Episode 651: Mother’s Little Helper

“Are there dead people in that building?”

Well, there she goes again. Girl governess Victoria Winters has vacated the premises, dashing off to the 18th century to set a world record for the number of times you can get yourself hanged. She was ashes, she was memory, she was a dream that never came true, and there’s a very good chance that she just created an alternate timeline where Dan Curtis had a dream about Phyllis Wick.

Winner and still protagonist Barnabas Collins and perpetual runner-up Liz Stoddard were live on the scene when Vicki clicked her heels three times and fell backward into the time vortex. Now they’re standing around in the drawing room, trying to process the unprocessable.

“It’s beyond our understanding,” Liz says, “like death.”

Oh, great. Here we go.

“We don’t understand death, do we?” she continues. “Because we can’t. We can only wait for it, knowing it will reach out for us, when it’s ready.”

Yup, that tears it; she’s gone all gloomy again. This is why they never did a blockbuster remake of the Elizabeth Stoddard story.

651 dark shadows liz barnabas gloomy

This week, Dark Shadows is presenting two storylines. One of them is about Liz worrying that she’s going to be buried alive. There’s also an interesting storyline.

The buried-alive thing hasn’t been mentioned for a while, and to be honest, I was hoping it had blown over completely. Liz has been under a spell since mid-June that makes her obsess over her own death, which is not exactly a rocket sled to adventure. The witch who cast the spell has been obliterated twice since then, but the malady lingers on.

651 dark shadows chris no plan

Across town, Chris Jennings stares at the moon and wishes somebody would give him access to a working almanac. When the moon is full, Chris turns into a savage, bloodthirsty animal, eventually. He’s actually looking straight at the full moon right now, and nothing’s happening. This may be the world’s first case of slow-acting lycanthropy.

Chris is frustrated, because his new doomed plan relies on getting some super-strong sleeping pills from Dr. Hoffman, and she hasn’t filled the prescription yet. He tries to call Collinwood, but he only reaches Barnabas, who says that Julia is currently dealing with an emergency. She’s actually dealing with Liz’s death fixation, which is pretty much the opposite of an emergency, but whatever.

Chris hangs up, and stares at the moon again. There doesn’t appear to be a deadline for turning into a wolf; it must be on the honor system.

651 dark shadows barnabas julia clutching chairs

Okay, back to the emergency. Julia finishes with the patient, and reports to Barnabas, who I guess is in charge of the family at this point.

“I’ve given her a sedative,” Julia says, “and she’ll rest comfortably through the night. Perhaps in the morning, her outlook will be better.” As usual, sedatives are the beginning and the end of all available treatment options.

And a couple minutes later, Liz gets up, slips on a new outfit and walks herself right out the door. That’s what the buried-alive storyline is like, just a whirlwind of activity.

651 dark shadows liz outside

There is actually a reason why they’re dragging this story point back into our lives. They originally came up with the death-fixation spell to cover Joan Bennett’s summer vacation — Cassandra cast the spell, and then they bundled Liz off to Windcliff Sanitarium in June, and kept her there till mid-August.

Now she’s having a relapse, because Joan needs another few weeks to do a play in Chicago. I have no idea why they feel the need to explain Liz being off screen this time — three months needs a rationale, but three weeks is routine. The budget only allows for five or six actors per episode, so if a character doesn’t have a front-burner storyline, we don’t necessarily see them that often. If there was ever a show where a character could wait quietly off camera for a few weeks, Dark Shadows is it.

So spending three days of this week setting Liz up for what is essentially a Christmas break is just irritating. We’ve been putting up with this storyline for six months and counting, and it’s not like there’s a ticking clock. Liz just wafts around the studio in a daze, until she hears the taxi pull up outside, and then she falls down dead and scurries off to Chicago.

651 dark shadows full moon

Meanwhile, the werewolf story is nothing but exciting deadlines, even if this one is mysteriously extended. Chris gets another moon-gazing scene as he hurries to Collinwood, and it’s just hanging there in the sky, in its usual fixed establishing-shot position.

651 dark shadows julia chris please

So when Chris gets to Collinwood, he’s pretty agitated, demanding the sleeping pills that Julia promised. She cocks a suspicious eye at him, asking him if he really does need them for insomnia.

He says, “Doctor, I really have to hurry, I’ve got to get back to town before dark,” which is baffling, because it is already all the way dark. Maybe there’s some local definition of “dark” that I’m not familiar with.

Julia finally hands over the pills, because according to her version of the Hippocratic Oath you should never deny sedatives to anyone. She prescribes anxiolytics at least once in every episode this week, for conditions ranging from generalized moroseness to concussion and severe lacerations.

651 dark shadows amy liz tomb

Liz makes her way to the graveyard, where she says things like, “The tomb is ready, and I am ready. There is no reason to wait any longer.” I have to say, she’s giving some mixed signals on the whole buried-alive thing. If all she ever does is think about death all day long, I’d figure lying down in a coffin would be like going to a spa for her. Nobody’s going to be around to hassle her and tell her to cheer up. This could be a win-win for everybody.

651 dark shadows joe chris yelling

Anyway, Chris makes it back home, and tries to settle down and change into a wolf before the full moon gets annoyed and decides to take the rest of the night off. But just as he swallows his medicine and gets ready for the evening’s entertainment, Joe shows up and insists on coming in and giving Chris a lecture about how he’s ignoring his little sister. Apparently, Chris’ hectic lycanthropy schedule doesn’t give him a lot of time for social calls; that’s what happens when you live in a town with four to six full moons a month.

Chris is desperate to get Joe out of the room, so he tells him to get lost. Naturally, this makes Joe even more upset, and the argument gets pretty heated. Maybe these people really do need more sedatives.

651 dark shadows chris sleep

But Chris finally clears the room, and prepares for his closing act. It’s actually kind of fun having an indeterminate werewolf schedule, because there’s the chance that it could happen at any time. We really only see Chris when the moon is rising, so there’s an urgency to every scene; he’s perpetually on the brink of another involuntary mass murder.

651 dark shadows chris moans

And, naturally, we want him to fail. We want to see the transformation, and all the exciting things to follow. That’s why Chris never makes a real plan, and can’t keep track of what day it is. A responsible Chris Jennings is of no value to us.

651 dark shadows chris pain

So this is the opposite of the tedious Liz story. She’s just pacing back and forth and delivering one-liners from the mortuary, and when she finally drops, there still won’t be anything to look at. It’s a slow ride to nowhere.

651 dark shadows chris arm

But for Chris, lying down just means that the curtain is rising on another nutty transformation sequence. It’s the end of the episode, so we’re on the edge of our seats, wondering if we’re going to actually get to see some werewolf today.

651 dark shadows chris werewolf hand

So they pan down to his hand, and oh my god it’s a werewolf hand! And he’s wearing a wristwatch! And it turns out life is worth living after all.

Tomorrow: Kill the Moon.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Amy tells Barnabas that Liz walked right by her in the hallway, and had a strange look in her eye. Skipping ahead a couple lines, Barnabas says, “You mean that she went out the door?”

When Amy finds Liz at the tomb at the end of act 2, they’re surrounded by tiny little wisps of fog. During the commercial break, they crank up the smoke machine like crazy — and when they come back for act 3, you can hardly see for all the smoke.


Behind the Scenes:

Super-nerdy trivia alert: When Chris calls Collinwood, he tells the operator, “Give me 7758, please, and hurry.” Collinwood’s phone number was given as 4099 in episode 44, but in episode 550, the “Collinsport 4099” telephone was seen at Professor Stokes’ place. Collinwood must have gotten a new number after Stokes stole their phone.

Tomorrow: Kill the Moon.

651 dark shadows liz amy smoke

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

15 thoughts on “Episode 651: Mother’s Little Helper

  1. That last shot reminds me of John Cameron Swayze’s old Timex watch commercials of the 60’s. They used to make the wackiest commercials to demonstrate the toughness and durability of Timex watches. John Cameron Swayze would slip a timex watch over the propeller of a motor boat, lower it into a water tank and let her rip. He’d attach the watch to the point of an arrow and have an archer fire it through a plate of glass at a target. No matter what weird torture they came up with for the TImex, it would always “Take a licking and keep on ticking!”. Every time.

    “Today, ladies and gentlemen, we have strapped a Timex watch on the wrist of this sleeping werewolf, who will wake up at any second and, unless I miss my guess, will go on a murderous rampage for as long as the moon is up. Will the Timex survive the lunar mayhem? We’ll see.

    Well, it’s morning now, and our werewolf is safely sleeping off a particularly violent evening of messing up his bed, throwing furniture, smashing windows and going for the jugular. His clothes are torn and he’s covered with blood, but just look! The Timex watch is still keeping perfect time! It takes a licking and keeps on ticking!”

  2. The problem with Elizabeth is that SHE’S GOT NO MORE STORY. Jason is gone, she did not kill Paul after all, she can leave Collinwood at last. And there is nothing more interesting about her..

    The idea of a Gothic soap opera seems great at first, until you realize that a soap opera is an open ended narrative, while a gothic story is not. There is a big mystery, a big ominous set up, gloomy atmosphere with clues as to what is going on. But that big mystery goes to a resolution, everything is explained, more or less at the end, and then there is NO MORE STORY, unless there is a final chapter telling us that everyone has been consigned to normalcy. Liz without a story just hangs around. Quentin without a story just hangs around. Barnabas once he was cured, basically just hangs around… 1897 is great among other things because it ends and we do not get to watch Edward, Charity, Judith, Magda, etc. etc. just hang around.

    So back to the present to watch people who used to have interesting stories hang around..

    1. Well, then everybody gets mind controlled by an invading force of aliens from the dawn of time, which is a nice return to the slice-of-life storytelling that DS excels at.

  3. Any other character could disappear for weeks and not be explained. Liz is the mistress of the house, and three weeks is a long time for her to be gone without explanation.

    That being said, the death curse makes no sense, and should have burned with Angélique.

    1. I found the death curse to be tired and cumbersome. If Liz felt that way about it, why didnt they just let her remain in the coffin buried alive until she did die. She would have then got what she asked for. I do think it should have disappeared after Angelique died however.

  4. Any other soap would send characters off to Seattle for a trip or something like that. (Nurse Ruth Martin on “All My Children” was once sent to Iowa to take care of her sister, Adam and Stewart always went away on a fishing trip for about 2 weeks in August — pretty ho-hum ways to give the actors their vacation.) They already sent Liz to Windcliff, so a Christmas break visit there would probably just get too repetitive. I think burying Liz alive is very cool (in a crazy Dark Shadows way)! I also think Carolyn really got to step up in the “mistress of Collinwood” role, so Liz’s temporary exit gave Carolyn more screen time. I think the show did a great job with the intersecting storylines (aka narrative collision) of weaving Liz’s eventual wakeup with the wonderful drama of the werewolf story. Barnabus himself was walled up in the Old House basement and was actually buried alive during the Adam story, giving Jonathan Frid some respite, so they have some precedent for the buried alive way to get characters to exit. Liz’s buried alive was the most elaborate, with her being above ground and the special button. I think they should have found more creative ways to bury the DS characters alive.

      1. Me, as well. I’m pretty plebian about Joan B. in DS. Any scene in any century or temporal dimension that she’s in is fine with me.

      2. i liked Tim’s post, too. and that scene where Barnabas and Julia save Carolyn from the werewolf is splendid. in fact, watching Carolyn’s first visit, i kept seeing the vivid finale and was puzzled by the reversed camera angle.

  5. I’ve always interpreted the resurgence of Liz’s death obsession due to her losing Vicki. Seeing Vicki vanish right before her eyes sends Liz into a downward spiral of depression. It left an opening for the death curse to take hold again.

  6. Julia has given everyone in the cast (and perhaps some of the crew) a sedative, sometimes without their consent. But for some reason she just won’t give Chris those pills, despite the fact that he seems to genuinely want and need them. It’s like she gets off on being withholding.

  7. Liz’s “buried alive” story arc is one of those DS plots that really try my patience. The real problem that makes this subplot boring is that Liz is a mature woman of a certain age. Obsessing over death is only interesting if the obsessed party is a. young, and b. good-looking.

    In the same way that frowning and pouting is only sexy on the young and attractive, and merely off-putting on the mature, this story line only has half a chance to be interesting if you throw your hottest actor at it. (These remarks may be offensive, but let’s be honest here, if we can’t be anywhere else.)

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