“He must have had a plan — and it must have been diabolical!”
The one great misconception that everyone believes about Dark Shadows is that the lead vampire, Barnabas Collins, gets “redeemed” once the show reveals how he was cursed to become one of the living dead. The idea is that Barnabas started out on the show as a cruel, remorseless villain, but then we go to the 18th century to see his backstory — and by the time we come back, he’s become “sympathetic,” and we’re supposed to like the guy.
In fact, Barnabas’ only real pivot in 1968 is that he starts out as a partially inept villain, and becomes a totally inept villain. Apparently, if you’re bad enough at being a bad guy, you can circle back around to good guy.
Here’s the current state of play: Barnabas was planning to sacrifice Maggie Evans, the nicest girl on the show, in a black-magic mad science experiment to bring a female Frankenstein monster to life. Barnabas’ henchman, Willie, wanted to save Maggie’s life, so he kidnapped her and hid her in the secret room of the Collins mausoleum until the whole thing blew over.
Trapped and terrified, Maggie’s suppressed memories returned, and now she remembers that Barnabas abducted her last year, and planned to kill her and turn her into an undead sex toy. That was several weeks ago, and since then the situation has not noticeably improved.
At the start of today’s episode, Willie rushes into the Old House with the stop-press announcement that Maggie has escaped from confinement, and is now stumbling in the direction of the authorities.
Barnabas puts on his cape, and says that they’ll have to find her before she reaches town. Willie says, “You’re not going to hurt her, are you?” and Barnabas growls, “Let’s just find her, Willie,” because Barnabas is a hero now, and super sympathetic and so on.
Maggie has a head start, but she’s not in peak physical condition. She’s been trapped in a drafty stone room for at least a couple of days, with no food or sleep, except when Willie knocked her out with chloroform.
But she’s a soap opera heroine, a particularly resilient breed, and she’s mustering the strength to find her fiancee, Joe.
And now here’s the bad news about Joe, who’s having some undead problems of his own.
He’s under the spell of Angelique, a whole other vampire who comes over pretty much every night to drink his blood and carpet-bomb his love life. It’s been a rough couple of months for these two.
All of this is leading up to one of the great dramatic moments of our time, when Maggie is running away from one vampire, and finds another one in the process of snacking on her boyfriend.
Maggie faints, and Angelique disappears, and we’re left with this amazing scene.
Joe: I wish I could tell you who she was… I wish I could tell you what she’s doing to me, but I can’t.
Maggie: Joe… I can understand.
Maggie: I know what she is! I know what she’s been doing to you!
Joe: How could you possibly know that?
Maggie: Because the same thing happened to me.
Joe: What are you saying?
Maggie: I’ve been attacked — the same way!
Maggie: Joe… we’ve got to escape. Both of us! We’ve got to get out of this town!
Joe: I — I don’t think I can, Maggie. I don’t think I can escape her. Not now.
Maggie: Joe, you’ve got to try! We’ve got to get to your car, and drive — just drive, as far away from this town as we can!
“Escape… yes,” Joe breathes, and he helps her up off the bed. They’re going to try it — a mad dash for the turnpike, a high-speed chase with the forces of darkness snapping at their heels.
There’s a knock at the door.
And then everything is fine.
A couple scenes later, Barnabas and Willie show up at Maggie’s house, and there she is, back at home and none the worse for wear. She greets them as old friends, and engages in some idle chatter about the portrait of Barnabas that her father painted last year.
She’s forgotten everything — the abductions, the mausoleum, the vampire bites, the horror, the desperate need to drive, just drive, as far away from this town as we can. The whole deal.
Once again, the show treats Maggie like an Etch A Sketch — tormenting her, pushing her to her limits, just good classic soap heroine material — and then they turn her upside down and shake her a few times, and erase everything.
It’s Nicholas Blair, of course. These days, it’s always Nicholas Blair. The evil warlock has become an all-purpose demon ex machina, hypnotizing people and erasing any inconvenient story progression. We saw Carolyn mind-wiped just yesterday, and today it’s Maggie’s turn.
So I think this is it — the moment when Ron Sproat actually breaks the show. He has violated the ancient truce between the writers and the audience.
Sproat is currently the senior member of the Dark Shadows writing team. He’s been working on the show since November 1966, back when it was totally okay to end an episode with Vicki sighing and looking out the window.
He’s done some good work on the show — he was part of the team that introduced Barnabas in the first place, and made the vampire into such an engaging character that Dark Shadows suddenly blossomed into a blockbuster hit.
But Sproat still believes in using the same old tricks — locking characters up for weeks, erasing their memories, setting up dramatic confrontations and then lunging for the reset button. It’s really long past time to put those dusty old techniques away. The show has changed, and he should know that by now. He’s the guy who changed it.
Like Maggie, the show has been running in circles lately — running toward the door, and then doubling back and forgetting what they were trying to do in the first place. That’s because there’s a war going on in the writers’ room.
Ron Sproat, Sam Hall, Gordon Russell and executive producer Dan Curtis are all struggling to figure out what to do with the show, and what shows up on screen is the muddled result of a string of half-hearted compromises. Dark Shadows is contested territory.
This battle will go on for several months, and it’s the kind of fight where not everybody walks out alive. Some of them weren’t even alive to begin with.
Tomorrow: The Mate That Fate Had Me Created For.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Barnabas and Willie are looking for Maggie, Barnabas gets stuck on the phrase “How do you know”:
Barnabas: How did she escape?
Willie: It was David!
Willie: David! He found her, and he let her go!
Barnabas: How do you know?
Willie: Well, he was in the mausoleum, he was playin’ around. He found her there, and he let her go. He admitted it to me.
Barnabas: You’re lying, Willie.
Barnabas: You let Maggie escape.
Barnabas: Yes! I know how you feel about her. You took pity on her, and let her escape. Then you thought over what you had done, and panicked, and came back with that ridiculous story about David.
Willie: Barnabas, it’s not a story, it’s the truth!
Barnabas: How do you know that?
(They look at each other. Barnabas realizes he’s said the wrong line, and looks at the teleprompter. The scene continues.)
Barnabas: David just wandered into the mausoleum, and opened the panel. Do you expect me to believe that?
Willie: No, Barnabas, it isn’t the way it happened. He was curious — he saw me comin’ out of the mausoleum, that’s why he went inside!
Barnabas: And once he got inside, how did he open the panel? He doesn’t even know it’s there. He doesn’t know it exists!
Willie: He does, Barnabas.
Barnabas: How do you know that?
(Willie looks distracted. It’s obviously the wrong cue.)
Barnabas: How did he find out?
When Joe is sitting on his bed, you can see Angelique standing in the shadows behind him, waiting for her cue.
Another moment of Fridspeak:
Barnabas: I only know that someone has been helping me — first with Carolyn, and now Maggie. And it must be Blair.
Willie: Why would he help you, Barnabas? I mean, it just doesn’t make sense.
Barnabas: We only have — this done for a reason.
Tomorrow: The Mate That Fate Had Me Created For.
— Danny Horn