Episode 461: Leave Me Hanging

“I’m back, I’m back! I didn’t die, I didn’t die!”

And meanwhile, in the present, everybody is still standing around in the drawing room, waiting patiently to finish the scene that they started four months ago.

This is a weird thing for a TV show to do. It’s so weird, in fact, that the opening narration — which usually lasts about thirty seconds and doesn’t mean anything — actually goes on for three minutes, all the way through the opening titles and into the first scene, just to make sure we know what’s going on.

461 dark shadows hang vicki

Yes, we have finally reached the end of our uncertain and frightening journey into the past. Four months ago, the Collins family held a seance which — as seances often do — catapulted their governess, Victoria Winters, back to 1795, to catch up on the ancestral backstory. As it happens, she didn’t actually learn that much, because she spent a lot of time getting herself convicted of witchcraft, and sentenced to hang.

“And now,” the narration explains as Vicki takes her place at the gallows, “two moments in time are parallel. During one tick of a clock in 1968, months have passed in 1795. Now, only seconds remain.”

Which is interesting, because the last time we saw 1968, it was actually 1967. But that’s time travel for you, I guess.

461 dark shadows seance

Obviously, the decision to take a four-month detour in the storyline was a bold creative risk — putting everything on pause, and basically rebooting the show with a different set of characters.

But the trip back is fairly treacherous as well. The whole reason why they went to 1795 was that the Barnabas storyline was rapidly running out of story options. Introducing Barnabas, and then pairing him with Julia, was a huge success — turning a ninth-place series into the most popular daytime show in a matter of months. But that story was being stretched to its limits, and was just about to break the show completely.

461 dark shadows horrible phyllis

The problem with the storyline circa October 1967 was that they were running out of people to menace. When Barnabas was introduced as a new villain, his malign influence was mostly felt outside the Collins family. It impacted on Maggie, Joe, Sam, Willie, Burke, Dr. Woodard — basically every character that didn’t actually live in Collinwood. The vampire was the B-story to the Liz/Jason/Carolyn blackmail A-story.

461 dark shadows hanging phyllis

But the vampire story was fun, and the blackmail story went exactly nowhere, and so — according to the fiercely Darwinian law-of-the-jungle logic of writing serialized narrative — the supernatural element graduated to A-story status.

Naturally, an A-story needs to involve the A-characters, so we got Vicki being hypnotized, Carolyn falling under Barnabas’ thrall, and David being menaced by a marionette bat.

461 dark shadows hanged phyllis

But things rapidly descended into open warfare, with Barnabas and Carolyn on one side, Julia and Tony on the other, and David and Vicki trapped in the middle. Casualties were starting to pile up.

Pretty soon, they were going to get to the point where there were only a few possible outcomes: #1. Kill David. #2. Kill Barnabas. #3. Just divide up the Collins family into vampire-supporters and vampire-slayers, and start killing everybody.

None of these options were productive for long-term story development, so the four-month side trip gave the writers the opportunity to regroup, come up with some new ideas, and make some decisions about how they can turn this dead-end storyline into something that can become a sustainable show.

461 dark shadows clock

So as we return to nineteen-sixty-mumble for another tick of the clock, the question is: How do they use what they learned in 1795 to change the dynamic of the present-day story?

461 dark shadows return vicki

Well, to start with, Vicki comes back, changing places again with Phyllis Wick, the 1795 governess who got to sit in Vicki’s chair for a minute, and then got back to the eighteenth century just in time to have her neck snapped.

This is kind of a raw deal for Phyllis, but never mind her. Victoria Winters fell on the floor, and now everybody has to cluster around her and pretend to care.

It’s not very common for Dark Shadows to put six characters together in a scene, so they take advantage of it by having everyone spout confused rhubarb like “I don’t understand!” and “She’s not there!” This is supposed to sound like a murmuring crowd, but really only Carolyn and Julia bother to do it, and Julia talks louder than everyone else anyway.

So what we actually hear is Julia saying, “I don’t understand! What on Earth is going on! I don’t understand! That’s the most terrifying thing! Where is she? She’s not there! She has to be here! I don’t understand!”

461 dark shadows understand vicki

They manage to manhandle the semi-conscious Vicki over to a couch, and then Carolyn says “I don’t understand!” And that’s why this is one of my favorite Dark Shadows episodes of all time.

461 dark shadows doctor julia

That’s followed by the second best thing about the episode, which is that Julia instantly comes out of the closet. Grabbing Vicki’s wrist, she starts making diagnoses, and then startles everyone by admitting that she’s a doctor, not a family historian as she claimed to be.

461 dark shadows takeover julia

And there you have it — Vicki’s return from the past has already inspired a change in the status quo, and she’s not even conscious yet. Best of all, it’s a change that brings more attention to Julia, the real star of the show.

461 dark shadows trust carolyn

And cue more fireworks. Julia asks Liz if they have any smelling salts, and Carolyn says that she knows where they are. Raising a well-placed eyebrow, Julia turns and asks, “Shall I trust you, Carolyn?”

Carolyn is taken aback. “Why shouldn’t you?” she says, glowering, and then makes a dramatic exit in the direction of the smelling salts.

This is a remarkable moment, because they’re expecting the audience to remember that Carolyn and Julia had a strained relationship in the weeks leading up to the 1795 trip. That’s a pretty bold expectation for a show that used to feel the need to do long recap scenes about a dream sequence that we’d seen earlier in the episode. They’re jumping straight back into things without losing a step, as if this really was just a tick of the clock.

461 dark shadows dead barnabas vicki

Naturally, Barnabas is completely freaked out — he recognized Phyllis as his little sister’s governess, and he needs to know how much of his cover has been blown. His interaction with Vicki is not comforting for him.

She opens her eyes, and smiles at him. “Barnabas!” she cries. “Why, Millicent was right. She said you weren’t dead! Oh, I’m so glad.”

This is going to happen several times over the next few episodes — Vicki gets confused about whether she’s talking to the 1795 Barnabas or the 1968 Barnabas. It’s tremendously effective at putting Barnabas on the defensive, which is half the point of this whole bonkers plot contrivance.

461 dark shadows neck vicki julia

The other half is tipping the balance back towards Julia. She gets to play doctor again, as they notice that Vicki’s got a gunshot wound in her shoulder, and rope burns around her neck. Julia asks Roger to help bring Vicki up to her room.

461 dark shadows stare barnabas julia

At this point, Barnabas is desperately trying to stay relevant.

Barnabas:  I’ll talk to you later, Vicki.

Julia:  That will not be necessary.

Barnabas:  Are you in charge here?

Julia:  For the moment, yes.

And then she stands right in front of Barnabas and stares him in the face, before turning and escorting Vicki out of his reach. She’s basically treating him like he’s the aging silverback gorilla who just lost his status in the troop.

461 dark shadows lies barnabas liz

Barnabas is left downstairs with Liz, who starts questioning him more pointedly than she ever has before.

Liz:  The short time that Miss Wick was in this room, Vicki didn’t even have time to get into that dress.

Barnabas:  Well, perhaps their time is different from ours. Perhaps a moment of our time is a month, or a year of theirs.

Liz:  You really do believe it, don’t you? You really believe that Vicki saw Millicent Collins.

Barnabas:  No, no!

Liz:  You do! I can tell by your face that you do! You always have knowledge that we don’t.

Barnabas:  That is not true, Elizabeth.

Liz:  You knew that Miss Hoffman is a doctor.

Barnabas:  I… found that out, yes.

Liz:  Well, why didn’t you tell us when you did? For the same reason you’re not telling me what you figure happened this evening?

461 dark shadows saved julia

Barnabas gets a reprieve from this line of questioning when Julia comes back in, but there’s another burn coming.

Julia:  Excuse me — I’ve given her a sedative, but she asks for you.

Barnabas:  Thank you.

Julia:  No, Barnabas. She’s asking for Mrs. Stoddard.

461 dark shadows showdown barnabas julia

So: Ouch. Liz leaves the room, and Barnabas and Julia are left together, facing off like gunslingers at a showdown.

461 dark shadows worried barnabas julia

He paces towards her, trying to make her flinch. She stands her ground.

Barnabas:  You’re not going to let me see her, are you?

Julia:  You are worried, aren’t you?

Barnabas:  And you’re enjoying it.

461 dark shadows control julia

She smiles, and then assumes a false air of concern.

Julia:  What will you do if your beloved Vicki is telling Mrs. Stoddard now? You’re always in such control of everything and everybody. It’s quite interesting to see you when you aren’t.

And there you have it — that’s the new mission statement. That was the problem that needed to be solved.

It’s true, Barnabas was in complete control of the late-67 storyline. He held Carolyn in an ongoing hypnotic trance, he’d driven David from the house, and he was well on his way to driving Julia out of her mind.

461 dark shadows control barnabas

That’s why we were heading towards a storyline crash — Barnabas had become so powerful in the story that he could just start killing all of the other characters one by one, the way that he did in 1795. The detour through time actually allowed the writers to road-test that version of the character, to see what happens when the vampire tears his way through the entire cast.

What they learned from that exercise was that it’s not a sustainable way to run a soap opera. In the last six weeks, they basically ran out of A-story characters, and they had to completely mind-swap Nathan’s personality in order to keep things moving.

So the writers are now speaking directly through Julia. She’s exactly right; it really is quite interesting to see Barnabas when he’s not in control of the situation. In fact, that’s so interesting that it becomes the dynamic of the show for the next three years. Starting today, Barnabas is going to be on the back foot — constantly surprised, baffled and outmaneuvered.

Vicki just fell through a hole in the world, blowing Barnabas’ plans to pieces. It turns out that’s exactly what we needed to throw Barnabas off balance, and the show will be better for it.

So: welcome back, Vicki. You’re just in time.

Tomorrow: No Place Like Home.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In the teaser, everyone in the drawing room is frozen in time, except Roger, who adjusts his jacket cuffs.

A moment later, as we see the hangman testing the gallows, someone sneaks across the bottom of the frame, ducking to stay out of the shot.

When the hangman takes the bag off of Phyllis’ head, she blinks.

When Roger and Carolyn help Vicki out of the drawing room, the boom mic is seen in the top left of the frame.

At the beginning of act 3, as Julia enters Vicki’s room, there’s a backstage clatter, which startles her for a moment.


Behind the Scenes:

Phyllis Wick is played by Margot Head, in her only episode. (At the start of the seance, in episode 365, Phyllis was played by Dorrie Kavanaugh.) According to IBDb, Head appeared in two Broadway musicals — as an understudy in Half a Sixpence in 1966, and a small part in Georgy in 1970.

Tomorrow: No Place Like Home.

461 dark shadows welcome home

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

31 thoughts on “Episode 461: Leave Me Hanging

  1. Poor Phylis Wick. Eventually they pop Vicki back to 1795 again and Phylis Wick gets erased from the timeline. Or maybe her coach crashes and she becomes the governess to another family, one without vampires and time travel.

  2. This is the episode, I think, when DARK SHADOWS officially stops being a soap opera and becomes a supernatural series that happens to air daily. Sure, it will maintain certain soap opera elements, but so do many dramatic series, especially those of a fantasy genre (e.g. BUFFY, CHARMED, ANGEL, SMALLVILLE).

    However, the major conventions of soap operas are slowly abandoned.The references to the “recap” popped into my head when I caught a recent clip of YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. It was a scene of two characters having coffee explaining what’s been happening. That’s something you only see on soaps, and DS would no longer do it. Each scene will be key and will advance the plot, not summarize it. The other soap opera convention that’s dropped is the ensemble cast — it’s a necessity when your show airs daily, but it’s clear that this is the BARNABAS AND JULIA SHOW and the other characters are merely supporting players. This wouldn’t alter until Quentin Collins in the 1897 storyline (and I’d argue, that’s sustained only for the 1897, when he is a clear co-protagonist with Barnabas starting around the middle of the arc. Once we return to 1970, he is subtly demoted to supporting player). No soap opera can last for long with just one leading man and woman.

    I’m not sure if today’s episode even makes it clear that Barnabas is a vampire. What I do like is how the stealth reboot continues. Barnabas is on the defensive, as you say, and our sympathies are meant to be aligned with him. He’s not merely the malignant antagonistic force that might kill a child or turn a woman into his undead bride.

    What’s about to come, of course, is almost just as daring as the 1795 flashback: Turning Barnabas human — imagine if at the height of ANGEL’s popularity, the lead was now a normal guy.

    Oh, and as a Bob Cobert fan, I have to point out that this is the first appearance of “A Darkness at Collinwood,” which is essentially Barnabas’s theme music. It’s never as popular as “Shadows of the Night” but I think most DS fans would recognize it.

  3. My fun, dumb question for today: Where has Vicki been for the last four months?

    The obvious answer is 1795, but whose 1795?

    If she did travel successfully to the past, as we know she did, shouldn’t Barnabas recognize her in 1968 as the governess to his beloved Sarah?
    Shouldn’t those memories – new ones, perhaps – flood forward? But he doesn’t, suggesting she may have been in the past, but she wasn’t in HIS past.

    There’s some dialogue in either this episode or tomorrow’s in which there’s mention of past events always happening somewhere else, a vague way of suggesting Vicki was actually in an alternate past. That’s kind of important.

    Since she took Phyllis Wick’s place – and almost met her fate – can we assume that Peter Bradford fell in love with Phyllis Wick?

    The resolution of this story suggests time cannot be changed, but we all know DS did a 180 on that one.

    Angelique uses Vicki’s flight through time as a supernatural GPS system and locks onto Barnabas. She remembers Vicki even though Barnabas does not. How is this possible?

    Later (sorry for all the spoilers, ahem), when Vicki is once again cast back in time, Barnabas is able to follow her – and save her. And yet somebody else dies (who didn’t originally in 1795, no spoiler from me) and there are no consequences for that.

    Much later this year, Barnabas journeys back to 1897 to change time, but since time cannot be changed, or so we thought, did he just create an alternate universe for Collinwood to which he later returns?

    Time travel: Full of detours. Keep your hands in the vehicles at all times.

    1. Mark, do not think too much about time travel paradoxes, or your head will explode. Not that the writers thought about that much, either…

      It is not like they were doing “Eureka” when time travel DOES change the future, and only those who went back in time remember the original timeline.

  4. I’m so happy Barnabas finally got a smackdown – I really don’t like the whole situation he has going with his ‘cousin’ Carolyn. More on that later but I’m glad Julia knocked him down a few notches…

    1. I sound like a kindergarten student compared to you all, but I found the the whole Vicki gets back episode, tightly directed, minus the interminable years she is on the scaffold in front of a crowd of 3, surprising and satisfying in getting Vicky back to the future, so to.speak. I always wondered why people said barnabas should recognize her, he didn’t travel back with Vicky, he is in 1970. Lastly I love learning how and why the writers needed to keep the characters moving forward. Fascinating. Actually this is lastly, Joanne, I love barnabas, I always have viewed him as a victim, an addict, with a yearning to be free and human but his animal instincts got survival , animal not human. Cause him to satisfy his urges. Until of course later, when he becomes the savior for all the Collins family.

      1. I think I can inderstand the paradox that some people are having trouble trying to get around (myself included). Vicki was supposed to be experiencing the events ‘in 1795 real time’ that would have occurred prior to her meeting 60’s Barnabas ‘in 1967 real time’. So Barnabas wouldn’t have known what Phyllis Wicke looked like because Vicki would have then been the person he would have met instead. So when he was locked up in 1795 that would have now been after he met Vicki due to her supposed ‘real time’ excursion and he would then have remembered this event during the 150+ years prior to his release in 1967 – it seems like a ‘circular event’. However I’ve now taken Adriana’s advice and try not to go nuts with this since the writer’s apparently didn’t take alot of time to think it through either.

      2. Barnabas initally is a confused man, looking for love the wrong way, but only as he knows it as an animal walking around in the night making people get under his control, only to run them away or kill them if it doesnt go right. He has had to come out of that, which was a pull and tug for him at first, but he soon starting chilling out.

  5. The main thing about time travel/parallel time is that there are no answers and nothing but questions, and whatever happens in such an instance is at the writers’ discretion. In this particular instance, it would seem that Vicky has gone back in time not as her real and actual self per se, but instead as a doppleganger. When the blip in time was created by the seance, an exchange was made, in this case one of space rather than time. Vicky experienced months in 1795, but Phyllis Wick only a few moments in 1967/68. Likewise, Barnabas also experienced moments during Vicky’s months of time travel, so his memories would not have been altered in real time either. As Phyllis Wick’s double, Vicky was allowed to experience a window of time through the space that Phyllis Wick had occupied in 1795, but when Phyllis Wick’s natural lifespan ended, with the hanging, Vicky, as a time-traveling doppleganger, no longer had a counterpart, or double, through which to experience the past. Thus, the switch was made again, with Vicky boomeranging back to her own rightful place in the fabric of the cosmos and Phyllis Wick back to her own by reliving the moment of her death.

    I must say, it’s great to be back in the present. As fascinating as these time travel storylines are, I’m always anxious for the show to return to the present day. I enjoy that macabre, thunderstruck window on the late sixties and early seventies.

    Speaking of the time travel motif as a storyline, I think this is one of the main reasons why Dark Shadows will never be dated. Because in featuring at length other time periods, it means that Dark Shadows is not entirely or strictly a product of its own time. Various shows, plays, and movies, what have you, will always be featuring earlier eras–therefore, the approach of Dark Shadows is forever contemporary. Besides the inventiveness of it all, as well as the many familiar literary and film references, consider the marvelous attention to detail for the various timelines–for instance, all those costumes for 1795, 1840, and 1897 were hand-made specifically for the show. They really went all out in that respect.

    But it’s also great to be back in the present, to see how the temporary stability of present-day Collinwood gets abruptly overturned by the arrival of Nicholas Blair and the lunatic medical tamperings of Dr. Lang, and of course the reincarnation of Angelique. Not to mention all those bright and crazy colors of late sixties fashion sense. Our time, past time, parallel time–the show is still with me.

  6. There is one inconsistency worth mentioning when 1968 present day time “resumes”. When Phyllis Wick appears, she is seated across from Liz. Despite time having frozen, she has somehow managed to change seats so that she is now seated adjacent to Liz in the chair to her right. The makers of the show probably figured that no one would remember or notice, since back then you only watched a show once and then it was gone.

  7. Just dropped by some months late, to say I watched this tonight, and I really enjoyed watching Julia going into “doctor in charge ” mode and giving Barnabas a smackdown. This new dynamic is going to be fun!

    1. Chrstine I am of the opinion that Barnabas has just got his balls busted by Julia in shrewd, “think you can dog me out and get away with it fashion,” and she doesnt even have to be insulting. Barnabas is crushed and all of a sudden at the receiving end of his bullshit he thought he could do to Julia.

  8. As much as I like the other timelines, I can’t help agreeing with PrisonerOfTheNight’s comments about “getting back” to 1967-68. It isn’t a completely good comparison, but it’s a little like the way I can’t help preferring the Lovecraft stories set in New England in the 1930s or ‘ 20s or teens to the ones set entirely in all-out fantasy places in other times.

  9. Another blooper–toward the end of the episode, when Elizabeth comes to Victoria’s room and asks Julia to come down and explain what is happening to Barnabas and Roger, you can see Barnabas behind them looming in the shadows. Elizabeth certainly should have seen him. I don’t think that was meant to be seen, because when Elizabeth and Julia leave the room and the camera focuses on Victoria in bed, we here the bat noise, which suggests that Barnabas is just now supposed to be entering the room. Then we pan back to the corner and see Barnabas still in the shadows as we’re supposed to, and he calls out Victoria’s name.

  10. I play a game with myself: after every episode, and before I read Danny’s post, I try to guess whether the episode will fall into that greatest hits category “Satan’s Favorite TV Show.” I guess I’m not good at this game because I was CERTAIN this episode would make the cut!

        1. I love It! Julia’s revenge! I was trying to figure out the transition point between Julia and Barnabas. In this instance she let him know she was still standing and still standing her ground and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it and he could take it or leave it. Further at this point, she was probably thinking what did she even see in him. Finally from this point on any relationship he tries to venture in fails.

    1. I like this episode because it keeps in perspective the happenings before the 1795 episodes and flows smoothly back into present day.

  11. Getting picky AGAIN…

    Not going to get into time travel issues, because I have never time traveled.

    BUT – Vicki has just landed, uncertain and frightening, in nineteen sixty eigh-n-nine.
    She has a bullet wound (and possibly a bullet) in her shoulder that looks to be a WEEK OLD, probably on the verge of gangrene;
    she has (if not severe, at least noticeable) rope burns on her neck;
    and she probably hasn’t had a bath in a month.

    NOBODY even considers getting her to an ER to maybe get some modern medicine?
    (We know the police won’t be asking any inconvenient questions about the gunshot wound.) Or did Julia just apply some leeches from her sedative, er, medical bag?
    Perhaps the medical care in Collinsport is on a par with the law enforcement.

    1. Well John these folks don’t go to the doctor. They also don’t do regular funerals, only 2 that I recall. Everybody else is buried under the old house or Collinwood…lol.

  12. I was happily watching Dark Shadows on Hulu Plus, and following along with this amusing and insightful blog, when suddenly Hulu got rid of several hundred episodes. I was at 438 and they are starting up with 534. I had to know how Vicki got back, so I’ve been reading this blog. Thanks so much for writing and publishing your remarks about this iconic soap opera. And thanks for helping me fill in the blank spaces. I can’t afford $1.99 per 20 minute episode, so I’ll just make do. 🙂

    1. What I sometimes don’t get is what jeopardy Barnabas is in because of Vicki’s time travel? If memory serves me correctly, she knows that Angelique was a witch, but didn’t know that Angelique had placed the vampire curse on Barnabas so why would she ever think that 1795 Barnabas is the same as 1967 Barnabas? Sure, she knew about the past in much more detail than in the Collins history book, but are there any real inconsistencies between the history book and what Vicki witnessed that would make any of the 1967 characters even come close to the conclusion that there was, there is, and will be, only one Barnabas Collins

      1. At the very least, she knew that Barnabas died and didn’t go to England. Really she didn’t know much that would endanger Barnabas, but Barnabas thought she was smarter than she was, and probably feared she would put two and two together and figure out that something was hinky with him. Fortunately they didn’t teach her advanced math at the orphanage, so she was never able to figure out what Barnabas really was.

  13. I think Ben established that no bullet was lodged in Vicki’s arm. I thought I heard Julia say that Vicki’s wound was well over a week old (but I could be wrong about that), and I think Julia is enough of a doctor to recognize and treat gangrene let alone a GSW. Rope burns should be a snap. I don’t think there was any gangrene, though. Besides, Vicki has only winced once (when Ben took care of her wound), so it must not bother her that much.

    Furthermore, people on soap operas – especially in 1968 – are completely on the honor system when it comes to whether or not they need a shower. (They also never need to go to the bathroom let alone so much as fart.)

    Having said that, I did find it odd that Vicki was hanged in the same dress she escaped in, torn-off sleeve and all. Pretending that she did not need a bath aside, the authorities, I would assume, would have let her wear a fresh or, at least, intact dress.

    And, yes, it is a well-established fact that the medical authorities in Collinsport are as (in)competent as the police, who, in any case, are probably not in the habit of investigating temporal crimes like the time police invented by Robert Silverberg. (See his great sci-fi novel “Up the Line.”)

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