“I don’t know what lies beyond the grave… but I hope you will have some kind of peace.”
When we last left our undead psychopath hero, Barnabas Collins, he was walking into the Collinwood study, intent on murdering his old friend, Nathan Forbes. I forget exactly what brought this on, but it’s not like it matters. Sometimes you just decide to kill a guy.
But Nathan makes a plan of his own, grabbing a crossbow off the wall and shooting Barnabas as he enters the room. This is probably why you don’t see a lot of people hanging up decorative crossbows anymore.
And so we start out today with one of the strange cliffhanger resolutions of our time. Nathan shoots Barnabas, who screams — and then pulls the arrow out of his torso, and snarls, “You didn’t hit my heart! It didn’t hit me!”
Now, that can’t really be a surprise, because we’ve seen Barnabas getting up out of his coffin in 1967, a hundred and seventy years from now. If Nathan’s aim was just a little bit better, then we wouldn’t even be here — we’d still be in the present, probably watching Maggie and Joe eat dessert again. This episode is the last possible moment for the show to change history, which it’s been threatening to do all along.
So we can return to the essential question of time travel stories — is there such a thing as free will, or is everything predestined, and the characters are just following the path laid out for them? This has been hanging over the 1795 storyline the whole time, especially with Vicki specifically trying to correct the parts of history that she found upsetting.
Now, in one sense, the question of “free will” in fiction is absurd. Fictional characters aren’t real people — they’re controlled by a writer, who arranges their destiny. Whatever decisions they make, whatever circumstances and surprises and coincidences lie ahead of them — it’s all been designed by a creator, to bring them to the climax and resolution of the story.
But in a long-form serialized narrative, this relationship between character and creator is more complex. If the audience sees the beginning of the story, and the creator hasn’t written the ending yet, then that creates a gap where the characters’ destiny can be changed.
That’s especially true on a daily soap opera, which is by necessity produced by a revolving-door team of writers under serious time pressure. On a show like Dark Shadows, the all-powerful deities determining the fate of the Collins family are just making things up as they go along, responding to unexpected circumstances more or less in real time. A new writer comes in, a popular actor leaves the show, the ratings rise or fall — or maybe they just come up with a better idea on the fly, and decide to do something different.
So the 1795 storyline has asked some legitimately challenging questions about the story that we thought we knew. There were a few things that they absolutely had to include, or else the 1967 story wouldn’t make sense, and the audience would feel cheated. Barnabas becomes a vampire, Josette jumps off a cliff, Sarah dies as a young child, the monster is sealed in a chained coffin — those were the fixed points that couldn’t be changed. Everything else was up for grabs.
After all, we knew that the Collins family history book wasn’t 100% accurate, because the book said that Barnabas went to England, and we knew that wasn’t true. The game has been discovering how much free will the characters had after all.
So after the big fight, Barnabas and his father get together for a post-game wrap-up, which gives us the final score on what really happened and what didn’t.
Here are some headlines: Ben has buried Nathan in the woods, and Joshua will tell everyone that he’s left Collinsport. Millicent’s lost touch with reality anyway, and she hardly even remembers Nathan. Joshua will have their marriage annulled, and as far as history is concerned, Millicent never married. So that’s all cleaned up.
But there’s a messier item on the agenda.
Barnabas: You have the silver bullets, haven’t you?
Barnabas: You have your pistol.
Barnabas: Then use it.
Joshua: I can’t. Not here… not now.
Barnabas: You must, or I will go on destroying.
Joshua: I know that.
Barnabas: Then take out your pistol, and fire the silver bullets through my heart, and end Angelique’s curse forever.
And there it is, if you’ve been waiting for it — the ten seconds that Barnabas is “redeemed”. It goes by pretty fast, but this really is his one moment of emotional maturity.
At long last, Barnabas finally acknowledges that he is the problem, the source of all the darkness and tragedy that’s consumed the family. And finally, for once, he’s decided that sparing other people’s pain is more important than prolonging his own existence.
Joshua’s reluctance here is interesting, and heartbreaking. He knows that his son has become a rabid animal, who needs to be put down. But he can’t do it while Barnabas is just standing there in their house, discussing the situation calmly. One after the other, Joshua has lost his brother, his daughter, his sister and his wife. Barnabas might be an undead ghoul, but he’s the only member of the family left that Joshua can talk to.
And Louis Edmonds’ performance, as always, is just beautiful. He’s been grimacing with pain pretty much non-stop ever since Joshua discovered Barnabas’ secret, and every moment of it has worked. There’s so much going on just in the way that he holds himself — he’s constantly raising his chin in a proud, stiff-upper-lip pose, and then allowing it to gradually fall as he’s assaulted by painful feelings that he thought he’d never experience.
We’re also getting some serious work out of the director today. This is the week that executive producer Dan Curtis decided to try directing for the first time, and Tuesday’s episode was just a free-for-all of gimmick shots, pulling the camera from two-shots to close-ups and back again, just to see what it looks like.
Dan got another chance to play at the beginning of this episode, with some gimmick shots from the characters’ point of view — first seeing an out-of-focus Nathan as Barnabas struggles to get the arrow out of his chest, and then seeing Barnabas from Nathan’s perspective, as he moves in for the kill.
But Dan’s holding himself back with this scene. The focus now is on these two men, bound together by love and regret, making plans for the future.
Joshua: In the morning, when you’re in your coffin, I’ve instructed Ben and Riggs to carry your coffin back to the secret room in the mausoleum. At sunrise, I want you to go there.
Barnabas: And then, you will do what you must.
Barnabas: And I’ll know peace. Eternal peace.
Joshua: I don’t know what lies beyond the grave… but I hope you will have some kind of peace.
Barnabas: And what will happen to you?
Joshua: I’ll survive.
And yeah, I guess he will. That’s what the Collins family does, as we’ll learn many times over the next few years. People do terrible things, and then those terrible things come to life and do more terrible things, but the Collins family survives. They pull themselves together, and they find a way to carry on.
Joshua: She probably won’t recover. I’m going to take care of her as if she were my own daughter.
Barnabas: And Daniel?
Joshua: I intend to make him my legal heir. I will adopt him. I hope that I will be a better father to him than I was to you and Sarah.
And you know what? I bet that’s true. Joshua has learned a lot over the four months that we’ve known him.
Actually, it kind of turns out that this was Joshua’s story, all along. In a house packed to the rafters with lunatics and children, Joshua has managed to build himself an arc — and really, he’s the only character who has.
Everybody else in the 1795 story is still exactly the same as they were when they started, except now most of them are dead. Abigail died just as crazy as ever; Nathan died a desperate schemer; Naomi couldn’t face reality, and finally drank herself to death.
Even the characters who’ve managed to hang on past their demise haven’t learned a damn thing. Angelique is out there in the ether somewhere, still running on jealousy and rage. And Barnabas, the only mildly “redeemed” vampire, is really still the same self-centered nightmare that it turns out he always was.
But Joshua is struggling towards a new way to live his life.
Joshua: I was never known… to be able to show much affection.
Barnabas: Well, don’t show it now. Forget that I am your son. After today, forget that I ever existed.
Joshua: I can’t do that.
Barnabas: You must. Goodbye, father.
So it turns out that they were wrong yesterday. Barnabas said that Joshua was safe from Angelique’s curse, because she only cursed the people who love Barnabas, and Joshua is incapable of love.
That is obviously not true. The reason why Joshua is spared from the curse is that the love he feels for Barnabas isn’t the kind of love that Angelique recognizes, and so he slips under her radar.
Angelique’s love is selfish, and spiteful. She uses it as a convenient excuse for running over anyone who gets in her way. She doesn’t understand love that arises from respect, and strength of character. And she will never feel the kind of deep, honest love that Joshua now realizes for the first time that he is in fact capable of.
Now, it would have been nice if he’d figured that out a while ago. He might have been able to save some of the people who are now lost to him forever. But at least he’s figured it out, which is more than anyone else has. And now he has the rest of his life to reflect on that, and to try to be a better man, for Daniel’s sake.
So let’s circle back to the beginning for a moment. If you remember the promotional bumper that ABC ran in the week leading up to the 1795 trip, there were a couple big promises.
The announcer said, “This Friday, you and Victoria Winters begin a strange and terrifying journey into the past, back to the year 1795, to discover the origins of this man, and the secret of the chained coffin.”
We learned about the origins of Barnabas and the vampire curse a while ago — and in the six weeks since Josette jumped off the cliff, it felt like the storyline was in overtime, just dragging out the journey beyond what we really needed to know.
But it turns out that this wasn’t just Barnabas’ story after all. The other half that they promised us was the secret of the chained coffin — and that’s not a secret about Barnabas. It’s Joshua’s secret.
In the end, Joshua can’t shoot his son, even while he’s lying in his coffin in the mausoleum. Joshua knows that Barnabas is dangerous, and can’t be allowed to roam free, but he loves him too much to shoot him through the heart. So Joshua decides to chain up the coffin, confining Barnabas to eternal sleep, and then he goes and tells everyone that his son went to England.
That’s the secret of the chained coffin — that Joshua Collins is capable of love. This might be one of the more exotic ways of showing it, but that’s what’s happening here.
And as we reach the end of this strange and terrifying journey into the past, this is the image that remains — a good man facing an impossible decision, who makes the right choice, and loves his son.
Monday: Leave Me Hanging.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
There’s a great one at the top of the show today, which is so bad that they had to do post-production work, which is very rare for Dark Shadows. Nathan shoots Barnabas with the crossbow, and Barnabas pulls the arrow out of his chest. As he advances on Nathan, there’s the dramatic shot seen above of Barnabas reaching out to strangle him.
As originally recorded, Barnabas says, “It didn’t hit me, Forbes! It — didn’t — hit me!” This sounds very silly, because the arrow obviously did hit Barnabas; we just watched it happen. So after recording, they added an off-camera line from Barnabas: “It didn’t hit my heart!” There’s an obvious difference in the sound quality of the two lines.
Also: In the scene just after Ben chains up the coffin, you can see the secret room door silently opening on its own behind him. And the coffin’s facing the wrong way, compared to its orientation when Willie opens it in 1967.
Behind the Scenes:
They go all out with the extras for Vicki’s big hanging scene. Howard Honig plays the Gaoler, and James Shannon plays the Hangman. The spectators are Timothy Gordon, Paul Craffey and Scott Upright.
Monday: Leave Me Hanging.
— Danny Horn