Episode 621: Better Than Medicine

“Go get me the stake and the mallet. I still have blood plasma downstairs from the experiment.”

Okay, if everyone can take your seats, we’ll begin. Today’s lesson: How to kill a television character.

621 dark shadows nicholas adam snag

Now, I assume you’ve all done the reading. Last week, we saw Nicholas Blair, the satanic snake oil salesman, hit a teensy snagette in his intricate plan to breed two Frankenstein monsters, and create a new race of people dedicated to serving the Devil.

He’s been using blood-sucking seductress Angelique to keep Barnabas Collins out of his hair, but Angelique’s gone rogue, and now she’s planning to kill Barnabas so that they can be happy newlywed vampires together. Barnabas shares a life force with Adam the enormous Frankenstein man, so now Adam is lying on the carpet, and causing delays for the morning commute.

621 dark shadows julia nicholas surprise

Last Thursday, Dr. Julia Hoffman — the most interesting and therefore the most important character on the show — came over and asked Nicholas for help in tracking down Angelique and Barnabas.

Nicholas tried to hand her his usual line of jive talk, on the general theme of “I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about, I’m just a regular joe with a magic mirror and several members of the living dead littering the premises.”

Julia treated this transparent mendacity with the icy contempt that it deserved.

621 dark shadows adam julia help

Now, she’s come back, because the already fairly dire situation has become even more dire. Barnabas is dying, and Adam is dying, and the only way to fix the situation is to locate Angelique and hammer something sharp into her, pronto.

621 dark shadows adam nicholas medicine

Moaning, Adam begs Julia for help, and she opens her doctor’s bag.

Julia:  Yes, Adam, I’m going to help you. Mr. Blair and I are both going to help you, together.

Nicholas:  I have no healing powers, Dr. Hoffman.

Julia:  You won’t need them. You have knowledge.

Nicholas:  And is knowledge better than medicine?

Julia:  In this particular case, yes.

621 dark shadows julia coffin

Then she looks him in the eye, and says, “Where is the coffin?” because Julia is a rock star.

621 dark shadows nicholas bad

And then the bad thing happens.

Nicholas:  Coffin?

Julia:  Where is Angelique’s coffin?

Nicholas:  You’ll have to forgive me for being bewildered, but I don’t know what you’re talking about, Doctor. Am I supposed to have a coffin, and know a woman named, uh — Angelique?

621 dark shadows nicholas obstacle

And that’s it. He’s done. We hate him.

Nicholas has been on thin ice with the audience for the last month or so, because he’s been grasping at a very slender collection of story threads and pretending that it’s a brilliant master plan, but this is the point that he completely breaks trust with the audience.

Nicholas is dead. He’ll be off the show in a couple of weeks, and we’ll be glad to see him go, and this moment is exactly why.

621 dark shadows julia nicholas stake

Look at what Julia’s doing here. She says, “We must go to that coffin. I have the instrument that will make them both healthy again,” and then she reaches into her medical bag, pulls out a wooden stake, and sets it on the table.

This is the most badass thing a human being has ever done in the entire history of anything. It’s better than a mic drop — it’s a stake drop. You cannot get cooler than that.

621 dark shadows julia nicholas job

The whole purpose of a television character is to make their show more interesting, and Julia Hoffman shows up every day and she does her goddamn job.

And she’s furious here, because the most direct way to improve this floundering storyline is for the badass doctor to actually team up with the Devil, and go vampire slaying together. I cannot overstate how much better the story would be, if he could just drop the nonsense for ten seconds, and report to work.

621 dark shadows julia nicholas the office

But he insists on just standing there, and acting like a dick. Julia says that she can give Adam some injections which will help him stay alive until the vampire’s defeated, and Nicholas concocts the most irritating possible response.

“You are psychic, Doctor,” he says. “You are prescribing without an examination.”

And Julia just can’t even with this. She rolls her eyes, and does a Jim Halpert-style take to the camera.

She is explicitly inviting Nicholas to stop being a tool for five seconds, and he’s deliberately sabotaging the show. He is actually trying to make the scene go slower.

621 dark shadows julia nicholas satan

So if you ever want to kill a character on a television show, then that’s how you do it: you have him declare war on story progression. I’m not sure why you’d want to make the audience hate a character and look forward to getting him off the show, but then I’m not actively working for Satan, so what the hell do I know.

Tomorrow: Heated Arguments on Somebody Else’s Lawn.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

The first tree that Willie passes in the woods is already unstable; he actually puts out a hand to steady it as he goes by.

Julia has a little trouble getting her medical bag open while she’s confronting Nicholas. She manages it in time to hit Nicholas with the line “Where is the coffin?”, but it’s a close race.

There’s an extraordinary shot near the end of act 2 that begins with Barnabas moaning and writhing on the ground, and then it pulls back to reveal that he is in fact in a television studio, lying on a small patch of artificial turf. There’s also a studio light on a little stand. This lasts for five seconds, which doesn’t sound like a long time but it’s long enough.

Tomorrow: Heated Arguments on Somebody Else’s Lawn.

621 dark shadows barnabas welcome mat

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

25 thoughts on “Episode 621: Better Than Medicine

  1. Would a contemporary villain be more likely to co-operate? Is keeping up the “bluff” considered old-fashioned? Am I imagining that?

    Maybe it’s the fable of the frog and the scorpion crossing the river, and Nicholas is the scorpion, while Julia is like the frog, but armed with a hypnotic medallion, holy water, a pocket sized lady-like handgun, and a prescription pad?

    Is it possible the old expression “give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile” comes from the devil?

    Is it possible Nicholas can only co-operate with a human for so long before his head blows off, and confetti comes out?

  2. I think there was an attempt to mimic the early Barnabas days with Nicholas: Barnabas had a “secret identity”: Charming urbane gentleman to the Collins family and sinister vampire to a select few (Willie, Maggie, and later Julia).

    The problem is that there is no dramatically compelling reason for Nicholas’s obstinate behavior. Barnabas was in a far more perilous position (completely helpless during the day), which created a sense of tension over the possibility of exposure, and you also believed that he wanted to maintain the illusion of normalcy to his family and the outside world. None of this is true for Nicholas. To Richard’s point, it almost feels like we missed an episode where Nicholas would explode or catch fire if he admits that he’s a warlock.

    Also, I think Barnabas was written and performed with more complexity when attempting to present as “normal.” His introductory scenes with Elizabeth, Vicki, Roger,David, and Carolyn are beautiful to watch because there’s so much hidden meaning in his words and his actions. Nicholas, however, just comes across as a smarmy slimeball whenever he tries to be “normal.” What’s the gain? Yes, he lives in a house on the Collins property but that could have easily been written to be any non-Collins-related house he rented. He also predominately interacts with people who know what he really is, so you just get frustrating scenes like in this episode.

    It’s unfortunate, because after his “performance improvement plan” meeting with Satan, he’s far more interesting a villain. Even Julia comments on it. His scenes with her and with Barnabas have far more chemistry because they are upfront with each other while still hiding things from each other.

    1. I’m such a fan of Nick, for me he can do no wrong, but I understand the whole gut feeling of “Oh, for god’s sake, Nicholas, stop being a dick!” as dr rock star may have said.

      I always just figured that, as a citizen of darkness, Nicholas Blair may have had certain evil rules to follow, and maybe certain things are taboo, like saying nice things about The Pope, or failing to be debauched?

      Here I am, using my imagination to fill in the the blanks. Is that what Dark Shadows wanted me to do? Or am I just making excuses for someone I like? The way I probably would for Angelique, or Petofi?

      I guess I figured there may have been a “reason for Nicholas’s obstinate behavior”, but we are forced to guess. People with evil plans are always SO secretive. Darn them, to Heck.

      I really think secrecy is a little obsolete in a lot of ways now, considering how big discretion used to be. Bad guys AND good guys were both super-secretive.
      Now, we live in an age of “Confess everything to the world on your pocket phone!” or “No, thank you, Mr. congressman, I prefer not to receive any more photos of your junk, at this time.”
      I grew up in a world of “You better keep your mouth shut!” or “Better to keep one’s mouth closed, and be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth, and remove all doubt.” I think things have changed, but I’m sometimes slow to be sure about being sure.

      If Nicholas did co-operate, we’d like him. Wouldn’t want him to fall down, go boom. This way, we can smirk and giggle along with Barnabas as Blair goes boi-yoi-yoing. I know I will. As much as I love Nicholas, it’s always fun when it’s pop-pop goes the big evil weasel of darkness. He’s there to be big, and to fall. Like the time on Twin Peaks when one mystery girl said “Get the picture?” and the other said “and the frame.”

      1. I always assumed Nicholas could not admit hIs identity any more than Cassandra could – that he was forbidden to as one of the conditions set by his Master.

  3. I really enjoyed Richard’s next-to-last paragraph, because I encounter that almost every day. I consider people’s privacy ten times more than THEY seem to!

  4. Yeah, this is a tough one to figure out.

    Part of the reason I’m doing this project as one episode a day, no skipping, no fast forwards, etc is so I can experience the progress in real time. Also, it’s been a while since I’ve seen some of these episodes, so while I always know the big-picture upcoming plot points, I’ve forgotten a lot of the day-to-day details.

    So over the last six months, I had the experience of falling head-over-heels in love with Professor Stokes, and then Adam, and then Nicholas, and now I’m completely sick of two out of three, and I can’t wait for them to leave the show.

    I agree with Richard about being a Nicholas fan — I’m a big fan of the summer ’68 Nicholas, at least. He’s the awesome summer boyfriend, who makes lots of promises that never quite come true by the fall.

    1. Oops, sorry for getting ahead. I confess, I have a 5-10 episode a day habit of Dark Shadows, but I am taking something for it.

  5. Several of the male characters had what I can best express as the ‘sleazy lounge lizard’ persona (i.e. charming the ladies, hanging out with unsavory characters at the local watering hole, having a hidden agenda) two prime examples being Burke Devlin and Jason McGuire but I also feel that Nicholas shares some of these qualities although on a somewhat grander scale (i.e. ruling a world of artificially made Satanists versus getting revenge or blackmailing the Collins family).

    1. But that’s the entire reason that the character and actor for Nicholas works! He’s so supremely over-the-top that I can’t stop watching him. Nicholas strikes me as witty and urbane, with the undercurrent of evil. Astredo brought a flare and spark to DS, much like I felt about Thayer David, as Professor Stokes. He did a bang up job as Ben too. Each plays the role they “currently” fill, in an incredibly excessive manner. Unlike Jason McGuire, you really enjoy these characters, even if one is pure evil. (Well, not pure, as Nicholas apparently has a thing for Maggie.) Sometimes I think I’ll see Astredo pull a rabbit out of a hat, with his flourishes.

      Lara Parker is over the top in a boring way. She is always tiresome. I know if Astredo or David are on camera, it’s going to be delightfully magnificent. Even the time Julia and the Professor were trying to keep Nicholas at the old house, his boring Collins family stories were done to a T. Obviousness supremely played.

      The other character’s actors are plain obvious, but Astredo and David are deliciously obvious and mastered the art of being over-the-top. Just like Louis Edmonds. I’m warming to Grayson Hall far more this time around. John Karlen is a good actor and rarely has a stunted exchange. You love Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas because that entire direction captured all kids the first time around. No one else could have played Barnabas. As for the lines that are written for them, it is DS, after all.

  6. There could be a logical Satanic reason why Nicholas can’t simply “be himself” around people who already know he’s evil, but there’s no justification for it dramatically. It’s saps all tension from a scene. It’s just infuriating. Imagine the scenes between Julia and Blair if he wasn’t trying — for some ridiculous reason — to pose as a normal person. He could still be charming and pleasant to Julia — after all, he has everything he wants. But playing dumb is never good for a character’s popularity.

    I thought this was handled quite well with Count Petofi, who after an initial period of subterfuge, made no efforts to hide his true self and even seemed to have his address listed in the phone book, as people routinely swung by to chat without ever ruffling his feathers.

    1. I agree Stephen. Nicholas knows damn well he should have fessed up to Julia and acted his usual evil, nobody is badder than me ass, and challenge her. But no, he had to stand up there with his dick in his hand and act like a dick. His blew his cover. He cant come back from that.

  7. Good point about Petofi. He’s really good at faking sincerity.

    I was thinking, why can’t Nicholas budge? Then it came to me: it’s Adam. Nicholas has to maintain the charade, because of Adam. Nicholas knows he’s not fooling Julia, but he has been keeping Adam well fooled.

    Would that be a parallel to the original Adam & Eve story? That Adam be tricked or lured into eating the apple? Nicholas tells Adam just about everything he wants to hear.

    1. I think Nicholas is fairly upfront with Adam about his powers (bringing Carolyn back to life, sending away the spirit of the dead French guy) and about his evil intent — not so much about his not caring about Adam but about how he uses people to get what he wants. Adam is too dumb to logically realize that would include him.

      And yes, Adam is “tempted” by DS’s version of Satan, who Nicholas “knows by another name.”

      1. I would say Nicholas is “a little” upfront about as little as possible. Admitting to having a few measly powers impressed Adam, and helped keep him somewhat satisfied, as long as he stays a self-absorbed teenager.

        The thing Nicholas can’t admit to Adam is that Adam, himself, does not matter to Nicholas. That’s the big bluff, the way I see it, Since he can’t admit that, he can’t admit much of anything.
        He can’t really admit to Maggie what he is, and he can’t admit to himself what he’s really doing, or not doing. Nicholas has a “can’t admit” problem. It seems to be a theme, he just doesn’t want to admit anything to anyone, including himself, and it is a problem. To admit, is to trust. Maybe that’s the one thing Nicholas cannot do, trust.

        Nicholas screwed up with both Adam and Eve. Eve is too evil, it doesn’t matter what she knows, she’s going to be a problem, no matter what. Adam isn’t evil enough, he needs heavy manipulation. If it wasn’t for Nicholas, Adam would be following Stokes.They have become a tedious juggling act for Nicholas, whose mind is elsewhere.

        I guess I believe Adam is the reason for Nicholas main deception because Adam is the person who is most fooled by Nicholas. That deception is the glue that holds this scheme together. Nicholas must keep Adam fooled, by lies, half-truths, told directly to him, or to other people,by whatever means necessary, the charade must be maintained, or everything falls apart.

        Or maybe Nicholas Blair is just a habitual liar? I’ve known people like that. When they say “Good morning!”, check your watch, just to be sure.

  8. I think I’ve commented on this before, but I want to say it again because it’s an important point for any world creators out there. As far as I can see the issue with Nicholas is a fairly basic problem. They made Nicholas too powerful. You have to walk a fine line with an arch-nemesis. You need actual tension that either side could win this time, so they need to have roughly equal power or at the very least the villain needs a fatal flaw that the hero can discover and exploit (the soft point in Smog’s armor or the way gold on an air vent kills a old-fashioned Cyberman). If you made the villain so much more powerful then his opponent then he becomes an ineffectual idiot for not just snapping his fingers and laying waste to the entire town of Collinsport. Even if Nicholas was close to being the devil himself he needs to have restrictions on his powers to make it a semi-even fight or you’re left with two options: 1. the villain wins without breaking a sweat 2. the hero inexplicably and unbelievably wins without us really knowing how. Both options are boring. Julia & Nicholas fighting together against a rebellious Angelique or even time itself would be the more interesting option.

  9. Why is everyone so mad at Nicholas for stonewalling Julia? did you really want to see Angelique get staked?

  10. Interesting discussion. Nicholas is acting true to character by faking innocence to Julia; I got interested when Nick said some encouraging words to Julia when she first walked in, but he backslid into feigned ignorance just when I hoped he would accept Julia’s proposal to cut the b.s.

    But, Nick is on very close terms with “the father of lies” himself. Frank admission of Julia’s accusations could very easily come back to haunt him, once the immediate crisis at hand had passed. Plus, Angelique is still technically his servant, and taking Julia’s advice would reduce staff by one.

    But the main thing is, Nicholas has the power to destroy Angelique at any time. Why conform to Julia’s proposed schedule (as in “right now”)? Why cede any power to her by confirming her suspicions? Better to keep to the plan of keeping as many people as possible as ignorant as possible, than jump into something fairly radical to please an outsider who will still be against your ultimate plans (the new race of Adam/Eve children).

    So, dramatically, yes, Nicholas joining forces with Julia sounds like more fun, but within character, I think Nicholas behaved consistently.

  11. There’s a rhythm to the way Nicholas says “then she DID Barnabas!” which makes me giggle like a schoolboy.

  12. This episode kills Nicholas the same way 1795 and its aftermath killed Vicki. During 1795 Vicki was kept from knowing whatever it was we might have expected her to learn; afterward the Prime Directive every character must follow is “Don’t tell Vicki!” They could have made 1968 far more interesting if Barnabas had realized that, because Vicki knew so much about who Angelique was and what she had done, he would have to take her into his confidence. Once she had joined with him and Julia in fighting the baddies, that would have alleviated the problem of Nicholas being too powerful- even if we could figure out intellectually that a team consisting of Barnabas, Julia, Vicki, Willie, Carolyn, David, and Stokes don’t add up to a match for him, the sheer fact that we see so many people busily doing battle with him would make it more dramatically satisfying when they bring him down.

  13. I have pretty much been done with Nicholas since 1968 when he memory-erased Maggie and Joe and brought Carolyn back to life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Carolyn is still with us. I just don’t like the way it was done.
    “Supernatural” has shown you can keep killing off and reviving main characters until it becomes an in-joke you build an episode around without losing your audience. Marvel’s Avengers shows you can have a seemingly all-powerful adversary like Thanos and have him defeated in the most convoluted, long-winded way and still create a film that is widely loved by fans. So the problem isn’t that Nicholas was just too powerful. The problem is that we don’t even SEE him being powerful. We see an actor with a great deal of charm and a great look, but Nicholas is so ill-defined, everything he does is a mystery. He’s like the Wizard of Oz, manipulating things behind the curtains. How did he make Angelique a vampire? We don’t know. Did he do it or did his boss? We don’t know. It reminds me of an old cartoon of 2 scientists viewing a complicated equation on a chalkboard. One of the steps says “And then a miracle occurs.” The other scientist says, “I think you need to be more explicit in that step.” Yeah, exactly. Astredo is great, but he’s playing an enigma. It’s not his fault. It’s the writers’.
    The lazy writing made me doubt that anything that happened was going to stick. Consequences were merely dismissed. He was obviously not going to let Adam and Barnabas die, or at least not stay dead, anyway. He’d snap his fingers or wiggle his nose offstage and they’d be back.
    There’s an old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you, Fool me twice, shame on me.” Well, the writers fooled me twice, so I wasn’t falling for it the third time. I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t excited. I was just waiting for Nicholas to be gone.
    I still do not understand why the ratings were going UP.

    1. Great analysis of the Nicholas problem, Mary. I too do not understand why the ratings were going up during this time, although today’s episode had some relatively exciting moments, in spite of Nicholas’s plot blocking.

  14. The diaphanous pale green gown that Angelique is currently living in is magnificent. A perfect flowy vampire outfit with cape-like sleeves, it’s probably my favorite Angelique costume of all.

  15. A couple of episodes ago, during the night, Nicholas chewed out Angelique and then went out to see Maggie — flower in his buttonhole and all.

    Now it’s the following morning and he’s only just coming home.

    Well, at least one of his satanic plans seems to have come to fruition…!

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