Episode 371: Damn the Torpedoes

“I do not understand any more than you do.”

Okay, here’s a health tip: If you ever have an overnight layover in Martinique, don’t make out with the crazy girl.

Seriously. The girl is out of her mind. At the moment, she’s got a handkerchief wrapped around the neck of Barnabas’ wooden toy soldier, and she’s choking the life out of it. This is apparently going to teach Barnabas a lesson about treating people with respect. It might also partly be about leaving a tip for the maid when you check out of a hotel. It’s kind of an abstract lesson.

Now, this was an unusual Friday cliffhanger, because we know that Barnabas became a vampire, so he couldn’t have died from action-figure-based asphyxiation. Or maybe he could have. There’s a serious question raised today, which is: How does time travel work?

371 dark shadows barnabas choke

This is not a normal soap opera question. Traditionally, the standard soap opera question used to be: “Can this girl from a little mining town in the West find happiness as the wife of a wealthy and titled Englishman?” But times have changed. These days, soap opera questions are approximately sixty percent DNA-test-related, twenty percent little mining town, and twenty percent miscellaneous.

But Dark Shadows was the true innovator in the field, the only show that dared to ask the question: What happens if you go back in time and find that someone is killing the vampire that you happen to be friends with, before he has a chance to become a vampire?

371 dark shadows vicki struggle

And Vicki is really struggling with that question right now. Last week, she was mysteriously transported through time with very little advance notice, and she’s already managed to land a decent job and make some significant headway on acquiring a period-appropriate wardrobe.

So if she can keep a lid on saying “sorry, I thought you were someone I used to know in the future” every time she meets someone new, she might actually graduate from 1960s soap opera heroine IQ to the next level up, which I guess would be 1970s soap opera heroine IQ.

371 dark shadows jeremiah doctor

Naturally, soap opera doctors of the 1790s are just as useless as the soap opera doctors of today. This one starts out by saying, “Mr. Collins, I don’t know what to tell you,” which he might as well have printed on his business card, because they never say anything else.

Dr. Thornton:  There’s nothing wrong with him that I can detect.

Jeremiah:  But of course there is! He’s up there suffocating!

Dr. Thornton:  I meant there is nothing physically wrong with him.

Jeremiah:  But that’s impossible!

Dr. Thornton:  I have just given him a complete physical examination. He’s as sound as any man can be.

Jeremiah:  Then why is he choking?

Dr. Thornton:  I do not understand any more than you do.

Yeah, you can say that again. Apparently the 1790s standards for man-soundness didn’t include the ability to breathe. Thanks for stopping by, doc.

371 dark shadows vicki jeremiah

And then Vicki goes into her soothsayer routine again.

Vicki:  Mr. Collins, no matter what that doctor may have said to you, your nephew is going to recover. I know it.

Jeremiah:  How do you know?

Vicki:  Because it didn’t… That is, it just can’t happen that way.

Jeremiah:  What are you talking about?

Yeah, good question. Sweetheart, what are we trying to do right now?

371 dark shadows vicki jeremiah future

But it’s heartbreaking; she’s really just trying to help. She doesn’t see these people as a history lesson that she learned from a book. She sees a family in pain, and she wants to reassure them.

Unfortunately, the history that she knows isn’t the real story at all.

Vicki:  The way that you were treating Mr. Collins when he was here… The way that you held him, and tried to ease his pain. You showed such affection for him.

Jeremiah:  And that surprised you?

Vicki:  Yes.

Jeremiah:  But why?

Vicki:  Because I’d always been led to believe that you and Mr. Collins were never very close.

What she’s talking about is the amazingly bold series of retcons that they’re perpetrating with this 1795 flashback. They’ve never gone into a ton of detail about the Barnabas / Josette / Jeremiah backstory, but almost everything that they said is being contradicted here. By the end of the storyline, they’ll suggest that the true story was carefully redacted from the official family history — but a lot of the details that we know came directly from Barnabas’ mouth, not from a book.

For example: four months ago, Barnabas told Willie that Jeremiah was “the worst enemy I ever had.” Just over a month ago, he brought Julia to Widow’s Hill, and told her that he was first introduced to Josette as “my middle-aged uncle’s new wife”.

There’s no way to reconcile both versions of the story, even if you wanted to suggest that Vicki’s time travel is changing the past. Either Josette came to Collinwood as Barnabas’ fiancee or not, and up until last week, it was very clearly not. But a new writer joined the team a few weeks ago, and they’ve changed their minds, and that’s all there is to it.

371 dark shadows jeremiah torpedos

Happily, they approach this with the appropriate Dark Shadows “damn the torpedoes” style.

Jeremiah:  For a young lady who’s been in this household exactly two days, and who has no previous knowledge of this family, you have gathered some rather strange, and I might add rude, impressions!

Vicki:  Forgive me.

Jeremiah:  I will not forgive you! But I will inform you — Barnabas and I have always been very close. Although I am his uncle, we are the same ages, and we’ve felt more like brothers toward each other. Now, I don’t know where you’ve conjured up these impressions, but I do not want to hear of it again! Do I make myself clear?

It turns out that this is exactly the correct way to do a retcon — unapologetically, and at top volume. Yes, we said something different a month ago, but that was 172 years from now. A lot can happen in 172 years, especially on this show.

Oh, and in case you were worried: Angelique unties the handkerchief, and now the toy soldier can breathe again. Somebody call the toy doctor and tell him to never mind about the house call.

Tomorrow: Another Country.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Today’s episode follows directly from Friday’s cliffhanger, but Josette is wearing a different dress.

Barnabas collapses on the floor, and Josette rushes to kneel by his side. When Barnabas sits up, he’s sitting on the edge of Josette’s dress. A moment later, when Vicki helps Josette get up and move to a chair, she realizes that the dress is stuck under Barnabas. Vicki has to tug on the dress to pull it free.

Dr. Thornton tells Jeremiah, “Of course he’s sick, very sick. What I’m trying to tell you is… that… I don’t know why, any medical reason why he is so.”

Behind the Scenes:

Fill-in actor Peter Murphy pops up again, playing Dr. Thornton in today’s episode. We’ve recently seen him as a stand-in for Burke, Barnabas and Dr. Woodard’s ghost, and he was the recast Caretaker. We’ll see him next in January 1968, filling in for Barnabas lying in his coffin.

Tomorrow: Another Country.

371 dark shadows angelique untie

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

28 thoughts on “Episode 371: Damn the Torpedoes

  1. It occurs to me that whenever Barnabas or Julia went into the past and encountered something strange that conflicted with what they knew of the present, they would step aside and have a brief monologue — sometimes internal, sometimes out loud but it felt like they were sharing their situation with us, the viewer.

    Vicki never does that and it’s as if she has no relationship with us. She’s the clueless island unto herself.

    And she’s still a very passive character. She’s also yet to figure out that Angelique is the one person she’s met who doesn’t resemble anyone from the present.

    Regarding time travel, there’s been enough contradictions all ready for her to not assume that Barnabas is going to survive his sudden illness. And she doesn’t consider her own presence could alter the past. Perhaps she’s aware of how passive a character she is.

    1. Vicki also isn’t that amazed at the fact that Jeremiah is a ‘dead’ ringer for her fiancee who supposedly perished in a plane crash.

      1. But she and Jeremiah have had more than one conversation within the last few episodes (when they first met and shortly after they met) about his resemblance to someone she loved.

  2. The 1795 storyline boldly suggests history is written by the rich, those in power. As you say, Joshua, practically the last Collins standing, redacts everything about these catastrophic months. And that history he leaves ends up warping the family’s view of itself. Pretty daring stuff for an afternoon soap.

  3. …actually josette is pretty much an idiot too (so far). maybe barnabus should’ve stuck it out with the crazy girl.

  4. I assumed the discrepancies between what Vicki knows and what happens in this story line was a combination of revisionist history and Barnabus’s faulty memory, with a little bit of the writers not paying attention.

    1. I like that the reality we are getting now in 1795 is slightly different than the history and legend the family has come to believe in 1968. I mean, who really knows the true personalities of long dead ancestors, their passions, their motivations, their actual thoughts: and how do we know that Barnabas is telling the whole truth in 1968. He is a flawed and untrustworthy narrator, as he is wounded, scorned, cursed, and locked away in a coffin for 172 years. I know people with much less personal trauma who I really don’t believe a word they have to say!

    2. In terms of the writers, I don’t think it’s at all their not paying attention but their deliberately changing the story for the story they want to tell now.

      1. My interpretation would be: not ‘their deliberately changing the story for the story they want to tell now.’ The writers are changing the old story to the new story Dan Curtis has ordered them to tell now “or we’ll get some other writer who will.”

        1. That’s true ultimately–whatever Dan Curtis wants, Dan Curtis gets. Yet I think there’s a lot more writer creativity going on at this point in the series with the new addition of Sam Hall. I don’t think it’s all just “following orders.”

  5. I thought Jeremiah got a bit too overbearing and defensive with Vicki, especially after she said “Forgive me”. Whatsupwi’dat?? Did she totally besmirch the Collins family name …or did someone just poop in his oatmeal that morning?

    1. He’s reprimanding the sassy servant who not only had the audacity to have an opinion about his family relationships but decided to express it. That’s a no no and he told her so.

  6. Maybe when you spend a decade or ten chained up in a coffin, your memory of past events gets a little fuzzy? Just trying to help the writers cover their tracks…

  7. In addition to Josette inexplicably being in a different dress than the same scene in the previous episode, she’s also lost her French accent.

  8. In addition to Josette inexplicably being in a different dress than the same scene in the previous episode, she’s also lost her French accent.

    It also occurs to me while Jeremiah and Dr. Dimwit are deliberating at length in the front hall, asphyxiation evidently takes a lot longer in l795.

  9. Is there a possibility that there was a REPEAT of an episode right after this one aired. In my Amazon Prime line-up, they have inserted the Barnabas #349 old man episode here between #371 and #372. I thought maybe due to the preemption of last week that the episode count was off and ABC needed to air an old one to get them back on track. Does anyone know anything about that?

  10. Great comments by everyone! Love the dissection we are able to do here. If the actors and creators of the show only knew what “superpowers” we would one day possess ourselves to be able to analyze every little detail.

    When something like the dress faux pas mentioned above occurs, at the time they were probably like, “Oh, no one will notice,” and simply moved on. And with such a limited budget as they were operating on, there was simply not ever going to be any “Oh, we’ll fix it in the post,” was there?

    Danny: “action-figure-based asphyxiation.” ROFL times 3!!!

    Finally, the “I don’t know anything” Doctors on the series are also almost always coming off as these grumpy, I-really-can’t-be-bothered-with-this-nonsense kind of portrayals. When there are at least a half dozen doctors on most soaps (and some of them as the central characters, the Bauers on GUIDING LIGHT come to mind and, of course, ALL of GENERAL HOSPITAL), you would think we could get at least ONE that possessed at least some semblance of a bedside manner and deliver factual, plot-moving-forward kind of intel.

  11. Poor Dr. Thornton: he has even more of those stupid-looking spikey bangs than Barnabas has.

    If I were Barnabas, after the events of this episode I might be having second thoughts about choosing Josette as my life partner. He implores her to go get a doctor to find out why he’s choking. Josette instead reacts by clutching her hands to her mouth while gasping and sobbing and staring at her fiancee on the floor. Barnabas might be better off finding a wife who’s quicker, more clear-headed and able to be helpful in a medical emergency.

    Usually on TV when someone is passed out or gasping for air, someone suggests “stand back and give him room to breathe.” Vicki, Jerimiah and Josette all hover over and cluster around the gasping Barnabas. That can’t be much help.

  12. Was Peter Murphy halfassedly affecting a Scottish accent as Dr. Thornton here, or was he failing at suppressing it? Either way, it made the doc kind of interesting and it’s a shame we apparently won’t be seeing him again.

    I guess it’s supposed to be because she’s from another country and speaking English as a 2nd language, but Josette’s manner of speech is that stilted way of talking used by alien beings on sci-fi shows who have just assumed human form and have not yet learned how to implement contractions. “I-want-to-help-but-I-do-not-know-what-to-do”; also, she kept asking Jeremiah inane questions, as if the writer(s) couldn’t think of any intelligent dialogue for her.

    “Will the doctor be able to help him?”

    How should Jeremiah know? Isn’t that a question for the doctor himself? Nobody even knows what the heck is happening to Barnabas and they keep saying so.

    I will give her this: nobody does the raw and ragged from-the-depths-of-the-bowels guttural scream of horror like KLS.

    1. I think the lack of contractions is also meant to suggest a sense of formality and upper-classness. Other characters’ speech in 1795 is also like this, though it’s not consistent. (And in writing of this time, contractions would have been eschewed.)

  13. I love coming back here to recap the episodes as I watch them for the first time. The blog is very entertaining and I love the comments! Here are my thoughts so far with this 1795 storyline.

    Is it just me or does Angelique have terrifying eyeballs!

    I kind of wish that the characters of 1795 being played by characters of the present was not acknowledged by Vicky. How many times are we going to hear her say “oh it’s nothing, you just reminded me of someone I knew long ago“. We get it, it’s an ensemble cast and you are recycling the actors. But also, Maggie doesn’t look much like the portrait of Jossette.

    There are definitely some winners and losers in the acting game when it comes to the actors playing new characters. As much as I love the gorgeous Joan Bennett, she is essentially just playing Elizabeth in different clothes. As of yet, we aren’t really getting a new character with her. Also a little disappointed in Maggie/Josette and Burke/Jeremiah Who are also essentially the same character. Kudos to Joe/Nathan and Julia/Natalie. But the prize goes to Carolyn/Milicent! Nancy Barrett does a great job of creating a whole new character. Millicent is bubbly and dare I say ditzy. Her voice and mannerisms are completely different. Love seeing this brand new character.

    This whole time I’m wondering what’s going on in present time while Victoria is off gallivanting in 1795? Is the Collins family getting to know the governess that swapped places with Victoria? When this 1795 storyline is over will be back track to where we left off with the séance? So many questions!

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