Episode 466: Welcome to the Hellmouth

“Doctor, may I see your neck, please?”

We closed our first week back in the 1960s with a tremendous car accident, which is either a metaphor for the chaotic process of change and renewal, or just another example of Victoria Winters destroying every single thing that she touches.

466 dark shadows heartbeat barnabas lang

So we begin this week with a visit to Extremely Specific Hospital, where Dr. Eric Lang is trying his best to get a pulse rate off a dead guy.

“There was no sign of pulse when he was admitted,” the nurse says, and Dr. Lang grumbles, “I know,” as if this is just one more thing that he hates about Mondays.

466 dark shadows casual lang nurse

The nurse sniffs, “His blood count was the lowest I’ve ever seen,” with an air of disappointed resignation, like Barnabas is completely irresponsible for letting it go this far.

The doctor says, “Get plasma, and prepare him for a massive blood transfusion.”

“Yes, doctor,” the nurse replies, and then the conversation kind of drifts on to other topics.

Lang:  Were you in emergency when he was admitted?

Nurse:  Yes, doctor.

Lang:  Was he bleeding extensively?

Nurse:  Not at all, I didn’t understand it.

Lang:  Are his clothes here?

Now, I’ll admit that there’s a lot I don’t know about health care, but I’m pretty sure that you can tell at a glance if someone’s been bleeding extensively. There are usually some telltale signs that help to swing the diagnosis over in that direction.

But this is 1968, maybe blood worked differently back then. I’m not picking up a huge sense of urgency from these two. Maybe blood was optional.

466 dark shadows amnesia vicki jeff

Things are also pretty confusing over in the next room, where Vicki is recovering from the car accident.

She ran off the road because she caught sight of a guy who looks like Peter Bradford, her attorney/boyfriend from the 18th century. Now the guy feels responsible, because obviously people who look like somebody should never stand by the side of a road. That’s just basic traffic safety.

466 dark shadows plot vicki jeff

And thus begins one of those epic storylines that’s absolutely calculated to make viewers wish that they were watching something else. This guy looks like Peter, Vicki thinks he’s Peter, and there’s every reason for the audience to expect that he will actually turn out to be Peter.

But the guy doesn’t recognize Vicki, and he claims that his name is Jeff Clark. Vicki isn’t fooled.

Vicki:  You don’t just look like him — your face, your hair, your hands — they’re just the same.

Now, technically, that’s what “you look like him” means, but I understand where she’s going with this. There’s an obvious Peter-shaped hole in the story right now, and here’s a remarkably Peter-shaped new character that just walked in the door.

And anyone in the audience with even the vaguest sense of televisual literacy can instantly tell that this must be Peter, because that’s the only reason why there would be a camera pointed in his direction. You don’t have a guy in 1795 say, “Whatever happens, I will find you,” and then have a completely unrelated lookalike show up a week later for no reason.

So starting right now, every single person in the audience knows that this guy is Peter, no matter what he says, and therefore every minute that we spend between now and him admitting that he’s Peter is just pointless stalling that wastes everybody’s time.

P.S. It takes eight months. P.P.S. I’m not kidding.

466 dark shadows condition vicki lang

The nurse chases the mystery man out of the room, and unleashes Dr. Lang on the poor girl. This is what’s wrong with American health care.

Dr. Lang is played by Addison Powell, who we saw a few months ago playing Judge Matigan in a 1795 episode. He happens to be The Worst Actor Who Ever Appeared on Dark Shadows. We’re going to go into this in greater depth tomorrow, so for now, I’ll just remind you that as an actor, Powell only has two settings, which are Loud and More Loud, and we’ll move on.

466 dark shadows bite vicki

But Lang must have something on the ball, because he zeroes in on the mysterious puncture wounds on Vicki’s neck, which are practically invisible to the naked eye. I think this is what happens when you’ve been doing a vampire show for almost a year and you start taking it for granted.

A vampire bite is supposed to look like a bloodthirsty ghoul tore a chunk out of the side of your head. This looks like a mild allergic reaction. You wouldn’t even put Neosporin on this.

466 dark shadows chaos lang julia

But there’s more chaos to come in this haunted hospital. Dr. Lang heads back to Barnabas’ room, and finds Dr. Julia Hoffman there, arranging for an ambulance to take her patient back home.

Now, Lang just got his foot in the door of this storyline; he’s not going to let Julia snatch away his only chance for a part in tomorrow’s episode. This begins an exchange that marks another important milestone on the show’s long journey to becoming Dark Shadows.

466 dark shadows coy julia lang

Julia says that she’s been treating Barnabas for a rare blood disorder that only she fully understands.

Dr. Lang waves his eyeglasses around, and pretends to be thoughtful. Lord help us; I think he’s being coy.

Lang:  Tell me, Doctor, what name have you given to this “rare blood disease”?

Julia:  I’ve not found a name which accurately describes Mr. Collins’ condition.

Lang:  Mm hmm. You know, I think I have, Doctor.

Julia:  I doubt that. I was told that his injuries in the accident were limited to severe loss of blood.

Lang:  I’m not talking about the accident. Doctor, may I see your neck, please?

466 dark shadows hellmouth lang julia

And there we are, it’s a different show. In one episode — really, in one deliriously nutty question — Dr. Eric Lang changes the way that Dark Shadows works.

After all, it took Julia more than a month to figure out that Barnabas was a vampire, and she was miles ahead of everyone else in town. Dr. Lang has been on the case for a little over ten minutes.

But Lang’s got an important advantage over everyone else. When Julia and Dr. Woodard were first looking into the problem of Maggie’s strange condition, they were on a relatively normal soap opera that had recently introduced some supernatural elements. Dr. Lang is walking onto the set of a spook show.

466 dark shadows doctor lang julia

So, clearly, he’s already been prepped. Look what tumbles out of his mouth next.

Lang:  Doctor, I have a certain interest in bizarre medicine. It’s a hobby of mine, actually.

Julia:  That’s very interesting. We must discuss it next time we meet.

Lang:  We will discuss it now, Doctor. You know, your patient could be classified a member of the…

Then a pause, obviously, for dramatic effect, just a hair longer than is strictly necessary.

Lang:  … living dead.

466 dark shadows mouth julia lang

So, here’s the innovation. Since Barnabas first climbed out of the mystery box, all of the supernatural activity has been tied directly to him, and his origin story. Josette’s ghost was retconned as Barnabas’ long-dead lover, Sarah was introduced as the ghost of his little sister, and Angelique is the witch who cursed him. As far as the show is concerned, Barnabas is the nexus of all spookiness in this universe.

But Dr. Lang is something new. He’s a complete stranger to Barnabas, and he ends up involved in this storyline entirely by chance. Barnabas went to the hospital, and this is the doctor who happened to be on duty at the time.

And now we know that there’s another doctor at the Collinsport Hospital, who — completely independently of the Curse of Collinwood — has been studying “bizarre medicine” as a hobby. He’s not falling down the rabbit hole, the way that Dr. Woodard did. Lang is one of the rabbits.

466 dark shadows slayer lang julia

They don’t have a name for this yet, because it’s 1968 and they won’t come up with the word for another three decades, but Collinsport is apparently on a Hellmouth.

Joss Whedon created the “Hellmouth” concept in 1997 for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The idea is basically a self-aware, postmodern meta-joke that explains why there’s a new monster to fight every week in and around Sunnyvale High School, the main setting for the series. According to the show, the school was built over a portal between Earth and Hell, which serves as a focal point that attracts vampires, demons, witches and other supernatural plot contrivances.

An idea like that is basically a safety valve for the suspension of disbelief. Whenever it becomes too much of a coincidence for the audience to accept that yet another person interacting with the main cast has fallen victim to dark forces, the characters make a wry joke about living on a Hellmouth, and that allows the narrative to keep functioning.

So, under Hellmouth rules, it makes perfect sense for the attending physician to be a member of the Mad Monster Party, and for the local antique shop to sell haunted portraits, and all of the other lunatic plot contrivances that will start arriving on our doorstep over the next year.

A soap opera is a non-stop narrative engine that burns through story — and if this crazy show is going to keep stumbling along, they’re going to need reinforcements.

The portal has opened. The summoning can begin.

Tomorrow: Physician, **** Thyself.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

At the start of act 2, when Jeff says “Be careful,” the camera swings too far to the left, revealing the edge of the set and the room beyond it.

When Vicki asks Jeff if he remembers her, he says, “What, have we m– known each other before? I’m sure I’d remember.”

Lang asks Vicki, “Miss Collins — um, Miss Winters, I’m sorry — do you know Barnabas Collins well?”


Behind the Scenes:

Dr. Lang is wearing a pale blue lab coat instead of the traditional white. That’s because the show used to be taped in black-and-white, and a pale blue coat looks more white on black-and-white videotape than a white coat does. The show switched to color about eight months ago, but apparently they’ve still got some blue coats lying around.

The nurse is played by Katharine Balfour, in her only episode. In 1944, she was the first actress to play Alma in Summer and Smoke, a Tennessee Williams play that I’ve frankly never heard of. Her best-known role was the mother of Ryan O’Neal’s character, Oliver, in the 1970 film Love Story. I could tell you more facts about her, but frankly just saying those two has bored me entirely stiff. I’m sure she was a very nice person.

Tomorrow: Physician, **** Thyself.

466 dark shadows coat lang

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

28 thoughts on “Episode 466: Welcome to the Hellmouth

  1. Dr. Lang AND Peter Bradford( I’M NOT PETER) shoot me please#! ,,,P.S. I believe the scenes between these two thesps contributed to my hearing loss. I should sue!

  2. I have to say I quite like Addison Powell as Dr. Lang. At least his voice has a bit of melodramatic character, in the best 1950s sci-fi movie sense, unlike the whiny nasal abrasiveness of Roger Davis. And he’s a strong, assertive character. He gets Jeff Clark to do the craziest things, keeps Julia from taking control of the situation, and convinces Barnabas to cooperate fully and follow through on his treatment. He’s also a good buffer between Barnabas and Julia, because it’s through this experimental odyssey that Lang leads them on that they will eventually become good friends, which likely wouldn’t have happened without a go-between character like Dr. Lang. As of this moment he is the catalyst for where this show is going for the rest of 1968.

    As for worst actor on Dark Shadows? Wait until we get to parallel time and meet Keith Prentice as Morgan Collins, who keeps his eyes on the teleprompter more often than on the actors he’s playing scenes with–and STILL messes up his lines. How bad is he? He flubs a key word in a scene one day, and then when the scene is replayed as the opening teaser for the next day he flubs the SAME word AGAIN!

    1. Yeah, I don’t mind him either. Mostly because, as bad as he may be as an actor, he’s still interesting and fun to watch (partly because of the character, partly because he’s so over the top). Unlike say Roger Davis or Craig Slocum, who are bad actors and deadly dull.

    2. AND talk about SHOUTING? You are correct Morgan Collins is up there with the worst..I am watching that arc now for the first time,WHY do they keep casting these loud wooden soldiers? Sky Rumson may be the worst, because he can’t even shout the lines he messed up.

    3. I agree – I actually liked Addison Powell even though I thoroughly disliked the storyline associated with him. Another actor that really worked my nerves was Robert Rodan although it was probably his character that annoyed me rather than his acting ability.

    4. Not only Morgan Collins but Angelique’s husband during the Leftan story. He is fine but horrible as an actor or maybe this was his debut acting part.

  3. DS manages to repeat the Peter Bradford/Jeff Clark problem with Quentin Collins/Grant Douglas in 1970. It is one of the most infuriating plot choices possible. Do writers believe it creates ‘dramatic irony’ and narrative tension if we all know something everyone else doesn’t? I suppose it can when the “secret” is entertaining (when we are the only ones who know Barnabas is a vampire) but when the secret only stalls the plot, it’s disastrous.

    I’d argue they handle it better with Bradford/Clark because Clark still functions as a character even aside from the “is he Peter Bradford mystery”: He’s Lang’s assistant and the romantic interest for Vicki. Grant Douglas did nothing but have amnesia and not be Quentin and there is no greater crime than not being Quentin.

    1. Wow! I don’t even remember the Grant Douglas storyline and I watched the show in reruns a couple of times. It was that unmemorable. I remember the Leviathans. I remember both parallel times. I can’t even place Grant Douglas after reading the Supernatural Wiki on him. I also admit that I I have repressed Roger Smith’s characters after Jeff Clark, so it may be a defense mechanism.

  4. A couple of issues I was kicking back and forth: Dr Lang and Dr Woodard would have probably known each other (at least they would have passed by in the doctors lounge since they were both on staff at Collinsport General). The difference between these two characters is really a perfect example of the old school and the new school Dark Shadows. They really seem to be from different worlds. The appearance of Lang and his upcoming storyline (my absolute LEAST favorite) really the signal the beginning of the absolute ridiculousness of the direction the show takes. Also Vicki and Barnabas were running away and ‘eloping’ and none of the Collins family seemed to bat an eyelash. You would think that at least Liz and Roger would be shocked at this turn of events. If Vicki were actually Liz’s daughter NOW would have been the time to speak up.

    1. I am guessing they didnt tell anybody. Barnabas didnt want Julia to know and Vicki didnt want anybody else know she was doing that ridiculous shit with Barnabas and she didnt even want too.

  5. On side note, please note the hospital sheets on Vicki and Barnabas hospital bed, are the official Collinsport sheets. They time travel through the century’s wherever there is a bed scene there they are. I never saw the Grant Douglas Olivia Cory story arc until my third time through DS. Is it possible when I watched Ds reruns on tv, they would have slipped them?

    1. Yeah, I’d be surprised if many post 1968 episodes were aired in syndication prior to Sci-Fi. It’s a tremendous commitment for a channel to screen them all: Even starting with episode 210, there’s a 1,000 episodes. Two episodes a day (another big programming commitment) still comes out to 2 years. And that’s 2 years of fresh content that over time becomes increasingly harder to just “jump” right in.

      That is what’s so impressive about DS: No soap opera before or since has had its entire run reaired and released on video. Of course, it’s also off-putting to new audiences: Without Sci-Fi, a new viewer faces a $1,000 investment to watch the whole series. This is why I’m pleased to see Hulu starting to screen the episodes, though I hope it doesn’t stall after early Barnabas as Netflix did.

    2. I was about to mention the same thing about those glaring hospital sheets. I just started this episode and it was the first thing I noticed. It wasn’t very good at giving the impression of a hospital room, and yellow/gold (of all colors!) surely doesn’t look very sanitary. It doesn’t seem like a set of white sheets would have been a budget breaker. And colored sheets only just started getting popular for home use back then anyway. Hospitals still use mostly white or light blue. Aside from this, I’ve been impressed with the set designs.

      BTW (for anyone who wasn’t around back then): The new trifecta of large appliance colors in the ‘60s & ‘70s were harvest gold, avocado green, and copper (which was more like “old penny” brown). The only other option was white. Because appliances lasted longer back then and throw-away consumerism hadn’t yet taken hold, it seemed to remain popular for well over a decade. We got a harvest gold fridge in the late ‘60s that lasted a good 30 years and a matching dishwasher 5-10 years later. I was a kid and didn’t really pay attention to appliance fads, but I remembered because we moved a lot so I recalled which appliances were in each house.

      I’m wondering if I’ll ever get to see the Collinwood fridge.

  6. Blood was different in 1968. Watch an episode of a cop show from that time and you’ll see: the police find victims of gunshot wounds, but no pool of blood where they lay. Blood stayed where it was put in 1968.

  7. My name is William Brown. The year is 1978, and a TV show is about to cast a long shadow of grief and confusion and longing over my life. …

    Can you just imagine how horrified I was that I had watched reruns of this completely engaging show from the opening of the coffin by Willie to this moment — the curtains fly open at 4 in the afternoon! — and that’s it? I tuned in the next week, and it was “Brady Bunch” reruns.

    You could have put a stake through my heart. It was a LONG time before I ever learned anymore about this show and what happened after this point. Everything between now and 1897 will be new to me. Though I’m dreading the Dream Curse and Adam, I’m still looking forward to it, too.

    A couple of other thoughts:

    How could Barnabas so easily get over being shot with bullets or an arrow that narrowly misses his heart but be rendered helpless by a car accident? That’s just weird. But also typical DS. Barnabas and Angelique having powers that wildly wax and wane depending on one episode’s plot needs.
    Addison Powell / Dr. Lang. Maybe it’s subsequent episodes where he overdoes it on the acting, but I’m sold for this one episode. Seems like the perfect actor for a doctor, and he only gets melodramatic at the very last moment when he flings open those curtains — AT 4 IN THE AFTERNOON! And that’s a pretty melodramatic moment! Sure stayed with me for decades.

  8. Yes Addison Powell seems an extremely limited actor. But part of the challenge in moving back to 1967(8) is the need to amplify the gothic within the quotidian framework of the present. In 1795, costumes and sets could carry a lot more atmospheric weight. But this hospital is straight up Dullsville. You need AP’s histrionic line readings to give things a certain surreal edge. Well you don’t need it, but it helps.

    But I still want to talk about Grayson Hall’s beautiful hair. Not just here, but to anyone who will listen.

    1. Dr. Lang tried to punk Julia. If he was smart he would have played the whole situation differently which would have enhanced his hateful acting skills. Julia is very beautiful and not about the bullshit here either. Also if you notice, when she got to the hospital, she wasnt trying to wake Barnabas up and asking why he felt he needed to run away Vicki. She didnt go there at all. Julia my hero.

  9. A word on the use of ‘B&W’ props on a color show;
    sure, they had color TV in 1969, but many people did not have color sets in their homes until the ’70s or (in my case) the ’80s. DS would not have run out and spent budget money on detail stuff like candles and lab coats.
    (Believe it or not, my parents waited until they found a Zenith console TV in “Colonial decor” style! Eat your heart out!)

  10. The nurse’s phone call to Collinwood at the top of the episode is amazing. She’s clearly already decided which of her patients is the one worth treating.

    Nurse: a Mr Barnabas Collins has just been admitted.

    Julia: Barnabas!

    Nurse: an automobile accident.

    MASSIVE PAUSE

    Nurse: (casual) a Miss Victoria Winters has also been admitted.

  11. The set behind the closing credits of this episode includes a large wall clock. It reads 4:00. I thought that was a nice touch.

  12. “You’ll disappear and I won’t never know.” Yeah, this is someone I’d hire to teach my kid. So many comments about Roger Davis, but to me, AM is the most irritating actor on the show.

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