Episode 957: The Sad Song of Sue Agatha

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

Julia:  Willie?

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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Willie:  I’m sorry, Julia, I just can’t stay.

Barnabas:  No, you can’t, Willie.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

17 thoughts on “Episode 957: The Sad Song of Sue Agatha

  1. 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.

    They should have gotten Elizabeth Eis to play her. I loved her as Buffie in Parallel Time.

        1. It just hit me – the PIGWEASEL!
          Nobody rescued the pi-i-g-we-he-he-asel!
          Je suis désolé…pauvre cochonbelette.

  2. I wonder if Willie’s Roxanne looks anything like Maggie Evans. Or maybe she’s a composite of Maggie, Vicki, and Carolyn. No, wait, I’ve got it — she’s a dead ringer for that redhead from 1897, Pansy Faye. Hey, even better — she’s the very reincarnation of Pansy Faye, brought to Willie courtesy of the Leviathans, thereby further surrounding Barnabas’ peripheral inner flank.

    According to Sy Tomashoff’s blueprints for the “Castored Wild Stair Unit: Addition to ‘Old House'”, it was only a 7-step unit (measuring exactly 7 feet in length); the newel was only 3 feet 4 and a half inches high, each stock balustrade post was 6 inches O.C. (on center) and 2 feet 6 inches high from baserail to handrail, and each step was exactly 3 feet wide. Not exactly the grand dimensions one would expect from those towering columns outside.

  3. “Yes, Willie, the murders!”
    And Willie is surprised?
    He must have taken a long drink from the goldfish bowl…and forgotten about all the killin’ that Barnabas threatened – “(insert name here) MUST DIE!” What about his old pal Jason McGuire? And the ‘harlot a week’ blood habit that had Collinsport in terror?
    And what about all the ‘disciplinary action’ Barnabas used to dispense with his cane? The chokings? The five bullets he took? Just water under the bridge, and friends again?
    Guess Willie left a lot of luggage behind when he came back this time.
    But it IS good to see him again.

    And I love the look Grayson Hall gives as she leaves!
    Just a note for Jeb – you do NOT mess with Dr. Julia Hoffman.
    Do. Not. Go. There.
    She will destroy you, tentacles and all. Think you made some ‘scaredface’ in this episode? Wait till the doc starts in on your Leviathan hiney!

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more, Danny; Dark Shadows needed more heart-felt scenes like the one with Barnabas, Julia and Willie.

  5. The 1967 Willie is one of my favorite DS characters. He’s a lowlife criminal, violent and dangerous, and vile enough to rob a grave, but there’s decency within him that’s awakened when he has to stand by and watch the atrocities Barnabas commits. He later sacrifices himself to save Maggie.

    When he returns in 1968, the writers go back and forth on what to do with him. There are some brief Sam Hall-scripted moments where we see bits of the “pre-Barnabas” Willie re-emerging. In some ways, this Willie could have been a lot like Magda — not entirely trustworthy but somewhat reluctantly on Barnabas’s side against greater threats to herself and those close to her.

    This episode, though, presents a Willie who is fully a friend of Barnabas, who returns to Collinwood voluntarily (in 1968, his freedom was basically contingent on working for Barnabas, who often held that over his head).

    Karlen, who I adore, makes every version of Willie work.

    And, no, I can’t resist pointing out that the 1991 DS series tried to give us every version of Willie almost simultaneously.

  6. How come no one has commented on how different Grayson Hall’s hair looks in this episode? It looks like it’s growing out a bit.

    1. Yes, Grayson Hall’s hair is significant here. She is growing it out to the way it appears in the “House of Dark Shadows” movie that will soon be in production, and she keeps that style for the rest of the show.

  7. I like to think Willie was under the spell of vampire Roxanne Drew, who sent him to Collinwood to spy on Barnabas. I remember thinking when Barnabas fell in love with the first parallel time Roxanne Drew, he would return to our timeline and meet Willie’s Roxanne, and be conflicted over the feelings he had for her. I’m almost sure that was the original plan, but Curtis and the writers dropped that, like so many other things that were left by the wayside.

    Ironically, the last we heard of Willie Loomis, he was guarding Roxanne Drew’s chained coffin

  8. Another important part of this episode–and not a good one–is that we pull another magic thing that Leviathans are afraid of out of the slime. First it was werewolves as Leviathans’ “mortal enemies,” and now out of nowhere Barnabas says (or says in thinks) that the book says they’re more afraid of spirits of the dead than reg’lar people. Another deus ex machtopus.

  9. Man, Maggie took longer than ever to calm down after escaping yet another locked room. You’d think she’d be used to being locked up by now. That shrill yelling she gives into really works my last gay nerve.

    But, like others, I’m happy to see Willy back.

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