Episode 918: Too Big to Fail

“Something kept you from disobeying the book!”

So we’re killing Julia again, apparently, that’s still a thing that people on Dark Shadows say they’re going to do.

David and Elizabeth are going over their secret evil world domination plans, and they’re doing it in a hallway, for some reason. “Barnabas asked me to remind you,” David says, “that Julia Hoffman is your responsibility.” David is thirteen years old.

She tenses up. David asks, “What are you going to do about her?” and Liz takes a moment to think. Then she says, “KILL her!”

That’s the right answer, so she gets a big closeup and a dramatic sting, followed by the opening titles. That’s how you know that your staff meeting is a success.

271 dark shadows liz poker

Now, why anybody thinks of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard as a skilled operative who can be trusted with domestic assassination assignments is beyond me. She already tried to kill somebody once — her husband Paul, with a fireplace poker — and it was a disaster. Paul survived, which is bad enough, and now he’s come back to Collinwood two decades later, just to rub it in. Liz is not A team material.

Besides, I thought we’d all agreed that killing Julia was a non-starter; we had a whole episode a few days ago about Barnabas categorically refusing to kill her. I know that episode was a last-minute “emergency” course correction, written and filmed two weeks after this one. It still looks like sloppy organization. The Leviathans need to start investing in a ground game.

918 dark shadows julia newspaper

Besides, you can’t go and murder a houseguest just like that, even if she’s sitting in the drawing room, demolishing the morning newspaper. I mean, admittedly, a situation like this does call for some kind of firm response; if you allow this kind of thing to go on, then within a week, you’ll be picking fragments of the op-ed page out of the carpet with a pair of tweezers.

But you don’t solve this kind of problem with military force. You simply clear your throat, ask if she’s finished with the sports section, and then say that if she prefers it, you could instruct Mrs. Johnson to puree the newspaper with her electric mixer each morning, so that Julia doesn’t have to bother doing it manually.

918 dark shadows julia liz purse

But here’s Sure-Shot Stoddard, entering the room with a loaded pistol in her gold lamé purse, waiting for Julia to turn her back for a minute. This is the plan. This is how people solve problems on television.

Unfortunately, Liz chickens out at the last minute, and can’t go through with it, so we never find out what step two would have been in this master plan. I mean, obviously, once you’re done with the revolver, you place it in the basket, so that a servant can reload it and place it in one of the mansion’s many murder weapon junk drawers; that’s standard Collinwood practice. But what do you do with the body? You can’t just leave it on the floor, where it could impede access to the drinks cabinet. I suppose we’ll never know.

918 dark shadows liz david crime

Leaving the scene of the crime, Elizabeth finds her nephew standing in the foyer, glowering at her. Honestly, it’s this kind of passive-aggressive micro-management that keeps employees from reaching their full productive potential. I know it’s a terrible thing to say, but these people need a ropes course. It’s the only answer.

“I kept remembering things she’d said,” Liz quavers, “things she’d done for us! All of us — I just couldn’t go through with it!”

“I see,” David says, and just keeps looking at her, mentally scanning through the org chart, trying to figure out where he could transfer her. She’s not going to be in this department for long, I can tell you that much.

918 dark shadows david liz book

So they go and look for answers in the Leviathan conspiracy’s ancient leather-bound Junior Woodchuck guidebook, which David consults sporadically. You never know quite what you’re going to get from this book — a poem, a policy, a shopping list — so David has a special technique, which is to close his eyes, open to a page, and read whatever he lands on. He really does close his eyes in this scene; that’s not a joke. That is the thing that he actually does, to prepare for the wisdom.

David:  For the people of Leviathan, all others are enemies. But the enemies of Leviathan must not die by the hand of Leviathan. Only their own kind, themselves, can end their existence on the earth that they have stolen from the people of Leviathan! In that way, their spirits shall not return to war against us.

Liz:  What does that mean?

David:  It means that you are a true Leviathan! Something inside of you kept you from killing Julia! Something kept you from disobeying the book!

Liz:  That’s not true. I wasn’t thinking of the book, or Leviathan. I was thinking of her, of our friendship.

David:  No, it wasn’t that at all!

That’s my favorite moment in this episode, David’s petulant insistence that he knows more about Liz’s motivation than she does. The executive child is now running the campaign’s Twitter feed, feverishly retconning missteps into triumphs.

918 dark shadows julia quentin chest

You’ll notice that Julia didn’t even have to lift a finger on this one; she ignores the Leviathan storyline completely today, so that she can spend the entire episode talking to the hottest guys on the show. This includes Quentin, who’s now doing to menswear what Julia does to the news media. By this point, the kaiju of Dark Shadows go through their lives shredding everything they come across, and their co-stars have to look in a book to figure out what to do about it.

And this is how powerful Julia has become, at this point in the show. There are three storylines right now — Quentin and Amanda, the Leviathans, and the werewolf story — and Julia is the only character who’s involved in all three. That’s why they keep workshopping new rules about who they’re allowed to kill. This is the third episode this week where the Leviathans try to get rid of Julia, and it simply can’t be done.

Monday: The New Neighbors.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Quentin asks Chris, “Are you sure you haven’t been dipting into the whiskey supply?”

At the end of the episode, audio-animatronic Tate trips over a couple of lines. First: “Yes, old in years! Old in years, but there are ways of remaining young.” Then: “You see, I call you Quentin. I call you Quentin, because you are merely another example of the genius of Charles Delaware Tate.”

Behind the Scenes:

At the start of Quentin and Julia’s scene, he reaches for a bottle on the floor marked “Old Overcoat Dry Whiskey”. This is a pun on the whiskey brand Old Overholt. I can’t explain why they bother to put a fake label on it.

Monday: The New Neighbors.

918 dark shadows old overcoat

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

51 thoughts on “Episode 918: Too Big to Fail

  1. I love reading your blog at the start of my school day, Danny. It makes facing the Gen-X’ers so much easier!

    Alas, if only they had kept Julia at the center of this triumvirate of story lines, all would have been well, but things are about to take a terrible turn with the dissolution of the werewolf thread, the abrupt ending of the Amanda myth, and the introduction of a series of bad boys (Jeb, Bruno, Nicholas Redux) who will turn the Leviathan saga into a garbled mess. (And no, it WASN’T garbled up till now, just troubled!) Quentin gets neutered, Paul gets zapped, and Barnabas resumes his role as gay uncle. It’s almost as if the writers are sabotaging themselves, but as you say, at this point they are writing the show in no particular order. This is what you meant a few months ago about the “signs of the end,” I know, but it’s still sad to see.

  2. Wait, what?
    Liz has to WAIT until Julia turns her back?
    Julia Hoffman (DOCTOR Julia Hoffman), goddess of backacting? All Liz has to do is walk into the drawing room. Julia backacts when she’s alone, for gosh sakes!

    Incidentally, I have tried backacting in conversation with people, they just think you’re rude or crazy or weird…but then, pretty much everyone on Dark Shadows falls into one of those categories.

  3. The purpose of back acting on a daytime soap is just to give the scene a greater variety of shots. No, it’s not natural in real life, but if all conversations (on a soap) were done face to face, it would get boring visually, since soap scenes – at least at this point – were much, much longer than those in night time TV.

      1. And, of course, since DS was working ‘live to tape’, setups showing one actor speaking, then cutting to the other actor replying\reacting would have been far too complicated. AND keeping cameras & crew out of shot (which was a challenge anyway)!

        I don’t have much soap opera experience, in fact, DS is pretty much all (I can hear the faint horrified gasps from miles off). Is back acting fairly standard for the genre? Seems like it would be a great time saver, camera-wise, and it probably is common on lots of TV, I just haven’t noticed (actually, another shocking confession, I don’t watch much TV any more).

        1. Back-acting was THE go-to camera set-up for ALL MY CHILDREN. I figure: 1) women could face the camera and pose beautifully in their haute couture (it must have kept Susan Lucci happy), and 2) soap sets were SMALL and back-acting squeezed actors together beautifully. It looked intimate to the audience. The actors behind simply had to get used to their scene partners talking out of their ass!

          1. I just now had to refer back to an earlier blog discussion of Episode 816 “Midsummer” to find out what the term ‘back acting’ meant.

            Now it occurs to me that “back acting” may have served yet another purpose on DS, in addition to the reasons already enumerated above by commenters Brad and Robert Sharp: 3) ‘Back acting’ could have been a terrific way to make it less obvious to the audience that one or both actors in a scene had forgotten some of their lines. DS was, as we all know, often too rushed for the actors to memorize all of their dialogue. So, very often we glimpse a forgetful actor awkwardly straining to turn his or her head away from the other actors in the scene in order to read the line off the teleprompter. Yes, it’s always worth a chuckle, and to some us, we even find it rather endearing when this occurs. The fact is it is very difficult for an actor to read the prompter when the device is located off to one side of the set.

            But I would think it would be much easier to read the prompter if the scene is ‘back acted’. In a scene blocked for back acting, both actors could simply READ their lines right off the teleprompter while still looking directly ahead in the general direction of the camera, if that is also where the prompter is placed. So then, when Jonathan, Joan or Grayson or anybody else forgets their lines, we the audience might not notice so much if they can easily recover the line from a prompter placed directly in front of them.

            I wouldn’t know whether DS in fact ever used ‘back acting’ for this purpose. But if they did, it would have eliminated much of the awkwardness of an actor having to turn his head away from the other actors in the scene in order to read a prompter placed off to one side or the other.

            1. There’s another definition for ‘back acting’; actually emoting with one’s back, in similar fashion to ‘hand acting’. Guess there’s even ‘foot acting’; and possibly other parts of the anatomy may also be employed… 🙂

  4. This was precisely the moment I started to hate the Leviathan storyline. Until this moment, I’d really sort of liked it — but then Barnabas seemed to forget his vow not to kill Julia and Elizabeth and David had their ridiculous tête-à-tête in the hallway. These ciphers aren’t the characters we’ve come to love for the past three and a half years. Now they’re just pawns to advance an increasingly garbled, ludicrous plot. What started out so promising, with real characterization and backstory and recognition of characters’ history, has become a sequence of spiritless scenes made even more pathetic by their closing dramatic stings. (As if anyone is shocked or scared or even mildly interested by what has taken place.) Parallel Time can’t get here soon enough.

    1. It is not the first time that DS extended a storyline by introducing new characters. The first time we loved it, because we got Count Petofi (who should have gotten a spinoff series). But now we are going to get a mess without a strong unifying character.

      1. Also, while we got all the kaiju in the storyline (Barnabas, Quentin, Julia, Angelique, and Chris) they do nothing with them. One would think that with a looming threat they would at least hold a war council and come up with a plan that does not revolve about Jeb having a change of heart. They do not even fill Chris Jennings in, even if he is one weapon that the Leviathans fear. There is no hint about Quentin having picked up some knowledge of explosive in his long career. For all they contribute to the fall of the Leviathan, they might as well have stayed home.

  5. I’m just waiting for Bruno to show up with his rock star fur coat, and catch phrase of “I’ll do ANYTHING!”

  6. It’s called Old Overcoat because brand name products at that time were still relegated to commercial breaks; for competing sponsors, introducing a brand name on the show might well in those days have been deemed a conflict of interest not so much for the show itself, but for the network as a whole. For instance, if you’ve watched the Brady Bunch (Season 2, Episode 14, Where There’s Smoke), you’ve probably wondered about Valiant cigarettes, which, of course, was not a real-life brand.

    Still lots of fun moments in the Leviathan story ahead — Sheriff Davenport, anyone?

    1. oh yeah, when we get to the point where Sheriff Davenport, the Werewolf and Jeb and Bruno are all hanging out in a crypt with whips and chains…well, all I can say is you got yourself one hell of a TV show going on! 🙂

      1. Not to mention a loaded pistol. They pull out all the stops for that episode.

        Plus there’s one of my favorite bloopers in another upcoming episode, in the antique shop when arrogant young upstart Chris Pennock opens the front door for Sheriff Davenport, but yanks it open with such force that he dislodges the bell from atop the door frame so that it collapses with a muffled jangle at the sheriff’s feet, like a sparrow falling from a tree branch to the ground, dead.

    2. And so’s you know, Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey is apparently still available (in case you’d like to join Grant (er, Quentin) in knocking a few back).

    3. Wait until Jan and Cindy find out the truth about Mr. Brady; they might start drinking Old Overcoat and puffing on Valiants…

  7. In episode 915, Barnabas wouldn’t kill Julia, which rated a reprimand from the home office, along with a hostage threat and a reminder that Barney was ‘only a follower’.

    Now, when Elizabeth won’t kill Julia, she is told she is a true Leviathan, that the handbook backs her decision, and further, that they must NOT kill Julia!

    So, either Adlar & The Leviathans (great name for a band (just sayin’)) haven’t read the manual for their own cult, or the book is rewriting itself constantly…

    Or the DS writers are being so badly overworked that they no longer are trying to keep consistent.

    Personally, I like this episode, because Roger Davis’ head falls off.
    And because of this, I forgive all the inconsistencies in the writing.

      1. Thanks, Brad!

        Shame that Dr. Lang didn’t know about how easy Roger Davis’ noggin came off. Just whackem upside his head, and presto! Adam is complete (except he STILL wouldn’t have a brain). 😀

      1. Perhaps the Leviathans are attempting to broaden their appeal to Hispanics and The Blacks and women and LGBT and Muslims…

      2. It must, because David always opens it to the same damn page but there’s different stuff written there every time!

        And yeah, exactly why would Barnabas be upset by Liz not shooting Julia, when he was getting all dream re-vamped because he refused to kill her in the first place??? The conversations between David and Liz had me yelling “Okay, WHO is in charge of WHAT around here?”

  8. I don’t know if we’ve gotten yet to the episode where Tate attempts to paint Chris’s portrait. I’ve tried to get a screen capture of the portrait, but never gotten a good result because of the way the camera was moving at the time. I hope you’ll get one when we get to it, even if it’s not part on the story you’re following at the time, Danny.

    1. How does one get a “screen capture”? Can this be done with a DVD player, or does one have to insert the DVD into a computer? If so, is special software required?

      1. I believe you need a computer, the DVD software (InterVideo WinDVD) on my laptop has a ‘camera’ feature that allows stills to be taken.

        Don’t know if all DVDs have software to play them, or whether all computers with preloaded software have playback (or camera) features.

          1. On a Macintosh computer, if you hit Shift-Command-3, it’ll take a screenshot of whatever’s on your screen. So I play the DVD on my computer, and take a bunch of shots in a row, and then I pick the one that looks best.

            On a Mac, the DVD player doesn’t allow you to take screenshots, so I use a video player called VLC, which you can download for free. To crop and size the pics, I use a graphics program called Graphic Converter, which you can also download for free.

            I don’t know how to do this on any other kind of computer, but you can search for screencap instructions.

            1. Thanks very much, Danny, that’s very helpful. 🙂

              I’m on a Windows 7 PC, so I’m sure I’ll find my way along somehow. I might even contribute to Dark Shadows Wikia, as there are a lot of early episodes that have few or even zero graphics. Perhaps also I’ll add notes on props and set redesign to be illustrated with images.

              I just noticed the image of Tate’s portrait of Chris over at the DS Wikia for 919/920/921, which looks identical to the one from your post for the episode.

  9. Naturally. We all hope for a better one. 🙂

    I think it was discussed in another posting, but is there any information on what became of the “Tate Collection” and the other DS portraitures? I’m actually rather fond of the Amanda Harris painting…

    1. Amanda’s portrait was gorgeous. Tate’s work reminds me of John Singer Sargent’s, which is as appropriate as you can get for the time and character. The art department was really on the ball there.

      1. I like to think that somewhere in Collinwood, there’s a life-sized portrait of Elizabeth, one of Roger, and all the other family members through history. Possibly in a long gallery hallway, like at Manderley in ‘Rebecca’.

        1. You know, I’m not sure why they wouldn’t have had one of Roger and Elizabeth hanging somewhere. I guess they really didn’t feature paintings unless something supernatural was going on — Josette’s painting and her ghost, Laura and David in flames, Barnabas in foyer with the glowing eyes and beating heart, etc.

  10. PS to all,
    Guess I am being a bit chatty on this post!
    Got a bit of time to spare, doing caregiver duty for my folks.

  11. And as Tates’s fake head came rolling to a stop. George Costanza stuck his head in the door, and said “Well, we mustn’t disturb the DELICATE GENIUS!!!”

  12. You asked where would Liz hide Julia’s body?
    Well isn’t there a Paul Stoddard size hole in the basement that never got used?

    Also, why is David delegating the murder chores? He’s never had problems trying to murder members of the household before.

  13. Did you all notice how very pale David was compared to Liz? He looked positively ill!

    Also, Liz’s good lamé handbag was fire!!

    I need Quentin to dial it back on the yelling and being sarcastic all the time. Lately he can’t say anything unless he’s at a high amplification.

    Robot CDT’s head rolling has got to be one of the “greatest” scenes yet. His outfit reminded me of Willie Wonka. Plus the whole scene was reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz (minus the head rolling). There were even emerald curtains.

  14. DS often has unintentional laughs. For me, Roger Davis’ cackling as Tate brings a laugh-fest rather than brooding terror!

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