“We must not be emotional about his death.”
On Friday, Julia and Dr. Lang performed the experiment to free Barnabas from his vampire curse by transferring his life force into a Frankenstein monster. It went about as well as any DIY project, which is to say: It ran for about three minutes, and then ended in confusion, ruin and despair.
Lang had a heart attack mid-experiment and fell over onto one of his buzzing machines, and then something shorted out with a pop and a puff of smoke, and then there was electricity and life force just flying all over the place, and there was an earthquake and a flash flood and the box of scorpions tipped over and the sun got in my eyes and I think we need a do-over.
So that went great. Now Julia’s bustling around, unhooking everyone from whatever they’re hooked into. Lang tells her to turn off the big switches on the wall, and the experiment shudders to a close. Now it’s time to write up the paper for the Journal of Mad Science, and start working on that Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
Oh, and you’ll probably also want to tend to the wounded. Julia hurries over to give Lang a shot of whatever you give people while they’re apparently still having a heart attack.
Barnabas’ pulse is weak, so Lang pulls a bottle out of his pocket, and hands it to Julia. He’s still panting and practically falling over, but his bedside manner is stabilizing.
Lang: Give him… this… three… cc.
Julia: What is it?
Lang: Give it to him.
Julia: Tell me what it is!
Lang: Give it to him!
Oh my god, is it like an especially hard word to say? Just tell her what it is. Honestly, this guy. Even when he’s dying, he’s a dick.
Julia gives Barnabas the three cc’s of whatever it was, and considering that the patient still isn’t moving or showing any signs of breathing, I’d say that treatment didn’t turn out to be the rocket sled to recovery that they were hoping for.
Next, Julia wants to call the hospital and get an ambulance for Lang, but apparently he’s decided to devote the last moments of his life to standing in the way of competent medical care. It’s true what they say about doctors being the worst patients. Sometimes, they’re the worst doctors, too. Some people are just the worst at everything they put their minds to.
Barnabas comes to, and now Julia’s running back and forth between the two guys, trying to keep up with their lunatic demands. This must be what it’s like to be a woman, pretty much all the time.
Barnabas is disappointed to still be in his old body, and Julia tells him that Lang had a heart attack. Barnabas cries, “Cassandra!” and starts climbing off the table.
Julia tries to keep some kind of order.
Julia: Lie back down.
Barnabas: No! Cassandra, she — she’s found out! She’s going to kill him!
Julia: No, no — you must —
Barnabas: I must stop her!
Julia: Barnabas, please! You’re too weak!
Barnabas: She will kill him! I must go!
So he moves approximately one step and then collapses, still shouting, “We must save him, so we can try again!” Meanwhile, Lang is trying to restart his pulmonary functions through the sheer power of the dramatic arts.
And over at Collinwood, Cassandra’s still having fun playing with her Dr. Lang action figure, so at least somebody’s enjoying themselves.
“No, I will not kill him,” she decides. “One doesn’t come back and find one’s victims after all these years, and do away with them in a moment.”
This is basically Batman-TV-show level villain logic, and not even one of the smart ones. This is, like, Riddler level, where you issue “catch me if you can” challenges. This is not adult villainy.
So it goes on like this for a while. Barnabas stumbles out the door on his Junior Woodchucks rescue mission, while Lang continues to backseat-drive his own death.
He says that Julia will only have 48 hours to repeat the experiment, before the patchwork monster decomposes. Julia is too well-mannered to suggest that if they wait around for a few minutes, they might have a new corpse they can use for spare parts.
She leaves the room to get something, and now we have the big tape recording scene, which will occupy so many of our days and nights in the weeks to come. Lang remembers something important that Julia needs to know, so he uses his handy reel-to-reel tape recorder to record a message for her.
For younger readers who may be unfamiliar with the technology, a “tape recorder” was kind of like leaving a voice mail for somebody, except they had to come over to your house if they wanted to listen to it.
Here’s the message. You’re going to want to pay attention here, because it’s setting up the next several months of story.
Lang: Julia, if you do the experiment again… If both Barnabas and my creation live — if they both live — Barnabas will be free and healthy, as long as Adam lives. Adam will drain Barnabas’ affliction from him, but will not suffer from the disease itself, if he lives. But if Adam dies, Barnabas will be as he was before.
And then Angelique slips, and pushes the pin all the way through her voodoo doll, and Lang goes out in a blaze of flared nostrils. It’s not exactly death with dignity, but it’ll have to do.
So there he goes. Dr. Eric Lang, ladies and gentlemen. He died as he lived — noisy, and impossible to understand.
So by the time Barnabas gets to Collinwood to confront the witch, it’s too late. Lang’s dead, the experiment’s a failure, and we might want to spend some time closing down the secret murder lab.
But then something deeply weird happens — and considering the current baseline, that’s saying quite a lot.
Barnabas comes back to the lab, and Dr. Lang is… gone.
Like, actually gone. His body just isn’t there anymore. Barnabas and Julia are still having the same conversation, but during the scene change, Addison Powell got up and walked off the set, and Eric Lang just stops existing as a material object in the story.
That is super extra crazy, and it says a lot about what’s happened to Dark Shadows lately. We watched a character die over the course of ten minutes, and then his body just vanished as soon as we looked away.
You can’t even use a handwave like “time compression” to explain it, because they didn’t just dump the body somewhere and pretend that he went on vacation. As we’ll see tomorrow, it’s public knowledge that Dr. Lang is dead. It’s a major conversation piece for the next few days.
Somehow, invisibly, Barnabas and Julia reported the sudden death of a prominent local doctor, and arranged for his body to be collected from his secret murder lab, without anyone noticing the rotting corpse-monster on the other side of the room.
I mean, even if they managed to convince the police that Lang died of a heart attack, then how did they explain why Julia is here, dressed in a lab coat?
So this is the moment, I think, when Dark Shadows simply ceases to function like a soap opera. It’s still a continuing daily serial on daytime television, but it’s jumped the track and landed in a completely new genre.
Because there’s no way on this earth that a soap opera would do what they just did. You don’t kill a soap character on screen, and then act like there are no consequences. A soap opera runs entirely on consequences; that’s what the genre is for.
When someone dies on a soap opera, then you get a story-beat bonanza that keeps the series humming for weeks. First you have to report the death, and then you go around and tell every single character about it, and give everyone a chance to react, and then there’s the funeral. If you’re lucky enough to have some foul play involved, then you can live off that story for months.
In fact, the only thing that you don’t do is forget about him and start talking about something else, which is exactly what they do.
Check it out; this is how they wrap things up in four sentences.
Julia: This experiment — it killed him as much as she did! If it hadn’t been for this secret, he would have let me send for help.
Barnabas: We must not be emotional about his death, Julia. Every instinct, every feeling I have is to let go, to get revenge — but we must not, we have no time!
And that’s it. They just get back to work on the experiment.
So that line says pretty much everything about what kind of show Dark Shadows has become: “We must not be emotional about his death.” Nobody would ever say that on a soap opera. The whole mission statement of a soap opera is to be emotional about things.
For better or worse, Dark Shadows has now decided that is no longer the case. This is not the story of a family, or a functioning community. This is the story of a handful of crazy monsters, who operate in a hazy otherworld according to the logic of dreams, metaphors, and second-string Batman villains.
This new style won’t last forever. After a while, the writers will figure out that they’ve actually wandered too far off the reservation, and they’ll need to connect back to some soap opera basics again. But this is the path that they’re going to travel through the long, psychedelic summer of 1968. Let the great experiment begin!
Tomorrow: Precious Moments.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
The opening voiceover says, “The witch who put the curse is getting her revenge.”
Addison Powell’s last moment as Dr. Lang — recording the taped message for Julia — is appropriately disaster-prone. He has trouble with the clunky controls on the reel-to-reel tape deck, and doesn’t turn it on in time for the sound effect of the music playing. Then he’s supposed to switch the prop recorder to “record”, which should still keep the reels spinning. Instead, he turns it off, and records his final words while the tape is clearly not running. The camera pulls in quickly when they realize how silly this looks. The dude can’t even die correctly.
Barnabas starts smiling halfway through his confrontation with Cassandra, starting with the moment when he grabs her and spins her around. He gets it under control, but about twenty seconds later, he grabs her hand again, and he smiles again. It looks like he’s just barely suppressing the urge to laugh.
Another person gets the Dream Curse poem wrong again. This time, it’s Mrs. Johnson, who starts with, “Through sight and sound, and headless terror,” instead of “faceless terror.” She also says “A blazing head of light will burn,” when she should say “Ahead a blazing light will burn.”
This episode has the weirdest, most glaring Dream Curse blooper. When Julia closes the second door and approaches the third, she walks past a metal garbage can on a little platform which is spewing dry-ice smoke. It’s clearly not hidden by anything, and there’s a light pointing straight at it, so it’s hard to imagine what they were thinking.
Behind the Scenes:
This is the last time we see Dr. Lang alive, although Addison Powell returns for one episode as a ghost in a couple months. The recording of Lang’s final words will be replayed endlessly, and according to Barnabas & Company, Powell was paid for each episode where his voice was heard.
There’s an oxygen mask over Adam’s face today, to disguise the fact that it’s not Robert Rodan under the sheet. In fact, I think it’s actually a mannequin today. Over the last couple weeks, when stand-in Duane Morris was lying under the sheet, we saw his shoulders and chest — today, we only see the monster’s head, and that’s only in the background. By act 3, the entire figure is covered with the sheet.
The skeleton that’s usually hanging at the back of Lang’s laboratory is gone today, so it could be dressed as a bride for Julia’s dream. The skeleton was in the lab at the end of Friday’s episode, but it’s gone by the start of today’s.
The skeleton bride in Julia’s dream uses the same “woman laughing” sound effect that they’ve been using for Angelique since she died. It’s not actually Lara Parker’s laugh, but it sounds pretty close.
The music that’s heard on the tape that Lang records over is Mozart’s Serenade No. 13 in G (“Eine kleine Nachtsmusik”). The piece is heard an unbearable number of times in the episodes to follow, and this may have contributed significantly to the decline of interest in classical music in America.
Tomorrow: Precious Moments.
— Danny Horn