“Now I understand why I have the urge to kill Adam.”
So here’s the latest: Eve, the Bride of Frankenstein monster who used to be a French psychopath named Danielle Roget, is in love with Jeff Clark, the amnesiac who used to be an 18th-century lawyer named Peter Bradford, and she killed her lover to be with him, only to have him reject her and fall in love with a time traveling governess who’s on trial for witchcraft.
Now, I adore the absurdity of this plot point, but it’s only been around for three episodes so far, and already I’m checking the episode guide to see how often I’m going to have to explain it. The answer, fortunately, is not very often, so I’m not sure why I’m even bringing it up.
Because it’s not exactly one of the great romances of our time, is it? It’s soap opera mate-matching at its most cynical — just taking two random characters and saying, “This one is desperately in love with that one,” even though they have nothing in common and it doesn’t seem like it’s in character.
Today’s exploration of make-believe love opens with the perplexing sight of Jeff lying on his bed and pretending to smoke. He takes an ersatz drag off his cigarette, and either he’s a super-early adopter of some kind of low carbon emissions iCig, or he’s noticed that Joe is getting a bunch of shirtless scenes and he’s determined to make himself look like less of a nerd.
He’s got his legs spread open, with an unbuttoned collar and his shirt sleeves rolled up, which for 1968 daytime television is fairly thrilling. I’ll be monitoring this situation closely as it develops.
Jeff’s quiet evening at home is interrupted when Eve comes over to give him a good stalking-to. She’s just had a very productive session of hypnotic past-life regression, where she remembered that she killed her boyfriend in the 1790s, so she could run off with Jeff. This is not the kind of breaking news that you should bring up early in a relationship. You want to pace yourself with that level of crazy.
So the discussion basically goes like this:
Jeff: If I let you say what you have to say, will you go away and leave me alone?
And that’s that. She keeps nattering on about Peter Bradford, and says things like “Now that we’re together, I’ll never leave you.” It’s the kind of conversation where you pick up a book and pretend to start reading in the middle of it. This doesn’t work. Nothing works.
So it’s hard to figure out what she ever saw in the guy. Eve has been walking around for the last couple weeks complaining that the mate that she’s been assigned is boring and stupid, while she longs for excitement and knife play. The last person she should be interested in is an earnest young lawyer.
That being said, they could pull this scene off if Jeff played it properly. I don’t want to jump in the middle of someone’s process, but the obvious thing to do here is to play a faint spark of recognition that you have to suppress. There should be some chemistry between them, even if he’s denying it, so that there’s some reason for us to take this seriously.
But Roger Davis isn’t skilled with subtext. Really, all he knows how to do is touch his head when he wants to indicate that he’s experiencing stress, a technique that doesn’t give the other actor a lot of places to go.
And that’s not the only randomly-assigned romance today. We’ve also got demonic mastermind Nicholas Blair inviting himself over to Maggie’s house to propose to her, even though she’s wearing that skirt and sitting on that couch.
This is another postulated relationship that they sprang on us in a hurry. Nicholas is supposed to be operating on a cosmic scale, maneuvering people into position to facilitate the birth of a new species devoted to serving Satan. But he fell in love at first sight with Maggie, who’s young and pretty and not very much else.
She’s a lot of fun when she’s in a bind, like when she’s clawing her way out of a vampire’s dungeon, but Nicholas hasn’t seen that side of her. So it’s another one of those mixed marriages between kaiju and non-kaiju, and it came out of nowhere because they’re not sure what else to do with Nicholas.
It’s a weird thing to say about a soap opera, but I don’t think the Dark Shadows writers are very interested in romance these days. They’re mostly interested in revenge, and one-sided obsession.
Since we came back from 1795, the only character that we’ve seen gradually falling in love with someone is Adam, the newborn Frankenstein monster, who’s developed a burning Beauty-and-the-Beast passion for Carolyn. There were a couple of flickers where she could have been developing feelings for Adam, but she decided that she really wanted to date Tony, who kissed her once and then left the show forever.
Until recently, Maggie and Joe were one of the two romantic couples on the show, and that relationship got so little attention that they just kind of drifted into being engaged off screen, while we weren’t looking. One day, she introduced him to somebody as her fiancee, and that was it. Now, that couple has been split up, to throw some more one-way relationships on the pile.
So here’s how it shakes out: Nicholas is proposing to Maggie, who’s still in love with Joe, who’s infatuated with Angelique, who’s interested in Barnabas, who’s pining for Vicki. Adam alternates between being in love with Carolyn and Eve, and now Eve has the hots for Jeff.
All of the successful couples on the show right now — and by “successful” I mean that we understand why they ever liked each other — date back to 1795 or before. We’ve seen the spark that united Barnabas and Angelique, and then destroyed everything around them. We also watched Vicki and Peter gradually fall in love with each other while she was on trial for witchcraft. Over the last nine months, the only character we’ve really watched falling in love has been Adam crushing on Carolyn, and now they’re trying to tell us he’s in love with Eve, who doesn’t care.
Soap operas thrive on bringing couples together and splitting them up again, sometimes making such a fetish out of it that they hardly get a moment of peace. But you need to make the audience feel something about that match before you start breaking them apart.
We see three purported couples today — Eve/Jeff, Nicholas/Maggie, and Adam/Eve — and they don’t have an ounce of chemistry between them. I think it’s time to cut our losses, get these people off the show, and start again.
Tomorrow: Reflections on the Golden Eye.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
I don’t know what to do with Jeff pretending to smoke a cigarette; it’s honestly one of the most baffling things I’ve ever seen on the show. The cigarette is clearly not lit. And he’s not just sitting there with it in his mouth — when Eve knocks on the door, he pretends to take a last drag from it, and stubs it out in an ashtray. It can’t be that they’re not allowed to smoke on the set, because we’ve seen Julia do it several times. Maybe Roger Davis doesn’t smoke, but then why don’t you give him something else to do? On Dark Shadows, the default way to open a “knock on the door” scene is to have the person reading a book. Jeff even has a book; he picks it up and pretends to read it in the middle of his conversation with Eve. So why bother with the cigarette pantomime? I can’t figure it out.
Adam tells Nicholas, “She’s been acting like this all evening — all night! First at Collinswood, then here!”
Jeff gets up from his chair and backs away from Eve, knocking a stool into the set of fireplace tongs with a clank.
Nicholas tells Maggie, “I am going to have to put all other matters aside, until I can get something str — settled with you.”
Tomorrow: Reflections on the Golden Eye.
— Danny Horn