Episode 571: Raising the Stakes

“Did someone ever look at me, as I now look at you? No… or I would not be alive now.”

We open the week with a fight to the death between the already-dead, as ex-vampire Barnabas Collins battles with still-vampire Tom Jennings, in order to free Barnabas’ best friend, Julia, from Tom’s hypnotic spell.

It’s a crucial step in Barnabas’ development from villain to hero, a Jungian transformation of the psyche. Barnabas is both prince and dragon here — wrestling with his own demons, confronting and rejecting the darkness in his own soul. It’s also one of the goofiest things you’ll ever see on television.

571 dark shadows tom chewing

“It’s light!” Barnabas cries, as he gestures desperately at the window of this abandoned crypt. “You don’t have much time!”

Tom can’t say anything, because his mouth is full of plastic fangs, so he has to communicate using the tools available to him — snarling, baring his teeth, rolling his eyes and waggling his head around. People talk about chewing the scenery, but Tom is actually attempting to do it.

People think that this is what Dark Shadows was like all the time, and oh, how I wish that it was. It’s fantastic.

571 dark shadows tom dawn

Tom had the upper hand at the close of Friday’s episode, and it looked like Barnabas was about to become the latest victim of Drac-on-Drac violence.

But here comes our old friend, the Convenient Rooster, who’s always nearby when we need him. We never actually see the putative farm where C.R. lives; he’s just here as a referee for vampire battles that are running long.

571 dark shadows barnabas tom coffin

So then we get what I feel is one of the Great Moments in Vampire Fiction.

Pinned to the coffin, Barnabas hisses, “Do you hear it? It’s dawn! Unless you get back, you will be dust!”

And Tom kind of looks around and silently emotes, as if to say: Oh, right. Fuck. That’s a good point, actually.

571 dark shadows tom barnabas pillar

Barnabas takes advantage of the distraction and tries to break free, but Tom still has some fight left in him. He grabs Barnabas, and there’s another round of freestyle strangling as the violins trill anxiously in the background.

Tom gets the advantage, and he backs Barnabas up against a pillar — but the pillar wobbles, because it’s not attached to anything in particular, and Tom has to loosen his grip slightly so that he doesn’t knock the set over.

It’s an incredibly dramatic moment for, like, three different simultaneous reasons, and I honestly don’t understand why this isn’t universally regarded as the best TV show ever made. Just try to think of a scene that’s more dramatically compelling than this. It can’t be done.

571 dark shadows barnabas drops

Tom finally chokes Barnabas until he passes out and drops him to the ground, and it looks like Barnabas is dead and Tom is the new main character of the show.

571 dark shadows tom reaction

But Convenient Rooster still has something to say about it, and Tom reacts to the sound in the biggest possible way. If this is his last scene on the show, then he’s going to give the people their money’s worth.

And it works, too. Tom was only supposed to appear in eight episodes, but he’s so sexy and ridiculous and fun that people wrote fan letters by the handful, asking the producers to bring him back. We’ll see Don Briscoe again in two months as Tom’s twin brother, because soap operas are awesome like that.

571 dark shadows barnabas dawn

So there’s a nice long shot of the sun rising, and then a nice long shot of Barnabas regaining consciousness and struggling to his feet. This gives them a little time to pretend that Tom’s getting into his coffin just off-camera.

571 dark shadows barnabas coffin

Barnabas approaches the casket, and then they cut away to another scene for thirty seconds so they can set up the next shot.

571 dark shadows barnabas opens coffin

Returning to the scene of the crime, we find Barnabas already opening the lid…

571 dark shadows tom coffin

… because Don Briscoe clearly does not fit in the coffin. His head is kind of propped up against the side, and the shot is framed so that you don’t see his feet dangling out the other end. It’s completely adorable.

And it’s these weird little theatrical moments — the eye-boggling, pillar-wobbling, rooster-to-the-rescue lunacy of it all — that makes Dark Shadows such an engaging and unforgettable show. This is something that the remakes and spin-offs can never capture — the feeling that the audience has to actually participate in the action, leaning forward in a desperate struggle to pretend that our disbelief could possibly be suspended.

571 dark shadows barnabas reflects

Barnabas gazes kindly at his next victim.

“Did someone ever look at me,” he wonders, “as I now look at you? No… or I would not be alive now.”

Which is basically true, except for Willie and Maggie and Julia and Jason and Ben and Angelique and Joshua. And us, obviously.

571 dark shadows tom stake

So Barnabas places the stake over the heart of his evil counterpart, completing the cycle of ego death and transforming into something even more complicated and beautiful. He bestows the gift of oblivion, like the handsome prince waking Snow White with true love’s kiss, but in the opposite direction.

And Tom opens his eyes as the hammer falls, because he was never dead in the first place, and he never will be. Not for me.

Tomorrow: Junior Detectives.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

There’s still a green stripe down the side of the frame for one of the three cameras. This has been happening for more than a week. I was hoping maybe they’d be able to fix it over the weekend, but no such luck. I don’t remember how long this goes on for. It’s one of the not-charming bloopers.

In act 3, when Julia thanks Nicholas for bringing her flowers, there’s a super-fast and messy zoom in on Julia’s face. The cameraman obviously thought that they had cut away to another camera, and was just lining up for the next shot.

Liz and Roger are arguing about whether she saw a coffin in the old crypt. With the word “coffin” on her mind, Liz says, “Ask Dr. Coff — Hoffman, she can tell you it was there!”

Julia tells Roger that there’s no point in sending Liz back to Windcliff if she doesn’t want to go: “If she doesn’t coop — want to cooperate, she won’t.”

Tomorrow: Junior Detectives.

571 dark shadows barnabas tom great

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

14 thoughts on “Episode 571: Raising the Stakes

  1. Since he has no one like a Willie or a Julia to look after him and sleeps practically out in the open where just anyone can wander in, Tom should have gotten a lock mechanism for his coffin that would work only from the inside. As a handyman in his former life, he could have installed it himself.

  2. But he could only shop after dark, and Collins port doesn’t have a Tomb Depot anyway…

    Seriously, though. There must have been a ton of fan mail coming in for Don Briscoe at this point, and the DS producers wouldn’t keep the character? Lucky for us Tom has an identical twin that nobody’s mentioned.

  3. It’s supposed to be daytime, but when Roger and Barnabas go to the cemetery to see if “Elizabeth’s coffin” is in the crypt, the woods set is dark like night.

  4. Whoa. Tom’s dying screams are genuinely horrifying.

    That cut from Nicholas opening the coffin and looking inside to Julia coming round was pure art.

    And Barnabas at Julia’s bedside – “you’ve saved my life so often that I don’t deserve thanks” – beautiful!

    I love this show, stumbling drunkenly from ridiculous to brilliant to both at once!

  5. I love any scene with Barnabas and Julia since they are my favorite characters, but the occasional tender moments between them are sublime. Jonathan Frid really knows how to deliver the heartfelt emotions, as he did at Julia’s bedside in this episode. It upset me when I saw interviews with Frid when he was in his declining years, and he was somewhat dismissive of Grayson Hall. I’d like to think that his dismissive attitude was due to his advancing years, and that he really appreciated the great chemistry they had on screen.

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