Episode 582: The Can’t Let Me Know What Scene

“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.

582 dark shadows jeff more surprise

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.

582 dark shadows barnabas jeff caught

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.

582 dark shadows barnabas jeff indicating

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.

582 dark shadows barnabas jeff face

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.”

582 dark shadows barnabas teleprompter

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 –”

582 dark shadows barnabas table

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.

582 dark shadows barnabas jeff subject

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 –”

582 dark shadows jeff barnabas fault

“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.

582 dark shadows barnabas jeff chance

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.”

582 dark shadows jeff barnabas die

“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.

582 dark shadows jeff removing

“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.”

582 dark shadows jeff 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…”

582 dark shadows jeff barnabas puff

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.”

582 dark shadows jeff barnabas scene

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.

582 dark shadows jeff grab

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

13 thoughts on “Episode 582: The Can’t Let Me Know What Scene

  1. That guy who yells “Steve!” in the studio sounds like the voice of John Karlen, and then we hear the voice of the “Steve” in question in a low monotone somewhere off camera apparently issuing instructions of some kind, something about “wait until” and the rest is unintelligible, but could involve instructions for when Willie should reappear in the scene.

    Immediately before Karlen’s “Steve!” moment, there’s another blooper in that scene as well, between Barnabas and Julia, where he Fridspeaks her name:

    Julia: “Barnabas, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll go back to Collinwood. I don’t feel like working anymore tonight.”

    Barnabas: “I understand, Julie.”

    A little before that there was yet another Fridspeak moment in the lab:

    “Julia, how long before this body begins disintegrate?”

    I’d hate to think of what Dark Shadows would be like if they had the budget and the time for proper and regular editing resources to get every scene perfect every episode. Somehow such perfection would have made the show seem… less than perfect.

  2. Roger Davis overacts in every scene he’s in – what other acting work had he done prior to DS that could substantiate his reason for being so full of himself. He appears to think he’s Laurence Olivier every time he’s on stage.

    1. If it were one time when Barnabas could have kicked somebody’s ass, it should have been Jeff’s and I am glad he told him to get out. Jeff was very stupid here and his acting makes me gag.

  3. Another logical question: How can Angelique just disappear from her strapped down position on the operating table, when Barnabas was kept locked in his chain-bound casket for many a year?

    The writers and Frid are usually good enough to keep Barnabas’ lines sounding at least somewhat like a wealthy man who came of age in the 18th Century, but when he taunts Jeff about Vicki having “broken up” with him, it sounds faintly ludicrous. Neil Sedaka meets Lord Byron.

    Besides, Barnabas and Jeff should be bonding over the faithless Vicki having thrown them both over.

    1. JRM, Barnabas couldn’t escape his coffin due to the silver cross on the inside lid. Presumably the chains couldn’t have kept his mist or whatever inside otherwise.

  4. One of the many things Kate and I adored about this episode is that the first half is an omnishambles, and then the moment John Karlen slinks in suddenly it’s compelling. The scenes between Barnabas, Julia, and Willie are a return to their little dysfunctional family from the early days. And at the end, when Karlen grins like a psycho and raises the scalpel, it’s like he’s giving Roger Davis a lesson in how he should have played the exact same scene a day or two ago!

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