“It was the moon! I’m afraid of the moon, Barnabas, and I don’t know why!”
We’re in the dying days of the Great 1968 Wrap-Up, when all of the year’s dangling plot threads are finally resolved, and we can move on with our lives. Today’s episode aired on Christmas Eve 1968, and there’s just a couple more shoes to drop before the clock strikes midnight and we start a new year.
One of the last remaining storylines is the curse that Cassandra put on Elizabeth in a fit of pique, condemning her to do nothing but ruminate obsessively about her own death. This is an incidental story thread that’s been dragging on for more than six months, and for a while it seemed like they might forget all about it. But now Cassandra’s revenge is back with a vengeance, and we’re just going to have to deal with it.
When we left Liz yesterday, she’d wandered out of the house and walked to the graveyard, where she collapsed and pretended that she was dead for a minute. Barnabas went out to retrieve her, and now he’s scooped her up and brought her back home.
The interesting thing, as we close up these remaining story threads, is that Barnabas now appears to be in charge of everything. Liz’s collapse has left Collinwood with a bit of a power vacuum — Roger’s away on business, Vicki’s run off with her husband, and Carolyn has stepped off screen and won’t be back unti Friday. So Barnabas steps in, spending all of his time this week just fussing around and taking care of everybody.
This may be the point in the show when Barnabas the serial killer turns into the redeemed character that people remember — a cross between kindly uncle, butler and babysitter.
Barnabas hustles Liz up the stairs to her bedroom, and says that he’ll get Julia to give her a stronger sedative. Liz says, “I won’t take it. I didn’t take the first one she gave me earlier.”
Obviously, this comes as a shock to Barnabas, who believes — as we all do — that sedatives are the answer to every problem. If people refuse to take sedatives, then our health care system breaks down completely.
But Liz has something on her mind, which needs to be attended to right away. Now that Vicki’s disappeared, David and Amy need a new governess. Liz is afraid that if she dies so soon after Vicki’s departure, the kids will be traumatized. They need a companion, starting tonight.
This is the way that Liz’s condition works now — she fixates on something, and insists that the world shift around to support her new proclamation. It’s basically a blank check for any plot contrivance that the writers need to set up.
In this case, they want to get Maggie Evans installed at Collinwood as a replacement governess, and they want it right now, so Liz tells Barnabas to go and call Maggie, and get her to come over tonight.
Barnabas the butler basically says, “As you wish,” and heads for the phone. It’s another late-night involuntary emergency job offer, which is so common in this fast-paced modern world. I get these all the time.
Meanwhile, Amy’s stepped out onto the front porch so that she can stare at the full moon, and sob silently. Jesus, this girl.
I haven’t really gotten into it so far, but little orphan Amy has been taking steps to ensure her position on the show. She’s a brand-new character, and she doesn’t want to risk being pigeonholed, so she’s trying to involve herself in every storyline on the show. She’s front and center in the Quentin’s ghost story, her brother Chris is the werewolf, and this week she’s been following Liz around, hoping to become part of that plotline too. It’s working out great, actually.
So here comes Barnabas the butler, who rounds up the stray child and shoos her back into the house.
She asks, “Are you going to scold me for going out alone?”
“I should, you know,” Barnabas replies, because he’s an authority figure in her life for some reason.
But, oh, will you look at that face. Denise Nickerson is eleven years old, and she’s been acting since she was two. Denise’s parents are a monstrous stage family, who have relentlessly pushed her onto the stage so they can spend her money. She’s currently working on Dark Shadows during the day, and then performing on stage in The Music Man at night.
So Denise is terrifyingly professional, and she can basically nail any emotion you care to suggest at a moment’s notice. Barnabas is just there to serve up the straight lines.
Barnabas: You’ve been crying, haven’t you?
Amy: Because I’m afraid!
Barnabas: Of what?
Amy: I don’t know!
Barnabas: Because of what happened to Mrs. Stoddard tonight?
Barnabas: But then, what was it? Surely you know what caused you to cry. Can’t you tell me?
Amy: It was the moon! I’m afraid of the moon, Barnabas, and I don’t know why!
She throws herself into his arms and sobs, and Barnabas does a puzzled take to the camera. He’s basically saying, Jesus, what the hell have I gotten myself involved in now? I have got to stop asking people why they’re crying.
But now, finally, we return to Amy’s brother Chris, who’s also afraid of the moon and has taken steps to do something about it.
He’s downed some sleeping pills courtesy of you know who, in an attempt to keep from transforming under the light of the full moon. Now he’s lying in bed, having doggie dreams about chasing sticks and murdering barmaids.
Now, this is actually one of my favorite Dark Shadows scenes, so I’m going to walk through this in some detail. Check this out.
Chris opens his eyes, not sure what’s going on.
Then he looks down at his hands…
And he’s alarmed to discover that HE HAS WEREWOLF HANDS!
This may be the only werewolf scene in the history of the dramatic arts where the werewolf is just kind of surprised and pissed off about his transformation. He’s not so much a wild, savage beast; it’s more of a Jesus, my alarm didn’t go off and now I’m late for work.
So he tears up the bed for a minute, and then — unbelievably — he rushes to the mirror to check if he’s actually a werewolf.
I cannot express to you the depth of my feelings about this moment. It’s the silliest thing they’ve done on the show since Leona Eltridge, and therefore I love it more than anything. They’re essentially positing that Chris Jennings is the world’s first self-awarewolf.
Next, he heads straight for the door, as wolves so often do. His hands can’t operate the doorknob, obviously, so he sort of grunts and pulls at it until the door swings open, and he makes for the wide open spaces.
So once again, Dark Shadows has shifted the boundaries of acceptable broadcasting in such a gradual and skillful way that the audience can hardly tell this apart from normal television. It’s the one time that you can accurately say that you are literally watching lunacy.
This is critical to completing the Great 1968 Wrap-Up, because you can’t shutter all of the old stories without having something else to offer as an appealing substitute.
And here come Maggie and Joe, eager to tie up another loose end. They were engaged once upon a time, but their relationship fell apart over the last few months, thanks to a pair of seductive hypnotic spells that tied them romantically to Nicholas and Angelique, respectively.
They’ve both been released from their spells, and this is the scene where they’re either going to reconcile or just be friends. They land on friends, and that’s the end of that.
This is very convenient, because the writers have decided to bring Maggie over to Collinwood as Vicki’s replacement, whether it makes sense for the character or not.
Personally, I’m entirely in favor of this reboot. I like Maggie, mostly because she’s good at being angry at people, and she’s the only person in the cast who wears outfits that really acknowledge that the 1960s are happening.
But if they want to keep her on the show, then they need to get her into Collinwood before they close the drawbridge. Over the last year, they’ve systematically killed almost every character who lives outside the estate — Burke, Dr. Woodard, Sam, Dr. Lang, Nicholas, Jeff, Adam and Eve. By this point, the only people in the cast who don’t live at Collinwood are Magge, Joe, Chris and Professor Stokes, and pretty soon it’s going to be just Professor Stokes. If Maggie doesn’t take this opportunity, she’s going to be left behind.
So she says yes, and Liz makes her the new emergency governess.
Liz tells Maggie, “I suppose you can’t understand why I think this is so urgent that it can’t wait until tomorrow. If you don’t mind, I’ll have Barnabas explain it to you.” I guess now Barnabas is in charge of human resources, too.
Joe offers to go to Maggie’s house and come back with some things she’ll need, which is kind of odd behavior for a guy she just permanently broke up with, but really the point of this back and forth is to get Joe alone in the house for the big closing number.
As Joe enters the house, we see that the werewolf’s outside, peering in through the window. It’s not really clear why a werewolf would go around to people’s houses looking for somebody to beat the shit out of, but werewolves are fantastic, so pipe down.
Joe hears the growling outside, and sees the werewolf’s silhouette at the window, making spooky arm gestures for maximum effect.
And then Chris crashes through the window, snarling like an unholy beast as he gets to work slaughtering his cousin. This is what Dark Shadows considers an appropriate place to end its Christmas Eve broadcast, so we’ll be back for lots of confusion, regret and severe injuries in a couple of days. Merry Christmas, one and all!
Tomorrow: Time Travel, part 5: Consider Rhoda.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Barnabas and Liz stumble through their lines at the beginning of act 1. First, Barnabas tells Liz, “I — we’re going to see that nothing will happen to you.” Then Liz follows up with “If what you say is so — that proves something is wrong with me. Something — beyond my being able to do anything about.” Growing agitated about the children, she says, “They mustn’t be fail — fai — feel that they’re left all alone.”
Barnabas tells Joe and Maggie about Vicki’s longing to see Jeff: “She talked about nothing — about wanting to see him, wherever he was.” He means “talked about nothing but wanting to see him.”
Right after that, Maggie says, “Well, she’s with him now.” And then Barnabas just stops being in the scene. Maggie’s waiting for a cue from him, but he’s facing away from the teleprompter, and she realizes that he’s not going to say his next line. She looks at the teleprompter, smacks her lips, and makes an effort to hide a smile. Then she looks up at Barnabas, and says, “Well…” Nothing. There’s actually an eight-second gap where she’s waiting for a cue, and it never happens. Finally, she just decides to say his line: “I think that maybe I should speak with Mrs. Stoddard.” Good move.
Behind the Scenes:
They do a very cute live-TV trick today, which is worth watching for. Towards the end of act 2, Maggie and Joe are talking in Maggie’s cottage, and she gets a phone call from Barnabas. They cut to a shot of Barnabas on the Collinwood set, on the phone with Maggie — who’s now represented by a pre-recorded voice.
The camera pulls in on Barnabas as he continues the conversation. The pre-recorded “Maggie” only has a couple of lines, and then there’s a long monologue from Barnabas, telling her all about what’s happened to Vicki. While he’s speaking, you can hear some rustling nearby, which is Joe and Maggie hurrying over to the drawing room set and getting themselves settled on the couch.
Then they play a sound cue and fade from Barnabas to a shot of Maggie and Joe on the couch, and they’ve just pretended that they can actually afford to edit scenes like this was a real television show. Ta-dah!
Tomorrow: Time Travel, part 5: Consider Rhoda.
— Danny Horn