“I’m sure that book has a name for whatever you are!”
Curtain rises on a dark cemetery, and dark deeds. Furtive grave-disturbers have unearthed a moldy coffin from its resting place, and found a secret journal hidden in the casket.
As they reach for the book, a bolt of lightning sears across the sky with an angry blast. The man looks worried, but the woman chides her companion. “It’s just a storm, that’s all!”
“Is it?” the man asks. “Is it just a storm?”
So that’s where we start today’s episode. That’s step one.
It’s late in the story of the late Laura Collins, an undead fire enthusiast who’s planning to return to the hot place she came from, along with a couple of crispy children. Barnabas takes a dim view of this dumb scheme, and he’s taken steps to prevent the incineration.
Furious, Laura has sworn eternal revenge on Barnabas, and now she’s looking for a weakness. She’s convinced that the Barnabas she’s fighting is the same guy who lived in the late 18th century, and to prove it, she’s turned to the diary of Ben Stokes, Barnabas’ 1795 servant.
Ben wrote in his diary that he would take the secret of Barnabas Collins to his grave, so Laura — apparently not understanding the concept of a metaphor — decides that means he wrote down the secret in a different diary, and was buried holding that second diary.
So they dig up Ben’s coffin, and guess what? He really did mean that! But you can’t really blame him; metaphors were fairly new in 1795, and they hadn’t worked out all the kinks yet.
And then who should show up on this dark night but the bat man himself, interrupting these two jokers and their comic detections.
Barnabas: Robbing a grave is a bizarre activity for a beautiful woman.
Laura (clearly robbing a grave): I was not robbing a grave!
Barnabas: Then what are you doing holding something that doesn’t belong to you?
(He snatches the diary out of her hands.)
Laura: It doesn’t belong to you!
Barnabas: But I want it!
Laura: So do I!
So there you have it, another turn of the wheel in the endless battle between dark and light, played out as a game of keepaway.
The conversation that follows is straight from the schoolyard.
Laura: You’re not human!
Barnabas: Then what am I, Laura?
Laura: I don’t know. But I’m sure that that book has a name for whatever you are!
Laura: Barnabas, I came back to Collinwood for just one thing — to get my children! And at every turn, you’ve tried to stop me. But not anymore. Because I vow, here and now, that I shall destroy you!
Barnabas: And I have taken a vow myself, Laura! You are the one who will be destroyed!
And then they just stand there for a while and say, I make two vows! Well, I make a vow times infinity! I make a super-secret double-dog unstoppable vow with kung fu grip! And so on.
But this is the way epic wars are decided, apparently — not through the battle of mighty armies or the inexorable workings of fate. They hinge on the interplay of human greed and passion and courage — the intimate struggles of one man against another. That’s what the truly great stories are really about.
This is not a truly great story, by the way. It’s just on the near side of mediocre, and it’s getting on my nerves like you wouldn’t believe. They’re trying to act like Laura is an urbane supervillain, and she’s not built for it. The character that they want her to be is a force of nature, who stands back and smirks, and allows her enemy to lash out and expose a weak spot. They want a gunslinger in heels. In other words, they want her to be Julia.
But she just isn’t, and they need to stop trying. Diana Millay doesn’t have the acting chops to pull this off, and it doesn’t help that her character motivation doesn’t work at all. What is she actually trying to even do? She keeps saying that she wants to take her children, which is fine, go ahead, but then she makes stupid vows about destroying Barnabas and Quentin, and why is she even antagonizing people? Just go have a quiet word with your children, burn them up if you have to, and then get out of our lives.
This is almost the end of her acting career, by the way. There’s this, and then she has a cameo in Night of Dark Shadows. Then she’s on The Secret Storm for a year, and that about wraps it up for Diana Millay and the show business.
I’m going to be talking about Laura every day this week, and I already don’t feel like it, so instead of saying anything else about this episode, how about we look at her IMDb page and free associate for a while.
It’s mostly westerns, as it happens. In the early 60s, she must have been in every TV western on the dial, and that’s saying something. You don’t find a lot of westerns on TV anymore; it’s not a genre that resonates with anybody under retirement age. Every once in a while, we’ll have a new-fangled neo-western like Deadwood or Longmire, and everybody says oh, isn’t that interesting, maybe westerns will make a comeback, but they never do and they never will.
But y’all watched a lot of TV westerns in the early 1960s, and by a lot I mean more than you can possibly imagine.
Here is a list of TV westerns where Diana Millay did a guest role between 1960 and 1964: The Westerner. The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. Stagecoach West. Maverick. The Rifleman. Bonanza. Gunsmoke. Whispering Smith. (I’m not making any of these up.) Laramie. Wagon Train. Tales of Wells Fargo. Rawhide. The Travels of Jamie McPheeters. Redigo. The Virginian. Temple Houston, Frontier Lawyer.
In The Westerner, Diana played a woman named Jeff in the pilot episode. The hero, amiable cowhand drifter Dave Blassingame, tracked down his old flame Jeff, who’s working in a saloon as a singer and prostitute. He tries to rescue her, except she doesn’t really want to be rescued. I forget how it all turns out.
You know, reading some of these plot summaries, I can kind of see how Diana turned out the way that she currently is.
Like this one from Maverick: “On his way to the bank to collect a gambling debt, Bart rescues a petulant young woman from a runaway horse.” You see? It’s only 1960, and she’s already being typecast as a runaway horse. Diana’s character is called Diana Dangerfield, which is marvelous, and she and Bart end up tracked by a bounty hunter who think they robbed a bank and killed the bank president. And maybe they did, you never know with these shows.
And this one, from The Rifleman: “With friend and neighbor Jacob Black on his death bed, Lucas sets out to fulfill his one dying wish, that he be reunited with his wife Elizabeth.” Well, Jacob shouldn’t get his hopes up. Elizabeth turns out to be guess who, Diana Millay, and she’s guess what, a hard-bitten singer in a saloon who has precisely no interest in reuniting with anybody.
So it’s no wonder she’s so comfortable playing a woman who dies and comes back again as the same person; she spent the 60s playing the same hard-bitten saloon girl over and over. When you’re looking for western petulance, you call Diana Millay.
In The Virginian, Diana plays a ranch owner who hires Steve as a foreman. (Steve, as we all know, is a guy from The Virginian.) But she bought the ranch with stolen money, and when the guy she stole the money from comes looking for her, she tries to trick Steve into shooting him. When that doesn’t work, she shoots the guy and tells everyone it was Steve. It’s just one thing after another with this broad.
And how about this, from Bonanza: “Ben allows his old Army friend Major Cayley to use the Ponderosa as the site of his latest hot air balloon experiments. His goal is to develop an airship that can cross the ocean. He’ll finance that flight with money stolen from the Virginia City bank, which his henchmen will rob while the public is occupied with his big balloon show.”
I’m not sure what Diana did in that episode, besides being Major Cayley’s wife, but isn’t that a great idea for how to finance your balloon show?
Anyway, the point is that eventually Diana left all that behind and washed up on the shores of Collinsport, Maine, far away from the saloons and bank robberies and runaway horses, where she could put down roots and worship Egyptian fire gods. Then she burst into flames and retired from acting, and we all lived happily ever after.
Tomorrow: Drunk History.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Ben’s tombstone says that he died in 1816. We’ll find out later that he actually survived until 1840.
Dirk steps on Laura’s line:
Laura: We came tonight to learn about Barnabas Collins. And we learned…
Dirk: What do you mean?
Laura: … a great deal.
Dirk: I said, what do you mean?
It’s still 10:00 over at Trask’s place; it’s been 10:00 for at least a week. In one scene, Charity objects that Laura has dropped by so late, finally acknowledging that a permanent 10:00 schedule is not optimal for every situation.
Barnabas asks Nora, “Is there something about that fire, why you don’t want to go near it?”
Towards the end of act 3, when the scene shifts from Laura and Dirk at the cemetery to the front door of the Old House, you can see a studio light as the camera pans over to the new set.
Tomorrow: Drunk History.
— Danny Horn