Episode 587: In Which I Just Can’t Even With This

“I would have thought your thoughts? I find that hard to believe; I can’t even understand you now.”

Barnabas Collins paces around the room, and tries to explain.

“I’ve considered the question of who is to be the life force very carefully,” he says, “and I’ve finally decided on Maggie Evans.”

He pauses for a reaction, but the six-foot-six reanimated Frankenstein who Barnabas is addressing doesn’t even bother to look up. He just sits there, and continues to play solitaire.

Now, I know that new people discover this blog all the time, and every post is probably the first time for someone out there, so near the beginning of every entry, I try to provide some kind of brief previously-on-Dark-Shadows recap so that newcomers have a fighting chance of understanding what the hell is going on.

But, dear newbie, there are days when the kindest service I can render is to direct your attention to the boxes in the sidebar to your immediate right, and suggest that you help yourself to any of the previous three hundred and eighty-one posts instead, because today is the day when I honestly just can’t even with this.

587 dark shadows barnabas adam solitaire

I mean, how do you even begin to explain why a Frankenstein monster is playing a heated game of passive-aggressive solitaire while a vampire describes his victim selection process? I would like to — I swear to you that I would — but I can’t. I just literally cannot even deal with this right now.

So I’m going to allow Barnabas to take it from the top, and if it doesn’t make any sense to you, then — seriously — sidebar. Feel free.

Barnabas:  I’ve considered the question of who is to be the life force very carefully, and I’ve finally decided on Maggie Evans. For one reason, she lives alone, and no one would miss her if she were gone for several days. But most importantly, she can be controlled.

And the super crazy thing is that right now that is actually the reasonable person’s point of view.

587 dark shadows adam barnabas willing

Because on this show, there are two types of people — people who can be controlled, and people who can’t — and Maggie is in the “can be” demographic.

As Barnabas patiently explains, “Dr. Hoffman has hypnotized her before. She can do it again, and Maggie will have no memory. Now, to me that seems vital.”

And I hate to say it, but he’s not wrong. That’s where this Frankenstein storyline has been heading for months — to the point where it’s drifted so far from normal human concerns that the only way to make story progress is to kidnap characters and drag them into it.

278 dark sahdows julia hypnotize

Now, I can still remember a year ago, back when hypnotizing people was cool. There were only two characters who could do it, and they needed special equipment and preparation. Barnabas spent weeks trying to brainwash Maggie into thinking that she was his dead ex-girlfriend Josette, and then Julia used her special hypno-medallion to erase Maggie’s memory of the abduction. That’s why Barnabas says that Maggie can be controlled. They have a history.

But at the time, this was a special circumstance, and it was clearly marked as A Thing You Shouldn’t Do. Julia stole three months of Maggie’s life, which was frightening and horrible. Plus, they couldn’t be sure whether it would even work long-term, so they had a series of moments where Maggie’s memory was just about to come back, and Julia would have to break out the medallion again and fine-tune.

This ability made Julia special and important in the narrative; it was one of her many smart-person talents that could change the story direction whenever she felt like it. The fact that her spell was achieved with “science” rather than “magic” made it feel even more magical.

If that gets reduced to “Maggie can be controlled,” then this becomes something that’s weak about Maggie, rather than something that’s cool about Julia, which is disappointing.

587 dark shadows willie maggie special

Meanwhile, we’ve got Maggie locked up in the secret room of the Colins mausoleum. Willie knows that Barnabas is planning to use Maggie as the life force in his mad science experiment, and he’s determined to protect her this time.

This is bringing up all kinds of memories from Maggie’s previous abduction, which is an exciting and potentially story-breaking problem.

Over the last year and a half, Barnabas and Julia have become the key figures in every storyline. If they care about a story thread, then that story thread is important; if they don’t care about it, then it can be safely ignored. At the moment, they care about Adam threatening to kill Vicki, and the mysterious vampire who bit Tom, so that’s what we’re talking about this week. They don’t care about Harry’s kleptomania, or Elizabeth’s nervous breakdown, or Joe losing his job, so those stories are pushed off-screen until Barnabas and Julia decide to take notice of them, if ever.

The audience knows that if Maggie gets her memory back, and is allowed to return to the world outside this spooky mausoleum dungeon, then Barnabas and Julia will be exposed and driven out of the story, which would make the whole show collapse. So this has the potential to be a big suspenseful story point.

587 dark shadows willie maggie chloroform

Oh, but wait. What am I saying? Maggie can be controlled. I keep forgetting about that.

And it’s not even like you need a medallion and dastardly psychiatric hypno-medical training. Willie is accomplishing the same goal by using a handkerchief and a bottle of chloroform, which I’m not even sure it works like that. Apparently, everybody on the show comes equipped with the Vulcan nerve pinch these days.

587 dark shadows nicholas willie hypnotize

Unfortunately, the hypnosis/mindwipe trick is so powerful that they’re using it all the time now, as a standard way for characters to interact with each other.

Here’s a quick list of the mind-controlled characters that we’ve seen over the last five months, since Vicki came back from the 1795 time travel story:

#1. Barnabas bit Vicki, and got her to agree to run away with him and get married.

#2. Angelique posed as Cassandra, and hypnotized Roger into marrying her — first through her portrait, and then by drugging his sherry.

#3. The entire Dream Curse story depended on practically every character on the show telling each other about their dreams, against their will.

#4. Julia hypnotized Jeff to make him forget that Dr. Lang tried to cut off his head.

#5. Cassandra hypnotized Tony so that he would steal things from Dr. Lang.

#6. Cassandra cast a spell on Elizabeth, first making her believe that she was Naomi Collins, and then making her obsess about being buried alive.

#7. Professor Stokes hypnotized Carolyn, so that he could insert himself into her Dream Curse experience.

#8. Nicholas hypnotized Vicki to get her to show him the tree where Reverend Trask performed her exorcism.

#9. Nicholas hypnotized Vicki into forgetting that Adam kidnapped her.

#10. As a vampire, Angelique has bitten Joe and Jeff, and has hypnotic control over both of them.

#11. Sexy vampire Tom bit Julia, and had her under control for several days.

And that’s just off the top of my head. I bet there are a couple other examples that I can’t even think of right now.

587 dark shadows willie nicholas habit

By this point, mind control is such a dominant Dark Shadows trope that we have three different examples just in today’s episode. Maggie has a dream about Barnabas’ brainwashing techniques, Nicholas hypnotizes Willie and tells him to let Maggie out of the mausoleum, and Barnabas is boasting to Adam about how easy it will be to hypnotize Maggie after the life-force donation.

And that’s not even it for the week. Tomorrow, we’ll see Nicholas hypnotizing Carolyn to make her volunteer to be the life force. We’re getting to the point where practically everyone on the show has been, is currently being, or will soon be under each other’s control, with some people taking a second or third lap around the track.

It’s become a crutch for the writers — when they can’t figure out how to get out of a story thread, they hypnotize the characters into forgetting that it ever happened. At this point, I bet they’re wondering if that could work on audience members, too.

Tomorrow: Maggie Evidence.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Near the beginning of act 1, after Barnabas tells Adam, “I’m afraid you’ve over-estimated your influence,” he walks around the armchair that Adam’s sitting in. You can follow the boom mic shadow on the wall as the guy holding the mic tries desperately to keep up. He doesn’t quite make it; there’s a moment when the mic slips into the top of the frame.

When Nicholas asks Willie to approach him, Willie says, “I can’t do that, Mr. Blair, I gotta run an errand for Barnabas and Collinwood, quick, you know?”

In act 4, as we zoom in on Maggie sleeping in the mausoleum, you can hear a whistle, and then a snap.


Behind the Scenes:

Maggie’s flashback in this episode is sort of a composite impression of her abduction, so it’s not quite a remake, as the first flashback was in last Thursday’s episode. The closest fit is probably episode 239, which aired in May 1967.

Tomorrow: Maggie Evidence.

587 dark shadows willie maggie brainwashing

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

25 thoughts on “Episode 587: In Which I Just Can’t Even With This

  1. I think you summed up well why the “mind control” trope bugs me. It’s dramatically unsatisfying. In 1967, Julia was taking advantage of her proximity to Maggie and her skill as a doctor to hypnotize her and manipulate her memory. It was mind rape and evidence that Julia was a “bad guy.” Once Julia is able to hypnotize Vicki in the middle of a conversation by having her look at a crystal it just becomes a random “magic” power of Julia’s — though still something unique to Julia, as you say.

    “Mind Control” is a terrible crutch dramatically because it removes agency. One of the biggest power moves in soaps is good-old fashioned blackmail. But we rarely see that now that we can just hypnotize people… and conveniently reset their memories. And where there’s blackmail, there’s also lust: Roger can be infatuated with the younger Cassandra and manipulated to her ends. Tony can be in love with Cassandra and manipulated into helping her. Willie has every reason to resent Barnabas Collins — something alluded to when he first returned — and coupled with his criminal background, it wouldn’t be a stretch for him to provide Nicholas with inside information for money. That’s all far more interesting to watch.

    Nicholas mind-controlling Carolyn to provide the life force prevents her from choosing. Choices in fiction are good things. In the past year, she’ s been the love slave of a vampire and the enabler of a Frankenstein monster… and she doesn’t remember the first event and she doesn’t comprehend the true nature of the second. And if Willie chooses to betray Julia and Barnabas but later recants once he realizes how awful Nicholas is, that’s a character arc.

  2. I remember watching this block of episodes and thinking, “OMG they finally did it! They gave Maggie her memories back! This show will never be the same!” It was such a cool story bomb to detonate – and then they suffocated the shock waves, muffled the noise and swept under the trees. Nothing to see here, folks.

    1. The scene when Maggie races to Joe’s room and finds him in the embrace of another vampire is one of my favorites. It’s a shame that it led to the story bomb dud. This was part of a series of “diabolos ex machinas” in which Nicholas removed all narrative consequences: Carolyn dies during the experiment. Nicholas brings her back to life. Maggie remembers what Barnabas and Julia did to her. Nicholas permanently erases her memory.

      1. Yeah, one theme that I know is coming up is “Nicholas Blair: What Went Wrong?”

        I loved him so intensely in those first few weeks, when he was clearly the most interesting character on the show. But by now, I’m a little tired of him, and I know that he didn’t work out long-term. There’s got to be reasons.

        1. Nicholas Blair was my least favorite villain when I watched this storyline “live” (two episodes a day on Sci-Fi, which while dull was still twice the pace it originally was!), but I warmed up to him when I got the DVDs and could sit down on a cold day and watch 20 or so episodes in a sitting — not in their entirety, of course, as that would lead to madness but I was able to fast forward through dull parts (most of them) and linger over the fun bits (there are some, I swear to you).

          Astredo makes the most of a character who is completely superfluous. He’s a horrible antagonist who wants nothing tangible. He also stands apart from the other DS villains who have motives rooted in human feeling, even if twisted: Obsessive love and revenge are feelings with which we can identify. I can’t identify with wanting to take over the world with a race of Frankenstein monster or… whatever the Leviathans are. And in each case, Nicholas Blair has no personal investment. He is a middle manager from hell… literally.

          Blair is brought in as the “relief villain” twice: Angelique as Cassandra with the Dream Curse is running out of steam and Jeb and the Leviathans never had any steam. His corruption of Adam is somewhat appealing thematically but we never feel the loss to his paternal figures of Barnabas and Julia or even Carolyn and Stokes. He functions as a Cyrano de Evil with Adam — telling him what to do to get what he wants from Barnabas. But Nicholas has no personal stake in Adam’s love life. It falls flat.

          I’ve often thought he was too powerful,but I think the problem is that he’s too powerful for his specific goals. If he has a mirror that shows him what people are doing and he can control minds and bring the dead back to life and create vampires… did I miss anything? Anyway, if he can do all that, then I don’t buy that he can’t snap his fingers and mind control Barnabas and Julia into conducting the experiment without his ridiculously contrived plot.

          Angelique in 1795, Petofi in 1897, Angelique in 1970 PT, and Gerard/Judah in 1840 all seem appropriately powerful for their goals. They pose a threat but not an insurmountable one to the protagonists. And they all manipulate people to their ends in effective ways. Blair only really manipulates Adam and to a degree Carolyn ,and both are written as dolts.

          The only part of Nicholas’s 1968 storyline I enjoy is his destruction of Joe Haskell so he can seduce Maggie. It’s fiendish and it’s not far removed from what we’ve seen on other, more normal daytime soaps. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a character for the Blair who mocked Angelique for her “human” emotions (Maggie is attractive but I don’t buy that she’s so stunning, she’d make the devil himself say “Oh, right! That’s why people fall in love!”)

  3. At this point, I would say that Dan Curtis has figured out that, not only can the audience be hypnotized, it already has been, for quite some time. The whole “mind control” thing on Dark Shadows is not just a crutch, it’s a fabulous gold plated crutch that allows Mr Curtis to do his show the way he wants it done. Such were the times, such was Dan Curtis.

    1. That’s a good point. Doctor Who has a couple of very useful story acceleration tools — the sonic screwdriver and psychic paper. When they’re used properly, they let the characters speed through sequences like typing on computer banks or getting suspicious people to trust the Doctor, which would be repetitive and tedious if we had to go the long way every time.

      I guess the point where it becomes a crutch rather than a helpful tool is when it shuts down interesting story development, rather than just skipping over something tedious.

      1. You are right, it’s a question of balance. The return of Maggie’s memory was a real “shit your pants” moment of panic for Willie, and the audience. Every time I see it, it’s pretty damn exciting, but then it’s over, before it becomes consequential. Was it the right choice? I don’t know, but I’m OK with it.

        By 1968, Dark Shadows was not unlike an out of control locomotive, run by a mad man, in a time of mad men. Or maybe it was like a hastily constructed rocket to the moon, or, as the B52’s would say, a party gone out of bounds.
        Whatever it was, it was a wild ride and they didn’t have the luxury of a prime time show that can take the summer off, to plan things carefully.
        I think Dan Curtis liked to decide things very quickly. I can imagine Sam Hall saying “Dan, are you SURE about this?” and I can imagine Dan saying “Just do it!” and “Scream louder, Nancy! Louder!” Dan was in charge, so his priorities won out in the end.

        I have no doubt that many interesting possibilities were passed up. Instead of 1841 parallel time, at the end, I would have liked to have seen a trip to the roaring 20’s and an imported mummy.

        Alexandra Moltke wanted to come back, but she wanted to play a villain and they didn’t like that idea, but I would have brought Vicky back as herself, and as an evil doppelganger, at the same time. The only way you could tell them apart was that Real Vicky called herself “Vicky” and Evil Vicky would have referred to herself as “Victoria”. She could cause all sorts of damage and confusion, before the moment when Julia finally said to Barnabas “I wonder why she calls herself Victoria, now?” Barnabas would have said “She does it because she knows how much I like it” and Julia would have said “I’m not so sure…”, before going to commercial. Evil Victoria could have stolen Real Vicky’s boyfriend, and there could have been a big climactic wedding where the horrible truth about the THING in the white dress was finally revealed, in front of everybody.

        There could have been a story where David discovers some weird Indian artifact or graveyard, out in the woods, that leads to Native American mythology and spooks that we’ve never heard of.

        Various things bothered me, when the show was new to me, but the more I get to know it, the less they seem to matter. At one time, I thought the show was slow. Now, I feel that if they didn’t apply the brakes, and pad the plot at times, it would have all been over very quickly. I gladly accept its faults, for the thrill of its virtues.

        1. I almost forgot to mention the plot line where David is up in the attic and he comes across a fantastic old gold plated crutch with a curse on it, that was once used by Ebenezer Collins…

        2. Richard, you might be the type to enjoy my DS continuation, THE COLLINSPORT CHRONICLES, which hangs in the fanfic site, under the name Maryland Rose. At one point Barnabas goes back to Parallel Time, and finds out tha it is a place very much like Nazi Germany, and ends up doing a replay of Casablanca with himself as Rick, Quentin as Laszlo and Roxanne as Ilse…

          1. Thank you, I appreciate the thought. I took a look, it looks imaginative, but I’m a terrible reader. My own fan fiction above was just off the top of my head, and not at all serious. I have a very, very hard time concentrating on anything longer than a short Lovecraft story, unfortunately. I hope I’m able to give it a closer look, someday. Thanks again.

        3. There’s an interview with Sam Hall on one of the DVDs where he says he suggested to Dan Curtis that they kill off Julia – mostly because he wanted to move the show forward in new directions, fearing it was stagnating. Curtis said no, and the show ended soon after. So I think this lends credence to your point that there were probably many suggestions from the writers when it came to the main timeline that Curtis turned down which may have resulted in different and possibly more interesting storylines (for the present, I have no issues with the past-set stories).

          1. I think Dan rejected that idea because it was a terrible idea. Julia is the heart of the series. There are a lot of things that contributed to the end of Dark Shadows, but keeping Julia alive isn’t on the list.

            1. I actually see Julia as the main character, even more than Barnabas. Her husband was writing, and she was the right age to appeal to housewives. And she was smart and pretty tough. I’ve seen soap operas depend on people not being able to put two and two together, but Julia’s accurate extrapolations can be mind blowing at times.
              You called her a rock star and I couldn’t agree more, she is.

              Dark Shadows fizzled because it was time. It burned brightly, and burnt itself out. Dan didn’t want to do Turn Of The Screw one more time, he couldn’t really, and he had used up all the classic stories he could think of. It was time to go. Lots of shows ended in 1970 & ’71. Lots of 60’s ideas had run their course, time to make way for the 70’s. It’s so odd that it ever happened in the first place, we’re so lucky to have it.

        4. Belated reply – about once a month I get together with friends and we watch old ‘B’ SF and horror movies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched one of those movies and thought, “Gosh, that plot would transfer well to Dark Shadows!” Of course, Dan Curtis and Sam Hall were working in an era before DVDS and downloads, so they didn’t have this bottomless well of bad movies to draw upon.

  4. ‘Hey BARNABAS and ADAM – Maggie lives by herself because you two jerks were responsible for KILLING her FATHER!! Leave her ALONE!!’

  5. In the plot where Nicholas ‘brainwashes?’ Maggie and Joe into forgetting their experiences I found it very odd that they didn’t actually show this scene on the air, the viewer was just left to assume that this happened. Am I remembering this correct.. Maggie goes to Joe’s rooming house and she and Joe are preparing to leave Collinsport when there comes a knock at the door. Nicholas stands there like the cat that ate the canary and Maggie looks at him with profound despair and.. cut to commercial. I wonder why they didn’t play this scene out in real time?

    1. I don’t think Nicholas appears at all.

      Maggie escapes from the mausoleum and heads to Joe’s apartment. Unfortunately, she arrives just as Angelique is having a Joe Sandwich with extra blood. Maggie passes out and Angelique vanishes.

      When Maggie wakes up, she begs Joe to run away from Collinsport with her. That’s when we hear a knock at the door. Joe then regretfully says he has to answer the door although Maggie begs him not to do so.

      We don’t see what happens so we don’t know if Maggie even survives. But then we see Barnabas and Willie fretting at the Old House and Joe arrives to deliver a message that Maggie wants to see them. They go over to her place and she just wants to return some old sketches of Barnabas and she has no memory of her captivity or of Barnabas as a vampire.

  6. Thanks Stephen and Pedro for the clarification – I don’t know why I remembered Nicholas as having been in that scene – it seems almost like a subliminal message was inserted into the broadcast so that the audience automatically assumed it was Nicholas.

  7. You have to be careful on any kind of sci fi or fantasy show not to make the villain too powerful. He or she can’t know everything and they have to have some exploitable weakness. That way the hero can out clever, out brave, or out fight the villain. If the set up means that the villain should be unbeatable your only way out is some Deus ex machina which are almost always cop outs and about 80% of the time boring and anticlimactic.

    Take for instance “Nightmare in Silver” where if you kill one cyberman they all just simply take a moment & adapt so that way won’t work anymore. The only way is to have an emperor and his ship appear and blow up the whole planet. They try to dress it up, but it’s just an “oh well, we’ve written ourselves into a corner let’s just blow the whole thing up.” There are nice character building moments with the Doctor fighting against himself, with the kids, and with the emperor, but honestly the only one that even slightly affects the outcome is the emperor deciding to acknowledge who he is and as the alternative is dying I don’t see that as much of a true struggle.

    Nicolas started out just clever and manipulative once he could know everything through a magic mirror, bring people back from the dead, and zap their memories permanently there is NO way that anyone can fight against that. Why doesn’t he just zap what he wants and be done with that? If there is no way to beat him there is no story. If he could do what he wants and doesn’t without a truly compelling reason not to, he’s not interesting anymore, he’s emasculated.

    1. Exactly. This is why his defeat is another “diabolos ex machina.” The Devil imposes an arbitrary deadline and kills him. The heroes do nothing to bring this about — it’s Angelique who betrays him, and it’s Adam who kills Eve.

  8. The whole “hypnotize him/her” to forget what happened was my biggest problem with DS. When done too often (too often = twice) it effectively removes ALL future consequences. I remember reading comic books as a little boy, and once I read one where Superman just broke past the time barrier and did things differently with a convenient do-over.

    To me, it meant that there would never be an interesting problem again. At least, there shouldn’t in theory. Oh well, it was time for me to quit reading comic books anyway. Dark Shadows was next in line.

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