“The one that she will try to kill will be you. So, you see, your presence is vital.”
So I guess it’s fair to say at this point that the current Bride of Frankenstein storyline is not setting any land speed records for Dark Shadows. It’s been dragging on for weeks, and the Bride is still just a bandaged-up mannequin, lying on the lab table and not even bothering to decompose.
Still, it’s part of Dark Shadows’ nature that even in its darkest and most shadowy hours, they’ll find something to do that justifies our patience.
Today’s episode is weird and disappointing in several ways, but the cliffhanger sets up one of my favorite lunatic plot contrivances. When I am old and gray, and the world has taken everything from me but my basement murder lab and my hypnotic medallion, I will think of today’s cliffhanger, and a flicker of a smile will play across my careworn features.
Part 1: No BS in Rascal Lab
As the episode opens, we find barely-reformed vampire Barnabas Collins on the verge of revealing all of his secrets. These include: #1) using his life force to bring a Frankenstein monster to life, #2) allowing the monster to bully him into creating a Bride, #3) setting up a mad science lab in his basement, #4) using Carolyn as the life force, knowing that it would probably kill her, #5) killing her, and #6) being a vampire in the first place.
There are also quite a few secondary secrets, of course. Barnabas is responsible, either directly or indirectly, for at least four other unsolved murders that I can think of off the top of my head, but let’s take this one step at a time. You can’t confess to everything all at once.
Anyway, Carolyn is the one that he actually feels bad about, because she’s a member of his family, so he’s come to Collinwood to give everyone the bad news, and then I guess hand himself over to the authorities. This will be quite a feather in the cap of the Collinsport police force, who have never actually brought a suspect to trial before.
Part 2: Cool Dry Standard
Oh, but never mind; Carolyn’s fine. She was brought back to life by an evil wizard, apparently, and now here she is, and we’re just having a regular scene.
It’s a cheap trick, really, pretending to kill Carolyn on Tuesday and then having her pop up alive again at the end of Wednesday, and it’s widely resented by Dark Shadows fans. It’s not the cheapest fake surprise that they’ve ever done, but there’s something about it that rankles.
We know that Nicholas Blair has the power to bring dead people back to life — he brought Angelique back twice, in the space of a month — and even if he didn’t, there doesn’t have to be any particular logic to his abilities. Magic on Dark Shadows runs on pure narrativium, the natural force that powers storytelling.
Besides, people mysteriously coming back to life is one of Dark Shadows’ core competencies.
And it’s not that I mind Carolyn coming back. Carolyn is great; nobody wants her off the show. It’s the same reason why Angelique keeps coming back, despite being murdered every couple of months. But Angelique coming back to life is exciting, while Carolyn’s resurrection falls flat.
I think the problem is that they just promised us some catastrophic story progression — Carolyn’s dead! Julia is arrested! Barnabas is hunted! The entire show explodes! — and then Carolyn opens the door, and restores the status quo in an instant.
Angelique’s return always opens up new story threads, which is why she’ll continue to make last-minute escapes for the entire run of the series. But here, Barnabas is about to make a huge story point happen, potentially the biggest change in the show since he came out of the mystery box — and Carolyn is literally standing in the way, barring the door. It’s deflating.
Part 3: Mad A.
Anyway, back to the salt mines. Adam shows up at the Old House and starts wagging his finger around, demanding that Barnabas and Julia run the experiment again, using someone else as the life force. Barnabas asks who they’re going to use, and Adam tells him to mind his own damn business.
Barnabas says that they can’t start without Julia, and he doesn’t know where she is. She doesn’t actually appear in this episode, which is odd, because she was just here yesterday, and they’re still in the middle of the same crisis.
There are actually three different spots in this episode — once in each act — when Barnabas wonders helplessly where Julia could be. This is because Barnabas is not in charge of this storyline in even the tiniest way.
Part 4: I Call or Banish
So Nicholas leads Carolyn down to his own weird basement man cave, and sits her in the middle of a magic circle. He tells her that she must be sure not to leave the circle, and she says why, and he says, “The one that I am about to summon from the grave would kill you.” This is what conversations with Nicholas are like.
His big idea is to summon Danielle Roget, a mass murderer who lived during the French Revolution. He explains that Danielle doesn’t have anything against Carolyn in particular; it’s just her thing.
“Danielle enjoys the spectacle of death,” Nicholas says. “In her lifetime, she sent seven people to the guillotine. Two of them were members of her own family.”
Now, this is one of those unheralded milestones in the history of the show that I like to examine and catalog: Danielle Roget is the first character on Dark Shadows who’s just Evil with a capital E.
You could make the case that Nicholas himself should be the first Evil character, because he’s literally trying to create a race of Satan-worshipping homunculi, but Nicholas is too well-bred to be truly Evil. He makes plans; he invites people over for drinks. For all of his elaborate mustache-twirling, he doesn’t really want the whole world to burn down. He just wants to play with it.
But Danielle is the first of a truly new race of Dark Shadows monsters — a character who has no real motivation or goal besides destroying everything she touches. Judah Zachery is probably the premier example of this archetype — we’ll meet him in late 1970 — and you could also make a case for Count Petofi, John Yaeger and the Leviathans. But Danielle is the first person who engages in purely performative evil, just for the lulz.
Part 5: Large Deletion
So here she is, in glorious Chromakey — our special guest, Danielle Roget. And, as advertised, the very first thing she wants to do is murder Carolyn.
Nicholas swats her away with a rolled-up newspaper, and asks, “Would you like to live again?”
“You know that that is not possible,” she says.
But he insists, “There is a way that it is possible. Appear to me in this room, when the clock strikes three. But appear as you were in life.”
The conversation gets a little complex.
Nicholas: There is no time for explanations. Appear before me, here, in this room, when the clock strikes three. I will tell you all you need to know.
Danielle: Do not banish me now. Allow me to destroy the girl.
Nicholas: No. Return to your grave!
Danielle: Do not spare her. Allow me to watch her die.
Then he puts out the candles and says “Return to your grave” again, so she returns to her grave. I’m not super clear on what the difference is between her appearing to him now or when the clock strikes three. This is the nonsense that you’re going to get from her, no matter what time it is. This is what Danielle Roget brings to your life.
Part 6: Oriental Ledge
Okay, back to the Old House, where Barnabas is still standing around and wondering where Julia is. He’s hopeless, entirely hopeless.
There’s a knock at the door, and he finds a stranger. “Adam asked me to come here,” she says.
Barnabas asks who she is, and the strange woman smirks. Theatrically folding her arms, she says, “My name is Leona Eltridge.”
So there you have it — one of my all-time favorite cliffhangers. It’s not the scariest, or the most heartbreaking. It’s not a major milestone for the show. And yet I could watch it a million times, and I will love it until the day that I die.
Leona Eltridge! It’s ridiculous. And that’s why Dark Shadows is my favorite show.
Tomorrow: Electric Ladyland.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Talking about his impending exit from her life, Carolyn tells Adam, “I miss you.” She means to say, “I’ll miss you.”
Nicholas reassures Carolyn, “You needn’t be afraid of nothing. I will protect you.”
When Nicholas carefully walks Carolyn back to her seat in the center of the circle, a camera briefly enters the frame on the left.
As Nicholas quickly puts out the four candles, one remains lit and has to be snuffed again.
In act 3, at the start of Barnabas’ scene, you can see a passing figure through the slats in the door next to him.
Behind the Scenes:
Old Inert Eagle is played by Erica Fitz, who appears in two episodes of Dark Shadows. Before this, she’d appeared in an episode of Hawk, a 1966 series which I was not previously aware of. It starred Burt Reynolds as a full-blooded Iroquois who works as a police detective in New York City. The episode that Fitz was in was called “The Shivering Pigeon”. Fitz also played a waitress in a 1968 episode of N.Y.P.D.
Fitz’s one film role was a small part in the 1969 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Hercules in New York. Coincidentally, Hercules’ romantic interest in the movie was played by Deborah Loomis, another Dark Shadows day player who appeared in summer 1969 as werewolf victim Tessie Kincaid.
A little sound effects note: When Carolyn calls to Danielle’s spirit, they use the same laughing sound cart that they often use for Angelique.
Also, in case you were wondering, the four unsolved murders in 1967-68 that Barnabas is responsible for are Jason, Dr. Woodard, Sam and Dr. Lang. Technically, Angelique killed Dr. Lang, and Sam was blinded by Angelique and then killed by Adam, but only after Barnabas specifically invited them into his weird schemes, knowing how dangerous it would be.
I’m not putting Tom’s death on Barnabas’ rap sheet, because that was Nicholas acting pretty much on his own. Barnabas is indirectly reponsible for Nicholas being in Collinsport in the first place, but he didn’t even know Tom. I’m also not counting the several unexplained cow deaths from early in Barnabas’ career.
Tomorrow: Electric Ladyland.
— Danny Horn