“I didn’t brick up any wall!”
So, I don’t know, what else is going on? Oh, right, Barnabas. He was chained up behind a wall a few days ago by a vengeful ghost, and left there to slowly starve to death. We should probably get back to that.
Dark Shadows might be the only television program that would lock up the main character behind a brick wall and then just forget about him for a while. There’s a lot happening right now.
Allow me to explain, to the limited extent that it’s possible to explain a summer 1968 Dark Shadows storyline.
Back in the 18th century, Barnabas trapped lunatic witch hunter Reverend Trask behind a brick wall in the basement of the Old House, because he’s Barnabas and that’s the kind of thing that he does. Then he sits around and mopes because he can’t get his love life sorted out. Go figure.
Anyway, last week, Professor Stokes and Julia held a séance in the basement to contact Reverend Trask, so that he could fight Angelique, the sorcerous soap vixen who’s currently living at Collinwood as Roger’s new wife. Why they couldn’t just walk up behind her and bang her on the head with something heavy is left up to the audience to figure out. Again: summer ’68.
The séance ended with the brick wall bursting apart, revealing Trask’s skeleton hanging there. Stokes shouted at the air for a while, and nothing happened, so they all went home. Later that evening, Trask’s restless spirit tied Barnabas up in the alcove, and then bricked it up again, trapping Barnabas behind the wall.
That sequence of events implies that Trask’s ghost had the power to knock down a brick wall, remove his own skeleton, knock Barnabas unconscious, tie him up and then plaster the wall back together. Ask me why the ghost had to wait 170 years until somebody organized a séance on his behalf. Go ahead, ask me. The answer is that I don’t know.
So, honestly, after that, all semblance of rational storytelling just goes out the window. At a certain point, you just have to accept that the show is now built entirely around weird visual set pieces, and the characters are there to fill time between Chromakey effects.
By now, Barnabas has been gone for three days, and Julia’s worried. This is actually kind of a magic trick on its own.
One year ago, in my post about episode 255, I used this moment as an example of how much the show changes in a year. At the time, Barnabas was holding Maggie captive, and trying to turn her into a hypnotized version of Josette. Willie — completely traumatized by the horror that had taken over his life — was urging Maggie to give in to the psychotic monster’s demands, give up her soul and her identity, and become what Barnabas wanted her to be. Julia didn’t exist yet; her first episode was two weeks later.
So that’s what happened in a year. Barnabas has moved on from his short-term villain role, and become the undisputed main character of the show. He and Julia are best friends, and Willie is his loyal sidekick. The show’s been to the 18th century and back again, and we’re already well into a new chapter tacked onto the end of the 1795 trip.
Meanwhile, in the same year on General Hospital, Nurse Jessie’s second husband John died of a drug overdose, and she remarried Phil, her philandering first husband. Or something. Who even cares what happens on General Hospital.
But we really don’t have time for all of this reflection — Barnabas is still trapped behind that wall, and if we don’t dig him out soon, he’s going to die. “Soon” meaning sometime in the next week or so.
Julia finally gets the clue that she needs when she hears a woman sobbing in the basement. She goes downstairs to investigate, and finds a ghost in a wedding dress, crying in front of the wall.
The sobbing bride disappears, and Julia brings Willie downstairs to figure out what’s going on. She deduces that the spirit was Josette’s, although why Josette would be wearing a wedding dress is unclear. She ran out on her wedding with Barnabas, and married his uncle Jeremiah; it’s not a particularly romantic image for her and Barnabas.
But a wedding dress looks interesting, and the new rule of Dark Shadows is that the interesting thing wins.
Julia realizes that the spirit was standing by Trask’s wall. She has a very Dark Shadows-y conversation with Willie about it.
Julia: Willie, when did you brick up this wall?
Willie: Brick up what wall?
Julia: When did you do it? When did Barnabas tell you to?
Willie: I didn’t brick up any wall!
Julia: You didn’t? Who did?
Willie: I don’t know!
Third base! I love that one.
Putting the insane clues together, Julia now knows that Barnabas must be trapped behind the wall. Willie grabs some tools and starts breaking the wall down, while Julia stands by and fidgets.
But nothing comes easy to these people. Willie feels a chill, and a hand on his shoulder, and then chairs start knocking themselves over.
I believe this might be the first time we’ve seen a ghost doing Poltergeist-style redecorating on the show, although I might be forgetting something. It’s that kind of show.
And then there’s another fantastic Chromakey effect, with Reverend Trask appearing and yelling at them to go away. You have to go through multiple ghosts to get anywhere in this town; they’re like doormen.
This is turning out to be an effects-heavy week; four out of the five episodes use Chromakey to make people appear and disappear.
In this scene, they’re actually using two different shots of Chromakey Trask, which is clearly just showing off. Neither one quite works properly — the long shot makes Trask look weirdly skinny, and in the second shot, the camera pointed at the wall moves slightly — but how many green-screen effects is your 1968 soap opera using in a week? I bet Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing hardly even has any.
The interesting thing about all these spooks from the past is that they’re basically redoing the end of the 1795 storyline.
There are seven characters in today’s episode, and four of them are from the 18th century — Josette, Trask, Barnabas and Cassandra. The living people are Julia, Willie and Liz, and Cassandra is currently casting a spell on Liz to make her believe that she’s Naomi, another Collins ancestor.
Last week, the “trial of Barnabas” episode had twelve characters, and only three of them were human. The living are clearly outnumbered at this point.
That’s the power of the ridiculous prank Dark Shadows has played on the audience. The trip back to the past has been incredibly story-productive, and it’s still generating dramatic conflicts and crazy visual spectacles.
Adam is the only character with a storyline right now who has no ties to the 18th century. He’ll have his day, but eventually he’ll just fade into the background, while the Barnabas/Josette/Angelique triangle just runs and runs forever. The calendar might say 1968, but on Dark Shadows it’s always half past 1796.
Tomorrow: Burn Notice.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Today’s teaser is a reprise of yesterday’s cliffhanger, and Julia is wearing a different coat. This isn’t that surprising, because the episodes were taped out of order, two weeks apart.
In act 1, when Willie starts breaking down the wall, they’re shooting it from the wrong angle, and it’s obvious that he’s just banging the hammer and the chisel together, not even touching the wall. After Trask’s appearance, Willie starts hammering on the wall again, and this second time they shoot him from the correct angle.
At the end of act 3, as Cassandra leads Liz out of Collinwood, the camera zooms in on Naomi’s grave marker in the mausoleum. The date of death is 1821 — not 1796, as we learned during Vicki’s trip to the past.
Jerry Lacy is credited as Tony Peterson, instead of Reverend Trask.
Behind the Scenes:
Natalie Norwick played Josette’s ghost in Friday’s episode. In the reprise at the start of today’s episode, the ghost’s sobbing is the recording used in November 1966 to represent Elizabeth crying in the locked room in the basement. It was recorded by Florence Stanley.
Tomorrow: Burn Notice.
— Danny Horn