Episode 449: Something Nasty in the Woodshed

“Strange things may happen. Ignore them.”

This week, Joshua Collins has learned that his dead son, Barnabas, has returned from the grave as a vicious undead serial killer, and he’s made a vow to do something about it. And this is how desperate Joshua has become — he’s willing to suggest a team-up with the Countess Natalie Du Prés, who he doesn’t even like that much.

But things have become pretty flexible, here in the dying days of the 1795 storyline.  They don’t have a lot of characters left, what with all the dying, so it’s hard to even get a decent bridge game going, much less a ritual of summoning.

So suddenly Natalie has the power to pray to a candle, sending out a psychic distress call to attract any passing occult-identified day-players. This is why we have a migrant witches problem.

449 dark shadows concern natalie joshua

We’ve only got a couple more weeks here in the 18th century, and then it’s back to the future. For a soap opera, this is a very unusual structure  — soaps don’t usually have a hard-stop deadline, where every current storyline has to wrap up so that we can move on to the next thing.

By this point, we’re down to three dangling story threads, and the writers are trying to find ways to make them all connect up. The three stories are: Joshua’s attempt to uncurse Barnabas, Nathan’s plot to get control of Millicent’s fortune, and — to a lesser degree, because who cares — Vicki’s impending execution for witchcraft.

449 dark shadows team-up joshua natalie

So Joshua reaches out to the Countess, because time is money, and this curse isn’t going to break itself. It actually works pretty well to give Natalie some familiarity with the occult — she’s been dabbling with tarot cards since the first day we met her, although that seemed more like an idle-rich eccentricity than any claim to power.

Like any retcon, this requires a bit of a leap in logic — if Natalie knew how to place a black-magic service call, why didn’t she do it a month ago, when she knew that Josette was in danger? But whatever.

449 dark shadows ancestor

Anyway, their planning session at the Old House is interrupted by a bit of outside interference. There’s a gust of wind over by the fireplace, where they’ve hung the portrait of random ancestor #12. The candles blow out…

449 dark shadows portrait angelique

And the portrait changes, becoming an image of Angelique. This may be Dark Shadows’ first completely successful Chromakey effect. They tried a similar trick a couple weeks ago, when a skull appeared in Reverend Trask’s mirror, but the edges didn’t quite match. Here, they’ve found a way to line the shots up perfectly, and they use lighting effects in the center of the image to draw attention away from the edges. They’ve finally figured this out; it’s a nice milestone in the series’ visual development.

Plus: Angelique has a portrait! It’s brand new, and a lovely surprise. This is how you know that Angelique is going to continue to be a power player on the show — they wouldn’t bother painting a picture of her if they were planning to leave her behind when they head back to the 1960s.

449 dark shadows old house joshua natalie

So that’s all well and good, although honestly this episode is a bit of a letdown after the amazing character-developing confrontations on Monday and Tuesday. The problem with this “removing the curse” sequence is that there aren’t any rules that the audience can understand.

Ideally, curing Barnabas should be based on some character-based choice, like for instance: Joshua has to sacrifice something that he loves in order to save Barnabas. In a pinch, they could even use some kind of occult-technobabble countdown clock, like they have to collect the following objects by midnight.

449 dark shadows ritual natalie joshua

But everything about this situation is left super vague — Natalie’s going to put out some kind of psychic signal, which might bring somebody here who can help.

So Angelique’s opposition to the plan is equally shrouded in vague, which is why she only needs to show up in portrait form. She doesn’t really have anything to fight, so making the picture appear is just a signal that says: hey, I’m still part of this storyline. Text me when you figure out what the hell you’re trying to do.

449 dark shadows tower millicent nathan

Meanwhile, in the B-plot, Nathan is working on his scheme to get Millicent’s money. He’s guessed that Barnabas is the vicious killer who’s been choking women, and that he’s hidden upstairs in the tower room. So he convinces his new bride that she needs to go up to the tower room, just to see what happens.

This is a way higher level of skullduggery than we’ve seen from Nathan before. We know that he’s a gold-digger and a skirt-chaser, but up until now, he was basically a friendly sort. He testified against Vicki at her trial, because Trask was threatening his career, but at least he pretended to feel bad about it. He’s suddenly graduated from scoundrel to psychopath in the last two days.

449 dark shadows latch millicent

So Millicent walks upstairs, and straight into harm’s way. Joshua really should have thought about putting a lock on this door. There’s just a latch, and it’s on the outside of the door, which is only helpful if you built the room with the intention of locking somebody in there. What is the matter with this family?

449 dark shadows shadow millicent

As Millicent enters the room, we get a really nice visual set piece. We see her shadow, as she looks around…

449 dark shadows attack millicent barnabas

And then hands reaching out to grab her, in the grand bonkers Universal Monsters tradition…

449 dark shadows attack millicent barnabas shadow

And he’s upon her, and she screams. It’s beautiful.

449 dark shadows bite barnabas millicent 1

When we come back from the commercial break, there’s another of Barnabas’ “I have no choice but to do something terrible to you” discussions, followed by the inevitable vampire attack. Jonathan Frid has gotten really good at this, giving us a nice long look at the fangs as he dives in.

449 dark shadows bite barnabas millicent 2

Check it out, he really goes nuts.

449 dark shadows bite barnabas millicent 3

There you have it. A true professional.

449 dark shadows candle joshua natalie

Meanwhile, Natalie and Joshua have set up in the drawing room with a candle and a dream. It’s a funny use of magic, basically the same thing as making a wish. They’re sending a prayer out into the universe, and hoping for an express delivery from DeusExMachina.com.

449 dark shadows door bathia mapes

And then — more spectacle! Look at how many visual set pieces they’re doing today. They used to space these out a lot more; I don’t know if we’ve ever had so many different visual surprises in an episode.

But here we’ve got the typical door-slamming-open trick, plus wind and lightning and blowing leaves. I’m kind of amazed they’ve held off on the smoke machine today; they would have been well within their rights to blow a little mist around.

449 dark shadows collinwood bathia mapes

But look what happens when you broadcast psychic messages. You never quite know who’s going to turn up; you just roll the dice and hope that you get something good. In this case, they get Bathia Mapes, and life will never be the same again.

Tomorrow: Scary Godmother.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

There’s a lot of candles-blowing-out scenes today, and they’re still trying to perfect that technology. In the Old House, just before Angelique’s portrait appears, the light dims after the candles go out. In the drawing room before Natalie’s ritual, they overcompensate in the other direction, dimming the lights before she blows out the last candle.

It’s also not clear what happens to the candle that Millicent brings into the tower room. She’s holding a candle when she unlatches the door, but the next shot is the shadows sequence, and the only light source is behind her.

At the end of act 2, when Millicent and Nathan are talking at the drawing room window, there’s the sound of knocking just before the last line.

Tomorrow: Scary Godmother.

449 dark shadows double natalie joshua

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

16 thoughts on “Episode 449: Something Nasty in the Woodshed

  1. “The three stories are: Joshua’s attempt to uncurse Barnabas, Nathan’s plot to get control of Millicent’s fortune, and — to a lesser degree, because who cares — Vicki’s impending execution for witchcraft.”

    And that’s what I find so interesting: There is an element of dramatic irony to the first two storylines because the audience, if they’ve been watching longer than the 1795 flashback, know how they resolve: Barnabas is obviously neither cured nor killed. How he is chained in his coffin is also less of a mystery now that Joshua has discovered his secret. Yet I was on the edge of my seat when I first watched this episode. When the audience knows how something will end but is still rooting for a different outcome, that’s the best possible narrative illusion.

    There is some suspense as to Millicent’s fate, but once she signed her money over to Daniel, it’s clear that Nathan’s larger goals will fail: Look around, there’s no one left to carry on the Collins name but Daniel, so he’s safe.

    That leaves us with the final story point: Vicki’s execution for witchcraft. And, yet, we don’t care. It’s the one plot whose resolution is actually uncertain: It’s possible that Vicki could die in the past and never return to the present. But we have lost all interest in our theoretical protagonist.

    1795 is basically the end of Vicki Winters as an active character on DARK SHADOWS. She’ll remain clueless and in the dark until her departure later in the year. I think a decision was made to not involve her to directly in the larger Barnabas storyline because she couldn’t learn he was vampire, which meant she’d return to 1968 having learned nothing — and oddly enough, she is still treated as if she had learned his secret.

  2. I know the show is now under the gun to provide constant thrills to keep the growing audience watching BUT there comes a time where any sort of explanation for any of the events happening gets tossed out the window – they ‘sort of’ explained how Barnabas acquired some of his mystical talents and I can sort of accept that. But now we’re supposed to believe that Natalie has supernatural abilities as well? And yet she had no clue that Angelique was practicing black magic after all the years Angelique worked for the DuPres family? This is really where the show starts to border on the ridiculous. This is what I would call ‘Narrative Contrivance’. It reminds me of ‘Gilligans Island’ where after the first season (which was somewhat logical in portraying the situation of surviving on a desert island) the castaways suddenly acquired new wardrobes, a full line of cosmetics, perfumes and jewels for the ladies, and suitcases full of cash for millionaire Mr Howell. We were supposed to believe that all of these things were brought aboard the boat for a ‘three hour tour’.

    1. Ah, but in Gilligan’s island the explanation is simple. The boat sank, and they all died. They are now in the afterlife. That’s why they cannot leave the island…

      And Gilligan is the Devil!!!

    2. Natalie’s occult interest has been alluded to previously by both Trask and, I think, Abigail. It was believable to me that she could summon someone to help while not having a clue how to actually remove the curse itself.

      Also, I thought it was a great social commentary for Natalie to have never suspected Angelique. In a previous episode, when someone raises the possibility, she dismisses it because Angelique was an “uninteresting child” and witchcraft might have made her “interesting.” Natalie looks down at the commoner and that is the blindspot Angelique exploits, which allows her to hide in plain sight. She does this with Josette and even Forbes, when she plays the ingenue.

      It is Victoria who lacks the intelligence for skullduggery. She draws attention to herself, alienates possible allies (Forbes), and seems oblivious to how her actions might appear to others. Some of this is in character — she might have never developed social interaction skills in a foundling home.

      BTW, it is disappointing that Angelique as Cassandra loses all her savviness and manages to have the entire population of Collinwood detest her within hours of meeting her. Much of her previous skill in manipulating people is transferred to Nicholas.

      1. Very points here Vickie could have use Nathan help before he went to the other side. And Angelique does play better than Cassandra at doing these things but by the time you get to Cassandra both Barnabas and Vickie know who she is so its harder for her to do the same things.

        1. Yes, that’s what I thought would be interesting — Vicki had left the hostile world of 1795 where everyone had turned against her for the most part and returned to the comfort of modern-day Collinwood. I would have enjoyed seeing Angelique, as Cassandra, rip away that comfort and turn others against Vicki, who many thought had hallucinated her trip the past in the first place. There was a scene when Cassandra says that she and Roger had discussed the “casual” approach Vicki had to David’s education. This was a lie (I don’t think a conversation had took place) but it highlighted that in theory, Cassandra would have been Vicki’s boss, but she seemed to wield no power over her.

  3. Also another thing that bothered me about this episode is that after Barnabas savagely attacks Millicent she pretty much goes about her business as usual. So all the terror we should be feeling is for nothing.

    1. Yes, they were wildly inconsistent as to the effects of Barnabas’ feeding. On the other hand, victims do tend to survive (notice that the only deaths that happen in this time period are those who know too much or with whom he has a grievance – and later in 1968, when Trask catches up with him, they are the only ones who are there), which means that “driven to kill” is nonsense, and he kills because he wants to. And that he already had the mindset as a human…

      1. You know, as Danny points out, they are using vampirism as a metaphor, either of sex or of addiction, and thus they never considered it per se and tried to get some basic ground rules for it. Later shows would get more specific as to what a vampire is or is not (even if their interpretations varied a lot), even if they went for the metaphor at some time.

        I shudder to think what would happen if Julian Luna of “Kindred: the Embraced” would do to Barnabas. At least go ballistic on his ass. Or just call a blood hunt on him…

  4. This particular episode stuck with me a long time — and with good reason. Both the Barnabas/Millicent scene and the ending scene with Bathia Mapes have good, scary moments.

  5. So does anyone know why the show thought it was necessary to wrap up every storyline and kill most of the cast before any return to normal time, rather than just having the time-travelling character go back?

  6. really nice photos today. topped, as one ought to have come to expect, by those lyrical flights reaching unassuming heights: one of my favourite recurring Danny Hornisms (“What is the matter with this family?”), and the one that did me in: “random ancestor number 12”. you could be writing comedy skits.

  7. I am quite sure that, judging by the combination of hair and clothing style, that random ancestor number 12 is from the future. He looks closer to 1850 than to 1800.

  8. Danny: “Jonathan Frid has gotten really good at this, giving us a nice long look at the fangs as he dives in.”

    I’ve heard in a few interviews with JF that this was exactly the thing he was most uncomfortable doing: the exaggerated “bite shots”. He knew they wanted those done mainly to show off the fangs, but he always thought a more subtle, closer approach to the victim’s neck would have still had the creepiness AND it was more “realistic” than for the vampire to be several inches away from the neck before he bites. But JF also said, in retrospect, those exaggerated bite scenes only comprised a few minutes of all the hundreds of hours he spent on set as Barnabas.

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