“You can’t let sentimentality make you careless!”
For the last six weeks, Barnabas Collins has been behaving oddly, even by eccentric millionaire standards. He’s been freezing out his friends, and striking them with cars. He’s revoked his Murder Club membership by warning his family that werewolves are dangerous. He’s appeared unbidden in other people’s dreams, and he’s arranged for the remote involuntary circling of dates on calendars.
But we finally have an explanation for everything. He was being sarcastic!
But not that sarcastic, to be honest. Today’s episode is a particularly fraught one, recorded out of sequence just five days before airtime. The cast and crew have recently spent a couple months shooting six days a week so that they could build up a stronger backlog of episodes, and now they’re shooting about a month ahead of the air date. But there’s a downside to that decision, which is that it’s harder to course correct when you need to.
And apparently, they need to. For an explanation, let’s turn to The Dark Shadows Almanac, which has a little trivia sidebar headlined “Emergency Leviathan Episode”:
Episode 915 was a special episode created under emergency circumstances. During this time in the series, Dark Shadows fans complained about Barnabas Collins’ return to evil ways. In an effort to appease viewers and to more clearly explain that the Leviathans were responsible for Barnabas’ behavior, this episode was hastily written, produced and aired. The episode stands alone without affecting the continuity of the previous storyline.
Episode 916, which follows, takes up the plot from the end of episode 913/914. After the special episode, Barnabas never again fully supports the Leviathan cause.
Of course, as we know, every episode of Dark Shadows is an emergency episode, hastily written, produced and aired by a team of under-resourced lunatics struggling to concoct the weirdest show they can imagine. The entire series is one long crisis, as they tumble down the stairs five days a week to the delight of a grateful nation.
But one of their core skills has always been their ability to pivot quickly if the story’s not working. That’s how we got a vampire as the star of a daytime soap opera in the first place; they gave him a tryout, and the audience loved him. So if the audience doesn’t take to the current storyline — a mix of H.P. Lovecraft, Village of the Damned, To the Devil a Daughter and mistaken identity amnesia farce — then that needs to be corrected.
I don’t entirely agree with the Almanac’s diagnosis — that the problem is “Barnabas Collins’ return to evil ways”. Barnabas never stopped having evil ways, even at his most heroic. He’s been continuously plotting to murder and kidnap people since he came out of the mystery box three years ago, and the audience loves him for it.
In fact, every time the ratings start to sag, they turn him into a vampire again, and have him tear out the throat of an innocent female on camera — a pattern that continues up to and including today’s episode. When all else fails, the show-stopping crowd-pleaser is Barnabas Collins murdering people with his teeth.
So Barnabas and the evil ways are not the problem. The real problem is that the audience doesn’t understand what happened to him. All of a sudden, his relationships reversed, pulling him away from his friends and connecting him to a series of strangers — hooded figures, antique shop owners, villainous children — who the audience doesn’t know or trust.
And this change happened instantly, during a confusing sequence in a single episode. If you missed that moment where the Leviathans hypnotized Barnabas and turned him into their leader, then you’re probably really frustrated by now, wondering what the hell happened while you weren’t looking. And even if you did see that episode, it was hard to tell what was going on. Barnabas just fainted for no reason, and two strangers gave him something to drink, and all of a sudden he knew all their legends and poems and magical hand gestures. And how do you hypnotize somebody into being your leader, anyway?
Although I shouldn’t actually criticize making Barnabas the leader of this confusing conspiracy, because that’s one of the best decisions that they’ve made. Even with werewolves nipping at his heels, Barnabas is still the star of the show, and he needs to be the center of attention. If they want to introduce a brand new set of scenery-chomping villains, then putting Barnabas in charge is a good idea.
Still, Dan Curtis had his perpetual self-organizing juvenile focus group just outside the studio door, a gang of pint-sized TV critics hanging around after school to provide instant feedback on storyline progression. If the kids at the studio door said they didn’t like Barnabas being under the sway of the Leviathans, then I have to respect that; their opinion mattered a lot more than mine does.
So let’s see how they turn this around. What can they do to make Dark Shadows great again?
Well, it begins, obviously, with a staff meeting. If you’re going to address organizational problems, then you’ll need some alignment among your resources, human and otherwise.
The new boss is named Michael, a fourteen-year-old boy who just a few days ago was an eight-year-old boy; the right person can advance very quickly in the soap opera-wrecking industry. Michael’s decided to take charge of the family business, and he’s summoned Barnabas to the antique shop for a strategy session.
Michael wants to discuss Barnabas’ friend, Dr. Julia Hoffman. Yesterday, she noticed the birthmark on Michael’s wrist, and recognized it as the same mark that Alexander had.
“She’s a very busy lady, that Dr. Hoffman,” Michael says, crossing his arms behind him for some theatrical Bond villain backacting. “Her mind is always working. Her eyes are always wide open.”
He spins to face Barnabas. “Well, I want those eyes closed — permanently!”
So far, Barnabas has been the undisputed leader of the Leviathan conspiracy; he’s the one who should be bossing people around. This is the first time that anybody’s given him an order, and he doesn’t take to it.
Michael: There’s no reason to treat her like some kind of a special case! Now that you serve us, you must forget all that happened before!
Barnabas: I cannot forget that Julia Hoffman risked her life for me! I cannot take her life, and I cannot let anyone else do it either! Do you understand that?
Michael: I don’t! You can’t let sentimentality make you careless! She is now an enemy!
Barnabas: I will not regard her as an enemy! Neither will you! Now, the subject is closed!
And then he flounces out, and slams the door behind him. I think a certain antique shop just lost a member of their customer loyalty rewards program.
So let’s unpack this for a second. Michael says “now that you serve us,” which is a significant change to the story as we understand it. For all appearances, Barnabas has been in charge, executing on secret plans that he couldn’t possibly have made. But this is actually the perfect time to move Barnabas into a subordinate position, now that they’ve grown a new leader.
But Barnabas can’t stay in a secondary role like that — he’s the star, he needs to be in charge of things. So he needs an opportunity to cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.
And obviously, the breaking point is Julia. That’s where this story started; the very first thing that Barnabas did when he joined the Leviathans was to reject Julia’s expressions of friendship. This is the entire basis of his villainy. Barnabas and Julia are the most important supercouple on the show, and their interactions, either friendly or unfriendly, are the primary source of pleasure for the audience.
So in this moment of “emergency”, the producers have correctly identified that this is the primary source of discontent. It’s not that he’s involved in an evil conspiracy; that’s what he always does. The problem is that Julia isn’t invited.
So Barnabas goes home, lights two black candles and picks up a box, and he’s on a direct line to the Elder Gods. Now we know how to do that.
“Whoever you are, wherever you are,” he cries, “I want you to hear me. The boy demanded that I kill a good friend. I refused! He can demand it a hundred times! So can any member of the Leviathans in this world, or any other world that they occupy!”
So, “member of the Leviathans”. Is that what we’re calling them now? Six weeks in, they’re still having a hard time figuring out whether Leviathan is a noun or an adjective. Is “Leviathan” a thing that you are, or a thing that you join? I mean, not you, obviously, but crazy people.
“I still refuse!” he continues. “I will not do things I cannot agree with or understand!” This implies that he agrees with and/or understands all the other things that he’s done, but they can’t fix everything at once.
Then Barnabas falls asleep in a chair, because defying the Ancient Ones is exhausting. And then what do you know, a bossy guy in a hood shows up.
“Who are you?” Barnabas asks, and the hooded figure says, “I am one of them.”
Now, I have to make something perfectly clear: this guy saying “I am one of them” does not mean that he’s one of They, the dark and shadowy organization that I’ve been keeping an eye on for the last couple of years. Regular readers of this blog are familiar with my crackpot “lost princess” time travel conspiracy theory, about a gang of New England widows who are secretly working to defy time itself, using accidents and exposition.
They is responsible for almost all of Victoria Winters’ problems that don’t arise naturally out of just being Victoria Winters. They dragged her back to the 18th century, and then brought her boyfriend forward to the 20th, giving him a wristwatch and amnesia, and generally making a dog’s breakfast out of the fabric of space and time. They is implicated in the displacement of several time-hopping orphans, including Vicki, Phyllis Wick and possibly Charity Trask; They was probably responsible for Burke’s plane crash; They almost certainly had something to do with Dr. Julian Hoffman’s erasure from this reality; and I’d lay odds that They broke Judith out of Rushmore Sanitarium.
But — and I can not stress this enough — the Leviathans are not They. The Leviathans are a totally different time-travelling death cult. You can have as many time-travelling death cults as you like on your television show, and Dark Shadows happens to have two of them. The Leviathans are the stupid one.
I mean, just try and wrap your head around this.
Adlar: Originally, you were not one of us. We made you one of us, because you alone could transport our leader through time. We hoped that just the act of making you one of us would be enough, that you would be loyal to us. But you are not. You have dared to break our law.
Adlar: Enemies must be dealt with. That is the law.
Barnabas: I will not hurt her! The boy is cruel!
Adlar: He is a Leviathan — a true Leviathan! He carries in his mind and in his heart what we believe. You are just an outsider. You must constantly prove yourself, because you will never be above suspicion.
Barnabas: What are you saying?
Yeah, good question. What is wrong with you people?
Once again, Adlar — his name is Adlar, by the way — suggests several simultaneous contradictory definitions of what “a Leviathan” means. There’s some kind of difference between a “true Leviathan” and an “outsider,” which must be a genetic distinction, especially since Michael came in a box marked “Four-Headed Snake Inside, Do Not Open”.
But then Adlar says “we made you one of us,” and describes the Leviathan-ness of Michael in terms of “what we believe.” So it’s a religion. Maybe.
Also, “we made you one of us” implies that Barnabas’ conversion was done to him, rather than something that he chose to do, but if that’s the case, then why does he have to constantly prove himself?
I honestly think the writers don’t know the answers to these questions, that they’re currently struggling to invent and reinvent an explanation for what’s been happening on the show for the last six weeks. That’s okay with me, actually, because that’s how serialized narrative works.
They didn’t know what they were getting into; people seldom do. They knew they were going to grow a monster in the antique shop a la The Dunwich Horror, and they knew that Carolyn’s father would come back to town and reveal that twenty years ago, he unintentionally promised to deliver her to the Leviathans. Those are clever ideas that so far have worked out pretty well.
But I don’t think they had a plan for Barnabas’ participation in the storyline. They knew they needed to put him at the center of the story, and they wanted to make him dangerous again, so that he wouldn’t drift back into the role of harmless gay uncle that he was playing in the months before 1897. So they activated him as a sleeper agent for the Leviathans, and sent him home to stir up trouble.
They clearly don’t have a long-range plan for what Barnabas is supposed to do here, and they never have, and this “emergency episode” is the explanation for why. You don’t make long-term plans for a daily serial, because reality intrudes. You realize that the guy who’s playing Philip isn’t very good, so you push him into the background. The kids outside don’t understand why Barnabas is evil, so you hastily write a new episode that explains that you were only kidding.
Making detailed long-term plans for exactly what each character will do in the story has an insufficient return on investment, because that process takes time away from dealing with the latest emergency, i.e. whatever we’re writing right now, because every episode is an emergency episode.
By now, we’ve gone all the way through the end of the first act, and when we come back from commercial, the guy in the hood is still yammering on. This is the trouble with people who talk about conspiracies; once they get started, you can’t shut them up.
“Let me ask you,” he says, “do you know who we are? Who we really are?”
Barnabas says, “No, I don’t,” in a tone of voice that suggests that he couldn’t be less interested.
So here we go, strap in for the origin story. “Before man,” the hooded figure explains, “in the time before he existed, we ruled. When there was only essence, and intelligence, and nothing more. None of these shapes! that human beings wear today.”
He really hits the “None of these shapes!” hard, because apparently shapes really stick in this dude’s craw. Don’t you just hate shapes, is the prevailing attitude. I’ve had it up to here with shapes.
“Then man was formed,” Adlar continues, pacing around the room. “He became dominant. We had to submit — or be destroyed.” So that tells you something right there about the anti-shapes movement. He says there was only essence and intelligence, but I have a feeling it was more essence than intelligence.
God, he’s still talking. “Some of us did, outwardly, but in our hearts — we were waiting.” He approaches the box. “Silent as the serpent!” he says. “Swift as the snake!” which is another word for serpent. “Tall as the Leviathan!” which how tall could it be, since it travelled to this time period inside a box.
He picks up the box. “Some of us did not choose to take on what you call human shape,” he spits. “They went underground, and kept their true shapes. Demons! Fiends! Creatures of the night! And of darkness! And of evil!” And so on, and so on.
So what have we learned about the Leviathans? Well, they’re sore losers, for one thing. There was some kind of competition between the human race and a vague essence of darkness and evil, and the humans won, quelle surprise. In a contest between shapes and essence, the smart money’s on shapes.
But they’ve managed to get some of their essence inside Barnabas and Liz and David, and that’s the problem we’re dealing with now. Maybe a juice cleanse could help.
So Barnabas goes outside and gets bitten by a bat, which is the first smart thing anybody’s done all day. A bat bite is exactly what we need right now.
It would be great if we could get Barnabas turned back into a vampire, because he’s at his best when he’s on the back foot. As I said, I don’t have a problem with his evil ways, but he’s been super smug lately, giving people orders and acting like he knows more than anybody else. Turning him into a vampire would give him a weakness, and get him back to what he does best, which is punching above his weight.
It doesn’t last, unfortunately. He’s only a vampire for the rest of this episode, which he thinks isn’t a dream anymore even though it totally still is.
This vampire moment gives them an opportunity to pander directly to the kids outside, who want to see Barnabas with fangs.
The show has done this before — there was a period in summer 1968 when Barnabas was cured and the ratings were slipping, so they arranged for a flashback to 1795, where we could see him bite people again. It’s a sure-fire cure for whatever ails the show, and it always works. I love a good Barnabas bite.
So he kills a woman on the docks, who comes back almost immediately as a crazy vampire lady, and she walks into the Old House without an invite. She proceeds to make a variety of unbelievably goofy faces, which call into question the entire project of this episode.
I mean, think about it: the Dark Shadows production team has decided that there’s a problem with the show that needs to be corrected immediately, and what do they do? They bring on the bug-eyed vampire lady.
This is the thing that needs to be rushed onto the air, double asap. This is the reboot. Just think about that.
As a finale, Adlar does some more hocus-pocus, making Josette’s portrait appear above the mantelpiece. Barnabas asks what’s going on, and Adlar smiles.
“You remember your lost love, in that other time?” he sneers. “Where you were supposed to meet her? You never made it, did you?”
“No,” Barnabas says. “Because you stopped me!”
“WE stopped her, too!” says the hooded figure. “WE sent you here! WE kept her as hostage, our assurance that you will continue to do exactly what WE tell you!”
Which means — my god! It’s so obvious now. The Leviathans aren’t They! They’re WE!
Tomorrow: The One of Us.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
There are a lot of tape edits all over the episode, which looks like it was cut to bits and reassembled. There are some very obvious jumps, including the moment in act 1 when Barnabas suddenly looks at the fire and thinks, “What is happening to me?”
There’s an exceptionally cute blooper when Barnabas finishes his appeal to the Leviathan gods. He puts down the box, picks up a snuffer and tries to put out the two black candles on the table. He puts the snuffer on the left candle, which doesn’t go out, and then he puts it on the right candle, which also doesn’t go out. He actually does a double-take, and then he has to wrestle the candles to the ground. Go and watch this one; it’s adorable.
When Barnabas wakes up from his bat attack, you can see the top of the set, and a studio light creates a lens flare.
As Josette’s portrait appears on the wall, a bar of gray also appears across the bottom of the frame — an artifact of some mistake that they made with the Chromakey. Also, Barnabas says “Josette’s portrait!” before it appears.
When Barnabas wakes up from his dream at the end of the episode, Audrey is still hiding behind the curtain.
Behind the Scenes:
Adlar was played by Pierrino Mascarino, in his only appearance on Dark Shadows. This was one of Mascarino’s earliest screen roles; he was also in The Edge of Night and Another World in the 60s. Mascarino appeared in the Broadway revival of The Iceman Cometh in 1973. Starting in the late 70s, he made dozens of appearances on TV comedies and cop shows, including Kojak, Soap, Taxi, Diff’rent Strokes, Cagney and Lacey, Hill Street Blues, Knots Landing, Columbo, Seinfeld, Mad About You, and so on. He was basically in everything.
Audrey was played by Marsha Mason, an entirely famous actress who I’m not really sure who she is, but everybody says that she’s a famous actress who was on Dark Shadows. I’m sure they’re right; they usually are. So, let’s see: she’s been on Broadway a bunch of times, including The Good Doctor and Happy Birthday, Wanda June. She was nominated for Academy Awards four times, for Cinderella Liberty and three Neil Simon films: The Goodbye Girl, Chapter Two and Only When I Laugh. She was married to Neil Simon for a while. Soap opera-wise, she appeared in Love of Life, Where the Heart Is and One Life to Live. She had a recurring role on Frasier, and she’s appeared on The Middle a bunch of times. I still couldn’t pick her out of a lineup, but I’m sure she’s great.
Neither Adlar or Audrey’s names were mentioned on screen, and there are no credits at the end. The names are listed in The Dark Shadows Almanac and The Dark Shadows Program Guide.
Starting today, Dark Shadows’ timeslot competition changed — NBC replaced Letters to Laugh-In in the 4:00 slot with a game show, Name Droppers. CBS was still showing Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. reruns at 4:00.
Tomorrow: The One of Us.
— Danny Horn