“What’s impossible is that you can’t remember something that just happened a minute ago.”
Well, that was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it? It’s been seven weeks since the last time we saw Jeff Clark, going all the way back to early May, before Adam the patchwork Frankenstein man was even a guy.
Jeff’s been in Portsmouth all this time, apparently, trying to track down information about his past. It didn’t go that well, by which I mean that he came back and now he’s on my television show again.
Yesterday’s episode ended with the ghost of an old witch-hunter showing up to glare at Vicki for hardly any reason at all. Jeff recognized the apparition as Reverend Trask, which means that he must really be Peter Bradford, Vicki’s 18th-century boyfriend.
So that’s pretty much wrapped up the entire Jeff/Peter storyline in about twenty-eight seconds. That’s slightly slower than I would have preferred, but at least we got there.
Oh, except that at the beginning of today’s episode, he looks pained and rubs his temples, and says that he doesn’t remember what Vicki’s talking about. Apparently, his amnesia is self-repairing. This would probably be very frustrating if I gave a damn what happens to Vicki and Jeff.
A few days ago, I wrote about producer Dan Curtis’ impressive skill at casting — he would find interesting, charismatic actors like Grayson Hall, Thayer David, John Karlen and David Selby, and then do everything he could to keep them on the show, even after their characters are locked up in mental institutions or killed by ghosts.
When Dan made an unfortunate casting choice — like Craig Slocum as the horrible Noah Gifford, or Addison Powell, the Worst Actor to Ever Appear on Dark Shadows — they’d usually get recast, or drop-kicked off a cliff.
Dan’s only real blind spot was Alexandra Moltke, and her romantic partners. Victoria Winters was Dan’s “dream girl” — the character that appeared in the dream that inspired him to create the show. Once Moltke was cast, he held on to her, despite her lack of screen presence. And then he cast two losers in a row to play opposite her — Anthony George as the replacement for Burke, and then Roger Davis as Peter/Jeff.
It’s hard to say what Dan saw in these two, aside from the fact that they’re physical entities who fill up space in front of the camera. They’re entirely charisma-free, and their storyline could be instantly resolved by Jeff saying, oh, wait, hang on, I do remember being Peter Bradford. This is in fact exactly what happens, except it happens in December, which is not helpful.
While we’re waiting, here’s some petulant dialogue.
Vicki: Professor Stokes can put you under hypnosis and ask you all the questions about your past.
Jeff: Vicki, I’m not going to submit to any kind of nonsense.
Vicki: But it’s the only way to get into your subconscious!
Jeff: I don’t want anybody poking around in my subconscious!
They run through a series of pained expressions.
Jeff: What if Stokes did hypnotize me, and he proved beyond any doubt that I am Peter Bradford, do you know what that means? It means that I’d be nothing but a ghost! I wouldn’t even be real flesh and blood.
Vicki: But you’re not a ghost; you’re as real as I am! We’re not trying to prove your existence. You do exist.
Jeff: Yes, and I find as Peter Bradford that I existed two hundred years ago. How do you expect me to cope with that? It’s monstrous, and it’s frightening.
Vicki: But if it’s true, then you’d better find out.
Jeff: It can’t be true! It’s against all logic and reason.
And he’s right, obviously. It makes no sense at all.
The story that they’re trying to tell here is that Peter Bradford somehow managed, through the power of love alone, to travel through time and reclaim the woman that he died trying to protect.
But this doesn’t feel like the passionate romance that spans the centuries. You don’t get the feeling that he wants to be with Vicki so desperately that he would claw his way out of Hell just to see her one last time. It doesn’t even seem like he wants to be in the room with her having this conversation; he’s sulking and rolling his eyes, and acting like he wishes he could be anywhere else on Earth but here.
There’s a long list of problems with the storyline, but here’s one chosen more or less at random from the stack: the star-crossed lovers don’t actually have any obstacles to overcome. They’re not involved with anyone else. There’s no ticking clock on Peter’s magical resurrection. Nobody in their lives has any reason to stand in the way of their union, except possibly for Barnabas, who’s supposed to be in love with Vicki, but basically stopped mentioning her a couple months ago.
So all they have is internally-generated angst, just a distant echo of the Vicki/Peter story from 1795, with none of the complications or incidents. It has no excuse for taking up space on this otherwise interesting television show.
Dark Shadows is doing an incredibly good job right now at creating larger-than-life characters who drive story just by showing up at the door — there’s Barnabas, Julia and Angelique as the defending champions, with new monsters like Adam, Professor Stokes and Nicholas Blair popping up all over the place.
But Vicki and Jeff have no game at all. By this point, they have to drag old characters out of the 1795 attic, like Reverend Trask and Nathan Forbes, just to give Jeff something to react to. Somebody needs to travel back in time to ask Dan to please wrap this storyline up. I’m not totally sure how we can do that, but I’m willing to give it a try if you are.
Monday: The Blair Witch Project.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Jeff goes to sleep at the Evans cottage, he walks through the door that we’ve seen many times as Maggie’s room. This isn’t really a blooper, just a quirky thing to notice — they’re not going to build a whole extra part of the set just to give Jeff a different bedroom door — but it’s a funny head-scratcher moment for viewers who have been watching attentively.
Behind the Scenes:
Joel Crothers is listed twice in the closing credits today, as Joe Haskell and as Nathan Forbes. This might be the first time an actor gets two credits for the same episode; at least, I don’t recall ever seeing it before.
Jeff’s dream is a flashback to the prison set from 1796, and the Gaoler who appears in the episode is played by James Shannon, who’s been playing fill-in law enforcement roles since March. The last time we saw him was in May, when he played one of Sheriff Patterson’s deputies during the hunt for Adam.
Monday: The Blair Witch Project.
— Danny Horn