“I remember the firelight, how the knife gleamed as it came close to my hand.”
Imagine, if you will: A gypsy, emoting furiously, on a high cliff overlooking the sea. The night is rough, and thunder-kissed. She has banished the shade of her dead husband, refusing to accompany him to the world beyond. Then a mob boss from Boston in a check suit emerges from the darkness, accompanied by his muscular, partly-clothed assistant. “The game is over, Magda,” he says, advancing on her with a switchblade. “You lost.”
But you don’t have to imagine this scene, because here it is, recorded and preserved for posterity, using magnets and lasers and nostalgia and hope. They actually performed this scenario and broadcast it on television; I can’t say why. Surely somebody tried to stop them.
And then — in a cloud of bats, and a Heigh-ho Silver — here’s eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins, the idol of American youth, whose stirring exploits and unparalleled heroism are familiar to us all. He’s here to save the day, of course, and prevent any more needless bloodshed. Well, except for Istvan, who he casually murders just to score a point in an argument. But everything else he does is saga-worthy.
“Let her go!” he cries. And when Johnny Romana — King of the Gypsies! — does not instantly comply, Barnabas uses his hypnotic vampire powers to frog-march Johnny’s burly companion off the cliff, to a messy death on the presumably deserted beach below. If there’s anybody down there at this time of night, then they’re about to receive two hundred and twenty pounds of free-falling Istvan, which ought to give them something to think about. That kind of thing could change your whole outlook.
Barnabas clearly considers this necessary collateral damage, but if you ask me, it’s a waste of good gypsy. Istvan was a human being with feelings and a bright future as an underwear model, and he deserves more than the seven seconds of mourning that he receives. Good night, sweet Istvan, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Okay. Anyway. Where were we?
Oh, right — Barnabas is back! Our hero was encased in carbonite for a couple weeks, unable to do anything but feel sorry for himself. He was rescued two episodes ago in a tense negotiation, and now he’s back in action, getting the hero pants on and kickboxing an angry gypsy at gunpoint.
Actually, the gypsy has a cross around his neck, which is totally unfair. Everybody has a cross these days! Apparently in the late 1890s, Maine was part of the Bible Belt. I’ve never seen so many pious crime bosses in my life.
But Barnabas has a trump card — he knows where Johnny can find the Legendary Hand of Count Petofi, which is the thing he’s in search of. Actually, almost anybody on the show could tell Johnny that, it’s pretty much common knowledge in this town. He just never asked, is all.
So that was easy; this was all just a big misunderstanding. Once Barnabas offers to share information on the whereabouts, the hostage crisis turns into a casual social event. They decamp to the Old House, where Barnabas and Johnny stand around and make collaborative decisions.
They clear up the whole who-killed-Julianka situation, for one thing, and then they raise some new business. For some reason that I can’t quite explain, I find the following exchange unbearably cute.
Johnny: Where can I find him? A few miles from here, you said.
Barnabas: So he is. But I will tell you no more, until you agree to one last condition. When you find the Hand, you must use it on Quentin Collins.
Johnny: The one who’s cursed?
Johnny: He’s not a gypsy. I can only use it on gypsies!
Barnabas: But he married a gypsy! And his children are part gypsy! You will be using it against your own people, unless you cure Quentin!
Johnny: All right. I ain’t got time to horse-trade! There’s something more important I must do. I’ll be back.
Barnabas: Where are you going?
Johnny: I must start something that must be done. It takes time to do it right. Wait for me.
And then he just walks out the door. I don’t know quite what it is about that scene; it’s like everyone is suddenly in a good mood. “I ain’t got time to horse-trade!” It’s just adorable.
Johnny and Barnabas are going to take care of Petofi, and then they’re going to cure Quentin, and then I guess they’ll have some big “farewell, my friend” scene where they’re both trying to pretend they don’t have tears in their eyes. Murder bros.
And then it turns out that the “something that must be done” is a costume change, which is the best possible option. He comes back to the house wearing a velvet purple cape, which he is so excited to show off.
Magda opens the door, and gasps, “King Johnny!”
“How do you like me in these robes?” he says, twirling in a circle. “Magnificent, ain’t I?” And then he says, “Where’s Barnabas?” like he’s annoyed that his new friend isn’t around to see his awesome outfit. These people were holding each other at knifepoint, literally five minutes ago.
The new ensemble comes with accessories, too. King Johnny pulls out a curved sword, and everybody gasps all over again. “The golden scimitar of the Romana tribe!” he announces.
“A hundred years ago,” Magda says, “it severed Count Petofi’s hand from his wrist. It has always been sacred to the gypsies.”
“Tonight,” Johnny adds, “it’ll be more sacred.”
You know, the gypsies have really put a lot of effort into hating this one guy. They might want to consider spreading the legends out a bit more, try to diversify. But maybe they figure that would be bad for the brand.
Barnabas gives the blade a once-over. “So that’s how you’re going to get it back,” he says.
“Oh, it’s going to do more than that, Mr. Barnabas,” Johnny says. “It’s going to do much more than that, with King Johnny behind it!”
Barnabas is puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“You want to know too many gypsy secrets. You just leave it all to King Johnny.”
The obvious response to this is, okay, jeez, you brought it up, but Barnabas doesn’t want to ruin the costume party.
So that’s where we leave our hero, chatting quietly with his roommate while another dude goes out to battle the legendary monster. It turns out Barnabas doesn’t actually have very much to do with this epic saga after all. He did manage to save the day, in the sense that he turned an intense cliffhanger into an episode of Antiques Roadshow, and then we don’t see him again until late next week. I hope somebody remembers to tell him how it all worked out.
Tomorrow: It’s My Skeleton.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Istvan jumps off the cliff, you can briefly see the studio lights.
There’s a tape edit in act 2, in the middle of Barnabas’ conversation with King Johnny.
Tomorrow: It’s My Skeleton.
— Danny Horn