“You used to be a man with feelings.”
“You don’t want me involved in Paul Stoddard’s case, do you?” asks Julia, and Barnabas says, “I have no feelings one way about it at all,” and that’s why Barnabas and Julia should always be on my television forever.
Eccentric millionaire and brainwashing survivor Barnabas Collins has recently undergone a multi-stage attitude adjustment. The first step was getting more or less recruited-slash-hypnotized as a deep cover operative of the Leviathan conspiracy, a group of snide demon-worshippers who want to converge on Collinwood and re-establish their own society, hail Hydra. I know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either, so the producers have decided to roll back the core premise of the storyline and explain that Barnabas was just kidding. He will explain this in a moment, using the language of thinks.
When Barnabas returned to the present day after his nineteenth-century study abroad program, the first thing he did was to withdraw emotionally from his best friend. He refused to recap or share any secrets with her, and when she asked what was wrong, he just acted super cold and then fussed around with the items from his Leviathan membership package.
Since then, he hasn’t actually done very much in the way of being evil; he’s mostly just talked to people about who is “one of us” and who isn’t, an essentially meaningless distinction. This is a middle school mean girls version of evil, where you suddenly stop inviting your best friend over to your house and you eat lunch at somebody else’s table.
As we’ve seen, the Dark Shadows audience can accommodate any manifestation of bad behavior in their protagonists, including murder, kidnapping, false imprisonment, sexual assault, slave-owning, grave robbing, theft, imposture, child endangerment, tampering in God’s domain, failure to abate prior violations and contempt of court, but the one unforgivable sin is being mean to Julia. This must be corrected. Witness the walkback.
“Barnabas, you’re so totally different now,” she observes. “What happened to you in the past?”
“Nothing,” he says, and turns away.
Then Julia walks all the way around him and looks him in the face again, because she has seen body language before, and it does not impress her. Two can play at that game.
“You and I both know that that is not true,” she insists. “You used to be a man with feelings! You used to care about the people at Collinwood.”
He says, “I still care about them,” and she shakes her head. “I must say, that’s showing some progress,” she sighs. “That’s the first sign of emotion I’ve seen –”
“Julia, please!” he urges. “Leave me alone, I beg you! Stay out of this!”
She stares him down. “Out of what, Barnabas?”
But he refuses to be coaxed out of his shell. He’s on the move again, stepping away from her penetrating glare. Seeing an opening, she presses her case.
“Barnabas, we’ve been through so much together,” she reminds him. “I think you need a friend now, more than you’ve ever needed one before! Please, let me be your friend! Let me try to help!”
So this, essentially, is a memo from the writers’ room. This storyline isn’t resonating with viewers, and historically, there are only three things that have ever moved the needle: go back in time, turn Barnabas into a vampire, or get Julia to help. They can’t do another time travel story right now, because they don’t have any costumes prepared, and they’re saving the fangs for a rainy day, so this is the only remaining option.
And then they do something that I don’t believe they’ve ever done before, which is to pause for some thinks in the middle of a conversation. The camera starts with a two-shot, and slowly pulls in for a tight close-up.
If I tell her everything, then she will become too involved, and her own life will be in even greater danger! I’ve already caused enough harm. I must work this out alone!
That’s fifteen seconds of thinks, experienced while Julia stands there and stares anxiously at the back of his head. This might be the most comic-book moment of the entire series.
And now, back to our show.
“Julia, I’ve always valued your friendship,” he emotes, “and that’s why I don’t want you involved in this! Now, whatever’s been done, I’ll do my best to undo it, but I must do it alone!”
While he’s speaking, she cycles through three distinct facial expressions, from concern to impatience to shock and terror, and then back to concern. This is what you get when Julia Hoffman is involved in a scene.
“I don’t understand,” she says, and he counters, “Don’t try to understand! Just trust me… and keep an eye on Carolyn.”
This kicks off a whole new round of urgent tension which is expressed, as usual, through backacting.
“Carolyn?” she asks. “What does she have to do with this?”
He turns away, and starts wringing his hands.
She presses him. “Barnabas, is Carolyn in any danger?”
“No immediate danger!” he blurts out, still wringing.
This earns him a new facial expression from Julia. I swear, these people give value for money, acting-wise. I honestly think you get more acting per hour than any show outside of Mexican telenovelas.
“But please,” he says, “do follow her. As much as you can.”
And then the phone rings, calling time on the scene, just at the moment that Barnabas’ grasp on his lines starts to slip. He is literally saved by the bell.
So this is the pivot, happening live before your eyes, as the writers reposition their main character’s personality. The man with feelings is back.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Paul is being attacked in the Chosen Room, the door swings closed — but it doesn’t stay closed.
Barnabas asks Julia to keep an eye on Carolyn. Julia asks if she’s in danger, and he says, “No immediate danger, but please — do follow her. As much as you can.”
When Barnabas gets his coat, another coat drops to the floor, and he picks it up.
When the monster opens the Chosen Room door towards the end of act 3, you can see a crew member through the crack in the door.
Behind the Scenes:
There’s another deer head mounted on the wall of the little basement room where they stash Paul. Who hangs up a deer head in their basement jail cell? I mean, you’re not supposed to have a basement jail cell in the first place, but if you do, why the taxidermy?
— Danny Horn