“Why do you have me strapped to this table?”
So, Jeff’s crotch. All right, let’s start there.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Barnabas: An urge.
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.
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!
And then he turns, and catches sight of the guy hidden under a sheet, and this episode is so utterly gay.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Danny Horn