Monthly Archives: June 2016

dark shadows t8 barnabas duel

Time Travel, part 8: She’s Me

“The cards — they have anticipated you!”

But that’s the thing about epic tragedies, you know? You don’t need spoiler alerts, because everybody knows how this is going to go.

Against all odds and two decades later, Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis managed to sell NBC on a prime-time revival of the show, reintroducing the characters and the stories that America once loved so deeply and temporarily. But this time, the show would have prime-time network production values, like shooting on film and doing retakes and thinking about things in advance. And they could tell the story properly now — introducing the vampire right from the start, and making sure that Josette is the lookalike of the right person.

And it’s here, in episode 8, when the show gets noticeably better. They’ve got some grown-up writers at last, and a tighter focus on the more appealing members of the cast. They know where the story’s going, and they don’t waste time trying to introduce two simultaneous female vengeance fire demons, like they did in episode 4. Things are finally starting to go uphill.

But we know what happens when things go uphill, especially if it’s Widow’s Hill. That road leads to a messy death on the rocks below, which is exactly what happens to our star-crossed revival.

Yes, the show gets better, here in the back half of the season, but not better enough, and it’s too late anyway; the ratings have sagged to such an extent that the gods have already decided the series’ fate. After this, NBC gives 9pm Friday to some equally doomed comedies, and then the NBC Friday Night Movie, and then Dateline. Twenty years after the lights go out on the great estate at Collinwood, NBC will finally manage to put a successful fantasy drama in this timeslot, but I’m afraid it’s going to be Grimm.

Continue reading Time Travel, part 8: She’s Me

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Episode 889: It’s From the Past

“You mustn’t touch this, Julia. It happens to be very old.”

Barnabas was boring, is the problem. Around this time last year, they wrapped up all of his storylines — Angelique was banished back to Hell, Adam ran away, and all the other villains just burned or fell to powder. At last, Barnabas was triumphant — free from his vampire curse, surrounded by friends and family, universally respected and trusted. It was a nightmare.

With nothing else to do, he became Barnabas the butler, a facilitator for other people’s story progression. The show always faces a crisis when they don’t know what to do with the star attraction, and their usual response is to visit a different time period. When “toxic Barnabas” was getting too hot to handle in November 1967, we went back to his origin story, and when “tame Barnabas” ran out of story potential in March 1969, the show packed him off to 1897.

Barnabas is at his best when he’s on the defensive, struggling and scheming and making terrible mistakes. His trip to 1897 put him on the back foot immediately — no allies, a vampire once again, and generally confused about what he was even supposed to be doing. He had to ingratiate himself with a whole new family, and learn everybody’s secrets without letting on about his own.

And it worked! Even a month-long vacation didn’t diminish his charms; his miraculous return gave the show its all-time best ratings. But now he’s heading back home, where the outlook is even more drab than it was before he left: Quentin’s evil spirit is gone, and Collinwood is more or less at peace. The immediate future looks even more butlery than before.

So the writers, in their infinite lunacy, have decided to dodge the butler problem by making Barnabas the bad guy again. Instead of a happy homecoming, they’re giving him a mysterious new agenda, which splits him away from his friends and family.

It’s a risky idea, with the potential to squander all the good will that they’ve built up with the audience. But what is Dark Shadows except a string of terrible ideas, which sometimes turn out to be amazing?

Continue reading Episode 889: It’s From the Past

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Episode 888: Little Shop

“Something terrible is going to happen to us if we stay here!”

We’re back in the swinging sixties, and just in time. Barnabas’ trip to the nineteenth century was held over by popular demand, and if they’d kept it up for another six weeks, then by the time he came back it would be the 1970s, because of how time works.

The new storyline is just getting started — this is actually the first episode that takes place entirely in 1969 — so they’re still lining up the plot points. So far, Barnabas has been hijacked by some kind of ancient pyramid scheme death cult, Julia is anxiously awaiting Barnabas’ return from the past, and Carolyn is wearing a terrible clown skirt.

But today, we get our first big shock: Jason McGuire is back!

Continue reading Episode 888: Little Shop

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Episode 887: Whatever Comes Next

“I can’t understand why I have the feeling that something frightening is going to happen.”

It always starts with a box.

You’ve finally figured out what you’re going to do with your life. You’ve got an unstable girlfriend hidden in your house, who’s provisionally agreed not to massacre herself until you get back. You’ve arranged with a friend to destroy the coffins that he was saving up for you. And now you’re going back home, so that you and your girlfriend can use a magical oil painting to travel one hundred years into the future, turn into different people, and live happily ever after. Everything is going according to plan.

And then somebody hands you a mystery box, and the world slips sideways.

Continue reading Episode 887: Whatever Comes Next

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Episode 886: The Sacrifice

“What can that portrait have to do with time?”

She doesn’t jump, not this time. Barnabas knows that if he approaches a cornered Josette on Widow’s Hill, then she’ll jump to her death, because that’s what she did last time. So he sends her aunt Natalie as a neutral party, to get Josette to back away from the precipice.

Once everyone’s on dry land, Barnabas says that if Josette stops trying to kill herself, then he promises not to murder her. This is actually not an unusual arrangement, for gothic romances. She agrees, but only if he comes back when he says that he will. Then he gets delayed, so she gets fed up, and she takes poison and dies.

I don’t really know why Josette’s spirit drew Barnabas and Kitty back a hundred years into the past, just so that she could kill herself all over again; it seems unprofessional, and self-defeating. But I think after two successful suicide attempts, Josette DuPres has made it clear that she would prefer not to be alive. We really need to start respecting that point of view.

Continue reading Episode 886: The Sacrifice

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Episode 885: Not in Canvas Anymore

“I want you to do nothing. Promise me that, and I will not use the coffins.”

Now, from Josette’s point of view, it’s a weird decision either way, but it gets weirder the more that you think about it, which personally I was planning never to do. But let’s take a moment.

Kitty Soames — a living human woman, in the year 1897 — has discovered that she is the reincarnation of Josette DuPres, who toppled over a cliff in 1795. Reincarnation means that it’s the same spirit, reborn in a new body. Right? That’s what this story point has done to me; it’s made me question what reincarnation means.

So Kitty is Josette, in some kind of fictional necrobabble way. And listening to Josette’s music box put her into a kind of fugue state, where she remembered being Josette. I’m okay with that part.

But now Kitty is trying to suppress those memories, because she’s worried that the Josette persona will take over. So she goes to Josette’s room in the Old House, and argues with the portrait.

“I’ve got to go away to live my own life, and you can’t come with me!” she says. “You’ve got to let me be myself! I’ve got to forget Josette DuPres!” And then the portrait sasses her back, saying, “It is Kitty Soames you must forget!”

Now, obviously, if she’s really Josette, then who is she talking to, but it’s metaphor, it’s stagecraft, it’s a vampire soap opera and who even cares. And then there’s the floating.

Continue reading Episode 885: Not in Canvas Anymore

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Episode 884: Widow’s Hell

“I don’t know, and you don’t know, none of us knows, and we probably never will know, and besides, I don’t care.”

It’s morning, and time jockey Barnabas Collins is standing in the ruins of the scene of the crime, sifting through the fragments of storyline left behind after a raging inferno. Combing through the ashes, he finds a few traces of the battle that took place here — a pocket watch, a pair of glasses, a length of heavy chain.

The glasses belong to Count Petofi, and the chain is Garth Blackwood’s — the two titans who clashed and burned here — but the pocket watch is new to me. Did Count Petofi have a pocket watch this whole time, and I never noticed? Well, I suppose he can retrieve it from the lost and found on his way out.

Continue reading Episode 884: Widow’s Hell

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Episode 883: The Tate Murders

“You know, I rather look forward to going to the future as Barnabas Collins.”

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Continue reading Episode 883: The Tate Murders

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Episode 882: The Don’t Sleepover

“You drift away, love, you’ll drift back sadly changed.”

And then sometimes everything comes together, and they make all the right choices, and I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it lately but Dark Shadows is my favorite television show.

Continue reading Episode 882: The Don’t Sleepover