“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Danny Horn