Episode 479: Face/Off

“Why do you have me strapped to this table?”

So, Jeff’s crotch. All right, let’s start there.

479 dark shadows monster jeff

Dr. Eric Lang is building himself a man out of spare parts and shouting, a project that’s actually going remarkably well so far. He has most of the guy already assembled on the table in his lab, and he’s even found a vampire who’s willing to have his life force sucked out and inserted into the new creation. I don’t know what Lang was planning to use for a life force before the vampire came along. There’s a lot I don’t know about life forces; it’s kind of an emerging field.

Anyway, there’s one part of the monster still waiting. The creature needs a head — or, to use the term that everyone seems to insist on, a face.

And since Barnabas is the life-force donor who’s going to end up inside that face, he’s decided that the face he wants is Jeff’s face. Everybody keeps saying “the face” as if the monster already has the back of its head, and now it’s just lying there, all concave.

479 dark shadows sweaty jeff

But the face isn’t a bad face, at least from this angle. Roger Davis is actually a good-looking guy, if he’s not scowling or talking or trying to act. Unconscious, he’s the total package.

Plus, he’s kind of sweaty and he’s tied down, which I don’t know about you but it doesn’t make him any less attractive.

479 dark shadows crotch jeff lang

So there’s some subtext going on, is what I’m saying. I’m not going to get all slash-fic, and start making animated gifs for my Tumblr. I’m just going to observe that Dr. Lang has no female love interest, and his goal in life is to build a dude.

Also, the blocking for this scene is built entirely around Jeff’s crotch. If the director had said, let’s see if we can emphasize Jeff’s crotch a bit more, then I honestly don’t think that there’s a single thing they could do.

479 dark shadows there jeff lang

Jeff wakes up, and Lang is unbelievably business-casual about the whole thing.

Lang:  Ah! You’re awake.

Jeff:  What are you doing? Why am I strapped to this table?

Lang:  Jeff…

And then he rests his hand on Jeff’s shoulder.

Lang:  Did you really think I could afford to let you leave here, knowing what you know?

Jeff:  I told you, you can trust me.

Lang:  And I’m sure you meant it when you said it.

So far, the #1 creepiest thing on Dark Shadows is still the Barnabas/Carolyn “Comfort me” scene from a few weeks ago, but Lang is making a strong showing for the #2 spot on that list. He’s delivering these lines in a calm, patient tone, as if he’s being completely reasonable about this whole unfortunate situation.

It’s actually not even clear why Jeff is still breathing at this point. Lang knocked Jeff out with a hypodermic filled with something soothing, and he could have just finished him off then. Apparently, Lang wanted to have an exit interview; maybe it’s an HR thing.

479 dark shadows scalpel jeff

Lang starts brandishing a scalpel, which is kind of adorable considering that’s the tool he’s planning to use to cut his way through Jeff’s spinal cord. Lang’s wearing a white coat, too, and I don’t see any paper towels around. I really don’t think he’s thought this through at all.

So you have to admire the sheer nerve of this entire scenario. Every once in a while, you step back and say, it is 3:30 in the afternoon right now. How did we get here?

Jeff:  I know what you’re going to do to me.

Lang:  Now, just lie quietly, and you’ll feel no pain whatsoever.

Jeff:  My face! You’re going to use my face; it’s the only part of that monster that isn’t finished!

You see what I mean about “the face”? It’s bizarre.

479 dark shadows hands jeff

Lang tags Jeff with another hypo of knockout juice, which I don’t know what it is but, damn, it hits him like a freight train.

So the interesting thing here, from a lit-crit perspective, is the complete objectification of Jeff. After a year of fantasy-metaphor vampire rape, almost exclusively aimed at women, we now have a guy who’s being treated like a piece of meat to be used and argued over. It’s actually kind of refreshing. Finally, dudes are getting some equal time on the food chain.

There are some female vampire stories where good-looking guys are used for meat, including the brief vampire Daphne storyline in the 1991 Dark Shadows revival, but that’s not the default story by a long shot. It’s much more common to do the Dracula/Jack the Ripper trope of using the red-light district as the vampire’s personal pantry.

But this is soap opera, a genre that’s mostly enjoyed by heterosexual women and gay men, and there’s a lot more focus on the many decorative uses of man-flesh. By the 1990s, when fitness culture really takes hold of the American psyche, you start to get muscular guys on soaps who show off their pecs at every opportunity. There are some male characters on soaps today who have practically no wardrobe at all.

In 1968, the tyranny of the female gaze is a lot less overt, but — wait, seriously, why does he keep putting his hands on Jeff? It’s crazy.

479 dark shadows blanket lang jeff

Lang is about to start sawing away with the scalpel, when he’s interrupted by a frantic knocking at the door. It’s Barnabas, who somehow got into Lang’s house and all the way upstairs to the secret murder lab. I swear to God, the monsters on this show need to start taking security issues a lot more seriously.

Anyway, Lang responds to this crisis by grabbing a sheet to drape over the body. There’s an adorable moment when he’s struggling to find the end of the sheet. It takes him a little longer than expected to cover Jeff up, and Barnabas runs out of lines to say, so there’s an extra 15 seconds where there’s just the knocking sound effect, and Barnabas saying, “Doctor! Doctor Lang!”

But Lang eventually gets Jeff all covered up, and hurries over to let Barnabas in.

479 dark shadows cape barnabas lang

They proceed to have an extremely camp conversation, which is enlivened further by their increasingly tenuous grip on their lines. Jonathan Frid is famous for being a slow study with the dialogue, and Addison Powell is The Worst Actor Who Ever Appeared on Dark Shadows, so when these two get together, it’s always a good time.

Powell’s technique relies heavily on only memorizing his big speeches, and not paying attention when the other actor is talking. Observe his use of the word “what” in the following exchange.

Barnabas:  I’m frightened.

Lang:  Frightened of what, of what?

Barnabas:  You’ve got to help me.

Lang:  In what way? What’s happened?

Barnabas:  I was taking a stroll in the moonlight, enjoying the night air, and then —

Lang:  And then — what happened?

Barnabas:  I had a feeling that this thing was coming over me.

Lang:  What?

Barnabas:  An urge.

479 dark shadows urge barnabas

And seriously, what is with the hands today. It’s not that kind of urge, dude.

Although, actually, maybe it is. As long as we’re discussing gay subtext today, Barnabas’ struggle to control his own desire sounds an awful lot like a guy trying to stay out of the club scene.

Barnabas:  A sudden, irresistible urge to go into Collinsport to find someone, anyone. And… I’m changing back, I know I am!

So Jeff isn’t the only target for objectification today. This whole “experiment” storyline is about changing Barnabas’ body, sometimes without his consent. After all, Lang’s original treatment happened while Barnabas was unconscious.

479 dark shadows therapy barnabas lang

Lang uses the well-established therapeutic technique of putting both hands on the patient and shouting directly into his face.

Lang:  Barnabas, Barnabas. I TOLD you these SYMPTOMS might recur. But I ALSO told you HOW YOU COULD DEAL WITH THEM.

Barnabas turns away.

Barnabas:  I don’t think I can. It was like a giant wave coming at me, mounting higher and higher, this — this feeling within me!

479 dark shadows catch barnabas jeff

And then he turns, and catches sight of the guy hidden under a sheet, and this episode is so utterly gay.

479 dark shadows interrupt barnabas lang

They basically have the Sex and the City “Who did you bring home this time?” conversation, but way more creepy.

Barnabas:   Who is this?

Lang:  You might say it was you. Or part of you.

Barnabas:  Me? What do you mean?

Lang:  You interrupted me, Barnabas, at a very important moment.

479 dark shadows smile jeff

And Lang is just so calm about everything that he’s doing. That’s the unnerving thing. He told Jeff to “lie quietly”, like a dentist talking to a nervous patient before pulling his wisdom teeth. Now he’s having a relaxed conversation with Barnabas about sawing off a guy’s head.

It’s the white coat, I think. It goes to your head. In 1968 Dark Shadows, there are three types of people who actually have agency in the narrative — vampires, witches and doctors. Everybody else is just meat.

479 dark shadows horror barnabas lang

So the whole episode is Barnabas looking at Jeff’s unconscious body, and agonizing about his big moral choice.

Barnabas:  No… I can’t let you do it.

Lang:  Barnabas, Barnabas. This sudden surge of sentimentality is ridiculous!

Barnabas:  Is it sentimentality to recoil from such a horror?

Lang:  Surely you’re no stranger to horror, Barnabas Collins.

Barnabas:  But can’t the moment come, when I — yes, even I — can cry, “Enough!”

I love that line. This is his big, melodramatic “to be or not to be” moment. And he’s playing it like he’s a hero for choosing to not murder a guy and wear his skin.

479 dark shadows ghost barnabas jeff

But the point is that it’s his choice. There’s no question that Jeff belongs to Barnabas and Lang; they’re just having a disagreement about how to use him. I have the feeling that this storyline is about to get a lot darker.

Tomorrow: One More Life.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

There’s a tape edit in act 1, when Barnabas and Lang are arguing over Jeff’s body. Lang shouts, “You should know by now that I’m a man of my word!” And then there’s a close-up on Lang, and he says, “Barnabas, the anesthetic won’t last much longer. Now, you really must go!” The bit that’s edited out includes the moment when they take the sheet off of Jeff’s face. The way it’s edited, it looks like nobody removed the sheet.

Barnabas and Lang are shaky on their lines today, especially in act 3. Their flubs include:

Lang:  Now you’re really being — you’re really talking nonsense.

Lang:  If he talks, we’re both — we’re all implicated.

Barnabas:  When he comes out of the anesthetic, you have merely to tell him that his… is a delusion on his part. That you meant no harm to him.

Lang:  Believe me, Barnabas, neither of us can afford to live, as long as he’s alive.

When Jeff regains consciousness and threatens Lang with a scalpel, Lang’s performance gets even more shouty and insane, with lots of examples of putting the stress on the wrong phrase. Just as he’s about to stab Jeff with a syringe, Lang actually says Jeff’s line:

Lang:  Jeff — if you destroy me, you will destroy yourself! It happened once before. It could happen again!

Jeff:  Never! Never! It’ll never happen again.

Lang:  And it’s not going to happen to me again!  (He stabs Jeff.)  Not while I live!

Some more Barnabas line flubs from act 4:

Barnabas:  There’s a way of making Jeff forget everything he’s seen — that, uh, that’s happened this evening.

Barnabas:  Julia is not without her guilts. She had her mishaps, the first time she did this thing with me.

Barnabas:  (referring to Julia) You must help — let him help me!

Tomorrow: One More Life.

479 dark shadows touch jeff

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

26 thoughts on “Episode 479: Face/Off

  1. Why did I find myself screaming ‘DO IT..DO IT ALREADY!’ during this scene. Lang just seems so out of this world (and out of his mind) I find it hard to imagine him having romantic feelings toward anyone. If I look up the definition of ‘Mad Scientist’ I just know I’ll see his picture beside it.. Also maybe its just me but Barnaba’s expressions of concern for others always comes across as sounding ‘fake’, at least up until this point in the series. In later plots he does tend to sound more sincere..

  2. Just saw episode 1161, or was it 2? Anyway Addison is playing a judge. I really didn’t notice Addison being such a shouter while watching him as Lang when i saw this storyline a while ago, but boy was he in rare form in 1161! So no, he doesn’t get better with age..

    1. I agree with Al, I’m on episode 1163 and watched 1161 a few days ago. I actually screamed, “oh no, he’s back!” when I saw Powell as the judge. You’re correct in saying his performance does not improve. I wonder if he will show up again….as entertaining as he can be, I hope not. 😉

      1. As I screamed with Vicky when Craig Slocum shows up at the front door.

        “Oh, NO!!! He’s BACK!!!! Why, why, WHY????”

  3. I agree with Al, I’m on episode 1163 and watched 1161 a few days ago. I actually screamed, “oh no, he’s back!” when I saw Powell as the judge. You’re correct in saying his performance does not improve. I wonder if he will show up again….as entertaining as he can be, I hope not! 😉

  4. When Vicki is talking to Lang in his study, there’s a moment when she starts to walk across the room, but Lang is standing in the way, and Vicki can’t really get around him. But Lang just continues to stand there. Vicki needs to sidle past him to continue her lines. Also, Barnabas is wearing his cloak in the first half of the episode, including when he’s wandering the hallway and hears Vicki. But later, his cloak has disappeared.

  5. Oh, that’s just great…NOW, Barnabas decides to get a conscience. He could have saved us from 18 more months of Roger Davis! Geeesh!

  6. Lang is all creepy calm simply because Addison Powell doesn’t know how to inflect.

    All this gay subtext has got me thinking (it doesn’t take much). Obviously Friddlesticks was in the club, but I’m starting to think Barnabas was, too (I mean, I’m starting to seriously think it, instead of it just being part of my default “everyone’s gay!” headcanon).

    He’s apparently mad for Josette, but they have zero chemistry. We know they’re in love because they keep telling us, but they never show us. He kidnaps a beautiful local girl and tries brainwashing her into believing she’s his dead girlfriend – but that seems to involve nothing more salacious than dressing her up in gorgeous gowns and installing her in a tastefully-restored antique boudoir. Angelique is basically a crazy prom-beard that mistook a drunken effort to suppress for actual affection, and his interest in Vicki is entirely plot-driven, with no actual feelings on display whatsoever (headcanon: he was jealous that she had Burke, not that Burke had her, and just told himself the opposite out of denial).

    Which is obviously why he’s drawn to the fabulous Dr Julia Hoffman, and her to him, and why they will always be the perfect non-romantic couple.

    DS is basically Will & Grace & Monsters.

  7. I never noticed how truly grating Roger Davis’ voice is. It’s, like, on the same frequency with a migraine. Especially when he’s yelling.

    Also, Barnabas interrupts the face-ectomy at the very beginning and then again when he’s come back to warn of Victoria being in the house and Dr. Lang says, “The anesthesia will wear off in just a moment!” Which would mean that while he’s in the midst of removing the face Jeff would’ve woke up! I wonder if that’s what he intended? Creepy.

    I also love Frid’s face when Lang reminds him that Barnabas is now mortal and susceptible to death via the gun Lang is holding. He looks just like he’s saying, “Oh sh*t, I forgot about that.” And then we end before the end of the countdown?? I’m so glad I’m not watching this live!

    The night this aired (4/25/68) “Bewitched” Episode #138: “The No-Harm Charm” aired featuring Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur tricking Darrin into thinking he’s given him a charm to protect him from all witchcraft. A gun is drawn on Darrin – TWICE – in the episode – once by Uncle Arthur, who actually shoots him twice but with no harm, and once by a bank robber who Darrin manages to wrestle the gun away from. I’m hoping Barnabas wrestles Dr. Lang’s gun away.

  8. Today’s ep was a real stinker, probably the worst of the 269 episodes I’ve seen. Watching Frid and Powell stumble through their lines like a couple of high school kids who didn’t pick up the script until five minutes before curtain time was really painful. And Powell’s incessant looks at the teleprompter were downright embarrassing.

    Powell’s still not the worst actor in the series – Slocum owns that title forever – but his weaknesses are becoming more manifest. What’s worse, he seems to drag the other actors down to his level.

    As for the Dream Curse, ugh. Maggie Evans came to within moments of being turned into the Bride of Barnabas (complete with custom-made coffin) but the thing that terrifies her most is – a plastic Halloween skull? C’mon.

  9. Did everyone stay out late th night before and not memorize their lines? I think Jeff is the only one who didn’t stumble or have to look at the telelrompter.

  10. Addison Powell really IS the worst actor ever to appear on the show. His facial expressions, hand-waving, frequent shouting, and constant staring at the camera and teleprompter are hilariously awful. It’s HARD to GET through ONE of HIS scenes WITHOUT starting TO TALK like THIS.

  11. Barnabas seemed to dress up Maggie like his very own Josette Barbie Doll, complete with her own accessories.

  12. Loved the blog entry and comments, as usual. Just wanted to observe that Jeff’s leg is partially off the gurney in the last scene. No doubt a choice from the Roger Davis School of Fine Eckting.

  13. My wife liked this episode. It’s the first time she rooted for Barnabas, and she thinks Jeff is cute. I, of course, am more interested in the “Does the monster need a head, or a face?” controversy.

  14. Roger Davis is so cringy, and whiney, with that horrible voice, but sadly for me, when he’s lying on the table with the POV of his chin and face and floppy blond hair, it’s the same angle of Luke Skywalker in Episode IV A New Hope, when the sand people drag him unconscious over to his speeder and dump him on the ground…. with his floppy blond hair blowing in the wind…..

    Of course, I was 8 years old when I fell in love with Luke Skywalker in 1977, so that’s why I’m saying it’s cringy that Roger Davis is reminding me of my childhood crush. I don’t want to like Roger Davis. In any way, shape, or form.

    But, now I find myself in the awkward position of not wanting him to die in this gruesome manner! But, then he jumps off the gurney with the scalpel and says something that hurts my ears about killing Lang, and the momentary lapse of reason disintegrates.

  15. I’ll think this is the episode where DS finally goes all-in on knives (and other sharp objects) and guns. They’ll figure more heavily from here on out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s