Episode 698: Sister Act

“I don’t see much point in a party that isn’t a surprise.”

It all started ages ago, back when handsome, irresponsible Chris Jennings was just beginning his career as a werewolf. A bad moon was on the rise, and Chris was planning to spend a quiet evening at home, chained to the radiator. But then his girlfriend came over unexpectedly, and booked a ringside seat for his hideous transformation.

The next morning, Chris decided that this would be a good opportunity to travel, so he took off, apparently without pausing to determine whether Sabrina was alive or dead. He just packed a bag, and ran. The worst thing about being a werewolf is that you don’t get a lot of security deposits back.

698 dark shadows ned sabrina wheels

But Chris’ foolproof getaway plan didn’t take into account the tenacity of Sabrina’s brother Ned, who’s dedicated himself to caring, in his own way, for his trauma-stricken sister. Convinced that Sabrina won’t recover until they find out what happened on That Terrible Night, he’s been criss-crossing the country, trying to find Chris and ask him, once and for all, what the hell.

It’s not clear why it’s taken Ned so long to zero in on his target. Chris has moved around a lot, as serial killers tend to do, but he hasn’t been hiding in a cave or anything.

Well, except for tonight, of course. It’s that time of the month again, and Chris is riding out the full moon in the secret room in the Collins family mausoleum. This is the new version of chaining yourself to the radiator.

Just before the moon came up, Ned invited Chris over to see Sabrina, who’s had something of a hideous transformation of her own. Chris had to politely decline, so Barnabas has come over in his place.

This throws a monkey wrench into Ned’s schedule, because he was planning the big confrontation that he’s been dreaming of for years. He had a presentation all planned out, where he’d yell at the guy, ask some pointed questions like “Do you know what you did to her,” and then wheel Sabrina onstage for the big reveal, like Steve Jobs at E3.

698 dark shadows ned sabrina massage

But you work with what you’ve got, and Ned goes through with the presentation as planned.

Ned wants justice. He wants answers. He also wants to give his sister an angry upper-body hate massage which I don’t want to be judgmental or anything, but it’s really quite troubling.

678 dark shadows ned sabrina troubling

I mean, look at this. This is Roger Davis’ third role on Dark Shadows, and they just keep getting handsier.

When Roger was Peter Bradford, he kept grabbing at Vicki, spinning her around and pulling her close. His second character, Jeff Clark, was basically the same guy, so he got some hands-on experience with Vicki as well. He also developed the annoying habit of touching his own head, whenever he didn’t have a girl handy.

Now Roger’s scene partner is an actress playing a barely-conscious woman in a wheelchair, who’s not supposed to be able to move or talk, and damn if he doesn’t take this golden opportunity to just rub himself all over her.

“If the only way I can make her remember is to shock it out of her,” he says, grasping her by the shoulders, “then I’m willing to!”

Barnabas observes, “You are very cruel, Mr. Stuart.”

“No,” Ned replies, rubbing the side of her face. “I just won’t have any life until my sister has one. And you can tell Jennings that!”

“I believe he already knows that,” Barnabas nods, desperate to leave the room. All he wants is to hurry back to Collinwood, to spend a happy evening with Julia, gossiping about this whole weird scenario.

698 dark shadows ned sabrina cane

But honestly, Roger Davis is the perfect cast member to play this role, because the point of this storyline is to show how irritating it can be when your victims survive.

Barnabas and Chris are members in good standing of Murder Club, a social organization for monsters that cover up for each other’s crimes, and when Barnabas says, “You’re being cruel to your sister,” what he really means is “It would be awesome if your sister never recovers, and I want you to give up and go away.” This is not a nice thing to hope for, but Barnabas isn’t actually a very nice person.

698 dark shadows sabrina flashback

Seeing Barnabas’ wolf-head cane gives Sabrina a bad case of the remembers, so rather than wait for her to explain it in sign language, we get a flashback of That Terrible Night.

And it really was pretty terrible, in the sense that Sabrina was a terrible girlfriend — just whiny and dumb, and completely disconnected from how Chris is feeling.

I’m sorry, I know, I’m not doing a War on Women or anything. Sabrina is the victim of a terrifying, violent assault, and post-trauma Sabrina can have all the respect that she needs. I’m talking about pre-trauma Sabrina, and pre-trauma Sabrina is terrible.

To set the stage: Chris told everybody that he was going skiing for the weekend, which is boyfriend code for “I need a little time to myself, so I can turn into a werewolf a couple times.”

Naturally, given this perfectly reasonable request to back the hell off for a minute, Sabrina decided to liberate a set of keys and break into his apartment, so that she can set up for a surprise party. (Surprise party is girlfriend code for “I’m going to look through everything in your apartment while you’re not there.”)

So she busts in, and he’s still home, and she starts gabbling and asking questions, and he makes the following face.

698 dark shadows chris face

But obviously, if you’re a member of the Stuart family, you don’t bother to process other people’s emotions, or establish any kind of situational awareness. You just keep prattling like an idiot, because everybody in that family is terrible.

“Well, it was a lousy idea anyway,” she burbles. “I was going to be the first girl to give a surprise party that was a surprise.”

Then she sticks a cardboard party hat on her head, grins, throws her hands in the air, and says, “Look at me!”

698 dark shadows sabrina party

So, I mean, honestly. This is a situation that requires some kind of assertive response. You can’t have dingbat girls dropping in uninvited to blabber at you in the wee hours, and then demand that you pay attention to party hats. At a certain point, life becomes insupportable, and you have to draw the line somewhere.

I’m not saying that turning into a savage monster and scaring her into a vegetative state is the most appropriate course of action here, but one way or another, this relationship is in dire need of an exit strategy.

698 dark shadows werewolf

So it ends up being a surprise party after all, which ought to count for something. And that’s how Chris shook this dippy broad out of his life, hopefully for good.

I mean, he goes to all the trouble of turning into a werewolf right in front of her, and all she can do is slump to the floor and spend the next several years entirely inert. I’m sorry, but some of us think that a relationship is a two-way street.

698 dark shadows ned julia sedatives

There isn’t much else to this episode, except that they call Julia in to make sure that Sabrina’s okay. Julia toys with a stethoscope for a moment and takes Sabrina’s pulse, and then she prescribes a sedative, obviously, because that is how medical care works.

Ned gets up in her face, yelling, “It’s NOT NECESSARY!” and Julia acts like he’s asked her to strangle a baby.

“Not NECESSARY?” she shouts. “Don’t you want your sister to get some proper REST?” Then she punches him in the face, and tells him to get the hell out of her office.

698 dark shadows ned sabrina face massage

So, remind me again why we’re interested in what happens to this petulant pair? As far as I’m concerned, they can have all the surprise parties they want, and if I’m not around when the party starts, then don’t wait for me. Just go ahead, I’ll be fine.

The weird thing is that they pre-taped that flashback scene, which is very unusual for Dark Shadows. In 1969, videotape editing is complicated and expensive, so the show tapes an entire episode in one continuous take, leaving space for the commercials. They only do pre-taped scenes like this for special occasions, like if Barnabas hasn’t been a vampire for a long time and they want to remind people how much fun it was when he was brutalizing Maggie.

That means that the producers think it’s important for the audience to do a deep dive into Chris and Sabrina’s backstory, and I can’t really figure out why. I don’t want to be super spoilery, but the show is days away from taking another sharp left turn, pushing Sabrina and Ned out of the picture for the foreseeable, and by “days away” I mean Friday.

So if they’re headed for a time travel trip that’s going to shove Sabrina off the show, why did they even bother introducing this loathsome family in the first place?

698 dark shadows ned sabrina mirror

The only rationale that I can think of is that maybe they didn’t know that they were going to 1897 when they cast Sabrina, and signed a contract for her to appear. For the last couple months, we’ve been trying to spot the moment when they made the decision to jump through time again, and maybe it was a lot later than we thought.

After all, they did a little chemistry test with Maggie and Ned in the woods two weeks ago, pairing them up and seeing if that could turn into a new romance. They obviously wanted to build up Ned and Sabrina as new characters, and they arranged to use the equipment that would let them pre-tape the flashback.

And then — like Ned forcing Sabrina to look at herself in the mirror — the show saw what it had become, and screamed, and made other plans.

Tomorrow: The Player.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

The teaser is a reprise from the previous episode. When they come back after the opening titles, Sabrina isn’t wearing eye shadow, and her shawl has disappeared.

Barnabas tells Julia, “You know, every time we talk, I begin to think there’s more connection than we realize, between what’s happened at that old house, and — and Chris.” He means what’s happened at Collinwood.


Behind the Scenes:

Chris’ apartment in the flashback has the same green lamps that everybody has in Collinsport. That line of lamps must sell incredibly well.

Tomorrow: The Player.

698 dark shadows sabrina ned couch

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

28 thoughts on “Episode 698: Sister Act

  1. “Look at her, Mr Collins! Just look at her!
    Look at what Chris Jennings did to MY sister!
    He turned her into a PUNK ROCKER!
    A PUNK ROCKER, Mr Collins!
    The CBGB does NOT have wheelchair access!
    Do you have ANY idea how hard it is to find gray hair dye?
    20, 20 , 20, 20 hours to….. where’s Dr Hoffman?
    I WANT TO BE SEDATED!
    Make it all go away!”
    and with that,
    Ned Stuart finally collapsed into a tear-stained heap,
    on the floor.

    1. They are 2 of the least sympathetic, most annoying characters on DS in a while. One thing about Roger Davis is his consistency of his horrible acting choices. He MUST have had blackmail pic on Dan Curtis.

    2. This episode comes in second as the most distasteful one in the series (Barnabas seeking ‘comfort’ from Carolyn is No #1 and turns my stomach to this day). It seems Roger Davis got away with a lot working with the ‘new’ actresses (Vicki’s #2 and #3 and this disgusting turn with his ‘sister’) – Alexandra Moltke probably put the stops on this as soon as he tried anything with her and Kathryn Lee Scott supposedly made her position very clear as to having him in a ‘romantic’ storyline with her. The newer actresses probably were afraid to speak up and risk losing their jobs. DIsgraceful..I can’t believe the lovely Jaclyn Smith was actually married to this lout.

      1. However it seems Diana Millay (Laura) wouldn’t put up with his nonsense in 1897 when he was playing DIrk Wilkins..

    3. Yes, and with the force with which he is handsy, the actress could have added assault into the bargain. What a loathsome man he is.

  2. It’s uncertain what the writers hoped to accomplish with Sabrina and Ned. There was potential to have a sympathetic “Javert/Gerard” character in Ned who is obsessed with finding out what happened to his sister, but Davis makes you hate Ned on every possible level.

    It also seems inconceivable that Chris was unaware that Sabrina was still alive. Wouldn’t he at least checked the papers or made an anonymous call to her family or anything. It diminishes Chris for shock value.

    There are two major “cliffhangers” when the series shifts to 1897: Chris’s conditioning is worsening and he has Ned gunning for him. And what we later see happen between David and Quentin. Barnabas will mention Chris here and there but it seems like the writers lose interest in him.

    Briscoe is also given a relatively backburner character to play (though he makes the most of him). Quentin’s ascension overshadows everyone and soon the narrative is as much his as the show had become all about Barnabas a year or so earlier.

    1. Well Julia is definitely tired of the dumn shit with Chris, Roger and Sabrina. I am surprised she didn’t bitch slap Chris then tell him to get the fuck of her face. She is trying to diffuse the bizarre situation with her patient and her crazy brother and didn’t really need an incoherent rant from Chris. Plus she still probably has flashbacks looking at him as the werewolf.

  3. I started watching in the late early/early middle of the 1897 flashback. When they “returned” to 1969, and Sabrina was front and centre, I assumed she’d been a major character for years.

    LOL

    When the series made its second go-round on SciFi, I was shocked that they introduced Sabrina and then just trucked off to 1897, and didn’t really finish her story from pre-1897. (Having watched the series multiple times, this definitely shocks me LESS knowing how under the gun the writers were through most of the series.)

    Roger Davis seems like a poor choice for Ned, given that his main story interaction is with his SISTER, and he can’t keep his hands off his costars. Definitely creepy.

    1. Roger Davis goes way beyond sexually creepy with his handsy attitude toward the character of his sister–he’s also incredibly violent in this episode. He shoves her toward the mirror, holds her head hard in both hands to make her look in the mirror, grabs her by the arms and twirls her violently, and shoves her away with some force, all the while yelling (of course) at her at the top of his lungs. This is how you treat your psychologically traumatized and near-invalid sister?

  4. Sabrina isn’t a great character at this time. OTOH, Chris turns into a werewolf in front of her and never bothers to look back to see if he left her alive or dead, which is a jerk move under any circumstances.

    I wonder what Lisa Richard’s contract looked like. From what I know about daytime contracts regular actors are guaranteed to be paid for a certain number of episodes a week, which I think can be averaged out over some period of time, whether they are used or not. So either Lisa was a regular and paid for episodes she didn’t act in for the entirety of the 1897 storyline, and DS didn’t have the budget for dead weight, or she was working under a short term contract and happened to be available to come back in after 1897 was over. I’m betting on the second. Let’s face it, putting a big fright wig on her meant that if she wasn’t available after they came back from 1897, the audience wouldn’t remember the actress, they’d remember the wig. I’d also guess that Roger Davis was under contract and they used him to get his required appearances in.

    1. I am curious as to what the budget was like at the time. It does seem like there’s a significant cast increase when the show goes to 1897.

      Let’s walk it through:

      1969: The regulars are Barnabas, Julia, Maggie, Chris, David, and Amy. The supporting players (making more sporadic appearances) at this point are Quentin, Beth, Carolyn, Elizabeth, Roger, Willie, Stokes, Mrs. Johnson, and now Ned and Sabrina.

      1897 (first few weeks — this will soon change): The regulars are Barnabas, Quentin, Magda, Rachel, Edward, Judith, Jamison, Beth, Carl, and Sandor. The supporting players: Dirk, Evan, Tim, Charity, and Gregory and Minerva Trask. There are also some returning actors (I will avoid spoilers) and unique to 1897 characters.

      This is just how it feels to me but the reality might be different. We’ll see once we start rewatching those episodes. But it does feel more “crowded.”

  5. I love how Ned focuses on how Sabrina’s no longer beautiful. Unable to speak, in a wheelchair (though I’m not sure why), those are fine. But SHE’S NO LONGER BEAUTIFUL! It’s how he introduces her to people: “This is my sister, she used to be beautiful. Oh, and yes, she can hear me saying this!” What a charmer.

  6. The fact is that Sabrina is still beautiful, that all she needs is to look happy about something, and smile, is completely lost on Ned. He could have dyed her hair, and made her look in the mirror, but no, he just rubs it in that she’s lost it.

    Nice guy.

    He gets what he deserves for this.

    She gets zero.

  7. I love how they decided between episodes that bright blue eyeshadow perhaps wasn’t appropriate for a woman in a near-catatonic state (although it’s all too easy to imagine Ned getting creepy kicks from making her up).

  8. Did anyone else get the feeling when Ned was being all handsy with her, that Serena was screaming inside “Please get me away from him!!!”

  9. Been following the blog for some time (it’s fantastic by the way!), doing my first full Dark Shadows watch on Prime. I have enjoyed every entry, but I have yet to comment. This episode forces me to.

    JEEZ, that was uncomfortable! I have of course noticed Davis’ “handsy” acting before, but to paw his sister like a love interest, constantly kissing her nappy wig, then twisting her her around so violently, especially when she’s supposed to be a near-vegetable invalid…eww. It brings to mind all sorts of unsavory things of what he is doing when they don’t have guests.

    When Sabrina went over to the mirror, I was hoping she was running for the door. I think she’d be better off with the werewolf! In fact, if this was Barnabas and Julia a year ago, I bet they would have arranged a field trip for these two. “Have you seen the secret room in our family mausoleum? You really should visit.” Problem solved for them…and us!

  10. So…
    Ned’s been ‘chasing down’ Chris for 2 years, carting his invalid sister with him (and presumably groping her and shouting at her the whole time) all over the country (perhaps even around the world?) What has he been using for money for travel expenses? Who sees to Sabrina’s basic needs, like bathing and feeding?

    And after all this tearing about, Ned catches up with Chris – in the place where they presumably began, Collinsport, Maine.

    I will give mad props to Roger Davis for one thing; he’s REALLY believable as an unlikeable, abrasive jag-off character who creates conflict. So he has that going on. (Suppose Dan Curtis had cast him as Joe Haskell instead?)

  11. Taboo thought: what if the writers actually wanted to imply that Ned is in an incestuous relationship with his (unable to either consent or flee) sister? Maybe that wasn’t just Roger Davis being an a-hole? I mean come on, he was grabbing his “sister’s” breasts!

    How do TPTB not see that? When you mentally fill in the background hours of the pair, what with Ned bathing and dressing Sabrina, and you see his bizarre, near necrophilia expressed when playing with her whilst she remains catatonic- sure makes me wonder how the writers could expect anyone but children and church ladies to not think the worst.

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