“Then the combat would take place in the deepest recesses of the deepest darkness!”
Okay, it’s Monday; the start of a new week. Now, where did we leave off?
Oh, right. Barnabas was choking the crazy Irish witch lady. Obviously.
Yeah, here we are. Joshua Collins has discovered that his dead son, Barnabas, has been roaming the countryside killing people with his teeth. Horrified, Joshua asked one of his more occult-minded acquaintances to send out a psychic call for help, and in walked Bathia Mapes, an itinerant witch of no fixed abode, who’s set herself up in the tower room and started casting circles of faith.
Today, we join the exorcism already in progress, as the evil witch-specter Angelique is speaking through Barnabas. Just when it looks like we’re getting somewhere, Barnabas starts making animal noises, and before you know it, he’s up out of the chair, with his hands around Bathia’s throat. Okay, that’s you all up to date.
Bathia manages to choke out, “Light! Light!” and Joshua grabs a nearby candle. He thrusts it into Barnabas’ face…
And Barnabas lets out a terrible screech, collapsing into the corner. It’s been that kind of an evening.
So obviously, the question on the table is: What in the wide world of sports is going on around here?
Because this is a brand new form of combat that we’ve never seen on Dark Shadows before. We’ve had a couple of tame séances, where a ghost might issue a public service announcement like “she tells lies” or “you must let me rest”, but suddenly we’re in full-contact Amityville Horror territory.
And look at poor Bathia, she’s exhausted. I mean, she walked in the door already looking like the tail end of a road accident, and that was one strangling ago. This is the face of a woman actively reconsidering her evening’s agenda.
But Joshua wants to get right back on the horse.
Bathia: You don’t understand the danger.
Joshua: I know that this means life or death for my son.
Bathia: And for me, too. It means battle between my spirit, and the spirit of Angelique. She’s dead, isn’t she? At least to this world.
Bathia: Then the combat would take place in the deepest recesses of the deepest darkness! No, Mr. Collins. I can help no more.
Joshua: Yes, you must! I will give you anything you want — money, anything.
Bathia: I would help you if I could!
Joshua: You can!
Bathia: I can — won’t!
And that’s the first of several stumbles that Bathia makes in this scene. There’s another one coming up that’s quite well-known in Dark Shadows fan circles, where the really obvious and embarrassing bloopers are treasured and cared for like they’re our own idiot children.
But one of the reasons why we love the Bathia bloopers is that they actually kind of work for the character, and the scene. She’s tired, and overwhelmed, and terrified. She’s just reached out her hand and touched something red-hot and spiky. Plus, she’s about two hundred years old, and feeling every minute of it. Of course she trips over her lines. Wouldn’t you?
So there’s a touch of that mysterious Fridspeak blooper-judo that Barnabas is often blessed with, where the fictional panic of a character merges perfectly with the actual panic of an actor with a loose grip on the dialogue. It doesn’t take the audience out of the moment with the character; it somehow makes the moment even more urgent.
But let’s talk for a minute about the nature of this conflict, which seems to be bigger than anything we’ve seen before. When Joshua pleads for Bathia to keep trying, she reminds him, “For all my powers, I’m still human. Remember that.”
That’s an interesting statement, because it implies that Angelique is not human, that she’s somehow accessed a deeper level of dark powers than we thought. Filling Barnabas with demonic rage, Angelique broke through Bathia’s magic circle and launched a direct physical assault. Bathia has had a lot more time to practice her witchcraft — but that was a smackdown by Angelique, who always seemed to be making up her powers as she went along.
But a moment ago, Bathia said, “She’s dead, isn’t she? At least to this world,” and the implication is that dying has made Angelique more powerful than she was before. This is the same logic as Ben Kenobi warning Darth Vader, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Alive, Angelique was a human — she had skills, but she was still a young woman who could be hurt or disappointed or frustrated. Now that she’s dead, all of those human failings have dropped away, leaving the raw power of her intelligence, her will and her unquenchable thirst for vengeance. She has nothing to fear.
Suddenly, Barnabas sits up and starts taking an interest again.
Barnabas: I see blood! I see a ravaged countryside! The people in danger — in terror! Innocent people are made monsters! I see good men turn to evil! And I see… I see…
Bathia: Go on!
Barnabas: I see the source of the evil… I see the cause of the terror. I see…
Barnabas: I see myself.
Joshua: Help him, please! I beg you!
So she helps. She has to. In the space of a few lines, Barnabas has opened a whole new area of interest for the show.
This is the first time we’ve seen them talk about the vampire’s impact on the community as a whole. This curse isn’t just a problem for the Collins family; it’s a contagion that’s going to spread through the countryside, unless they can find a way to contain it.
Joshua and Bathia aren’t just fighting for the soul of one man, or even one family. They’re fighting for all of us, for everyone who would be affected by that implacable wave of darkness that will spread out from Collinwood in all directions.
So they’re drawing the battle lines in a way that they never have before. This is a fight between Good and Evil. Actually, strike that — this is a piece of the fight between Good and Evil.
For better or worse, this is Angelique’s new role — our current personification of Evil. This is handy, because it allows them to talk about “Evil” and “Barnabas” as two separate things.
About four months ago, just before they decided to take the show on a field trip to 1795, Barnabas told Carolyn that he’d once met a sorceror in Barbados who’d taught him the secret magic number of the universe, which allowed him to cast sinister spells by calling on the power of darkness. They quickly backed off from that position, because there’s only one place that line of thinking could lead — that Barnabas becomes a force of pure Evil.
That’s a bad direction for your main character, because it means that he loses touch with human motivations. The audience believes in Barnabas, because we can see a clear relationship between what he wants — love, and safety — and the crazy, terrible things that he does. That doesn’t mean that we like him, or that we agree with his strategy or his goals. But we understand him, and on a soap opera, that’s crucial.
Soap operas usually stake their claim smack in the middle of the personal — the small, intimate moments taking place in other people’s houses. That’s part of the appeal that sustains the audience’s interest in a five-episode-a-week schedule. If we’re going to check in with these people every single day, then we expect backstage access to their personal lives.
Defining a main character as Evil, rather than selfish or insane, means that they have a broader agenda. They’re working as an agent for a much larger system, acting on behalf of Satan or Beelzebub or whoever. Things move beyond the personal, and become political.
So that’s where we’re going with all of this exorcism stuff. They’ve backed off from the “secret magic number” idea that cast Barnabas in the role of pure Evil, and assigned the Devil role to Angelique. Unfortunately, that weakens Angelique’s character, making it harder for us to understand her motives.
That’s why we had that weird moment in Vicki’s trial, when Angelique suddenly turned up to convince the judges that Vicki is the real witch. Angelique had nothing in particular to gain from that — why should she care what happens to Vicki? But now that she’s “an evil spirit”, she’s casting a wider net.
Fortunately, it’s not going to take long for the writers to realize that Angelique is a less interesting character when she’s acting as a representative of the United Association of Witches and Demons Local 716. They pull back from this idea, and locate “Evil” in a different character. They’ll actually do that several times over the next few years, introducing a force of pure Evil and then humanizing them, which means they have to go find somebody else to take over as boss.
Bathia agrees to take on the challenge, and they talk about the next stage of the plan.
Joshua: Yes, the Old House. You will try again there.
Bathia: Can you promise that nothing — can you give me something that belonged to the living Angelique?
Joshua: Yes, I’m sure I can.
Bathia: And you’re sure we will not be disturbed?
Joshua: Yes, I can promise you that.
Bathia: Any disturbance would be fatal!
Joshua: Yes, there will — there will be no disturbance. I will find a way to reward you.
Bathia: My survival will be my reward. It will mean the death of an evil spirit.
Joshua: And the curse will be lifted?
Bathia: It will dissolve into the dark… if I am successful.
Joshua: You will!
That response doesn’t quite match up with what she said, so something’s off here. Joshua is looking at her with that patient, pleading expression that you get when the actress you’re doing a scene with starts saying her lines out of order.
With a little hestitation, Bathia says, “Go now, take your son. Be seen by no one.”
“I told you the house will be entirely empty,” Joshua says, reaching out a hand to gently push her towards the spot where they were supposed to be standing six lines ago. “Everyone is in the town.”
Unfortunately, moving into the correct position means that Bathia is farther away from the teleprompter. There’s a long moment where she looks towards the camera and squints, trying to get her next line. It doesn’t work; she can’t make it out.
She turns back to Joshua, and the awkward moment continues, with no end in sight. Finally, producer Bob Costello just throws her the line from off-screen.
Bob: Then go to the house of the…
Bathia: Then go to the house of the curse. Find something that belonged to Angelique, and wait for me there.
Oh, it’s gorgeous. She really is being guided by a higher power.
So, as Bob suggests, we go to the house of the curse. This is the final knock-down fight between the powers of darkness and the powers of light, and to be honest, it’s not looking super promising for light.
Bathia uses candles to guide Barnabas out of the shadows, but her spell is interrupted by a chance visit from Naomi, and her attempt fails.
And so we wrap up with one of the all-time great spectacle endings. Bathia couldn’t drive the evil spirit out of the house, so: cue the grave consequences.
Bathia suddenly calls out for water. “Fire!” she screams. “I’m on fire!”
We hear the sound of Angelique’s laughter, and her portrait starts to glow.
And then this happens.
We see an old woman, screaming in terror and pain, consumed by the flames of Hell. And despite all of the episode’s mistakes and problems, we believe it. It must be magic.
Tomorrow: The Great Escape.
(More) Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Yes, there are more mistakes than the ones already mentioned! That’s how you know it’s a good episode.
When Naomi and Nathan are talking in the drawing room, she tells him, “I’m going to David’s room.” She means Daniel’s room.
When Joshua leads Barnabas from the tower room, we see them entering the foyer through the small door under the landing. That’s usually the door that leads from the kitchen and servants’ quarters; getting to the tower room usually involves going up the stairs and using the door there. But to keep the plot moving, Millicent needs to be standing on the landing, where she sees Joshua and Barnabas leave. Maybe they took the scenic route.
Finally, there’s one more Bathia blooper. At the end of the episode, when Bathia starts screaming that she’s on fire, she backs up and bumps into the pillar, which wobbles alarmingly. This is super subtle — I only noticed it because I was taking a bunch of screenshots of that sequence. But check it out, it’s kind of funny.
Behind the Scenes:
That infamous moment when producer Bob Costello prompts Bathia out loud was actually removed from the audio track in the original DVD release in 2003. When MPI released the Complete Original Series box set in 2012, they restored Costello’s line. Just before the release, a writer for TVShowsonDVD.com asked them about the missing blooper, and MPI said:
“The episode with the blooper removed has been corrected for this new complete series boxed set. When Worldvision, the syndicator for television reruns of Dark Shadows, made new digital masters a few years ago, that blooper was edited out by a well-meaning technician by mistake.”
That’s how much we love our Dark Shadows bloopers; we can’t bear to part with them.
Tomorrow: The Great Escape.
— Danny Horn