“I am not dead, as you can plainly see.”
Aunt Em had just come out of the house to water the cabbages when she looked up and saw Dorothy running toward her.
“My darling child!” she cried, folding the little girl in her arms and covering her face with kisses. “Where in the world did you come from?”
“From the Land of Oz,” said Dorothy gravely. “And here is Toto, too. And oh, Aunt Em! I’m so glad to be at home again!”
Yes, Barnabas Collins has clicked the heels of his ruby slippers, using the magic powers of a vampire which he isn’t even one anymore, and he’s quantum leaped himself home.
A few weeks ago, girl governess Victoria Winters followed her time-warped husband Jeff back to 1796, where — to precisely no one’s surprise but her own — she’s managed to get herself sentenced to death all over again. Barnabas wants to save her from the tragic destiny that she seems intent on provoking, hence the magical wish-based time travel.
Today’s opening narration says, “He has transcended the barriers of time and space, and returned to the 18th century,” and if you need any more details about the time mechanics than that, then I’m sorry, hard sci-fi fans, but we are not going to be able to accommodate you. This is as hard as we get.
But Barnabas hasn’t just gone back to the late 18th. He’s taken the whole show and turned the clock back to April 1968, nine months into the past. Dark Shadows wants a do-over on the last couple episodes of the 1795 storyline, to see if they can make things turn out differently.
Barnabas’ servant Ben approaches, surprised to see him just standing around in the woods showing off his fangs to the ladies and gentllemen. Barnabas takes a moment to check the yearometer.
Ben: I thought you went into the village to find Lieutenant Forbes.
Barnabas: Then I have come back on the right night! Perfect.
Ben: Mr. Barnabas… what are you talkin’ about?
Barnabas: This is the night that Forbes sent my mother to the tower to find me, isn’t it?
This is, indeed, the night, and Barnabas turns to face the audience with a wild look in his eyes.
“I’m going to do something tonight that no one else has ever done,” he announces. “I’m going to change the course of history!”
And then the opening titles come up, and we hear, “Today, the part of Victoria Winters will be played by Carolyn Groves.”
So he’s done it already — history has been changed! That hardly took any time at all; now we have the whole rest of the day free.
But I suppose changing history is one of Dark Shadows’ core competencies. That’s going to come in handy right about now, because there are changes that need to be made. The show has just completed a comprehensive narrative house-cleaning process that I’ve been calling The Great 1968 Wrap-Up, and now they need to stick the landing.
So here we are, watching the tragic destiny of the Collins family re-unfold. That child-murdering rascal Nathan Forbes has told Barnabas’ mother the horrible truth about her son’s night-time activities, and she’s so horrified and ashamed that she drank poison and died.
Now, Barnabas has a strict policy about killing members of his immediate family, namely that he’s the only one who’s allowed to do it. So here he is, wasting perfectly good governess-rescuing time, in order to set up his revenge plot against Nathan.
This is the big confrontation scene at the Eagle, where Barnabas gets Nathan’s attention by breaking some glass with his cane, and says Nathan’s responsible for Naomi’s death.
Now, if you believe Barnabas’ assertion that this trip is all about rescuing Vicki, then this is a colossal waste of time.
For some reason, he’s still going through with his plan to lure Nathan back to the Collinwood study at 9pm, knowing that Nathan will try to shoot him with a crossbow. The only difference between attacking Nathan right now and attacking him at 9:00 is that this gives Nathan some extra time to be scared, which made Barnabas feel better at the time but is not super relevant to the current rescue plan.
But this trip isn’t really about saving Vicki. It’s about reminding the audience what a badass Barnabas used to be.
And it is totally working. It’s been a long time since Barnabas got to play the undead sadist, and Jonathan Frid is clearly enjoying the opportunity. A few days ago, Barnabas was the family butler, tucking people into bed and arranging for sedative prescriptions.
Look at him now. He provokes Nathan into shooting him at close range, and then he spits out the bullet and says, Is that all you got?
It’s a nice reminder that Barnabas really is a dynamite villain. He’s intense and scary, and making him passive is just leaving money on the table. Dark Shadows didn’t become popular because it had a vampire. It’s popular because it had this vampire.
One positive thing that they’ve learned this year is that Barnabas works best when he’s got some friends. If we’re supposed to care about him as a character, then he can’t just be a twenty-four hour nightmare machine. So they’ve established that he’s working with Ben, and now he’s come for a conference with this girl, whoever she turns out to be.
This is Carolyn Groves, the new substitute Vicki. We’ve had three of these in the last six weeks, and the joke is wearing a bit thin.
According to Barnabas & Company, the producers asked Betsy Durkin to come back for another lap around the track, but she’d planned a Christmas trip to Europe with her husband. Betsy says that she would have cancelled the trip if they were going to give her a full-time gig, but she didn’t want to come back for just a couple more days.
So we’ve got this Groves girl, who makes the unexpected acting choice of smiling while she’s telling Barnabas how hopeless everything is.
“There’s practically no time at all,” she beams. “They’re going to hang me tonight!”
Barnabas protests, “They’re not going to hang you at all.”
“No,” she grins, as if this is the most wonderful news, “everything’s been tried, it’s too late to stop them now!” I don’t know what she’s so happy about.
She keeps it up, too. Barnabas has a moody moment about Vicki and Peter Bradford, and she chirps, “Barnabas — he’s going to die on the gallows, soon after I do!” And she’s just smiling away. It’s the most peculiar thing.
By the way, I don’t know where the hell Phyllis Wick is supposed to be. According to the procedure that we’re familiar with, she should be parked in the Collinwood drawing room waiting for the clock to tick, but nobody’s managed to locate her yet. I don’t think they even tried.
And it doesn’t really matter, anyway. This is Barnabas’ night, not Vicki’s. So they spend the last ten minutes of the episode just working Nathan’s nerves, freaking him out with some self-extinguishing candles and trilling violins.
To be honest, it goes on for way longer than it should; it’s one of those “Barnabas plays with his food” scenes. But we haven’t had any of these for a long time, and that’s the point. For one week, Barnabas gets to be the bad guy again, and I have to say, it feels good.
Tomorrow: Being This Way Again.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Nathan rushes into Collinwood, he tries to close the doors behind him, but they swing open behind him. As Nathan and Ben talk in the foyer, the front door is pulled shut by an unseen stagehand, because Nathan needs to open the doors and look outside a few seconds later.
Behind the Scenes:
Carolyn Groves had previously appeared on CBS soap The Edge of Night in 1963, and a bunch of early-60s anthology shows: The United States Steel Hour, Armstrong Circle Theatre, and The DuPont Show of the Week. In 1965, she was in a road company of Nobody Loves an Albatross, and from March 1967 to January 1969, she was an understudy for You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running, a successful show of four unrelated one-act comedies by Robert Anderson.
After Dark Shadows, Groves appeared in a peculiar 1970 film called Pound, which cast humans in the role of dogs, cats and a penguin, waiting to be put to sleep. She played “Pedigreed Bitch,” if that enlightens you at all. In 1978, she was well-received in Say Goodnight Gracie, an Off-Broadway play. Then she had a bit part in the film version of Six Degrees of Separation in 1993, and that wraps up all the information I have about Carolyn Groves.
Tomorrow: Being This Way Again.
— Danny Horn