“What gave you the idea that you had homicidal tendencies?”
Oh, great, a Dream Curse episode. Because we haven’t had enough of those lately.
If you’re joining us late, the Dream Curse is a magic spell that Angelique made up a couple weeks ago, and they’re trying to make it a thing. Maggie had a fairly tame nightmare that included Jeff; she told Jeff about it, and then he had the Dream. Jeff’s dream sequence included Dr. Lang; he told Lang the story, and then Lang had the Dream. It’s going to go on like this until it runs through the entire cast, which will take approximately forever.
You know, they say that there are no new ideas in Hollywood, but then somebody has one, and you kind of wish you’d never brought it up in the first place.
So we open today with Dr. Julia Hoffman — usually the most interesting character in all of fiction, the mythopoetic trickster who’s always running some kind of melodramatic long con — and she’s pacing around in her worry pose for pretty much no reason.
She had the Dream last night, and it included Mrs. Johnson, so she’s convinced that Mrs. Johnson is going to open the drawing room doors, and then she’ll be compelled to tell her the story, and the curse will continue.
The weird thing is that Julia suddenly understands everything about the curse, including the fact that it’s aimed at turning Barnabas back into a vampire, and there’s no way for her to have that information. She’d never heard of the Dream until Lang told her about it, but she seems to have inferred the whole structure of the storyline out of thin air.
Look at what they’ve done to me. They’ve got me all upset about the mechanics of Dream Curse continuity, and there isn’t even such a thing as a Dream Curse.
Vicki walks in with some coffee, and has a backacting-heavy scene in which she asks Julia what’s wrong, and Julia doesn’t tell her.
Today’s script is by Ron Sproat, who’s back in his wheelhouse — characters standing around, having vague feelings of dread that they can’t explain. The Dream Curse isn’t really Sproat’s fault, because he was on vacation when it started, but now he’s back and he’s not helping.
Julia runs off to parts unknown, and Vicki gets a visit from her mysterious new friend Jeff, who’s dressed in a smart little outfit that I don’t know how he can afford.
Jeff recently got out of a mental institution, and he has total amnesia about his past. Vicki suspects that he’s actually her 18th-century boyfriend, who’s traveled in time to find her, which is as good an explanation as any. But he just quit his job robbing graves for the local mad scientist, and now he’s renting a room from Vicki’s friend and has no visible means of support.
I’m not kidding about any of this. This is Jeff and Vicki’s actual storyline, and now they’re having coffee. It’s a weird show.
Nothing’s going to happen today, by the way; I might as well put that out on Front Street. They’ve been racing through plot points at a rapid clip, and now they need to stall until the Friday cliffhanger. Naturally, Sproat is the guy you call when you want an information-processing episode.
Vicki gets to pass on one of our headline stories — Jeff’s boss, Dr. Lang, died of a heart attack yesterday. Jeff is utterly thrilled with this news. The sinister doctor was holding onto Jeff’s file from the mental institution, and now Jeff has the chance to retrieve it.
I hate myself for doing all this recap, but honestly there’s not a single other thing for me to do.
Things do brighten up a bit mid-episode when Julia pays a visit to Professor Stokes, an eccentric new character that they’re using as a plot consultant. It’s not possible to write a boring Stokes scene, so if you’re going to do information-management filler, then you might as well go to him.
Julia: I’m sorry to intrude on you at such an early hour.
Stokes: Please don’t apologize; I detest apologies. People so rarely mean them.
He fixes a monocle into his eye.
Stokes: Now. May I ask who you are, and what you want?
Julia: You’re a very blunt man.
Stokes: No, just hostile to strangers. But it’s part of my nature. And you still haven’t answered my question.
See what I mean? We love Stokes.
Julia says, “I understand that you have considerable knowledge of the occult,” and Stokes raises an eyebrow — dislodging the monocle, which falls out of his eye.
It’s an absolutely adorable bit of business that they’ve clearly been rehearsing all day, bless their hearts.
Stokes grins, and says, “I am interested in the supernatural, and I have managed to collect a certain amount of information about it. Why?”
This is a character type that we’ve never really seen on Dark Shadows before. In narrative terms, he’s basically the wise old man who lives in a cave, waiting for the protagonists to come by and ask for a prophecy or a magical artifact.
He’s not actually personally involved in anything, but he’s an avid collector of interesting stories, which makes him an ally of the audience. He’s basically a talk-to, which isn’t usually a very interesting role, but the wise old man can be a plot accelerator, so we cut him some slack.
As Julia tells Stokes about the Dream, there’s an interesting shot where she’s framed in a convex, distorting mirror. They’ve been doing a lot of mirror symbolism lately, which is nice because you don’t usually see daily soap operas being anything but literal. They don’t usually have the time to set up thoughtful camera shots.
But a mirror is a handy symbol, because it comes with a built-in set of associations — self-awareness, secrets, a character’s hidden dark side. Also, it helps them set up backacting shots that are a little less awkward than usual, because the characters can face the camera and still make eye contact with each other.
Julia gives Stokes an entire step-by-step recap of the Dream Curse storyline, walking through each person who’s had the Dream. Again, there’s no way for her to know all of this, but if Sproat’s going to slip someone an episode guide, then it might as well be Julia.
When she finishes her story, Stokes turns to the camera and says, “Interesting. Very interesting.”
Julia cries, “Well, does any of this make any sense at all?” He answers, “Yes. It does.”
That’s actually a no on both counts, but Stokes is the wise old man, so we’re just supposed to take his word for it.
He says, “I’ve read about a phenomenon called the Dream Curse, which happens exactly as you’ve described it. The people who dream are not necessarily the objects of the curse — they may be merely the instruments by which it is carried out.”
This is actually an interesting narrative trick. There isn’t really a legend about a Dream Curse, of course; they’ve just made it up. But Stokes is using the implicit authority of books to convince the audience that this is an actual legend.
James Malcolm Rymer did the same thing in Varney the Vampire, the 1847 penny dreadful that single-handedly introduced practically everything that we know as vampire lore. Rymer made up new rules on the spot as he was going along, and there was always a character standing by who could say, “Yes, the legend that I’ve heard is that vampires can heal when they’re exposed to the light of the full moon.”
So in a show that’s borrowing freely from Jane Eyre, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Crucible and Tom Jones, they can slip in an imaginary text, and make us think that it’s a well-known book that we just haven’t read.
Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t really come off, because the Dream is clearly not a literary device. It’s haunted-house spookery, just a random assortment of sights and sounds.
The really shocking thing about the Dream Curse storyline, from a narrative perspective, is that the Dream doesn’t really connect to anything in the characters’ lives. Every character who has the Dream sees what’s behind the previous dreamers’ doors, so any little scraps of meaning or association get distributed to everyone.
Maggie heard Josette’s music box, which links back to her abduction storyline — but then Jeff had the Dream, and he heard the music box too.
Jeff saw a guillotine, which kind of refers to Dr. Lang’s plan to cut off Jeff’s head, but then that gets passed on to the next person and the power of that symbol just evaporates. Besides, Jeff had the Dream after the head-chopping danger had already passed, so again, the reference was drained of any real meaning.
But if you want a revealing metaphor that actually provides insight into somebody’s emotional state, then you can’t get a better one than this.
Cut to Barnabas, who’s staring at a clock. We hear the seconds tick by, and Barnabas has a thinks monologue about how much time they’re wasting, when they should be working on their Frankenstein experiment. Daytime characters should never look at a ticking clock; it hits too close to home for the audience.
There’s a lot of clock-watching this week, as Barnabas and Julia count down from 48 hours until they have to try the experiment again. So here’s the show’s main character, visibly upset because Julia is spending time on the boring Dream storyline. It’s practically Freudian; the cast members are working out their anxieties about the story direction.
And here comes another moment of plot-killing frustration. Jeff shows up to rifle through Dr. Lang’s files, and has a mild run-in with Barnabas.
Barnabas: Whatever’s in that cabinet belongs to Dr. Lang. I will not let you steal from him!
Jeff: I am not stealing, and I wouldn’t do this unless I have to.
Barnabas: I won’t allow it!
Jeff: Yeah? Well, how do you plan to stop me?
That’s a very good question, and Barnabas just kind of harrumphs for a while until he admits that this isn’t really much of a scene.
But Jeff finds the information that he’s looking for, and he runs back to Vicki, all excited. His file from the mental institution had those three magic words: “No homicidal tendencies.” As something to be proud of, that’s a pretty low bar, but he seems happy.
Unfortunately, that basically nerfs Jeff’s entire storyline. He’s not working for Dr. Lang anymore, and the secret that Lang was holding over him — the idea that he might be a murderer — has just dissolved.
This is just throwing a story point away, rather than advancing anything, and Jeff is left at a loose end. He has no job, no family, and no real connection to a story. Now he doesn’t even have homicidal tendencies. It wasn’t much, but it was all he had.
And then the roller coaster of thrills concludes with Julia meeting up with Barnabas and reiterating on the usual themes.
Barnabas: Julia, we have less than 48 hours before that lifeless creature upstairs becomes useless, and I have to revert back to what I was.
Julia: Barnabas, I’m doing all I can to help you. That’s all I can do.
And then he gives a little time-wasting speech about how urgent it is that they stop wasting time.
Barnabas: The experiment will fail.
Julia: Don’t say that.
Barnabas: It will fail, and I will revert back to what I was.
Julia: Oh, Barnabas.
Barnabas: And I will roam the earth alone — killing, destroying — and it will go on forever. I have only a few moments left. A few minutes to be a human being. You know how precious those moments are to me, Julia. You really know.
Julia: Yes… I know.
And then Barnabas turns and looks at the clock. It’s 4:10, apparently, if that helps.
Tomorrow: Pretty People in Terrible Trouble.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
As Stokes and Julia enter the room at the start of act 2, you can see part of a camera ducking out of the shot at the top left of the screen.
Barnabas says to Jeff, “Well, you can at least tell me what is — what it, what you’re looking for.”
When Barnabas says, “I’m very fond of Vicki,” Jeff answers, “Well, I am new — I am too, so what about it?”
Tomorrow: Pretty People in Terrible Trouble.
— Danny Horn