“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
— Danny Horn