Episode 488: Pretty People in Terrible Trouble

“Well, so much for that little brainstorm.”

Today’s episode begins with another Great Moment in Monster Medicine, as Dr. Julia Hoffman injects some magic fluid into the patchwork Frankenstein that they’re planning to bring to life on Friday.

Looking on, Barnabas asks, “Why do you keep giving him these shots?”

Julia sighs, and says, “If he should begin to decompose, then he will be utterly useless to us.”

The logic behind injecting things into the dead is a little tenuous — the body doesn’t have a functioning circulatory system to move the fluid around. At this point, I think what we’re looking at is a rotting corpse with an exceptionally well-preserved shoulder.

488 dark shadows medical adam julia

So it might be a wise idea for the medical team to start considering the benefits of refrigeration. Although, honestly, this thing’s been lying around the lab at room temperature for several weeks, so maybe they know something I don’t.

After all, once you get into the applied science of Monster Medicine, you’ve pretty much left literal reality behind, and entered a world of pure metaphor. For example: there’s no such thing as a “life force,” and even if there was, it couldn’t be transferred from one organism into another. Also, there’s no such thing as qi, “energy” doesn’t mean what you think it means, and reiki certification is not medical school.

488 dark shadows wasting julia barnabas

Last week, Dr. Lang tried to free Barnabas from his curse by plugging the vampire’s consciousness into his inanimate patchwork monster. It didn’t work out that well, and now we’re down one mad scientist, plus Barnabas’ life force is in exactly the same place that it’s been this whole time.

So now Julia needs to study up on Lang’s work, and then try the whole procedure over again, which is not a very dramatically compelling situation. In fact, the more that they talk about it, the more it feels like kind of a hassle.

So in order to create a sense of urgency, Barnabas and Julia have been standing around all week establishing make-believe deadlines for themselves.

Barnabas:  How long will this body remain intact?

Julia:  I can only guess, but I’d say no longer than twenty-four hours.

Barnabas:  Twenty-four hours! You mean to say that we have to make this experiment successful within twenty-four hours, or it will fail, and I will revert to what I was?

Julia:  Yes. That’s exactly what I mean.

They act like that’s a huge problem, but twenty-four hours is plenty of time. Each episode is only half an hour long, and that’s including commercials. It would take them forever to get through twenty-four hours. But maybe I’m not doing the math right.

488 dark shadows dream julia barnabas

So basically this week the entire show is about inventing fake countdowns and then telling us how stressed out everybody is. It’s kind of driving me crazy.

Julia’s also upset about the Dream Curse, which is a whole other layer of false drama. Angelique is angry that Barnabas is trying to shake off her curse, so she’s created a magical chain of spooky nightmares that’s working its way through the cast until it gets to Barnabas, at which point he’ll die and revert to his vampire state.

488 dark shadows mirror julia

And again, it’s really hard for the audience to invest emotionally in this situation, when it’s obvious that the only logic behind it is “cause we say so”. We don’t know how long the chain of characters is supposed to be before the Dream gets to Barnabas; all we know right now is that Julia is supposed to pass it along to Mrs. Johnson.

So Barnabas could be next in the chain, or he could be twenty steps away. The storyline is like a slot machine — we’re supposed to keep feeding quarters into this thing, and hope that at some point it pays off.

488 dark shadows scooby barnabas julia

This is an essential tension in the structure of open-ended serial narrative — the ancient truce between writers and audience. We want more exciting things to happen — more plot twists, more secrets revealed, more danger and spectacle. On the writers’ side, they want to conserve story as much as they can, just in case they run out and can’t think of anything to do next.

That means that our interests are not actually aligned with the characters’ interests. Right now, Barnabas and Julia are talking about how awful it would be if the story moved on — if the Dream Curse reached its conclusion, with terrible consequences for Barnabas and everyone that he loves.

488 dark shadows listen julia barnabas

That is the opposite of our problem. We want the bad things to happen. We like seeing pretty people in terrible trouble; that’s the whole point of watching television. If the characters are successful at averting every danger, then the show is boring, and we won’t want to watch it anymore.

It’s not that we’re rooting against the characters — but we’re not really rooting for them, either. Our interests and the characters’ interests are on completely different scales.

The characters are thinking, I want to keep this secret, or I want my advertising agency to win this account. The audience is thinking: I want you to keep saying interesting things, I want him to keep flirting with people, and then I want to see something explode. If that’s more likely to happen if your agency gets the account, then sure, knock yourself out. But our only loyalty is to the story.

488 dark shadows brainstorm barnabas julia

Because it turns out that the people on TV aren’t actually real. We don’t need to feel bad about rooting against them, and it’s totally okay to enjoy watching them struggle. We don’t actually have a “suspension of disbelief,” where we allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking that the TV people feel joy and pain in the same way that we do.

We know that everything that we see on the show is constructed by the writers and actors and producers, and it’s their responsibility to figure out how to tell interesting stories. So there will always be a last-minute reprieve, or an astonishing coincidence, or whatever device the writers need to use, in order to guide the characters through the story.

488 dark shadows appreciate barnabas julia

That’s the ancient truce between the writers and the audience — we’ll keep paying attention, as long as you keep telling an interesting story.

So they can’t expect us to care about the progression of this Dream Curse storyline, because it’s obviously just a delaying tactic with a completely arbitrary deadline. I don’t want to keep dropping quarters into this slot machine. Let’s play a different game.

Tomorrow: Bein’ Green.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

At the beginning of the episode, as Julia injects the fluid into Adam’s body, there’s a squeak from the studio.

Julia talks about medical matters with Barnabas:

Julia:  Perhaps if we increased the voltage…

Barnabas:  We could mean success or failure.

When Barnabas leaves the laboratory and closes the door, the wall shakes a little.

Maggie recites the Dream Curse poem to Professor Stokes, and she messes up a couple minor words: “Through endless corridors of trial and error” should be “by trial and error,” and “One door leads to a point of return” should be “the point of return”.


Behind the Scenes:

This is the first episode that Lang’s recorded message plays, but it’s far from the last. We’ll hear it in fourteen episodes over the next two and a half months.

Tomorrow: Bein’ Green.

488 dark shadows adam

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

8 thoughts on “Episode 488: Pretty People in Terrible Trouble

  1. Wherever Lang got the head he wound up using, it’s preferable to Jeff Clark’s, I think. He’s also still a brunette, so it’ll be an easy transition for Barnabas.

    DS “science” is essentially alchemy or rather the “sci-fi/horror” version of alchemy, which allows “scientists” to wear lab coats when essentially performing tasks that only make sense if considered “magic.”

      1. This is my first proper run through the series; so far, I’ve only seen Rodan unconscious.

        So, yes, already I agree he’s a better actor.

  2. Going back to Barnabas letting the Collins Family know that this previously unheard cousin Adam will now be staying at the Old House, I thought ‘what nerve!’ As far as I’m aware Barnabas is still technically a guest in the Old House, and I take some issue with the fact that he doesn’t have the courtesy to ask Liz’s permission prior to bringing this ‘cousin’ onto the property. I also get annoyed at the fact that Barnabas and Julia have the nerve to keep telling members of the Collins family where they can and can’t go on their own property! Has anyone else noticed this before? Especially Julia who is not even a relative (just the ultimate freeloader). Also they make themselves quite at home at Langs house as well..

      1. Liz never gives The Old House to Barnabas but allows him to live there rent free. Even Vicki comments that he’s going to a great deal of expense to remodel a house he doesn’t actually own. Of course, considering the state of disrepair in which it had fallen, Barnabas did them quite a favor with his Willie-driven makeover.

        The Old House is an interesting example of the series leveraging former story elements. It had served as almost a haunted house on the property, arguably an example of the present day Collinses slow fall from grace, as they couldn’t afford to keep it in decent condition.

        The 1970 movie and 1991 revival maintained the plot device of Barnabas restoring The Old House but I think it was necessary only for the original TV series. In both former examples, the decision to allow this stranger to live on the property and restore the house is rushed (a plot element that happens because it has to happen). Arguably, the 2012 film does well to just ignore it.

  3. I kind of like that they misremember the poem. How well do you remember something that you heard once? Or something heard in the dream? People always are making over things like that in their heads. The way “What’s good for the country is good for General Motors and vice versa” became “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”Unless Angelique also curse the dream with some sort of special memory whammy I’d expect them to get it wrong. 🙂

  4. The REAL deadline here is that they’re paying Robert Rodan to just lie there ‘dead’ for all this time, they really need to get him up and working for that paycheck!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s