Episode 498: Diff’rent Strokes

“Either she controls the portrait, or the portrait controls her.”

Hey, have I mentioned the Dream Curse yet? There’s this Dream Curse. It’s a spell that Angelique cast about a month ago, and for some reason, it’s still part of my life.

Here’s a quick rundown: Angelique is currently living in Collinwood, posing as Roger’s young wife, Cassandra. Barnabas has recently been released from her vampire curse, and she’s not having it, so she’s decided to bring the curse back to him through the most convoluted possible route. She’s initiated a long series of dreams, which pass from one character to another, and eventually the chain is going to reach Barnabas, and then he’ll die, or turn back into a vampire, or whatever.

This is a slow, grinding disappointment. Back in the 1795 storyline, where she came from, Angelique was the driving force of the entire show, moving people around like puppets, and sending the entire Collins family into a spiral of self-destruction. Now, frankly, she’s just coasting. It’s possible that 1968 is her retirement home.

498 dark shadows willie bannister

So I keep saying “Here’s the worst thing about the Dream Curse,” but every time I say that, another worst thing comes along. Today, the new worst thing is that the storyline just switches actors to standby.

The episode opens with Willie sitting on the Old House stairs, pretty much refusing to act. There’s a huge scrape in the paint on the bannister, which they haven’t bothered to touch up because we don’t usually see it in close-up like this. It never occurred to them that John Karlen would get so bored that he would just go on strike and let the bannister carry the scene.

This is what the Dream Curse does to people; it makes the audience worry about whether the vampire is going to get his security deposit back.

498 dark shadows barnabas willie right

But I think by now the writers may have realized that people talking endlessly about the same dream is not gripping television. They’ve skipped over the scene of David telling Willie about his dream, which I appreciate. It’s not much, but it’s a step in the right direction. Barnabas’ reaction is appropriately underwhelming.

Willie:  He had it last night, and he told it to me this morning.

Barnabas:  And tonight, you will have the Dream… and I will be one step closer to the Dream.

498 dark shadows barnabas willie how

Barnabas is now the undisputed main character of Dark Shadows — easily surpassing girl governess Victoria Winters, who I think is still on trial in the 18th century. Or something like that. It’s been a while since we’ve seen her.

So they’ve given Barnabas the key to the city, and that means he has a responsibility to get the story moving. He starts talking about Angelique’s magic portrait, which was on display at Collinwood just before she showed up as Cassandra. He tried to burn it, Roger tried to sell it, but it always reappeared on the easel.

Barnabas and Willie proceed to have one of the most Dark Shadows-y conversations ever recorded.

Willie:  Well, what’s a lousy portrait got to do with all these dreams all these people have been having?

Barnabas:  They may have everything to do with them! The portrait is obviously important to her existence in this time. The question is — in which way?

Willie:  Well, who knows? I don’t even understand what you’re sayin’.

Barnabas:  Either she controls the portrait, or the portrait controls her. Or they could be one and the same thing. We must find the answers as soon as possible!

So that’s your premise for the day. This is a traditional bit of Dark Shadows semiotic hocus-pocus, where they assign meaning to a symbol and just expect everyone to go along with it.

This is the essence of magic — conflating the symbol with the thing that’s symbolized, so you can act out a ritual that changes things in the material world. Portraits are always important on Dark Shadows, and if you use them right, sometimes you don’t even have to pay the actor to show up.

498 dark shadows sam painting

So here’s the four words that topple civilizations — Barnabas has a plan. He gets Willie to steal Angelique’s portrait from Collinwood, and then he brings it to Sam Evans.

Sam used to be a painter, before he went into recapping as his full-time profession. We haven’t actually seen him since episode 342, seven months ago, and I haven’t missed him a bit. He hasn’t had a real storyline since pretty much ever; he mostly just worries about his daughter, Maggie, who actually leaves the house and participates in stories sometimes.

498 dark shadows sam barnabas pants

As an actor, David Ford has two tells — little gestures that indicate that he doesn’t remember what he’s supposed to say. He either touches his face, or he adjusts his pants. Of course, he never really remembers what he’s supposed to say, so this is pretty much all he ever does.

Barnabas comes over for a chat. Sam kicks things off with the pants.

Barnabas:  I’m afraid I can’t stay long; I have to get back to the Old House as soon as possible.

Sam:  Well, all right, so, uh — what can I do for you?

Barnabas:  A job, Mr. Evans.

Sam:  A job? Well, those are always, uh… nice to come by. What kind of a job?

498 dark shadows sam barnabas face

Sam reaches for his chin.

Barnabas:  Well, one that will require you to do what you may consider unusual instructions.

498 dark shadows sam barnabas twinkle

Then it’s back to the pants.

Sam:  Aha. Well, the person doing the commissioning is the boss, so that, uh, doesn’t bother me.

498 dark shadows sam barnabas tonight

Barnabas says that the work must be completed tonight. Sam keeps a firm grip on the trousers. He says that he’s working on another canvas right now, but Barnabas offers him five hundred dollars.

498 dark shadows sam dollars

And then it’s back to the face. I could seriously do this for the entire scene; it’s really all that he does. You could play a drinking game based on this, and you wouldn’t recover for weeks.

498 dark shadows angelique portrait

Anyway, back to the story. Barnabas has brought over Angelique’s portrait, and issues his instructions. It’s a little rough, because neither actor has a super-firm grip on their lines, so they tend to reach for their cues.

Barnabas:  Take this pretty face, and make it as old as you can.

Sam:  As old as I can, and age it.

Barnabas:  Yes. Is that possible?

Sam:  Well, yes, of course, but, uh…

Barnabas:  Then it can be done.

498 dark shadows sam barnabas portrait

Barnabas wants Sam to make the alterations to the painting in stages, starting with the eyes — and he should use a brush with hard, sharp bristles.

This is an utterly bonkers thing to say, obviously, and that’s why we keep Barnabas around. He’s got that twinkle in his eye that indicates that there’s going to be a certain amount of collateral damage.

498 dark shadows cassandra barnabas revenge

So he invites Cassandra over to the Old House for a one-on-one, and he gives her feedback on her job performance.

Barnabas:  I think you made a mistake, letting it go so long.

Cassandra:  Letting what go so long?

Barnabas:  To kill me, or to put the curse back on me, or whatever it is you intend to do.

Cassandra:  I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.

Barnabas:  You have the power to get it over with, any time you want. I don’t know why you left it until now.

Yeah, I don’t either. Let’s move things along, shall we?

498 dark shadows angelique sam

Cut to Sam, who’s starting on the painting. He’s working now, so obviously he only has one hand free to touch his pants.

498 dark shadows angelique barnabas eyes

And finally, we start getting somewhere. Those hard, sharp bristles must be making a difference, because Cassandra suddenly cries out, and touches her face.

498 dark shadows santa claws

So this is what we’ve been working up to, a nice bit of visual spectacle for tomorrow. We’re still coasting, unfortunately, but at least there’s some interesting scenery.

Tomorrow: A Senior Moment.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Barnabas flubs a healthy percentage of his lines today. Here are some samples:

“I knew her coming… back would happen when Vicki bought that portrait.”

“I tried to burn it, and it reappeared on the easel, even as if I hadn’t touched it.”

“When Roger tried to sell it to Professor Strokes, it was gone.”

“The portrait is missing! How forunate — how unfortunate.”

There’s also a loud squeak from the studio as the episode begins, and a ticking clock sound effect starts up too early, in the middle of Barnabas and Cassandra’s Old House scene. Everything’s kind of messy today.


Behind the Scenes:

The final shot of Cassandra’s aged hands is a stand-in — Judith Lowry, in her only Dark Shadows appearance. Lowry was born in 1890, which means she was just a little younger than Jamison Collins. She was an undistinguished stage actress who retired in 1921 to raise a family. Nine kids later, she returned to acting at the age of 62.

Lowry had various “Grandmother” and “Old Lady on Park Bench” roles in films like Sweet Charity and The Night They Raided Minsky’s. Being a stand-in for Cassandra’s hands for one shot may have been the most interesting thing she did in 1968.

In 1971, Lowry had a role in Norman Lear’s ensemble comedy Cold Turkey, a satire about the tobacco industry starring Dick Van Dyke, Pippa Scott and Tom Poston.

In 1975, she landed her last memorable role — the mother-in-law on Phyllis, Cloris Leachman’s Mary Tyler Moore spinoff. Lowry died during the show’s second and final season, at the age of 86.

Tomorrow: A Senior Moment.

498 dark shadows cassandra barnabas cue

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

17 thoughts on “Episode 498: Diff’rent Strokes

  1. I always liked the “how fortunate” flub because it actually makes sense in context. It’s one of those bits of “Frid-speak” that work for the character of Barnabas and is part of what we like about him. He really is the sort of guy who would make long, self-involved monologues that, upon examination, don’t make a lot of sense but feel suitably dramatic.

  2. I actually watched this episode last night and thought several things were off with Barnabas instructions about using the hard bristle brush (??). Also telling Sam to start altering the painting at exactly 10:15 PM. How did he know that he would be able to get Cassandra there at exactly that time. Given even 10 minutes either way she could have begun the aging process at Collinwood at someone else (Roger, David, Liz) may have noticed this. Also Barnabas didn’t take Julia into his confidence with this scheme. Does he also notice that Julia is getting quite chummy with Cassandra? One last thing regarding the condition of the bannister. I recently watched the whole series consecutively and noticed that by the end of the series all of the sets had deteriorated significantly – the floors, walls, furniture, doors, coffins etc were ‘shot to hell’ (scratched, scuffed, stained…). I guess the moving crews were really rough with handling the sets and props.

  3. I always liked David Ford as Sam Evans. He brought a more believable tension, frustration, and angst to the down-on-his-luck sad-sack alcoholic that was Sam during the Roger-Burke-Bill Malloy days than did Ford’s predecessor Mark Allen, in whose hands Sam Evans was portrayed with the bemused detachment of a poetic fool. That Ford frequently didn’t handle his lines well also seemed to work for the character in the same way that Frid’s lapses worked for the Barnabas character. The Sam Evans character was a contemplative, creative type, always pondering, so when his lines didn’t come through it never really mattered. It wasn’t like there were awkward spaces, but instead more like thoughtful trailing off, as if he were really chewing over the matter internally or was perhaps preoccupied with more pressing personal matters. Despite being inconsistent with his lines, David Ford brought to the Sam Evans character the definitive persona, and you couldn’t recast the character once David Ford left, and they didn’t.

    1. I totally agree with you – it was also fascinating trivia that Ford was married to his co- star Nancy Barrett, ironically one of the best actresses on the show who never looked at the teleprompter. I would have loved to have been a fly on their dining room wall when they exchanged their ‘..and how was YOUR day at work?’ conversations.

    2. I liked Sam too. He was a good character for the audience to relate too as well – someone with regrets and inner demons, yet a genuinely good and grounded person. And a nice counterpart to the colder, more aloof Collinses. But I do think the character’s reappearence – now with handlebar moustache and an extra 20 pounds – is weak, especially once he’s been blinded. I also feel that Ford isn’t even trying at this point – perhaps he knows he’ll be written out soon.

      Also, Phyllis was on for TWO seasons??????

  4. In late summer of 1969, Judith Lowery came to my home town of Greenfield, Iowa, population 2,200, along with Norman Lear and Company, to film the dark satirical comedy, Cold Turkey. She played an unbelievably fowl-mouthed, gun carrying right wing political activist who ends up shooting Bob Newhart for being a “commie”. I was an “extra” that night, and saw that moment, from 5 feet away. This has to be the most interesting thing she ever did on screen. It’s one of the most thought provoking films I’ve ever seen.

  5. The “foul-mouthed little old lady” / “liberated little old lady” joke is something that usually wears incredibly thin for me, regardless of the actress. But Judith Lowry has always been a huge exception to that.

  6. I saw with my parents Cold Turkey when it came out in theaters when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade (1970?), and I think aspects of it went over my head. I only remember bits and pieces of it, but do remember it was filmed in Iowa (where I am originally from). I do remember many of the actors went on to be in Lear’s hit sit-coms. I remember the mother-in-law from Phyllis, but now I need to see Cold Turkey again because I don’t remember the Judith Lowry character at all. Also, I thought I heard somewhere that Nancy Barrett was married to Thayer David?

      1. Just trying to picture Carolyn and Sam as a couple. Mind blowing!

        Anyway, welcome back David Ford. I’d missed you anyway.

  7. When I put this episode on today, I had to go back and check I’d hit the right episode on the DVD menu. Where was the episode where David tells Wiilie about the dream?

    Was Ron Sproat on holiday or something? No one was available to script a recap episode so they just skipped it?

    Or was it because they’d been doing all those episodes out of order and realised too late that they’d missed one out?

    1. This was actually one of the few things that they did right in the Dream Curse story — they skipped a step. We didn’t have to sit through David telling Willie about the dream, because we’ve already seen it and heard about it a dozen times by now. Be grateful for this simple act of mercy. 🙂

      1. We didn’t see the actual moment where Julia tells Mrs Johnson, or Mrs Johnson tells David, either… but they sure did a lot of angsty lead-up scenes in both cases, which were mercifully skipped here…

  8. This was a great episode. In most cases, Barnabas’ success rate versus Angelique was similar to that of Wiille Coyote. But, he won this one.

  9. I don’t know why this should be the line for me, but what the hell…

    Why does Sam painting over the portrait have any kind of effect? The thing can magically reappear after being slashed and burned, but slap a bit of paint on there and all is lost?! Why doesn’t the paint slide off, or melt away, or the original magically reassert itself? Ugh.

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