Episode 402: Plan A

“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.

402 dark shadows grin barnabas

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.

402 dark shadows poison barnabas

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.

402 dark shadows sneaky barnabas

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?

402 dark shadows possible angelique barnabas

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?

402 dark shadows spree barnabas naomi angelique

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.

402 dark shadows knife barnabas

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.

402 dark shadows weapons barnabas

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.

402 dark shadows bad idea barnabas

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.

402 dark shadows strike barnabas

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

29 thoughts on “Episode 402: Plan A

  1. IT is not a question of feeling sympathy for Barnabas as noting that the fails the Three Stooges test : “How different things would be if Curly, Larry, and Moe were in charge?” If the answer is “Not at all” do not waste time making moral judgements. Get out of there fast before the next explosion.

    Sometimes I think that Barnabas is the Fourth Stooge.

    1. Ha — yes, exactly. I think the stronger characters on the show all make terrible decisions, but for different reasons. Julia thinks she’s smarter than everyone else, Angelique acts entirely on impulse, Quentin thinks he can alternately bully and charm everyone into doing what he wants.

      But Barnabas just makes terrible decisions because he’s a terrible decision-maker. He calmly and thoughtfully reviews the situation, and then comes up with a terrible answer. His brain is wired all wrong. I think that explains the Fridspeak, too.

      1. Which makes his search for a cure for vampirism a bit futile. Vampire or human, he still makes lousy decisions, and he still thinks that killing someone is the solution to all his problems. And he is still a disaster waiting to happen…

        1. Yeah, for sure. By the way, it’s very much thanks to you that I was thinking about Barnabas’ bad choices; I’m really glad that you’ve been pointing it out as we go on.

          I just revised the ending of this entry to specifically recant my use of the phrase “moral reboot” a couple months ago. Stay tuned for next month, when I’ll retract the retraction.

          1. On the other hand, it is, if not a retcon, a reappraisal of the 1967 storyline. When we have to wonder if what Barnabas did then was because he was a vampire, or just because he was Barnabas Collins, doing what comes naturally.

  2. Of course, if there is any sense in your head, it might help to remind yourself that Trask is still in town, that Abigail was suspicious of Angelique before, and try to get them to your side. But then that would mean admitting to them that they were right, and he was wrong. Who knows, even make them consider the possibility that Vicky was a dupe, deluded by the real witch…

    That is, if you have a working head on your shoulders. If you are not Barnabas Collins, who was cursed from birth to make wrong decisions at all times.

    (I had to write fan fiction in which someone finally asks him “was stupidity part of your curse, or did you come upon it on your own?”)

    1. I’m guessing that infamous Collins pride – you know, the one that led to him shooting his uncle in the face and which he no doubt inherited from his father – is also to blame here.

      And the knocking-sherry-out-of-hands bit is fantastic. I had to pause the episode for a few seconds to make sure I wasn’t watching Three’s Company by accident.

      1. “I’m guessing that infamous Collins pride – you know, the one that led to him shooting his uncle in the face and which he no doubt inherited from his father – is also to blame here”
        I agree with you Barnabas has some of that inflated pride and sometimes can be cold like Joshua. He still has a different personality but there are a few traits that come out like Inflated pride or being cold particularity toward Angelique, granted she does some nasty things herself, so she is hard to warm up too…

  3. Starting with 1795, the audience’s sympathies are directed toward Barnabas, but, yes, he’s not necessarily a sympathetic character. He’s basically no longer a villain of, strictly speaking, an antagonist.

    He technically stops being the antagonist in episode 291 — he becomes the villainous protagonist with a clear goal (cure himself, marry Victoria). Part of the issue with the storyline prior to Julia’s arrival is there is no real protagonist to pit against Barnabas’s antagonist. Whose happy ending is he opposing? Arguably Joe and Maggie’s but they aren’t fleshed out enough for it to resonate, as it does when Nicholas Blair destroys Joe so he can get Maggie.

    The Dream Curse storyline suffers because there is no strong protagonist. What does Barnabas want? To not be a vampire (but he’s already human). What are the stakes? (Forgive the pun.) Vicki clearly doesn’t love Barnabas only Jeff (inexplicably). And the antagonist’s plan is absurd. It picks up when Blair arrives and actually does things. He has high-stakes plans and goals.

    Barnabas and Julia, as a team, are interesting, active and involved protagonists starting with Quentin’s ghost and through the rest of the series.

    1795 is a tragedy with Angelique as villain protagonist (she has goals).

  4. That ‘evil elixir’ that Barnabas has conveniently laying around the house seems to further support Sam Hall’s original concept that Barnabas has actually dabbled a little in the ‘dark arts’ as a result of his Barbados expedition and social networking with the warlock he met there.

  5. “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.”

    Your words are true here, it was foolish to use poison with sherry when your mother is around.

    1. That makes be think of a bit in one of the Thin Man movies when Nora is looking for Nick so she shakes a martini. The maid asks how she got him to come home. She says “This is a martini. He is Mr. Charles. They are bound to come together.”

  6. Danny, your blog is so enjoyable to read. It’s probably the only blog I’ve read that makes me consistently laugh out loud. It’s wonderful – thank you!

  7. The best TV shows are the ones for people who aren’t looking for surrogate family or friends. No one would want Walter White or Tony Soprano as a father or husband, and consider yourself blessed if none of your friends are like the characters on Seinfeld. Dark Shadows, when it’s done properly, is about people who are fun to watch, but whom you wouldn’t want anywhere within a million mile radius of your real-life loved ones.

  8. “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.” That line just about killed me. It’s so very, sadly true.

    Nevertheless… I think there has been some moral reboot work here. I was getting pretty thoroughly turned off by Barnabas-the-sociopath before we got to 1795 (and I’m one whose list of reasons for watching this show at all begins with “Barnabas is so hot”, so if I’d had about enough of the creep, that’s saying quite a bit). I’ve noticed a lot of signs that this Barnabas is kinder and more ethical than vampire-Barnabas (I haven’t seen the rest of the series yet, so I’m just going by developments up through this episode). Vampire-Barnabas is an insufferable class snob; 1795 Barnabas is teaching Ben to read and trying to help Vicki Winters. In fact, Ben keeps talking about how nice Barnabas has been to him — surely it’s not an accident that they’ve dropped that into the dialogue at least 3 times. Vampire-Barnabas lies non-stop without compunction; 1795 Barnabas can be suckered into marriage in part because he believes in honoring his promises. Obviously, 1795 Barnabas has “issues,” and his decision-making skills are quite lacking in every era, but he’s more of a flawed and somewhat immature human being than a complete creep. Whether the writers went this way because they didn’t want housewives to lose interest or because it makes for a more interesting character, I don’t know, but the difference seems too clear to be an accident.

  9. You nailed Naomi with this comment: “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.” Lol, she does like her sherry. Even Joshua pointed that out a few episodes ago.

  10. Honestly give Barnabas a break. In 1795 he has his true love taken from him by his best friend. His response is typical for his class and time. He is definitely the noblest Collins, defending Vicki and Ben. Even keeping his word to Angelique. As far as trying to kill her now, that too makes sense. She is evil and he’s trying to settle the score.

    As for modern Barnabas, he’s got a right to be pissy. He got cheated out of his human life even though he tried to do the right thing by everyone. Now he’s looking out for #1.

  11. I’m sorry but I don’t understand why Barnabas trying to kill Angelique is a bad idea at this point. To date, Angelique has: destroyed his relationship with Josette and Jeremiah, turned his father into a cat, almost killed his sister, raised his brother from the dead, forced Ben to be her henchman, and framed an innocent woman. She is crazy nutball with super powers, and already came close to killing Barnabas. His long term survival prospects aren’t good, unless he does something fast. What is he suppose to do, go to Abigail or Trask? Oh, please! When has either one demonstrated any ability to stop a witch? Yeah, they suspect a witch but have otherwise been spectacular failures.

  12. Barnabas raises a logical point with Angelique – whether or not you should raise logical points in soap opera – but he asks, “Did [Josette] fall in love, or was she under a spell?” I mean, if Angelique wants people to believe that Vicki is the real witch, then anything weird that has happened since Vicki (and Angelique) turned up at the Old House might be due to magic, including Josette and Jeremiah hooking up and afterward saying they can’t explain why they did it.

    Speaking of logic….

    Barnabas: Angelique, what do you think love is?

    Angelique: Oh, you know what I think it is.

    Barnabas: Do you?

    Huh? He logically should have responded, “Do I?” but I guess we’re not being logical today. I wonder if maybe Lara screwed up her line, but I can’t come up with what she could have said to prompt his comeback.

  13. Danny: “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.” Au contraire on that last point, good sir:

    1. Although Barnabas is far from perfect, I think many of us females would’ve been more than happy to have Barnabas over for a cookout. Maybe this is stating the obvious, but given the horde of love-struck female fans (including yours truly), his good looks and suave, cultured gentlemanly manner was surely A factor in wanting him onscreen! Yeah, those handsome “bad boys” can always bring in the chicks. Had Barnabas looked like Max Schreck’s vampire in “Nosferatu”, then DS probably wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long as it did. 😉

      1. “Had Barnabas looked like Max Schreck’s vampire in “Nosferatu”, then DS probably wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long as it did.” Notforustwo! 😉

  14. What an outstanding set of blog posts above and a spirited discussion from top to bottom! Absolutely love this blog! I always know that Danny is going to drop at least two ROFL’s per recap summary and that I am going to come away from the experience with a whole new perspective.

    I always view things from the director/actor prism and this turn of events (with Barnabas having confirmed that Angelique is the witch) allows Frid, the actor, to be able to act all morally repugnant towards her and the devastation she has wrought on the Collins Family in six short weeks. There is some real flourish and gravitas to Barnabas in these scenes. I look at Frid struggling so with his lines and I think of my actors when we are in those challenging rehearsals when they first go off book and how difficult (and long) those rehearsals are as they are constantly having to call for lines. When the script is finally and truly behind them, that’s when an actor is really able to take flight and own a role and a scene. These guys are having to meat grinder stuff out each and every day and Frid, particularly, seems frustrated when he has to search the camera for meaning and prompts. He is very much an actor’s actor and probably appreciates things like “through lines” and “operative words” and correct blocking maneuvers. The show kind of carries him away sometimes. He is probably constantly thinking to himself, “If only I had more time, I could nuance this so much better.”

    Alas, alack, there’s always another commercial break coming in the next 5 minutes.

    And, of course, his having to do things like pour out deadly concoctions for his newlywed bridge, and then later attempt a late-night bed stabbing…….well, that’s enough to put any Stanislavski or method actor at sixes and sevens.

    At one point, Barnabas actually runs his finger down the side of the blade to test it for sharpness, I suppose. We’ve seen how he handles guns in past episodes. I really think we need to keep any kind of weapon as far away from this actor as possible.

    Danny: both the sea lion and Clue references. Well, once again, you send me.

  15. I must also respectfully disagree with Danny. I do think we see a “moral reboot” of Barnabas in these early 1795 episides. Like Karen and Ed, I see pre-vampire Barnabas as a flawed human being who exercises bad judgment at times, but as basically a decent man who tries to do the right thing. His bitterness over the way life has “rewarded” him for his good intentions by turning him into an undead monster explains his later amoral character. However, even in the pre-1795 episodes, we saw glimpses of his repressed softer side: his loneliness, his centuries-old longing for Josette, and his love for his sister Sarah.

  16. Enhancing Barnabas’ “moral development,” even as a vampire, will be his continued opposition to Reverend Trask, and, later, Lieutenant Forbes, who is going to turn bad very soon. Pitting a monster against totally unsympathetic characters (as in a “heel” vs. “heel” professional wrestling match, in which fans will root for the less odious of the two) ensures viewers’ siding with the monster. Now,1795 Barnabas will still commit ruthless, indefensible actions against innocent people, but we won’t mind him treating the Trasks and the Forbes of the world in the same way. Similarly, even though most viewers objected to Barnabas’ killing a sympathetic character like Dr. Woodard, I don’t think many of them shed tears when he had earlier dispatched Jason McGuire.

  17. “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.“

    Thank you for this, Danny. As a romance writer who sometimes gets reviewers complaining about the protagonist’s dumb decisions, I needed to hear this. A protagonist who does everything smart and right, leaves us with no story, or a really boring one!

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