“The time is over when no one would listen to you. The time is over when you were alone.”
“Angelique!” he gasps.
The wicked witch smiles. “Hello, Quentin.”
“How did you escape from Petofi?”
She looks away. “I just did,” she shrugs.
Okay. Well, screw you too, I guess.
But we have no time to discuss Angelique’s flight for life — I think her technique was hit somebody over the head with a rock, and then light out for the territories — because we have more important business to take care of.
A month ago, we saw a young woman hammer a stake through the heart of eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins, and then they just sealed him up in a cave and figured that was that. But last week, when we rolled the stone away from the sepulchre, there they were, the two of them — a dead Barnabas in a box, plus a bonus Barnabas walking around and acting morose. Stay tuned for the logical explanation.
“Is this some kind of trick?” asks Quentin, who’s currently inhabiting the body of a mad god with a magical hand. “Or is this some new bargain you’ve made with Petofi?” He slumps into a chair, flabbergasted.
“Quentin, stop torturing yourself and listen,” Barnabas urges. “The time is over when no one would listen to you. The time is over when you were alone.”
Barnabas approaches his friend, and rests a reassuring hand on the armchair. “Now, this is part of my plan,” he says, and consults the teleprompter.
So we’re off to something of a rocky start, but there’s a logical explanation for that too; this happens to be one of the most chaotic periods in the history of this chaotic show.
In September, back when there was only one Barnabas and the world made sense, the Dark Shadows team shifted into an accelerated production schedule. They were taping about ten days ahead of broadcast, which was more or less the norm since the technicians strike in 1967.
Now, they’ve decided to get four weeks ahead. This may have been ABC’s decision, or the production team’s; I’m not sure. But it does seem like a healthier situation in the long run, so there’s more of a cushion in case something goes wrong. Ten days is pretty harrowing, and it’s a good idea to be further ahead than that.
But here we are in the short term, where building up that backlog means that the under-resourced team of lunatics responsible for this program are pushed even harder.
Here’s how it played out.
Pansy stakes Barnabas in mid-September, and Jonathan Frid leaves on a four-week vacation. At that point, they move into a six-day production schedule, running Sunday to Friday, for the next eight weeks.
Up until now, they’ve never been able to shoot on Saturdays, because they use Dark Shadows’ cameras to film ABC’s Wide World of Sports, a production detail that I think is absolutely adorable. But during this period, they actually do a couple of Saturdays, so maybe ABC’s got some new cameras at last.
In fact, there’s a period in the middle of this accelerated production where they tape an episode every day, for 13 days straight — from Sunday, October 5th, to Friday, October 17th. Going from Sunday to Saturday, the calendar looks like this:
863 – 866 – 867 – 868 – 869 – 870 – 865
871 – 872 – 873 – 874 – 880 – 879
So today’s episode, 871, was taped on a Sunday in the middle of that hectic period, when there’s no such thing as a weekend.
You’ll notice that this schedule is completely out of order; they jump back and forth from one episode to another. They do that through this entire accelerated schedule, because when you’re shooting thirteen episodes in a row, you need to conserve on actors and set changes. The most extreme example is the very end of this eight-week period, in early November, when they tape episode 890 on a Friday, and episode 903 the next day.
This is an unbelievable spike in production, on an insanely ambitious show that already pushes everyone to their limits.
For example, there’s only three writers, doing a job that these days requires about twelve. Right at the time when the team needs to figure out how to wrap up 1897 and begin a whole new storyline, they suddenly have to write six scripts a week, instead of five. This is why the beginning of the Leviathan story is terrible.
Oh, and two of the three writers are also working on the script for a feature film, House of Dark Shadows, which got the green light from MGM in August, and was originally scheduled to begin shooting in October. This is why the beginning of the Leviathan story is terrible.
And as harrowing as the ten-day lead time was, the upside was that they were able to course-correct very quickly, changing the focus of a storyline if it wasn’t working out. Once they’re taping four weeks ahead, they can’t pivot as fast. This is why the beginning of the Leviathan story is terrible.
Thankfully, that’s tomorrow’s problem, and we’ve got quite enough problems for today. Barnabas’ miraculous resurrection has brought the show’s ratings to its all-time peak, holding America’s housewives and teenagers and shut-ins and mental patients utterly spellbound.
But as I pointed out last week, a peak has two sides, so that means some fraction of the audience took a look at this week’s episodes, and decided to change the channel. Let’s see if we can spot the exact moment when that happens.
Barnabas: And now, we will tell you everything, if you will listen.
Quentin: Yes. Yes, I will listen.
Barnabas: When Julia Hoffman arrived in the present — from the present, I knew that I could be cured of being a vampire. Then I could move more freely, and fight Petofi. But I had to make sure that everyone at Collinwood would be convinced that the vampire was dead. To do that, we had to see to it that the vampire… is dead.
Okay, that was easy. What do you want to do now?
And oh, look how tired everybody is today. You would think that shifting into a grueling six-days-a-week production schedule would make them ease up a bit, and see what life is like when you’re not constantly trying to push the limits of the available technology. But they don’t do that, obviously, because Dan Curtis is a madman, and a challenging situation only makes him want to push harder.
Last week, they did that insane scene in the cave where you could see both versions of Barnabas in the same shot, and today, they’ve pre-taped half the episode, including costume changes and extensive Chromakey effects. So Angelique and Barnabas are supposed to be super happy in this sequence, explaining their clever plan to Quentin, but they look completely worn out.
But what the hell, on with the show. Angelique introduces the pre-taped flashback.
“One night, before the vampire was killed,” she says, “Barnabas and I were alone… in a hidden room!”
And here they are, in a hidden room. I suppose this is meant to be in the rectory somewhere, but it’s one of those patchwork Dark Shadows sets which appear to be made of stone and bricks and wood paneling and drywall, all in the same tiny corner, and a mysterious light source emanating from exactly the opposite direction of the candles. This is what you get when you tape thirteen episodes in a row.
Barnabas walks in, and stands in front of a full-length mirror for a minute. Then Angelique tells him to scram, so he can hurry off to another set for the Chromakey effect.
Angelique puts her hands together, and adopts the genuinely panicked expression of someone who has a big important spell to say, and she can’t quite remember how it begins.
Angelique: Since death is the twin of sleep — sleep is the twin of death! — and death is the twin of life — sleep in this mirror until you are awakened, twin of Barnabas Collins!
And then Barnabas appears in the mirror, and it looks awesome, because Dark Shadows is amazing.
When we come back from commercial, there’s a Barnabas voiceover, saying, “And so Angelique trapped the reflection. That was the beginning of the doppleganger. That midnight, she went to the graveyard, and came back with earth from the newest grave.”
So here’s Angelique with a fistful of dirt, which she scatters around as she doubles down on the twin of death idea.
“As death is the twin of life,” she proclaims, “you — the twin of Barnabas Collins — take the breath of life from death! Leave the frozen world, and come to life!” It does.
“I’ve done it!” she cries, triumphantly. “I’ve made the doppleganger!” So I guess this is what she was going for.
And it’s obvious, really, that this would be the solution to the mystery. Everybody is working so hard right now to make this show. This is the fantasy — that they could create duplicates of themselves, to do all the extra work.
Okay, back to the rectory, for some more exposition from Barnabas, who honestly does not have it in him today. It turns out that it was the doppleganger in the coffin who got staked, so hopefully it didn’t have any feelings.
Quentin takes a moment to apologize, saying, “I can’t forget that I was the one who was intended to destroy you.”
And Barnabas responds, “But… I’m sorry that it had to happen that way, but, we have to do things that we don’t want to do, and… well, until we have destroyed Petofi.”
The scene ends, eventually, much to the surprise of Jonathan Frid, who thought he was trapped forever.
So then we move on to Count Petofi’s secret lair in the basement of the old mill, where Charles Delaware Tate is acting as hard as he can. This scene requires a whole other complicated backstory, so bear with me for a moment.
Tate is a famous painter, and one of Petofi’s proteges. At some point in the offscreen past, the wizard gifted Tate with the master’s touch, in exchange for some design consultation on one of his nefarious schemes. Tate’s the guy who painted Quentin’s Dorian Gray portrait, which turns into a werewolf on the night of the full moon, so that Quentin doesn’t have to anymore.
But Tate was mad at Quentin for seducing his girlfriend, so he stole the portrait and refused to give it back. Petofi took exception to this, and used his legendary hand to take Tate’s aptitude away. Now Tate can’t even pick up a pencil, so he’s got no girlfriend and no career, and he’s having a hard time adjusting. Also, he’s played by Roger Davis, who’s a terrible actor.
As a performer, one of Roger’s lamentable traits is that he always acts like he’s furious, even in his tender moments, so when his character is actually supposed to be angry, things escalate. He also grabs the other actors a lot, and when he’s upset, which is all the time, he indicates this by touching his head. When you put this all together, it makes for a trying day for everyone.
So this scene is basically scream therapy — not just for Tate, but for the entire production staff. “Please, Petofi,” he begs, clutching his scene partner’s arm. “I have suffered enough!”
Quentin tries to explain that he’s not Count Petofi, and he doesn’t have magic powers, which makes Tate explode with rage.
“You’re Quentin Collins?” he snarls. “Come on, Petofi!”
He shifts into a higher gear. “What do you think, you didn’t take my MIND away from me, or my EYES, or my EARS!” He points at his head each time, to illustrate the concepts.
“Now, look,” he emotes, “I ask you once more, Petofi, please! Please, give me back my talent!”
This would be a funny thing to make Roger Davis say under any circumstances, but right now, it feels like a heartcry. They’re writing and taping six episodes a week, with no time to rehearse, or plan, or construct meaningful sets. They’re pre-taping much more than they’ve ever done before, and the special effects are getting even more elaborate. Plus, they’re trying to figure out how to make a feature film, using a production team that has zero film experience.
As far as the ratings are concerned, they’re at the top of their game. But they’re teetering on the edge of a rather spectacular collapse, and they know it, even if the audience hasn’t figured it out yet.
And here’s Roger Davis, the worst actor on the show, embodying everyone’s worst fears — that the brilliant work they’ve been doing for the last several months is about to dry up, and they don’t know if they’ll ever recover.
Please, says Icarus, getting as close to the sun as his wax wings will allow. Please! He’s flying so high — higher than he ever dreamed — but the wax is melting, and he’s losing feathers, and there’s such a long drop to the sea — Please! Give me back my talent!
Tomorrow: Tick Tock.
More Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
There’s a little tape skip at the beginning of the first act, when Barnabas says, “I knew it the moment I saw you.”
Barnabas tells Quentin, “At the time, I was in a cave, not far from the coffin.” He means a cove. The coffin was in the cave.
Another Barnabas flub: “But I couldn’t find her, and I became so ill that I looked for help — but I couldn’t, uh — realize — where anyone was, and it was dangerous for me!”
When Petofi is talking to Quentin in the mill, the camera suddenly goes out of focus on Petofi’s closeup.
Tate recognizes the I Ching wands in Petofi’s hand. Petofi says, “If you know what they are, you can understand what I want you to do, don’t you?” Tate mutters, “Cast the 49th hexagram.” Petofi grins: “Exactly!” Now, the whole point of Petofi getting people to test the I Ching hexagrams is because he doesn’t know which one unlocks time travel — so it makes no sense for Tate to spontaneously come up with the 49th, when he doesn’t even know what Petofi is trying to do. When Tate casts the wands, Petofi cries, “How right you are, boy — the 49th hexagram! Po — the hexagram of change.” It’s possible that Tate was just supposed to say “Cast a hexagram,” and Petofi ad-libbed the “How right you are, boy” part to cover for Tate’s mistake.
Also, the 49th hexagram is Ko, not Po, so whatever.
Tomorrow: Tick Tock.
— Danny Horn