“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Danny Horn