“What is this place? Whose coffin is this? Is it mine?”
Well, I guess summer break can’t last forever, so here’s Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, reporting back to work for another day of standing around with a glazed expression. Joan Bennett used to be a movie star back in the day, so she gets an extended summer vacation from Dark Shadows.
Her break was even longer than usual this year — it’s actually been ten weeks since Liz was packed off to Windcliff Sanitarium, following a witch-induced nervous breakdown. I don’t know what she did this summer, but she’s tan, rested and ready to die.
As I’m sure you’ll recall from several months ago, the evil sorceress Angelique had insinuated herself into Collinwood by posing as Roger’s innocent new bride, Cassandra. Liz accidentally uncovered a fairly minor part of Cassandra’s plan, and the witch dealt with the situation by casting a spell on Liz so that the only thing she could think of was her own impending death.
At the time, it wasn’t really much of a story, just a contrivance to get Joan Bennett on the next plane to wherever she was going at the time. And now, most of a summer later, they’re determined to justify the dangling plot point.
Unfortunately, this is a terrible story decision for three important reasons, and if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you can probably predict why.
Anybody feel like a pop quiz? As Sherlock Holmes said: You know my methods. Apply them.
Okay, reason number 1: The story’s moved on. Cassandra isn’t even around anymore. If it wasn’t for Joan Bennett’s vacation schedule, then Liz would have been here when Cassandra “died” and came back as vampire Angelique, and the obvious thing to do at that point would be to show that the spell on Liz had broken.
But Liz was off-campus for another month, so the only way to explain Liz’s continued absence was to claim she was still moping around Windcliff. Now they’re stuck with this uninspiring storyline, with no clear exit strategy.
Reason number 2: This is the second time in a year that Liz has been obsessed with her own death. Between Joan Bennett’s two characters, she’s already had three suicide attempts since last July.
Finally, I’m sure that regular readers have already divined reason number 3, the worst thing I can say about this storyline: It makes Liz less interesting.
In fact, it slows her all the way down to a crawl. Her first scene begins with a long, slow pan across the Eagle Hill cemetery, as a church bell rings twelve times. Most television shows wouldn’t bother to invest thirty seconds of screen time to inform viewers that it’s midnight. It’s not the rocket sled to excitement that they seem to expect.
Then Liz does an extended thinks monologue, which is basically the Dark Shadows equivalent of a drum solo.
Liz (thinks): Buried alive! To wake up in a coffin! Buried in the earth — and to still be alive! To die, gasping for breath, crying out, and yet no one can hear! No one can hear! What could be worse? What?
I mean, she’s got a point. It’s just not a particularly helpful insight.
The only way that this story actually works is if it’s a metaphor for Joan Bennett’s role on the show. She was a big name when Dark Shadows began — but now she can leave the show for ten weeks, and the story impact is precisely zero. Some of the teenage fans who started watching since school let out probably don’t even know who she is.
So I can see how the character might be feeling a little left out, especially because there’s another haunted female who’s also stumbling her way through today’s episode.
Enter Dr. Julia Hoffman, who’s also gone spooky, just looking off into the distance and babbling about Tom. She’s fallen under the spell of sexy vampire boy Tom Jennings, and when Dr. Hoffman falls under a spell, you can hear the thud from two channels over. She actually emotes to such an extent that she loses consciousness, and has to be carried to the sofa.
Roger sighs, “Barnabas said she was ill, but I had no idea she was in this condition.” Yeah, you’re telling me. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as this condition.
When Julia revives, Roger hands her a brandy, which is apparently made of medicine. It’s always alcohol with these people, alcohol and sedatives.
So Julia gets to act weird and irrational, sleep late, drink brandy, get carried from one room to another, and still have adult time with the cutest guy on the show. Julia is a rock star, there’s no other word for it.
But the strangest thing about this episode is that nobody bothers to remind the audience why Liz is experiencing her share of the crazy. When Roger and Nicholas find her in the graveyard, there’s a fleeting reference to Cassandra, but they don’t bother to connect the dots for anyone who’s forgotten about this incidental plot point from mid-June.
In fact, anyone in the audience who didn’t have a photographic memory for lunatic Dark Shadows plot points probably thought that Liz and Julia’s conditions were related. Whatever the hell this is, it seems to be catching.
So Roger brings Liz home, stashes her in the drawing room, and then tells Mrs. Johnson to call Windcliff, and let them know that their inmate population is about to go up to the tune of one.
But Elizabeth hears them, and when Mrs. Johnson comes into the drawing room, Liz says, “Were you planning to make a phone call, Mrs. Johnson? If you were, you needn’t bother trying. I’ve cut the wire.”
(An explanatory note for younger readers: “Cutting the telephone wire” is a 20th century storytelling trope that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s the old-timey equivalent of not getting a signal.)
But Mrs. Johnson just goes into the study to use another phone, so Liz’s cunning plan didn’t accomplish much. Collinwood is a big house; it’s hard to arrange a full-scale communications blackout at short notice.
Julia comes into the room, and the ladies proceed to have an intramural spookiness competition. There’s a spasm of dognoise outside, and Julia bolts from the house, with an anguished Liz trailing behind her.
And that’s how we end up with one of the greatest scenes in the history of American theater. I will now quote this scene in full, because it is otherwise indescribable.
Julia: I heard you calling me. Where are you? Where are you?
Liz: Dr. Hoffman!
Julia: Mrs. Stoddard! You followed me here!
Liz: I had to!
Liz: What is this place? Whose coffin is this? Is it mine?
Julia: No. No, it has nothing to do with you. Now, get out of here.
Liz: But you said you’d talk to me, you said you’d talk to Roger!
Julia: No, I can’t do anything now. Just get out of here!
Liz: But —
Julia: Get OUT of here! Get OUT! Get OUT! GET OUT!
So she gets out. Nobody upstages Dr. Julia Hoffman, do you HEAR me, NOBODY!
And then, just as you think there’s no way for the scene to get better: Sexy vampire boy.
Tom’s been settling into his undead look over a few episodes, and by now he could front for The Cure, with no questions asked. He kind of looks like Twilight’s Robert Pattinson except he’s sexy, and you don’t want to punch him.
So he goes in for the bite, which is the perfect ending to a perfect day. As far as I’m concerned, they can do this forever.
Tomorrow: Fridspeak Friday.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Roger gives Mrs. Johnson instructions: “Stay with her while I get the car, and then call Windcliff. Tell her that — tell them that I’ve found her, and that I’m bringing her back.”
When Julia runs to the drawing room mirror, you can see a camera turning around in the foyer. Thirty seconds later, when Liz follows Julia out the front door, you can see the same camera in shot. Whoever was running that camera must have been having a bad day.
As Liz enters the crypt, she brushes her hand against one of the stone pillars, which wobbles alarmingly.
When Tom “appears” in the crypt, they make the same mistake with the lighting that they made last Friday — he’s supposed to step out of the shadows, but you can see him pretty clearly, just standing there and waiting for his cue.
Behind the Scenes:
The crypt set is a redress of the back half of the set they used last October, for the weird library/tomb where the recast Caretaker and the recast Dr. Woodard did some research on Sarah Collins.
Tomorrow: Fridspeak Friday.
— Danny Horn
14 thoughts on “Episode 569: Liz Misérables”
Yes, brandy is a cure all for whatever ails them. It gets hilarious when, much later on, Quentin is NOT supposed to fall asleep, so they walk him, and him brandy….
Well it was the time period where people were getting buzzed one way or another daily. Sedatives and brandy are the order of the day at Collinwood. Pot would be a more less dangerous option though and a much better buzz as well.
Also didn’t Laura Collins put Liz in a ‘trance’ when Liz made some sarcastic remarks to her – I think Liz was hospitalized for an extended period at that time too. With his new powdered makeup Tom really does resemble Twilights Edward Cullen but can’t say the similarities extend to their choice of partners/victims (Grayson Hall and Kristen Stewart). Kristen has more of a Victoria Winters physical resemblance. Instead of having Liz walk around in a daze the next several months they really should have had some closure on her relationship with Vicki. The multiple vampire storyline is about the only coherent plot on the show during this timeframe.
The 1795 storyline didn’t necessarily end with Vicki’s return to the present, and ever since then the writers have been reprising characters, postscripting plotlines, and revisiting key scenes, as in the Liz death obsession storyline where she attempts to recreate Naomi’s death. The resurrection by portraiture of Angelique, the possession of Roger and Liz, the astral projection into the present of Peter Bradford, the return of Trask in ghost form–1968 is perpetually haunted by 1795.
Better to continue the 1795 storyline than the 1967 one, which ended in an impossible situation, real dead end. A storyline designed to end with Barnabas dead and beyond redemption is NOT the best foundation for a storyline centered on him as the hero.
I love the bit in this episode where a completely befuddled Mrs Johnson stands at the front door crying “Mrs Stoddard! Dr Hoffman!” Things were never this weird when she worked for Bill Malloy.
Mrs. Johnson is fit to be tied with these crazy happenings. She is just supposed to be the maid, not the damn psychiatrist.
A warlock. Two vampires. A Frankenstein’s monster. And a residual witch’s curse.
They’ve got too much going on for a show that can only feature four to six cast members a day.
They should have let the Lang-Adam story be the A-story after the end of 1795 with Liz/Vicki the B-plot. Wrap up Adam and then bring on Nicholas, Angelique and more vampires.
Julia would not be a particularly attractive vampire. I am glad Barnabas put on his Batman cape and rescued her. That was a good thing.
Poor Mrs Johnson. She really gives it her all in her first scene with Blair too, it’s a really nice performance.
I love the music in the crypt scene – it’s all spooky and weird as Julia wanders around calling for Tom, then cuts abruptly as Liz enters. Julia yells at her to leave; she does, and as soon as she’s gone, the music starts again…
It’s not quite as good as the last episode though – where Barnabas threatens Tom with a gun! [Spook music begins] Julia protests, they argue, then Barnabas looks back at Tom and – “he’s gone!” [Spook music abruptly stops]
Tom apparently has a Mrs. Robinson complex, targeting first Julia and now Liz. He’s ahead of his time in that regard.
How does newbie Tom rate such a nice coffin? IMHO definitely the classiest coffin we’ve seen so far.
When we last saw Liz she was convinced she was Naomi Collins. Was she cured of that?
You know how you sometimes get to witness someone doing something incredibly cool quite unintentionally? … like that time I tossed a wad of tinfoil towards the trash but it instead hit the corner of the table and bounced off two chairs to land right in the small bowl of pesto sauce I had just placed on the counter?
Okay maybe you didn’t witness that but it was very cool; and although I was both entertained and bored enough to wash off the tinfoil and try to duplicate the accidental trick, I didn’t manage it and doubt I would have done so even if I made the attempt thousands of times. (I gave up after the 6th or 7th bounce hit one of my poor kitties in her sweet little whiskered face).
Anyway, that is the feeling I get whenever I watch the last scene of this episode and its re-filmed version at the start of the next episode.
I didn’t realize until this year, revisiting this blog and the DS Julia episodes for the fourth or fifth time, that this truly is– as Danny describes it– “one of the greatest scenes in the history of American theater.”
When I sensed that I was subconsciously waiting, during the past five or six episodes, for this moment– even before rereading Danny’s entry here– I accepted that the scene definitely contains one of my all time favorite exchanges between any two characters in any series or film.
The exact tones in their voices and contrasting wildness in their expressions when the dazed and witch-cursed Elizabeth and our own poor frantic, vampyrically-enslaved Julia metaphorically melodize and harmonize with and against one another in the middle of that tomb, from the bizarrely lilting first notes of Elizabeth’s aria (“Whose coffin is this? Is it mine?”) through Julia’s staccato “Get OUT!” crescendo leading Elizabeth to turn and gracefully flutter away …
I think in this scene Elizabeth does indeed upstage Julia.
And it is all so clearly unintentional in its total, indescribable awesomeness since, when the scene is re-filmed at the start of next week’s episode, Elizabeth’s repeat of the question “Whose coffin is this? Is it mine?” doesn’t have any degree of the same impact.
I mean, next time, it’s like she just carries the tinfoil wad towards the pesto bowl and drops it in. Perhaps she realized it would be futile to try to recreate the magic (and didn’t want to accidentally smack a kitty’s face with an awkward misfire)?
What a wigged-out episode!
A non-sneering Nicholas;
A philosophical, occultist Mrs. Johnson;
A still-freaked-out Liz;
A “Cougar” Julia wanting her boytoy;
Bloopers galore with boom shadows and cameras in view.
Outside forces must have been at work to craft this overripe episode. I know! This aired on the last day of the chaotic Democratic Convention in Chicago, with violence raging outside and inside. For me, I was a four-year old in the hospital having a tonsillectomy that week. These two events must have conspired together to weave these discordant parts together.