“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the up side, of course, he’ll be leaving the show soon. On the down side, he hasn’t left yet.
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.
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.
Roger Davis is always looking for an excuse to get physical with another actor, so the scene gets a little handsy.
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.
And then here it is — ground zero, the ultimate Dark Shadows toxic clean-up site.
Dr. Lang has the Dream.
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?
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.
Julia leads Lang into the spooky nightmare room, where they’ve decided to up the smoke machine output by about a thousand percent.
Seriously, it gets a bit out of control.
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.
I mean, look at this guy. What a jackass.
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.
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.
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.
— Danny Horn