“There are two things you’ve got to know. One is that I think he’s slightly mad.”
And we’re back! Yesterday’s Dark Shadows episode was recorded three weeks out of sequence, and slotted into place in order to signal an upcoming storyline course correction. This is a situation that does not occur in nature.
They had this idea, you see, where Barnabas Collins, the main character of this daytime creeps machine, would suddenly swear allegiance to some kind of interplanetary invasion force of shapeless pre-prehistoric essence, which is plotting to replace the human race with a population of quick-growing four-headed snake monsters. Or something. It’s hard to explain, which I guess is the problem.
The kids who hang around outside the studio door after school said that a) they didn’t understand the storyline, and b) they wouldn’t like it even if they did, so the producers said I know what let’s do, let’s make a special episode where we explain that Barnabas doesn’t really want to be doing all the things that he’s been doing lately, and stick it in three weeks early, to signal to the audience that we’re aware that our story doesn’t make any sense, and we’ll change it as soon as we can. And then they went ahead and did it.
What I’m saying is, that’s a really not-normal way to run a television show, especially a high-rated show like Dark Shadows. Yes, the ratings have been slipping a bit since they started the Leviathan story, but that’s coming down from an all-time ratings peak that they hit only two months ago. There’s still a lot of people watching this show.
So what just happened was that the main character of a television show went to sleep, had a dream where the show apologized for the current storyline, and then woke back up and continued on as usual. I can’t think of anything to compare that to. That’s an approach that begins and ends with Dark Shadows.
And now, back to our show. Barnabas’ former bestie, Dr. Julia Hoffman, is suspicious, and getting suspiciouser. She’s that most valuable of players, the smart character, who sees through everybody’s transparent lies, and forces the story to move forward another step. We love her for that, and for so many things, and that’s why yesterday’s apology tour hinged on the idea that the Leviathans wanted her dead. Barnabas refused, of course, because that would be televisual suicide. Julia Hoffman must live.
Still, the Leviathans can’t just ignore the problem, because it would make them look even less competent than they already do, so they’ve got one of their best people monitoring the situation — Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, wealthy matron and secret Leviathan sympathizer.
“Elizabeth, there is definitely a connection between the three children,” Julia announces. “I’m sure of that now, because of that birthmark! If it didn’t completely defy logic — I would say that all three children were one and the same!”
And obviously, that’s exactly correct. Julia doesn’t worry about defying logic; that’s what she does for a living.
One nice thing about this storyline is that it gives the actors a lot of latitude to express what it’s like to be forcibly inducted into the Leviathan conspiracy. Some of them act like they’re hypnotized, while others are just in a bad mood. Some alternate between barely-controlled hysteria and an icy raised eyebrow. Elizabeth has decided to stand around and look like a stuffed frog. These are all valid acting choices.
“There is only one course of action!” Barnabas says, as Liz goes into her frog routine. “Julia Hoffman must become one of us!”
“Yes, she must,” Liz agrees. The Leviathans are always breaking off into dyads like this.
Barnabas says, “I’ll meet you in Collinwood, and give you the necessary instructions.” It’s not clear why he doesn’t just give her the instructions right now, since they’re alone and Collinwood is only a ten-minute walk away. He just doesn’t, that’s all.
Now, it’s all very well to say, “Julia Hoffman must become one of us,” but the show’s been struggling lately to define a consistent onboarding system.
David became a Leviathan by opening a book; just one look at a picture of the four-headed snake altered his entire outlook. On the other end of the scale, Barnabas got the four-star deluxe gold elite package, which involved beverage service, and means that he can get on the airplane ahead of people with premier gold star member select. But Barnabas and David both ended up in leadership roles, so I’m not sure what the procedure is supposed to be.
With Julia, Barnabas tries a mix of the Amy approach — a light stroke of the cheek — with the Liz approach — a hypno-suggested dream sequence. It’s not clear whether any of these mind-domination abilities are related to his old vampire powers, or if they just come with being the head of the conspiracy. But I suppose I could fill up every blog post for the next several weeks just with sentences that start, “It’s not clear”. It might come to that.
So it’s off to bed for another crazy dream sequence, which begins with an introductory voiceover as the lightning flashes in Julia’s braincase. And you know what lightning and thunder means, right? Somewhere in New York, a vampire is counting.
Barnabas: You will believe, Julia! Someday soon, you will believe! Then you and I shall be close once more, as we were long ago. We need you, Julia — we need the resources of your mind! Come to us!
Which is actually kind of sweet, as hypnotic brainwashing techniques go. He wants them to be friends again, and he values her skills. He’s not just trying to shut down the oppo research that she’s been doing; he knows that the Leviathans will be better off with Julia on board. This might be one of the nicest things he’s ever said to her.
In the dream, Julia and Barnabas meet up in the drawing room, and he offers her his spooky mystery box with all the subtlety of Donald Trump’s late-campaign outreach to minority voters.
You were fascinated with this box the first time that you saw it. Year after year, failure after failure, worse numbers after worse numbers. You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs. Crime at levels that nobody has seen. Go on, Julia! Open it, and look inside!
Look, it’s a disaster the way you’re living, in many cases, and I say it with such a deep-felt feeling: Just turn the key, and open it!
We’ll bring jobs back. We’ll bring spirit back. We’ll get rid of the crime. You’ll be able to walk down the street without getting shot. Right now, you walk down the street, you get shot. Look at the statistics. We’ll straighten it out. It’s too late to run now, Julia! What do you have to lose? Seriously, I’m asking. What the hell do you have to lose?
Well, naturally, Julia’s too smart to fall for that; all those resources of her mind have to be good for something.
When she wakes up, and Liz offers her the box irl, Julia hesitates — and then there’s a knock at the door, and she rushes off to answer it, sorry, wrong number. You can keep your weird conspiracy theories and your crummy old box. No sale.
For some live on-the-scene analysis, here’s Barnabas Collins and a stuffed frog. “There are certain people,” he explains, “whom we are unable to absorb. It has to do with their genetic structure — and Julia Hoffman is one of them!”
Yeah, it’s called being smart. I know you Leviathan types think that the world used to be better the way it was, back when it was just darkness and essence, and you want us all to follow that obnoxious child that calls himself your leader. You think that your kind of people are the best, and it’s natural for you to rule over everybody else. And when something happens that you didn’t expect — like people being smart enough to figure out how deranged and repulsive you are — you invent new excuses about how everything is rigged against you.
Well, Leviathans, I don’t know what to tell you, but Julia Hoffman is not going to become “one of us.” She’s her own person. And you know what? I’m with her.
Tomorrow: The Spoon.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
There are several faint coughs from the studio during Liz and Julia’s last few lines in act 1.
Chris says that there’s a full moon tonight, and Julia says, “Well, I’ll drive you back to Windcliff,” as if the problem is that he doesn’t have a car. How do they keep his transformations a secret in a presumably fully staffed sanitarium?
Chris and Julia both short-circuit in the middle of a scene. Adorably, Julia covers her fluffed line by messing with Chris’ coat.
Chris: I still don’t see what it has to — what good it can possibly do me.
Julia: Oh, Chris, I have – I have – I have no reason, I have no real control over — over time, I can only do what I can.
There’s a remarkable camera move near the beginning of act 2, which I can’t really describe. It happens during Barnabas’ line, “You’re really determined to solve his problem, aren’t you?”
When Amanda enters the hotel suite, Quentin says, “Well, there she is — our own little Jenny Lind! Come on now, Jenny, sing me a song!” The reference is to Jenny Lind, a Swedish opera singer who went on a very popular American concert tour from 1850 to 1852. I know, you can look things up on Wikipedia too; I just figured I’d save you some time.
Tomorrow: The Spoon.
— Danny Horn