“You will never rest, Barnabas… and you will never be able to love anyone… for whoever loves you will die!”
Angelique’s eyes flash, and she says, “You have made a great mistake, Barnabas!” and then the world turns upside down.
Because today is Curse Day! We’ve been on this uncertain and frightening journey into the past for two months, and it’s all been leading up to this. Which is weird, because Dark Shadows is a soap opera, and soap operas aren’t supposed to have “leading up to” moments.
Soap operas are the neverending stories, built to run five times a week for decades, with no long-term plan. A structure like that needs lots of overlapping A-stories and B-stories. An individual story thread might result in a status quo change — a character gets married, or gives birth, or gets arrested, or takes over the company. But those are just changes, not endings. There’s no “happy ever after”.
But Dark Shadows has done something that I think is entirely unique in the world of daytime soaps — they’ve created a little five-month bubble, which exists outside the normal ebb and flow of the show’s main story progression.
We’ll get back to the present-day story eventually, and this 1795 detour will be comprehensively strip-mined over the next three years to provide story points whenever the writers run dry. We’ll see Josette again, naturally, and lots of Angelique, but we’ll also see Peter, and Ben, and Reverend Trask, and Nathan, and Zombie Jeremiah, and practically everyone, in one form or another.
A couple years from now, when we look back at the 1795 trip, it’ll look like just a regular part of the ongoing soap opera story structure, rather than the radical, experimental hail-Mary pass that it was at the time. After a while, “returning to the 1960s” becomes just another status quo change.
But right now — smack in the middle of this Easter-egg bonus level — they get to do things that nobody else has ever done in an ongoing soap opera, namely: have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Outside the normal soap opera narrative rules, they can borrow a story structure from a whole other form of storytelling. I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll say this: it’s one of the two classic theatrical genres, and it’s not comedy.
So here’s the current state of play: Barnabas knows that his scheming wife, Angelique, is actually a merciless witch who’s been running a scorched earth campaign to win his love. She’s told him that if he tries to oppose her, she’ll kill Josette, the woman that he really loves.
But Barnabas is reckless and impulsive, and instead of playing it safe, he’s openly defying her — sneaking off to court Josette, and even hanging Josette’s portrait above the fireplace in the drawing room. This is where the not-comedy aspect really starts to kick in.
So we end up in the big dramatic confrontation that we always knew was coming.
Angelique: You have made a great mistake, Barnabas.
Barnabas: Mistake? I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Angelique: You tried to betray me, but you shan’t succeed!
You can tell they’re going for a big moment, because they’re using the word “shan’t”. Nobody ever says “shan’t” on their way to a peaceful family picnic.
Angelique: Do you think by sending Josette away, she will be safe? No, you’re wrong, Barnabas.
Barnabas: That remains to be seen.
The theremin music starts up. That’s never a good sign.
Angelique: I have more powers than you think. You don’t believe me? Look behind you. Go on, look!
He turns — and sees the portrait over the mantel begin to change before his eyes.
Oh, yes. They’re going there. In fact, they’re going to a “there” that we didn’t even realize was there.
He says that her trickery won’t help, because she doesn’t know where Josette is. Eyes still flashing on a regular rhythm, she says that she could force him to tell her.
In a lovely bit of dramatic, accidental Fridspeak, he declares, “Then you would be defeating your own purpose. Force me to do anything against my will, and I will never be what you wanted to me.”
That’s it; she’s had enough.
Angelique: Oh, Barnabas, you are a foolish man. Do you think by sending her away, you can prevent me from keeping you here? Oh, your Josette may be safe — but no one else is!
Barnabas: What do you mean?
Angelique: I’ll show you what I mean!
She runs upstairs, and Barnabas steps over to the box of loaded pistols which is sitting right out there on the hall table. This is actually the third murder weapon we’ve seen this week that Barnabas apparently keeps within easy reach, right by the front door.
But Angelique has weapons of her own, and she comes back downstairs with Sarah’s doll, which she’s used before as a voodoo fetish object. She sticks pins savagely into the doll’s chest, and says that Sarah is experiencing that pain right now.
Horrified, he reaches for a pistol, and…
He shoots, he scores!
Right in the left shoulder, which — as everyone knows — is a sorceress’ most vulnerable spot.
“Oh, Barnabas — what have you done?” she gasps, as she leans against the column and collapses to the ground.
Barnabas rushes over to pull the pins out of Sarah’s doll, but this isn’t the end of our little pocket melodrama.
Angelique: You didn’t do the job well enough, Barnabas! I am not dead yet! And while I can still breathe, I will have my revenge!
Angelique: I set a curse on you, Barnabas Collins! You wanted your Josette so much? Well, you shall have her! But not in the way that you would have chosen.
Angelique: You will never rest, Barnabas… and you will never be able to love anyone… for whoever loves you will die! That is my curse, and you will live with it — through all eternity!
And then she’s out. It’s one of the all-time great mic drops.
There’s the sound of shattering glass… and then this happens.
Monday: Unbreak My Heart.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Barnabas closes the music box and gives it to Josette, someone in the studio coughs.
There’s another nice chewed-up Fridspeak line during Barnabas’ confrontation with Angelique: “Now she is safe, and you have no way of telling me what to do, and I may leave as just as when I like.”
As Barnabas bends over the lifeless Angelique, you can see the shadow of a flapping bat wing on the chair behind him, before the bat has entered the house.
When Barnabas sinks to the ground with the marionette bat at his throat, the pole holding the bat’s wires is visible at the top right of the screen.
Monday: Unbreak My Heart.
— Danny Horn