Episode 465: The Best of All Possible Worlds

“How can ‘they’ possibly hear you or me, when we are both dead?”

Hey, remember when Barnabas wanted to turn Vicki into a new version of his lost love Josette, but he wanted her to come to him willingly, without having to use his hypnotic vampire powers on her? Yeah. I think we’re going to have to circle back and review that one again.

Because Vicki made the tactical error of actually going and having her own life outside of Barnabas’ immediate sphere of influence, and she met another guy. That made Barnabas get all bitey, and now he and Vicki are going away together.

But — and this is something I never thought I would say — Vicki is doing something interesting here. She’s agreeing to go, because she’s been hypnotized, but she doesn’t look happy about it.

When Carolyn got bit, she got a dreamy look in her eye, and she was super excited to be Barnabas’ new blood slave. All she could think about was how she could be helpful to Barnabas. Vicki’s affect is more like she agreed to go on a trip with someone that she isn’t that crazy about traveling with, but she promised to go and the tickets are non-refundable.

465 dark shadows conked vicki

In fact, she’s so thrilled about this blossoming romance that she basically just passes out in a chair. I don’t think she’s even packed anything.

465 dark shadows dream peter

This is Vicki’s second dream sequence of the week, and it goes on for nine minutes, so apparently the writers believe that she’s more interesting when she’s unconscious. They’re not wrong.

The dream sequences on Dark Shadows give the directors a license to pursue a more theatrical visual style, which can be remarkably effective. They don’t use full sets for this sequence — it mostly takes place in complete darkness, with set elements appearing in little pools of light, and then Vicki moves back and forth as the light fades in one place and appears in another.

465 dark shadows hands vicki peter

She starts out by visiting Peter in jail, where the fog machine is happily pumping away, inventing strange new interior weather patterns behind him. He’s condemned to hang, and she’s been trying to convince the judges that he’s innocent.

465 dark shadows black vicki

Desperate to find someone to help, she stumbles away into the darkness.

465 dark shadows black box nathan

Then another spotlight illuminates Lt. Nathan Forbes, perched on a stool and slumped against his desk, fighting off the effects of a drowsy hangover. This is clearly not many steps away from Peter’s cell, just another area on stage, furnished with the bare minimum of set dressing.

This is another moment that reminds you that Dark Shadows was made by New York theater people, who must have been amazed that ABC was paying them to stage experimental black box theater for daytime television. There is literally nothing on television today that looks like this, which is a shame because it looks fantastic.

465 dark shadows approach vicki nathan

Vicki finds Nathan in this strange dark place, resting in peace. She approaches him nervously, unsure what to expect.

465 dark shadows pleasure nathan

But he opens his eyes with a drowsy leer; this is clearly the early model sexy-rogue Nathan, rather than the Bond-villain Nathan who we saw in the last few weeks.

“Oh… Miss Winters,” he smiles. “What’s your pleasure?”

465 dark shadows flirt vicki nathan

She tells him that Peter’s going to be hanged for murdering Noah, and Nathan has to tell the judges the truth. He reaches out, trying to put his arm around her.

Nathan:  Look, why don’t we stop talking about Peter Bradford, and start talking about us?

Vicki:  Why can’t you do something decent for someone?

Nathan:  Why are you getting so angry with me? I mean, finally we have something in common.

465 dark shadows dead nathan

She doesn’t understand what he’s talking about, and keeps asking him to help Peter. He tries to explain some basic facts.

Vicki:  You’re the only one the judges will listen to.

Nathan:  How can they listen to me, when they can’t possibly hear me?

Vicki:  What are you talking about?

Nathan:  My dear Miss Winters, don’t you understand? I am powerless to sway the court for the same reason that you are. How can they possibly hear you, or me, when we are both dead?

465 dark shadows accept vicki nathan

“Don’t you remember?” he chuckles. “You died by hanging, and I was strangled. Not a very dignified way to go, but then I didn’t have much choice in the matter.”

So I think we have to assume at this point that Vicki is actually making contact with Nathan’s spirit. Vicki didn’t know that he was strangled; it’s not buried in her subsconscious anywhere. This is new information, getting into her dream from an outside source, and there’s no reason to believe that it’s anything other than a dream-world conversation with Forbes himself.

465 dark shadows remember vicki nathan

And the remarkable thing is that he’s utterly delighted. One of the big themes of Dark Shadows is exploring how it feels after you’re dead, and this is the first time that question has been answered with a grin.

At the end of the encounter, he raises his tankard and proposes a toast: “To death! The best of all possible worlds!”

465 dark shadows death nathan

So why is Nathan having such a good time? Well, to start with, he seems peaceful and untroubled, remembering only the simple joy of drinking and flirting with Vicki. When Jeremiah and Josette’s spirits were roused from their graves, all they talked about is how much they want to rest. Judging from this scene, it looks like Nathan’s getting all the rest that he wants.

Nathan was a basically happy person; his only troubled thoughts were about wanting more than he had. When there was something wet in his glass and a pretty girl nearby, he was perfectly satisfied. It was only when he thought about the possibility of the Collins fortune slipping out of his grasp that he would get upset.

But here, in this little pool of light within a vast darkness, he’s no longer troubled by frustrated desire. The desk, book and tankard are the only things that exist in this place, and he owns all of it. It turns out that all he ever wanted was everything that there is, and now he’s got it.

465 dark shadows gone vicki

Vicki, on the other hand, isn’t satisfied with the simple pleasures of the grave. She’s still trying to fight for Peter, even when she knows it’s hopeless.

465 dark shadows forget vicki barnabas

She wakes up, screaming Peter’s name, and finds that her real life is even more of a nightmare.

Her ride is here, and she answers his questions with a dull resignation.

Barnabas:  Who is Peter?

Vicki:  He’s someone I met, a long time ago.

Barnabas:  Someone you cared for.

Vicki:  Yes.

Barnabas:  Well, you must forget him now, Vicki.

Vicki:  That will be very hard to do.

Barnabas:  Well, you must try very hard.

So let’s talk for a moment about how completely not-redeemed Barnabas is right now. We’ve gone back in time to learn more about where he came from, but he’s still pulling the same nonsense on Vicki that he did on Maggie almost a year ago.

465 dark shadows peace vicki barnabas

We’ve talked before about the fantasy-metaphor rape that’s at the core of all vampire fiction. It’s a physical violation, usually of young women and usually performed as if it’s a sexual act, and the fact that romantic vampire fiction is so unbelievably popular says something fairly dark about all of us, especially you.

Even worse, it’s usually presented in the context of “hunger”, something that the vampire just has to do periodically. Imagine a rape trial where the accused patiently explains to the jury that he raped a girl because he was hungry, and he should be released as long as he promises to only rape someone when he really needs to. There isn’t a stake in the world big enough to hammer into that dude’s heart. That’s not an acceptable excuse.

But the very worst part of this fantasy metaphor is that Barnabas actively changes the person that he bites, over-writing her feelings and her plans for the future. His plan for Maggie was to reformat her hard drive, wiping her clean and then uploading Josette’s personality into her empty body. He talked specifically about Maggie’s current self as being common and worthless, and he said she should be honored to take on the persona of a higher-status, more sophisticated woman.

465 dark shadows reformat vicki barnabas

Now, I’m not going to suggest that the obliteration of someone’s memory and personality is worse than physical rape, because you can’t really play “worse than” games with stuff like that. But it might be worse.

I mean, if you imagine someone going into your head and heart, changing who you love or who you think you are — deliberately inducing amnesia and then rewriting the story of your life, without your participation — think of the rage that you would feel. It’s just evil on a level that people can hardly even do to each other.

Ultimately, the core of Barnabas’ power is the ability to rewrite a narrative, changing it into something else for his own benefit. He does this all the time — first by changing the personality and loyalties of his victims and slaves, and later on jumping around in time to rewrite the history of his family.

Even the peace of the grave, which Nathan is enjoying so much right now, is not a guarantee that his story is his own. Barnabas is going to return to 1795, and Nathan’s destiny is still up for grabs. And that’s nothing compared to what Barnabas does to Quentin, and to Gerard.

As we saw a couple days ago, the date on Peter Bradford’s gravestone eventually gets corrected with a magic marker, and that’s exactly what Barnabas does to Quentin and Gerard — deliberately traveling back in time with a black magic marker powered by authentic black magic, writing his own version of history.

And he’s not alone in this role. Angelique is also famous for rewriting over other people’s personalities — she made Jeremiah and Josette fall in love, and her portrait is currently casting the same spell on Roger. In fact, it’s possible to see most of the series as a Wikipedia edit war between Barnabas and Angelique, each of them trying to impose their own versions of the story on everyone else.

465 dark shadows car barnabas vicki

Over the next year, Dark Shadows becomes primarily a show about time travel — intentionally structured as a series of chapters, which are defined by the time period in which they’re set. I think it’s possible to see this as a battle of competing narratives, with heroes and villains all engaged in the process of writing over other people’s lives.

And that’s what makes Dark Shadows such a compelling example of the soap opera genre. Long-running serialized narratives are always changing the past — both intentionally as retcons, and accidentally as continuity errors. Young people are aged up to adults in an instant, long-lost children are inserted into a character’s past. Dark Shadows just happens to be the example where they openly admit that they’re messing around with the show’s history.

In fact, it’s tempting to say that every continuity error that we see is just a manifestation of the unpredictable feedback and feedforward loops caused by people moving back and forth through time, over-writing everyone’s lives without caring about the impact.

465 dark shadows drive barnabas vicki

So here are a couple of questions that have been puzzling us all week.

Q: If Vicki existed in Barnabas’ past, why didn’t he recognize her when he first appeared on the show?

A: Because she hadn’t gone back in time yet.

Q: Then why doesn’t Barnabas remember her being in the past now?

A: How do you know that this is the same Barnabas?

465 dark shadows car barnabas

I mean, think about it — if you could stack up all the evidence that supports the idea that the world that Vicki has returned to is the same as the world that she left, next to the evidence that it’s not the same world, then the clear answer is that she’s now in a different timeline.

We’ve seen this play out all week. They had the seance because they were desperate to contact Sarah, and find out what was wrong with David — but now they’ve had a whole week, and nobody’s mentioned either Sarah or David at all. Julia gets a haircut, and tells everyone that she’s a doctor. Carolyn is resisting Barnabas’ vampire conditioning. Barnabas gets down on one knee and begs Julia to be his friend again. This is obviously a new place.

365-dark-shadows-seance

And here’s the proof. This picture is from episode 365, when Phyllis took Vicki’s place at the seance.

461 dark shadows seance

And this is the seance from episode 461, which was supposed to be just one tick of the clock later. They’re all in different positions, sitting in different seats, and in some cases wearing different clothes.

This is obviously not the same Collinwood that Vicki left. It’s similar, sure, but it’s not the same. Dark Shadows has invented Parallel Time, two years earlier than we thought they did.

In fact, we can actually watch this re-writing happen from one episode to the next. When they repeat the tail end of yesterday’s episode as today’s pre-titles teaser, they often don’t use a clip of yesterday’s scene — they just perform the scene again, sometimes with different dialogue or wearing a different outfit. We literally see two different versions of the same scene, one after the other. Which one is the “canonical” version? Have we been watching multiple Parallel Times all along?

465 dark shadows road peter

So I have some hard news for the spirit of Nathan Forbes. He may think that he’s free — that death is a release, a final ending to the story that can’t be changed.

But a soap opera is a neverending story, where the dead never get to rest in peace. These characters will be writing and rewriting over each other until the very last episode. And for Dark Shadows in particular, even cancellation doesn’t stop things — there are still paperback novels, comic books, comic strips, fan fiction, three movies and a night-time show, each one taking place in a different version of Collinwood. If Nathan has actually found the best of all possible worlds, then he’d better enjoy it while it lasts.

Monday: Welcome to the Hellmouth.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

There’s a nice clear boom mic shadow on Barnabas’ portrait when Vicki looks at it in the teaser.

The climax of the episode involves Barnabas and Vicki driving to the Eagle Hill cemetery and getting into an accident. The cemetery’s location fluctuates based on narrative convenience, much like the island in Lost. Back in episode 413, a ten-year-old ran from the front door of Collinwood straight into the cemetery in under a minute, wearing her pajamas.


Behind the Scenes:

In Vicki’s dream, the Gaoler is played by Peter Murphy, who’s almost  done with his run of fill-in appearances. We’ll see him one more time, playing a gravedigger in a couple weeks.

The Hangman is played by James Shannon, who was also the hangman in 460 and 461; we’ll see him again in May as a policeman.

Monday: Welcome to the Hellmouth.

 465 dark shadows wave peter

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

31 thoughts on “Episode 465: The Best of All Possible Worlds

  1. Maybe what was written in the Collins history book was an accurate version of events and Vicki landed in an alternate version of 1795. In the history book version even Josette dosen’t come to Barnabas willingly, she was actually in love with Jeremiah and therefore Angelique wouldn’t have needed to place a spell on them (unless she was also in love with Jeremiah. In that case she would have then placed the spell on Barnabas and Josette, and then they would have fallen in love. Apart from Josette did anyone else ever come to Barnabas willingly? Barnabas is a snob but also insecure (possibly because the competition for his affections were classically better looking than he was?) He may have thought that he couldn’t get someone to love him on his own so he needed to ‘help them along’. But I also think that he was delusional enough to actually convince himself that the victims he selected WERE really in love with him and ‘just didn’t know it yet’.

    1. I tend to think Barnabas has multiple layers of delusion going on. I suspect you’re right — on one level he does think that these women are already in love with him and just don’t know it yet. And on another level he thinks no one can love him and so he has to pull all these shenanigans. I find it especially ironic that he positively oozes sex appeal — think of how Jonathan Frid became a sex symbol, in his mid-forties — and yet he thinks he has to manipulate like crazy to get anywhere with the babes. That dynamic may be something that “just happened” rather than something they planned — the writers wanted a character who launches evil schemes, and meanwhile the guy just happens to be ridiculously hot to an awful lot of women. But when you put it together, it seems like an interesting key to the character — a man who could just sit back and let the beautiful women line up to get bitten, and he’s all wrapped up in plotting and manipulating and trying to move women around like chess pieces. Of course, the writers aren’t writing the women on the show as instantly falling for his charms, except for Angelique and Julia Hoffman, so perhaps the dynamic I’m describing isn’t fully inside the show. But I can’t help thinking about it as I watch — seeing this guy running around in circles with evil plots and off-the-wall schemes, I wonder what he’d get if he just dropped all that and let women fall for him. And what it is about the character that makes him absolutely unable to do that.

      1. Yes he was batting 0 for a while because of his vampire mentality, seriously pompous and arrogant. I read an article he wrote about how he didn’t think it was healthy for women to look at him as a sex symbol, or that vampirism should be associated with sexuality. That women should not delusional about it. I think that article he wrote turned off alot of housewives and teenagers. Then he made a comment that other vampires were erotic in their biting people and not him…lol. I guess because Tom was biting the shit out of Julia and Julia was liking it…lol. Julia would have given Tom the ride of his life and he knew that…lol.
        I thought Barnabas was sexy looking in one of his pics, but would I have wanted to get with him?…hell no…Jerry Lacy yes!

  2. Another thing he was also arrogant enough to look down with disdain on the one person who would have really loved him for who he was (Julia) because she wasn’t young and pretty enough for him. Also I forgot that ROGER DAVIS is back? I would endure any version of an alternate world that doesn’t include him!!

    1. In fairness, we rightly criticize self-proclaimed “nice guys” who feel they are “owed” a romantic relationship with the close female friend they dote on. Barnabas was fairly upfront with Julia. And as the year progresses, he begins to treat her as a true friend. Does that make him shallow or arrogant for not loving her? I’m not so sure. In fact, if I were to remake DS, I’d keep the friendship but lose the unrequited romance angle — perhaps have Julia dating Stokes.

      1. Considering I was always rooting for Julia to get over Barnabas and then turn to Professor Stokes, I’m on board. Unrequited pining doesn’t do it for me, so I didn’t like Julia doing it. She deserved someone who appreciated her and who was as smart as she was. Stokes was the only one even close to that.

        And yeah, I don’t blame Barnabas at all. He was upfront with Julia. He didn’t lead her on. I have tons of issues with his “let’s turn someone into my old girlfriend” schtick but he was open and above board with Julia.

        1. Percy I do agree with you. I was hoping she would remind Barnabas how he treated her right before the 1795 departure. Since he is so bold as to tell her he wanted her to help him after he damn near killed her. And still acting like a pompous fool. If you want something you go after it. Julia did her best to make Barnabas see her and I think it finally hit home when he tried to drive her crazy that she should just give up on him. Still she finds the need to be accessible to him.

        2. I was hoping Julia would go away and find another. Julia is so intimidating to Barnabas, he scares the living shit out of him, so he has to compensate by being insulting. Luckily it boomerangs back to him.

    2. I suspect that when it comes to romance, Barnabas has a bit of the “I won’t belong to any club that would have me” thing going on.

    3. I know! This is my first time through the show so I’m surprised by everything. But the idea that HE is who you bring back from 1795? Part of the time jumps allow you to clean up one era when you return to it later: leaving 1795 was a very good opportunity to leave that actor in the past.

    4. Barnabas did crash and burn on all of his love quests except JULIA, which just appeared. After becoming a vampire, he should have checked around for tips on approaching potential love interests without biting them and treating them like shit. He was so busy thinking he was a king of some kind and yet, finding it irritating that the only way he could half way get there was through hypnosis and threats. Not cool Barnabas…not cool man….lol.

  3. I wouldn’t consider the Collinwood that Vicky returns to as parallel time, but would regard the switch in positioning–particularly that of Barnabas and Phyllis Wick–as a strategic one, given that in the first instance they hadn’t yet written the full 1795 storyline, and so likely had no idea what sort of a relationship Barnabas and Phyllis/Vicky would have, if any, whereas in the second instance with Phyllis in a different chair and Barnabas standing directly across from her he is better positioned to recognize her and utter his telling line, “What are YOU doing here?”, which of course would have been less effective were he standing directly behind her as in the first instance.

    Regarding the different clothes, the show did have their ongoing contract with Ohrbach’s, who no doubt had their spring line available, and it was important that Carolyn remain fashionable and up to date as well as their vampire star, while it was probably okay if Mrs. Stoddard and Roger and Julia were still frumping about looking like 1967. As for different outfits in the next-day teaser, probably just convenience, so as to avoid one additional costume change for the current day’s shoot. True, the dialog is sometimes slightly different, but I think that’s just ad-libbing on the part of the actors. With all the quick work the writers have to do, I doubt they would bother with retouching for the teaser. It’s sometimes amusing to note how some actors flub the same line in the next-day teaser as they did when playing the scene the day before.

  4. » In fact, it’s possible to see most of the series as a Wikipedia edit war between Barnabas and Angelique, each of them trying to impose their own versions of the story on everyone else.«

    Love it. I like your “Not the Same Collinwood” theory as well.

    1. Yes, and she’s even slowing down for the turn, as indicated by the engine sound effect changing frequency right after she says the turn into Eagle Hill is next. C’mon Vicky, learn to handle that prop-car!

    2. I think, if I saw Roger Davis smiling and waving at me like that, I’d drive into a tree too. I don’t even know how to drive but somehow, somehow I’d obtain a car and run it into the first trunk I could find. Twice, if need be.

  5. It’s really hard to know what’s a flub/continuity issue and what was a deliberate decision (re: the new positions at the seance). But let’s face it: The vast majority were just flubs/lack of continuity as a cash-strapped, tiny cast and crew spit out a feature length movie once a week. And never in anyone’s wildest dreams would they think people would be analyzing their every move in 2016. Gosh — turn me into a cat!

    No one has commented on what I thought was an interesting moment at the end of the episode. Victoria is driving (in itself not surprising that Barnabas hasn’t learned yet), but she’s being very bossy and un-Vicky about it. Barnabas is in the passenger seat, literally and figuratively. They are going where she wants to go and at her speed. And he’s just sitting there helpless along for the ride.

    1. I guess he was hoping she would be more happy about it. Barnabas has to realize none of his love quests were never happy about being with him.

  6. Not to speak out of turn, but even though “not the same Collinwood” was never intended in the series, it’s a refreshing idea. It’s a first in DS fandom. I really think no one has ever come up with that idea before, at least amongst the “die-hard ” original fans. (Yes, they are still around.) ☺

  7. I’m surprised there’s not more comment about that itty-bitty car! No wonder Barnabas looks so unhappy – he’s stuck in that tiny clown car with Vicki and her wandering eye, which takes up half a seat already.

    1. therealemp I was thinking the same thing. I am 6’2″ so understand a cramped car by just looking at it. He had to be uncomfortable as hell in that car…lol…

  8. Oh my God, even with his hands tied behind his back Davis can’t stop touching Alexandra. It’s really creepy the way he aggressively rubs his chin all over her head, gettin’ his stank all over her hair…

  9. If Barnabas can make Vicki come to him at will, why can’t he convince her not to go to the cemetery where he knows she is going to find what she is looking for. Another example of the writers just making it up as they go along so they can introduce Peter into the present timeline rather than using some sort of character continuity.

    1. Barnabas was trying to get away from Julia because Julia let him know she wasnt playing around with him biting Vicki when she told him to stay away from her. Now she might have expressed a sincere interest in him, but she wasnt down for his shit. And the reason I reiterate this is because at the same time, after this episode and them landing in the hospital, her and Barnabas become partners.

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