Episode 564: Dig Dug

“We’re not robbing a grave, Willie. We’re dealing with an enemy.”

I know, everybody’s got their own problems, and when there’s an immediate crisis in your life, you tend to put off the long-term thinking, and just focus on what’s in front of you.

Still, I think that if your planned evening of grave-robbing is interrupted by an urgent need to go on a completely unrelated grave-robbing excursion — that is the moment that you need to stop and re-evaluate.

564 dark shadows barnabas willie body

Barnabas and Julia have recently been instructed to re-animate a dead woman, so that the local Frankenstein monster can have a mate. I’m not even going to bother explaining why at this point; it’s just that kind of television show. At last count, there were four major characters on this show who are technically dead — Barnabas, Adam, Angelique and Jeff — but they still show up to work every day. That number’s going to go up by the end of today’s episode.

Barnabas has set up another mad science chop shop in his basement, and he’s instructed his servant, Willie, to go out and find some female corpses to strip for parts. Wilie has lodged several objections so far, with no results. Barnabas just acts like Willie is the problem.

Willie:  You know, every time I touched it, I felt sick. When I got back here, I couldn’t go to sleep. I put it down here, and I went to my room, and I just lay there, Barnabas.

Barnabas:  Well, next time, Julia will give you a sedative.

That’s the Dark Shadows version of an employee retention strategy, access to free sedatives. At a certain point, the concept of a hostile work environment stops meaning anything.

564 dark shadows willie streetcar

This leads to another anxious-Willie scene, which is one of my favorite parts of the show. Before Dark Shadows, John Karlen was a New York stage actor, appearing as an understudy in several Broadway productions. He’s moved to television full-time now, but as far as he’s concerned, he’s starring in a really-off-Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire. When the writers hit a snag and they don’t have enough plot points to get through the day, they can always turn to Willie for an impassioned monologue.

Willie:  Oh, no. No, sir. There ain’t gonna be no next time for Willie Loomis. You see, Barnabas, you don’t listen to people. You don’t understand; you don’t know how it makes a fella feel when nobody listens to him, do ya? That’s because people listen to you. You say no, people know you’re not gonna do somethin’. But me? Aw, Willie, he’ll come around all right. But no more — ya hear me? No more, Barnabas!

Willie’s picked up a new habit since he returned from a seven-month stay in a mental institution — in stressful moments, he refers to himself in the third person.

Willie:  Barnabas, you don’t realize how dangerous this is! Now, you just listen to Willie Loomis for once, because Willie Loomis is gonna be tellin’ ya that someday soon, you’re gonna have a lotta trouble!

564 dark shadows barnabas willie force

Willie also tends to be the character who asks the things that the audience wants to ask, and in this case, he’s got a stumper.

He says, “Even if ya bring this person to life, well, who’s gonna be the life force for it, like you was for Adam? Now, you tell me that. Who’s that gonna be?”

564 dark shadows barnabas thoughtful

Barnabas looks thoughtful, and says, “I don’t know,” as if this absolutely had not occurred to him before. Apparently, Willie is the brains of this operation.

564 dark shadows julia barnabas quality

And then Julia comes downstairs with some bad news — Tom Jennings died last night from complications related to being bitten on the neck by a lady vampire.

For some reason, Barnabas and Julia have become convinced that a person who dies after a vampire attack will rise as a vampire the next evening. This has never happened before in their experience, but they say this is how it works now, and it opens up an exciting new plot development, so there’s nothing to do but go along with it.

I think that at this point, it’s safe to say that the television show formerly known as Dark Shadows has broken its leash, and is now crashing through America’s living rooms like a rogue elephant. This started out as a show that took place more or less in our world, with maybe a stray ghost hanging around in the background somewhere. Then there was a magical phoenix lady, and after that a vampire and a ghost, and then there was a witch and a dash of time travel. The show was definitely getting weirder as it went along, but there was still the general sense that the humans were basically in charge.

But it’s right here, today, in late summer 1968, that they hit the tipping point. The monsters are reproducing.

564 dark shadows barnabas willie takeover

There are two different storylines crashing into each other, right here in the basement of the show’s most haunted of houses, and they’re both about monsters making monsters.

The Frankenstein monster wants a bride, and the vampires are creating more vampires, and the weird Satanic warlock is having a slave-recruitment drive. And we just spin from one insane crisis to another, and right now, it doesn’t feel like it ever has to stop.

564 dark shadows julia willie picnic

That’s how we end up on this new family outing, going to the graveyard to make sure that Tom Jennings stays dead. But the audience knows that Tom isn’t just going to lie there and let them pound a stake through his heart. Serialized narrative is a ravenous engine that runs on plot points, and it must be fed.

564 dark shadows willie barnabas grave

So here we are, in a graveyard, during one of Collinsport’s many dry thunderstorms, digging for treasure. Apparently, somebody managed to carve a headstone with Tom’s name on it in less than a day, and Willie can hoist a coffin out of the ground by himself without actually digging much of a hole.

In fact, it turns out that Tom’s coffin is empty, which is one of the most head-scratching plot twists ever assembled. When exactly did Count Houdini make his daring escape? They put the body in a coffin, lowered the casket into the grave, and filled up the hole. I think they would have noticed if there wasn’t a guy in the coffin.

But none of that matters. It’s silly and illogical and utterly grotesque, but once you jump on a runaway train, it’s too late to ask the conductor for a timetable. All you can do is hang on.

Tomorrow: Weird Science.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

There’s an unbelievable amount of studio noise during the teaser, when Julia is asking Joe about Tom. It sounds like carts being pushed around, and you can hear people talking over a speaker.

At the end of the teaser, Julia says that if Tom was attacked by a person, then the police should be involved. Joe says, “Yes, they should be. But they won’t be, ever. Because he’s dead.” Joe apparently believes that if someone is murdered, then the police have no jurisdiction.

It’s hard to tell if there’s a blooper at the end of act 2 or not. Willie and Barnabas are arguing over what to do about Adam. Willie heads for the stairs, saying that if he ever sees Adam, he’s going to kill him. Barnabas barks, “Willie!” and marches over to the stairs to stare at his servant. It seems like a moment where he should have had another line, but instead he just glares at Willie, who turns and walks away.

When they arrive at Tom’s grave, Willie worries, “Barnabas, what if somebody comes?” Barnabas snaps, “Stop… no. Start, Willie. Now.”

This isn’t a blooper, just a retcon in the making: When Joe tells Julia that his cousin Tom wanted to be buried right away, he says, “I’m his only relative, so it’s up to me.” As we learn in a few months, Tom actually has a twin brother and a little sister.

Tomorrow: Weird Science.

564 dark shadows willie shortcuts

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

24 thoughts on “Episode 564: Dig Dug

        1. No no no, Julia is Moe, whose assumption that she ought to be the boss is secure no matter how preposterous her apparent subordinates might be; Barnabas is Curly, who generates a new kind of chaos every time he takes action; and Willie is Larry, everyone’s victim.

  1. In a previous post another commenter mentioned that when Willie was played by James Hall he would always refer to himself in the third person (and with a strong southern accent). Also was Joe given the green light to bury Tom at Eagle Hill or is this another cemetary? And Barnabas does seem rather absent minded lately – and this is even before Angelique begins treating him like a 5 star restaurant.

    1. John Karlen’s Willie has spoken of himself in the third person at least once before, in episode 500 when teasing Adam with the chicken leg. It seems to be a device Willie resorts to when angry or upset.

      1. I really miss your blog while watching these episodes- as Danny notes, there is a ton of studio noise, much of it apparently coming through speakers, in all the episodes from this week, and I’m very curious to know if you can make out what they’re saying. My hearing isn’t great and I don’t listen to it with headphones and all that the way you do, but at one point during episode 565 I thought I could make out tinny voice saying “ready camera two.”

  2. I love the lantern Julia brings to the graveyard so they can see what they’re doing when they dig up Tom. What is this, 1840 or something? They don’t have a flashlight at the Old House?

      1. BTW, they must have a generator to run Dr. Lang’s equipment in the basement of the old house, right?? No electricity in the old house at all, or so we’re told.

  3. I thought it might be interesting here to comment on Collinsport’s “dry thunderstorms”. With digital technology, many people even my age have forgotten what watching TV really used to look like. We never saw these episodes with the clarity of these DVDs. There are a handful of episodes in the DVD series where the original masters have been lost, and they must substitute kinescope copies (this was a device that literally just filmed the broadcast from a TV screen), this is more akin to what the original audience saw. My father was an engineer, so we had the best antenna on the block (and the first color TV, we got it in 1964), but seldom was our picture clear enough to tell it wasn’t really raining on Dark Shadows. The mistakes on the gravestones would have been too difficult to read for us to pay that much attention. Even a glimpse of the other camera or a boom shadow would have gone unnoticed much of the time. If we had seen these episodes back then with the clarity we have today, I’m sure we would have had a lot of laughs at the technical bloopers, but with 1960s television reception, we just didn’t see a lot of it.

    1. Yes, that’s a very good point. The rewind button is another reason why we pick up on bloopers more. When you’re watching the DVD now and you say, “Did we just see the side of the set?” then you can hit the back button and laugh about it. On broadcast, if you noticed something like that it was just a flicker, and the show goes on.

    2. That’s a good point on the bloopers and the grainy broadcasts. Also, many people still had black and white TVs even the show was airing in color by now. My family didn’t get a color TV until about 1973 or so.

      I never knew DS was aired in color until I saw repeats.

      1. I have probably said before, but while we did not have color TV, my nextdoor neighbor, Paul, did, so I sometimes saw it at his house. I left home in 1970 and we still didn’t have color TV.

  4. I really wonder how much, and how clearly, Willie recalls what happened before Windcliff. It really doesn’t seem like he remembers much. Maybe what he can recall seems like a bad dream. He seemed to vaguely recall something when Barnabas reminded him that he had visited Windcliff in daylight, but it never seemed to me that Willie fully remembered.

    I felt that way again in recent eps with regard to the grave robbing, etc. In this ep, it struck me at 6:28 when Willie says, “I was never so scared in my life,” and Barnabas smirks. He knows very well when and how Willie had been far more frightened. Right now Willie’s biggest concern is the police. If he really remembered about newly released Barnabas and his control/abuse at the old house, I can’t see how the concern about cops would be of the same magnitude. I think Willie does subconsciously recall – his fear of grave robbing, the way he backs away out of Barnabas’ reach — but I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t have simply bolted (like he did when he thought the cops were en route) away from human!Barnabas long ago if he had clearly remembered the pre-Windcliff horrors.

    1. And then there’s the bit where Barnabas says, “Willie, you’re getting nervous again. You must learn to control it. Remember the last time.”

      Like Willie just had a garden variety nervous breakdown last time, and not that he snapped under unbearable abuse, fear, and desperation to protect Maggie. Getting shot five times probably didn’t help.

      1. Willie has Stockholm Syndrome big time. It’s obvious that he wants the approval and date I say, affection, of Barnabas. If Barnabas was smart, he’d realize this and be kind to Willie because if he did that, Willie would do anything for him. Human Barnabas is as big of a sadistic jerk as he was as a vampire. He certainly still treats Willie like dirt.

  5. I find it so ironic how horrified Willie is at the thought of robbing a grave . Since he first met Barnabas while he was literally robbing his grave .

  6. I’m glad somebody up above brought up the electricity issue as I was wondering about that myself. Maybe they’re hoping that the viewers won’t remember that the Old House isn’t electrified.

    I love it when Julia wears that jacket with the upturned collar. It makes her look like a superhero.

    I’m not sure what Nicholas gains by having another vampire (Tom) around. Seems like it would be just one more thing to worry about.

  7. I think I read somewhere a long time ago that Don Briscoe wasn’t supposed to continue on the show for a long time but viewers crashed the mail service with teen girl fan mail about him. So they had to come up with the unplanned twin brother to keep Briscoe around. I’m guessing that Amy provides the connection to Collinwood via Windcliff.

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