“How odd it is that I should feel this urge on this night.”
I hope everybody’s excited, because today’s the day that we’ve all been waiting for. It’s Experiment Day!
Yes, after weeks of build-up, we’ve finally reached this historic episode — the day that Barnabas regenerates.
But there are some tedious opening ceremonies to get through first, featuring the extremely hateable Dr. Lang.
Now, I only have a couple more opportunities to say this, thank goodness, so I’d like to direct your attention to the fact that Addison Powell is The Worst Actor Who Ever Appeared on Dark Shadows.
If you’re joining us late, the short version is that he’s smug, he hollers approximately one hundred percent of the time, he can’t remember most of his lines, he doesn’t know where to stand, he can’t find his light, he’s constantly indicating, and he has zero charisma. The long version is me saying that every day for the last four weeks.
Now, the good thing about Dr. Lang is that he’s a mad scientist, which is an extremely story-productive character archetype, second to none in its ability to generate unpredictable plot twists.
In this case, he’s built himself a patchwork man out of corpses and coconuts, and he’s planning to animate it by sucking the life force out of Barnabas. The vampire will leave his old body behind, and wake up inside this new body, free of Angelique’s curse.
Today is the climax of that bonkers storyline, so it would probably be a good idea for Addison Powell to really buckle down and get a handle on his lines. This does not happen to any noticeable degree.
Part of the problem is that he’s the latest character afflicted by the Dream Curse, a storyline speed bump that just kind of putters along in the background and inconveniences people.
Lang has just had the Dream, and he’ll be disturbed by it until he tells the story to the next person in the chain. That person happens to be standing right next to him at this very moment, so it’s not clear what the holdup is.
Unfortunately, with Powell it’s difficult to tell whether he’s deliberately trying to act distracted, or if he just can’t remember what he’s supposed to say.
Lang: I can’t work, Julia.
Julia: Because of a dream about me?
Lang: No, it wasn’t about you. It was a nightmare.
Julia just lets that baffling statement pass on by. She’s had conversations with Lang before; this is not her first rodeo.
She asks him if he still needs an assistant for the experiment. He snaps at her.
Lang: Julia, I only have a limited amount of time! Time is of the essence, and the body will begin to deteriorate after a certain number of hours.
Julia: How many hours?
Lang: Well, 48 at the most. I just simply can’t have these interruptions.
And then he goes back to fussing with the monster.
Now, that doesn’t sound like any cue that Julia’s familiar with, so she takes a long, hard look at the teleprompter. She sees that Lang’s got the dialogue backwards again, and she makes the understandable decision to just leave him to it, and see what happens.
After a ten-second round of dialogue chicken, he finally consults the teleprompter, and this is what he comes up with.
Lang: I’ve had hundreds of dreams before. I’ve always been able to get up, and get back to my business.
So: hundreds? Has he only started having dreams recently? It’s no wonder he’s so shaken up.
And then he spends the next three minutes on a step-by-step recap of his entire dream, which is simply intolerable.
This is a perfect example of the problem with the Dream Curse storyline: There’s a huge naked dead guy on the table right in front of you, and you’re ignoring him and telling us about the goddamn dream.
Thankfully, we eventually cut away to Barnabas and his fantastic new purple robe. He’s preparing to have his life force transferred into another dude, so it’s kind of a big evening.
Outside, the dogs are howling, which they always do when Barnabas has something on his mind.
As the dognoise continues, he turns away from Willie and delivers a monologue in fluent Fridspeak.
Barnabas: How odd it is that I should feel this urge on this night. Dr. Hoffman would explain it away psychologically, I imagine — a man faced with the unknown, his last night on Earth as himself — so, naturally, everything that he has done seems preferable to what he faces.
And I’m sure that’s true. Personally, I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never faced my last night on Earth as myself. That’s outside my area of expertise.
But this is a nice, ominous setup for the dark deeds to follow, and Willie is certainly taking it seriously.
Willie: What do you mean, your last night?
Barnabas: I explained everything to you yesterday.
Willie: Well, what about me?
Barnabas: There will be a Barnabas Collins, only he will be in a new body. Someone I’ve named… Adam.
He’s already referring to “Barnabas Collins” in the third person. They’re giving the audience every indication that they might actually go through with this lunatic plot contrivance.
Barnabas writes a letter to Elizabeth, which lays out the next beat of the storyline.
Barnabas: This letter will give Adam an entrée to Collinwood. Cousin Elizabeth will know that I am away for an indefinite period — and that in my place, there’s a young cousin from England named Adam Collins.
This whole setup is making Willie nervous.
Willie: I don’t like it.
Barnabas: That is a shame.
Willie: Well, suppose he don’t like me.
Barnabas: He will be exactly towards you as I am!
Considering their history, this statement is not as comforting as Barnabas thinks it is.
But Willie has returned to his original role in the narrative, speaking to Barnabas on behalf of the audience. And it’s starting to sink in for him, and for us, that they’re about to recast the main character.
Barnabas is going to leave his old body behind, which means that Jonathan Frid is leaving the show, and he’ll be replaced by this new guy.
Willie is expressing the audience’s concern about this impending change to the status quo, and Barnabas is doing his best to stay on message.
Willie: You don’t know that. You don’t know how this is all gonna turn out. You might come outta this all different!
Barnabas: I want you to take this letter to Collinwood.
Willie: It won’t be the same.
Barnabas: And make sure that it gets to no one but Mrs. Stoddard.
But he can’t just brush this away.
Willie: Well, suppose they won’t let you live here, then what’s gonna happen to me?
Barnabas: Trust me, Willie.
Willie: Barnabas… will I see ya before you leave?
Barnabas: Very likely not. You will recognize me when I return. Even in that other body, you will know who I am.
By this point, Willie has basically turned into an online fan forum.
Willie: It won’t work.
Barnabas: It will work, Willie!
The dog howls again.
Barnabas: …Because it must.
So it turns out that there really is a narrative purpose for bringing Willie back from the sanitarium. This is the perfect moment to have him here.
Willie is the guy who let Barnabas out of the mystery box in the first place; he’s known him longer and better than anyone, and he’s convinced that this impending recast is a bad idea. He doesn’t know this new Barnabas, he doesn’t want things to change, and Willie is the character who speaks truth to power.
We cut back to the lab, where Julia is up to her neck in mad science. She’s wearing a brand-new lab coat — which is white this time, instead of powder-blue. Even the wardrobe is recasting.
As Barnabas enters the scene, there’s a great shot, where his face is reflected in the mirror above the monster’s head. In this moment, as he meets his new body, the scene includes a distorted twin Barnabas, hanging in the air.
They don’t do symbolic shots like this very often, and it’s another indication that the show is taking this moment seriously. They might actually go through with this.
And then: the big reveal. Dr. Lang pulls the sheet down, and we get our first look at the next Barnabas.
For two weeks, this thing under the sheet has been a prop, just lying there in the background while the real characters talk and argue and complain.
But now, they’ve given the creature a face and a name, summoning it into the world. All of a sudden there’s a huge naked dead guy in the middle of the room, and nothing will ever be the same again.
Barnabas lies down on the hospital bed, a mirror of his new twin.
The sacrifice is laid out on the altar. The dark ritual can begin.
So things get pretty hectic from here. Lang and Julia tighten the straps, and put the equipment in place.
We get one more glimpse of Adam — the second and last time today that the audience gets a clear look at him — and, delightfully, it’s in this stunning two-shot with Julia.
In this final moment, Barnabas turns to his friend, and says, “Julia… I’m glad you’re here.” And Julia smiles, in a way that we’ve never seen before.
If this is really Jonathan Frid’s final line of dialogue on Dark Shadows — and there’s every indication that it is — then that’s a remarkable way to sum up everything that’s happened in his year on the program.
Now, you may not have noticed this, but Victoria Winters is all the way off the canvas right now. Barnabas’ core storyline for this entire year has been about his search for a girl who he could transform into his lost Josette. Vicki is the latest candidate, and for months, he’s been saying that he wants to lose his vampire curse so that he can court Vicki properly.
But here he is, in his farewell episode, and nobody’s even mentioned her. In the end, it really is about his relationships with Willie and Julia.
Oh, and then there’s the ex-wife. We can’t give him a proper sendoff without some help from Angelique, who’s currently standing in the Collinwood drawing room, with a sharp pin and a brand new toy to play with.
If Barnabas is being sacrificed on the recast altar, then obviously Angelique deserves a role in the ritual. She knows that something’s up over at Lang’s, and she’s determined to put a stop to it.
Dr. Lang thinks that he can make a living being out of inanimate clay, bringing it to life as a distorted reflection of the real thing. Well, he needs to get in line. Angelique invented that trick.
You can tamper in God’s domain all you want — despite what anyone says, He’s usually a pretty understanding and hands-off deity.
But Dr. Lang has made the mistake of entering Angelique’s domain. There will be severe and lasting consequences.
So that’s the overture; now, on with the show. Lang starts up the machinery, and the world comes alive with flashes and zaps and Frankenstein switches. The atmosphere is entirely electric.
Now, I’m a big fan of the thrilling Friday cliffhangers, and this is one of the most suspenseful moments of the whole show.
Unfortunately, I think it’s impossible for us to really appreciate the impact that this cliffhanger had on the original audience.
I’ve been joking about the recast today, but we all know that Jonathan Frid doesn’t actually leave the show. That’s not a spoiler, because anyone who’s watching Dark Shadows now knows that Barnabas is the main character, and the driving force of the series until the end of its run.
But they don’t know that, back in 1968. They don’t know that the series is going to run for five years, and that Barnabas has lots more adventures coming up. They don’t know that he’s going to make friends with a werewolf, and find the hand of Count Petofi, and get stuck in Parallel Time.
They don’t have a soap opera press, distributing reassuring spoilers that everything’s going to work out okay. Soap Opera Digest, with its comforting weekly tabulations of Comings and Goings, is still seven years away.
It’s only now, in hindsight, that everyone knows that Jonathan Frid is a fixed point, the only actor who can’t leave the show.
His face is on the DVD box set; his name is in the summary on Hulu and Netflix. It’s impossible to access the show in any way that doesn’t involve absorbing some paratextual material about Jonathan Frid and Barnabas Collins.
As we know it now, this is disc 52 out of 126. Frid’s not going anywhere.
But here, in this electrically-charged moment, try to imagine it as it must have been.
It’s a Friday in early May, 1968. This sleepy little black-and-white soap opera just suddenly perked up one day, and grabbed everybody’s attention. They put a vampire on the show, and then a ghost, and then seances and witches and time travel.
The show’s popularity skyrocketed — in fact, there’s a very good chance that you weren’t even watching it until a few months ago. All you know about the show’s past is that everybody says it was boring and nothing happened. Now it’s the show where absolutely anything can happen.
The last month has been a roller-coaster, turning everything that you thought you knew upside down. You only started watching when you heard about the big time travel stunt, so you’re just meeting the present-day characters. Apparently, Joshua and Naomi are called Roger and Elizabeth now.
And as soon as they got back to the 20th century, practically the first thing they did was announce that Barnabas wasn’t a vampire anymore. He got cured! Now the Dracula story is winding down, so they can move on to Frankenstein.
So that’s the shape of the show, as you understand it. There was something at the beginning that nobody watched, and then there was a phoenix, and then a vampire, and then time travel and witches, and now they’re doing this.
And everything about this episode — the preparations, the goodbye letter, the touching “I’m glad you’re here” moment — it all leads to the obvious conclusion, which is: Jonathan Frid is leaving the show, and the new guy is going to take over.
And here’s the conclusive proof, the snake in the mailbox that’s lying in wait at the end of the show: a credit for “Adam… ROBERT RODAN”.
That’s what Barnabas said his name is going to be, when he switches over to his new body. The huge naked dead guy isn’t just a stand-in; the credit doesn’t say “Monster”.
That’s Adam. That’s the new Barnabas.
So, as Angelique sticks a pin into the voodoo doll and Dr. Lang collapses onto the machinery, as something at the back of the set explodes in a puff of smoke, and the entire structure of the show collapses around us — think about how this would have hit you in May 1968.
You’ve got a whole weekend to worry about this cliffhanger. You’re going to go to school on Monday, and the only thing you want to talk about is: Did you see what they did on Dark Shadows? Is Barnabas really leaving the show? They can’t do that. I just started watching it!
As of 4:00pm, Dark Shadows is your favorite show in the world. And you have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen next.
Monday: If They Both Live.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the teaser, Lang tells Julia, “The dream — this is exactly like the dream. You knocked on the door, and then you — you answered, and then you looked at me.”
Barnabas tells Willie, “I want you to take this letter to Elizabeth Collins, at Collinwood.” Her last name is actually Stoddard; the scripted line was probably “take this letter to Elizabeth, at Collinwood.”
When Cassandra sits down with Willie, she asks, “Have you known him for long — worked for him long?”
When Willie leaves Collinwood, the sound effect of the front door opening is heard well before he’s even close to the door.
At the very end of the last scene, as Julia calls to Barnabas, somebody in the studio has a coughing fit.
Behind the Scenes:
This is Robert Rodan’s first episode, as Adam. He studied commercial art in college, and worked in advertising for a few years. He got bored, and decided to be an actor, although he had trouble as a young actor finding supporting roles that would be appropriate for a guy who’s 6’6″. His first TV appearance was in 1963, on Day in Court, a scripted court drama. He had a couple minor film roles in 1964 — in a Connie Francis musical, Looking for Love, and a Tony Curtis/Debbie Reynolds romantic comedy called Goodbye Charlie. He moved to New York, where he found work in TV commercials and as a model for photos in love-story magazines.
Finally, a casting call went out for a tall, good-looking actor to play a Frankenstein’s-monster type creature on Dark Shadows. Rodan won the part, and we’ll see what happens…
Monday: If They Both Live.
— Danny Horn