“I wish I understood why this table is the way it is.”
Okay. Gosh. Lots to do today, and I’m not really sure how it’s all going to come together. I’m gonna start with Jeff’s surprise face, and then see how it goes from there.
Yeah. About that.
Jeff Clark is currently in thrall to Angelique, the sorcerous soap vixen who’s currently doing time as a vampire. She’s determined to get out from under the vampire curse, and the only way that she knows how to do that is to have part of her life force sucked out of her body, and transferred into this Bride of Frankenstein patchwork monster that Barnabas and Julia are trying to bring to life in the basement.
Now, Barnabas is actually fairly desperate to find a woman with some spare life force who’s willing to donate it to this cockamamie DIY mad science experiment, but Angelique doesn’t want anyone to know that she’s been turned into a vampire, so she’s bitten Julia’s lab assistant, and she’s forcing him to do the experiment while Barnabas and Julia aren’t around. I swear to you that I understood this storyline when I started writing this post.
Anyway, my point is that Barnabas comes downstairs to find out what all the racket is about, and he finds Jeff halfway through an unauthorized trial run, and now they’re going to do a good old-fashioned post-cliffhanger Can’t Let Me Know What scene.
This is a standard soap opera technique, where someone enters the scene just before the commercial break, and catches another character doing something suspicious.
They used to do this all the time on One Life to Live, which is my other favorite soap. The set-up goes like this:
Todd: Now, do you understand? Whatever happens, we can’t let Blair know.
Blair: (entering the room) Can’t let me know what?
The great thing about this technique is that it doesn’t matter if the liar is whispering in sign language during a death metal Battle of the Bands; the suspicious party will always magically hear just enough to ask an inconvenient question, and then we have the whole commercial break to wonder how they’re going to get out of it.
In this case, it shouldn’t actually be Jeff’s responsibility to cover up for himself, because up until a moment ago, Angelique was strapped to table #2, with her life force already halfway out of her body. But she’s got vampire powers, and she apparently sensed that Barnabas was coming downstairs, so she turned into mist, or whatever vampires do when they need a quick exit strategy.
Now Jeff is left holding the bag, and Barnabas wants to know what the hell he’s doing down here with the windows open and all the machines running.
Jeff responds in the only way that he knows how, which is to stammer and touch his head. This is an acting technique that Roger Davis picked up somewhere, and it is entirely convincing. He rubs his head eleven times during this scene.
Jeff claims that he was just testing out the mad science machines so that he can make sure they’re working properly, which is actually not bad for an alibi, but Barnabas isn’t buying it.
Barnabas says, “You attached the electrodes to this body to check the equipment?” and Jeff stammers, “Well, I had to, I — that was the only way I could do it.”
Now, the great thing about doing a scene like this with Barnabas is that Jonathan Frid never really knows his lines very well, so he’s stammering and looking sheepish too. This automatically creates a dramatically compelling situation, because the audience has no idea how they’re going to make it all the way through the scene.
Barnabas takes a look at the teleprompter, and says, “Someone has –”
Then he realizes that he’s standing in the wrong spot, so he turns around.
“– Has been on this table!” he says, and then it’s Jeff’s turn.
Jeff rubs his head, and tries to change the subject. He says that he didn’t even want to be part of this experiment; the only reason he’s here is because Barnabas is blackmailing him.
“Because it was to save your fiancee’s life!” Barnabas counters. “Your ex-fiancee, I might say.”
Jeff rubs his head, and says, “Yes, my ex-fiancee, thanks to you. Yes, thanks to you. Oh, if I’d just quit this! I could have –”
“Everything seems to be my fault now!” Barnabas says, which is just one of those moments that makes me happy to be alive.
“I walk in here, and I see you doing something — something you shouldn’t be, and now you’re attacking me! A clever ploy.”
One of the things that I Iike about this scene is the improvisational jazz-fusion nature of the dialogue. It’s pretty clear that Sam Hall sat down to write this episode, and the breakdown for act 1 said, “Jeff lies to Barnabas, and Barnabas doesn’t believe him,” and then he had to write a four and a half minute scene.
So Sam puts some paper into the old Smith Corona, and just starts to type, and the scene kind of goes where it goes.
Jeff rubs his head, and says that he was just trying to simulate the experiment.
“There was never any need for you to do that!” Barnabas bellows, more or less on script. “We never planned on you… doing this sort of work.”
“I thought there might be, that’s all,” Jeff says, rubbing his head. “I thought there might be a chance.”
“You wanted to destroy this body,” Barnabas says. “Yes, that’s it. You and Vicki have broken up. You know what will happen to her if we don’t finish this experiment!”
Jeff rubs his head, and says, “Yes, I know.”
Barnabas takes another look at the teleprompter. “You never loved her,” he spits. “You hate her so much now that you want her to die.”
“No,” Jeff says, removing his hand from his face for ten seconds. “No, that’s not true, I… That’s just what you want to believe.”
Jeff starts to pant, and it’s obvious that he’s losing his grip on the dialogue, too.
“If you want to believe that… (puff) I wanted to make… (puff) some danger, or anything happen to Vicki… (puff puff) then it’s… (puff) it’s only what you want to believe. (puff, check the teleprompter) No. (puff) Before you came to me with this, I… (puff) I was going to quit, I…”
Barnabas takes charge. “Clark,” he says, “you are free of all your responsibilities now.”
“No,” Jeff says, rubbing his face. “You’re not finished, I’m willing to stay.”
“I don’t want ever to see you in this room again,” Barnabas says. “We will save Vicki’s life without your help. Now, get out.”
So Jeff gets out, and that’s how you make the perfect television scene. It’s just that easy.
Tomorrow: Every Woman We Know.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Jeff takes his jacket off in the teaser, and he’s not wearing it when Barnabas orders him out of the house at the end of act 1. He’s got it back on at the beginning of act 2, when he meets Angelique in the woods.
In the woods, Jeff tells Angelique that he can’t help her anymore. She says, “You must, tonight — tomorrow night. You must meet me here.”
Barnabas tells Julia, “Making this has been the most unpleasant thing I’ve ever had to do. But now comes an even more pleasant — unpleasant part.”
At the beginning of act 4, while Barnabas and Julia are talking, a guy in the studio yells, “Steve!”
When Julia sees that Willie has come downstairs, a music cue starts, and then stops again after a split-second. Julia says, “Good night, Willie,” and the music starts up again.
Willie tells Julia, “It’s not the same, with you and Barnas-bas.”
Tomorrow: Every Woman We Know.
— Danny Horn