“It was some kind of mumbo-jumbo!”
Meanwhile, it’s 1790, and governess Victoria Winters is trapped by time, stuck two centuries early with no ride home. She’s been locked up and accused of terrible things, and now she’s on trial for her life, represented by pop-eyed barrister Peter Bradford. Opposing counsel is the Reverend Trask, who’s assisted by reckless spinster Abigail Collins and his own eyebrows, not necessarily in that order. And the Countess Natalie DuPres is terribly worried about her niece Josette, a young woman who seems entirely unable to date anyone with more than a couple of days to live.
Oh, and Barnabas — d’you remember Barnabas? He used to be the main character on this television show — Barnabas is in a box, all by himself.
Meanwhile, it’s 1970, and Dark Shadows is pre-empted for New Year’s Day football. On pre-emption days, we watch an episode of the 1991 revival show, and now we’ve reached the penultimate installment, episode 11. I’ve written a lot about the revival lately — this is the fourth pre-emption day in the last six weeks, due to Thanksgiving, Christmas and Apollo 12, and to be quite honest with you, it’s starting to get just the teensiest bit on my nerves.
I mean, here we are, bedside with Josette, who’s supposed to be one of those strong female characters that you hear about, but she’s not making any effort at all. Recently, she was witchsniped into marrying Barnabas’ way hotter brother, who lost a duel and then tried to come back for seconds. Josette managed to emerge from that adventure, and she was just rebounding her way back to Barnabas when he was bit by a bat, in a freak indoor wildlife encounter. Now, he’s dead and more or less buried, and she’s got a couple bite marks of her own to contend with, and I don’t know how we’re expected to respond to all this.
Because, outside: This. I mean, for fuck’s sake. Either the vampire in your vampire soap opera is a dashing and passionate lover whose smoldery hypnotic gaze can melt the panties right out of your dresser drawer, or he’s a snarling hellbeast with candy corn eyeballs, and for some reason I can’t fathom, they’ve chosen to go the snarling hellbeast route. Is it me?
Because I would like to imagine that on some level we’re supposed to want Barnabas and Josette to be together. They’ve made kind of a big deal out of these two, and it’s sort of the climax of the most important storyline on the show. Surely we’re meant to have some kind of emotional response to this situation.
But it seems like the producers have no idea what the audience is supposed to feel. In the little echo-chamber pocket universe where they’re living, they’re saying, okay, this sequence goes here, and then that’s followed by that sequence, and then we have to do A, because then we’ll do B, which sets up C, and finally, Josette falls off a cliff and we run the closing credits. It’s all clockwork to these people. If the audience happens to feel something along the way, then that’s fine, but sir, would you step out of the way, please? Excuse me, sir? Could you just step back, there, just behind the yellow line? Thank you. We’re filming a scene. Just step back, please.
So she’s in bed, screaming Let me die, and he’s outside, snarling Let me at ‘er, and I hate them. Oh, how I hate them.
Meanwhile, Vicki’s witchcraft trial is in full swing, if that does anything for you. Witchsmeller Trask — seen here from the point of view of somebody seated directly behind somebody else’s elbow — is shredding the girl’s credibility with a devastating display of evidence that demonstrates that Vicki comes from the early 1990s, including her clothes, the book she was carrying, her travel diary, and an enormous sack of bootleg Bart Simpson T-shirts. ¡Ay, caramba!
And here’s how Vicki and her lawyer are responding to this torrent of inescapable evidence.
Seriously. Pretty much all of the time. I don’t know what to do with these people.
They’re not in love, by the way, like they were on the real Dark Shadows. In the original show, the trial is Vicki and Peter’s meet-cute, drawn together by the relentless grinding of the wheels of injustice. Everyone else thinks she’s a vicious killer, but he knows she’s just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to represent her.
I mean, on the real Dark Shadows, I don’t think much of Vicki and Peter as a romantic twosome, but that’s only because I don’t like the actors, the characters, the situation or the dialogue. But it’s a good idea, giving Vicki something to care about and some feelings to express while she’s waiting for her tragedy to inexorably unfold.
But they can’t do that in the revival, because they’ve determined that Vicki’s true love is Barnabas Collins, who is where, exactly?
Oh, right, he’s still standing outside, looking up at Josette’s window and making scary noises. Excellent.
On the real show, Barnabas actually cared about Vicki’s persecution, even after he became a vampire. It wasn’t, like, the top of his list or anything, because he had other concerns, but he tried to help where he could. I’m not sure this Barnabas even remembers who Vicki is.
Here’s all of the dialogue that 1790 Barnabas says during this episode:
Josette. No longer can they keep us apart, my beloved. Tonight will be ours. Tonight we shall be together for all eternity. Oh, my loved one — you must come to me! Come to me, my Josette! Come to me! Rise up, Josette! Come to me! No one can prevent you now! No one can separate us ever again! We shall be together, Josette. Together! For all eternity! Josette. Josette? No! No! Josette! Josette! No! No! Josette! Josette! Josette! Josette! No! Don’t run there! Josette! Josette! Josette! No! No!
So that’s where Barnabas’ head is at today.
Oh, but I guess there is one other thing that Barnabas is handling right now. Here’s Reverend Trask, as seen once again from behind somebody’s elbow, so I guess that’s a thing.
“As already stated,” Trask shouts, “Angelique is dead, yet Collinsport continues to be plagued by witchery! We all know that last night again, there were two more heinous attacks!”
Wait, two more? Barnabas looked up at Josette’s window and got himself so worked up that one heinous attack wasn’t enough to settle him down again? My goodness. Apparently, Taco Bell didn’t invent fourthmeal after all.
But there’s one person from that story thread who cares about Vicki’s trial — Angelique, who was stabbed to death two episodes ago and turned into a flying reptile.
Collins servant Ben Loomis is on the stand, testifying about Angelique’s witch powers, and Reverend Trask sneers at the idea that Angelique is still creating magical mischief, because everyone knows that she’s dead.
“Does Mr. Bradford believe she’s striking from beyond the grave?” the Reverend says. Angelique being dead is a major part of his case against Vicki.
And then literally twenty seconds later, Angelique enters the room, and asks if she can speak in her own defense. You’d think that would blast a hole through Trask’s argument, but no, apparently this is even more evidence that Vicki is guilty, somehow.
This odd sequence of contradictory jurisprudence didn’t make a lot of sense when they did it on the original show either, and they never explained how Angelique could suddenly turn up in corporeal form just for one scene. But at least there was a reason why she would bother, albeit a tenuous one: Barnabas convinced Ben to testify, because he cared about Vicki’s innocence. Angelique saw this as another way to frustrate Barnabas and cause him pain.
But in the 1991 show, this is just a thing that happens. Barnabas doesn’t care about the trial, or Ben, or Trask, or anything other than candles.
Because obviously if you’re going to invite your fiancee over for a round of Red Wedding: The Home Game, then you’re going to need a mist machine running at full power, and maybe a hundred and fifty candles, minimum. As everyone who watches television knows, candles equal sex, and the more candles that you have, the sexier things get. This sequence is supposed to be jaw-droppingly sexy.
So that’s what Barnabas has been up to today, dragging candelabras around the house. You know how it is when you’re planning something like this — no matter how much preparation you’ve done, you’re always scrambling around at the last minute, looking for that one last box of candles that should be on the top shelf in the hall closet — dammit, dammit, she’s going to be here in three minutes, where the hell are those candles?
So everything’s working out fine, and then all of a sudden here comes the poltergeist pteranodon. Angelique hovers overhead, determined to destroy the relationship between Barnabas and Josette, which she accomplishes by explaining some basic facts about what’s going on.
She tells Josette that Barnabas is a blood-drenched ghoul, which he is. And she says he’s planning to turn Josette into a monster too, which is also true. She even brings film clips to illustrate her presentation. This is undeniably the correct thing to do.
In fact, if anyone else was here at this moment — Natalie, let’s say, or anybody who cares about Josette’s welfare — then they would tell her exactly the same thing. This is what Barnabas is planning to do, and it’s probably a good idea for Josette to understand that, and have the opportunity to think things over.
In the original version, Angelique is actually a lot more manipulative; she deliberately lures Josette to the cliffs on Widow’s Hill, and times her presentation so that Josette is in the proper psychological state when Barnabas enters the scene. Original-series Angelique specifically wants Josette to jump from Widow’s Hill, and die.
But not in this version. This is Barnabas’ party; he’s responsible for the mist and the mood lighting. All Angelique is doing is giving Josette a sneak peek at the afterparty.
And so, as Josette makes the understandable decision to head towards suicide rather than safety, we leave 1991, suspended in time between two ticks of the clock. There’s one more episode of the revival show, but it’ll have to wait for the next pre-emption day, ten months from now. That’s a long time to leave a cliff just hanging like this, but I’m sure it’ll work out fine. After all, it’s the first day of the 1970s. What could possibly go wrong?
Tomorrow: Too Big to Fail.
Next pre-emption special:
Time Travel, part 12: Nevertheless, They Persisted.
— Danny Horn