Episode 603: Television Without Pity

“Knowing the man you love is also a part of love.”

Yesterday’s Dark Shadows episode ended in what is objectively the most exciting cliffhanger they’ve had in a long time. Barnabas Collins has been free of his vampire affliction for six months — a direct challenge to Angelique, the saucy sorceress who married him and cursed him. Now she’s become a vampire herself, and yesterday closed with the startling announcement that Barnabas will be her next victim.

It’s the kind of ending that basically dares you to miss the next episode. The whole reason that anyone would even bother to watch Dark Shadows is to see Barnabas the vampire, and we’ve been denied this simple pleasure for so long. The only thing we want to see is his lunatic ex-wife coming at him with fangs.

And that’s why, on October 16, 1968 at 3:55 in the afternoon, you see a thick crowd of children sprinting towards their homes, desperate to get to their television sets by four o’clock sharp. The housewives of America silence their vacuum cleaners, and leave the evening meatloaf to prepare itself for a while. This is the episode that you do not miss.

603 dark shadows liz vicki mausoleum

So just picture their delight when they see girl governess Victoria Winters entering the drawing room, to find her employer staring at a tiny cardboard mausoleum.

You see, Liz has been worrying obsessively for several months that she’s going to be buried alive, and she’s planning to build a special push-button crypt for herself, equipped with an in-coffin buzzer so she can signal to the outside world that she’s not really dead. The model arrived today, and she’s been staring at it all afternoon, trying to decide if she wants racing stripes or not.

That, unfortunately, is what we’re going to be watching today — another episode about Liz’s sad fixation on her own death. They don’t even mention vampires once. It’s a thoroughly egregious bait and switch, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

603 dark shadows liz vicki pity

But this is what life was like, in the days before leaks and spoilers and live tweeting and episode guides, back when you could watch a television show and not know every single thing that was about to happen. You came to each episode as an innocent child, ready to be surprised by whatever was coming your way. It was dreadful.

I mean, yeah, I know — surprise is kind of my thing, I talk about it all the time. The whole point of television is to show you something that you didn’t expect. But this is the frozen limit. I mean, people skipped soccer practice. There’s probably going to be a class action suit about this.

603 dark shadows roger liz vicki collinwood

Really, the best thing you can say about this grim storyline is that it’s not the Dream Curse. We’ve moved past the time on the show when all anybody could talk about was falling asleep, and I’m grateful. But this has got to be the next worst thing — a morose matron convinced for no particular reason that she’s about to be pre-emptively interred.

Because what can anybody even say to her? Once you’ve said “you’re perfectly healthy, and you’re not going to be buried alive,” then where is that scene supposed to go?

Roger barks, “Elizabeth knows she must make every effort to think of other things!” and Liz says, “I have, Roger!” And then what? Are we going to spend the rest of the episode watching somebody as she thinks of other things?

603 dark shadows roger liz model

To be fair, they do the only interesting thing that they could possibly do under the circumstances, which is to have Roger pick up a nearby objet d’art and pummel the model into submission. But you can’t keep building toy mausoleums just to wreck them after five minutes. It’s not practical.

603 dark shadows roger smash

So I think you could make the case that spoilers perform a valuable service for the human race, keeping television shows honest. If you know that the next episode of Lost is an hour-long explanation of how Jack got his tattoo, and they’re not even going to mention Desmond’s vision, then you can just skip it and go do something else with your time.

603 dark shadows vicki jeff backacting

Anyway, Liz sprints upstairs for some glum thinks monologues, and we’re left to watch a backacting-heavy apology scene with Vicki and Jeff.

“Forgiving is a part of love,” Jeff says, and she counters with, “Knowing the man you love is also a part of love.” Meanwhile, Angelique is off somewhere, sharpening her fangs with an emery board.

603 dark shadows liz cemetery

And that’s all there is, I’m afraid. Liz leaves the house to go sit in the cemetery for a while and talk to a gravestone, and Roger and Jeff go out to look for her, and they fill up twenty-two minutes, and then they run the credits.

So you’ll remind me of this, won’t you, the next time I get frustrated with the Bride of Frankenstein storyline? Pat me gently on the shoulder, and tell me that it could be worse — we could be watching human beings have feelings, and relate to each other, like they do on normal soap operas. Just tell me to be brave, and think of other things.

Tomorrow: The Sedating Game.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Roger trips on a word as he talks to Vicki: “It seems to me that everything began to change here when I married Cassandra. Oh, I bame — blame her because… we’ve never been very lucky in love, you and I, have we?”

When Roger opens the front door for Jeff, you can see the boom mic hovering above the drawing room.

Someone in the studio coughs as Roger approaches Vicki to tell her that Jeff’s at the door.

In the cemetery, as Jeff approaches the cowering Liz, you can see into the Collinwood drawing room set just beyond the set. Someone is standing on the set, and takes a couple steps. The great thing about this blooper is that it shows you how small the cemetery set is today. Jeff and Liz are in a tiny little sliver of the studio floor, not quite surrounded by greenery.

Tomorrow: The Sedating Game.

603 dark shadows jeff liz cemetery

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

20 thoughts on “Episode 603: Television Without Pity

  1. Poor Liz is having a “Spinal Tap Stonehenge Moment”, because her mausoleum has been delivered in inches, not feet. It was supposed to be bigger.
    She could have just put her ashes in it, and put it on the mantle, but Roger’s fear of embarrassing things caused him to redecorate it to death.
    Besides, fear of premature burial also = fear of premature cremation.

  2. They should have used this time to resolve Vicki’s parentage. If Liz didn’t tell Vicki by now that she was her mother, it was never going to happen – that’s why I NEVER believed that Liz acted towards Vicki in a way that would be considered motherly. Sad not to have taken advantage of this moment in time to give the loyal viewers who stayed with the show since it’s inception the gift of Vicki’s parentage…it would have been a nice gesture on the part of Dan Curtis to give closure on his #1 governess and the girl of his dreams that made Dark Shadows a reality – instead we get a juvenile Frankentween and Barnabas massacaring the French language – mon ami….

    1. I’ve been curious as to how many “loyal” viewers there were by this point in the show’s history. The audience is growing but the show seems so different — as I discussed in a separate post, you could consider everything starting with 1795 as a “spin off” of the original.We know the young fans are new but are even the housewives who are watching the same housewives?

      References to the pre-Barnabas era become rarer as the series continues. Even Maggie the governess is very different from Maggie the diner waitress. We do see the return of Paul Stoddard but aside from using the name of the man from the McGuire storyline, his backstory has been altered to fit the “new” series.

      Anyway, I’ve mentioned that I was never a fan of the idea that Vicki is Elizabeth’s daughter. It’s dramatically obvious: The governess that Elizabeth treats like a daughter is… her daughter. I’m usually against plot revelations that don’t change the existing symbolic relationship or cause us to look at it from another angle. On THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, Jill Abbott turning out to be Kay Chancellor’s daughter is a great revelation because of the decades-long enmity between them.

      1. I think the Vicki/Liz relationship is a big “who cares” by this point. Vicki is hardly being treated like a servant by anybody in the family. These days, the Liz/Vicki scenes are absolutely played as social equals.

        Liz and Roger are fighting about whether to indulge Liz in her fears, and they both appeal to Vicki for support — but nobody says that the opinion of a servant counts for less, or snipes at her for concentrating on personal issues instead of focusing on her work with David. A few episodes ago, Roger said something to Vicki along the lines of, “Well, we’ve never had a lot of luck with relationships, have we?” He wouldn’t say that to Mrs. Johnson. He’s clearly treating Vicki as the equivalent of a niece.

        I’d bet that most viewers who started watching over the summer don’t even realize that Vicki isn’t part of the Collins family. They don’t discuss it very much. Just watching these episodes, I’d assume that she was Carolyn and David’s cousin, who happens to have a different last name. I’d probably think that Julia was a relative, too.

        1. This is another reason why I prefer Maggie as the governess to Vicki. KLS never feels like a Collins — either it’s her performance alone or a combination of that and how she’s written. She’s tougher (though still different from her waitress days) and has a spark that Vicki/Moltke lacked. I don’t know how much of that is Moltke’s fault or Curtis’s vision of her as a “dream girl.”

          Julia is the example of a character who became so indispensable that we’re willing to overlook the narrative inconsistency of her continued presence. She was even more shoehorned into the plot in HODS and 1991 DS.

    2. They were about to resolve the issue of Vicki’s parentage, it was in the discussion stage, but Alexandra Moltke had to leave the show abruptly due to pregnancy. They would even have addressed it in 1967–as it was a part of Art Wallace’s story bible–once they staked the Barnabas character after that particular storyline had run its course over 6 weeks as planned….

      For a satisfying resolution to the story of Vicki Winters, I recommend the 2003 audio drama Return To Collinwood, written by Jamison Selby (David’s son) and Jim Pierson. It’s officially sanctioned, as it’s marketed as a Dan Curtis Production. In effect, it is the sequel to the original show itself.

      In fact, I think that’s what Dan Curtis should have done in 1991. Instead of trying to recreate House Of Dark Shadows as a television series with an all new cast, he should have brought back surviving members of the original TV show and done a sequel resolving and updating those stories. But, instead, unfortunately, Curtis at that time was still trying to backtrack and remake the series in his own image, portraying the sort of vampire he would have had originally had Jonathan Frid not been cast to become the “sympathetic” vampire.

      1. In 1990, when they were making the DS revival, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION was entering its peak of creative and commercial success. That would seem an excellent example of not attempting a “remake” of a popular 1960s series but STAR TREK boasted concepts beyond the original cast: Klingons, Vulcans, Romulans, warp speed, and of course the Enterprise. I’d argue DARK SHADOWS is essentially the Barnabas Collins Show or The Barnabas and Julia Show (with Quentin as a strong supporting player). Few of its concepts outside of those characters are unique to it, and we’d later see more effective mashups of monster movie staples in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, which would premiere 6 years later. And ANGEL at the end of the decade.

        That’s another thing about the DS Revival. It feels disconnected from the larger world in which it was created. (It’s just two years prior to X-FILES, in fact.) It’s a common theory (one promoted by the cast) that DARK SHADOWS was not “of the period,” but I think Danny has pointed out examples where storylines have some influence, even if subtle, from the time. Even Barnabas’s popularity can be traced to the period.

        But just as Picard and Mulder were the perfect “heroes” for the period, there was no attempt to remodel Barnabas as a fitting protagonist for the period in which the new series was set.

        1. On the other hand, as I keep pointing out, the Canadian “Lost Girl” could be seen as a DS rebooting where they came upon the idea of making Barnabas and Vicky be the same person.

  3. For whatever reasons, I really like Vicki’s hairstyle in this ep. It’s just very simple, hanging down, slight curl at the bottom. Alexandra Moltke wasn’t that great of an actress, but she really looks particularly beautiful here. Wish she would’ve worn her hair like this on the show more often…

    1. I thought she was really pretty, too, and her performance today was good.

      Count me in the minority, but I like this subplot. I just like anything with Liz, period.

    2. Yes! They are slowly transitioning to the more relaxed hairstyles of the late sixties. Initially Moltke was wearing hair pieces to fill out the pulled back hairstyle she wore. Carolyn had a long, bouncy, curly flip; now she’s wearing a straight blunt cut (with a regrettable pony-tail bump that 16 year-old me would have been humiliated by). Maggie’s hair was pretty basic to begin with, but she too, is wearing a simple hairstyle with a headband that was very popular at the time.

  4. I like having Liz, Roger and Vicki in the same scene together. Ms. Bennett and Mr. Edmonds are just acting all over the place and saying odd things. So Vicki comes across fine as the matter-of-fact voice of reason. She has no real range as an actress, so I don’t want to see her try to emote much. But she’s a nice reality-check foil when she’s paired with people who are “acting”.

  5. I watched DS when I was a kid (8-11 years old), but I don’t remember if I saw the Dream Curse storyline or not at that time. But I would venture to say that those kiddies you mention gathering around the TV set would have preferred the Dream Curse storyline to Liz’s buried alive plot (you say at least it’s not the Dream Curse). I know I would have–not all the talky parts where they keep re-explaining the curse over and over again but the dreams themselves. As a kid, I would have enjoyed the repetition, and I would have much rather seen the glowing skull, the laughing bride skeleton, the guillotine, the bad bat and bug film clips, and the headless guy over and over again than Liz moaning about and Roger smashing a cardboard model.

  6. To be honest, it was nice to get a one day break from Adam, Eve, and Nicholas Blair.

  7. “The whole reason that anyone would even bother to watch Dark Shadows is to see Barnabas the vampire, and we’ve been denied this simple pleasure for so long.”

    My sentiments exactly.

  8. I wonder if they made another mausoleum model? I was pissed at Roger for being such a child to destroy it. Nowadays he would’ve sought help for Liz instead of telling her to get over her death obsession.

    Vicki looked really pretty. It would’ve been the perfect time to bring up her lineage.

    And I really hope Liz isn’t really dead. But I am tired of the whole buried alive situation so I hope that’s done.

  9. Neither of the storylines in this episode is worth much. Liz’s obsession with being buried alive is the dictionary definition of depressing, and Vicki and Jeff never look like they have any reason to be in the same room. But there’s some very good acting in it, primarily various forms of solo performance. Joan Bennett interacts with her own voiceover throughout the scene in the bedroom, and very few people could play such a scene as compellingly as she does. Louis Edmonds has a great moment when Roger thinks he’s pleading with Liz to let him in to her room, then discovers he’s been talking to an empty room. Alexandra Moltke brings great force to Vicki’s confrontation with Jeff, sufficient to prove all you haters wrong about her once and for all. Since the only other person on screen at that time is Roger Davis, that also qualifies as a solo performance.

  10. That cute little Mausoleum model would fit in nicely during the opening and closing credits of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood!
    I, too, feel refreshed by this “old school” episode with the original cast. Having started watching from Episode 1, it’s like a comfortable old shoe.

  11. I agree with the posts above, Alexandra Moltke looks particularly beautiful with her long straight hair. She reminds me of Ali McGraw. I must admit I find the buried alive storyline boring, even though I have great love for Joan Bennett. I was so happy to hear, in interviews of the cast, that Joan Bennett was just as likable in real life as she was on the show.

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