“I don’t care if this danger that you’re so afraid of really exists, or if it’s just in your mind.”
Here, if you’ll pardon the expression, is the current storyline:
At the end of yesterday’s episode, Barnabas snuck into Maggie Evans’ bedroom, with the intention of luring her to the basement of the Old House, where she would be hypnotized and have her life force sucked out of her body in a Bride of Frankenstein experiment.
Today, Barnabas returns to Julia’s mad-science laboratory, and he’s got startling news. “Well, I got into the house,” he says, “went to her bedroom. The bed had obviously been occupied, but she wasn’t there.”
And then, with a shocked expression, he says, “Julia — she’s been kidnapped!”
And the banoodles thing is: She actually has. Literally seconds before Barnabas arrived to kidnap Maggie, Willie broke into her room, chloroformed her, and carried her away.
That’s how bad things have gotten in Collinsport these days — if you want to kidnap a girl, you have to take a number and wait your turn. There’s actually a line of monsters and malefactors just outside Maggie’s bedroom, tapping their tentacles and muttering, Come onnnnn! What’s the hold-up?
So the only thing Barnabas and Julia can do is stand around in what I think at this point we have to refer to as their lair, reviewing the game tapes and trying to figure out how to improve their completion percentage.
Now, today’s episode is notable for being even more of a struggle than usual to make it to air. As I’ve mentioned before, editing videotape in the late 1960s was difficult and expensive, and daily soap operas didn’t have the time or the budget to waste on cutting tape with X-Acto knives just because the set wobbled or the camera drifted into the shot or one of the actors caught on fire.
They performed the episodes “live-to-tape”, as just one long half-hour take, including pauses for the commercial breaks. And if somebody made a mistake, then they kept rolling, and maybe it’ll be better next time.
This wasn’t unique to Dark Shadows; it’s how all of daytime television worked in the 60s. The other soap operas adjusted to this difficulty by performing slow-paced, repetitive scenes always filmed from the same angle, like a stage set. People on the other daytime shows mostly just sat around and talked to each other. But Dark Shadows was assembled by lunatics, who wanted costume changes and dream sequences and magic mirrors and fistfights with a Frankenstein monster.
So Dark Shadows was always operating pretty close to the edge. They were usually taping about a week ahead of airtime, but there were some weeks when they were actually taping just one day ahead.
Today, the situation is even more fraught than usual. Halfway through the episode, they’re going to do a flashback sequence, 1968-style — which is to say that they’re going to put on their old costumes, and record a scene from last year all over again. They can’t just splice in the tape from the old episode, because the show was filmed in black-and-white then, and besides, it’s more fun this way.
Unfortunately, things go awry, as they so often do. They tried to pre-tape the flashback scene in the morning, but there was crosstalk in the soundtrack, and they had to do it again. This dragged on, and they ran out of time, so they just went ahead and taped the dress rehearsal, and that’s what we’re looking at.
This gives us a rare glimpse of what the show would be like if they were even less prepared than usual. And for act 1, at least, it lives up to all expectations.
I’m going to put the whole list in the bloopers section at the end of the post, but act 1 involves the following: boom mic and studio lights in frame at the same time, battling music cues, and the line, “Well, because if you were to conduct the experiment, who — how can I — uh, fit into that? You would be giving the life force.”
Things settle down by act 2, and we can get on with the normal business of terrorizing Maggie.
Willie is desperate to hide Maggie from Barnabas and Julia, so he’s brought her to the secret room in the old Collins mausoleum, where Barnabas was originally laid to rest in a chained coffin, back in his vampire days.
This is not a smart move for several reasons. For one thing, it’s a secret room in a mausoleum. Willie spends the entire episode trying to get Maggie to trust him and not freak out about her abduction, but the setting does not inspire confidence.
Reason number two: This is the site of one of Maggie’s most traumatic experiences, back when Barnabas was brainwashing her and trying to turn her into his dead ex-girlfriend. He actually locked her up in the coffin in order to punish her for resisting him, and that coffin is still in the room. This is literally a room where she was tortured.
And reason number three: Barnabas and Julia know where this room is, and they know that Willie knows about it. This plan isn’t quite as dumb as hiding behind a tree in the front yard, but it’s a close second.
In fact, Barnabas was just saying a minute ago that Willie probably drove Maggie somewhere, and they must be miles away by now. That would have been a way better idea. Willie is actually worse at making plans than Barnabas is, which I didn’t think was possible.
This also isn’t a great move for the writers, because it’s yet another dull lock-up-the-girl story, which they’ve done a lot of times and it never turns out to be interesting. I can usually blame these locked room stories on Ron Sproat — see the blog’s Sproatnapped tag for the many, many examples — but this time Maggie’s stuck in the mausoleum for a week, and it’s all Gordon Russell and Sam Hall episodes.
Locking people up against their will — in jail cells, closets, basements, bedrooms, coffins and mental institutions — always turns out to be boring. I get why a soap writer would reach for that plot point; it gives you several episodes worth of story, and the dialogue is basically just variations on “Let me out!” But at the end of the day, you’re going to have to let them out eventually, and then what?
The one bright spot in this particular confinement story is that Maggie’s starting to remember what Barnabas did to her, picking up a loose thread that’s been dangling for more than a year.
The show’s audience grew much larger over the last year, so there are a lot of people watching the show right now that never got a chance to see Barnabas’ early days, and this flashback was probably super exciting for them. That’s lost to us now, because we’ve got DVDs and streaming video, and we can go back and watch those episodes any time we want, but in 1968, this was a one-time-only treat.
Plus, we get to see Julia in her frumpy old wig again, which reminds us to be grateful that she doesn’t wear it anymore.
So what the hell, everybody’s excused today. It’s a big mess for everyone concerned, but that’s the thing about a daily serial: there’s always tomorrow.
Tomorrow: The War on Halloween.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Okay, here we go.
In the teaser, when Barnabas says, “Where else could she be?” the boom mic drops into the shot.
In act 1, when Barnabas says, “It might be too late to do anything now,” there’s a scraping sound from the studio.
Barnabas says, “Julia, it’s already dawn! It’s all — we’d never be able to cover this entire area by tonight.”
When Barnabas says, “What if he didn’t take her by force?” there’s a stray music cue — a huge dramatic sting that they use for big cliffhanger moments.
Barnabas says, “But even so, they’re far enough away by now that we’ll never get them to by tonight.”
As Julia walks around the table, we see the boom mic at the top of the frame, the edge of the set on the left, and the studio lights.
Then Barnabas says the line I quoted above: “Well, because if you were to conduct the experiment, who — how can I — uh, fit into that? You would be giving the life force.”
Julia says, “We both know that this time, Adam will go through his thr — with his threat, won’t we?” At the same time, there’s a weird tapping on the soundtrack.
When they transition from the Old House basement to Willie and Maggie in the mausoleum, there’s another stray music cue — one of the sweet woodwind pieces that’s usually meant for a happy morning scene. This overlaps with the correct music cue as the mausoleum scene begins, and the woodwinds fade out.
To introduce the flashback, Maggie looks off into the distance and tells Willie what she remembers. But there’s also pre-recorded narration over the flashback, and Maggie overlaps herself. There’s also a weird echo for the first sentence of the flashback narration.
At the end of the episode, when Barnabas grabs his gun, he says, “We must think only now of Vicki.”
Behind the Scenes:
Maggie’s flashback is based on a sequence from episode 283, which aired in July 1967.
Tomorrow: The War on Halloween.
— Danny Horn