“I want you to come over immediately, and bring your medallion.”
Well, it’s another day in the Land of Shouty Men, where nothing changes, including the volume level.
Yesterday, Dr. Lang was planning to kill his lab assistant Jeff, so he could use Jeff’s head for the monster he’s been stitching together. But then Barnabas — who Dr. Lang is planning to suck the life force out of, to bring the Jeff-headed monster to life — says that he doesn’t even want Jeff’s head, and they have to let him go.
But Lang says that they can’t let Jeff go or he’ll tell everyone about the monster, so now Lang is going to kill Jeff anyway. And if Barnabas gets in the way of Lang killing Jeff, then Lang will kill Barnabas, and then Jeff, and then hopefully you and me, because honestly I don’t think I can explain this all again on Monday. It’s just not going to happen.
So Barnabas has a swell idea — he’ll call his friend Julia, who’s got a medallion that she uses to hypnotize people and make them forget things. But Lang objects; apparently he doesn’t want to let a girl into his secret murder lab.
Barnabas: But Julia will make him forget! And she will keep your secret, I swear!
Lang: I said NO!
Barnabas: I’m going to call her, no matter what you say.
Lang: Put down that phone!
Barnabas: There’s nothing you can do to stop me.
Lang: Oh, isn’t there?
And you have to admit, that’s a pretty good answer under most circumstances.
But you can’t take that kind of tone at Lang’s house. You’re standing in the man’s secret murder lab.
So obviously Lang just reaches over to the nearest drawer, pulls out a loaded gun, and says, “Hang up that phone!” And you’re lucky he happened to be standing next to the gun drawer. A couple yards to the left, and he would have had either the thermite grenades or a box of angry scorpions. You don’t mess with a dude in his own murder lab.
“What good would shooting do?” Barnabas says. “You know that an ordinary bullet has no effect on me.” And then they talk that over for a while.
Lang counts to three, and that was the big cliffhanger from yesterday. Then there’s the opening titles, and today’s episode actually begins. I know I’m going into note-by-note detail, but you’ll see why in a minute.
So, guess what. Barnabas puts the phone down, and Lang doesn’t shoot him, to the surprise of no one. And then they just go straight back into the conversation.
Barnabas starts out by saying, “All right, I won’t call her, but we must contact Julia, she’s the only one who can get us out of this situation!”
Which doesn’t even make sense as a thing to say. Take a second to run back over that sentence. It’s like a Zen koan.
But Lang’s not buying it.
Lang: I won’t do anything to endanger the experiment!
Barnabas: I keep telling you that she can be trusted!
Lang: I don’t want to have to trust her!
So, yeah, this is exactly the same discussion that they were having yesterday, before Lang pulled out the gun. This is apparently one of those conversations where you can either be armed or not armed, and it doesn’t make a difference.
Barnabas says, “Then can’t you see why it’s so easy for her to, to — to be trusted? She will be all right, believe me!”
And that’s when Jonathan Frid just goes dry. This happens sometimes. He takes a not-very-subtle peek at the teleprompter.
Barnabas: She will keep… the secret, because she knows that… that I would be in danger.
Lang says, “Possibly. But only possibly.” Which is hardly even fair. What kind of a cue is that supposed to be?
Barnabas retaliates by walking back to the phone.
Barnabas: I won’t allow you to kill Jeff Clark. I’m going to call her, and get her over here. She’s going to hypnotize Jeff into forgetting everything that’s happened here tonight. There’s no other way!
So Lang just raises his shootin’ hand again.
Lang: Stay away from that phone.
Barnabas: You won’t shoot.
Lang: You don’t think so?
And there you have it, we’re in exactly the same place that we were at the end of yesterday’s episode. It’s no wonder Barnabas is shaky on his lines — this scene just did a lap around the track. How could you possibly remember whether you’re supposed to say “I’m going to call her, and get her over here,” or “I’m going to call her, no matter what you say”?
So here’s the big exciting surprise: Sproat’s back!
Yes, writer Ron Sproat has been on vacation for the last three weeks, ever since we got back from 1795. The other two writers on the show, Gordon Russell and Sam Hall, have been covering the scripts so Sproat could get a little time off. Sproat wrote yesterday’s episode and today’s, and you can tell, because he’s the only writer who’s comfortable writing these recursive fishbowl scenes.
Cut to Collinwood, for another bewildering conversation. Angelique — the evil witch, who’s currently working undercover as Cassandra, Roger’s new wife — is heading out of the house with Julia.
Now, to set the scene, it’s not completely clear whether Julia knows that Roger’s wife is actually Angelique or not. Barnabas and Julia talked about Angelique earlier this week, and it seems like the kind of thing that he would give her a heads up about, but we never actually saw him explicity tell her.
With that in mind, here’s the scene.
Julia: I really can’t understand why you want me to meet this Professor Stokes.
Cassandra: He’s a very interesting man. And I know you’ll like each other — you know, you might even become good friends.
Julia: Why do you want us to become good friends?
Cassandra: Well, because you were the first person in this house who was nice to me. And I want you to know me, and like me. And one way to know someone is to know their friends, don’t you think that’s true?
Julia: Yes, I do. I also think it’s a very honest answer.
Cassandra: Well, I try to be honest.
Julia: I like that. It’s a quality I admire in people.
Cassandra: Shall we go?
Julia: Yes, let’s.
Okay, so here’s a pop quiz: What the hell just happened?
I mean, that’s mind-boggling, right? I was just saying last week that Julia and Angelique can never have a normal scene, because they’ve always got some kind of angle. And here they are, chattering away like they don’t each have a couple murders under their belt.
Now, I guess if you don’t apply any of your televisual literacy to the scene, then you could make a case that one of them actually has some kind of secret plan in mind. But soap operas aren’t typically very nuanced about character motivations, and Dark Shadows is a particularly melodramatic and emotive soap opera. If a character has a secret plan, they find a way to tell you — through music, a sly look, or a thinks monologue. That’s not happening here.
Apparently, we’re supposed to believe that Angelique is sincerely trying to be Julia’s friend, and Julia — always the smartest character in the room — takes that entirely at face value.
Plus: Honesty is “a quality I admire in people”? Did she really just say that? Julia is the Queen of Lies. I have no idea who this woman is.
Obviously, even Sproat can’t get Julia this wrong, so something else is going on here. I think he’s trying to make a point. The actual purpose of this episode is to highlight the danger of nerfing Julia, and handing her role to Dr. Lang.
We’re still establishing the nature of Barnabas and Julia’s relationship — they had their first big Junior Detectives episode just last week, where they finally started acting like friends and co-conspirators.
But Barnabas hasn’t confided in Julia about the experiment; instead, he’s been running off and sharing secrets with the detestable Dr. Lang.
So this conversation with Cassandra is a warning to the audience: If Barnabas and Lang keep Julia in the dark for very much longer, then this is what she’ll become: a clueless talk-to. From that perspective, this may actually be the scariest scene they’ve ever done.
The phone rings, and Cassandra stands by as Julia talks to Barnabas.
Barnabas: I need your help urgently.
Julia: What do you mean?
Barnabas: Don’t ask questions. Just listen to me, and do as I say.
Julia: All right.
Barnabas: I’m here at Dr. Lang’s. I want you to come over immediately, and bring your medallion.
That’s a fantastic thing to say, but it’s a little jarring to hear him say “Listen to me, and do as I say.” Barnabas has a lot to learn about relationships with women.
By the way, look at how Julia holds the phone. God, I love Julia.
Anyway, Julia tells Cassandra that something important came up, and she’ll have to postpone their trip.
And then she just walks out of the house, which means that she keeps her hypnotic memory-erasing medallion in her purse at all times, even on social engagements, because she is a rock star.
She arrives at Lang’s house, and they get off to a rocky start.
Julia: Barnabas, are you all right?
Barnabas: I’m fine.
Julia: Then what’s the emergency? I don’t understand.
Lang: Won’t you sit down, Doctor?
Julia: No, thank you, I don’t want to sit. I want to understand what’s going on.
Then Barnabas runs out of words again.
Barnabas: It’s Jeff Clark. We need your help.
Julia: My help?
Barnabas: Yes. We want you to hypnotize him, as you hypnotized Maggie. As you… know this, we want… him to forget five hours of his life.
Julia: I don’t understand.
Which is pretty much the only possible response.
And then they tell her the most transparent lies.
Lang: There’s a good deal about Jeff Clark that you don’t understand.
Julia: Well, I understand that he was in a mental institution once. Vicki told me that.
Lang: That’s right. I was his doctor then, and I still am. I’m still treating him.
Julia: Oh, well, then that explains why he was here the other night.
Lang: Yes, he’s been living here, so that I can keep an eye on him.
Now, I know that the Collinsport medical community is a little unorthodox, but come on. You invite handsome young men with emotional disturbances to live in your house? Is Julia seriously going to buy this?
Yeah, apparently she is. They spin a story about Jeff having paranoid delusions, and that he’s convinced Dr. Lang wants to cut off his head. And Julia just stands there, and takes it.
Next on the parade of unlikely events, Dr. Lang brings Julia upstairs to see Jeff. He’s still knocked out, and they’ve tied his wrists with a piece of rope.
So if you thought yesterday’s episode was super gay, which it was, then just imagine the fun that Barnabas and Lang had during the last commercial break, carrying an unconscious Jeff into the bedroom and tying him up. This bed-and-breakfast is getting crazer all the time.
We can skip ahead at this point, because there’s really no need to focus on a scene where Jeff is talking. He tells Julia that Lang tried to cut off his head, she hypnotizes him, end of sequence.
So this raises a series of important questions:
Can Lang step into the role of Barnabas’ confidant, and shut Julia out of the storyline?
Can Barnabas tell Julia, “Just listen to me, and do as I say”?
Can Julia Hoffman be nerfed?
The answer is no. Hell, no. You do not take one of the greatest characters in the history of fiction, and leave her on the sidelines. That is not why you employ Dr. J. Hoffman.
This is what Julia is for — to have big, interesting reactions to things. Julia is always the most interesting thing in the room, and if the room already contains a vampire, a mad scientist and a headless patchwork monster, then she brings her A game.
She screams. She sobs. She rolls her eyes. She waves her hands around. She shouts accusations. She asks difficult questions. She gasps, “But this experiment, or whatever you call it — it’s madness!”
And she always, always keeps her hands in shot. I don’t think there’s a single other actor in the history of the dramatic arts who’s as determined as Grayson Hall is to keep the manicure in view at all times.
And wouldn’t you know it — Julia manages to position herself smack in the middle of the show’s biggest storyline again. This time yesterday, it was all about the boys threatening each other. Now everything has to stop, so Julia can have hysterics.
Julia: You needed a face. That’s why you tried to kill Jeff Clark! And now you’ll have to find — someone else!
Lang: Julia… lives have been sacrificed before, for the sake of science!
Barnabas: One more life. That’s all it will take, and then the destruction will be ended, forever!
And then Julia just stands there, and says:
And the show makes sense again. This is what Dark Shadows is supposed to be. This is what television is supposed to be.
Monday: Remember Someone.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Jeff is wearing a different shirt. Yesterday, his shirt was blue, and today it’s white. The episode follows continuously from yesterday’s, so he didn’t have time to change. Also, he was unconscious.
When Julia walks into the lab, she puts her purse on the empty bed. After her hysterical conversation with Lang and Barnabas, she exits, leaving her purse behind.
When Julia leaves the lab at the end of the episode, she goes into the parlor and locks the door. Lang and Barnabas are looking for her, and Lang tries the doorknob. He tells Barnabas, “It’s locked. She must be in there.” He listens for a few seconds, and then says again, “She must be in there!”
Behind the Scenes:
The green lamp appears in Jeff’s room in this episode. We’ll see it again in two episodes, in Lang’s parlor. (Thanks to Prisoner of the Night.)
Monday: Remember Someone.
— Danny Horn