“May that breathing never come from any room again!”
So our main character is dead again, hooray! Dark Shadows can fight its destiny as much as it likes — periodically sending Barnabas to rehab, distracting us with other monsters — but the fact is, this is a vampire show. It always has been, even before the vampire showed up, and it always will be, even after the vampire turns into a guy named Bramwell.
The novels say that Barnabas is a vampire, and so do the comics, the board games, the joke books and ABC’s marketing department. And now, thanks to the only worthwhile thing that the Leviathans ever accomplish, even the vampire show has to admit that their vampire is a vampire.
Thank goodness that’s over with; now we can get back to the business of biting people. Making Barnabas a vampire gives the character a whole bunch of interesting things to do — he can struggle to keep control over his bloodlust, he can hypnotize people, he can appear and disappear at will, and he can be exposed and hunted and finally destroyed.
These advantages are all provided free of charge with a vampire protagonist; “curing” Barnabas is like turning your superhero into a newspaper reporter with glasses. You can’t just retreat to your secret identity and stay there; that’s not what we pay you for. Do your job.
The story point that led up to this, if you’re interested, is that the demonic global Leviathan conspiracy has no message discipline and a terrible ground game. They hired Barnabas as a campaign manager, recruiting him using a spellbinding combination of sets, props and makeup that seemed to overwrite his existing programming. But their nominee for head of the formerly-free world is an impulsive, vengeful brat with historically bad favorables, and no interest in taking in any new information about how to be an effective leader.
Jeb isn’t really leading the Leviathan party as much as he’s diminishing it, sacrificing former allies when they dare to suggest that he might try a different approach. To Jeb, those people aren’t experienced operatives; they’re traitors and fools, and they must be destroyed.
So that’s how we got Barnabas back in the bat cave. He insulted Jeb, and Jeb counter-punched ten times harder — going, as always, for the jugular.
Of course, Barnabas isn’t on his own; he has his own team of surrogates and counter-counter-punchers. That includes Quentin, a popular former rival who’s now devoted to protecting his friend’s firewall. When Jeb comes home with the Naga box, Quentin is waiting at the door to tussle with the bully, whether he actually needs to or not.
This is interesting — if I can get out of soon-to-be-outdated election metaphor mode, and talk about Dark Shadows for a minute — because it suggests a role for Quentin in the present day. For the last few weeks, I’ve been tracking how Quentin fits into the current narrative, now that he’s left all of his original storylines behind. He’s definitely not the leading man anymore — he gets a romantic scene later this week, but it’s played solely as an obstacle for Barnabas to overcome. And he can’t really play best friend, either — Julia’s the one who gets to stick Barnabas with needles, and Quentin’s never going to get that close.
But while we weren’t looking, Quentin stumbled on a role that no one else can play, namely: the guy who punches people in the face. Two weeks ago, Quentin had a spectacular fistfight with Jeb in the middle of the antiques shop, knocking Jeb out with a vase and generally wreaking havoc on the inventory. And here he is again, back at the scene of the last disturbance, wrestling with the front-runner over not very much at all.
“You’ve killed him!” Quentin observes, correctly, and then he says, “You’re not going anywhere until you tell me where he’s at!” and Jeb sneers, “I don’t have to tell you anything,” and Quentin says, “Oh, yes, you do!” and then they take off their earrings and it’s on.
So that’s a thing that Quentin can do. Barnabas uses warnings and threats to get his way, and Julia lies her way out of trouble, but Quentin can actually go and sock somebody on the kisser. This is the second time he’s just walked up to Jeb and punched him in the face. I like it.
He doesn’t win, unfortunately; Jeb pulls a knife, which means the system is rigged and we need to drain the swamp. But then Quentin goes back to the Old House with his adorably conflict-tousled hair, and he frets with Julia about what this could possibly mean.
She immediately guesses that Barnabas is a vampire again, which means it’s time for all the woodland creatures to rush to his defense.
“Now, listen,” Quentin says, “you stay here; there may be trouble. I’ll go and look.”
“No!” says Julia. “Whatever’s happened, Barnabas needs both of us.”
Which is true, he does, and so do I. The theme of this week is that Barnabas is getting the band back together, gathering all of his friends for a climactic battle with the Big Bad. Now all they need to do is remind Quentin that he knows how to use weapons.
Meanwhile, it is super green outside; I can’t remember it ever being this green before. It must be global warming or something. I can’t really explain this shot in terms of theatrical realism; they’ve clearly decided that the show now takes place entirely on stage. Imagine a shot like this on All My Children. It can’t be done.
Anyway, what this scene is supposed to be about is that Barnabas — a bloodsucker once more — wants to slake his thirst using Maggie Evans, his former victim and current I’m-totally-over-Josette project. But as he reaches for the doorknob, there’s a musical crescendo, and he has a whole commercial break to reconsider.
When he comes back, he’s apparently used that time productively. “Can I do this to Maggie?” he wonders, in thinks. “One hour ago, I would have killed anyone who tried to harm her. Yes, harm her — that is what I would be doing!” So hooray for commercials; as always, the American advertising industry has our best interests at heart.
So he goes down to the Blue Whale, cruising for chicks, and he manages to snare one, first crack out of the box. This is what being a vampire can do for your efficiency. And it turns out she’s not just any girl; her name is Nelle Gunston, and she’s actually a Leviathan convert, which means Barnabas can kill her and his friends won’t even hardly mind.
Man, it really is green out tonight. Is it always this green, this time of year?
So the way that we find out that this dame is a Leviathan is as follows. She asks Barnabas if he knows where the antiques store is, and he starts to give her directions, because if you’re ever lost, you should immediately enter a bar and ask a patron for assistance. But then suddenly he stops — and there’s a dramatic music cue, as the camera kind of haphazardly pulls in on Nelle’s face.
“The Naga!” says Barnabas, his eyes popping. I have literally no idea what he’s referring to.
I mean, see if you can find the Naga in this shot. This is not a trick question — you are looking directly at it.
And here it is — it’s that green soapstone Naga locket that Megan wears, on a gold chain around Nelle’s neck, entirely obscured by her coat, her scarf and the general background green kryptonite glow of this enchanted evening. The only time that the audience has even a chance of seeing it is when Nelle talks about joining the Leviathans, and she instantly covers it with her hand, because she hates the audience.
So this is another in a series of Leviathan fashion fails, where we’re supposed to catch sight of a piece from the extensive line of Naga jewelry, but they’ve put something else in the way, and we’re expected to take it on faith. Also, by the way, if this is a secret conspiracy, then why do they wear identifying accessories? Seriously, this has got to be the dumbest apocalyptic death cult of all time.
Anyway, here’s the totally relatable hard-luck story that explains why Nelle cast her lot with a squad of tentacle-shipping world-enders.
“You don’t know what my life was like before,” she says. “Gettin’ up, and goin’ to work.” She takes a sip of wine, overcome with the recollection. “And listenin’ to Momma and Poppa, and wantin’ to get out so bad.”
That’s it, that’s the whole story. She got up and went to work, and somehow that qualifies as an explanation. I think it’s possible that the Dark Shadows writers have drifted so far from rational thought that they’ve forgotten what human lives are actually like. Listening to your parents is not, in and of itself, a reason to murder the world.
Then Julia and Quentin come in, and they’re happy to find Barnabas alive and socializing, but he says that he’s busy and doesn’t need to be fang-blocked right now.
And Julia registers shock, as she looks at Nelle and somehow divines that the stranger is wearing an invisible Leviathan necklace, somewhere under the eight layers of winter clothes.
“Quentin,” she asks as they approach the bartender, “did you see that locket around her neck?” He has not. Nobody has. It is mostly theoretical.
Anyway, everything turns out okay, in the sense that Barnabas has a nice fangs-out bite scene, which if they know how to shoot something properly, it’s this. How they ever thought they could get along with a monster point of view shot and a slime trail and zero vamp attacks is beyond me. This is why every television show has a vampire now. People don’t remember that it used to be optional.
Julia and Quentin arrive on the scene, and they find a dead girl on the floor which is now their problem to deal with. Barnabas is ashamed of himself, obviously; he’s never more self-aware than he is when he’s got blood on his face.
But he has a big exciting storyline-climax speech to make as the camera tracks in for a thrilling close-up.
There is one thing I must do tonight!
I must go to Jeb.
He is going into that room in the antiques shop, and change into his other form!
That room is the only place he can change, and in that room,
he is the most dangerous form that ever existed.
Well, I will see that he will never change again!
And then he zips out the door, leaving Julia and Quentin behind on cleanup duty.
“We have to take her to the woods, and bury her,” Julia says, who’s been down this road before.
“I know what I’d like to do!” Quentin shouts. “I’d like to take this poor girl to the antiques shop, and let them find her there, in the morning!”
So that’s where we are, at four twenty-two in the afternoon, watching our teen pop star talk about pranks he’d like to play with corpses.
So there’s only one thing left to do, and only one character who can do it: Barnabas Collins, who breaks into the antiques shop and just burns the whole fucking place down, cleansing the earth with fire.
This is Monday, by the way. This is what we do on Mondays now.
Tomorrow: Something Evil People Are Afraid Of.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Act 1 in the Old House: When Julia sobs “Oh, Quentin!” there’s a glimpse of a studio light.
When Julia looks at Nelle and tells Quentin that they have to bury her, there’s yellow marking tape on the floor.
Behind the Scenes:
Bob O’Connell makes his last appearance today as the mostly-silent Blue Whale bartender. He played Collinsport bartenders in three time periods — 1795, 1897 and the present day — in 60 episodes spread over three years, starting with episode 1 in June 1966. Dark Shadows Wiki says that he had a speaking part in four episodes — 2, 156, 319 and 419. After this, O’Connell appears in a number of small roles in TV and movies, sometimes uncredited, including two years on ABC soap Ryan’s Hope as a bartender.
Elizabeth Eis plays Nelle Gunston in today’s episode, and she’ll be back as Buffie Harrington in a couple months. This is her first screen credit, but she was an understudy for Ophelia in the original Broadway cast of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, in 1967-68.
Tomorrow: Something Evil People Are Afraid Of.
— Danny Horn