“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!
Yes! We saw a mystery man mooching around the Old House yesterday, and when Julia confronts him at the top of today’s episode — it’s Jason!
Now, if you’re not familiar with the famous Mr. McGuire, he was an important villain when Barnabas first appeared on the show, back when it was possible to have non-supernatural villains. He helped Elizabeth’s husband Paul fake his death and skip town, because pretending to be dead is funny and lucrative. Everyone knows this.
Jason returned to town a couple years ago to blackmail Liz, and he’d almost convinced her to marry him and share her outrageous fortune, when she had a sudden change of heart and confessed the whole thing. Once the police got involved, Jason ran away, making a quick stop-off at the Old House, where he was convinced Barnabas was hiding the Collins family jewels. Jason opened the coffin, Barnabas strangled Jason, and they buried him in the back room of the mausoleum.
But now he’s back, alive again and wandering around the Old House — returned from the grave, somehow. Has Jason been resurrected by some terrible power, to take his revenge on Barnabas? What could this possibly mean?
Well, we’re not going to find out, I guess, because he runs off into the shadows — classic Jason, right?
Julia didn’t recognize him, because she never met Jason; she was just joining the show when he was killed. So when Carolyn comes by, all Julia can say is that she found a stranger poking around in the house.
And that’s all the excitement we’re going to get for a little while, because now they’re going to do another lengthy sequence where not much really happens, just like yesterday. Julia and Carolyn chat about the stranger, and then they talk about whether Barnabas is going to come back from the past. Julia goes downstairs to check for him, and then Carolyn sees the stranger outside the window, so Julia has to run back upstairs and discuss it.
Julia wants to stay the night in case Barnabas comes back, and Carolyn decides that she’ll sleep over too, so now we’re watching a show where the two characters that we’re following go to sleep in the middle of act two.
They wake up in the morning, and Carolyn tells Julia that she dreamed about Chris, her sort-of boyfriend who she doesn’t realize is a werewolf. So they talk that over for a while, and then they decide to go antiquing.
On their way out, Julia says, “Would you mind if we stopped at Collinwood for one moment? I’ve got to make a phone call.” Carolyn says, “No, I don’t mind at all,” and then they put on their coats and leave.
I’m running through all of this tedious detail to demonstrate how much tedious detail there is to run through. After the Jason McGuire reveal, basically nothing happens for the next eight minutes; it’s just Julia and Carolyn talking, and going up and down the stairs.
This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem — we don’t need a car chase in every scene — but Gordon Russell wrote today’s script, and on the writing team, Gordon is the weakest on dialogue. He really excels at the clockwork episodes, where he has to come up with a way to move characters and props around, in order to set up a plot point. He’s clever when he has a challenge like that, but give him eight minutes of conversation, and he falls to pieces. “Would you mind if we stopped at Collinwood for one moment” is an incredibly boring thing to say, especially because we don’t see the phone call, so there doesn’t seem to be any reason for Julia to even say it.
That poses a problem, because they’re introducing two brand-new characters and a new location today, and they’re going to be important in the developing story. We could really use some sparkling dialogue here, and unfortunately, we’re not going to get it.
The new set is an antique shop that just opened in downtown Collinsport, run by a married couple, Megan and Philip Todd. We find them unpacking some recent acquisitions.
Philip: One whale oil lamp.
Megan: Mmm, once owned by Herman Melville. “Moby Dick was born by the light of this priceless object!”
Philip: You’re not going to describe it that way!
Megan: Well, anything to drum up a little business.
Megan: What’s next?
Philip: One exquisite clock.
Megan: Hmm, with a slightly broken pendulum.
Philip: Don’t worry, I’ll fix it. I’ll put it aside.
And then he goes and puts it aside, as Megan grins appreciatively. She’s super smiley, apparently determined to win over the audience with an abundance of cheer.
As you know, there are three steps to making the audience like a new character: make a joke, make a friend, and make a plot point happen. Megan and Philip seem to be right on track, as we see when Carolyn brings Julia into the shop. Carolyn’s been here before, and she gets a warm welcome from the Todds.
Carolyn: I’ve told her all about the shop.
Megan: Hey! Maybe we should hire you, to spread the word about us.
Carolyn: You don’t have to hire me, I’d do it anyway. I’m so impressed with what you have here.
Really? Well, that makes one of you; it looks like a dump to me. There’s some kind of stuffed pig weasel on the back shelf that I find unsettling, because I can’t identify what it’s supposed to be. It seems like a mammal hastily assembled by God out of spare parts, at the last minute.
But that means Carolyn’s enthusiasm for the place is mostly based on how much she likes the Todds, so they’ve nailed the make a friend step.
And they score well on the plot point, too, showing off a canvas painted by Charles Delaware Tate. Julia reacts like the superstar that she is, zeroing in immediately on anything that might be story-productive.
With Barnabas charting an odd new course of his own in this storyline, Julia needs to be the interim protagonist, driving the story that the audience most wants to see. Right now, that means the werewolf plotline that we left midstream, when Barnabas ran off to 1897. Julia didn’t really care that much about Chris Jennings before — Barnabas was the one who really identified with Chris and committed to helping him, while Julia came along for the ride. Now she’s the only one who can move that plot forward, so all of a sudden, she’s devoted to it.
Julia knows that Charles Delaware Tate painted the magical portrait that cured Quentin of being a werewolf, so if Tate is still alive, he may be able to help Chris. She doesn’t actually say that in this scene, because she doesn’t have to — the audience knows all about it, and we’re one hundred percent aligned with Julia right now.
She asks Philip how much the Tate costs — and when he says three hundred dollars, she immediately whips out her checkbook and completes the sale. She also wants the name of the auction house where Philip bought the painting, and any information that might lead her to finding more Tate paintings. She’s being smart, and that gives her immense power in the narrative, because smart characters make stories go faster. Buying this painting is a power move.
With all that action in the show’s upper tier, the new characters are really going to have to assert themselves, if they want us to care about them. So it’s disappointing when Carolyn runs into Jason later on in the episode, and it turns out he’s not actually Jason.
Julia didn’t know McGuire, but Carolyn was deeply involved in the Liz/Jason blackmail story. She would definitely recognize him on sight, even with a mustache. But when she cries out, “I know who you are!” she follows it immediately with, “You’re the man Julia caught sneaking around the Old House last night!” So I guess this isn’t Jason after all, just another weird Dark Shadows lookalike. I don’t know who this is. Well, it’s probably not important. They don’t say his name during the episode, so I guess there’s no way to tell.
Anyway, back to Megan and Philip, who are being super pleasant and likeable.
Megan: Well? What’s the good news?
Philip: Far and away the best day we’ve had yet.
Philip: Now, if we could just find a customer like Dr. Hoffman every day —
Megan: Oh! We’d be rich by the end of the year!
Philip: Right you are.
And he kisses her forehead, because they’re young and in love, and I hate them. Oh, how I hate them.
So this is the real mystery that I actually want to figure out, at this point in the storyline. Megan and Philip seem to be doing everything right — they’re friendly, and they banter, and they buy pre-packaged plot twists at estate sales. I should be entirely pro-antiques at this point. But instead, I really dislike them, and it may take a minute for me to unpack exactly why I think they don’t work.
The primary problem, I think, is that they aren’t funny. They make a lot of jokes — see above, practically everything that they’ve said is some kind of light-hearted banter — but they never make you laugh.
“Anything to drum up a little business!” “Maybe we should hire you, to spread the word about us!” “Right you are!” These conversations have the shape of jokes, and they’re in all the places that jokes should be. In the script outline, it clearly says “Megan and Philip joke around with each other, so that everyone knows that they’re a friendly, loving couple who don’t deserve to be menaced by unseen horrors.” These moments are in the script because the writers know that this is the way to win audience favor.
But they’re not funny. The lines aren’t very good to begin with, and Marie Wallace and Christopher Bernau don’t deliver them in a particularly funny way. So they fall into the uncanny valley of comedy — lines that are supposed to sound human, but they don’t quite connect. Here’s another one:
Megan: Do you believe in premonitions?
Philip: No. Why?
Megan: I just had one.
Do you see what I mean? He’s making a little sarcastic joke, but it’s not clever, and it’s not something a human would ever say. So I just kind of recoil from it, this laugh line of the living dead.
Megan tells Philip, “Something terrible is going to happen to us if we stay here,” and I’m afraid that I have to agree. You already are something terrible, and you’re already happening.
Tomorrow: It’s From the Past.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Again, given what we find out about the stranger’s real identity next week, his actions at the beginning of this episode make no sense. He tells Julia that he was supposed to meet someone at the Old House. Who? What is he talking about?
Julia has the sniffles; she sniffs several times when she and Carolyn are talking in the Old House drawing room in the first act.
Julia asks if Philip is sure that the painting is a genuine Tate, and Philip stumbles over the line: “Oh, yes. I know his work well, it’s, uh — I know his signature even better.”
Philip brings the painting over to the window so that Julia can examine it, and there’s a shot of the two of them from outside the shop. Then they cut back to the camera inside the shop, and you can see the camera and a crew member through the window.
After her phone call, Julia muses, “If Tate is still alive, he may be able to help Chris Jenning.” She means Jennings.
When the stranger approaches the altar in the final scene, you can see the edge of the burlap carpet that’s supposed to be the ground.
Oh, and it turns out we do find out who that mysterious stranger is, because he’s listed in the credits. It’s Paul Stoddard, Carolyn’s long-lost father. It’s a little weird to list his name when they’re making a big deal about him as a mystery man, but Dark Shadows is gonna be Dark Shadows.
Tomorrow: It’s From the Past.
— Danny Horn