Episode 948: War Games

“It wasn’t an ordinary dream, it took place at the antique shop.”

You can always tell when a new actor feels comfortable on Dark Shadows, because all of a sudden there’s a lot more noise coming from that direction. Chris Pennock has been on the show for a few weeks now, and he’s getting one of those full-court-press episode streaks that they sometimes do for new villains when they’re just getting started. Overgrown teen tyrant Jeb Hawkes appears in 18 out of 20 episodes in his first four weeks, and in the ones where he doesn’t appear, they spend the whole time talking about him anyway.

And it’s here, in his thirteenth episode, that they’ve managed to convince him to stop worrying about his sense memory and animal work. You’re a villain on Dark Shadows. Just start shouting.

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“Here at the unquiet grave of a murderer,” says Jeb, positioning himself in the middle of the Eagle Hill cemetery, “next to the hangman’s work, I beg the dark spirits of the underworld to listen, and release from its depths the avenger I need to deal with Barnabas Collins, enemy of the Leviathans, and most particularly, enemy of mine!” And then he takes a breath, because every once in a while, it’s okay to just go ahead and finish a sentence.

“Hanging is enough punishment for a murderer,” he continues, “but for Barnabas Collins, there must be something more — MORE — MOOOOOOORRRRRE!” And then there’s lightning and thunder, to indicate: even more than that, maybe.

All done with the recital, Jeb opens the wire birdcage he’s carrying, and there’s the familiar marker-on-whiteboard squeaka-squeaka that means adventure is on the way.

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And look who it is — our old friend, flappy bat! He’s in the cage now, bouncing up and down with excitement. He’s here to encourage Chris Pennock to forget everything he’s been taught about acting, and just have a good time. That’s right! says flappy bat. More! Ha ha! Yeah. Flap flap flap.

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Meanwhile, in the cage next door, periodic vampire and deserver of more Barnabas Collins is opening up and confiding to his friend Julia that sometimes he wonders if pretending to manage a worldwide fanatical death cult, which he plans on destroying from the inside, might not work out as well as he’d hoped.

“I thought about the possibility of people getting hurt,” he sighs, “and I thought about Josette.”

So, okay. Let’s clear a little room for some backstory.

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When they started this six-horsepower shaggy dog story back in November, the idea was that the main character of the show would instantaneously switch his personality back to front, aligning himself with a brand-new ancient race of shapeshifting demonic pig weasels who want to marry into his family and take over Collinwood, with no explanation of how that came to be, or why he suddenly started coaching a team we’d never heard of before. It just happened in the middle of an episode, and if the audience didn’t understand what was happening, then too bad, sucks to be you. This approach to story development worked about as well as you’d figure.

Six weeks later, they decided, what the hell, we’re already making a television show, why don’t we at least try to make it make sense, so they added a late-breaking flashback dream sequence that explained that Barnabas didn’t actually want to join the Leviathans in the first place; he’s just going along with it because Snidely Whiplash has tied his dead girlfriend Josette to the train tracks, and she’ll be tortured to death-plus unless Barnabas hops to and agrees to organize their globe-spanning four-headed snake conspiracy.

I mean, yes, there was no evidence of this over the last month and a half, and the new explanation is even more baffling than the previous one, but what are you going to believe, us, or your lying eyes and ears?

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“The Leviathans know how to use our human feelings against us,” Barnabas announces, as Julia stands by and waits for more sensible dialogue to react to. “Walking through the woods just now, I thought about the dreadful choice I had, and I decided there was only one way to turn now, only one way to fight them!”

“What is it?” she asks, and he says, “Julia, we must contact Julia’s — Josette’s spirit, and find out the truth.” And honestly, even with the Fridspeak, it makes just about as much sense as it would anyway. What are you talking about?

It just gets more perplexing from here.

Julia:  Do you think she’ll tell us?

Barnabas:  I don’t know. But we can only try.

Julia:  When?

Barnabas:  Immediately. Who else is here?

Julia:  There’s no one in the house but Maggie.

Barnabas:  Good. Her psychic strength can help us. Go get her.

Which means what, exactly? Because — hold on, let me get Josette.

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Okay, here we are. The last time we saw Josette, she was guzzling poison in the year 1795, because Barnabas missed an appointment and she wanted to express her feelings about it. Then Barnabas was strongarmed by the Leviathans and transported to the present day, and we never saw her again, because she was dead, and no longer part of the current storyline.

But then the scary hooded retcon man appeared, and spake as follows:

“We stopped her, too! We kept her as hostage, our assurance that you will continue to do exactly what we tell you! You disobey… and Josette will die the most horrible death imaginable!”

So, fine, a hostage being held in the past, where “the past” is a synonym for “a secret place where you can’t find her”. We can work with that. It’s silly, like almost everything they ever do with time travel, but if they’re going to say that Time is a metaphor for Place, then sure, we can whip up a mental model on the fly that helps us process this plot point.

But then how are you going to contact her spirit? Dramatically, isn’t the point that you can’t contact her, that she’s being held somewhen you can’t reach?

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But they bust out the spooky seance music, and try anyway. It doesn’t make sense, but I guess Maggie’s got enough psychic strength to cover it, whatever that means.

“Spirit, who once lived here and loved here,” Barnabas says, as we all gather round the candle and touch fingers. “Remember that life and that love, and hear us! From the darkness of the world you now inhabit, and the everlasting depths of the grave, hear us! Join our circle! Join our circle!”

“Barnabas,” Julia says, “if she is a prisoner, they’ll stop her from coming!”

“Unless our words open the door for her,” he breathes, “and make it possible for her to join us, and escape for a while!”

Which I’m sorry, but what? The seances on this show are always weird, but this one is weirder than usual, and that is not easy to accomplish. Yesterday, I talked about how Jonathan Frid is pretty much the only person in the history of the dramatic arts who could put this kind of thing across, and here he is again, our all-time MVP vampire, reaching out across the barrier of time and silence, or whatever he’s trying to say.

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Naturally, they make contact, because it’s a television show, and they wouldn’t go to all this trouble for nothing.

Josette, speaking through Maggie, says that she’s never even heard of Leviathans. She died the way that we thought she died, drinking poison and falling to the floor. We are currently watching the show retcon the retcon, a difficult maneuver.

“Josette,” says Barnabas, “are you only saying this to set me free to fight? Because you know the Leviathans, who they are, and what they can do to hurt you?”

“I know of no Leviathans!” she insists.

“You say that,” he cries, “but if that’s what you’re concealing, something from me!”

And again, it works, because everyone is committing to this mad montage of impossible assertions. One logical flaw in a storyline is annoying, and two can wreck the whole story. But what happens when the story is all flaws — overheated people saying overripe dialogue backwards and sideways, undoing their own illogical erasures, louder and funnier, and this time with a candle and a flappy bat?

And we love it, we have no choice but to love it. More! we cheer. More! MORE!

Tomorrow: The Last Days of the Guthrie Brothers.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

After the credits, the first scene begins with Jeb saying to the bat, “And as for you, bat of hell…” The way that he says it sounds like the second half of a line that got cut off.

During the seance, Barnabas calls, “Spirit who once lived and loved here, I beg you, break the barrier of the time and silence!”

Barnabas explains that without the Leviathan box, their enemies won’t be able to convert anyone else, “and they will not be able to — to inflict on us anymore these dreadful surprises.”

When Jeb leaves the antique shop, the bell falls off the door, and onto the floor.

Josette’s gravestone says that she died in 1795; it was actually 1796.

When Jeb arrives at Collinwood, Carolyn says that he’s early. They talk and kiss and stand in the foyer, and then the clock strikes, and Jeb says that he didn’t realize how late it is.

Tomorrow: The Last Days of the Guthrie Brothers.

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Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

18 thoughts on “Episode 948: War Games

  1. I never really bought Josette’s suicide here. She was more than willing to carry on after waking up married to Jeremiah. She urged him to let their lives be their punishment and for him not to die in the due. She was sad after Barnabas died, but she soldiered on. When Vicki showed her the book that said she would commit suicide she was adamant that she would never do that. Really she didn’t go to Widows Hill to commit suicide. She went to meet Barnabas then, after Angelique showed her that all of Barnabas’ candy coating of what she would become in order to be with him forever really consisted of, she decided that being a bloodsucking vampire wasn’t what she wanted. Loving Barnabas wasn’t worth turning into a monster who killed people. She didn’t even really jump off the cliff. Barnabas grabbed her, she tried to get away and when she pulled out of his grip, she fell due to her own momentum.

    I liked ghost Josette from the early episodes. They completely tanked the character in order to build sympathy for Barnabas. Then they tanked it more by having her decide to kill herself after months of not being in the least bit suicidal. It would have been better if the Leviathans had her in captivity and she she killed herself to allow Barnabas to escape their influence and to save the Collins family. Instead they went with this and it never jelled for me. I accepted that they did it, but it seemed OOC.

  2. Regarding Josette’s ghost from the early episodes, that was her fate as well: In life, she jumped from Widows’s Hill, as a suicide.

    As envisioned by Art Wallace in his Shadows on the Wall:

    “Josette Collins found she was an alien in a hostile land. Shunned by Jeremiah’s family, hated by the community, her life was tormented by increasing loneliness.

    Two years after the birth of her son, Jeremiah’s French bride fell…or jumped…to her death from the edge of Widow’s Hill. Her body was found the next morning on the rocks far below.”

    — pp. 4-5

    Even more interesting, the first time the ghost of Josette is seen (episode 70, 1966), she is played by Kathryn Leigh Scott.

  3. Maggie’s “psychic energy”? What do you mean by that, Barnabas? The fact that you once dressed Maggie in Josette’s clothes and kept her in a cell unless she became Josette? Now, a little more than two years later, here’s Barnabas (and Julia, who should know better) roping Maggie into a seance to contact Josette. The writers seemed to be counting on viewers’ short memories, or perhaps blurred memories, in order for this not to be a serious red flag: would Barnabas and Julia really take the chance of reawakening Maggie’s memories of her ordeal? It’s an ongoing frustration with DS: narrative continuity and common sense gets jettisoned for convenience. Kathryn Leigh Scott was the actor assigned to work that day, so she was the one for the seance. Would it have hurt the writers to have at least inserted one or two lines? [Julia: Barnabas, we can’t take that risk! What if Maggie’s memories–?? Barnabas: We have no choice, Julia!] It still would have been absurd but at least there would have been some acknowledgement of what came before.

    1. Most soaps mine story from the past, letting it crash into other people’s lives. Look how Viki and Dorian warred on each other for 30-plus years on “One Life to Live” over the death of Viki’s father. Look how Luke’s rape of Laura affected the canvas of “General Hospital” for generations, affecting their children and their relationships. DS seemed to take an opposite approach, at least when it came to this, their biggest story bomb, the one that was never detonated, Maggie’s memory of being Barnabas’ prisoner.

      You can understand why DS did it. In terms of ’60s TV, they couldn’t see any way in which they wouldn’t lose a character, Barnabas their marquee or Maggie their innocent ingenue. So we have this stalemate that lingers 50 years later. With Lara Parker’s novel, “The Heiress of Collinwood,” set to hit next week addressing Victoria Winters’ fate, the reckoning between Maggie and Barnabas is the last great untold story of DS. I hope somebody – Big Finish? – decides to blow up that bomb.

      1. That would be fantastic–KLS is still around to really give that long-awaited reckoning some real power. But, in fact, that wasn’t the only plotline the writers ignored for convenience sake. How much more powerful would the relationship between Barnabas and Julia–as well as their own internal character development–have been if the murder of Dave Woodard had continued to haunt them for the entire series? But by the middle of 1968, it’s as if it never happened. When Laura Collins appears in 1897, it’s as if she had never appeared on the series before. Clever writers could have found a way to reference her 1967 incarnation (Barnabas thinks: “And in the future, she will marry Roger Collins…I always wondered if the stories he told about her were true!”) That’s what made the burst of old plotlines at the start of the Leviathan saga so resonant with viewers: there was the illusion, so necessary in serialized drama, and in any kind of drama really, that these were real people whose stories we knew and cared about. Retconning storylines for convenience is one thing; but the abandonment, by the end of the Leviathan storyline, of any character development, of any sense of individual character history, with every line and every scene designed simply to advance increasingly outlandish plots, is what killed the show, IMHO.

      2. In my DS continuation I do give it a kind of sideways resolution. Maggie DOES remember, but in the meantime she has become a US Representative and what she most desperately wants is that no one finds out that she was once in a mental instituition. She uses her memories to manipulate Barnabas when she needs it, but also treats him as a time bomb that can tank her political career and is quite willing to deep-six him if necessary.

    2. You know, it didn’t even occur to me to wonder about Maggie and Barnabas’ history in this episode. By this point, Maggie has kind of merged with Vicki into a generic governess role, where her past is wiped clean after each storyline.

      1. Maggie does function as the Universal Governess character, but the obvious reason why she resonates with viewers, I would argue, more than Vicki is that KLS is both Maggie & Josette. It means nothing to most residents of Collinwood or to much of the narrative but it’s everything to viewers.

  4. Come and listen to my story ’bout s man named Jeb,
    Poor Leviathan, barely kept his evil web.
    Then, one day, he and Barney had a spat,
    And out from the cage came a rubberized bat.
    (Vampire bat, that is:
    Nylon string,
    Terror teeth.)

    1. Next thing you know,ol’ Jeb has got a girl.
      Cult folk said, “Jeb, come and rule the world!”
      They said, “In the attic is the place you want to be,”
      So they threw themselves a seance and they called on J.D.C.
      (Josette Collins, that is.
      Swimming fail.
      Newly scarred.)

  5. Happily so, I’ve just discovered this blog and I love it. Your wit and insight make this such a good read. striking the perfect balance between satire and reverence for one of my longtime not-so guilty pleasures. It’s hard to make sense out of the tiresome Leviathan storyline and you do a really good job of reminding me why. There’s another retcon coming up that I can’t wait to see you tackle

    1. Tony Edwards;
      I ‘got hooked’ about five months ago, and advise you – if you have not already done so, go back and read as much of this blog as you can, as often as you have time. Skip around to your favourite episodes, start at the first entry and go in order, binge read, whatever you wish. You will NOT be disappointed. This is just as addictive as DS itself!
      It’s like opening that secret room in the mausoleum – no turning back…

      Welcome!

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