“Well, never mind about that now. David was very nearly killed this evening.”
It’s a tough job, don’t let anyone tell you different. It must be one of the toughest jobs in television — writing the script for a daily soap opera. It’s not the long-term planning, which has got to be kind of fun. The brutal part is the scene breakdown.
The problem goes like this: We have a plot point to establish, and it requires these three characters to be on this set, in this kind of mood. Go make that happen. And sometimes there’s just no logical reason why that particular group of people would even be talking to each other. This is why you don’t see a lot of jolly soap opera writers.
Of course, on some days, you figure out a clever twist that solves the problem, and the world is full of sunshine, and that’s a good day. Gordon Russell is not having a good day.
Today’s episode begins with Roger in the foyer, on the verge of a phone call. He’s interrupted when Cassandra and Julia enter, all smiles.
Roger: Cassandra! Where have you been?
Cassandra: I took Julia to see Professor Stokes.
Julia: Yes, we had a fascinating conversation about the occult.
Roger: Well, never mind about that now. David was very nearly killed this evening.
Now, obviously, that is an extremely Dark Shadowsy conversation. On any soap opera that actually takes place on the planet Earth, you’d have to go through a fairly extensive list of answers to the question “Where have you been?” before you’d come up with “We had a fascinating conversation about the occult.”
But that’s not even the weird part. The real problem here is: Julia knows that Cassandra is actually Angelique, the evil witch who’s cast a Dream Curse on Barnabas. So why are they hanging out together? And on Cassandra’s side, if she’s trying to throw off suspicion, wouldn’t a fascinating conversation about the occult be the very last thing she’d want to encourage?
The only way to make sense of this scene is to just decide that Julia and Cassandra are complicated women with rich interior lives, and they don’t answer to you. You are not the boss of them.
Anyway, Roger’s upset because he just found his ten-year-old son outside in the woods, in the arms of a six-foot-six Frankenstein man, and that kind of thing can rattle a person.
So Roger calls the police, and says, “This is Roger Collins. I want to report a shooting. I don’t know the name of the man who was shot.”
He pauses as the officer asks a question. “Yes,” he says. “I did.” This is one of those conversations that makes police officers in soap opera towns wonder why they even bother to pick up the phone.
Roger describes the man that he shot — an enormous man, over six feet, dressed all in black, with some kind of facial disfigurement. Julia does one of those thoughtful takes to the camera, which pulls in obligingly on her expression. It’s the kind of moment that really cries out for one of those mockumentary fourth-wall-breaking monologues, like on Modern Family.
Julia excuses herself and exits the scene, and now it’s Roger’s turn to watch the audience. He’s telling Cassandra about the stranger who was trying to abduct David, and he uses the typical Dark Shadows trick of pretending to be moody and distant, so he can keep one eye on the teleprompter. Naturally, the other eye is also on the teleprompter. Eyes tend to stick together like that; they don’t like solo missions.
Roger: Liz was returning from the Old House, and she encountered this man in the woods. He frightened her, and she came running here to tell us about it. I knew David was out playing, and I got a gun, and went out looking for him. Barnabas went with me.
Roger: Yes. As a matter of fact, but for Barnabas’ quick thinking, David might not be here now.
Well, he’s not here now. Oh, I see what you mean.
After a while, they settle into a shot where they can both refer to the teleprompter. There’s been a lot of this lately; it’s like an epidemic.
We’re just getting into a period where ABC realizes that Dark Shadows is starting to do really well in the ratings. This week, they send Jonathan Frid out on a week-long promotional tour, which throws the taping schedule into chaos.
Barnabas is at the heart of every storyline right now, and they can’t just drop him from the show for five days, so they start filming episodes out of order. Within a couple weeks, they’re jumping around so much that they’ll tape 516 on a Tuesday, followed by 505 two days later.
In fact, tomorrow’s episode was taped on the day before broadcast — a fairly nerve-wracking thing to do. This only happens four times in the entire run of the show, and all four of them are in the next few weeks.
So it’s not surprising that things are starting to get a little ragged. It’s hard enough for soap opera actors to remember their lines under the best of circumstances, what with all the recap and repetition. When you’re taping episodes weeks out of order, you lose the context completely.
Even Grayson Hall starts relying on the prompter, and she’s usually on top of her dialogue. Everybody’s a little confused. So we get a lot of backacting, and peering off into the distance.
Anyway, Barnabas and Julia find the wounded Adam back in his basement cell, where he returned after Roger shot him in the shoulder. Adam is hurt and confused, which makes him pose dramatically like a pinup model. Robert Rodan is so huge that he’s basically furniture; they just build the scene around him.
Julia has to treat the gunshot wound, so it’s lucky that her purse has magically turned into her doctor’s bag between scenes. She pulls out a pair of scissors, and cuts all the way up Adam’s sleeve.
Now, he was just born a little over a week ago, and as far as I know, this is his only outfit. But I think he’s cute, so if Julia wants to start editing his wardrobe like this, it’s fine with me. Good-looking soap dudes should get shot in the shoulder more often.
But life is pretty easy for Robert Rodan today. Adam doesn’t have a very large vocabulary so far, and today he only speaks three words, all of them in the last scene.
While Julia makes with the medicine, Barnabas decides that he needs to get to Collinwood and make sure that the police aren’t going to start prowling around the Old House, looking for the intruder.
But as he turns for the door, the stricken monster calls out. Apparently, Adam thinks that getting shot in the shoulder should earn him more than a minute and a half of Barnabas’ time.
Barnabas: What did you do to him?
Julia: Nothing. He doesn’t want you to go.
Barnabas: Well, I can’t stand by him twenty-four hours a day.
Man, Barnabas is really competing for that Father of the Year award, isn’t he? It’s a heartwarming storyline.
But Barnabas manages to disentangle himself from the emergency room, and he heads over to Collinwood for damage control. Roger is still striking dramatic backacting poses.
Roger: Have you ever seen that man before, Barnabas?
Barnabas: What made you ask that?
Well, it’s written right over there, on the teleprompter. You should recognize it; it’s been directly in your line of sight for over a year now.
So it’s just that kind of day; everybody’s cutting corners with the dialogue. By the last scene, the whole show just gives up completely, and they run the tape.
Julia’s been in the room with Adam for more than two minutes, so obviously she’s itching to leave. Adam gestures at the door and says, “Music!” He says it three times. It’s the only word he has to say all day, the lucky stiff.
This tape recorder was liberated from Dr. Lang’s secret laboratory. After Lang died mysteriously and Adam busted up the lab, Barnabas and Julia swiped the tape recorder. Who knows what else they took; apparently they treated the crime scene like a garage sale.
Anyway, they’ve brought the tape recorder down to Adam’s cell, and it’s pretty much the only thing he ever gets to interact with, so he’s pretty fond of it.
The tape is Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtsmusik,” and in the middle of the song, there’s a plot-recap message that Lang recorded just before he died. He was trying to tell Julia that if they succeeded in using Barnabas’ life force to animate Adam’s corpse, then Adam would drain Barnabas’ vampire energy, and let him live as a normal human.
It’s a complicated little bit of plot contrivance that none of the characters actually know, so every once in a while they turn on the music and let Lang explain it to the audience, like it’s a public service announcement. It goes on for 52 seconds, so it’s fairly excruciating for anyone who’s already absorbed the plot point. They finally killed Lang off, but here he is, still nattering away.
But look at little Adam’s face; he’s adorable. That’s the look of a man who only had to memorize one word today. Well, as long as somebody’s happy.
Tomorrow: Frid’s Big Week.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In act 1, Roger says, “Cassandra, if I hadn’t seen him moving about, making those curious grunting sounds, it would have been even — easy to imagine that he was dead.”
Tomorrow: Frid’s Big Week.
— Danny Horn