“As I was going through the portrait, I thought I knew what it meant.”
Barnabas looks grave. But he’s in a graveyard, so that’s appropriate.
“What did happen on that night?” Julia asks.
Barnabas says, “It was the most tragic night I have ever experienced,” and coming from him, that means a lot. This is a guy with a lot of candidates for most tragic night.
Or, at least, that was the opening to my post the last time I wrote about a Dark Shadows clip show, over a year ago. I remember it well…
A clip show is an installment primarily made from reconstituted episode parts, with a little bit of new material around it to explain to the audience why we’re watching disconnected scenes from earlier episodes. TV shows mostly do clip shows because they’ve run out of money, and the producers need to squeeze the budget for one more episode.
Clip shows are easy to write, easy to film and easy on the budget. And in the days before DVDs and streaming, they gave the audience a chance to revisit the good old days, before the show was so desperate for money and ideas that they had to make clip shows.
Okay, fine, I’m not actually going to spend all day quoting from previous posts — although I thought about it, and I’d be well within my rights — because today’s clip show has a special twist ending, and we need to discuss it.
But first, the twist beginning. Eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins has spent the last couple months being sort-of brainwashed by the Leviathans, one of those pop-up religions that you come across where a bunch of people start wearing hoods and making weird hand gestures, and before you know it, they’re sacrificing the innocent to please some blood-red god of the apocalypse. In this case, they’re trying to rehydrate each grain of sand wedged between ancient sacred stones, which I don’t really get but they seem super adamant about it.
I don’t really need to give you any more recap than that right now, because that’s what this episode is about — telling, retelling and un-telling the story of the last two and a half months of Dark Shadows.
Barnabas’ pal Julia Hoffman has been trying to figure out what’s wrong with him for a while now, and she’s finally learned enough that he might as well explain the whole thing. So he sits her down in front of the fireplace and holds her with his glittering eye, and begins his tale in absolutely the wrong place.
“Well, it began in my final night in the past,” he says, which is a sentence that you can say on Dark Shadows. And then we fade from the fireside, to a scene of Barnabas at the burned-out studio of Charles Delaware Tate back in the late nineteenth century, which was a couple months ago.
Then he says, “I’ve already told you about the fire in Charles Tate’s studio,” which has fuck-all to do with the Leviathans, and he knows it. What the hell is going on?
But there are several interesting things happening at once here, production-wise. As previously-Barnabas looks around, now-Barnabas provides some narration.
“Petofi had been pursued there the night before,” he says, “by someone demon of his own creation.”
So that little nugget of Fridspeak means that Frid is actually performing the voice-over live, rather than a pre-recorded version like they did in the last clip show, episode 661. That means they’re a lot more confident about what they’re doing, technically.
Episode 661 was clearly put together by people who were operating equipment they weren’t overly familiar with. The clips looked awful, the editing was choppy, and they were so nervous about the whole thing that they forgot to include the opening titles at the beginning of the show. Then they remembered at the last minute, so halfway through the closing credits, they stopped, ran the opening titles, and then finished the closing credits.
But in this episode, not only are they doing a cross-fade with live voiceover, but they do an edit in the middle of the flashback. Barnabas walking around in the wreckage is from the teaser of episode 884, which ends with a hand grabbing Barnabas’ shoulder. After the opening titles, Barnabas whirled around and found that the hand on his shoulder was Tate’s.
In this flashback clip, they do that as one continuous gesture. Barnabas walks outside, the hand falls on the shoulder, Barnabas turns, and Tate starts talking. And visually, it’s flawless. The only clue that there’s a jump is a slight change in the music cue, and even with that, they fade out the first cue so that it’s hardly noticeable unless you’re looking for it, like for example if you’re writing a blog post about it.
So call me a dreamer, but I think they’ve actually figured out how to do editing. My usual explanation for why things go wrong is that in the late 60s, videotape editing was difficult and expensive, but now it’s the early 70s — the very early 70s, as in January 1970 — and they appear to have cracked the code.
The clips look a lot better, too. Here’s the comparison that I used back in 661, between the 1795 episode they were flashing back to:
And the clip from episode 661:
… which looks awful.
Here’s the original for today’s clip, from episode 884:
And here’s the clip as we see it today:
Which is not great, put right next to each other, but at least this is second-generation rather than fourth. I probably wouldn’t have even thought about doing a screenshot comparison this time, if I wasn’t thinking about the last clip show’s obvious drop in broadcast quality.
So that’s a long way of saying: they’re getting better at this. There’s absolutely no reason why we should be looking at a clip of Barnabas and Charles Tate, but at least they’re doing it competently.
In the clip, Tate is getting a recap of the Petofi situation. “As far as I can tell,” Barnabas says, “he and Garth Blackwood were in this fire when it started. But I’ve also evidence that they’ve died in this fire. But I also found these glasses, outside the studio.” So now we’re getting Fridspeak from every direction, and I don’t even know what we’re doing here. Why is this happening?
They spend three and a half minutes on this, taking up the entire first act. Barnabas talks to Tate about Quentin’s portrait, and then we come back to the present day, and Julia fills Barnabas in on the whole portrait subplot from the last month or so. She tells him that she found Tate, who was killed by a werewolf, and she finally got the portrait from Angelique, who by the way she’s still alive and married to a magazine publisher, and none of this has anything to do with anything.
“But I don’t want to talk about that,” says Julia, once again entirely aligned with the audience’s interests. “I want to hear more about your story.”
So Barnabas delivers another three-minute illustrated monologue, this time about Lady Hampshire waiting for Barnabas in Josette’s room, and then putting on a wedding dress and being sucked through Josette’s portrait into the past. This is getting warmer, but it’s still not really what we signed up for today.
So that brings us to the beginning of act 3.
“All I could do, Julia, was to hold onto Kitty,” he says, “and to follow wherever fate would lead us.”
We see a little clip of Barnabas reaching out for Kitty’s hand, and then fading away.
“As I was going through the portrait, I thought I knew what it meant. Then I realized that I was being taken back to an even earlier time.”
And then — wait, what? What did Barnabas think it meant? If I was going through a portrait, I wouldn’t have any preconceptions about it, in particular. That would be a whole new experience for me.
But it’s too late to ask questions; we are barreling backward in time, to witness the grand finale. Skipping lightly over the stop-Josette-from-killing-herself fiasco, Barnabas heads for a clip from episode 886, where he runs across a strange stone altar in the woods, and realizes that he’s lost, in his own backyard.
And then it’s back to the present, for more Dark Shadows dialogue.
Barnabas: That was the first time that I saw Oberon.
Julia: Who is Oberon?
Barnabas: Have you ever heard of the Leviathan people?
Barnabas: Well, that’s who they were.
Then he proceeds to the spin room, where he comes up with a new interpretation of how this all went.
“In a moment, there was a second hooded figure,” he says. “They closed in on me, and subdued me. They were unbelievably strong.”
This is not the case. What actually happened was that the two hooded figures stood there and made hand gestures at him, and then he was somehow compelled to go and kneel in front of the altar. It actually seemed like he was — well, not a willing participant per se, but like he was giving in.
This is a small detail, but it signals something important — that this story is doing what Dark Shadows characters do, pretty much 24/7. They are rewriting history.
“When I awoke some hours later,” Barnabas says, “I found myself alone with Oberon, and he told me what had happened.”
And then we see another clip, this time from episode — huh. From episode 938, actually.
Barnabas: What is it you want?
Oberon: You have mastered the ability to transcend time. Through you, the Leviathans shall live again!
Barnabas: The Leviathans?
Oberon: That is our name. Our race has been threatened by extinction, but it has been written in our book that there shall be a resurgence of our kind! We shall be blessed with a new leader, who will marry one of your kind, and bring forth a new breed!
Barnabas: I don’t know what you’re saying.
Yeah, nobody does. They are totally off-script at this point.
So that’s the snake in the mailbox for this episode, the weird surprise that explains everything else that’s happened today.
This isn’t a clip from a previous episode at all. This is a new scene. They brought Oberon back to the studio to remake Barnabas’ conversion scene, and explain to the audience why it’s not really Barnabas’ fault.
In the real sequence from 886, Barnabas woke up on the altar as the leader of the Leviathan cult, a man that Oberon and Haza called “master”. He knew the poems and the hand gestures, the prophecies and the revelations. He didn’t mention Josette, or try to get away. He was apparently, upsettingly, joining this weird cabal of outer space snake handlers. That is the truth. We have it on tape.
In this new version, Barnabas is an unwilling captive, desperate to get away.
Barnabas: I must go to Josette.
Oberon: No, Barnabas Collins! You shall not see Josette again, until you have served us. You must take our seed with you, plant it, and nurture it in another time.
Barnabas: I must go to Josette…
Oberon: Do as we command, and you shall see Josette again. Disobey, and not only will Josette die, you shall spend all of eternity as a creature of the darkness!
Nobody threatened Barnabas in 886. These threats were invented for episode 915, the “emergency episode” that they recorded and dropped into the storyline as quickly as they could, to signal that they knew people didn’t understand why Barnabas had suddenly turned evil.
Now they’ve taken that retcon and actually gone back in time and re-recorded the beginning of the story, in order to pretend that this is the way it happened all along. That is the purpose of this clip show.
That’s why they showed us the irrelevant Charles Tate scene in act 1, and the semi-relevant Kitty Hampshire scene in act 2. That was a set-up, designed to trick the audience into following along.
The audience is much better at remembering visuals than exact dialogue; that’s why practically every famous film quote isn’t what the character actually said. So they showed us visuals that we remember — the burned studio, the portrait, the altar — in order to give Oberon new dialogue to explain that no, this storyline does make sense, it made sense all along, you just weren’t listening, end of discussion.
This Oberon scene is a cuckoo’s egg, laying in the nest along with the real clips that we remember. They have harnessed the powerful magic of Fridspeak, to shuffle and recombine words that nobody said, into a sentence that doesn’t mean anything.
“As I was going through the portrait, I thought I knew what it meant,” he says, and then he looks at the audience, and we believe him.
Tomorrow: My Father’s Killer.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Julia tells Barnabas, “You were wrong about the original patron — painting of Quentin.”
When Barnabas tells the story of following Kitty through the portrait, he says, “I was being taken back to an even earlier time — the year 1797. It was the day Josette was to die on Widow’s Hill.” When Vicki went back in time, it was late 1795 through early 1796. It’s not clear why they’ve decided to call it 1797 now, except to troll the audience.
Barnabas explains to Julia, “We needed someone to watch over the box. The Todds opened it. They never were able to do anything, but only what was against their will.”
Barnabas tells Julia, “All of their activity had been in pursuit of this goal — to recreate the Leviathan race, through a ceremony marriage between Jeb and Carolyn.”
Barnabas walks to the mantelpiece, and says, “Jeb is… He doesn’t understand any kind of rules at all.”
Barnabas claims that Jeb can bring people that he’s killed back to life, but a month ago, in episode 918, David read in the book that the Leviathans can’t kill anybody, because their spirits would return to war against the Leviathans. Although technically, he said that “the people of Leviathan” can’t kill people, so maybe that doesn’t apply to whatever Jeb is.
Behind the Scenes:
Roger Davis and Kathryn Leigh Scott are both credited for this episode, as Charles Tate and Lady Hampshire respectively, but they only appeared in the film clips.
This is the last of Peter Lombard’s four appearances as Oberon. After this, Lombard was a stage manager and understudy on several Broadway productions, including 1776, Players, and Promises, Promises. He also appeared in a 1982 movie called Tempest, and a small role in Woody Allen’s 1987 film Radio Days. Blog contributor Alan Gallant also spotted that Lombard was in a 1970 ad for True Cigarettes.
The hand of Sheriff Davenport rising from the grave is performed by George DiCenzo, an Associate Producer on DS; this is the first of four fill-in appearances that DiCenzo makes. He also had an uncredited part as a Deputy in House of Dark Shadows, and it was apparently that experience that made him realize that actors don’t work as hard as Associate Producers. After Dark Shadows, he became a successful character actor. We’ll see him again as a stand-in for Judah Zachery.
Tomorrow: My Father’s Killer.
— Danny Horn