ and ‘Salmon Mousse’, or maybe he hasn’t been able to get to the Sherwin-Williams store because they close at sunset?

    1. I have a working theory that explains why Barnabas is so different between 1795 and 1967 that might answer your question. Basically, Barnabas was suffering from partial amnesia due to being locked in the coffin for so long between time periods. It helps explain why he mis-remembers bits of history like his relation to Jeremiah, how the tragedy with Josette happened, and why the restoration of the Old House looks different from how it was in 1795.

  7. Meh not liking this turn the story takes, how do people who are not Collins family members become family members yet still look like the people who were not family members in 1967? enough that Vikki notices this, it would have played better for me if they did not acknowledge the similarities. I still think Vikki is the cat’s meow .

    1. And the way Vikki in 2 days has an Oh well I’m trapped in 1795 and the guy who is Barnabas brother looks just like ( is) my fiancee who died back in 1967 and I’m still grieving for but guess I’ll make the most of it oy

    2. That doesn’t bother me. Collinsport is a small town. The Collins are the big fish. I’m sure there were dalliances with the town folk and the Collins genes and the Collins looks got passed down through the generations.

    3. We’re seeing it all from Vicki’s perspective – it’s possible these people only bear a passing resemblance to the 1967 crowd, and in her befuddled state, Vicki’s seeing connections that aren’t really there. It would explain why Abigail looks like the unrelated Mrs Johnson, the other Collinses are virtually identical rather than just similar, and how Joshua and Naomi can have a middle-aged son…

  8. I would think the final season of Fringe, where they jumped a decade or two into the future and changed the premise of the show might be another good example of a show taking a sudden giant switch.

    I do have to wonder, would it have been normal for them to fly from Boston to Maine? And if so, how would David not have been talking non-stop about it all the time when he returned?

  9. My first thought was that when Willy fixed up the Old House for Barnabas they were supposed to have made it look like it did originally. The decor in 1795 looks nothing like the way Barnabas has it set in 1967. Then Joel walked in and all the other thoughts left my head. Wow.

  10. Responding to those who like the opening narration, you can get a transcript of each of them by going to Darkshadows.wikia.com. BTW, I believe the name of the music playing behind the opening narration is called “Collinwood.”

  11. It is funny when DS doesn’t explain some things while they explain other things to death. This has been noted before, particularly when it has to do with plot points that the writers are (sometimes mistakenly) confident they do not need to explain.

    Here, though, it has to do with history. (You are going to be quizzed on this later.) Victoria is taken aback when Barnabas refers to “the province of Maine.” Obviously, she must be reacting to the fact that he didn’t say “the state of Maine,” but why is it a province and not a state? Is it still a colony or something? When was the American Revolution, anyway? (Academic panic!)

    Well, after the Revolution, Maine was originally a province – or, more commonly, a district – of Massachusetts. Kind of like Michigan is one state but separated in two by Lake Michigan, Maine was part of Massachusetts though separated by a small strip of Atlantic coast belonging to New Hampshire.

    Maine did not become a state until 1820. It had to do with the growing concern about the ratio between the number of slave and free states. Maine became a free state to balance against the new slave states that were being admitted at the same time. Victoria knows about this because she has been boning up on Maine’s history so she can teach it to David. Why should we be expected to know this, though?

  12. Good glory, they actually have white candles in the living room, not blue, left over from black and white days. Of course, they had deep pink candles in the entryway, to correspond with the PINK! interior.

  13. This is going to be great! Btw, this opening scene REALLY has shown me just how dense Vicki can be. I know she’s in shock from her “trip”, but you’d think just from the surroundings’ appearances, for one, that she’d have a clue as to “what’s wrong”, with the kicker being Sarah ALIVE and well.

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