Episode 590: This Old House

“You have brought me to the edge of disaster, and I must find a way back.”

This week, we hit another minor milestone in our uncertain and frightening journey through Dark Shadows. It’s one of those trivial production changes that probably nobody notices when they’re watching the show on DVD, but which I will now spend the next few minutes trying to convince you is critical to understanding this period of the show.

The change is: each episode has four commercial breaks, instead of five. I know, I probably should have asked if you were sitting down before springing it on you like that. I hope everybody’s okay out there.

590 dark shadows barnabas julia break

It’s easy to miss this particular transition, because people who are watching Dark Shadows today are either watching it on DVD, where there aren’t any commercials, or on Hulu, where they’ll put a commercial break in the middle of a sentence if they feel like it.

The running time for an episode of Dark Shadows is somewhere between 20 and 22 minutes of show per half hour. The opening theme is 25 seconds long, and the closing credits are usually a little over a minute, so on average you’re probably getting around 19 and a half minutes of drama per every nine minutes of promotional announcements for Dream Whip topping and Diaperene Baby Powder.

The switch from four acts to three didn’t actually give them more show; it just made the other commercial breaks a bit longer. But that change does loosen up the format a little, and give them some more room to spread out.

590 dark shadows barnabas julia lab

The area where this really makes a difference is with the act-break cliffhangers. Back in the early days of Dark Shadows, they didn’t bother to make every scene end with a dramatic sting. The show was slower, and scenes would kind of trail off, with someone looking wistful or puzzled. They’d save up any plot points they might have for the end of Friday’s episode — and if they couldn’t think of anything this Friday, then there was always next Friday.

But now, thanks to Barnabas, the show has mutated into a 24/7 shock factory. Now they treat every day like Friday, with a special bespoke cliffhanger every half hour. In fact, if they’re really cooking, they’ll actually hit you with a tension sting before each commercial break. Dark Shadows viewers expect danger around every turn, so if the DS team wants to keep us in our seats through a word from Windex with Ammonia-D, they’re going to give us a reason to stick around.

I don’t usually pay attention to the act breaks on the blog, but since they’re changing the format this week, it’s a good opportunity to check in on how they’re doing in this area.

590 dark shadows barnabas must

Today’s pre-credits teaser ends with a fairly standard Dark Shadows violin trill. Julia’s getting everything set up in the laboratory she’s thrown together in the Old House basement, in preparation for the upcoming Bride of Frankenstein experiment, but Barnabas comes downstairs with some stop-press news: Maggie Evans has regained her memory, and she now remembers the months when Barnabas kidnapped her and tried to turn her into his dead ex-girlfriend.

He demands that Julia take care of the situation right away, by hypnotizing Maggie and erasing her memory all over again. Julia objects, saying that she has to get this mad science experiment off the ground, but Barnabas insists that Maggie is the top priority.

To finish the scene, Barnabas turns to Julia and says, “If you will not silence Maggie Evans… I must.”

590 dark shadows julia break

And then there’s a shot of Julia, which is always helpful for these pre-commercial moments. One of Grayson Hall’s notable talents is her ability to quickly cycle through three completely different facial expressions during any given shot, which is usually enough to keep the viewers tuned in all the way through the Listerine commercial.

590 dark shadows barnabas willie downstairs

As we come back from the first break, Willie comes downstairs to join Barnabas and Julia. That’s the entire episode today, just people in the Old House walking upstairs and downstairs.

I could actually point out that this episode follows the Aristotelian unities of action, time and place, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t what Aristotle had in mind at the time.

590 dark shadows barnabas willie disaster

Anyway, Willie’s also worried about Maggie’s memory coming back, and over the first act, he and Barnabas browbeat Julia into going and hypnotizing Maggie again.

590 dark shadows julia adam upstairs

So Julia goes upstairs, and Willie stays downstairs, and Julia calls downstairs to tell Willie to come upstairs, and like I said, that’s pretty much what we’re doing today.

590 dark shadows julia adam mate

But then Adam walks in, and he’s upset that Julia isn’t downstairs bringing his new girlfriend to life, and that’s how you close act 1. It’s a nice turning point in the episode, which neatly puts the kibosh on where we thought this was going.

590 dark shadows julia pre-commercial

Naturally, it also gives us the opportunity for another one of Julia’s pre-commercial facial expressions. She has hundreds of these. That’s actually why they made the last few months of the show, when they went to 1841 Parallel Time. They were going to stop early, but Grayson Hall still had a bunch of facial expressions that she hadn’t used yet.

590 dark shadows barnabas adam meeting

In act 2, everybody comes upstairs, and they have kind of an all-staff meeting in the drawing room. The main topic of discussion is that Adam wants everyone to go downstairs to the laboratory, and they don’t want to.

590 dark shadows willie adam upstairs

Then Willie decides to go upstairs, which is getting things completely backwards, as far as Adam is concerned. They have a whole argument about whether Willie should be allowed to go upstairs or not.

590 dark shadows adam julia barnabas stairs

Adam finally lets Willie go, and then he crosses his arms and mutters sarcastically. He’s a Frankenstein monster, by the way.

590 dark shadows willie gun

Once he’s up there, Willie grabs a gun and decides to play American Sniper. So I guess Adam was right about the stairs after all; they’re terribly dangerous.

590 dark shadows adam gun

So Adam goes upstairs and basically just slaps the gun out of Willie’s hands and takes it, which is a baller move if I ever saw one. It’s kind of like Die Hard, but without elevators or explosions or breaking glass.

590 dark shadows julia money

And we end act 2 with another Julia reaction shot, because Julia is the money.

590 dark shadows adam julia downstairs

By the time we come back from commercial for the final act, everybody that was upstairs has come back downstairs, and now Adam wants everyone to go down to the basement laboratory and get to work on the experiment.

590 dark shadows barnabas willie keep it down

The third act is actually extra long today — acts 1 and 2 were about four minutes each, and then act 3 is eight minutes long. I wish that I could say that they use all of this time wisely, but honestly it’s just more arguments about who’s going to the laboratory, and who’s going to the mausoleum, and so on. I mean, I’d rather be watching this than another word from Ken-L Ration Burger for Dogs, but it’s a close thing.

590 dark shadows adam barnabas julia laboratory

So the episode ends with Julia making adjustments to the equipment, which is basically what she’s been doing for the last three weeks, and there’s no end in sight.

At one point, she frowns and says, “There’s something wrong with this gauge,” and then everybody stares at her for thirty seconds while she fiddles with some knobs. She lets out a breath, and says, “It’s all right now,” and everyone relaxes.

590 dark shadows adam barnabas julia check

Julia says, “I think we’re ready to begin,” which should be good news, except she immediately follows it with, “I’ll just check everything once more,” and then it’s just another two minutes and thirty seconds until the episode finally drags itself to a merciful close.

Monday: The Sound of Science.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Willie tells Julia, “Well, it started with the music box, and her thinking that she was Josette. And her remembering about Barnabas, and — and how she frightened him, how she couldn’t do anything about it.”

Barnabas tells Julia, “I’ll make the decision. I cannot help you effectively, as long as I know that she might be get free.”

Soon after, he says, “Julia, I can’t thank you — or, appreciate enough, what you’re doing.”

Julia tells Adam, “I won’t be gone long.” Adam growls, “Any time is long — too long.”

When Willie emerges on the landing with the gun, he has to look at the camera a couple of times to check for his cue. Also, a boom mic drops into the shot above his head.

Barnabas orders Willie to go keep an eye on things at the mausoleum. Willie whimpers, “Well, what am I gonna say to Maggie?” Barnabas answers, “Well, say anything you want, but — keep it down.”

Monday: The Sound of Science.

590 dark shadows barnabas stairs

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

19 thoughts on “Episode 590: This Old House

    1. This is an important point to make, Pedro. As we’ve been discussing in the blog comments, Barnabas is still capable of twisted actions, as he was in 1967. The only difference is that he’s a mildly different boss. He is emotionally abusive to Willie rather than physically (we can imagine how a similar scene would have played out between them in 1967). And he doesn’t physically threaten Julia into doing his bidding but manipulates her emotionally. This Barnabas, though, is one you can imagine Julia falling for in an entirely unhealthy way.

      1. Right Stephen. Yes, there’s progress in B&J’s relationship I suppose. But his character is still pretty loathesome, esp. considering he’s no longer “under the influence” of vampirism. He’s STILL ready to snuff Maggie for his own leathery hide, even though he could deny that he’s a monster and claim Maggie is delusional. Look sheriff, no fangs! No wonder little Sarah never reappeared to him even tho she said she would if he learned his lesson about being evil.

  1. Adam shows up to be an unreasonable spoiled brat. He did this previously with Jeff Clark.

    It’s a contrast with Nicholas Blair, who actually aids the bungling trio in their Mad Science efforts. It’s not a logical contrast — why can’t Blair just control Adam and keep him away from the experiment? — but it’s a contrast nonetheless.

    1. My biggest problem with Adam and why I think he failed as a character – he’s always someone’s patsy. Dr. Lang, Barnabas, Julia, Sam, Professor Stokes, Carolyn, Nicholas Blair, Eve – each one controls Adam to some extent. Some, like Sam, Stokes and Carolyn, have good motives, but ultimately Adam is always someone’s puppet and never given the chance to develop into his own person.

      1. Exactly. If you removed Nicholas Blair and his nebulous “master race” scheme, you might have something potentially intriguing: Adam as frustrated “son” demanding a “mate” from his failed “parents.” Removing Blair also removes his magical safety net. There would be true consequences.

        Also, it would be interesting to see Adam — unaided — trying to actually function in the world with “Eve.” Of course, she would reject him. He’s an overgrown child. But the scenes with Adam complaining to Nicholas that Eve doesn’t love him just fall flat.

      2. Well I have determined Adam is a pain in the ass. I think Julia has fallen as hard as she can for Barnabas and so is just going with the flow now realizing he has major flaws she can do nothing about it. He does still pull at the heartstrings but she is pulling his too, more so now.

      3. Very true, Pedro. And he seems perpetually locked in the angsty “teen” years of his Frankenstein monster-like existence with the accompanying inability to perceive that he isn’t the center of the Universe and that there may be certain things he doesn’t yet know (such as how he is constantly being manipulated by others as well as his own intemperate emotions).

        I don’t remember becoming this frustrated with his character the first few times I watched DS. In fact, I used to love the scenes with him and Carolyn. But I agree with David Pierce, below, about how Adam has become yet another angry and petulant SHOUTER. I keep finding myself reaching for the remote to turn down the volume so my neighbours don’t assume I am being verbally abused by a houseguest.

        Anyway, I at least felt a smug sort of satisfaction when Julia repeatedly snaps at Adam about 13 and 14 mins into this episode, ultimately hissing contemptuously, “Be quiet“.

        Yes, Adam. Please just be quiet until your electrically reanimated brain develops past its current angsty monster age of 3-months. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621648/ Maybe by the time you are 5- or 6-months old, you will grasp the fact that you are not in charge of anything, here in the DS Universe.

        Julia is. In charge. Of everything. Always.

        Oh and I think the Adam actor may have fubbed his earlier lines, switching the order of the statements ” I don’t hear your rules. I don’t even believe your rules.”

    2. Probably for the same reason that he can’t control Angelique and keep her from meddling in the experiment: Both Adam and Angelique are motivated solely by the desire to love and be loved. Ironically, this same desire that Nicholas discovers within himself makes him a careless and less attentive overseer. The contradiction about Nicholas is that even though he is a supernatural warlock, he is more human at heart, as are Adam and Angelique as well.

  2. Adam simply needs to go – this would have been a good time for Dan Curtis to ‘walk the walk’ and give the audience what he’s been hyping the last several months – kill off Adam and let Barnabas be a ‘vamp’ once more – there are plenty of other interesting characters around to develop stories for without having to put up with a bratty Frankenstein wannabe.

  3. Watching this episode tonight I couldn’t help thinking how utterly selfish Barnabas is – and then Adam walked in, equally self obsessed and demanding. He really is a chip off the old block, isn’t he!

    1. It’s been a couple of months since I watched the episode and posted my comments, but I’m fair certain my “Barnabas is selfish” remark referred to his attitude towards Maggie Evans and Willie.

      Isn’t it interesting how different people can take different things from the same episode of Dark Shadows?

    2. Adam enters here and plays Mobster instead of monster, and for that moment, I was all love for Robert Rodan again. It is one of his best scenes.

      So, come here, Adam, I want to thank you properly.

      He abandons fear and foolishness for confidence and type-A personality,
      and surprising to me, makes me want more Adam.

      1. Me too. In fact, I found his no-nonsense calling out of Barnabus and Julia on their lies and evasions to be a breath of fresh air. I also enjoyed his wiggling his fingers, a la some sort of Martin Scorsese gangster. Not appropriate for the character maybe, but enjoyable for its energy.

    3. It is as if he doesn’t know any better. You would think the worst woman in the world Angelique, who has made his life a living hell, he would be nicer to others and not so pompous and self-centered.

  4. I couldn’t help thinking about siblings while watching this episode. If Barnabas & Julia are the parents in this crazy family, then Willie & Adam are brothers. Willie has always been fairly obedient, and he has a strong conscience (certainly stronger than that of his parents). Adam has turned into the terrible self-obsessed teen. He’s a freak and no one loves or understands him, etc., etc. So Willie’s had enough of his brother. As far as he’s concerned, Adam needs some correction, even if it comes at the point of a gun! These two both need a time out! Or at least for their parents to separate them.

  5. I’ve failed to mention that I really like that green turtleneck sweater Carolyn gave Adam. Too bad he’s become annoying and another shouter along the lines of Jeff Clark and Dr. Lang.

    There’s entirely too much shouting lately on this show. Like everyone has said, we just need Adam
    to go, Barnabas to be the vampire he’s advertised to be, and find out exactly who Nicholas Blair is and why he has such control over Angelique.

    And wasn’t there a British comedy called “Upstairs Downstairs”? Or was that a Sesame Street Monsterpiece Theater skit? They may have been inspired by this episode.

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