“Count Petofi, do you think this is some sort of a carriage ride?”
Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a mad god, an assassin and a vampire walk into a basement. The mad god says, “Look into that cupboard, Mr. Collins! What do you see?” And the vampire says, “I see the inside of the cupboard.”
All right, it’s not that funny, but you have to admit you haven’t heard it before. It’s kind of hard to believe that we’re hearing it now.
Let’s take it from the top. Well-intentioned vampire Barnabas Collins has traveled back in time to the year 1897, using the I Ching and the power of positive thinking. His original mission was to stop the vengeful spirit of Quentin Collins from haunting the present-day family, and killing young David with some kind of mysterious slow-acting spook virus. Barnabas was never particularly clear about how he was going to accomplish this vague and puzzling goal, and since then, to no one’s surprise, the storyline kind of wandered off and got all tangled up in a garden hose.
Lately, the show’s mostly been concerned with Count Petofi, a crazy old wizard who was forcibly divorced from his magical right hand by a gang of angry vengeance gypsies. After a hundred years as a unidexter, he’s finally been reunited with the Hand, and now Barnabas is an unwilling guest at the weirdest office party in history.
Delighted to have the legendary hand back on the legendary wrist where it belongs, Count Petofi instructs his consigliere to break out the champagne, which I assume they’ve been keeping in the mini-fridge for the last hundred years.
But Barnabas refuses to relax. There’s a lot of unfinished business, like for example Jamison, who was in rough shape the last time we saw him. The boy was possessed by Count Petofi’s spirit for the last couple weeks, and now that Petofi’s back in his own body, what price the kid?
Petofi is pretty comprehensively unbothered on this issue, but Barnabas insists that Aristede promised Petofi would make sure Jamison was all right.
“I gave him the Hand,” Barnabas says, “as long as he would assure me that he was empowered to deal for you.”
“Indeed?” Petofi raises an eyebrow.
Aristede shrugs. “It seemed the only thing to do at the time.”
There’s a moment’s pause, and then Barnabas blurts out, “Well, did he not have that word?” He’s acting like this is a matter of contract law, rather than a lunatic fairy tale that’s spinning out of everyone’s control.
So the triumphant villains strut and sneer and toast their success, leaving Barnabas to sulk and complain. He wants straight answers, and Petofi is determined to be cryptic and thrilling.
So Barnabas tries on a tactic that’s pure Bugs Bunny’s Arabian Nights, playing on the genie’s outsized ego. “I know why you refuse to cure Quentin and Jamison,” he declares, “because the power in that Hand is gone, now that you have it back!”
“Indeed,” says the mad god, who it is unwise to tease. “Shall we show him, Aristede?” This is Barnabas’ cue to run as far and as fast as he can, but you know what Frid’s like with missing cues. Not his strong area.
Now, this reminds me of an interview that I read in a soap magazine a while back, where the actor said that the hardest thing about acting on a soap opera is finding a reason to stay in the room.
There’s so much time to fill on a daytime soap, and so much of it is filled with talking. Sometimes, you end up in a scene with the person that your character hates more than anyone else, and you need to fill an entire episode with conversation, even though any normal human being in that situation would have left the room after two minutes.
The sensible thing for Barnabas to do is go back to the cottage and check on Jamison. But instead, he keeps on standing here, letting the evil wizard do what he likes. Petofi grasps Barnabas’ hand, and announces, “When I take my hand away, there will be marks where my fingers have touched you. Until those marks have disappeared, you will no longer be able to indulge in your favorite trick.”
“I have no tricks!” Barnabas says, and then it just goes straight-up schoolyard.
“Go ahead, Mr. Collins,” Petofi smirks. “Try! Disappear! For our sake, so I will know I have some power left.” Barnabas hesitates, and Petofi twists the knife. “It was you who doubted my powers. Now you can test them — or are you afraid?”
Barnabas says, “No, I’m not afraid! But I will disappear! Because I must know what has happened to Jamison.” He doesn’t actually say I’ll do it cause I want to, not because you tell me to, but that’s what’s going on.
And then the most marvelous thing happens. Barnabas walks over to the back of the set, and his light goes dark. He stands there for a long moment, clearly expecting to turn into Chromakey…
And then he registers astonishment as the light comes back up, indicating that the moment has passed.
It’s one of the most explicitly theatrical things they’ve ever done on the show, and I love it. Barnabas still has control over the lighting, at least, but the special effects are no longer on his side.
We cut away for a scene with Quentin and Jamison — the kid’s still in bad shape, by the way — and when we come back, Barnabas is still standing by the wall, looking like a guy who can’t understand why his Uber driver is still seven minutes away.
This is the real “find a reason to stay in the room” moment, for Barnabas. He’s already signalled his intention to leave, but he can’t tear himself away. The light is better over here.
This is followed by another theatrical moment, as Quentin enters the secret lair just so that Petofi can reveal his Hand again. They’re going to send Quentin back home to Jamison in a minute, but they need to have a scene where they show Quentin that Petofi’s been restored, because he’s the other lead character, and it wouldn’t be fair if he had to learn about the big plot twist second-hand.
Petofi says that he’ll save Jamison for a price, but he only wants to speak to Barnabas. Quentin is dismissed, and now he can go back to the cottage or wherever. This is actually the last time we see Quentin today; he just showed up to do a couple reaction shots. This is still Barnabas’ turn.
Once they’re alone, Petofi unleashes his power move. A supervillain is only as powerful as his ability to move the plot forward, and Count Petofi is the greatest of all.
Barnabas demands to know Petofi’s price for saving Jamison, and the mad count swaggers around the set. “So brusque, Mr. Collins,” he says. “So much to the point… when you and I have so very much to discuss.”
Barnabas replies, “I don’t undertand any of this; I can’t imagine what it is.”
“The future, Mr. Collins!” Petofi smiles. “Simply put — we have the future to discuss.”
“Yours… and mine. Where will we be in the year — 1969?” Petofi chuckles. “Do you ever think about that? I find it fascinating to speculate about 1969, don’t you?”
Oh, it’s wonderful. I know that all I’m doing today is transcribing, but this is that rare and beautiful thing — a perfect scene. Count Petofi has the item that he came for, and it would be easy to just wrap up the storyline and let everybody get back to what they were doing before he showed up. So this is his moment to make the case that he deserves to stay on the show, and he nails it with a four-digit number.
And then they just stand around and say absurd things to each other for the next three minutes.
Petofi shows Barnabas the impossible book — that history-destroying volume of the Collins family history, printed in 1965 and left on a bookshelf in the Old House drawing room in 1897 because after all this time, Barnabas is still not that good at keeping secrets.
So Petofi says that the price for releasing the Collins family from their Hand-made delusions is to let him tag along on a one-way journey to the future, so that he can give the slip to his gypsy tormentors. And for the first time in this sparring match, Barnabas lands a blow.
“With all the powers that you claim to have,” he asks, “why are you so afraid of the gypsies?”
Petofi spits, “There is no need for you to know,” but we’ve already figured it out: he needs a weakness.
The mad god is running the board right now. He knows everything, he can do anything, and he doesn’t care about anybody but himself. He dismissed one lead character, and denied the other the use of special effects. He holds the keys for the next several months of story. So this is a good moment to establsh that Petofi is not all-powerful, that the seeds of his destruction have already been planted.
I told you, it’s a great episode; you really can’t beat it. The show has been this good before, but it’s very rarely been better.
And there’s one more amazing trick to perform, another fable of power and powerlessness to tell.
“I cannot take you back there!” Barnabas insists. “I don’t even know how to get there myself!”
“But you intend to return,” Petofi purrs.
“I intend to try.”
“We can try together.”
“Together!” Barnabas cries. “Count Petofi, do you think this is some sort of a carriage ride? I don’t understand the powers that I used to get here; I had no formula written down. I merely used my concentration. Now, you, with all your powers, should be able to figure out a quicker, and smoother way.”
And Barnabas smiles, like he’s just thought of the Bugs Bunny’s Arabian Nights trick all over again. That didn’t work last time, and it ain’t gonna work now.
“Look into that cupboard!” says the mad god. “Soon you will see — your own death!”
And wouldn’t you know it, it turns out the cupboard is one of those Time-Space Visualisers. The furniture switches on, and we watch in astonishment as Dark Shadows finally lets us do the thing we’ve been missing for almost six months.
They let us watch Dark Shadows.
What’s the one thing that we’ve missed, all these months away from home? Dr. Julia Hoffman, that’s what.
And here she is! just sitting there reading a book. Today we’ve seen a man spot-glue his own hand on, and seeing Julia is even more exciting than that. I’m not going to bother to explain why; if you don’t understand the critical part that Julia plays in making this show work, then you must be brand-new and you’ve got a lot to catch up on. Julia is pivotal. And I didn’t realize how much I missed her, until just this moment.
I love the 1897 time trip. I love Quentin more than I can express. I love Count Petofi, and His Amazing Time Television. But all of the current malarkey is extending the storyline beyond its natural boundaries, and we really should have been home by now.
Does anyone remember the dream that Jamison had three months ago, where he learned about the three steps that led to Quentin’s death? The first was finding a silver bullet at Collinwood, which happened back in June and had absolutely no significance. The second was that the one person who could have helped him was murdered. That was Julianka’s death, which happened in mid-July. We are currently at August 8th and holding, and there’s no sign that we’re getting any closer to the third event, which was what this whole storyline was supposed to be about.
As I said, I don’t really mind because I love what they’re doing now, but there has never been, and will never be, a successful Dark Shadows storyline that does not include Julia. Don’t get me wrong, Magda has done a bang-up job as the brownface substitute, but Julia’s been sitting around in the Old House for the last six months, reading her way through what must be a whole library by now. This problem needs to be rectified.
In the vision, David limps downstairs, struggling to muster his strength. He moans Quentin’s name a couple times, and takes a step towards the door.
Julia’s response is to run up to him and say, “David, David, why are you out of bed? No, David, stop that!” Which I love.
It looks like whatever Barnabas thinks he’s doing in the past to save David from the malign influence of Quentin’s ghost, it’s not working. We’re six months into this project, and the kid is still dragging himself around, trying to follow Quentin’s irresistible summons. So that’s been a complete waste of time. I assume Chris is still stuck in werewolf form in the secret room of the mausoleum; I hope they come around every couple days with some food, a fresh bucket and one of those big comedy butterfly nets.
Julia manages to wrangle David towards an armchair, wailing, “The only thing you can do is reject him! Listen to me, listen to me!” Then she gives a sharp “DAVID!” as he collapses in the chair.
So what does Julia do with an unconscious ghost-afflicted eleven year old? Same thing she does with everything else.
That’s right: she gives him a sedative! She doesn’t even have to fill the syringe with anything; she’s got a whole medical bag full of sedatives, ready to roll at a moment’s notice.
She jams it in his arm, he rouses just long enough to emit another plaintive “Quentin,” and then he falls asleep, possibly forever. Doctor Julia Hoffman has done it again.
The vision fades, and Barnabas is thunderstruck. “Is David dying?” he cries. “Tell me, Petofi. Is he dying?”
And then they do the most extraordinary twist in today’s twisted tale: Count Petofi has no idea what Barnabas is talking about.
“David, dying?” says the puzzled Count, blinking behind his owl spectacles. “David? David?”
“You caused that vision to happen!” Barnabas insists. “You have that power; you must know.”
Petofi growls, “But you saw your own death, Mr. Collins!”
And we watch Barnabas’ expression change, as he realizes what’s just happened.
“You did not see what I did!” he says. “You cannot see what you have caused!”
This absolutely delights him, as it should. The time television was supposed to be Petofi’s greatest trick of the day, the moment when Barnabas realizes that he’s entirely at the Count’s mercy. Instead, the trick has revealed Petofi’s own weakness — and while it’s not clear right now how that weakness helps Barnabas’ cause, any advantage is welcome.
They play it as a major slip-up, and Barnabas takes real pleasure in the moment.
Petofi walks stiffly over to the champagne, muttering, “How can you be sure, Mr. Collins?”
Barnabas cocks his head. “Who was in it?”
“David,” Petofi says, like he’s been caught cheating.
Barnabas grins. “Who else?”
“I did not recognize the others.”
“There was one other. What was the name mentioned? What name you know?”
“Yours,” Petofi allows. “Yours, I presume.” It’s humiliating.
The moment of weakness doesn’t last. Soon, Petofi is threatening Barnabas with the continuing disintegration of the Collins family, and demanding a seat on the I Ching Express, which is some sort of a carriage ride. But we’ve just seen a major flaw in the Count’s fiendish plan, and he doesn’t even realize it.
For all of his miraculous powers, Count Petofi can’t see Julia Hoffman coming. That’s a mistake that others have made in the past. There are no known survivors.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the teaser, the camera suddenly zooms in on Barnabas’ face.
Barnabas perplexes Petofi with the wrong cue:
Petofi: I owe you my word on nothing, sir.
Barnabas: But you already have!
Petofi: (pauses, stunned) What do you mean?
Barnabas: (realizes that was the wrong line) I gave you… the Hand, don’t forget — (checks the teleprompter) — that saved your life.
Barnabas tells Petofi that he must release everyone at Collinwood from his spells, and that “Edward and Quentin” will return to what they were. He means Edward and Jamison.
In the cottage, Quentin frets over Jamison, who’s unconscious on the couch. The couch is at a different angle from its usual place, and you can see an electrical cord on the right. At the end of the scene, you can see the camera’s shadow as it pulls in on Jamison.
Quentin leaves Jamison and the cottage, and runs over to the mill set. As we switch to the mill, Aristede is pouring Petofi champagne, and Petofi is offering Barnabas some. You can hear Quentin’s footsteps as he arrives at the set and steps into position at the top of the “staircase”. As Barnabas steps forward and says “I have made the greatest mistake of my life,” you can see Quentin’s shadow moving around on Petofi’s head. Ten seconds later, they play the “door opening” sound effect, and Quentin walks down the stairs and enters the scene.
When Aristede jokes that Jamison isn’t worth saving, Petofi chuckles, “How evil you are, Aristede. You’re always so much more vicious than my own.”
Barnabas tells Petofi, “But I cannot take you back there! I don’t even know how to get there myself! I — my reason here was — was vital.” A moment later, he says, “I don’t understand the powers that I have to get here.”
After Barnabas leaves, Petofi puts down his glass of champagne, clinking it against the other glasses on the table with a clatter.
In the final scenes, Magda is wearing the same makeup as Julia, including the blue eyeshadow.
The final dramatic sting comes in too early, before Petofi finishes saying his last line. Then the same music cue repeats again, too late this time, past the final fade-out.
— Danny Horn