“Why does the Devil always want to touch you?”
Yesterday, Barnabas moved back into his parents’ basement, which is a shame, because the last thing we need around here is a slacker vampire.
We’ve traveled all the way back in time to 1795, so we could witness the vampire’s backstory and give the writers some new storyline options. But now Barnabas’ girlfriend is dead in a fairly comprehensive way, and his new afterlife plan is to hide out in the cellar and hope that nobody walks downstairs.
At this point, the show needs to come up with something new. We’ve just spent three months investigating Barnabas’ past. What’s his future going to be?
Obviously, I’m not going to ask Barnabas that question, because he’s not very good at thinking ahead. Yesterday, he had an argument with Ben about his new living arrangements, Ben taking the perfectly sensible position that eventually somebody from the family is bound to turn up at the Old House.
“This house is deserted,” Barnabas insisted. “None of my family will visit it.”
And of course, by the end of the episode, mean old Aunt Abigail comes walking down the stairs. They might as well skip the intervening scenes, and just do a record-scratch sound effect, and cut to Barnabas being wrong.
While we’re heading downstairs, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate the basement set, which is simple and weird and perfect. The stone arches, the plaster chipping away to reveal faded bricks, the candles that stay mysteriously lit at all hours.
My favorite thing about this set is that length of chain that’s hanging, for no clear purpose, in the middle of the stairs. I can’t imagine what they’d use it for. Why would you want to chain something directly in the middle of the staircase? It would block the fire exit, for one thing.
Plus, this is Barnabas’ childhood home. What have they been getting up to down here?
Anyway, Abigail walks downstairs — and wouldn’t you know it, she’s just exactly on time to see her dead nephew rise from his coffin.
I’m not going to lie to you; she takes it pretty hard. Abigail has never been a particularly easy-going person, and this particular incident is not something that she’s going to shake off easily.
Did you ever have a relative who would save up a story of something shameful that you did, and then she brings it up every year during the holidays, like she’d never thought to mention it before? Imagine how Barnabas must feel. And he’s going to live forever, too; that’s a lot of Thanksgiving dinners to sit through.
Barnabas has his own unique spin on how to handle this awkward moment.
Barnabas: You thought you knew all about death, didn’t you? Well, you were wrong.
Abigail: You are dead!
Barnabas: Yes! But I am alive, too! No one ever told you that was possible, did they?
Apparently, he’s decided to play offense.
And obviously, because this is Barnabas Collins, he’s going straight for Plan A.
Abigail: Stay away from me!
Barnabas: Oh, I would if I could, Abigail. But you have made staying away from you impossible.
Yes, every time it looks like somebody’s about to inconvenience Barnabas, he decides that the best response is to murder them immediately. It’s the very first thing that he thinks of.
So if that’s already been decided, why is he playing with his food like this?
Abigail: I don’t understand!
Barnabas: It has taken this to make you say those words. You always thought you understood everything. I’m afraid the truth is that you didn’t know much about anything.
Okay. Dude. You’re about to murder her. Does she need the Myers-Briggs personality assessment?
But really, this whole scene is wish-fulfillment for the audience. Abigail is a sanctimonious, meddlesome troublemaker, who’s constantly offering unsolicited critiques of everyone around her.
Now, as a member of the Dark Shadows audience, I actually like Abigail a lot, because she always says interesting things, and anyway, her suspicions are almost always correct. But yes, if she was a real person, I’d want to see her put in her place. I don’t know if that would necessarily involve getting her throat torn out — I’d probably be satisfied with not seating her at the main table at family functions — but she’s certainly been asking for something.
The conversation degenerates into an argument, where she tries to fit this experience into some kind of framework that she can understand.
First, she thinks that he’s not really dead — he was just enchanted by the witch. Then she decides he must be possessed, and offers to get Reverend Trask to perform an exorcism. Finally, she lands on the idea that he’s not even standing there.
Abigail: No! No! The witch just wants to terrify me! You — are a vision!
Barnabas: If you think I am a vision, then touch me.
Abigail: The Devil is testing my faith!
Barnabas: TOUCH ME!
She does. He’s not a vision.
And then the scene just keeps on going, into some full-contact recap about who the witch really was, and whether Barnabas is under her control, and so on.
This is what happens when you try to do an Edgar Allen Poe-style suspense thriller within the format of an afternoon soap opera episode. They’re paying Clarice Blackburn to get killed by a vampire today, and she’s not leaving until she’s filled up six minutes of air time. So the dialogue starts to veer off on strange tangents.
Abigail: Oh! Stay away from me, you Devil! Don’t touch me!
Barnabas: Why does the Devil always want to touch you? I’m sure you’re as wrong about him as you are about Miss Winters.
Then he kills her, just by looking at her. He looks her in the eye and bares his fangs, and she dies of heart failure, right there against the wall.
And this is the answer — the thing that the writers have been trying to figure out for the last three months.
This is what Barnabas Collins is. He’s Godzilla.
Barnabas is an engine of pure destruction — stomping on everything he sees, breathing fire and knocking over skyscrapers. The world that he came from is gone; he has nothing left to lose.
In his first movie in 1954, Godzilla was a horrifying nuclear-age monster, stomping through Tokyo as a cinematic re-enactment of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was a punishment, sent to remind everyone not to mess around with atomic bombs. At the end of the movie, Godzilla chokes to death underwater and then disintegrates, and everyone cheers.
But people liked him. At a certain scale, larger-than-life monsters become more exciting than scary. So he revived, for one sequel after another, and it wasn’t long before Godzilla was the “hero” monster, defending the people of Japan from the “villain” monsters.
That’s the path that Barnabas is on now. His personal war is over; he’s died, and come back to life. Now he exists in order to stomp on all the other monsters.
Today, he’s taking care of Abigail, and in the coming weeks, he’ll take on Reverend Trask, Nathan Forbes, and all of the Big Bads who present themselves over the next few years.
It really wasn’t that long ago that Barnabas was plotting to kill a child. That version of the character ends here. From now on, like Gamera the giant fire-breathing turtle, Barnabas is a Friend to All Children.
Barnabas Collins is never going to be sympathetic; he’s a weapon of mass destruction. You don’t worry about whether Godzilla’s going to meet someone nice and settle down. You just point him at the next giant monster, and pull the trigger. Good luck, Tokyo; it was nice knowing you.
Tomorrow: Law of the Jungle.
— Danny Horn