“It’s like some nightmare. Such things just don’t happen.”
Don’t believe them! They tell you lies, nothing but lies. And worse than that — they’re boring lies, which make the world less interesting, and that is something I can never forgive.
They say that the point of the 1795 storyline is to make Barnabas a “sympathetic” character, which is some brand of vague applesauce that presumably means that we should “like” him, and agree with his goals. If we like Barnabas, according to this point of view, then we’ll be more likely to root for him, and we’ll want him to succeed.
This is entirely false, in every way that matters.
For one thing, we were all rooting for Barnabas pretty much from day one. Obviously, by “rooting for him” I don’t mean that we want to watch him murder small children. We just want to watch him.
We want Barnabas on the screen as much as possible, because he does improbable and surprising things. The show is more interesting when he’s around, for reasons that have nothing to do with whether you’d want to invite him over for a cookout.
Barnabas is a mess. He makes nothing but bad choices. He’s got a gorgeous, rich fiancee coming over to America to marry him, and what does he do five minutes before Josette walks into the house? He makes out with the maid.
And once he gets Angelique all worked up, he pulls away and says they have to pretend that this never happened, and she needs to be totally supportive of his upcoming marriage to the woman she works for. That’s the level of emotional intelligence we’re dealing with here.
It’s impossible to “sympathize” with Barnabas when he talks about his romantic future; it’s like rooting for a sea lion who wants to work on a space station. Yeah, he’s applied to graduate school. That’s fantastic. It’s not gonna happen.
So here’s Barnabas, sixty seconds after he’s figured out that his wife is an evil sorceress who’s been torturing everyone that he loves. And look at him, he’s grinning. This is the best news he’s heard in weeks.
On Friday, Barnabas overheard Angelique’s lunatic spell-casting ritual, and now Ben confirms that Angelique is the witch responsible for all his misfortunes. Now Barnabas can make a plan.
Spoiler alert: It’s the same plan that he always makes. It’s not one of history’s top ten plans.
Here’s what he comes up with.
Barnabas: One drop. It is written that only one drop is necessary to cause death. And none of her magic potions or incantations can ward off this! Once she drinks it, no amount of witchcraft will save her.
And, okay, are you kidding me right now? Because that is hands down the stupidest idea that you have ever had.
I mean, to start with, where did you purchase this fantastically dangerous one-drop-equals-instant-death weapon of mass destruction? Is there some kind of all-night murder weapon delivery service in Collinsport? Where the hell do you live?
I’m not even going to get into the “how could this possibly go wrong”-ness of this scheme, because we’re about to see what happens as soon as you pour a glass of sherry anywhere within a five-mile radius of Naomi Collins.
But I’d like to call your attention to what we in the first-degree felony trade call Step Two. Once she’s downed the cocktail of death, what’s the next item on your agenda? It’s only been three weeks since a family member died after you shot him in the face. What are you going to tell people when they ask how married life is treating you?
But we’re not even going to get close to figuring out that problem, because at this point Barnabas commits a pretty fundamental blunder, namely: answering the door in the middle of your crime spree.
So Barnabas’ mother Naomi sashays in, naturally, because her sherry-sense was tingling. She’s like one of those drug-sniffing dogs at the airport baggage claim; if there’s an open bottle of sherry anywhere in the tri-country area, she’ll be right over.
So obviously Barnabas has to snatch the fatal apéritif out of his mother’s hand and spill it on the floor, creating a toxic spill that’ll probably require a hazmat team to subdue.
One awkward social engagement later, Angelique shows her mother-in-law to the door, and Barnabas steps over to a nearby cubby and pulls out a dagger.
Yeah, seriously. It’s literally the very next thing that he does. Apparently, Barnabas has an endless supply of murder weapons stashed all over the house. It’s like the mansion in Clue; there’s probably a candlestick in the ballroom and a lead pipe in the conservatory.
And so, as we leave Barnabas in his wife’s bedroom with a razor-sharp dagger and a head full of bad ideas, let’s agree that from now on, the word “sympathetic” is permanently banished from our vocabulary. This is the young and innocent Barnabas, pre-vampire curse, and he’s a train wreck.
So I was wrong a couple months ago, when I said that 1795 was intended to be a moral reboot for Barnabas. It was silly of me to think that there was a moment in the story meetings when they said, “Let’s make Barnabas a more sympathetic character.” That’s not the way that soap writers think. “People aren’t rooting for the villain” is not a problem that they need to solve.
The problem, as of six weeks ago, was exactly the opposite. The audience loves the villain. But the 1967 storyline was running out of steam, and there was nowhere else for the story to go. The logical next step was to expose the vampire and destroy him, and that’s the one thing that they can’t do.
Clearly, it’s not a requirement for a show’s lead character to be a moral, upstanding citizen. There’s only one law in serialized narrative, and that law is: Don’t touch that dial.
Lead characters who make good choices are not just unnecessary; they’re counter-productive. Story is king, and flawed characters open up more story options to explore.
Anybody who talks about “sympathetic characters” is trying to make you watch bad television. There’s only one thing to do: Grab the remote, and RUN.
Tomorrow: But I Loved You, and Other Excuses.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Barnabas stumbles through his lines in his scene with Ben, coming up with reconstituted dialogue like “How much did she do of this?”
When Barnabas walks into Angelique’s room in the final scene, the door closes by itself behind him.
Tomorrow: But I Loved You, and Other Excuses.
— Danny Horn