“I promise you, Julia, we’ve only seen the beginning of this.”
“Julia, I’m puzzled,” Barnabas says. “Terribly puzzled. I’ve just come from Collinsport.”
Julia asks, “What happened?”
“Nothing has happened, that’s what’s wrong.”
Julia says, “I don’t understand,” and then Barnabas says “Third base!” because it’s just that kind of day.
It turns out that Barnabas is upset because he hasn’t heard about any vampire attacks lately. He’s apparently part of the slim minority that never really feel comfortable unless there’s a vampire attack going on nearby.
He knows that someone bit Tom Jennings, but there haven’t been any attacks since then, so where could that other vampire be? Julia suggests that maybe the danger has ended, but Barnabas is determined to sulk. He says, “I still sense something’s wrong!” which is a hard position to argue someone out of.
The real problem is that today’s episode was written by Ron Sproat, the member of the Dark Shadows writing team who’s most comfortable letting the characters just spin their wheels for a while.
There’s actually a big plot development ready to unfold just downstairs — Julia has set up a basement laboratory, where she and Jeff are going to bring a Frankenstein lady to life, as soon as they’re finished dicking around with the wiring. This could happen anytime between now and two years from now, but the smart money says it’s not going to be in an episode with Sproat’s name on it.
If you’re joining us late and you’re not familiar with R. Sproat’s particular approach to the dramatic arts, then here’s a perfect example of the Sproat technique. It begins, as always, with a knock at the door.
Julia answers the door, and she finds Vicki, which is never a good sign. Vicki says, “Hello, Julia,” and asks if Barnabas is there, which he is, so Julia says come in, and Vicki comes in.
Barnabas says “Hello, Vicki,” and Vicki says, “Hello, Barnabas,” and then everyone takes their places so we can actually get the goddamn scene started.
Let’s see if we can wrap our collective heads around the following conversation.
Vicki: Professor Stokes just phoned. He’s on his way up here, and he wanted to see you. It’s very important.
Vicki: Yes, he wanted me to come down and make sure that you would be here. He was afraid he might miss you.
Barnabas: I can’t understand what he’d want to see me about.
Vicki: Well, he says it’s very important.
Barnabas: Well, thank you for delivering the message, Vicki.
Vicki: That’s all right.
So let me get this straight. Stokes is on his way, but first he called Vicki and asked her to walk over to Barnabas’ house, to make sure that he’s there.
There’s only two possible states — either Barnabas is there, or he isn’t — and Stokes is already on his way, so it’s not clear why Vicki needs to be involved.
It’s kind of like Sproat’s version of the Schrödinger’s cat experiment, where Barnabas is both alive and dead, until the observer opens the box and the quantum wave function collapses. But it turns out that when the box opens, Barnabas is still both alive and dead, and then he strangles the observer, and we’re back where we started.
Does that make any sense at all? This is what happens to me when I try to pay attention to Ron Sproat episodes.
Anyway, Vicki says that she wants to talk to Julia, so Barnabas excuses himself and goes downstairs.
Vicki is worried about Jeff, who’s been acting fairly peculiar, because he’s secretly involved in the mad science experiment that’s happening in the basement.
In fact, Jeff is down there right now, and Barnabas meets him on the stairs.
Barnabas: I wouldn’t go up there if I were you. Vicki’s up there.
Barnabas: Yes. Now, you wouldn’t want her to know that you were in this house, would you?
Jeff: No. What’s she doing here?
Barnabas: She came to deliver a message.
Jeff: I’m surprised you’re not up there.
Barnabas: Well, actually, she wanted to see Julia, alone.
Jeff: About what?
Barnabas: I don’t know. I didn’t ask.
So, to recap: Vicki came over to tell Barnabas that Stokes is coming over, and then she wanted to talk to Julia about Jeff, so Barnabas went downstairs to tell Jeff not to go upstairs, because Vicki’s up there, talking to Julia.
Vicki finally clears out, and Stokes comes over, so Jeff comes upstairs, and now Stokes, Barnabas and Jeff all stand around and talk about Vicki.
Vicki is presumably home by this point, talking to someone about Stokes and Barnabas and Julia and Jeff, and I suppose Julia is downstairs, talking to herself about Vicki and Jeff and Barnabas and Stokes and Vicki. And everybody talks about everybody, until the storyline finally dies of old age.
This is a great episode if you’re a fan of dramatic clarification, a writing technique where the character repeats what he just said, with greater emphasis. So Barnabas is worried, terribly worried, and Adam left a note, a most disturbing note, and Vicki is in great danger — greater danger than ever before.
Jeff says that he doesn’t understand, so Stokes says, “Let me explain it to you,” and then moves to center stage.
“While Adam was hidden,” he says, “something unfortunate happened. Something most unfortunate.”
So they just rattle on, endlessly, telling each other stories about things that we already knew and weren’t that interested in the first time.
And the frustrating thing — the really frustrating thing — is that there’s a dead monster lady downstairs, ready to be infused with life force. This is a plot twist just waiting to happen, a Christmas gift to any writer willing to unwrap it. Everybody keeps talking about how important it is that they finish the experiment as soon as possible, but here they are, running out the clock, just doing the verbal equivalent of opening and closing doors.
There’s the storyline, lying on the table, both alive and dead at the same time. Can somebody just open the damn box already?
Tomorrow: Temporary Sanity.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
As Jeff starts to read Julia’s notebook, someone in the studio coughs.
Jeff tells Julia, “I know that, uh, you found the life force to bring Art — uh, Adam — to life.”
When Barnabas blocks Jeff from going upstairs, there’s a loud squeak from the studio.
Behind the Scenes:
In the credits, Ramse Mostoller is now credited as “costume design: Mostoller”. I don’t really understand the significance of this, but there you are.
Tomorrow: Temporary Sanity.
— Danny Horn