“I like being the way I am right now, and I don’t want it to end.”
“Since Barnabas Collins returned from the past,” says a disembodied Nancy Barrett, “his actions have been a mystery, and a matter of concern, to many who had once been close to him.” Yeah, no kidding. We’ve had a front-row seat to both the mystery and the concern for a couple months now.
She continues, “No one has known of the strange force that has compelled him to do the things he has done — the people of the Leviathan, who hold his beloved Josette hostage, and threaten him with the return of the curse of the vampire. He has become desperate to find a way of stopping the menace that threatens Collinwood.”
Oh, well, that explains everything. Why didn’t you say so?
Well, they did, actually, but that was in episode 915, the “emergency episode” that they hurriedly filmed and rushed onto the air a few weeks ago, when it became clear that the fans weren’t enjoying the Leviathan story very much. So they came up with a crazy dream sequence that realigned Barnabas’ character arc, and stuck it into the show as soon as they could. Now we’re catching up to the point when they decided to pivot the story.
The thought process behind the change appears to be that the Dark Shadows audience didn’t want to see Barnabas being evil, an assertion that is backed up by zero percent of the available evidence. That’s practically the only thing anyone ever says about the Leviathan story, and I honestly don’t understand where that idea comes from.
The Dark Shadows audience loves Barnabas being evil. Barnabas being evil is the entire reason why the show still exists in January 1970. Every time there’s been a dip in the ratings, it’s because Barnabas isn’t being evil enough, and they have to find a way to get some fangs back in his mouth.
As exhibit A, I would like to draw your attention to the next two months of the Leviathan story, which is not generally considered a golden age for the show. If the problem was that Barnabas was evil, then they’re fixing that problem as of now, which means that from here on, the show is getting back on track. Except it’s not. That was not the problem.
Another thing that isn’t the problem is that Barnabas’ change of heart means that the writers need to throw away their carefully-planned storyline projections, and start over again. That isn’t actually a problem, because they never had any real plans to begin with, except to stumble from one crisis to the next, and try to record a decent episode approximately five times a week.
Lately, they’ve just been hopping haphazardly from one dead-end storyline to another. Chris is a werewolf, and Sabrina is learning how to talk again; Olivia is Amanda, and needs Quentin to recognize her; Angelique is married to a millionaire, for some reason; Paul is being drugged and held at Collinwood against his will; and then there’s all that fuss at the antique shop. None of these really have anything to do with each other, except the last two, and even that connection is kind of tenuous, and getting tenuouser.
Because they haven’t really figured out what to do with Paul, have they? This was a big storyline for weeks — Carolyn’s deadbeat father shows up in Collinsport, hoping to make things up to her! And it led up to a blockbuster cliffhanger reveal — he made an unwitting deal with the devil twenty years ago, promising Carolyn to the Leviathans!
But since then, they’ve been kind of walking in place, without any real path for Paul to take. He was planning to stand with Carolyn, and fight the conspiracy threatening his family, but it turns out that Liz is actually a member of that conspiracy, and she wants to keep him quiet and out of the way.
That’s just fine, except for the quiet and out of the way part, because this is supposed to be a major storyline, and quiet and out of the way is exactly what a major storyline shouldn’t be. And yet, here we are.
I mean, take the Paul-related material in today’s installment. He sneaks downstairs, runs into Carolyn, tells her why he’s sneaking downstairs, and she sends him back upstairs to bed. There’s a whole chunk of today’s episode about whether Carolyn is going to bring Paul his meals, which is beside the point. I am not interested in Paul’s mealtime arrangements. I want him to do something.
So I don’t know what the original plan was for Paul; my assumption is that there wasn’t one. All I know for sure is that he isn’t going to be on the show for very much longer, so all this upstairs/downstairs stuff is immaterial.
Anyway, it turns out this isn’t really an episode about Paul in the first place. They’re just using Paul as an example, to show that Barnabas isn’t evil anymore. When Paul returns to his room — clutching a loaded gun, obviously, because it’s Collinwood, and there’s two of these in every bedroom — he finds an apologetic ex-vampire, hoping to make things right.
It turns out Barnabas doesn’t want to keep Paul prisoner, here in Collinwood’s third-best guest room. He wants to help Paul escape.
That’s bad news for Paul, because the key to Barnabas’ character is that he fails at absolutely everything that he ever tries to do. That’s why the Leviathans, under his adminstration, have achieved nothing and threatened no one. Seriously, we are two months in on this fiendish conspiracy, and I can’t think of a single villainous thing that the Leviathans have done so far except cheat at a board game, and they even got caught doing that.
But now that Barnabas wants to help, all bets are off. Paul might as well get accustomed to the idea of a messy death on the rocks below Widow’s Hill. This is the final destination of every person that Barnabas tries to help.
What ensues is a two-minute negotiation, conducted entirely at gunpoint. Barnabas has brought Paul’s clothes, and enough money to get him out of town. He promises that he’ll make sure Carolyn isn’t harmed, once Paul is out of danger.
Paul gradually comes around to this idea, although he continues to keep Barnabas covered the whole time. Barnabas hardly notices; his only concern is making sure Paul knows that this is all a big misunderstanding. He’s a Collins; firearms mean nothing to these people.
Barnabas closes the scene with, “Now get ready, and be ready to go in an hour’s time. I’ll see that you get out of the house without anyone seeing you.” I don’t know why Paul needs an hour to get dressed, or how Barnabas is planning to get him out of the house. All I know is that Barnabas is taking an interest in Paul, which means that Paul is doomed.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Liz is hosting one of the weirdest social events of the year. As we all know, Liz is one of Them, and she’s invited a couple more of Them over to the house, namely Megan and Philip, that uncanny couple from the antique shop. They’re even weirder here, if that’s possible. They stand around near the drawing room window and talk about their plans for world domination, because apparently this story takes place in a universe where cocktails were never invented.
Liz kicks things off by saying, “I think you are both very fortunate to be the ones to guide the child.”
“Philip and I are very grateful for that,” says Megan. “Aren’t we, Philip?” Philip says yes.
And then Megan speeds into a furious lunatic monologue, as the camera pulls in slowly for a close-up. The rant, delivered in an urgent whisper, goes as follows.
This crisis has been a very good test for us!
The time isn’t far off, when our people will become a group! We’ll come into our own!
There’ll be many more responsibilities then, and we must be prepared to meet them!
When the time is right, our people — from various parts of the world! — will converge here!
We shall re-establish our own society — right here, in Collinwood!
And then she turns and hisses, “That is one of the reasons you were chosen, Mrs. Stoddard!”
And Liz, god bless her, actually finds a way to continue the conversation. You have to say this about the one percent; they’re trained to keep things moving in their social encounters. Personally, I wouldn’t have a thing to say at this juncture; I’d probably ask, “So, what do you do for a living?” and then just say, “Oh, how interesting, tell me everything about that” until the party ends.
So I don’t know if Paul really needs all that much help sneaking out of the house, what with everyone converging in the drawing room; they seem to have a lot on their plate right now. Paul basically just strolls downstairs and right out the door, and presto, he’s back in circulation. It’s funny how these things always seem like a much bigger deal than they really are.
Now, you may have noticed that Barnabas’ “I’ll see that you get out of the house” plan didn’t have much in the way of a step two. I suppose the concept was that anyplace is better than Collinwood, where people keep talking about coming into their own.
But twenty years ago, Paul walked out of this house and disappeared into the aether; if there’s one thing this guy knows how to do, it’s make himself scarce. He’s about to get a whole lot scarcer.
Because what does he do? He heads straight for the antique shop, to find out just what it is that they’re hiding up here, in this blasphemous bedroom.
Now, this is the moment when Paul — if he actually matters to this storyline — should discover a source of strength and power. He’s been cooped up in a guest room, with sedatives poured down his throat every six hours, and this is intolerable. From this point, he starts hitting back. He steps up, and takes action to protect the daughter that he abandoned so many years ago.
After all, most of the action around Collinwood these days happens to outsiders — a doctor, a professor, a distant cousin, a couple of ancestors. Paul is an actual member of the show’s core family, back from the dead to fill this empty space in the org chart with vitality and hope. This is the show’s opportunity to create a hero, repenting his earlier transgressions and fighting to build a better life for his fractured family.
I mean, it doesn’t happen that way. Mostly he just screams. But it would have been nice.
Tomorrow: Man with Feelings.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the teaser, Megan knocks a pencil off the desk.
Philip coughs after he locks the door to the Chosen Room.
When Carolyn enters the drawing room, the camera lingers too long on the shot of Paul, and gets Carolyn’s head at the bottom of the frame as she passes by.
Something goes wrong with the boom mic when Paul is speaking to Carolyn; his line about being allergic to the medicine sounds tinny and faraway.
Carolyn asks Paul, “You’re not planning to leave Collinwood, are you?” She means Collinsport.
Paul says that he’ll take Carolyn with him: “It’ll be just like old times!” But they never had any old times like that; he abandoned her when she was an infant.
There’s a tape edit right after Megan and Philip say good night; it cuts abruptly to Paul in the antique shop.
Behind the Scenes:
This is Michael Maitland’s last episode as Michael the cosmic starbrat, and I for one will miss him terribly. When he started on Dark Shadows, he was just finishing up a four-year run on Broadway, in the original cast of Mame, and he landed another Broadway show in October 1970 — The Rothschilds, which ran for more than a year. He also made some TV appearances over the next few years — Search for Tomorrow, Emergency, a walk-on role in an ABC Afterschool Special. In 1975, he retired from acting and went into the restaurant business. He died of cancer in 2014, at the age of 57. There’s a nice article on him at The Collinsport Historical Society.
Tomorrow: Man with Feelings.
— Danny Horn