“If you want to destroy someone, destroy me!”
So bat-bitten bad boy Barnabas Collins is upstairs dying, although it seems like more of an aerobic experience than you’d expect.
He’s standing at his bedroom door, calling for Josette. She’s already standing right next to him, so it’s not clear what else she can do to help. Apparently, this is what the show is like now, just sweating and yelling and chaos.
Barnabas can be an erratic conversationalist even at the best of times — but when he’s not feeling well, he just falls utterly to pieces.
Barnabas: Where is Josette? I heard her voice. I called to her!
Josette: I’m here! I’m here!
Barnabas: I called to her! Where is she?
Barnabas: Josette… Josette… where are you?
Josette: Barnabas, I’m here; I am Josette!
Barnabas: No… Josette is far away by now.
Well, then why the hell have you been yelling her name for the last five minutes? God damn, dying people are annoying. You don’t have a lot of time left. Are you, like, a hundred percent sure this is how you want to spend it?
The conversation continues along these lines for some time. Personally, I can’t get enough of it, and lucky for me, there’s plenty.
Josette: Yes, I’m here! It’s me! Don’t you recognize me?
Barnabas: Here? You mustn’t be here. You must go away from here…
Josette: Barnabas! What’s happened to you?
Barnabas: Soon, I will die.
Barnabas: Please… you must go away immediately.
Yeah, and then come back, so I can tell you to go away again. This could go on for weeks.
So, apparently, Barnabas has a bad case of Caretaker’s Syndrome, a rare and irritating malady that renders the sufferer entirely unable to have a rational conversation about anything.
Caretaker’s Syndrome can result in a variety of complications, including: you must go away, there is danger here, the dead must rest, and you must never come here.
If you or someone you know may be suffering from Caretaker’s Syndrome, please talk to your doctor about treatment options. And then go away, you must rest, and so on.
Anyway, in all the confusion, everybody piles into the sickroom. There’s Angelique, the evil witch who’s currently engaged in the process of transforming her husband into the living dead. And then there’s the Countess Natalie Du Prés, who’s even scarier.
Because, as much as Angelique wants to be a terrifying she-goddess of destruction, she still has to talk to people sometimes, and that’s Natalie’s strong area. The Countess can talk anybody into anything, just by raising an eyebrow or two.
Natalie demands to know what’s wrong with Barnabas, and why Angelique didn’t tell anyone that he was sick.
Angelique, backed into a corner, comes up with a brand new bonkers idea. She tells them that Barnabas has the plague.
I’m serious; that’s what she says. “The plague.” And then everybody acts alarmed.
So let’s run through a couple of historical facts about “the plague”, starting with: It never got anywhere near Maine in 1795.
In the 1340s and 1350s, bubonic plague spread through Europe like wildfire, killing off half the population — an estimated 75 million to 200 million people — in just seven years. Now, 75 million to 200 million is a pretty wide range for an estimate, which just goes to show how messed up life got in the mid 1300s. They couldn’t even count the number of bodies; anybody who tried would just fall over sometime around 3 million.
The last major outbreak in Europe was in Marseille, France, in 1720. It never touched America, except for a weird outbreak in San Francisco in 1900.
But this is the TV version of history, where everything that happened between cavemen and the Civil War is all mixed together, just a big mash-up called “the past”. We’ve already got the Salem witch trials of 1692 popping up a century too late, and now a medical diagnosis from the late Middle Ages. Next up: a visit from Caligula, Joan of Arc and a velociraptor.
Angelique doesn’t want them to call in a doctor, but Natalie says that they must, and that’s the end of that subject. Unfortunately, the doctor is just as useless as Dark Shadows doctors always are. They don’t even bother to give this one a name.
“At least he’s responsive to the se– the sedative I gave him,” the doctor says, stumbling over his very first line. He continues, “He’s sleeping soundly, but, uh — the re — at the moment, anyway.”
Now, I don’t know a lot about the casting process, but I’d say if the guy can only deliver one out of his first three sentences, you should probably say thanks and move on to the next candidate.
“Frankly,” the doctor says, “I’m at a loss to explain fully his condition,” which is ungrammatical but not a surprise.
Here’s what he knows: “Obviously, he’s been bitten by a rodent. A rat, probably. Always a hazard in a port town.”
Now, that may be true, but I bet even in a port town, you’d have a hard time finding a rat who could climb all the way up a guy’s body to bite him in the neck. That’s a pretty specialized rat skill.
Natalie asks how they’re going to treat Barnabas, and the doctor basically says he plans to take him out into the woods, cover him with leaves and try to forget.
“You must understand, Countess,” he says, “that much lies beyond the experience and education of my imperfect science.” Yeah, no kidding; especially in this town.
Obviously, nobody else in the room thinks that abandoning Barnabas on the side of the road is a good idea.
The doctor says they have to take precautions, but this is what Natalie is for.
Natalie: Before you begin to cry “plague”, you should have more evidence. This could be an isolated case, and it could remain isolated, here at Collinwood.
Doctor: Well, I… I’m not sure my ethics could allow such a risk.
Natalie: And what would happen to your reputation as a man of good and solid judgement, if you were to create havoc and terror in the town for no reason?
So the doctor caves, obviously, and Natalie thanks him for his sound decision.
Doctor: Well, the good of my client is gratitude enough, Countess.
Yeah, that’s great. They’re called “patients”, by the way. Not clients. Dumbass.
Then it’s off to the courthouse, where Josette meets with Vicki, who’s being put on trial for witchcraft. Josette has come to plead with Vicki, begging her to take away the curse she’s put on Barnabas.
Vicki stands up, strikes a pose and says, “You think I’m a witch, don’t you?”
Yes! Of course I do. Everyone thinks you’re a witch. You’re in jail right now because we all think you’re a witch. How is this not getting through to you yet?
But it’s a sweet scene, at least from Josette’s side. She’s ready to offer anything to spare Barnabas.
Vicki: But I can’t help! Don’t you understand, I’m not a witch. I’m not!
Josette: Please, Miss Winters! If you want to destroy someone, destroy me! Life is meaningless now, I have no hope!
That’s a desperately sad thing to say, obviously, but at least somebody in that relationship is willing to sacrifice something. Barnabas’ plans always involve murdering somebody. If they ever do get hitched, it’ll be a mixed marriage — selfish and unselfish.
And then, once again, Vicki does something desperately stupid.
Vicki: You must leave here. Go away at once. You’re in terrible danger.
Josette: That’s what Barnabas told me!
Vicki: I don’t know if you can change the past, but you must go away from here now.
Vicki: Because a terrible fate awaits you here — a terrible death. And it will be soon.
I mean, are you kidding me? Again, with this nonsense.
Vicki: In my room, there’s a book that I brought with me when I came here — it’s a history of the Collins family. You must find it, and read it. It tells what lies ahead. And perhaps, by some miracle, knowing it would change it.
So there you go; now the idiot governess is specifically trying to wreck history. She won’t be happy until she rips a huge gash in the fabric of space and time. It’s no wonder we’ve got Harriet Tubman freeing the Israelites during the Prohibition era. The world is broken. Victoria Winters has ruined us all.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Absolutely everything that the doctor says and does.
Behind the Scenes:
Regular blog commenter Joanne points out: “This combination of vampires and the plague reminds me of the classic movie Nosferatu. In both the original silent version and the brilliant 1979 remake the arrival of the ghastly Count Orlock from his native home in the Carpathian Mountains to the port city of Varna is accompanied by the arrival of the plague. The cause of the outbreak was the swarm of rats that had infested the ship in which Orlock had made his journey. So maybe that crackpot doctor that examined Barnabas was onto something with his ‘rats in the port city’ theory…” (That’s really cool. Thanks, Joanne!)
The doctor is played by Jack Stamberger, who spent ten years on the CBS soap opera Love of Life, which is fondly remembered by no one. Stamberger also made guest appearances on Kojak, The Rockford Files, Route 66 and One Potato, Two Potato. This is his only appearance on Dark Shadows, thank goodness.
— Danny Horn