“They made another room incredibly evil!”
“I mean, I just don’t understand any of it!” Willie says, pacing anxiously. “Maggie, when we were locked in that room, she tried to explain it to me, but it makes no sense! I mean, does it, Barnabas?”
Barnabas sighs. “Unfortunately, it does.”
Well, sort of. There’s been a lot of in-universe discussions lately about whether the storyline makes sense. At some point, you have to face facts, and finally admit that it doesn’t.
But Willie Loomis is back, hooray! It’s been eight months since we last saw John Karlen, which is too long. And he came back just in time, because about six weeks from now, they’re going to start shooting the Dark Shadows movie. What a happy coincidence!
Barnabas is in the middle of a war at the moment with the terrifying Leviathan cult, a group of slap-happy apocalypse jockeys who are planning to poison the world with their hideous slime-god tentacles. They’ve got their hooks pretty deep into the cast by now, so Willie’s got a lot to catch up on.
“So, he was going to kill again,” Barnabas groans. “Even though it would reopen the investigations about the murders!” Willie expresses surprise, and Barnabas confirms, “Yes, Willie, the murders!” This is not what you want to hear when you come home from a long trip.
The great thing about John Karlen is that he brings a sense of theatrical reality to the show. He’s a graduate of the American Academy of the Dramatic Arts, and they trained him well; he’s always present in the scene — not just reciting his lines, but really feeling what his character feels.
This is especially helpful on a daily soap opera, where characters tend to drift over time to fit the actor’s performance. It’s not like a play, where the script is complete by the time the actors perform it — this is an ongoing, real-time collaboration between the writers, the actors and the producers, and an actor’s performance can shape the long-term development of the character.
The key to Willie is that he has real feelings. He was Barnabas’ servant back in his early vampire days, but he wasn’t a craven, wild-eyed Renfield. He was just a man, who did terrible things, and kept terrible secrets.
Willie isn’t a coward. He’s just scared, as he should be. His life is scary.
This is the second time that Willie’s come back to the show after a long absence, and both times, he’s done the same trick, which can be summed up in the phrase, “We’ve been through a lot, Barnabas an’ me.” He always acts like they were close — not friends, per se, but two people who know each other well, and care about each other. This is rarely the case, because we usually see Willie at times like this, when Barnabas is asking him to do something gross and dangerous.
The correct response is for Willie to feel aggrieved and half-crazy over the things Barnabas made him do. When he came back the first time, in spring 1968, they tried to give him some Renfield scenes, but it didn’t work; Karlen kept playing against that role, and the giggling lunatic scenes were just embarrassing. So they backed off, and now they’re giving him the version of Willie that he wants to play.
So when Barnabas reveals that he’s a vampire again, the look on Willie’s face is amazing. “Oh, no, Barnabas,” he says, like he’s just been told that a friend’s cancer isn’t in remission anymore.
So I’m just going to go ahead and give you this whole scene.
Julia: Barnabas is in danger — more danger than he’s ever been in his life! And that’s why we need your help so, Willie.
(He crosses to the fireplace.)
Willie: Yeah, yeah, I heard ya, Julia.
Julia: Well, what is it, then?
Willie: It’s not that it doesn’t mean anything to me, what you just said.
Julia: Then — then what do you mean?
Willie: It’s Roxanne! I mean, she’s just sitting in the Route 31 motel, right this minute! Tomorrow morning, we’re goin’ to New York! Well, you see, that’s where her family is, only family she’s got, a sister named Sue Agatha. And we’re gonna get married, Roxanne and me.
Julia: Oh, Willie…
Willie: I guess you never thought anyone would love old Willie, huh?
Julia: No, no. I didn’t think that.
Willie: Somebody does! Yeah, somebody named Roxanne.
Willie: And she’s so pretty, Julia, and she’s so refined, and genteel! She’s just a regular lady! I mean, that surprises me, Julia, it surprises me still.
Julia: Oh, Willie. I’m very glad for you.
Willie: I knew you would be, Julia.
Julia: But, Willie, why can’t you and Roxanne find a nice house around here?
Willie: Julia, what I am tryin’ to say to ya is, I can’t stay!
Julia: You must, Willie!
Willie: I want to! But when Roxanne met me, I was workin’ at this hospital, just like I was for you at Windcliff. Now, that’s just what she thinks of me as doin’. I can’t just go back to taking care of Barnabas.
Willie: I don’t mean that unkindly, Julia, I mean, Barnabas has helped me lots, before. Never told anyone about him. But Roanne, I mean, she’s got a mind of her own, she’s just packed full of questions! Now, what am I gonna tell her I do for Barnabas? Especially him bein’ the way he is now.
Willie: I’m sorry, Julia, I just can’t stay.
Barnabas: No, you can’t, Willie.
Willie: Oh, Barnabas. I knew you’d understand.
Barnabas: I do. More than you know.
Willie: I hope we’re still friends.
Barnabas: Of course.
Willie: And I’m sorry, Barnabas, about what’s been happenin’.
Barnabas: I know you are.
Willie: Well, I guess I better go now. You know, you can’t keep a lady waitin’, especially a lady like Roxanne, she don’t like waitin’. I guess I’ll go upstairs and say so long to Maggie.
Barnabas: Please do.
And then he walks upstairs. That’s all there is to it.
So, has there ever been a more poignant name than Sue Agatha?
I mean, come on. It beats Dorcas Trilling and Wanda Paisley by a mile. And Roxanne, sitting alone in the Route 31 motel, waiting for her prince to return from visiting his old employer, the vampire.
Oh, if Dark Shadows could only be this good, every day. Real people, in terrible trouble. This is what John Karlen brings to the show; he’s so real, and so specific, that he inspires the writers to come up with this kind of material.
He’s not going to go, of course. He can’t leave, not with Barnabas in danger like this. We never see Willie’s Roxanne — he mentions her later, so we know that he didn’t just leave her waiting at the motel, but I wish we could’ve seen her. She sounds great.
Tomorrow: The Not Normal.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
This episode picks up right from where it left off yesterday, but Willie’s hair is noticeably shorter today. Sometimes, that’s a sign that they’re taping episodes out of order, but these were shot in order. He just went and got a haircut after work.
When Barnabas tells Julia how worried he is about her and Maggie, the camera suffers a fault, and the picture is shrouded in static. This goes on for fifteen seconds, until they cut to another camera.
When Willie and Maggie enter the Old House in act 1, the camera pulls wide and you can see the edge of the set, with a little ladder that leads to the top of the “staircase”. You can see the whole setup very clearly, and it’s amazing how small the set of stairs actually is.
Willie says, “It’s Roxanne. I mean, she’s just sitting in the Route 31 right, motel right this minute.”
A minute later, Willie accidentally refers to his fiancee as Roseanne.
Barnabas is reflected in the mirror when he walks downstairs.
There’s a minor camera fault in act 2, just after the scene fades from Maggie and Willie in Josette’s room to Barnabas’ portrait.
When Julia leaves the drawing room, Jeb says, “Why don’t you go in, and look in on Maggie Evans?” Then he says that burning the antique shop was a mistake, “and makie Meg — making Maggie Evans a spy was another!”
Tomorrow: The Not Normal.
— Danny Horn