“I have feelings, Ben. I can hate. And I can do something about that hate.”
Henchmen. Right? It’s a complicated relationship.
Barnabas wakes up today and climbs out of his coffin, and the first thing he says is, “Good evening, Ben. Did you see Trask today?” That’s the kind of boss he is. Not a lot of small talk, just straight to business.
He’s got that smile on his face today that means that he’s got an exciting new project to work on, namely: murdering Reverend Trask, the lunatic witch-hunter. Barnabas always needs some violent crime to focus on; otherwise, he just gets moody and hangs around the basement all night.
But this week, time-traveling governess Victoria Winters has been found guilty of witchcraft, and sentenced to hang. Barnabas wants to do something to help Vicki — or, at least, he says that he does. He doesn’t really give it a lot of thought.
But Ben is determined to spoil everything.
Ben: You better just leave well enough alone. Make him leave Collinsport, if you want. Send him running back to Salem.
Barnabas: And let him find another innocent girl to prosecute?
Ben: It’s no business of ours what he does after he’s left here.
Barnabas: I’m making it my business!
So it’s tough on Barnabas. Here he is, clearly trying to rebrand himself as the Protector of Innocent Girls, and all Ben can do is try to talk him out of it.
Barnabas tries to explain his vision for the master plan.
Barnabas: He will come here out of his own curiosity. One night, he will have a dream — a nightmare! And he will be compelled to come here. Yes. That’s what it will be.
He walks over to an alcove that’s conveniently appeared in the wall, just in time for this new project.
“You will get a large brass ring,” he says, “big enough to tie someone’s hands to, and you will place it here.” He indicates a spot at the top of the alcove.
This is delivered very casually, as if it’s super easy to find a brass ring that’s big enough to tie someone’s hands to.
Barnabas: Bricks will be needed… enough to wall in this space. Mortar, of course. You will bring it here as soon as you can, and you will make certain that no one sees you coming in the house.
So this is what Ben’s life is lke now, just doing Home Depot runs for a serial killer.
But he can’t do it. Not again.
Ben: I ain’t gonna help you on this.
Barnabas: Of course you are!
Ben: No, no. I can’t, I’ve — I’ve seen as much killin’ as I can stomach!
And look at Barnabas. He’s still smiling.
And the truly weird thing — among the many, many weird things about Dark Shadows — is that this could hardly be more out of touch with the spirit of the times.
It’s February, 1968. This episode was recorded the week that the Beatles traveled to India to study Transcendental Meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Reverend that everyone’s talking about is Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who’s organizing the Poor People’s Campaign, and demanding that the American government invest 30 billion dollars in affordable housing and anti-poverty efforts. This is the era of “All You Need Is Love”.
But not on Dark Shadows, where the main character is standing in a dungeon and discussing his plans to assassinate a Reverend.
Ben: You’re beginning to think you can get away with anything. You ain’t got no feelings about anything any more.
Barnabas: Oh, I have feelings, Ben. I can hate! And I can do something about that hate.
And yet the show literally could not be more popular right now. A March 1968 poll found that Dark Shadows had the highest Q rating among females aged 12-34 — in that group, 46 percent said that Dark Shadows was one of their favorite shows. For the population as a whole, DS was tied for first place with Bewitched, which is basically the same show but with a laugh track.
So I’m not completely sure how that’s possible. Across the country, millions of young women — many of them wearing tie-dyed shirts and peace sign buttons — would turn on the television every afternoon, to watch this daily dose of gleeful sadism. It’s like the young people of America needed an outlet to express their dark side — the hate and fear and frustration that goes along with watching the slow progress of the civil rights movement, and the hideous, endless Vietnam War.
Because it’s not all sunshine and Transcendental Meditation sessions in the spring of 1968. The Tet Offensive is in full swing. Reverend King is assassinated in April, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy in June.
When Ben says, “I’ve seen as much killin’ as I can stomach,” the audience must have been feeling some resonance with the carnage that they’re seeing every night on the news. There’s a culture war going on in America, a clash between the idealistic young people and the parents, police and Presidents maintaining the status quo. This is an ongoing national referendum that’s literally about whether people naturally tend towards “Love” or “Hate”.
You could claim that Ben is supposed to be the audience identification character here, pleading for non-violence and a respect for human life. But if the audience really couldn’t stand watching Barnabas killing somebody on screen practically every week… then why are we watching this?
Because we’re obviously on the side of darkness. Standing in the basement, Barnabas makes a big speech about Trask hurting innocent young women, and then he goes outside and hurts innocent young women.
But Dark Shadows isn’t a show that gives easy answers — at least, not anymore. This used to be a show about Good People and Bad People, where the virtuous struggled against the irredeemable. Now it’s just a mess of contradictions and overlapping hypocrisies.
The show invites the viewers to choose up sides in battles where everyone is in the wrong — zealots, murderers, schemers and collaborators. The war between Barnabas and Reverend Trask is just as reckless and confusing as any of the conflicts playing out in the news.
Dark Shadows is the secret history of 1968. These are the nightmares of the nation.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Barnabas is wearing a gold pinky ring on his left hand at the beginning of the show; you can see it clearly when he closes the coffin lid.
When Ben leaves Barnabas in the cellar, he walks up the short flight of stairs leading off of the set. The camera is in the wrong place, so we catch a glimpse of Ben walking down the other side of the fake stairs.
There are a couple dialogue anachronisms today, which I know about thanks to the Dark Shadows Wiki entry: Maude uses the word “spiffy”, which wasn’t used until 1853. Nathan tells Maude that she should go to the police, but that use of the word was uncommon in the 1790s; he’d be more likely to tell her to make a report to the constable.
Behind the Scenes:
This episode is Craig Slocum’s first appearance on the show. Slocum appears in 17 Dark Shadows episodes, first as Noah Gifford and then as Mrs. Johnson’s son in 1968. Slocum had an undistinguished career before and after DS. He’s got one stage credit on IBDb, as Second Orderly in a 1953 production of End as a Man, whatever that was. He also appeared in an educational short for teens called Is This Love?, which was mocked in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode — here’s the MST clip.
Maude Browning was played by Vala Clifton in three episodes. She’s terrible. I have no idea what else she ever did.
Bob O’Connell plays the Eagle bartender for the last time today. We’ve seen him a lot as the Blue Whale bartender, but this is his last appearance for a while. He’ll rejoin the series sometime around the 900s.
— Danny Horn