Episode 664: Sproat’s Last Stand

“Don’t ask questions. Now, you mustn’t panic, or ask — or be afraid, or ask questions, because something unexpected may happen. And you mustn’t panic! Do you understand?”

So where do I even start with this? Barnabas Collins has handwaved himself back into his own history, where girl governess Victoria Winters is still awaiting execution for witchcraft. You’d think the statute of limitations would run out after 170 years, plus she’s already been hanged for this, so it’s double jeopardy. Also, it’s not even the real Vicki.

But Barnabas is doing what the Collins family does best, namely: rewrite their family history with a black magic marker, powered by authentic black magic.

This is the start of a challenging run of episodes, because Sam Hall and Gordon Russell — also known as the good Dark Shadows writers — are taking a week off to figure out what they’re going to do with the show following this little cul-de-sac in story progression.

So the next five episodes are all written by Ron Sproat, who’s not a very good writer, and directed by Dan Curtis, who’s not a very good director, and it’s smack in the middle of nine consecutive episodes featuring Jonathan Frid, who’s not very good at remembering his lines. It’s like the perfect storm of barely adequate television production.

664 dark shadows barnabas ben foyer

As an artist, Dan Curtis’ best quality is that he’s never satisfied doing the same old thing; he’s always pushing boundaries and trying something new. Naturally, this is also his worst quality. He loves to set up gimmick shots, and this episode’s opening sequence is a perfect example of his refusal to ever play it safe.

Barnabas is brooding in the Collinwood study about time and fate and his terrible curse, when he suddenly notices that the corpse of his latest victim has been carefully arranged on a nearby armchair. Alarmed, he runs to the foyer, and calls to his servant, Ben.

664 dark shadows barnabas ben portrait

Visually, this is a weird sequence, so we’re going to have to take it slow for a second.

Barnabas says that something terrible has happened, and he leads Ben to the study, through a passageway that we’ve never seen before.

664 dark shadows barnabas ben candles

Although I suppose we’re not really seeing it now either, because this isn’t part of the set — they’re actually walking between the foyer and the study set, through a darkened section of the studio.

The camera holds tight on the faces and candles, so that we don’t see anything in the background that we’re not supposed to see.

664 dark shadows barnabas ben visitor

But this is Dark Shadows, so naturally we see something anyway. It’s hard to tell what the guy they pass is operating — probably a camera, but it could be a light or something. Who even knows what the Collins family of the late 18th would install in the pitch-black netherworld between the foyer and the study? Interior design principles were probably different back then.

664 dark shadows barnabas ben door

So they just keep walking through the not-really-a-set, with rapidly diminishing returns. At one point, they open a door and walk through, and you think that they’ve arrived and the scene can actually start, but then they just keep on strolling through the darkness.

The real suspense of this scene is that you don’t know how long the dialogue can hold out. Sproat’s dialogue tends to be functional rather than decorative, and he struggles to accommodate a lengthy West Wing walk and talk.

Where are we going? To the study. Why? She’s there. You took her in there? I found her there! How’d she get in there? I don’t know. Etcetera.

664 dark shadows angelique ta-dah

The boys finally reach the study, and instead of the dead woman oh my god it’s Angelique! Ta-DAH!

664 dark shadows ben barnabas ta-dah

Now, I have to admit that I’m a huge fan of the supervillain ta-dah! moments, where the presumably-defeated foe suddenly pops up again for a new confrontation. They do this, like, a million times on Dark Shadows, and I always find it thrilling.

This is actually the primary definition of the larger-than-life kaiju characters on the show; they’re the ones who can completely change the story just by appearing in a room unexpectedly.

So Barnabas provides the traditional response — a shocked look, and a throaty cry of “ANGELIQUE!” — and then the fun begins.

664 dark shadows angelique barnabas fun

The time travel mechanics in this story were already a bit fragile — what with Vicki once again borrowing somebody else’s life, and Barnabas apparently being possessed by his own future consciousness — but now Ron Sproat just takes a hammer and starts hitting things.

Angelique originally came from this timeline, so you’d expect that this is the 1796 model, unaware of the future events that she’ll experience in 1968. In fact, when they revisit this period again later on this year, that’s exactly what they’ll do. But Dark Shadows never takes the sensible path.

Barnabas:  How did you return to this time?

Angelique:  I must remain in this century now, as a punishment for the mistakes I made in the past — mistakes that I will never make again.

Now, when she says “mistakes I made in the past,” obviously she means the future, but whatever.

Barnabas:  How did you find out about me?

Angelique:  You mean about your return to this century? Oh, never mind. I found out.

So, okay, I guess that means the characters are experiencing events in the order that we see them, which isn’t particularly logical if you think about it for too long, but it makes sense emotionally.

This is soap opera, not hard SF, and it would be pointless to try to explain to the audience that Angelique doesn’t remember all the things that we’ve seen her do this year, because we’ve now traveled back to a time before she traveled to the future, and so on. Nobody cares. It’s easy to accept that Nathan and Ben are still in the same place that we left them, but the characters who we’ve seen in the ’60s — Vicki, Barnabas and Angelique — keep their memories intact.

664 dark shadows barnabas angelique teleprompter

The lighting is broken, by the way. Only a third of the set is actually lit properly, so most of the time, either Barnabas or Angelique is in total darkness. There are some moments when they’re basically just squabbling silhouettes.

Meanwhile, Frid is delivering his typical impromptu dialogue mash-up. Angelique says, “I have the power to save Victoria Winters,” and Barnabas reacts by looking uncomfortable, and peeking at the teleprompter. “So,” he exclaims, “why did you want to save her life?”

Angelique admits, “It’s true, I never was very fond of Miss Winters,” and Barnabas counters, “Then how did you even — stop to think about it?”

664 dark shadows barnabas angelique silhouette

And then this televisual triumph becomes even more amazing, courtesy of R. Sproat.

Angelique:  I will do it, if you will make a bargain with me.

Barnabas:  A bargain?

Angelique:  I am forced to remain in this century; I am consigned to this time forever! And I want you to stay here with me.

Barnabas:  Stay?

Angelique:  Yes, and never make any attempt to return to the century from which you came.

So I feel like that sets a new standard for perplexing dialogue. “I am forced to remain in this century forever”? How does that work?

It’s kind of like Star Wars geography, where you turn adventure-story tropes into science-fiction, so every exotic location becomes its own planet. There’s an ice world, and a desert planet, and the forest moon of Endor, as if Earth is the only planet with a crazy patchwork biosphere. In Dark Shadows, the past is a foreign country, and a person can get permanently exiled to a specific year.

664 dark shadows vicki peter theory

Meanwhile, on death row, Peter is trying to comfort Vicki, who’s taking a moment to think things through.

“Before, when this happened,” she says, “I managed to escape. That was because there was someone else to take my place. Now there’s no one!”

So by this point, characters are just free to make up their own nonsensical theories about how time works. If this was originally Phyllis Wick’s timeline, then presumably she’s still displaced somewhere. The implication here is that Phyllis just gave up and evaporated, and for all I know maybe she did.

Peter’s confused, and Vicki says, “I know, don’t listen to me,” which is the first sensible thing anybody’s said all day. He murmurs, “Don’t say anything else, okay?” which ditto.

664 dark shadows jailer barnabas cell

The jailer lets Barnabas into Vicki’s cell, which is interesting because everybody is supposed to think that he went to England, and the fact that he’s still walking around in Collinsport is a secret that people have been murdered over.

In fact, Barnabas’ mother drank poison earlier this evening, when she found out he was still around. I hope the employees at the Collinsport Gaol have health insurance.

664 dark shadows barnabas vicki peter plan

Next, Barnabas gives the prisoner a Fridspeak-inflected mission briefing.

Barnabas:  I have no time to explain. Just listen to me, and listen to me carefully. There’s a way of saving your life.

Peter:  How?

Barnabas:  Just listen to me, and follow my instructions.

Vicki:  All right.

Barnabas:  Go to the gallows. You’ll be safe,  if you do everything I tell you to do.

This is one of those dangerous scenes where Barnabas is the only person who knows what’s going on, and everyone else is just there to say things like “How?” and “I don’t understand.” Unfortunately, that means Barnabas has to remember how to say a big chunk of dialogue, with no helpful cues to point him in the right direction.

Barnabas:  First of all — the hangman will give you a mask. Refuse it.

Vicki:  But, I —

Barnabas:  Don’t ask questions! Now, secondly, you mustn’t panic, or ask — or be afraid, or ask questions, because something unexpected may happen. And you mustn’t panic! Do you understand?

She says that she does, which makes one of us. Maybe her mutant power is the ability to absorb escape plans through osmosis.

664 dark shadows peter barnabas find you

As Vicki is taken away, Barnabas tells Peter about Angelique’s cunning plan.

When Vicki walks up to the gallows, Angelique will put her under a spell. Vicki will fall down, and everybody will think that she’s dead, because people often die suddenly as they’re walking from one place to another.

Then Angelique will remove the spell, and Vicki will spring to her feet, shouting, Ha ha, I’ve fooled you! And then I suppose she and Peter start running in the general direction of Mexico. This is one of those foolproof what-could-possibly-go-wrong kind of plans.

664 dark shadows vicki noose

Vicki is led to the courtyard. She pauses for a shot of her face framed in the noose, because Dan Curtis, and then the execution pretty much unfolds on schedule.

664 dark shadows vicki hanging

She walks across the courtyard without serious incident, and steps up to the gallows. They offer her a hood, and she says no, as per Barnabas’ instructions.

There’s a steady beat of kettle drums as they throw the noose around her neck, and then they take the ladder out from under her, and that’s about it.

So Barnabas did manage to change history, I guess, if you count Vicki refusing the hood. It’s not exactly what he was hoping for, but I suppose it’s something.

Tomorrow: Vicki Ruins Everything (Reprise).


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

When Barnabas leads Ben from the foyer, the front doors of Collinwood are open.

Barnabas has pronoun trouble: “What else can I do? I can’t save Vicki myself. If there’s one chance — one chance in a million that I can save her, and that I can believe what she says, then I can accept her offer.”

When Barnabas and Peter argue outside Vicki’s cell, you can clearly see scratches in the paint on the “metal” cell door.

As the Hangman prepares the gallows, the camera pans to show the courtyard. This includes showing the guy crouching next to the smoke machine. The camera quickly turns away to get him out of the frame.

There’s a close-up on Ben as the scene changes, and Barnabas and Peter hurry from the courtyard set to the Collinwood study. Ben has some lines to fill up the time, but not quite enough — there’s a pause after he’s done, and he quickly peeks at the camera to see if it’s still on him.

Before Angelique “appears” in the study to look at Vicki’s body, you can see her standing in the shadows for a while until she gets her cue.


Behind the Scenes:

There’s something of a party at the hanging today, with five day players mooching around the gallows set.

Anthony Goodstone plays the “Jailor” — that’s how it’s spelled in the credits — and he’s the only one who gets any lines. This is his third and final appearance on the show — he played a Blue Whale customer in March 1967 when Willie showed up for the first time, and then he was a bailiff at Vicki’s witch trial in February 1968.

James Shannon, the cute monkey-looking guy who’s a personal favorite, is the Hangman. We saw him last in November, playing the cute monkey-looking Gaoler in episode 623, when Eve visited 1795. His big showcase episode was in August, playing the cute monkey-looking Deputy in episode 556 that Angelique was seducing. We’ll see him again more than a year from now, playing a zombie in March 1970. I don’t know how cute or monkey-looking he is in that role, but I will keep you posted.

Okay, who else? David Groh is the Hangman’s Assistant; this is his second of two appearances. We last saw him as a ghost raised by Nicholas in July; he was the corpse who contributed an arm to Adam’s construction.

Pieter Jan Van Neil plays a Spectator; this is his only episode.

The other spectator is Timothy Gordon, who’s something of a regular — he’s in 31 episodes, which is second only to the Blue Whale bartender. We saw him last in November, as the Minister who didn’t marry Vicki and Jeff at their aborted wedding. We’ll see part of him again in June, when he plays the hand of Count Petofi.

Tomorrow: Vicki Ruins Everything (Reprise).

664 dark shadows smoke machine

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

13 thoughts on “Episode 664: Sproat’s Last Stand

  1. Barnabas killed Angelique the night he became a vampire, and only her annoyed spirit existed after that point. So Angelique physically returning to 1796 at this point is a relatively stable time loop.

    I assumed that when Angelique claims she’s been exiled to the 18th Century, that means she’ll have to live out the rest of her life: It’s uncertain if she’s now simply a mortal witch, which as punishment goes is more a “reset” than anything too terrible. Satan’s fairly reasonable to his failed employees.

    Barnabas, of course, is immortal, so if he stays in the past with Angelique, he can just wait for her to die naturally or just leave once Vicki dies naturally. Either option seems better than spending 200 years in a box. It’s not like he got used to having electricity.

    1. Well, Angelique could be in a loop like Aornis in the Thursday Next mysteries. Aornis, for her crimes has been consigned to TJ Maxx (which is Temporal Jail Maximum security) and she is trapped in a checkout line. She moves forward in the line, but when she reaches the cash register, she is sent back to the end of the line.

  2. Perhaps when Vicki left with Peter/Jeff for the 18th century, Phyllis Wick was bounced back to the Collinwood of 1968 once again, this time in Vicki’s room. After going through Vicki’s personal effects Phyllis finds out all about her, and, unable to return to her own time, decides instead to travel to New York to work as a governess at the Foundling Home. One evening after work while in a bar she meets a certain Mr. Strack, who then bargains with her to join the Leviathans. So, when we hear during the Leviathan storyline that Vicki met her fate in the 18th century at the hands of the Leviathans, it was actually Phyllis Wick taking her revenge on Vicki for having displaced her out of her own time, which works as well for the Leviathans because of Barnabas’ feelings for Vicki and which would then make it easier to bring Barnabas under their control when rerouting him on his way back to 1968 from 1897 by way of 1795. With Vicki at last out of the way, Phyllis Wick can then return to stay in her native 18th century and, after a 170-year delay, finally arrives at Collinwood to work as governess to Sara, after which she is sent to the gallows as originally played out. This would explain why, as of 1968, Barnabas then has dual memories of both Vicki and Phyllis Wick having worked at the Collinwood of 1795 in the capacity of governess.

    1. Really quite good.

      But she would have no motivation to go to the Foundling Home.

      However…….

      I would certainly watch your screenplay.

      You are as good as Danny.

      That says a lot.

      Of course, that makes me believe you’re him.

      1. I’m as straight as can be.

        Still a DS lover.

        It’s not a gay thing. It’s universal. I don’t care if Louis or Jonathan or anyone is gay.

        I’m going to say it.

        It is not a gay show.

        1. It’s actually kind of a gay show, but it’s also a lot of other things. Anyway, a straight person can watch a gay show. I watch a vampire show, and I’m not a vampire.

  3. The blue candles continue to bug me. Soon after the color switch I assumed they were using up old stock. I could see blue candles of that color reading better in black and white. For example in one famous movie scene Bette Davis wore a black dress to read better as red in a black and white movie. But it’s been well past the time when at the rate they use them the back stock should be used up. Now I’m thinking maybe they thought colored candles would just throw in some extra color since color broadcasting is still kind of new.

    In any case it bugs me because I’m almost positive there wouldn’t BE blue candles back in time and it’s just kind of strange in the 20th century. It draws my eye and keeps it anytime they are in a scene.

    1. Regarding the blue candles: It may be that they were avoiding white because the old color TV cameras had a hard time processing it. A camera with film would have no problem, but an early TV camera was different.
      There was something about white that overwhelmed the primitive cameras. If the camera points at a flame, or light bulb, or something white, there’s likely to be a weird black halo around it, a sign of the camera not quite being able to process the image.
      By the early 70’s, TV cameras evolved to the point where filming something white was no longer a problem.

      Also, at the time, white was very “in” in some ways, but with things like stationary, men’s dress shirts, or bed sheets, white was totally “out”. You were more likely to see goldenrod, or cornflower blue. The candles may have been included in that. Color had never been more dominant in fashion, and appliances.

      I figure the Better Davis movie must be Jezebel.

  4. I think it was “Jezebel” but I remember the description why it was different and the visual of her in the black dress more than the title. It probably was though because it was what Hollywood thinks the dresses looked like during the Civil War type dress with a big hoop and stuff.

  5. I think the writer(s) missed a big opportunity here. They could have written Barnabas saving Vicki as a bloodbath jail break, a la The Terminator in the police station.

    I mean, Barnabas has superhuman strength, shredder choppers, and you can’t kill him by normal means. So why not have him take Vicki by force, and slaughter those imprisoning her. It’s not like the jailers are many, or even well-armed. This is DS, after all.

    Oh yeah, now I remember the reason this was impossible… Ron Sproat.

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