Episode 539: Grieve a Little Grieve

“I’m not delirious. You know what she is.”

One of the things that you learn when you watch Dark Shadows is that there are several different kinds of weird. This is not a particularly helpful thing to learn, and learning it will not improve your life in any measurable way. It just happens, and there’s not much you can do about it.

There’s the everyday, domestic kind of weird, which involves eccentric people doing unusual things — say, a college professor taking an enormous feral Frankenstein home with him, and teaching it to read the word “clock” off a flash card.

There’s the fancy, bespoke kind of weird, which involves people acting in a completely illogical way just for the sake of an exciting cliffhanger — like burying their dead friend in the woods, and then realizing that he’s come back to life, and they only have half an hour to dig him up again.

And then there’s the kind of weird where you honestly have no idea why the scene that you’re watching even exists. That’s the kind we’re going to be talking about today, thanks to scriptwriter Ron Sproat, among other mistakes.

539 dark shadows vicki phone

I’ll start from the beginning. On Tuesday, Willie told Maggie that Barnabas was dead. He told her that because he believed it was true, and he believed it was true because it actually was true. Barnabas was dead on Tuesday. He’s not dead anymore, because he got better, thanks to his spiritual/cosmic link with a guy who shares half his life force. This is not the weird part.

When the curtain rises on this particular scene, Vicki is on the phone with Maggie, who’s called to tell her the bad news about Barnabas. Vicki thanks Maggie for the call, hangs up, and falls to pieces.

539 dark shadows vicki nicholas brandy

As she collapses into sobs, enter the mysterious Nicholas Blair, who’s staying at Collinwood visiting his alleged sister, the evil witch Cassandra. Nicholas is another in the long line of amusing eccentrics who parade through Dark Shadows, knocking over tables and doing as they please. He’s a great comic villain, all iron fist in velvet glove, and I have to assume that the blocking in this scene was forced upon him at gunpoint.

He enters the room and sees Vicki, clearly weeping on the couch. And Sproat, bless him, gives Nicholas four lines to say before he acknowledges that the person he’s talking to is currently engaged in all five stages of grief simultaneously.

When he’s allowed to register an awareness of the human tragedy unfolding two feet away from him, his response is to swivel over to the drinks cabinet and offer her a brandy. He sets his hand on the bottle of brandy, and then he just leaves his hand there and continues the scene facing the audience, as if there’s something terribly interesting about the fourth wall that he can’t tear himself away from.

539 dark shadows nicholas reaction

Vicki tells Nicholas that she’s just heard that Barnabas is dead, and we get a nice reaction moment where he grins impishly, and then forces himself to assume a look of thoughtful concern. It’s a cute little gag which more or less justifies the weird staging.

539 dark shadows nicholas more brandy

But then he keeps on standing there for several more exchanges, fully committed to the art of backacting. Vicki says that Maggie didn’t know any details about what happened to Barnabas, and Nicholas stands there and strokes the brandy decanter as if he can magically imbibe spirits through his fingers, which for all I know maybe he can.

539 dark shadows nicholas vicki couch

When he’s finally allowed to move freely around the room, Vicki starts ranting about the supernatural events occurring around her, which she’s vaguely aware of but does essentially nothing about.

Vicki:  You’re her brother. You should know that she’s the greatest enemy this family ever had, even though she may have married into it. She’s been its greatest enemy for a long, long time.

Nicholas:  Miss Winters! You must be delirious.

Vicki:  I’m not delirious. You know what she is.

539 dark shadows nicholas vicki camera

And then Nicholas ends up stuck in a shot where all you can see is the back of Vicki’s head. This lasts for four seconds, which doesn’t sound like a long time but it’s long enough.

I’m hitting the blocking and awkward camera mistakes harder than I really should, but it’s just one of those scenes that you get on Dark Shadows sometimes when nothing goes right. The cameras can’t quite manage to stay in focus, the actors can’t figure out where to stand, and nobody even gets to drink any brandy.

539 dark shadows vicki carolyn camera

They’re still having camera problems when Carolyn enters; they don’t pick up the shot of her as she walks in. The first time they cut to her, she’s already in the middle of the room, and we’re looking at the back of her head.

539 dark shadows vicki carolyn impossible

Then the dialogue problems kick in.

Carolyn:  Dead?

Vicki:  Maggie just phoned.

Carolyn:  But — it’s not possible. I don’t believe it.

Vicki:  Carolyn, what are we going to do?

Carolyn:  No, no — I would have known. I would have heard.

This does not appear to mean anything at all. They might be implying that Carolyn is still connected to Barnabas somehow, dating back to the period when she was his incestuous blood slave, which I thought we’d all agreed we were going to forget ever happened. It’s also possible that she just said the line wrong, or that Sproat got distracted, and just kept typing dialogue while he was thinking about something else.

539 dark shadows nicholas even more brandy

Nicholas says, “May I pour you a brandy, Miss Stoddard?” and then I swear to God he walks over and puts his hand on the goddamn drinks cabinet. The brandy appears to be involved in its own mysterious character arc that never quite gets resolved.

539 dark shadows carolyn reliable

Carolyn says, “How did you –” and then she says, “When did Maggie hear?” and then she says, “But Willie can’t –” and then she says, “There’s some kind of mistake,” and then she says, “I would have heard” again.

Nobody seems overly familiar with what they’re supposed to say except for Nicholas, although to be fair, he’s been staring directly at the teleprompter for seventy percent of the scene.

539 dark shadows vicki carolyn leave

Carolyn says, “Vicki, I’m going over to the Old House,” and she walks into the foyer and puts on her coat, which happens to be lying on the table for no particular reason.

Then Vicki says, “But Carolyn, there’s no good going over there,” because Vicki is an idiot.

I honestly can’t explain what Vicki means here. She seems to think that once you hear that someone is dead, there’s no need to confirm that fact, or to learn any further details.

539 dark shadows cassandra enters

Then Cassandra enters, and Nicholas says, “Cassandra, something terrible has happened. Miss Winters has just heard that Barnabas Collins is dead. Do you know anything about it?”

539 dark shadows cassandra alive

Cassandra says, “Dead?” and then she walks all the way across the foyer.

Finally, she turns back and says, “Well, no, that’s not true. He’s quite alive.”

539 dark shadows vicki carolyn relief

So that settles that, apparently. Vicki knows that Cassandra is the greatest enemy that this family has ever had, but if Cassandra walks into the room and says that the man she’s been trying to murder hasn’t been murdered yet, then Vicki accepts it instantly, and now they can stand around and talk about how relieved they are.

Then Vicki walks upstairs with Carolyn, who’s still wearing her coat. And there you have it, the perfect scene.

Tomorrow: Mission: Inscrutable.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

When Carolyn is about to strike a match and light a candle in the room where Adam is hiding, someone in the studio coughs.

When Carolyn tells David “I couldn’t find the ones I was looking for,” something clangs in the studio.

When Cassandra sits by the fire in the drawing room, you can hear crosstalk bleeding through, probably from the control room.

There’s an odd jump in the tape near the top of act 2 — it skips back a second, so that it sounds like David is saying part of his line twice: “I was trying to get my stepmother to help me with the tape recorder, but she’s too busy — help me with the tape recorder, but she’s too busy.”

In act 3, when Cassandra tells Nicholas, “I don’t know what went wrong,” you can hear someone in the studio whispering.

Behind the Scenes:

I’ve been tracking another commonly reused prop lately, thanks to the prop-spotting abilities of regular commenter Prisoner of the Night — lamps with a green glass shade. I didn’t notice them before PotN mentioned them, and now I see them everywhere. Today, one of them appears on the desk in David’s room. The Petofi box is also lurking in the hall outside, and it’s in the closing credits.

Tomorrow: Mission: Inscrutable.

green lamp david's room 1

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

13 thoughts on “Episode 539: Grieve a Little Grieve

  1. Now if they had only made a storyline around the scene of Nicholas appearing get ready to plant one on the lips of Victoria WInters this would have been interesting – much more entertaining than having Jeff/Peter having temper tantrums around her…

      1. It could have become a very fun group of relationship quadrangles such as Nicholas/Vicki/Barnabas/Julia or Vicki/Nicholas/Maggie/Joe or Carolyn/Adam/Cassandra (well she did volunteer herself as the life force for his soon to be created mate).

  2. The Petofi box is one of the earliest and longest running props on the show. It can be spotted in the hallway as Mrs. Stoddard shows the new governess to her room in episode 2.

    It’s good to see young David Devlin back in the fold, as it’s been some time since he’s appeared in a scene.

  3. You’re right. Any of the scenarios suggested in the post and in the comments above would have been more interesting. Even Caroline putting on the coat would have been more interesting if she came in the front door and tossed it on the table because she heard Vicki wailing.

    One thing I really appreciate is that they told a story about the Petofi box that was actually a prop that had been around for a long time. All too often on soaps they invent something that people have “always” known or “always” had and you “always” feel the cheat. Using something that really was there all along is a nice change.

    Green light shades seem to be a soap thing. I bought one for my Guiding Light collection this summer just because they seem to pop up everywhere on that show too. 🙂

  4. Wait, when did Willie meet with Angelique to tell her that Barnabas was dead? She says that twice. Or is she just lying to cover up the fact that Julia told her?

    Also why does Carolyn think Willie is unreliable? Is she hinting she still thinks he’s crazy? Ok, yeah, so he climbed in her window to tell her about the dream, but still. Didn’t she cut him any slack after getting a taste of the fear/ compulsion for herself?

  5. Danny, thank you for every one of your brilliant, insightful posts. They give me life as I work thru the series.
    But no one mentioned the craziness of Cassandra’s skeleton hand at the end of the episode?

  6. This episode, whose oddness Danny describes so beautifully above, is of major importance in my life, because it is THE FIRST ONE I EVER SAW. It was the summer of 1968, and I was waiting to go off to college for the first time, when the TV Guide for July 13-19 came out with the story about Jonathan Frid and the show. Thirty miles away, another girl waiting to go off to the same college, whom I will call Judith here, read the same article. We looked upon Jonathan Frid’s strange beauty and loved him, and tuned in.

    Unfortunately for me, I had then (as I have now, which is why I didn’t start commenting here three years ago when I discovered this wonderful place) a marked tendency to procrastinate, and a certain holy shyness kept me from tuning in until a week after I read the piece– July 18th. Judith, meanwhile, plunged in immediately, so that HER first episode was #535, and she got to START by seeing Barnabas have The Dream and die. I had to be content with seeing Adam try to detain Carolyn and then everybody talk about Barnabas being dead, or alive. I didn’t get to see the delectable Barnabas action of the previous few days till almost thirty years later. Such is the reward of procrastination. But I had patience, and didn’t realize at the time that I was watching weird ineptitude.

    A few weeks later, Judith and I met in the TV room of our college at 4:00 on the first weekday of our college careers. We bonded over catching each other up on the episode each of us had to miss each week for a science lab, she told envious me about the week I missed, and we ended up best friends for life. Thus, under the right conditions, even a Sproat episode of this nature can have cataclysmic effects in someone’s life.

    1. dear Corvino44, it’s ever so astonishing you should go and say this, about this particular day, because the very next episode, in which Cassandra must figure out by midnight why the curse didn’t work and report back to Nicholas, was the very first episode my ten year old self went and saw, on July 19th, 1968. of course, i immediately fell in love, and except for the brief interlude during Quentin’s ghosting when i was forbidden to watch, returning in time to kindle my first werewolf crush, i managed to hang around right through to that final Friday in April, a heartbroken teen. * sigh *

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