“This coffin. What does it mean?”
Vicki and Jeff peer through the door to the secret room in the Collins mausoleum. Entering the cramped space, they find a closed coffin in the center of the room.
“This coffin,” Vicki sighs. “What does it mean? Does it mean something to you, Jeff?” This is their first date, by the way.
Honestly, I know that everybody has their awful first date stories, but this has got to be one of the all-time weirdest. It includes this unbeatable exchange:
Vicki: This is where I killed Noah Gifford.
Jeff: In this room?
And then it takes them five minutes to even think of looking inside the coffin. I don’t know what to do with these people.
But the really unfortunate thing about this sequence is that Julia has to hang around and be the third wheel, standing off to the side and looking worried whenever she thinks Vicki might remember something about Barnabas being a vampire.
This violates the natural order of things. Julia is not designed to live on the margins; she’s too powerful and interesting for that. In fact, last week, Julia ripped off her frumpy wig, told everybody that she’s a doctor, and basically took control of this entire enterprise. She’s the main character now; everybody else is just there to give her someone to look better than.
So it feels like something’s gone terribly wrong this week, like some dangerous toxic irritant has been introduced that’s throwing everything off, and bringing the show’s positive momentum to a blood-curdling halt. I wonder what that possibly could have been.
Anyway, then we go to Dr. Lang’s house, which I guess is a place now. He’s writing on something, and then there’s a knock at the door. He responds by looking at his watch with an insufferable grin on his face, and then he gets up to answer the door.
Dr. Lang was introduced on Monday, when Barnabas was brought to the hospital following a car accident. Lang immediately stepped right into the middle of the flagship storyline, whipping up a magic cure for vampirism and generally taking up space which would otherwise be filled with actors and scenery. I’m not a fan, is what I’m saying.
Lang sweeps open the doors, and says, “Well, well — Dr. Julia Hoffman!” in a tone that makes me think terribly uncharitable thoughts about him. There’s a panelled wall behind Julia, which means that he just opened an interior door, so I don’t know who actually let Julia in. Even Lang’s god-damn house doesn’t make any sense.
I know, I’ve been going after Lang all week, but he’s seriously unacceptable, and this scene is exactly why.
Julia: I’m sorry to bother you at this late hour, but it is rather important.
Lang: Yes, it must be, but I thought that you could wait until tomorrow.
Julia: You mean, you knew I was coming to see you?
Lang: Yes, I saw you this evening, going into the hospital. You saw Barnabas Collins, didn’t you?
Julia: Yes, I did, and what he said disturbed me a little.
Lang: Yes, I expected it would, and that’s why you’re here this evening.
So, that right there? That’s not okay. You can get away with a hell of a lot on Dark Shadows, but you do not act like you’re smarter than Dr. Julia Hoffman. There will be consequences.
So they’re doing it on purpose; they must be. They actively want the audience to hate this guy. It’s not just that he’s being horrible to the single most interesting character on the show. He’s actually pretending that he can beat her at her own game.
Julia: Did you tell him that you knew a permanent cure for his problem?
Lang: Yes, I did.
Julia: May I ask what it is?
Lang: I’m afraid I can’t tell you.
Julia: Why not?
Lang: I have my own reasons.
That’s her trick, brazenly defying social conventions in order to throw the other person off balance. She invented that trick. You are not the trickster.
So they spar back and forth for a little while, and Julia doesn’t really get anywhere, and then he waggles his eyebrows unimpressively and says the very worst thing that he could possibly say.
“Julia,” he says, eyebrows aflutter, “why are you so intensely interested in Barnabas Collins?”
She flusters. “Why shouldn’t I be interested? I told you, he’s been my patient.”
He executes another eyebrow arrangement, and says, “Is that the only reason?” except the way that he says it makes me terribly angry.
Because that means this is a woman thing. He’s saying that his interest in Barnabas is an ambitious achievement for modern science, and her interest is emotional and squishy and easily dismissed.
Everything that he’s doing in this scene is an expression of how masterful he thinks that he is. That’s why he did the smug little glance at his watch when she knocked at the door; he can predict her behavior, and the only thing that surprises him is that she has even less self-control than he expected. It’s repellent.
When we returned to the 1960s last week, the dynamics of the show shifted as we saw the female characters taking control of the show — Julia made several power plays, Carolyn shook off Barnabas’ conditioning, and even Vicki was showing signs of resistance and strength. This was a necessary course correction, because Barnabas was getting too comfortable, and women are always supposed to be the driving forces in soap opera narrative.
But this week is about introducing two new male characters, and it’s a painful demonstration of how awful life can be when you let guys do anything. All of a sudden, Julia’s troubled attempts to cure Barnabas — which were mostly troubled due to his recklessness — are now reframed as evidence of her incompetence, especially when compared to Dr. Lang’s miraculous thirty-minute cure.
He has it exactly backwards. He’s a scientist — detached and dispassionate — and he thinks that that’s a strength. But Julia is an alchemist, a much richer and stranger discipline. According to Lang’s limited worldview, the male intellect will always have dominion over the emotional female. He doesn’t realize that Julia breaks through that false dichotomy. She uses her emotions and her intelligence. She is much more powerful than he can possibly understand.
Alchemy is based on the idea that material achievements are paired with moral and spiritual perfection. Julia can take a base metal — like lead, or mid-1967 Dark Shadows episodes — and she can turn them into gold. Lang doesn’t have a chance.
Tomorrow: Mad Men.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the mausoleum, Naomi’s plaque still says 1761-1821, although obviously we now know that she died in 1796.
Dr. Lang tells Jeff, “Now, listen you — if you have any idea of interfering in any — of — of seeing Vicki Winters and interfering in my plans, I won’t have it!” For more mistakes, see also: every line that Addison Powell says.
Behind the Scenes:
Lang’s house is a redressed version of Barnabas’ bedroom from the 1795 storyline. It will be used later this year as Nicholas Blair’s House by the Sea.
It’s obvious why they’d want to use redressed sets, but in some cases this creates a funny confusion if it’s not quite a perfect match. In this case, Julia and Jeff apparently enter Lang’s house through an interior door, without going through a front door. (In a later episode, they’ll establish that there’s a front door and a hallway out there, but for now all we see is this room.) There was a similar confusion in episode 342, when it was impossible to tell whether the set was meant to represent Dr. Woodard’s office in the hospital, or his house.
Also, the Petofi box makes an appearance on the shelves in Lang’s drawing room; it was last seen in the Collinwood drawing room at the end of the 1795 storyline. (Thanks to prop-spotter Prisoner of the Night.)
Tomorrow: Mad Men.
— Danny Horn