Episode 484: Chekhov’s Gun

“Julia! Why am I leaving the room, Julia?”

So it’s been a rough ride, this returning to the present day. Deciding to do a lengthy 18th-century time travel story was a leap into the unknown, but once they’d started, they had a general outline to work from. They needed to turn Barnabas into a vampire, get Josette to jump off a cliff, kill pretty much everybody else in the cast, and hang Vicki as a witch. That was a plan that they could execute, if you’ll pardon the expression.

But returning to 1968, the writers face another weird challenge. They’ve decided to pretty much reboot every ongoing storyline that they had — hastily wrapping up, reversing or straight-up ignoring all of the old story threads.

This is a very unusual move for a soap opera. These last five weeks have basically been the equivalent of a season premiere, a narrative structure that even night-time shows weren’t doing in the late 60s. Dark Shadows has changed some core relationships, introduced new characters, and brought back Angelique as this season’s Big Bad. Structurally, this is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but thirty years early and from the monsters’ point of view.

484 dark shadows unloaded willie

The difference, obviously, is that on Buffy, the writers knew what their season arc was going to look like. The Dark Shadows writers aren’t even sure what they’re going to do a week from now.

And here’s exhibit A — Willie Loomis, who returned to the show yesterday after seven months in Windcliff Sanitarium, and they clearly don’t have a plan for his character that goes much farther than saying, “Hey, look! Willie’s back.”

I covered the Problem of Willie at great length yesterday, and it’s the same problem today, so I’m just going to touch on a couple spots and then move on.

484 dark shadows anything willie barnabas

Willie ended yesterday’s episode with an unloaded rifle in his hands, pretending to shoot Joe and giggling. It didn’t really mean anything in particular; it was an empty cliffhanger thrown in just because you need to do something before you roll the credits.

Now, Willie’s sneaking back into the house with the gun, grinning like he totally just got away with something. I’m not sure what he’s so pleased with himself about.

484 dark shadows gimme barnabas willie

Anyway, Barnabas is angry that Wllie went out last night to visit Maggie. Willie was trying to explain what happened that night when he was caught outside her house. But it’s not clear what he actually remembers about his life with Barnabas, and this can’t really go anywhere until the writers make up their minds about it.

Barnabas asks why Wilie is holding a gun, which I’m pretty curious about myself, but there isn’t really an answer for that. So Barnabas just takes the gun and leaves it on the desk, because obviously that’s what you do when you take firearms away from recently released mental patients.

484 dark shadows perceptive willie barnabas

Then there’s a weird moment that basically re-establishes who Willie is, in about ten seconds.

Barnabas:  You’re really less perceptive than you were before you went to Windcliff, Willie. It never occurred to you that when I came to see you, it was during the day?

Willie:  Hey, that’s right. You came during the — what’s happened to you, Barnabas?

Barnabas:  Nothing, compared to what’s going to happen.

So there you go, Willie remembers that Barnabas is a vampire. This doesn’t really connect to what happened yesterday, but I didn’t like what happened yesterday, so: works for me.

484 dark shadows going barnabas willie

Then Julia comes in, and they have a conversation that basically puts the kibosh on the idea of Willie assisting with Dr. Lang’s experiment. So, in other words: Hey, look! Willie’s back.

484 dark shadows need julia

At the beginning of the next act, Julia is just standing around, kind of at a loose end, idly toying with the rifle that’s been left on the desk. She should hold on to that thing; you never know when you might need it.

484 dark shadows wall julia lang

And yes, sure enough, here comes Dr. Lang, just in time for another awful scene where he looks smug and bellows all of his dialogue. Lang is played by Addison Powell, The Worst Actor Who Ever Appeared on Dark Shadows, and I can’t even with this anymore. It’s been wall-to-wall Lang for four weeks now, and I’m having a hard time with it.

484 dark shadows face julia lang

On the up side, of course, he’ll be leaving the show soon. On the down side, he hasn’t left yet.

484 dark shadows yikes lang jeff

And now we’re halfway through the episode, which means it’s time to take another turn on the Dream Curse merry-go-round. This is the second dream sequence this week; we just did everything that’s about to happen two days ago.

If you’re not hep to the Dream Curse yet, here’s how it goes: Maggie had a nightmare about Jeff leading her down a dark hallway, to a room with a lot of spooky doors. Maggie told Jeff about the dream, and then Jeff had exactly the same dream, but with Dr. Lang as the visitor, and with an extra door to open.

Now we have to watch Jeff tell Lang about the dream, and because this is Jeff and Lang, the scene has kind of a rapey vibe.

484 dark shadows close lang jeff

Seriously, I don’t know what’s going on between these two, but you don’t see Lang getting close like this with any other character. He really likes being next to Jeff.

484 dark shadows physical lang jeff

Roger Davis is always looking for an excuse to get physical with another actor, so the scene gets a little handsy.

484 dark shadows face jeff

But Jeff and Lang aren’t the problem here, as unlikely as that sounds. The true enemy here is the Dream Curse, which brings us two long scenes that are exactly the same as most of Tuesday’s episode.

Admittedly, this is an effective way to build tension, because the audience can’t help but worry that this storyline speed bump is going to eat the entire show. This is a very real threat.

484 dark shadows sleep lang

And then here it is — ground zero, the ultimate Dark Shadows toxic clean-up site.

Dr. Lang has the Dream.

484 dark shadows late lang julia

In his dream, there’s a knock at the door, and Lang opens it to find Julia, staring silently at him. He decides that if she’s not going to talk, then he’ll have to fill up the empty space on his own.

Lang:  Julia! It’s late, what are you doing here?

Julia raises her hand, and beckons him on.

Lang:  No. No, I can’t go with you. I have the — I have the experiment tomorrow, Julia. Julia, why are you asking me to go, Julia?

484 dark shadows why lang

She moves back, into the darkness.

Lang:  Julia! Why are you doing this, Julia? Julia! Why am I leaving the room, Julia?

So I guess this scene is helpful for anybody in the audience who’s forgotten Julia’s name. It’s a nice refresher.

484 dark shadows smoke lang

Julia leads Lang into the spooky nightmare room, where they’ve decided to up the smoke machine output by about a thousand percent.

484 dark shadows much lang

Seriously, it gets a bit out of control.

484 dark shadows compelled lang

As usual, Addison Powell brings something new to the scene, namely: bad acting. Here, he’s decided to indicate “I feel compelled to open this door.”

By the way, Angelique is planning to harm Lang pretty soon, and I have never sympathized with her point of view as much as I do right now. There’s not a big enough talisman in the world to protect him from the voodoo smackdown that the audience is desperately wishing for.

484 dark shadows jackass lang

I mean, look at this guy. What a jackass.

484 dark shadows make lang

He actually grabs his own wrist and pulls it away from the doorknob, and delivers his loudest line of all time.

Lang:  NO! NO, DON’T LET ME GO IN THERE! I DON’T WANT TO GO IN THERE! I KNOW WHAT’S IN THERE!

And then: he goes in there.

484 dark shadows guillotine lang

The really unfortunate thing about doing this Dream Curse storyline on broadcast television is that people know how to tell time. This is the third time we’ve seen this, and it’s only five minutes before the end of the episode. This is basically your cue to go make a sandwich, or start your math homework.

484 dark shadows chekhov lang

Finally, Lang opens his eyes, and he finishes the episode by staring wildly around the room.

And, hey — remember the gun that Willie had in the first act? Chekhov is never around when you need him.

Tomorrow: A Huge Naked Dead Guy.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Act 1 has four bloopers in a row, in less than a minute.

#1. When Barnabas crosses the room and says, “I’m going to be free of the curse, Willie,” the camera is aimed a little too high, and you can see one of the studio lights.

#2. Then Barnabas says, “After almost two hundred years, I’m going to be free,” and someone in the studio coughs. There’s another, more muffled cough when Julia opens the front door.

#3. Julia enters the room, and the boom mic dips into the shot.

#4. Then Julia says to Barnabas, “Willie doesn’t know the first thing about a mental — medical laboratory.”


Behind the Scenes:

The “Headless Man” standing behind the final door in Lang’s dream is played by Duane Morris, who’s been playing the headless body lying in Lang’s lab for the last couple weeks. I’d imagine the actor probably had a head in real life, but I can’t swear to it.

Tomorrow: A Huge Naked Dead Guy.

484 dark shadows shock lang

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

33 thoughts on “Episode 484: Chekhov’s Gun

  1. Interesting your comments that the writers did not know where to go, and what to do with the characters.

    I think that this is the reason why in most people’s Head Cannon Barnabas is a much nicer, more heroic character than in the show. They get that view from the Marilyn Ross’ paperbacks.

    Well, those novels were NOT great literature, and you might find yourself groaning when you read them, but Dan Ross, unlike the TV writers, had a handle on the character. He knew what he wanted to do with him, and was consistent with it. The show’s writers were wildly inconsistent from day to day, and were at a loss of what to do with the characters. And, as they say, something always beats nothing.

    1. I don’t actually think there’s that much of an overlap between Dark Shadows fans and readers of the Marilyn Ross paperbacks. Even at the time, the novels explicitly parted ways with the show, much more than the other spin-off media like the comic books or the comic strip. They were mostly read by people who like romance novels, which was not the television show audience. I think the comic books actually had a stronger connection to the target audience at the time.

      And since then, absolutely nobody has read the novels, unless you’re already a die-hard DS fan. The people who started watching the show in reruns from the mid-70s on — i.e., almost all of us — would only bump into the books once you start actively seeking out Dark Shadows material. I’d be surprised if even 10% of the current readers of this blog had ever read one.

      I’ve been thinking on and off about when would be a good time to write about a couple of the novels, but I keep putting it off because I personally find them unbearable. I can never make it past chapter two.

      1. Well, I did read them and I watched the show… call me perverse, but I enjoyed both. And when the show ended, we had the novels to fall back on.

        I recall that the 80s fandom (the ones the started before they did the Festivals) they had read them. They did not think hightly of them (actually someone did a parody) but still they read them, and it remained in their minds. They percolated in their subscounscious and between that, and their own memories of the show (for reruns did not come easily then) they constructed their own Head Canon.

        As I said, they were not good, but they were read, and they provided a consistent characterization, a skeleton, if you will, on which they could hang the snatches of memories of the show..

      2. I actually just read my first one recently – found one at a local bookstore. Can’t remember the name, though I doubt that really matters. It was ok. Not the best thing I’ve read, not the worst thing I’ve read. It definitely wasn’t an accurate representation of the show, though characters like Liz, Roger and Carolyn were recognizable – Barnabas was definitely more saintly and heroic, with a troubled past; standard romance hero. Overall, harmless. I always find spin-off merchandise fascinating though, so I can see why it might bore others.

        1. Yes, you described the book well enough. Now think about the late 70s, early 80s, when you had a nostalgia for the show, no way to see it again, and saw they books in used bookstores. That was my experience, and that of many others. And we finally got together, wrote fan fiction, and got the first Conventions off the ground. Managed to badger a few PBS stations to rerun the episores, managed to get hold of some tapes, and someone transcribed and published it…

          And that’s how we contructed out own Head Canons. And that’s why we have trouble seeing what a jerk Barnabas is because in our Head Canon – based on the Marylin Ross books – he is not.

      3. Way, way back in my Old Testament days (daze), I owned all the Marilyn Ross novels, as well as the Dark Shadows LP and 45s (Quentin’s Theme & Ode to Angelique). My girlfriend was reading Dark Shadows books to a blind girl at the time, so together we made a series of audio cassettes for her. My girlfriend read the narration and women’s dialogue, while I read the men’s parts and played DS incidental music on a phonograph. It was an act of love on so many counts.

      4. The novels are horrific tripe. I once had a complete collection – before DS came out on video – and friends would pester me to loan them out, so desperate were they for a DS fix.

        And every single time, they were disappointed.

        To be fair to the writer, he started penning them when DS was merely a gothic soap. The first batch focused on Victoria and more matched the ’66 show – moody, what-goes-bump-in-the-night stories with a smattering of romance.

        When the show veered into the supernatural, the writer tried to adapt. And couldn’t.

      5. I can only speak from my own experience, but I read and collected them all. I was an original DS viewer, though I was a kid–probably started watching in 67 when I was 8, so it ended when I was 12 or so. I was an avid bookworm, and they were Dark Shadows books. I recall realizing they weren’t quite like the show, but I devoured them anyway.

  2. It seems odd to include Lang as a participant in the Dream Curse. All of the other victims were characters who had been with the show and were at this point considered ‘regulars’. Even though Roger Davis was relatively new to the show it was probably assumed since he was Vicki’s love interest he would be around for awhile. Were they planning to keep Addison Powell on the show for an extended period of time (heaven help us)??

      1. Powell’s performance combined with the execution of the dream curse shifts the series into camp in a way that it arguably never recovers from. Angelique’s outfit and behavior as a vampire is so far removed from Frid’s in 1967. It’s the equivalent of him speaking with a Lugosi accent. She’s not at all grounded, as Laura Collins was in dress and speech. And this has to be deliberate from the directors and producer.

        Quentin’s haunting of Collinwood actually feels like it is set in the same world as the pre and early Barnabas episodes. Maybe things are slightly cranked up a level or two but otherwise, it feels more rooted in “reality.” Even Quentin’s plan — possessing David and Collinwood — is a welcome shift from Nicholas’s scheme to TAKE OVER THE WORLD for the Devil.

        The dream curse left such a poor impression on me that after watching it on Sci-Fi I resisted investing money to own it on DVD. I jumped from 1795 to Quentin. It was later that I decided to revisit them and found a lot to like — it helped that I didn’t have to watch them in order and could skip around.

        I do think this is the most extended “low” point for the series as a whole. Nicholas’s arrival helps, as does Cassandra’s death (Cassandra — the black wigged witch — is not a great antagonist). Once Barnabas is forced to create Eve, the show starts to get interesting.

        Still, I wish the tone could be dialed down. A more grounded Angelique destroying Joe for Nicholas would be fun to watch. And Nicholas’s scheme is so over the top, I find his actions toward Joe more evil because it’s more immediate.

        I think it’s possible to do a version of Frankenstein that’s not campy and laughable but DS falls into all the traps related to it, starting with Powell as Lang. Imagine Gerringer playing Lang “straight” or even like early Julia. And the early Karloff style Adam was a mistake, I think.

    1. Dr. Lang was at the center of the storyline at this time and was on nearly every day, so it makes sense in that context that he would be one of the Dream Curse folks. I doubt there was any thought about character longevity, past or future. Land was one of the main characters right then, no matter how short-lived that was to be.

  3. As I watched Lang stagger around in the Dream Curse shouting his lines REALLY LOUDLY I found myself wondering how the actors coped with doing the same ridiculous scene over and over. Did they compare their performances, and compete to see who could be the most over the top and hammy?

  4. Just a theory here – Lang’s loudness could stem possibly from his theater background. Before miking stage actors, theater actors had to “project”/”shout” their lines to be heard by the back row. Erika Slezak, on her first day on “One Life to Live” as Viki, probably back in 1970 or so, shouted her lines on her first day, due to her theater background. Of course, Erika/Viki stopped shouting and grew into her character and the necessary intimacy of creating a great soap character. Also, for me, having only caught this period of the show (post-1795, with Jeff/Peter, Lang/Frankenstein, “curing” Barnabus, and Cassandra/Angelique) off and on during the Sci Fi channel reruns in the very late 90’s, I’m just very interested to see how it all unfolds — certainly, I see these very interesting interweaving character/plot-lines as having very great potential. And seeing most of this for the first time, I’m just enjoying the ride. I do get that it was neatly wrapped up, and the show moved on to the werewolf/Quentin era and other stories, and I’m curious to see these in their entirety too.

    1. Oh, the wrapping up was not neat at all. 🙂 It was an appropriately messy and complicated ending to a messy and complicated set of stories. Just wait and see; there’s lots of fun stuff ahead.

    2. I’m not sure that’s the reason for Lang’s loudness – for one thing, projection isn’t shouting, and he’s definitely shouting. For another, his delivery has no nuance or inflection, just differences in loudness, which suggests a general terribleness not connected to any particular discipline.

  5. Regarding the Dark Shadows novels, so many of you here write some very insightful blogposts — especially Danny, Stephen Robinson, PrisoneroftheNight, etc. Have any of you thought about writing your own DS novels, either as fan-fiction or with an intent to find a regular publisher? With DS’s rich history, I’m sure there must be some interesting plot or sub-plot, which could make for an interesting novel. Also a question: what is a “Head Canon” — I’m not sure what that means?

    1. “Head canon” is a relatively new word in fan circles that means that you have your own personal idea of what happens when there’s a narrative gap. It’s mostly your opinion of what happens after the story is over, but could also be what happened before the story started, or between books/episodes, etc. Sometimes it’s a particular reading of the story’s subtext, imagining an inner life for the characters — “X and Y are totally into each other, but they’re hiding it because of Z.”

      So basically it’s making up an idea in your head, and then considering it part of the canonical story. Everybody does this all the time.

  6. Good heavens, this Dream Curse is even more tedious than I feared it would be.

    I recant an earlier statement that it was a great concept executed badly. It’s an OK concept executed terribly.

  7. Someone’s mentioned that the Dream Curse would be better with relatable terrors, if the writers had taken the time to recall or extrapolate those fears for each character. It was just easier go with the standard spookhouse horror tropes (Eek! A skull with glass eyes! Aaaah! A giant spider!). Lazy.

  8. OK, I guess I’m going to have to come out as a closet Dr. Lang fan. I’m on my second run through, and yes, the first time I thought he was terrible, but in a hilarious way. This time around I am thoroughly enjoying his antics. I mean that unbeatable waving arm when he was supposed to be gesturing to Jeff to go through the door. Hilarious! So for me, compared to many other members of the cast, who I find bad in a not-at-all entertaining way, I can’t understand why you keep saying he is the worst of them all. But everyone has their own taste and their own idea of entertainment. For me, there are several other contenders that I find worse – Roger Davis for being shouty in just an angry way that is not fun at all and just being super creepy and the kind of guy you should avoid if you’re female – tops the list, also making my cut are Keith Prentice, Donna McKechnie, Lisa Richards, Donna Wandrey and Virginia Vestoff. There are probably some I am forgetting right now, but that is a good list.

    It’s hard to relate to you saying that, of the two terrible guys on the show right now, Addison Powell and Roger Davis, you pick Addy as the worst and glossing over Roger Davis’ crimes. Kind of unfathomable for me. I’m really starting to love Addy in the same way I love people like Peter Graves (Killers From Space), Ray Milland (The Man With X-Ray Eyes, Frogs!, The Thing With Two Heads, for example), Dudley Manlove (Plan 9 From Outer Space), Keith Ritchie (Zontar and Zaat), Karen Black…I could go on and on…I’m sure you get the drift. I could watch them all day and have a good time, but then go and watch Roger Davis and Kate Jackson in the Killer Bees and just want to chew my own leg off. Even Gloria Swanson couldn’t make it fun.

  9. Though I do love where Lang has the dream and says:

    “Lang: Julia! It’s late, what are you doing here?”

    I shouted “It’s time for your acting lesson, Addy! Julia will show you how this is done!”

  10. There is one important development in the dream curse storyline today – one of the characters actually cracks what it’s about, how it transmits, and that it extends each time. Angelique kind of explained this is her promo previously, but it was a bit unclear.

    Unfortunately it’s Jeff that works it out, so no-one was listening at the time.

    Lang’s dream is just the absolute worst Powell has been yet. It’s so fragmented; like a series of quick “acting exercises”; he does a bit of hopelessly exaggerated ‘acting’ – like being led by his own hand to the first door – then stops. He reorients himself – and then does another bit, turning to face the camera and yelling right at the audience. Then he stops again – and turns and opens the door. It’s like he’s mentally cleansing his palette between every motion or line of dialogue, right up to the closing titles. It’s incredibly infuriating.

  11. And we have unalterable proof that Roger Davis is on the show for the duration –

    HE’S WEARING A TURTLENECK SWEATER…

  12. “Willie’s sneaking back into the house with the gun, grinning like he totally just got away with something. I’m not sure what he’s so pleased with himself about.”

    He just finished imagining himself blowing off Joe’s head. That scary big guy who is making time with Maggie — the woman Willie has probably been thinking about every lonely night at the sanitarium.

    As for remembering Barnabas had been a vampire, Willie says slowly, “Hey, that’s right…” like it’s just coming back to him and still kind of vague/unreal. I mean, Willie’s literally just a few hours out of the sanitarium at this point, where for the last 7 months he no doubt tried to suppress any “crazy” thoughts about vampires etc.

  13. I like Julia’s business with the rifle. She finds it on the desk, picks it up, and ponders. What is this doing here? she must think. Maybe she thinks, What is this doing where a mental patient can reach it? She holds it as if she thinks its a club, which happens to be appropriate since it is unloaded, but she has no way of knowing that.

    Powell’s bad acting reminds me of episode 5.9 of “Mad Men,” memorably entitled “Dark Shadows.” Megan Draper (no relation to Jane), Don Draper’s second wife (or, actually, third wife – but don’t ask) is an actress who will eventually break into soap opera, but at this point she’s still auditioning for stuff, and while she doesn’t try out for it herself, she helps a friend who is auditioning for DS rehearse her lines. Megan laughs at her friend’s overacting. Her friend tells her that overacting is what the soaps want and expect.

    I keep meaning to check out how much of Victoria Winters we are actually seeing these days. Next time you see her, see if you can tell whether she is pregnant or not. All I can think of is that over-the-top yellow (some say orange) nightgown she was wearing a few episodes back. It was awfully billowy.

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