“No matter how dangerous it is, I’ve got to have a showdown with Nicholas Blair.”
Really, the thing that everybody wants to know is: why can’t the Stormtroopers shoot straight in Star Wars? It turns out there are three simple answers.
#1. Stormtroopers shooting laser bolts are more interesting to look at than Stormtroopers who stand around complaining.
#2. Shooting Luke Skywalker in the head halfway through the first movie is going to leave a rather obvious gap in the trilogy.
#3. “Strong Guy Kills Weak Guy” is not headline news.
This ends the lit-crit theory portion of today’s post; we will now spend the rest of our time watching Dr. Julia Hoffman act like an unbelievable badass.
Now, Nicholas Blair is a satanic mob boss who’s currently hip-deep in malevolent master-planning. He can raise the dead, banish spirits to the underworld, and question people in their sleep — plus, he has a magic mirror that can show him what anybody in town is currently doing, with camera angles and background music.
He doesn’t actually do a lot of work directly; he mostly sits in his lair and works through a network of deeply flawed operatives, like Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon.
Currently, Nicholas is coordinating a project to create a new race of people dedicated to serving Satan. He needs to get Barnabas Collins out of the way, for reasons that are too complex to go into right now, so he’s sent vampire soap vixen Angelique out to bite Barnabas on the neck, and keep him occupied.
Enter J. Hoffman, who’s determined to rescue her best friend from the seductress’ clutches, even if it means visiting the Devil and telling him exactly what she thinks of him.
Julia has no magic powers, and she doesn’t have an ancient talisman of a long-dead god. She’s not even carrying her memory-erasing medallion. She’s just strolling into the lion’s den armed only with her mind, her mouth, and her many, many facial expressions. Nicholas doesn’t stand a chance.
As Julia helps herself to a chair, Nicholas says some polite words about a recent dinner party. Julia is unbothered.
“Mr. Blair, I suggest we level with each other,” she says, tugging off her gloves and giving him the side-eye. “Let’s stop playing games. I know what you are, and you know why I’m here.”
And just for a moment, a little spark of panic dances across Nicholas’ eyes. This is a man who’s on Satan’s Christmas card list, and even he knows that he’s put his finger on something hot.
Naturally, he pretends that he doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She rises and regards him coldly, as if to say, You underestimate the power of my handbag.
“I know you were behind the experiment from the beginning,” she says. “I also know what you’ve done to Barnabas, or had done to him.”
He wrinkles his brow in perplexity, trying on his best impression of a normal human being. “Well, then perhaps you’d be good enough to tell me.”
“Barnabas is the victim of a vampire,” she says, and the trilling violins on the soundtrack suddenly snap to attention.
So the question is: Where does Julia’s power come from? This is unique — no other character on the show could walk right up to the Devil, poke him in the eye, and then ask why he’s being such a dick about it.
Julia has earned the special status that’s awarded to fictional characters who willingly risk their lives to make the story more interesting. She doesn’t care about her own safety. She hardly even cares about rescuing Barnabas. She’s just pissed off because she hasn’t had a decent cliffhanger in the last six weeks, and she’s going to do something about it.
And we know that she’s going to win, because we have a functioning sense of televisual literacy, and we know that a scene that begins like this can’t possibly end with Nicholas waving his hand and setting Julia on fire.
There are lots of clues that help the viewers understand the true dynamic in this scene. Just at the level of basic scenecraft, she’s the character who’s roaming around the set, while Nicholas is stuck sitting on the couch, forced to turn away from the camera in order to register as an active participant. Upstaging is Julia’s Hoffman’s signature power move.
Also, Julia is a major character, and the reigning champion of Stand Next to Barnabas. We’re currently only ten minutes into the episode, and besides, it’s Thursday. Julia can’t even get singed halfway through Thursday; it would violate everything that we know about television.
So Julia is absolutely one-hundred percent rock-solid safe right now. Nicholas has no idea what kind of trouble he’s in.
“What I don’t understand,” she says, as if she gives a shit, “is why you’ve allowed it to go so far. I didn’t think you were a man who was subject to serious mistakes.”
Then Nicholas does something terribly reckless. He chuckles.
“Doctor…” he grins, “of course it goes without saying that I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about. But there’s one thing you said that is quite accurate: I don’t make serious mistakes.”
See? She’s got him repeating her phrases back to her. Dead man talking.
“Then there is something that you obviously are not aware of,” she says.
“Mmm? What might that be?”
She cocks her head, aims and fires. “Barnabas Collins disappeared early last evening.”
See what I mean? Now, you might not happen to know why that’s a particularly devastating piece of information, the first sign of a crack that’s going to bring his entire operation crashing down. You could have just tuned into Dark Shadows for the first time five minutes ago, and you don’t even know who these characters are.
But that cadence — There’s something you don’t know, And what is that?, followed by a straightforward statement of fact, and a raised eyebrow — that pattern is recorded deep in a dramatically literate person’s DNA. That is a sucker-punch.
So I’ll sit back for a minute, and let Dr. Hoffman do her job.
Julia: He was in a very weakened condition. He’s probably even weaker today. And if he’s not found and saved by tonight… he may die.
Nicholas: You, uh — you say that you don’t know where he is at the moment?
Julia: If I did, I wouldn’t be here, would I?
Then she just starts kicking his “Machiavellian power-broker” ego to pieces.
Nicholas: I fail to understand, doctor, what made you think that I could help you.
Julia: Well, then I’ll tell you. You have a plan involving Adam and his mate.
And then he gives away his tell — right there, in front of her. He looks out the window to see if the sun’s gone down, and then he checks his watch.
Julia: But for your plan to succeed, it is imperative that Adam be alive and healthy. And you know as well as I do that if Barnabas Collins dies, Adam will die too.
Nicholas: Have you finished, Dr. Hoffman?
Julia: Not quite.
Nicholas: Well, I have. If you’ll excuse me, I’m afraid that I have a great deal of work to do.
Yeah, no kidding. Julia just walked into your life four minutes ago and beat the stuffing out of you, and she’s not even winded. Just imagine what she could do if she actually gave a damn.
Tomorrow: Sets and Violence.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Barnabas moans, “Please, Vicki… trust me,” there’s a clatter in the studio.
When Nicholas walks to the door, the camera pulls back too far, and you can see one of the studio lights.
If Nicholas’ house is called “the House by the Sea,” then why is Julia able to spy it on from what is apparently a deep forest? I’m super confused by what the landscape is like “near the sea” these days.
While she’s watching Nicholas’ house, she makes a big deal about how the sun will be going down soon, and we hear birds chirping on the soundtrack — but the lighting suggests that it’s the middle of the night.
Given the blocking on their tiny little sliver of a forest set, there is a one hundred percent chance of Angelique seeing Julia as she walks by, but she doesn’t.
Tomorrow: Sets and Violence.
— Danny Horn
15 thoughts on “Episode 619: The Gunslinger”
“She cocks her head, aims and fires….” Good stuff.
Nice work, Danny, this is one I’ve been waiting for. This is a major episode, one of my favorites, the kind that makes the wobbly ones worthwhile. Rock Star Julia H. Hoffman totally rocks-out on this one. Nicholas just got spanked by her shredding solo.
I especially love the moment where she’s heading for the door, and he tells her how he admires her for confronting him. She’s puzzled, asks “Why?” “You KNOW why.” he responds, with a strange mix of menace, and respect. He’s trying to get a little of his Satanic manhood back, after she’s just kicked it around the room.
It’s often a fun moment when the good guy and the bad guy figure out that they both need the same thing and have to work together to get it. And these two are both “Alphas”, if I’m not mistaken about the concept.
He could have set her on fire, but he really can’t, because, just like when she first confronted Barnabas in her bedroom the night he came to strangle her, so long ago, Julia has managed to get herself in a position of fairly unbelievable power. She’s necessary. Nicholas is rather horrified to realize that he needs her. For a moment there, she made Nicholas Blair a “deer in the headlights.”
I am in awe of Julia Hoffman. Henceforth “Dark Shadows” will be known as “The Julia Hoffman Show” to me.
I confer. Julia is a badass and yes, at this moment, she dont give a damn. She just wanted to let him know, she is on to his bullshit and Angelique and that if Adam is to survive, so should Barnabas. She is probably sick of Barnabas shit as well.
From what I recall, the top of Collinsport’s premier diving spot, Widows’ Hill, was right in the middle of dense forest.
Yep, Julia just KO’d Nicholas. For a second, I thought Julia was going to smack him in the head with her gloves.
She as much bitch slapped him though. His face cracked.
When Julia walks into Nicholas’ house it seems to be pitch-black out the doorway, yet the window in the house shows daylight. It reminds me of Lionel Twain’s mansion in “Murder By Death”, where he’s rigged the windows with rain and lightning effects, but not the entrance door. (“Mr. Twain, as you will soon discover, prefers his atmosphere…murky.”)
Damn! Julia may just have the hardest eyes I’ve ever seen. But I think she probably does have her medallion in her bag, not to mention sedatives; she just didn’t need them. She knew what hits were landing on Nicholas.
I don’t often care for her acting, but Grayson Hall was really impressive in this episode.
Everyone is on form today, and there’s a nice cohesive feel to the episode. Beyond the staggering brilliance of Julia Vs Nicholas, which is practically perfect on its own, there’s the flip-side follow-up between Angelique and Nicholas.
It’s… Hard to watch at points, but they’re giving it all they’ve got. It’s clearly a counterpoint to the earlier scene – Nicholas is much more brutal than usual because of his defeat in the Julia round, which he takes out on Angelique – but there are some interesting choices being made (that flower! Oddly creepy the way he caresses her sore cheek with it).
The whole thing has a tipping point feel that makes it seem like Big Stuff is about to happen, which makes a nice change. I wonder if it will?
I’m not much a fan of Julia but man, she came in like a wrecking ball and gave Nicholas what for without even smearing her eyeliner! The register of her voice was much deeper today and reminded me a lot of Ursula from “The Little Mermaid.”
Nicholas smacking Angelique was shocking, and though I have new found appreciation for her lately, it was satisfying for Nicholas to remind her who the boss is.
This same evening “Bewitched” returned on ABC with Episode 146: “Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall” where Endora makes Darrin impossibly vain. Dick York is hilarious in this episode and should’ve won an Emmy for it. Plus Liz gets to shimmer in a silver mini with feather boa.
Always disappointing when Nicholas slaps a subordinate. He could just cross his fingers and squint while she acts hurt. That would at least fit with the idea that he’s an evil wizard.
Never underestimate the power of Julia’s handbags!! Look at that first screen cap, she’s amazing. I want to be her when I grow up!
Julia never really says it, but she’s in love with Barnabas. Blair is pretty much her only hope, so she grows a pair and faces him down. Aside from her slapping Cassandra’s face earlier, this is a favorite Julia moment for me.
Wow! Julia comes in with both arms punching! Nicholas Blair seems more than a little bewildered. Great episode, after a long string of rather ho-hum ones. Great dialogue between Julia and Nicholas. And his slapping of Angelique was unusual for a soap opera of the time.
Julia handing Nicholas some deserved undercutting is one of the best things to happen in DS in recent episodes. And the Angelique slap was a shock.