“Only I know that… and the gypsies. Those deadly gypsies!”
In his secret lair in the basement of an old mill, Count Andreas Petofi waits for his magical Hand to be returned to him. The mad god’s spirit is currently inhabiting the body of young Jamison Collins, while his mortal form lies unconscious, biding its time. Soon, the boy will bring the Hand, just as he’s planned, and Petofi will rise.
But time may be running out, for Petofi and Jamison. The boy is weak, confused, lying helpless in the clutches of the Count’s frenemies. Barnabas and Quentin have the Hand now, and they don’t know what to do. Must they offer the Hand to Petofi, to save Jamison’s life?
So obviously, that’s super exciting. We have a lair now. Dark Shadows has an actual lair!
Now, pardon me for jumping the gun while the dude is still conked into a coma, but Count Petofi lurking in his underground hideout means that he’s a Bond villain, and we’ve never had one of those before.
We’ve had villains, of course; at this point the whole show is nothing but villains trying to stay out of each other’s way, and not even trying that hard. But a Bond villain is a special kind of cat, who plays by his own rules. Let’s see if we can tease this out.
Your Bond villain has a grand plan — so ambitious and overwhelming that lesser minds can’t even conceive of how great it is. The Bond villain spends a lot of time chuckling over people with lesser minds; apparently we’re hilarious.
The master plan typically involves a pick and mix assortment from the following high-drama items: a casino, a space station, gold, diamonds, all of the heroin, triggering a war, causing a plague, creating a shortage, starting a financial crisis, revenge porn, nuclear warheads and beautiful women, with extra bonus points if it’s underwater or in space.
In my opinion, the ultimate Bond villain plot is from the 1971 Sean Connery film Diamonds Are Forever, where Blofeld plans to hold the world to ransom by threatening to destroy nuclear stockpiles using a satellite-based space laser that’s magnified by a thousand diamonds. Not only is he going to start world war three, but he’s going to bedazzle the apocalypse. It’s called style.
In some ways, of course, the Bond villain is like any supervillain. He has a plan, he has henchpeople, he has a general disregard for other people’s preferences in the way of leaving diamonds where they already are.
The thing that really makes the Bond villain special is the lair. It can be a cave, or a boat, or an island, at the top of a mountain or hidden inside a volcano. The important thing is that it’s far away from prying eyes, where the villain can scheme and rub his hands together, or whatever he does when nobody’s watching.
The key is that he is not available for social calls. When you get right down to it, a Bond villain is an impossibly silly pantomime horse, hatching lunatic schemes and then forgetting to keep his eye on the self-destruct button. For the character to work, he can’t be seen with normal people. The optics are wrong.
So while Nicholas Blair and Barnabas Collins have both had their Bond villain moments — and certainly snatches of dialogue like “Devlin must be removed, permanently” are pretty Bondish — they are ultimately still members of the Collinsport social system. They invite people over for claret cup. They go on dates. That doesn’t work for a lair-lurker. You can either host a progressive dinner, or you can use poisoned heroin to trigger a global health crisis that makes beautiful women want to live in a space Louvre. It’s one or the other.
So today’s episode is a summoning ritual, to call this new creature into being. Naturally, the only way to arrange for ths is to have your two strongest characters engaged in a passionate debate at the top of their lungs about something that neither of them actually understands. Observe the technique.
Quentin: Barnabas — you’re not going to take this.
Barnabas: You will not tell me what I cannot do!
Quentin: This Hand is the only chance I have!
Barnabas: And what about Jamison? What chance has HE?
Quentin: If you give them the Hand, they’ll disappear, like that! They don’t care about Jamison!
Barnabas: Perhaps they do. Perhaps they care a great deal, because… Jamison is Petofi now.
Quentin: … Petofi’s dying, too?
Barnabas: No one has seen him since before Jamison was possessed. Is it not possible that he used his last ounce of strength to possess the boy? And now he is lying somewhere, almost dead — and Jamison is merely doing what he is doing.
Quentin: If Petofi dies…
Barnabas: Then Jamison will, too.
They take this news pretty hard, considering they just made it up two seconds ago.
When Petofi first possessed Jamison a couple weeks ago, they didn’t say anything about using his last ounce of strength. He seemed perfectly fine. But this is one of those postcards from the infinite that important characters are allowed to receive every once in a while, with breaking news direct from the writers’ room that everybody instantly accepts is true.
That’s how things go when you run a show like this. That hushed rustling you hear just off camera is Sam Hall scribbling the script for the next scene, just praying for the commercial break to come so he can catch up.
It’s like I keep saying: Dark Shadows writers never have a plan; this is not a medium that rewards careful planning. Plans are for Bond villains, and look how they end up. I’m pretty sure the gold at Fort Knox isn’t actually radioactive right now, or at least not any more radioactive than it usually is.
All of that said, this episode is actually a pretty slow pace around the room while we wait for the exciting thing to happen at the end of the episode. It basically goes like this.
Barnabas and Quentin argue about whether to bring the Hand to Petofi. Barnabas says that he’ll go and see what the deal is.
Barnabas stops by the lair to see what the deal is. Aristede says he wants the Hand. Barnabas asks if Petofi will promise to cure Quentin and Jamison if they bring him the Hand. Aristede says that Petofi’s in no condition to promise him anything. Barnabas asks if Aristede will promise. Aristede says sure, whatever, just get the Hand.
Barnabas goes back to Quentin and says that Aristede says that everything will be fine if they give him the Hand. Quentin says that he doesn’t believe it, and Barnabas basically says, look, do YOU want to go talk to Aristede next time? Bats don’t get frequent flyer miles, this is actual shoe leather for me.
But it’s Dark Shadows, and sometimes in our darkest hours, the most delightful things happen. I submit to you: the following slow-motion train wreck of a conversation.
“I’m going to give them the Hand,” Barnabas says, and Quentin replies, “Barnabas, no!”
“It’s as I thought,” Barnabas frowns. “Petofi is dying too.” He puts a hand on the box, and frowns in concentration. “Now, Aristede has promised that… that Petofi will…” He bangs his cane on the ground to jog his memory.
“Will end the curse!” he cries. “If we will end his curse first.”
Quentin barks, “You know you can’t trust either of them. You know that!”
Barnabas gives up, and checks the teleprompter. “Can I let him DIE?” he says, gesturing in the direction of the invalid child. Then he checks back with the teleprompter.
“Jamison will recover as Petofi does,” he reads. Then, with a burst of energy, he tears himself away, and says, “Now, you will stay with him, until — until he is himself again. And then you will come to the, to the mill.”
And he loses it, just at the last moment. “And then we will force Petofi…” — teleprompter again — “to cure… YOU!”
Barnabas turns and strides toward the door — except he’s forgotten to take the box, so he turns back to get it. It really is the most extraordinary scene.
So Barnabas brings the Hand to Aristede, and maybe I’m just in a weird mood today, but wouldn’t it be great if he tried to give him a decoy Hand? Or if Aristede opened the box and big comedy snakes popped out? I’m sorry, I’m getting excited. I can’t wait for the laser diamonds.
Naturally, Aristede has to make a big deal about it. Theater people.
Mighty Hand… Hand that touched the face of the Sphinx!
Hand of infinite power, come home at last!
Heal this man! Force breath into his body! Make his heart strong!
Without you, he cannot live… and if he dies, what was begun in the forest of Ozhden will end — for his body is your body, and his mind is your mind, his life, your life!
It’s nice, right? I think they wrote their own vows.
And then Petofi just lies there, with the Hand perched awkwardly on his chest, waiting to be awoken by true love’s kiss. I think by now the audience is ready to close on this, aren’t we? Pucker up. He’s been out for a while, this might take a minute.
Tomorrow: The Time Television.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In act 1, when Aristede enters the back room of the mill, the unconscious Petofi is rubbing his bare right hand with his gloved left hand. When he realizes that the scene has started, he moves both hands to his sides — and then remembers that his left hand is supposed to be resting on his chest. This is one of those bloopers that doesn’t sound exciting, but you should go check it out, because it’s amazing.
In the cottage, when Barnabas kneels down to look at Jamison on the couch, the camera wobbles.
When Aristede walks through the door to approach Barnabas, the mic doesn’t pick up his first few words.
Aristede tells Barnabas, “Well, it’s safe to say that he hoped it would turn out at his has — as it has.”
In act 3, when the scene shifts from the mill to the cottage, Jamison is supposed to be unconscious — but the camera catches him with his eyes open, waiting for his cue.
Tomorrow: The Time Television.
— Danny Horn