“These people, they’ve got plans for you!”
Okay, time for another crackpot plot twist in the Bride of Frankenstein storyline. The writers have dug themselves into a rather unlikely hole, and they just can’t figure out what the hell to do about it.
Adam, the show’s resident Frankenstein monster, is demanding that Barnabas and Julia create a woman for him. They don’t really want to, because it’s gross and scary, but he’s threatened to kill girl governess Victoria Winters if they don’t, so they’re giving it a whirl. They’ve managed to assemble a lady monster out of dead person parts, and now their problem is that they need to suck the life force out of a living woman in order to get the Bride off the table and onto her feet.
Now Barnabas and Julia are standing around in their basement laboratory, discussing who they’re going to use for the life force. “I’ve thought about it endlessly,” Barnabas says. “I’ve considered every woman we know.”
Julia says, “Must it be someone we know?” and you can tell that she’s thinking, dude, we only know, like, five women. It’s not that big of a cast.
“I’m afraid it must be,” Barnabas says, “for our own safety.” And then they do the most delightful thing.
A suspenseful music cue starts up — it’s cue 200, if you’re interested, “Barnabas Music – String Start to Woodwinds” — and Julia follows Barnabas across the room.
She says, “You’ve already made your decision, haven’t you?” The violins are humming anxiously on the soundtrack.
And for once, they’ve timed the music cue exactly perfectly, because just in the split-second after he says “Yes,” there’s a kettle drum bongggg. It’s gorgeous.
Barnabas turns to face Julia, and they act like he’s announcing the winner of the Miss America pageant.
“I have decided,” he says, “that the body who gives the life force will be…” — hold for a drum roll — “Maggie Evans.”
He actually does say “body,” by the way, rather than “woman,” which has got to be one of the all-time great Fridian slips.
Julia’s not crazy about the idea, because Julia’s not crazy, so they squabble for a while about why he chose Maggie (they can control her), how they’ll get her to agree (Julia can hypnotize her), and what will happen if she dies (he’s pretty sure she won’t).
He insists that they have to do something or Adam will kill Vicki, and they kind of toss the ball back and forth for a while, and then they build up to an amazing little moment of petulance.
Barnabas: Well, I’m glad you appreciate my position, even though you don’t agree with my decision.
Julia: I certainly do not.
Barnabas: Well, if you have any suggestions, I will be glad to listen to them.
Julia: Oh, Barnabas, I can’t think of someone just like that.
Barnabas: Well, until you do, it will be Maggie Evans, so you might as well adjust yourself to that.
So while we’re all adjusting ourselves, I’ve got a question: Why does this story point not work for me?
According to all of my usual criteria, this decision seems like a good move. It’s surprising, which is always priority #1. It works for the characters, as a callback to Barnabas and Julia’s first storyline — when Barnabas kidnapped and terrorized Maggie, and then Julia hypnotized her to forget about it.
It also activates two more characters in the storyline — Maggie, and also Willie, who has a crush on her, and doesn’t want to see her harmed. I should be really happy wth this idea.
But it just feels weird and wrong, and I’m trying to figure out why.
It’s not that Barnabas is being capricious and cruel, sacrificing Maggie’s life to save Vicki’s, just because he likes Vicki more. I mean, he is doing that, and it’s not a good thing for a person to do, but that’s not a problem for me. He’s a monster, and a villain, and the storyline is always more interesting when he acts like one.
I think part of the problem is that I just don’t believe that Vicki is in danger. Adam threatened Barnabas with her death weeks ago, and he keeps re-threatening every few days, but Vicki’s not actually a meaningful part of this storyline. Adam is hiding out in the same house that Vicki lives in, but they never cross paths. She’s just sitting there on the sidelines, the putative victim.
There’s also a problem that came up during the Dream Curse storyline — the threat was so diffuse, and it dragged on for so long, that characters ended up walking in and out of the story. Mrs. Johnson would be involved for a few days, and then the curse passed on to the next character, and we wouldn’t see Mrs. Johnson again.
This Frankenstein story has the same kind of problem. For a while, this story was about Professor Stokes, and then Carolyn, and then Vicki and Jeff. For the last few days, it seemed like they were building up Jeff and Angelique as key characters in the storyline. But Jeff has basically been fired from the story, with no plausible way to get back in, and now we’re supposed to shift our attention to Maggie.
Maybe the real problem is: If we’re supposed to get all worked up about a threat to these two characters, then maybe they shouldn’t be sitting around on the terrace drinking coffee.
I mean, this is Dark Shadows, a ridiculous shock factory that runs on surprise and spectacle. They can get away with inventing new lunatic plot contrivances, but they have to happen fast, so the audience doesn’t have time to think about it too hard.
But the Bride of Frankenstein thing is just dragging, and it’s kind of driving me crazy. What are they waiting for? Bring on the Bride!
Tomorrow: The Fugitives.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
They completely botch the music cue at the end of the teaser. Willie has a scalpel and he’s ready to hack the Bride’s body to pieces. Barnabas appears behind him, and shouts, “Willie!” and then there’s a huge dramatic sting. Except Barnabas has one more line to deliver: “If you touch that body — I will kill you!” They’ve already used up the dramatic sting, so there’s nothing to do but quietly fade to black.
Barnabas tells Willie, “You must accept what’s going to happen. There’s no point in trying to pretend that something cannot happen.”
Near the beginning of Vicki and Maggie’s scene, something strikes Maggie as funny, and she starts smiling for no apparent reason. It happens in the middle of the line, “Well, I think most men have trouble doing that.” She suddenly smirks, and then she’s obviously suppressing a laugh for the next thirty seconds, all the way through Barnabas entering and sitting down at the table.
Behind the Scenes:
On the day that this episode aired — September 18, 1968 — Variety ran an article about Dark Shadows titled, “Monsters Making Good, So Dan Curtis Will Add Werewolf to Shadows“. I haven’t been able to track down a copy of that article, but it sounds amazing. Does anybody out there have it?
Tomorrow: The Fugitives.
— Danny Horn