Episode 491: The Wonder Years

“Julia — what if he’s some kind of a monster?”

The story so far: Barnabas Collins isn’t a vampire anymore. He got cured, and he wants to stay cured. But the bloodlust is returning, as it usually does, and the witch who originally cursed him keeps giving him dirty looks, so last week, he did something even more reckless than usual. He got his pal Julia to complete the late Dr. Lang’s botched experiments, and try to transfer Barnabas’ life force into the empty shell of the doctor’s patchwork Frankenstein creation.

Obviously, this is a foolproof plan, as these fools have just proved. The experiment ended prematurely, with only part of Barnabas’ life force going into the creature. And now something new and terrible is unleashed upon the world.

I’d like to say that he has his mother’s eyes and his father’s nose, but he was pieced together from scavenged corpses, and it’s hard to trace where all the bits came from with any degree of certainty.

491 dark shadows get up adam

This is a Sam Hall script today, by the way, which is nice. We’ve just heard the sad news of Sam’s passing over the weekend, so it seems appropriate to be watching one of his episodes today.

This story is a good example of something that Sam brings to the show, more than anyone else — the ability to push the characters in a surprising new direction. Other writers might be comfortable keeping the characters swimming in circles around the goldfish bowl, but not Sam. He has one of the greatest gifts that a television writer can have: He gets bored.

So I don’t know what kind of show you guys were planning on watching, but as of now, Dark Shadows is the story of the two most selfish people on Earth, raising an enormous, terrifying child.

491 dark shadows clothes adam barnabas

So here they are, the New Normal: a vampire, his mad scientist gal pal and their very own Frankenchild. Adam is a new life form, and he’s already 6’6″, so good luck finding a car seat for him.

At least he’s already got a nice set of clothes, including a snazzy sport coat and a turtleneck sweater. Apparently there was a phase of the experiment that involved buying the headless, inanimate corpse-monster a full outfit, including shoes. That must have been quite a shopping trip. Although they assembled him out of previously-owned parts, so maybe the shoes just came with the feet.

491 dark shadows ugly adam

Now, everybody on the show is going to make a big deal about how hideous Adam is, but obviously he’s Hollywood ugly, which is to say: Gorgeous, with glasses.

In Adam’s case, the big flaw is supposed to be the stitches holding him together, which I guess might be a problem if you already know a bunch of tall, handsome guys who don’t know what “kissing” means yet. Personally, I could always use another one of those around the house, if nobody else wants him.

I mean, if I wasn’t married and he wasn’t fictional, I would take steps. That’s all I’m saying.

491 dark shadows slow adam

Anyway, the dude’s been alive for a little over a minute, and they’re already giving him an assessment, like they’re worried that he won’t get into a good preschool.

Julia:  What does he understand?

Barnabas:  I don’t know, Julia. I don’t think he can talk. He didn’t say anything. And as he stood up, he seemed to be dizzy. Perhaps he can’t walk, or move properly. Julia — what if he’s some kind of a monster?

And, oh, wouldn’t it be great if we could get somebody to say that to a new parent, the first time you see their baby? “I don’t think he can talk. Perhaps he can’t walk, or move properly. What if he’s some kind of a monster?” I would pay cash money to see that.

491 dark shadows school adam barnabas

And the wonderful thing about Dark Shadows is that they’re playing this absolutely straight. This isn’t a self-aware spoof of well-trod genre tropes. They’re acting like people who have never seen anything like this before, and they’re genuinely trying to figure out what to do.

Julia:  Move away from him, Barnabas.

Barnabas:  Well, what would that prove?

Julia:  I want to see if he trusts us.

Barnabas:  And that would show you?

Julia:  It’ll give an indication.

491 dark shadows walk barnabas adam

That makes about as much sense as anything else, so they give it a whirl. Barnabas stands on the other side of the room, and Adam shuffles to follow him, knocking over a stool on the way.

“Exactly what a child would do, learning to walk,” Julia says, which makes you wonder what kind of kids she’s been hanging out with.

491 dark shadows bracelet adam julia

She dangles a shiny bracelet in front of him, and lets him snatch it out of her hand.

491 dark shadows bracelet adam

He plays with the bracelet, examining it closely and shaking it to make a jangling noise.

491 dark shadows playing adam

And, oh my god, do we even need to have a rest of the episode? We could spend the next twenty minutes just watching Adam play with a bracelet, and I would be totally fine with that.

It’s 3:30 in the afternoon; there’s no way that The Edge of Night is more fun than this. If he starts to lose focus, just throw him another accessory.

491 dark shadows sedative julia barnabas

But it looks like Adam’s getting frustrated about not being able to communicate with them, so they start making questionable child care decisions.

Barnabas:  You must calm him!

Julia:  I’ll give him a sedative; then he’ll sleep for several hours.

Barnabas:  Yes, yes!

Julia:  Then we’ll decide what to do.

This is a typical Julia decision; in her experience, almost anything can be solved with a sedative. That’s why she’s ahead of the curve on this; it doesn’t usually occur to new parents for at least a couple weeks.

491 dark shadows struggle adam barnabas

So one thing that I like about this story is that it’s a very practical problem. There’s a new creature loose in the world, and they’re not sure what to do with him.

Barnabas and Julia’s usual bag of tricks won’t work here. They can’t threaten Adam, or lie to him, or make a deal with him. Barnabas can’t bite him, and Julia can’t hypnotize him.

They’re completely out of their depth, just like new parents always are, and it’s only been a few minutes. Just wait until they realize that they’re going to have to start saving for college tuition.

Tomorrow: The Terrible Twos.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

At the start of the teaser, Julia is fiddling with knobs. She looks up to get a stage direction, and we can see someone’s arm sweep across the bottom right corner of the screen, to give her a cue.

The repeat of Friday’s cliffhanger is different in a couple respects. At the end of Friday’s episode, Adam was still covered with a sheet. In today’s episode, Julia chooses a moment when the camera’s not on her to whip the sheet off and reveal Adam in his new outfit.

At the end of the teaser, Barnabas looks at Adam and cries, “You are alive!” without completing the line, as he did on Friday, with “We’re both alive.” Also, a little fleck of spittle flies from his mouth as he says that line.

Barnabas cries, “Julia, you’re right, if that pleases you! Now, we must discover — decide what we’re going to do with him!”

In the middle of Julia’s line about giving Adam a sedative, she coughs.

In the final scene, when Adam starts chasing Julia, you can see a crew member’s head at the bottom of the screen.

Tomorrow: The Terrible Twos.

491 dark shadows head julia

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

34 thoughts on “Episode 491: The Wonder Years

  1. I guess back in the 60’s giving ‘sedatives’ to ‘children’ was much more common practice. I vaguely remember seeing bottles of tincture of paregoric and liquid phenobarbital in the medicine cabinet when I was a child. They were supposedly used to calm ‘fretful’ and ‘teething’ children so I guess my sister and I fell into that category!

  2. Ok, can someone please explain this to me? The original intention was to transfer Barnabas’ ‘life force’ completely into Adam. Something goes wrong and rather than the full transfer, enough of Barnabas’ life force is given to Adam to make him live – while Barnabas’ consciousness remains in Barnabas’ body, albeit now cured of its vampirism. So far so good.

    But, Lang’s recorded message to Julia – made days before the experiment ‘goes wrong’ – implies that Adam would suck the disease out of Barnabas to cure him, and then the two would be inextricably linked from then on. Which sounds like Lang knew all along that the full transfer would not happen, and Barnabas would still remain in his old body. Am I missing something here? Does this make sense?

    1. Lang was covering all the contingencies. He looked over his calculations and saw what he had missed before, that the transfer could be incomplete. So he had to ham it up with the recorder for the amusement of all.

      1. I have this headcanon that since Barnabas was a supernatural creature, he had more life-force/energy/whatever than a normal person, so when they did the experiment, Adam got the excess stuff and Barnabas got to stay in his own body. A mormal person wouldnt have that extra stuff, and therefore would be transferred entirely into the other body. Though I’ll admit I don’t remember much about Eve, so this might not actually fit with continuity

  3. If you were making the argument that Barnabas and Julia are a couple, then this episode presents the strongest case, because with Adam they have effectively reproduced. Barnabas provides the seed–the “life force”–and Julia labors–goes into labor–to bring the creature to life and into this world. Dr. Lang provided the means for the artificial insemination, and the happy parents then take the newborn home to provide for his care–to be chained to a wall and later taunted and tantalized with a chicken leg once big brother Willie is alone with him.

    This is the point in the show where Barnabas clearly becomes the good guy. No longer a menace to Maggie, Carolyn, or Vicky or a threat to David, finally there is a creature on the show more potentially destructive than Barnabas could ever have been, and now Barnabas must play the role of protector of Collinwood, containing Adam’s sudden impulsive rage to keep him from possibly killing those at the big house.

    1. You could also make the case that chaining somebody to a wall in a cramped cell in your basement takes “good guy” off the table, especially if it’s your fantasy-metaphor newborn child. I’ve stopped looking for the moment when Barnabas becomes a good guy; I don’t actually think it happens. There’s something stranger than that going on.

      1. In chaining Adam to the wall, the show is merely following elements of the Frankenstein story from which it borrows and also quite possibly as a means of getting the viewer to feel sympathetic toward Adam.

        Perhaps “good guy” is not really appropriate, but Barnabas is certainly by this time a “sympathetic” character, and I think the 1795 storyline helped establish that in bringing to light the circumstances that brought about his transformation. He may have behaved selfishly and irresponsibly at times, but, at that point at least, he was only human, and had something to fight what with larger, evil forces at work against him. When he kidnapped and tortured Maggie in 1967, you never wanted him to succeed, you might even have hoped that he was destroyed. But in 1795, you don’t want Angelique to succeed, you hope that SHE is destroyed, and you hope that Nathan doesn’t succeed with the crossbow. Likewise, in 1968, you don’t want Cassandra or Nicholas to succeed, and when Barnabas at great risk to himself travels back to 1897 to find a cure for Chris and exorcise Quentin’s ghost to save David, you hope that he will return safely.

        If not “good” in the standard traditional sense–but then of course Dark Shadows is hardly a standard traditional show–then after 1795 he is always the lesser of two evils and you are never rooting for his destruction the way you are for those he comes up against. The viewer is behind him.

        1. I think “good guy” is a bit of an overstatement, considering his attitudes towards Maggie in the near future. Sympathetic, yes, for the most part. And certainly you are rooting for him in his battles against Angelique, but he certainly has his bad points. Perhaps anti-hero is a more apt description.

          And the Adam story isn’t doing him any favours as far as his rehabilitation goes. Remember the original Frankenstein story paints the Doctor in a very bad light, creating and then throwing away his creation because it wasn’t what he hoped for – something he ultimately has to pay for. Though Lang initiated the experiment, upon his death the role of Doctor Frankenstein was transferred to Barnabas (and Julia). And in keeping with the original tale, it is necessary for him to disown Adam and therefore take some responsibility for his later, violent actions. This does not cast Barnabas in a flattering light.

          As Danny says, there’s alot going on here with his character. The fact that we’re debating his nature to this day proves that.

      2. Barnabas becomes “sympathetic” during 1795 — though ironically, he kills more people on-screen than his villainous version did in 1967. He’s no longer the antagonist. The show wants us to root for him. (Though, I recall even on first viewing not wanting Burke and Woodard to “expose” Barnabas and Julia.)

        As I mentioned elsewhere, I like the thematic symmetry of Barnabas entering the I-Ching trance — risking his life, as he has no idea what might happen — to save a boy he was willing to kill to avoid being exposed just a couple years earlier. He’s a completely different character now — horribly flawed still but a remarkably different.

        And earlier, when he aides Chris Jennings, it is out of compassion. However, we have a few months yet of Barnabas putting himself ahead of everyone else — allowing people to suffer through the Dream Curse, volunteering Maggie to be the life force for Eve, and even considering “silencing” Maggie when she gets her memory back. He’s certainly not as “bwah-ha-ha” about things as he was during 1967.

        I think ultimately Barnabas becomes a flawed human being with good intentions as opposed to a psychopathic villain with nothing but bad intentions as he was introduced.

        1. I think that becoming a “good guy” is a process. A process that I believe ended in PT where he basically gets a “do over” of the 1967 situation. Of course, he was a good guy who made a lot of bad decisions, and whose plans never worked.

        2. I think good vs bad is the wrong question. The important thing is interesting vs boring.

          I don’t think that Julia is a good person; she should be in prison for, like, six reasons so far. But Julia is a great character.

          1. I should perhaps explain what I mean by “good” in terms of the context of the show. There are no “good” characters on the show, except for Vicky, and perhaps that’s why she’s so boring. You’ll never find a real-life family/human values message from this show, the way you would get from the cheerfully positive resolution of each episode of Bewitched for instance. Roger became a good guy, but he has a manslaughter incident in his past, which he covered up, plus he was also complicit in covering up the death of Bill Malloy. Then there’s David, who once tried to murder his own father. And Elizabeth covered up for both Roger and David. But we forgive them for their past transgressions, even though their actions resulted in the death of others.

            In a standard soap opera, or on any other type of show, these would be considered very shady characters, and you’d never want any of them involved in your own life. But in the upside-down world of Dark Shadows, one month they are villains and the next month they are positioned to fight off villains for the good of others. There are characters we root for and characters we hope will be destroyed, and Barnabas is one of those we are behind for better or worse, and likewise Julia. Sure Barnabas and Julia will be complicit in several more heinous schemes and put the lives of others in peril, but on Dark Shadows death is a way of life. We like them, and we are prepared to forgive them. We want for their way of life to prevail. In calling Barnabas a “good guy”, it is meant that his character is no longer dark and menacing, as if he is intent on upsetting the balance of life at Collinwood or in Collinsport in general, but is now more a shade of gray–like virtually all other characters on the show. There are “dark” characters and there are “gray” characters, and “gray” is about as “good” as anyone is likely to get on Dark Shadows.

            1. Yeah, this is a question that I’ve been kind of chewing on with the blog — what makes the audience like a character, and root for them? Vicki wants “good” things and Quentin wants “bad” things, but if those characters arm-wrestled over something, I would be on Quentin’s side a million percent.

          2. Julia’s character transition is also interesting. When she arrives, she cares only for herself and her own interests. She willing to sacrifice Maggie, Willie, and later her friend Dave Woodard for it. (She’s not bwah-ha-ha evil about it, but she always makes the wrong choice). By the end of the show, she’s full-on “family” protector. Arguably, her big moment is during the otherwise deadly dull period during the Leviathan storyline when she’s the main protagonist. She could just leave the Collins behind but she’s looking for Quentin’s portrait, investigating the weirdness at the antique shop, and trying to find out why her friends are behaving badly.

            The question for me is whether the character transitions for Julia and Barnabas are legitimate — i.e. can you watch the series and see how a person could start at point A and end at Point B or actually character “reboots.” The latter is arguably discouraged in dramatic writing but they are fairly common and popular in soap operas. Michael Baldwin on Y&R was originally a deranged psychopath. He ultimately wound up an otherwise decent guy with an edge. Not dramatically realistic but compelling nonetheless because he’s an interesting character.

            1. Those character switches are called “getting a new writer”. Like when new writer came to “Anotehr world” and RAchel went from villain to heroine in a few episodes.

              The most egregious “new writer” story was when a character got a hysteresectomy and there was a lot of drama attached to it. Then a couple of years later there was new writer and she got pregnant…

    2. True, but the one snag is that Barnabas is directly the cause of every problem the Collins family and friends experiences for the next few months. Angelique came to Collinwood because of Barnabas and without her presence, Lang probably would have succeeded with the experiment (and it’s hard to imagine Lang doing a worse job bringing up Adam than Barnabas and Julia managed). Nicholas only comes to Collinwood and learns about Adam because of his arrangement with Angelique. Nicholas falls for Maggie and systematically destroys Joe in order to be with her. Tom Jennings dies because Nicholas moves into the House by the Sea.

      Barnabas is no longer the series antagonist at this point but he’s mostly reactive. He is simply trying to stay alive and keep his own issues from spiraling out of control.

      I’ve mentioned that I think it’s when Chris Jennings comes to town and Quentin turns up that Barnabas no longer acts out of self-preservation and self-interest. He truly wants to help Chris, and he wants to protect his family from Quentin. This leads to the biggest character shift imaginable: Almost two years earlier, he was planning to kill David if necessary to protect his own existence. Now, he risked his life to save David, when through mere inaction, the boy would have died. I often point to Episode 700 as a “key” Barnabas episode. If you’re trying to capture the “family protector” Barnabas, that is among the ones to watch (not anything from 1967, though unfortunately the 1991 revival didn’t learn this).

      1. Angelique came to Collinwood because of the seance–which Barnabas initially opposed. And Barnabas became a creature of the supernatural because of Angelique, because he could not love her in human life as she so selfishly demanded. Barnabas was instead the object, the catalyst, rather than the cause. He is still by this point very much a sympathetic character.

      2. Barnabas didn’t MAKE Angelique come to town, that was her own wacky decision. Actually he makes people he bit or bites do his bidding. All these other characters have their own Soap Opera free will.

    3. Well – there is a particular situation coming up that would make me question Barnabas becoming a ‘good guy’ at this point. I don’t want to bring it up before Danny’s review but it has something to do with the Evans Family…

    4. Hmmmm… That might have something to do with the fact that it’s very hard to find playpens big and strong enough to contain a 6’6″ monster toddler. G All the same, I think they should have made better babysitting arrangements for Adam!

      1. Hi all, not unlike Barnabas this following post is all about me. I just finished watching Bramwell and Catherine story, which means I have completed watching Dark Shadows. This is the first time I believe I have seen the complete series. Needless to say I feel happy and bereft. It seemed like the writers were starting on a new Bramwell twist, when the voice over quickly tied up the new potential vampire arc, and ended the series. Does anybody know what the writers knew or if the audience knew the show was being cancelled? Just curious. Anyway, thank you for letting me share about me. FYI Bramwell and Catherine story not bad at all! Oh well….. Here I go again….. 😂

        1. Yeah, on the production side, they definitely knew they were heading towards the end. It sounds like everybody knew they were running out of steam — the ratings peak was for the 1897 storyline, and after that it was kind of a slow slide down.

          1840 was kind of a “greatest hits” storyline that used pieces of previous storylines, especially 1897 and 1795, and everybody knew it was a last lap around the track. Going to 1841PT was mostly contractual obligation — they had two more months till cancellation, and Frid wanted to play a different character, so they created a separate timeline for Bramwell and Catherine.

          But I think it was mostly a surprise for the audience. In these days of entertainment magazines and spoiler-filled websites, everybody knows exactly what’s going on with their favorite shows. None of that existed in 1971 — the first soap opera magazine started in 1975.

          Some people may have heard about DS ending, but it must have been a shock for most of the audience to hear the concluding voiceover and find out the show’s done.

          1. Thank you for the info Danny! Spoiler alert…. It was just weird to kind of have them reintroduce avampire attack, using Melanie and Ben Stokes,have a close up of Bramwell then Barnabas,then end the show 2 seconds later with the voice over saying, oops this time it was an animal attack. Maybe I’m thinking too 2014 writing again. So GLAD it will never be over for us. 😃

            1. Most of the show was a hazy memory for me when I watched it during it’s initial run. But the one vivid memory I have from that time was the anticipation of seeing the story behind Melanie’s bite marks and then the ‘WTF’ moment of hearing that these were only animal bites and that’s it folks…

          2. As someone who was watching DS from beginning to end, I know that it was publicly announced that it was being canceled. It might have been reported in TV Guide, which my family subscribed to, but I remember being upset that it was being canceled.

          3. Not only 1840 was a re-hash, but what happened before it was a retelling of the Quentin storyline in 1968. Again David and his girlfriend fall prey to ghosts. And you want to smack David over the head. Quentin wasn’t bad enough? Does he have to keep making the same mistakes?

            I guess it was a this point that I lost interest. If they were going to do a retread of earliers storylines, they could do it without me….. Oh, I did watch, but it was no longer a regular thing. I skipped more than I watched..Yawn, another trip through time, yawn, another Quentin with woman problems. Yawn, another appearance by Angelique…Yawn…

            Somehow it got to me that THESE PEOPLE WERE INCAPABLE OF LEARNING A BLESSED THING

    5. Omg, that is the greatest comment.

      It should have been easy to see that in 1968, but….

      I was nine or ten. Hating on anything that cries or whimpers.

      And, at 57, with AdLang gone, I actually care.

      Not in ’68’, fer sure.

  4. When Roger cracked his head after David monkeyed with the brakes on his car back in ’66, the make-up people seemed to take great pains to show his scar gradually healing over a few weeks time. Adam’s scars, however, become more severe than they are initially. The precise location and severity of the scars varies from one episode to the next, but they will quickly grow heavier and remain more severe than they are shown when he is initially introduced.

  5. In that last scene, I think it’s Frid’s head that pops into shot, not a crew member’s – Adam knocks him to the ground just before, and when the camera moves back around, Barnabas is getting up from roughly that place.

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