“There’s someone in that coffin, isn’t there?”
It always starts with a box.
Now, there’s a lot I don’t know about storing radioactive material, but I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to open the lid every once in a while to see how everything’s going. It’s more of a binary situation — you’re either sealing this nightmare in a keep-out container for the foreseeable, or you’re trying to get us all killed. There isn’t much of a middle ground on that one.
But regard Will Loomis, an alcoholic author with a case of writer’s block like you wouldn’t believe. After several years of writing nothing but bad checks and liquor-store shopping lists, the man’s come entirely unglued.
He appears to think that there’s a shortcut to the best-seller list that involves shutting people up in a box, and lifting the lid from time to time in order to brush up on their biography. It’s an idea that he came up with all of a sudden, and he owns the patent on it. Writers do a lot of weird things, but on the whole, this isn’t one of them.
This solitary confinement research process would raise eyebrows among the letter set as is, but Will’s added an extra wrinkle, namely kidnapping a time-traveling serial killer with magic powers. He’s got Barnabas Collins in that box — not the Parallel Time one who lived and died in the back half of the eighteenth century, but the real Barnabas Collins, who lived and died and lived again, several times and in the wrong order. This is the revamped Barnabas, cursed and stranded, chained up in his own basement and forced to furnish his captor-biographer with true-to-life tales from the crypt.
Still, I wouldn’t be complacent if I were Will. Even chained and star-crossed, the beast is bound to break free sooner or later, and then he will kill you. He’s killed so many more people than you have, and he’s way better at it.
Meanwhile, here comes a crazy man with a crazy mustache, following his huge putty nose all the way from the beach to this basement, emerging from a secret tunnel, straight into trouble. Getting his bearings, he spots the box, and has some feelings about it.
“Well, well!” he says; this type always says “well, well”. They can’t help it, poor things. “What deep, dark secret is Will Loomis keeping from the rest of the world? I must find out! Perhaps it’s something that might come in handy someday.” That’s how guys like this see the world, as an endless series of things that might come in handy.
But never mind the crazy man; he’s just a catalyst. This week on Dark Shadows, it’s all about re-establishing the main characters, after weeks of hiding them in boxes.
For example, Carolyn and Will, who spent the last six weeks being staked through the heart and beaten with a cane, respectively. While everyone else was reporting to work and making the TV show that they’re supposed to be on, Carolyn and Will took a field trip to Tarrytown, where they were bitten, beaten and killed. Now they’re back.
So these characters have had a lengthy offscreen break to get ahold of themselves and address some of their fundamental problems, but it looks like they’re just as much of a mess as they were last time we checked in. They’re still locked in a loveless, liquored-up marriage, like George and Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, except their imaginary child is a vampire who’s going to kill the world.
“I thought I heard something!” Carolyn says, peering through the grate in the door that leads to the basement morgue.
Will sneers, “Sure you did.”
She gestures toward the door. “Will, there’s someone down there!”
“Well, sure there is,” he agrees. “There’s a vampire. As soon as I finish getting his story, I’m going to interview you. You know, not many men get the chance to know both a vampire and one of his victims.”
He spits out that last word as if being assaulted by a supernatural dimension-hopping bloodsucker is her fault. Carolyn and Will are a high-energy couple. I like them.
Just before the madman downstairs manages to open the box, Will knocks him unconscious with the butt of a revolver, which if I’d known that was an option I’d have done it myself a while ago. They’ve only known John Yaeger for five seconds, and they already think he’s a nuisance that they wish they didn’t have to deal with. The Loomises and I are of one mind on this subject.
Carolyn asks if the man was able to open the coffin, and Will scowls. “If he did, I wouldn’t have had to do this to him! Barnabas Collins would’ve taken care of him. Maybe I should’ve let that happen.”
That’s a dark and cynical thing to say, but the interesting thing about that comment is that Will apparently thinks of the vampire as a weapon that he can point in a particular direction, to take care of any household problem that crops up. This is not the case. Barnabas Collins is not a ranged weapon that can be deployed remotely; he’s an area denial weapon that destroys everything in the surrounding territory, with effects that can last up to seven generations.
But Will has left the traditional boundaries of human civilization, and washed up on some ancient shore where people can do whatever they like. Faced with the problem of what to do with the interloper he’s battered to the floor, Will just grabs the guy’s legs and starts pulling, apparently planning to drag him by the ankles up a flight of stone stairs, which means even more head trauma for the intruder. It looks like Tarrytown really did a number on these people.
And then check out Calamity Jane over here, dialing up a fresh calamity. That revolver’s getting a lot of use today.
The stranger wakes up on the couch, none the worse for wear, because he’s already so much worse that it’s hard to move the needle. He recognizes Carolyn somehow, and doesn’t consider her much of a threat, which she isn’t. She tries to talk tough — “Don’t you move,” she says — but she’s not quite crazy enough for this level of domestic violence. He moves anyway.
As he advances towards the business end of her home security system, he asks, “Why is that coffin downstairs, Mrs. Loomis? Why is it chained?” Then he bats the weapon to the floor and runs away. You don’t point guns at people like this; they don’t take to it well.
The post-mortem on the operation doesn’t go very smoothly. Carolyn wants to discuss tactics and assign blame, but Will’s too wrapped up in his dreams to focus.
“Will, there’s only one thing to do,” she urges. “Let Barnabas Collins go! That man will be back?” And her husband’s response is basically What, and leave show business?
“You want me to go back to what I was?” he thunders. “A writer who never writes?” Then he looks off into the distance, as the camera pulls in for a close-up. “See, this book is going to be big, I swear it! Why, every critic in America is going to respect old Will again! Yes, sir!”
He starts planning the back cover blurbs. “His most imaginative work! A classic! Yes, that’s what it’s going to be called!” Then he giggles. “And no one would believe it’s all true! What a joke!”
So that’s where Will’s head is at, these days. On the upside, at least he’s trying to think about the future.
And that’s how we end up here, with the main character of the show finally released from his contractual obligations, as the nation cheers. This is exactly the level of irresponsibility that we’ve been longing for.
Naturally, Barnabas is confused and overwhelmed. He’s just getting back from a six-week vacation, and he’s thrust straight into a company reorg. They haven’t even given him the chance to check his email yet.
“Follow me, Mr. Collins!” Will barks. “We are taking you to a place that will be much safer.” And Barnabas thinks, You’re taking me to Mexico?
Because, no, obviously, the secret panel behind the bookcase is not safer in any way. I get that it’s a challenging task to baby-proof this lunatic scheme, but moving to another floor in the same house is hardly even trying. This is not a problem that you can solve by going upstairs.
But here they are, the Symbionese Liberation Army, frog-marching their captive into a space that’s directly adjoining the busiest room in the house. Will promises to bring Barnabas’ coffin in here, which is like promising that you can build a wall and get Mexico to pay for it. How exactly are you planning on doing that?
“In your own time, you must have spent plenty of time in here, eh, Mr. Collins?” Will says, because he’s losing his mind. Why would Barnabas spend a lot of time behind the bookcase?
Anyway, the point is that Barnabas is back, and on the defensive, which is one of his strong areas. He gives good tormented.
Barnabas: There’s only one thing I want, and that is to go back to my own time, to the Collinwood I know.
Carolyn: Let him go, Will!
Will: He’s got no chance of getting back!
Barnabas: I have!
Will: You don’t know how to make the change!
Barnabas: If I could only get to that room!
Will: Why? Nothing might happen.
Barnabas: I will harm no one, I promise you that. Just let me try!
And this is how Barnabas became the main character in the first place — by aligning his interests with the audience’s interests. We want Barnabas to get home too, because home is where the real Carolyn and the real Willie live, along with the real Julia and the whole rest of the real Collins family.
We’ve been in Keystone City for too long, or at least it feels that way. For weeks, we’ve had to look at Cyrus and Yaeger and Sabrina and Buffie and Bruno and Hannah and Dameon Edwards, with diminishing returns. We want Barnabas to lead us home.
That’s what this week is about — re-establishing the main cast, and carving out some space in this parallel time band where they can make the show good again.
Tomorrow, Barnabas is going to hustle over to the space-time fissure in the east wing and try to make the quantum leap home, but it’s not going to work, not yet. I just checked the episode guide, and Lord help us, we’ve got another ten weeks in Parallel Time.
That’s not a great idea, to be honest. The audience has grown moody and restless over these last several weeks, and this is the moment when we want Barnabas to just bite everybody and head for the border. But none of the writers involved in this enterprise is good at long-term planning. William H. Loomis makes the mistake of turning his back on his unbelievably dangerous captive, and Sam, Gordon and Joe make the mistake of leaving us in Parallel Time for another two months.
They’re bringing Barnabas and Julia back into the picture, and by the end of the week, they’ll narrow the focus all the way down to the major kaiju — Friday’s episode is a four-hander for Barnabas, Hoffman, Quentin and Angelique, which is the right direction for the show — but whether that saves the storyline remains to be seen.
By the way, how do you think Will was planning to get that coffin all the way upstairs and through the secret panel in the drawing room? Just moving that heavy box is at least a two-person job, but Will and Carolyn would also need one hand free to carry their crosses. And there would have been a moment, as they struggled to squeeze the box through the secret panel, when Barnabas would just be standing there, watching them and offering helpful suggestions. Also, Barnabas can disappear and turn into a bat, plus he’s really good at strangling people. I swear, sometimes people just don’t think ahead.
Tomorrow: Trapped in a World (Not Mine Own).
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Yaeger falls to the floor, there’s a marking-tape X on the floor nearby.
Will has a lot of dialogue today, and he just got back from the movie shoot, so there are a number of obvious teleprompter reads. The most noticeable examples occur when he follows Carolyn to the fireplace, and when he tells Barnabas, “That would make it easier for you, wouldn’t it?”
When Carolyn and Will approach the coffin in act 2, there’s an awkward zoom into Carolyn’s face; they should have cut to another camera.
Just after Will opens Barnabas’ coffin, something heavy falls down offstage. The camera zooms in on Barnabas — shaky and bumping — and then goes completely out of focus.
Larry tells Cyrus, “The door upstair was open.”
Willie asks Barnabas, “Why did you not make her as you are? I –” and then he realizes that there should be a pause between the two sentences. He pauses, and then barks, “I am waiting, Mr. Collins!”
Barnabas tells Will, “Fate had a — has always been cruel to me.” At that moment, a shadow passes over Barnabas’ face, blocking his light.
In the credits, “Fashions courtesy of Ohrbach’s” is misspelled Orhbach’s.
Tomorrow: Trapped in a World (Not Mine Own).
— Danny Horn