“Do you have any objection to my looking at your cellar?”
There are rules about these things, apparently, even on a show like this. A vampire bite is primarily a sexual act, and therefore only to be used upon ladies and members of your personal domestic staff.
In 1967, Barnabas could bite Maggie, Vicki or Carolyn on the neck. He could bite Willie on the wrist to gain control over him, in the same way that he was also preying on cows at the time, because domestic servants are basically just cows with jobs. But he couldn’t bite Burke, or Dr. Woodard, or Sheriff Patterson, no matter what the danger or provocation. It simply wasn’t done.
Those rules are still more or less in effect here, in 1897. So far, Barnabas has bitten Charity and Beth, and he’s using Sandor as a servant. He’s also going into town occasionally to feed on drunk women, who are basically cows without jobs.
But it feels like the standards are loosening a smidge. Yesterday, Barnabas bit Dirk on the neck, basically just because Dirk was being an asshole, and now he’s brought the guy home, with no real idea of what to do with him. Barnabas doesn’t need Dirk for anything in particular. I think what we’re looking at here is a second date.
So Dirk and Barnabas have a cold-blooded discussion about how things are going to develop from here. Today’s episode is written by Gordon Russell — the least-skilled dialogue writer on the team — and the conversation goes a bit flat.
Barnabas: You’re going to find Jamison, and then you’re going to find a way of convincing him that everything you told him is a lie.
Dirk: What happens if I refuse?
Barnabas: You can’t refuse. You see, you have no will of your own. I am your will. You will do what I ask you to do.
Dirk: It may be too late, you know.
Barnabas: You mean that Jamison may have told someone?
Barnabas: Because if he has, the first thing I will do will be to kill you.
And I guess this speaks to what happens to your show when you’re currently three years deep in a nonstop parade of mind control storylines. We’ve had countless vampire bites by now, plus lots of spells and hypnosis and rituals and possessions. Dirk was actually possessed by an Egyptian Sun God recently; what’s happening now is a lateral move. Saying “You have no will of your own” used to be a shocking cliffhanger moment. Now it’s a standard part of the staff onboarding process.
But if Gordon’s weak on the dialogue, his strength is moving the pieces around on the board. He’s got a specific job to do today, which is to ratchet up the tension around Barnabas’ secret, and he’s got it all worked out.
Jamison hasn’t actually told anyone about Barnabas’ secret yet, because he’s been in the Old House basement, verifying that there’s a coffin down there. As the boy heads upstairs, he stumbles, and Barnabas comes to check out the noise.
And right here is a lightweight piece of plot construction that’s got a lovely simplicity to it. Jamison hides behind the door as Barnabas heads downstairs. As soon as Barnabas has passed by, Jamison runs through the door and scampers outside. Dirk’s on the couch facing in the other direction, plus he’s dying, so he doesn’t see Jamison get away.
It’s not a great moment in American drama or anything, but there’s kind of a satisfying tick-tock rhythm as the characters move from one scene to the next.
Once Jamison’s skedaddled, the next step is for Barnabas to store Dirk in a plot-mandated holding tank, so he’ll be out of the way. Luckily, the Old House is full of little hidey-holes like this. This time, he uses the secret room behind the bookcase, but he could also use the jail cell in the cellar, or Josette’s room, or at a pinch, he could probably invent a new trap door under the fireplace. The Old House is basically a puzzle box for storing excess lunatics.
Okay, next step is to set up the information-management dilemma. Jamison runs home to tell his father what he’s seen in the Old House, but Edward isn’t there. Instead, he talks to Beth, who finds out that Jamison’s got a secret about Barnabas.
Beth is on Barnabas’ side, so she rushes over to the Old House to warn him that Jamison is talking to Edward. This gives Barnabas time to plan, and the tick-tock mechanism continues on.
So both sides of the divide meet again, as Edward heads over to the Old House to ask politely if he may see the contents of his cousin’s basement. Barnabas plays the ol’ “hide the coffin in the closet” trick, so Edward doesn’t find anything down there — but he’s seen enough supernatural mumbo-jumbo to convince him that it’s possible there really is a vampire loose on the estate.
Barnabas decides that if Edward wants to find a vampire on the estate, he’ll give him one — Dirk, who’s most of the way there anyway. But then he opens the secret panel and enters the room — and Dirk is gone!
And that’s how it works today, one scene supporting the next, building a little house of cards and then knocking it down again. It’s not fast or funny or emotionally raw; there’s nothing memorable or exciting about it. It’s basically just connective tissue. But it’s not a bad way to set up a Friday cliffhanger, and if this is Dark Shadows‘ current standard for an average episode, then the bar is a lot higher than it used to be. Well done, Gordon; we’ll meet back here on Monday, and see what else we can cook up.
Monday: The Mentalist.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Lying on the couch, Dirk tells Barnabas that it may already be too late. Barnabas says, “No, Dirk,” and then there’s an awkward pause while he looks at the teleprompter. Then he continues, “You mean that Jamison may have told someone?”
Beth tells Barnabas, “There’s still time for you to go back to Collinsport before Edward comes home, and speak to Jamison yourself!” She means Collinwood. A moment later, Barnabas calls her “Bess”.
Barnabas’ conversation with Edward begins with Barnabas saying, “I don’t know what to say, Jamison.”
Monday: The Mentalist.
— Danny Horn