“I would not let them be together in life… and they shall not be together in death.”
So far, there have been lots of surprises in the 1795 flashback storyline — some of them pleasant, and some not so much. I think the most disappointing surprise has been the characterization of Josette. She’s supposed to be the heart of the whole story, but as I’ve talked about this week, there’s not much there to hang on to.
Josette is basically just a spoiled rich girl. She never shows any real maturity, or makes any difficult decisions. She’s the blank slate that other characters write on — and not just the supernatural characters. There was that episode where Reverend Trask talked her into a weird, borderline-sexual exorcism ritual, and he didn’t use hypnosis. He just told her what he was going to do, and then he did it.
So, standing here at the precipice, the real tragedy is that Josette’s tragedy doesn’t feel like much of a tragedy. It’s the end of the girl as we know it, and I feel fine.
But let’s start, as always, with a box. Barnabas has ordered his servant, Ben, to build a second coffin.
Barnabas: The coffins must be ready tonight, Ben!
Ben: You still haven’t told me why.
Barnabas: I am leaving Collinwood, permanently.
Ben: But why do you need two coffins?
Barnabas: I will not be alone when I leave here. I will have Josette with me.
Ben: You mean — one ‘a these coffins is intended for Miss Josette?
Yes, obviously. How has this not come up before?
Now that Ben understands the plan, he’s against it. These two need to have a visioning session and get on the same page; these third-quarter conferences are slowing down productivity.
Things get heated, and Barnabas comes up with a lovely bit of Fridspeak.
Ben: You can’t go through with it, Mr. Barnabas! It’s wrong!
Barnabas: Don’t tell me what I can’t or can do!
I love that; you can always count on Barnabas to come up with something worth listening to. That’s why we love the guy, despite his many debilitating character flaws.
But Ben is making some good points here. I think he’s been going to Debate Club meetings.
Ben: You haven’t told her what’s going to happen to her! You haven’t told her about these, have you?
Barnabas: She will know when the time comes!
Ben: Aye, when it’s too late! After she’s died and come back, the same way you did!
Barnabas: It’s what she wants, Ben.
Ben: I don’t believe it! I don’t believe anyone would want a thing like that!
Now, to be fair to Barnabas, he’s tried to explain the situation to Josette several times in the last week. Every time, she says that she doesn’t care, and she’ll do absolutely anything to be with him forever. But Ben is right; she didn’t show up for a coffin fitting or anything. She hasn’t been fully briefed.
As usual, whenever there’s the slightest hitch in Barnabas’ schedule, he jumps straight to Plan A.
Barnabas: You’re forgetting, Ben, that you are my servant. You will do as I say!
Ben: You can’t make me do it if I don’t want to.
Barnabas: No, that’s true. I can’t. But there is something else I can do, Ben. I CAN KILL YOU!!!
And then he fastens himself onto Ben’s neck, and just keeps on shouting orders. This is a vampire management technique with a pedigree, going back at least as far as 1931, when Dracula threw Renfield down the stairs and killed him just for sassing back.
But Barnabas lets Ben go, because who else are you going to call if you need late-night coffin construction. Left alone, Ben comes up with his own plan, to go to Collinwood and warn Josette before it’s too late.
And then guess who shows up.
That’s right, it’s his old boss, Angelique. She was killed several weeks ago, but lately she’s been appearing as a floating head, still very much in charge of the situation.
Now, what’s going to happen from here is that Angelique is going to stage-manage the entire unfolding tragedy.
First, she keeps Ben in the shack and doesn’t let him warn Josette. Then she speaks to Josette in Barnabas’ voice, calling her to Widow’s Hill. She also calls to Barnabas in Josette’s voice — which he recognizes one of the witch’s tricks, but he still goes to Widow’s Hill anyway.
Finally, Angelique shows Josette a vision of herself as a vampire, and convinces her to commit suicide rather than become an undead ghoul.
So while they’re all occupied, let’s talk for a second about Tormented, a 1960 horror movie directed by Bert I. Gordon.
Tormented is about a jazz musician living on Cape Cod who’s planning to marry his wealthy fiancee, Meg, until his mean old girlfriend Vi shows up, and threatens to wreck the engagement.
They’re talking things over while standing at the top of a lighthouse, like you do, and when the railing snaps and Vi is hanging on by her jungle-red fingernails, Tom just stands there and lets her fall.
It’s a terrible movie, by the way, sentimental and weird and not very satisfying. The only reason I even know about it is because they riffed it on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. But this blog is my opportunity to put my deep knowledge of 1960s junk culture to some kind of use, so here it is.
Vi returns as a ghost to haunt Tom, and there’s a memorable floating head sequence.
Tom: It’s not my fault you’re dead!
Vi: Isn’t it?
Tom: I couldn’t have saved you!
Vi: Couldn’t you? Maybe you can make yourself believe that, but not me. I was there, remember? You had to shut me up so you could marry Meg.
And then she tells him how things are going to turn out.
Vi: I’ll never let you marry Meg. You belong to me, Tom. You belong to a ghost! What would you do if Meg gets wise to you? Stop her, the same way you stopped me?
And Tom does get increasingly desperate, “forced” to kill a beatnik who figures out what happened to Vi, and then “forced” to menace Meg’s little sister when she sees him murder the beatnik. It never occurs to him that other people have a right to live, even if it’s inconvenient for his current obstruction of justice.
So all of that feels pretty familiar. I don’t know if someone working on Dark Shadows remembered the floating head from Tormented; it’s possible that this sort of thing was just something that America had to work through in the 1960s. You murder someone, things spiral out of control, and pretty soon you’ve got floating blondes throwing their ectoplasmic weight around.
But from a narrative structure point of view, the strange thing about Angelique’s intervention is that it’s completely unnecessary.
In that first coffin scene, they already set up the only concept that they actually need in order to get Josette to jump — she doesn’t really understand what she’s going to become.
So if Angelique would butt out and just leave the lovebirds to it, things would probably work out the same anyway.
Here’s the alternate, Angelique-free synopsis for the episode: Barnabas appears to Josette, and takes her to the shack to see the finished coffins. He finally tells her that he’s one of the living dead, and when she hesitates, he starts over-explaining, telling her all about what he’s going to do, and how beautiful it’s going to be.
She’s horrified, and she runs from the shack, out to the cliff. He follows, she panics, and she goes over the edge.
That would actually be a tighter, and more directly “tragic” story — Josette isn’t killed thanks to the intervention of a ghostly puppeteer; she makes the decision herself, because Barnabas’ plan really is grotesque and inhuman.
So why do we need Angelique to step in and micromanage like this? Well, it does give them the opportunity for this visual treat — a vision of Josette post-rising, in her tattered, bloody gown and a moth-eaten appearance that says she just clawed her way up through the earth and hasn’t had the chance to find a hairbrush yet.
But I think there’s more to it than that. Just like in Tormented, the guilt-stricken guy’s relationship with the sweet, innocent fiancee is not the heart of the story. She’s just the prize that he’s fighting for. The real chemistry is between the guy and the crazy floating-head ghost lady. That’s what we’re actually here to see.
The key to becoming a classic soap opera supercouple is to keep splitting up and reuniting, finding your way back to each other despite every obstacle that gets in the way. But this is pretty much the end of the Barnabas and Josette story. We see a couple of scattered Josette’s-ghost cameos, and there’s a moment when it looks like Barnabas has found a girl who’s the reincarnation of Josette’s spirit, but it hardly lasts a week.
And you know who keeps coming back, time and again? Angelique. Across the centuries, cheating time and death and common sense, she always finds her way back into a primary place in Barnabas’ long and complicated existence. Barnabas and Angelique are a true Dark Shadows supercouple.
Josette, it turns out, is just one of the obstacles getting in the way, and as of about thirty seconds from now, she’s not going to be a problem anymore. I wonder what happens next?
Monday: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In act 2, when Josette is sitting on her bed talking about how good she feels, there’s a clear boom mic shadow right on the center of her forehead. The show breaks for commercial, and when they come back, the shadow is still there.
In the last couple seconds of the episode, the camera pulls back too far and you can see the studio lights.
Behind the Scenes:
In her book My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows, Kathryn Leigh Scott (who played Josette) wrote:
“I’m going to pause here a moment and confess to some deep feelings of inadequacy. When they passed out fangs, I didn’t get any. I did become a vampire but I wasn’t given proper fangs — bridgework that I could pop in and out like Jonathan [Frid, Barnabas] and Lara [Parker, Angelique]. I think the story caught us all off guard and no one thought ahead to send me to the dentist. But [makeup artist] Vinnie Loscalzo to the rescue. When the appropriate moment arrived, I’d duck off camera, quickly wipe my incisors dry and Vinnie would stand ready with eyelash glue to paste two false fingernails in place over my teeth. My upper lip held the ersatz fangs in place. Lara got to keep her fangs. She even got to wear them for a guest appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, but I’m not jealous. I am not jealous.”
Monday: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern.
— Danny Horn