Episode 541: Death of a MacGuffin

“Julia — when you do the experiment again, if both Barnabas and my creation live — if they both live — Barnabas will be free and healthy, as long as Adam lives. Adam will drain Barnabas’ affliction from him, but will not suffer from the disease itself, because he lives. But if Adam dies, Barnabas Collins will be as he was before.”

As we open today’s reckless stumble into the unknown, sinister sorceress Angelique — currently masquerading as Roger’s innocent new wife, Cassandra — is listening to a recording of a man’s voice that young David has discovered on a tape recorder.

On the tape, the man addresses Julia, and tells her that when she does the experiment again, if both Barnabas and his creation live — if they both live — Barnabas will be free and healthy, as long as Adam lives. The man goes on to say that Adam will drain Barnabas’ affliction from him, but will not suffer from the disease itself, because he lives. But — the man warns — if Adam dies, Barnabas Collins will be as he was before.

This is a fortunate coincidence, because Cassandra is on a very tight deadline to find out why her Dream Curse didn’t turn Barnabas into a vampire again. The answer, it turns out, is that Julia did the experiment again, and both Barnabas and the man’s creation lived — they both lived — and Barnabas is free and healthy, as long as Adam lives. In other words, Adam is draining Barnabas’ affliction from him, but does not suffer from the disease itself, because he lives. But — and I honestly cannot stress this point emphatically enough — if Adam dies, Barnabas Collins will be as he was before.

541 dark shadows david cassandra tape

Yes, we are now entering week 11 since Dr. Lang recorded that damn message on his tape recorder, and — for some reason known only to himself and the dark master that he serves — writer Ron Sproat believes that the audience is clamoring to hear the entire 52 seconds all over again.

Now, you may ask: Is this riveting television? The answer is that it is not.

541 dark shadows nicholas cassandra tape

So imagine how delighted the audience must be when we come back from the opening titles, and Cassandra is playing the recording again for her satanic supervisor, Nicholas.

We only get the last 11 seconds of the message this time, which is certainly an improvement. But I think it should be possible to have a scene on Dark Shadows that has even less of Dr. Lang’s message than that.

If they can put a man on the moon — which, admittedly, in July 1968 they hadn’t actually done — then maybe someday we can live in a world where a Dark Shadows scene only has seven seconds of Dr. Lang’s message. Call me a crazy dreamer if you must, but I believe it can be done.

541 dark shadows nicholas possible

But I shouldn’t be so rough on them today. After all, they’ve heard the message now, and it looks like we might get some plot development out of it.

Nicholas:  The voice on the tape spoke of “my creation” — is it possible that someone actually succeeded in creating a living human being?

Cassandra:  It seems incredible!

Nicholas:  Yes — but if it’s true… I must find out how it was done! Knowing that would open up worlds of possibilities.

541 dark shadows cassandra over

Excellent, it sounds like we’re getting someplace.

Nicholas:  The voice on the tape — whose was it? Do you know?

Cassandra:  I know I’ve heard it somewhere, but I can’t remember where.

Nicholas:  Keep playing it over and over, until you do remember.

Cassandra:  All right.

And — wait, what? Did he just say “keep playing it”?

541 dark shadows tape

He did. We end the scene with Cassandra turning the tape back on — without rewinding it, by the way, so whatever — and Lang starts jabbering to Julia all over again.

It’s like Dark Shadows has turned into the worst possible electro house party track, where the only sample they have is Dr. Lang’s message, but they’re determined to keep remixing it.

541 dark shadows cassandra david tape

But this is how life works, apparently, when they’ve got a MacGuffin, and they’re committed to using it.

If you’re not familiar with the term, a MacGuffin is an object or a goal that drives the plot of a story. It’s the secret blueprints, or the Maltese Falcon, or the Ark of the Covenant. The only thing that matters is that the audience understands that it’s the important, valuable thing that everybody in the story wants.

In fact, more often than not, the MacGuffin turns out to be worthless after all. The Maltese Falcon is a fake, the Ark of the Covenant is lost in a government warehouse, and it turns out Dorothy could have used the ruby slippers to take her home the whole time.

541 dark shadows cassandra david macguffin

The only rule for a MacGuffin is that it has to stay in motion, or it dies. It always has to be just out of reach, because if anyone actually takes possession of it, then we don’t have a story anymore.

That’s why Cassandra still needs to listen to the message, even though she knows perfectly well that the guy who made the recording is the doctor that she killed three months ago. She can’t have forgotten him; her social circle is not that extensive.

So even though the secret plans have now officially fallen into the wrong hands, and Cassandra has all the information she needs to turn Barnabas back into a vampire, they’re still pretending that the tape is a scarce resource that needs to be protected.

541 dark shadows julia david maddening

David wants to figure out what the message on the tape recorder means, so he goes over to the Old House to ask Julia about it.

Julia hasn’t heard the message, but she realizes that it must have been recorded by Dr. Lang.

Julia:  What does he say?

David:  Well, he said something about Barnabas, and Adam.

Julia:  Yes? What about them?

David:  Well, he said that if Adam should live, then something would happen to Barnabas. And then he said if Adam should die, something else would happen to Barnabas.

That’s where we are right now, three-quarters of the way into the episode, and there’s a very good chance that I might actually start breaking things. So — in an effort to distract myself and keep the devastation to a minimum — I’m going to tell you about the pen.

541 dark shadows julia david pen

The pen is the original world-class Dark Shadows MacGuffin, the standard that all the others have to live up to. It’s a little piece of Dark Shadows history, dating back to the first six months of the program, in late 1966. That was long before they let Barnabas out of the mystery box, which is when this blog starts, so if I’m ever going to write about it — and apparently I must — then it might as well be now.

It was back in August 1966, about two months after the show began. There were a few little percolating mysteries on the show, swirling around the vehicular manslaughter charge that put Burke in prison for five years.

Bill Malloy, the manager for the Collins cannery, made the startling announcement that he knew some information that would settle the whole mystery. On a soap opera, saying something like that means that you probably shouldn’t stand near any open windows, or — in Malloy’s case — near the top of any seaside cliffs. So guess what he did next.

541 dark shadows cassandra nicholas pen

Once Malloy donned his red shirt and got himself murdered, and the looming threat of normal story progression was safely averted, the characters then spent several months obsessing about a sterling silver filigree pen which apparently had the power to blow the whole investigation out of the water.

To demonstrate how this played out, I will now give you a brief synopsis of the pen storyline.

Episode 42: Burke — who is feuding with the Collins family — gives Carolyn a sterling silver filigree pen.

Episode 44: Malloy says that he knows about some evidence that wasn’t presented at the manslaughter trial.

Episode 45: Roger’s angry that Carolyn accepted a gift from an enemy of the family, and he takes it from her, determined to give it back to Burke.

Episode 46: Malloy invites Burke, Sam and Roger to a frank discussion about the evidence that he knows about, but he doesn’t show up at the appointed time.

Episode 47: Roger tries to give the pen back to Burke, but realizes that he’s lost it somewhere.

Episode 50: Bill Malloy is found dead on the beach.

Episode 75: Roger realizes that he lost the pen on the night that Malloy was killed — and if someone finds it near the scene of the crime, then he’ll be implicated. That afternoon, Vicki finds the pen on the beach.

Episode 80: Roger is horrified to learn that Vicki found the pen.

Episode 82: Burke has heard about the pen, and tells the sheriff that he should be looking for it. Roger steals the pen from Vicki’s room.

Episode 83: Vicki accuses David of stealing the pen. Roger buries the pen in the woods.

Episode 95: Vicki learns that the pen belonged to Burke. Not realizing that Roger had it at the time, Vicki suspects that Burke killed Malloy.

Episode 96: Vicki tells Roger about Burke and the pen. Roger warns her not to talk about the pen anymore.

Episode 97: Vicki keeps talking about the pen.

Episode 99: Vicki learns that Roger had the pen.

Episode 100: Almost entirely about the pen.

Episode 101: Roger learns that Vicki knows he lost the pen.

Episode 102: Carolyn tells Burke that Roger knows that Vicki knows that Roger lost the pen.

Episode 103: Burke and Vicki agree that Roger stole the pen.

Episode 104: A relatively pen-light episode.

Episode 105: Burke and the Sheriff catch Roger digging up the pen.

Episode 108: Vicki learns that the caretaker, Matthew Morgan, was the one who murdered Bill Malloy, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the pen. Matthew never even got near the damn thing. So everyone forgets about the pen, and it’s never mentioned again.

After that, Dr. Lang left a message for Julia on his tape recorder, telling her that if Barnabas and his creation live — if they both live — then Adam will drain Barnabas’ affliction from him, but will not suffer from the disease itself, because he lives. And that pretty much brings us up to date.

Tomorrow: The Diary of Anne Frankenstein.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

The tape recording isn’t even what Dr. Lang said in the first place. When he recorded the message back in May, he said, “Adam will drain Barnabas’ affliction from him, but will not suffer from the disease itself, if he lives.” On the sound cart that they recorded to use in all these episodes, Addison Powell read the line wrong, so that sentence ends with “he will not suffer from the disease itself, because he lives,” which doesn’t mean anything.

In the teaser, Cassandra speaks over one of David’s lines, so he repeats the beginning of the line: “Do you know — do you know what it means?”

At the start of act 1, Nicholas tells Cassandra, “Congratulations, my dear. For once, you’ve succeeded in being successful.”

When Maggie walks Nicholas to the door at the end of act 2, you can see one of the studio lights.

When Cassandra tells Nicholas, “He couldn’t stop the curse,” lowered voices are talking hurriedly in the studio.

When David tells Julia that he heard the recording, Julia gasps, “Eric! He said he was going to leave a message for me — he must have left it on the tape recorder!” Actually, what happened in that scene was exactly the opposite — Lang told Julia, “Listen,” but he didn’t say anything about leaving her a message.


Behind the Scenes:

There’s a background reference in this episode to another red-herring storyline from 1966 — the portrait of Betty Hanscombe, which bears a striking resemblance to Vicki. This was a clue in the storyline about Vicki’s search for her true parents. In the original storyline planned by Art Wallace, Vicki would eventually learn that she was the product of an affair between Elizabeth’s husband, Paul, and Betty Hanscombe. That story thread was dropped when Dan Curtis decided that Vicki should be Liz’s daughter instead, and then the whole thing was forgotten by the time Barnabas was introduced.

Tomorrow: The Diary of Anne Frankenstein.

541 dark shadows betty hanscomb

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

17 thoughts on “Episode 541: Death of a MacGuffin

  1. Another potential red herring from the 1966-1967 pre-Barnabas era concerns the paternal lineage of one David Collins. In Shadows On The Wall, after Art Wallace outlines the circumstances behind Roger and Laura’s marriage and explains that Roger “was certain that the child was not his….that David was Burke’s son”, he writes a note in parentheses: “Whether or not this is, in fact, the truth is a determination for the future. It can easily be resolved either way, dependent upon the best and most exciting resolution for story development.”

    The writers decided to test these waters in episode 147 during which Burke and Laura arrange a private meeting down by the docks. Laura wants Burke to help in softening David’s attitude toward her, as for some reason he is still wary of his mother since she has returned. They have the following exchange:

    Burke: How do I enter in?

    Laura: I know how much he admires you. He talks about you constantly.

    Burke: Does he?

    Laura: Yes. In fact… you seem to mean more to him than his own father.

    Burke: Maybe there’s a reason for that.

    Laura: [Looks off to the side, turns around, takes a step, then stops] There could be.

    Burke: [Takes a step toward her, stopping behind her] Would you care to spell that out?

    Laura: I would rather leave certain things… unsaid right now.

    So, it seems, some of the characters that inhabit Collinwood are not who they appear to be, and that, possibly, “the Collins blood” may have thinned out with Roger’s generation. No matter, though, because, at least in legal terms, David is still the rightful heir to all that Collinwood should offer–even though me may be a Collins in name only.

    1. Yes, the idea was that David was Burke’s son. This was abandoned, among other things because time travel showed that young Collinses (Daniel, Jamison, Tad) bore a striking resemblance to David.

      Also, since Roger married his own grandma, it made David the result of incest, which is way cooler than simple illegitimacy.

  2. I have to say both ideas about Viki’s parentage make no sense logically. In scenario one, where Paul was Viki’s father, it meant that Elizabeth hired the child of a man she buried in the basement to live in her house (I do believe that the backstory was that Elizabeth thought she killed Paul and buried him in the basement.). I mean why? That was a lunatic thing to do. It’s one thing to decide to punish yourself for killing your husband by putting yourself under house arrest, but bringing in his mistresses daughter and living with her under your roof. It makes no sense.

    It makes even less sense that Elizabeth would have had to give up Viki. She was rich. She had connections. She could have passed Viki off as an orphan she found and wanted to adopt. She also had Paul, who would have claimed paternity if she ponied up enough money to get him to say it. If she hadn’t married Paul, she had Bill Malloy who was in love with her and probably would have married her quickly and given her child a name. I wish they had solved the mystery of Viki’s origins, because that was one of the main stories for the first seasons but most of the solutions are ones that I can’t make work.

    1. I liked the idea of Liz looking after Paul’s daughter both out of guilt and a sense of duty. Liz as Vicki’s mother is less dramatically interesting — the woman she comes to treat like a daughter is… her daughter.

      Tangentially, is it explained why David is heir to anything? I could imagine Jamison insisting that a male Collins eventually inherit but did he even live to meet David? It would seem that Carolyn would be on track for everything as Liz’s daughter. Roger himself is penniless.

      1. Yeah, I think Liz would definitely look after Vicky because of guilt and a sense of duty – it does fit her character. And remember too that Vicky would be Carolyn’s half-sister, and I’m sure Liz would ultimately want to bring them together, especially considering how lonely and restless Carolyn is at the start of the series.

        As far as Vicky being Liz’s daughter….I believe one of the ideas floating around at the time was that Vicky was Ned Caulder’s daughter, who we never see on the show but we hear about, and learn that Liz was in love with him at some point. So perhaps the idea would have been that Vicky was hidden so Ned wouldn’t know? Maybe to protect his reputation because he was married? (I’m unsure if the thought was to have Vicky born before or after Paul’s “death”)

      2. Carolyn is a Stoddard, and if she should marry, her name will change and be two steps removed from the name of Collins. And should something happen to her so that she dies before her prospective husband, then control of the estate and the Collins fortune would be completely outside the family forever. One would think that Liz’s main concern would be in keeping control of the estate within the family, and, even if in name only, David is the only member to see that the Collins name is carried on.

        Liz’s father Joseph wanted a male heir to inherit and run the Collins family business. It just so happened that Liz became the one versed in matters of the family business since Roger was born 20 years after and she had to take control of the estate and family business, as well as helping to raise Roger, following the death of her mother Carolyn and the early death of Joseph. No doubt Joseph would have wanted for the estate to be passed on to a Collins, and once David comes of age Liz could then retire and hand the interests over to David, who would be in his early twenties by the time Liz has turned 70.

    2. I ‘created’ my own story for Vicki’s parentage. I think it would have worked out more logically if Vicki was the daughter of Betty Hanscomb (who herself was the daughter of the butler Hanscomb but his wife was ‘seduced’ by Liz and Roger’s father Jamison Collins, resulting in Betty actually being the ‘illegitimate’ half sister of Liz and Roger. Liz felt guilty when she suspected that because of her own resemblance to Betty that her father was actually Betty’s father. Betty and Bill Malloy fell in love and secretly married – Betty left Collinwood after she herself was assaulted by Paul Stoddard – she became pregnant and suspecting the child could have been Paul’s left Collinsport in order to spare Bill the heartbreak of knowing that the baby may not have been his. Actually the baby (Vicki) was his. Betty found out she was dying and put the child in the orphanage. Paul found out about the baby and suspected she (Vicki) may have been his daughter. Feeling guilty about what he did to Betty, he was the one who was secretly sending her the $ (until he got into trouble with Jason & Willie and was sent to jail in South America). When Liz found out about Paul possibly getting Betty pregnant (via Betty’s father the butler) she had the fight with Paul which resulted in his supposed death. The excuse that she killed him because he was ‘stealing’ Carolyn’s money was lame but was the excuse that Liz used when explaining why she ‘killed’ Paul that night 18 years earlier. Also when Liz saw Vicki she realized that she resembled Bill more than Paul and suspected that Bill was the father. She told him just before he died and Matthew accidentally overheard the conversation. Attempting to spare Liz any embarrassment Matthew killed Bill before he could reconcile with Vicki. There you have it!!!

      1. But Bill tried to save Vicki after he was murdered (as a ghost he appeared to her when she was locked in the attic) so he actually did try and help his ‘daughter. He also appeared to her when Matthew was holding her prisoner in the Old House.

  3. I agree Liz as Vicki’s mom is not interesting and makes little sense. Liz was a woman of integrity and would have defied the times and the town to raise any illegitimate child.

    I would have ultimately preferred to see Angelique revealed to be Vicki’s mother. It would have driven story for years and given Vicki interesting shades to play as a potential heir to dark powers.

    1. That’s an interesting idea (Barnabas as Vicki’s step dad) but I wish Vicki, if she stayed, could have remained normal. That’s a challenge with fantasy series — Cordelia is introduced as the normal girl among demons in ANGEL and in relatively quick succession, gains powers, becomes part demon herself, and then a mother of a god-like being.

      And Vicki was kept normal for a while by just treating her as too dumb to live, which is also not ideal.

  4. The story of Elizabeth being vicki’s mother came from a story the joan Bennett mistook Alexandra moltke for her own daughter

  5. Prisoner of the Night, thank you for the casting that light on David’s dna. but i thought Jamison was Elizabeth’s father. i don’t see how else 1897 could align.

    1. I’m a bit confused by his comment tbh. I can’t find a mention of a Joseph Collins on the Dark Shadows wiki. I think he might’ve misspoke because Jamison definitely was Elizabeth and Rogers parents

      1. In the original story bible upon which Dark Shadows was based, “Shadows on the Wall,” Elizabeth’s father was named Joseph Collins. When they did the 1897 story, the writers changed his name to Jamison.

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