Episode 1017: The Struggle

“He is my cousin, as you are my cousin, in this time or any other time!”

“The countryside near Collinwood,” says Nancy Barrett, “lies quiet and serene on this night, in Parallel Concurrent Time. But in the great house, the web of evil being woven by Angelique will begin to ensnare its first victim — Maggie Collins — who will be placing herself in double jeopardy by her presence at her husband’s side, for Angelique is not the only force that could conspire for Maggie’s destruction.”

So, a few things. First, nobody calls it Parallel Concurrent Time. Second, the first victim of Angelique’s web of evil was Alexis, and the second victim was a random day player handyman, so Maggie is either the third victim or the fourth, depending on whether you count Dameon or not. Also, that’s not what “double jeopardy” means.

Still, Nancy’s talking about a character that we recognize doing things that we more or less understand, so hooray, Dark Shadows is saved.

Six weeks ago, Joe Caldwell rejoined the Dark Shadows writing team, after a two and a half year break. Caldwell’s first tour of duty was June to October 1967, a period in which he wrote pretty much every worthwhile episode that had been written up to that point, setting a new standard for characterization and plotting. (See the episode 987 post for a rundown on Caldwell’s 1967 work.) Now he’s come back, as a replacement for exiting writer Violet Welles, and the show that he’s returned to has almost nothing to do with the show that he used to know.

When Caldwell left, vampire Barnabas Collins was the undisputed villain of the series. Barnabas had just manipulated his frenemy Julia into murdering Dr. Woodard, who’d uncovered evidence of their many crimes. Next, Barnabas was planning to dispose of Burke, who was standing in the way of the vampire’s plans to seduce Burke’s naive fiancee. In Caldwell’s last episode, Burke left on a plane for Brazil, and there was a suggestion that Barnabas would cause some kind of disaster. The next day, Burke’s plane crashed leaving no survivors, and while it wasn’t clear how Barnabas could have arranged that, it seemed to be his doing.

The show that Caldwell returned to, six weeks ago, could not have been more different. For one thing, the entire 1967 cast was upstate filming House of Dark Shadows, so there weren’t any characters that he recognized. The only Collins family members still in attendance were Quentin and Amy, who Caldwell didn’t know, and the rest of the cast was mostly villains, mildly redressed in Parallel Time drag — Alexis, Bruno, Cyrus, Trask and Gladstone.

As jarring as that early PT period was for Caldwell, it’s a pretty good indicator of the direction that the show has taken. The thoroughly evil and unrepentant Barnabas who killed Dr. Woodard is now the hero of the show — still sleeping in a coffin and biting people, but generally an okay guy, compared to the rest of the cast. The core Collins family seemed like such a big deal, back when blackmail was a front-burner issue, but they’ve become essentially irrelevant, unless they’re directly involved with a monster, a seance or an exorcism. Caldwell left a show where a little dead girl showed up every now and then to warn someone of impending disaster; he returns to a show stocked with witches and multiple murder plots.

He’s arrived in Parallel Concurrent Dark Shadows, where the names and faces are the same, but the content and tone are completely different from the show he knew. He’s familiar with the Collinwood drawing room set, and that’s about all you can say.

So Caldwell’s been struggling to make an impact, and the clearest example is the haunting of Dameon Edwards, a failed spook subplot that didn’t end up meaning anything. Dameon was an unnecessary day player gigolo who apparently had an affair with Angelique back when she was alive and married to Quentin, although we already had at least two other people who also had a vague infidelity backstory with Angelique.

When Caldwell summoned Dameon from the grave for a couple of inconclusive weeks of supernatural theater, it was a 1967-style haunting. The ghost appeared silently, offering cryptic warnings. He left little clues around the house — blood-spattered sheet music, a piano playing itself — that didn’t really point to anything. And in an extremely 1967 sequence, Dameon quietly led young Amy down to the basement, where his body was buried, and then disappeared before she could figure out what was going on. It didn’t really make sense, so after a couple weeks of melodramatic speculation and a cryptic dream sequence, Caldwell had Angelique banish Dameon’s spirit, and then everyone forgot all about it.

Essentially, Dameon was a symbolic stand-in for Caldwell himself — a character from the past resurfacing unexpectedly, who’s trying to be helpful but ultimately just makes everyone confused.

So what a relief it must be to write an episode where Barnabas obsesses over biting Maggie, hits Willie with his cane, and finally breaks into a girl’s bedroom for a midnight snack. Today’s episode has crosses and coffins and arguments, and dognoise, which is amazing  — when was the last time we heard dognoise? This episode’s even in black-and-white, as if ABC mishandled the original videotape just to make sure Caldwell feels at home.

The situation, if we can transition back into the parallel concurrence of May 1970, is about as simple as Dark Shadows could possibly be. Time-tossed vampire sees a girl he likes. He feels a sudden rush of anguished yearning that can only be expressed through non-consensual venipuncture. He tries to resist temptation by establishing absurd ethical guidelines that last for less than five minutes. Result: Supper time.

It’s a lot of stuff that I’ve already discussed on the blog before, but honestly it’s just a relief not to have to explain PT Angelique’s over-complicated brain patterns again. If the only way around that is to step back into Dark Shadows ’67, then sure, let’s do it.

So, that other force that Nancy brought up a minute ago, the one that could conspire for Maggie’s destruction? You’re looking at it.

After months of painful separation, Quentin and Maggie have reunited as husband and wife, and as Quentin’s mysterious chest pain mysteriously subsides, they reaffirm their love, and so on and whatever. It’s not actually that important.

The important thing, as always, is how Barnabas feels about it, and apparently he feels stalkery and unwell. As the man and wife get down to the business of reuniting, Barnabas politely excuses himself, and then he hides around the corner so he can eavesdrop and yearn. “Maggie,” he sighs, using his inside voice. There isn’t a verb associated with that thought; it’s just a generic moan on the subject of Maggie.

It’s unclear where that’s coming from, exactly. Towards the end of the Leviathan story, Barnabas was starting to have feelings for regular non-concurrent Maggie, and then they ran away to a magic castle upstate, where they had walks in the woods and candlelight dinner dates. The concurrent Maggie is neither the movie Maggie nor the TV show Maggie, but I guess at a certain point a Maggie is a Maggie, and if you’re going to fall in love with one of them, you might as well get the full set.

But it’s not super clear what brought this up, all of a sudden. Barnabas has snacked on the locals a couple times so far, but more as a recruitment tactic than an innate need for blood. For the most part, biting people is a way for Barnabas to establish dominance and submission, providing him with a sidekick or two that he can use to deflect inconvenient plot difficulties, like protecting him during the day or explaining to people that he’s a descendant.

Here in PCT, Barnabas is bunking with Will and Carolyn Loomis, who we find together, muttering about sedition. Originally, Carolyn was Barnabas’ blood slave and Will was super judgmental about it. They’ve switched positions now, and Will is trying to play peacemaker as Carolyn pokes at Barnabas with an imaginary stake.

And it’s here, in Loomis House, on a little plot of studio space far from Jekyll’s lab and Angelique’s potion factory, that Joe Caldwell finds a little piece of home. It’s called Carolyn Stoddard getting angry.

Barnabas:  Quentin is extremely ill, and his wife has just returned.

Carolyn:  Your concern doesn’t impress me in the least. You care nothing for them, and you know it.

Barnabas:  That’s not true. Quentin is my cousin!

Carolyn:  Quentin is not your cousin! That’s in another time, here he’s nothing to you!

Barnabas:  He is my cousin, as you are my cousin, in this time or any other time! You are a Collins, and I am a Collins. That’s why I prefer not to harm you.

Carolyn:  You’re not a Collins. You’re not even human!

Will interrupts by shrieking, “Carolyn, that’s enough!” but it isn’t enough at all. They could go on this way for weeks, if they wanted to. Two characters that we love, having feelings at each other — so much like the family we know, but rearranged, in order to play a brand-new game of What If.

In this case, the proposal goes something like: What if Carolyn found out that Barnabas was the devious monster that he actually is? What if she recognized the many ways that he and his friends had manipulated her family, in order to perpetuate his unholy and unwanted existence? What if she laughed bitterly as he pretended to care about a family that he actually treats like a herd of pliant, alibi-providing dairy cattle, occasionally sipping at their delicious fluids as he prods them into another defensive formation?

I mean, it doesn’t last very long. But it’s a fun idea to play with, isn’t it?

Yeah, I’m being hard on Barnabas today, but this is 1967, remember? Barnabas is the bad guy; that’s why he owns the show.

Barnabas:  Let me remind you of one simple fact. Expose me, and it will mean destruction for your husband, and yourself.

Carolyn:  You wouldn’t.

Barnabas:  I would, without hesitation.

So I guess that’s about as far as the sentimental “you are a Collins” stuff takes you. I would prefer not to harm you, but I will if I feel like it, because I am Barnabas Collins and I am more important than anybody.

But as Joe Caldwell knows, you can’t just write a scene about Barnabas lecturing and threatening people. This magic brew requires one more ingredient, the thing that makes Barnabas Collins fascinating, rather than loathsome. He also has to confuse people.

Barnabas:  You must not allow me to leave this room.

Will:  How can I stop you?

Barnabas:  I give you complete power over me, this one night only.

Will:  I don’t understand.

Barnabas:  The cross… do you still have that cross?

Will:  Yes, why?

Barnabas:  You will get it, and bring it back here, and you will not let me see it, unless…

Will:  Unless you try to leave.

Barnabas:  Yes.

Will:  I still don’t understand.

Barnabas:  There is no need for you to try to understand. Get the cross, and bring it back. I must not leave this room!

And Will goes and gets it, because what are you going to do, spend the rest of your life saying “I don’t understand”?

Will gets the cross, and just for fun, he holds it facing Barnabas, who instinctively cowers. “Put it away!” Barnabas growls, and when Will hesitates, we get a little burst of spell-casting music. Grasping his temples, Will drops the cross, and Barnabas triumphs.

So what is all this dom-sub edgeplay actually about? Barnabas appears to think that Will can use the cross to keep Barnabas in this little cubbyhole behind the bookshelves, but when Will tries it for half a second, Barnabas effortlessly takes control.

“You will use it only when necessary!” Barnabas orders, which I don’t know what that could possibly even mean. Of course, we can’t let Will really get the upper hand, because then the whole master-servant relationship would switch back, and Will would chain up the vampire and go back to writing tedious YA fiction. But if Barnabas still has veto power, then what’s the plan here?

It all falls apart within seconds, of course. Maggie stops by to tell everybody that Quentin’s feeling okay, positioning herself in front of the bookcase so that she can talk about how helpful Barnabas is, and how much she likes him. This is a service that ingenues provide, it’s all part of the basic package.

The penny drops for Will, who realizes what all this cross business is about.

“It’s she you’re hiding from, isn’t it?” Will hisses. “When I was writing the book, you mentioned how much she reminded you, in the other time, of Josette! And this Maggie reminds you of that one, doesn’t she?”

Barnabas tries to play it cool, but a dog howls at that moment, and Barnabas acts like he’s trying to pretend he didn’t just get an erection. Unmasked and unmanned, he tells Will to open the panel and forget the whole thing.

And here we are again, another spin in this endless cycle of backacting, as Will grabs for the holy relic, and Barnabas tries to explain that he was only kidding.

It ends in violence and disarray, naturally, because this is 1967, and Barnabas just remembered that you can beat the shit out of Willie and everyone will still talk about how reluctant and redeemed you are.

Now, there are a lot of questions that we could ask here, as we struggle to comprehend the last four and a half minutes of afternoon television. The one I’d like to spotlight is an old favorite: Why is this night different from all other nights?

Barnabas told Will, “I give you complete power over me, this one night only.” But why just one night? If he makes it through to dawn without slaking his thirst on the blood of the innocent, does the fever pass? Is one moment of successful self-control all that Barnabas needs, in order to re-up his membership in the human race?

But these are the kinds of questions that keep us watching this marvelous madman, who loves and yearns and burns with fury. Caldwell owns a calendar, he knows it’s not 1967 anymore, and yet it still works, this blurry, concurrent kinescope copy of Barnabas Collins, who calls himself a cousin, and then reaches for the cane.

Tomorrow: Diagnosis Murder.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

When Maggie and Quentin are arguing about whether it’s dangerous for her to stay, Barnabas breaks in: “Mrs. Collins, if you’ll excuse me, if there’s nothing else I can do –” Maggie thanks Barnabas for his help, then turns back to Quentin for another couple lines. Barnabas breaks in again to say, “Please excuse me, if there’s nothing any further I — nothing further I can do — good night.”


Behind the Scenes:

The master videotape for this episode was either lost or damaged beyond repair, so the version we see in syndication and home video is a black-and-white kinescope copy, originally made to provide a copy of the episode to local ABC stations who aired Dark Shadows in a different timeslot. There are 20 episodes over the course of the series that we only have in kinescope form, and this is the last one, hooray. There’s one more missing tape — episode 1219, in February 1971 — and unfortunately, they’d stopped making kinescope copies by then, so that’s Dark Shadows‘ one actual missing episode.

Tomorrow: Diagnosis Murder.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

21 thoughts on “Episode 1017: The Struggle

  1. He feels a sudden rush of anguished yearning that can only be expressed through non-consensual venipuncture. He tries to resist temptation by establishing absurd ethical guidelines that last for less than five minutes. Result: Supper time.

    Ahh. This is the kind of synopsizing I live for.

  2. Doesn’t a ‘true believer’ have to hold a cross (or other religious symbol?) to repel a vampire? Will doesn’t strike me as having that ‘old time religion’.

    1. Doesn’t a ‘true believer’

      That must be from a specific book, movie or TV show’s vampire lore. Julia used a cross against Barnabas and she’s not exactly a Sunday School teacher.

  3. Has there ever been a character like good old Barnabas Collins who could be good-guy and bad-guy at the same time?

    Its like the writes suddenly remember “oh he’s a vampire and he can save the day tomorrow because tonight he has to kill somebody”.

  4. One thing that has been consistent about Barnabas’s vampirism is that it’s inconsistent. It seems that Joe Caldwell thinks it’s hormonal in nature. If Barnabas,can remain engage in vampire celibacy those cravings will go away. But in many cases sexual abstinence is about as effective as capping a volcano with concrete. It works for just so long until a trigger, someone attractive, makes an appearance and it’s Boner City.

  5. I like the fact that PT Maggie feels drawn to Barnabas. Barnabas & Josette’s love transcends all time.
    Or maybe it’s just that Quentin has treated her so shabbily that any man who treats her with kindness and concern looks pretty good to her.

  6. It’s interesting. I know Joe Caldwell wasn’t involved in the movie, but it sure looks like they are doing variations on relationships from HODS. Carolyn and Barnabas arguing (Carolyn knowing he’s a vampire), beating Willie with a cane, crushing on Maggie. Appearing in Maggie’s room and biting her. Scenes from ’67 and from HODS.

    Even though the movie won’t be released for another four months, I wonder if they were trying to keep the ’67 dynamic alive to coincide with the forthcoming film?

    1. Exactly what I was thinking. They’re setting up the movie, because many fans never saw 1967. In fact, Barnabas never loved Maggie in RT until the very end of the Leviathans. He didn’t initially kidnap her because she looked like Josette; that was a later retconning of what happened, post 1795. He kidnapped her simply because she was available. There were no feelings toward her, for Maggie herself, beyond the desire to brainwash her into Josettism. After she escaped, Maggie was a nuisance to Barnabas and a possible threat. He wanted her dead or devlared insane; he certainly never acted affectionate or proprietary toward her as he did with Vicki — at least, not until now, a few short months before the movie comes out. For fans who had never thought of Barnabas and Maggie as an item, this would have prepared them — as well as the whole hungry vampire and the cane-beating of Willie.

  7. This episode is a fitting illustration of what each individual writer brought to Dark Shadows in terms of character approach and plot structure.

    If this episode had been written by Malcolm Marmorstein, Maggie would be enamored by Barnabas the Philosopher, who would show up at Collinwood with Maggie answering the door, and there Barnabas would romanticize on his preference for the night and how the sun is reflected by the moon, light that is so harsh by day and yet so soft and soothing by night. Later in the episode he might return to Collinwood with a book for Maggie from the Old House library, and then they would repair to the drawing room to discuss antiques and Old World customs. Before leaving he would gift her with a music box so as to hypnotize her gradually as she sleeps.

    If this episode had been written by Ron Sproat, Barnabas simply would have kidnapped Maggie and brought her back to the room behind the bookshelves to be held captive until she agrees to marry him, while Barnabas soliloquizes about the loneliness of bachelor fangdom whether past time, parallel time, or any old time.

    If Sam Hall had written this episode, and as well Gordon Russell and Violet Welles, Barnabas would be locked in a heroic struggle to free Maggie from the nefarious influence of Angelexis, and he’d go about it by biting only those necessary for protection so that he could carry out his noble quest… hey, wait — that’s how it’s been playing out lately anyway, so never mind.

    But with Joe Caldwell writing this episode, there is no higher consciousness, ideals, or values involved, no Barnabas the philosopher, no Barnabas the lovelorn romantic, no Barnabas the heroic supernaturalhero who stands for truth, justice, and the Collins family name. Because Caldwell sees vampirism as a form of sexual compulsion — “Stop me before I bite again!” — and so Barnabas the fiend simply has to have Maggie right away. Suddenly with Caldwell writing for Barnabas, it’s no longer about saving her, it’s about possessing her. It’s from writers like Joe Caldwell that we get the term “blood lust.”

    Wasn’t there a post from this blog titled “The Four Maggies”? Well, it turns out there are something like four Barnabases as well — depending on who is writing a given episode.

    1. That’s one of my favorite posts here ever, Prisoner, including the coinage Angelexis. (I’d add that if Sam Hall were writing it, there would be a stunning speed of plot events, masterfully managed, and if VioGordon RussWelles had written it, the dialogue would sparkle with odd quirks of characterization, eccentric names, and historical details–but your deconstructive sense of the Shifting Barnabi seems dead-on.)

      1. Michael E-

        I like your term “Shifting Barnabi”. You’re stirring memories now:

        “SHIFTING BARNABI” also brings back memories of black cats from my youth: I had a black cat once. Named him Barnabas of course. Soon, two more stray black cats showed up outdoors on our block. Never properly named these two ferals, but they would try to take food if they could from our cats. If we spotted them roaming the neighborhood, we simply referred to them as … “the Barnabi,” i.e. “I saw one of the Barnabi today looking for food by the back porch.”

        VETERINARY MAGIC: Here’s an unbelievable but true story: A few years ago, I took my kitten Josette to the vet for spaying at 6 months old. In the waiting room was a woman with her pet — a medium-sized mixed breed black dog. “What’s his name?” She replies, “Barnabas.” Stunned, I asked her, “From the TV show?” “Yes.” “What an amazing coincidence! My cat’s name is Josette, also from the TV show.” “WOW! BARNABAS AND JOSETTE!!!!!” Well before too long, the vet, the receptionist, and several of the support staff began gathering around the area with the exam room door now open to the waiting room. All 6 of us are now discussing our “Dark Shadows” memories and this most extraordinary coincidence, that Barnabas the dog and Josette the cat were at the vet on the same day at the same time! There was of course lots of the kinds of reminiscing Dan Curtis got so very tired of hearing (but exactly as you might expect): “I remember running home from school to watch it on TV,” etc. However I can tell you that a wonderful, magical time was enjoyed by all present!

        -Count Catofi

  8. “There’s one more missing tape — episode 1219, in February 1971 — and unfortunately, they’d stopped making kinescope copies by then, so that’s Dark Shadows‘ one actual missing episode.”

    IMO, it wasn’t much of a loss.

  9. O N E N I G H T O N L Y !

    BARNABAS COLLINS GIVES COMPLETE* CONTROL AWAY!

    (*Restrictions apply. Control given may not be complete. Barnabas Collins reserves the right to rescind control at his own discretion, and beat the livin’ crap outta you with a cane.)

    Oh, come on, Will I Am Hollingwhatever Loomis has been painin’ for a canin’ since Barnie got concurrent! “Our” Willie would have been smarter…after all, he had five shots in the back and a whole lot of beatings prior to this.

    “Oh, no. No, sirree, Barnabas. I know ya don’t give up your power that easy. First, ya get in that coffin, an’ I’ll put that cross on toppa ya.”

    And (on another point) is Barnabas actually a cousin of anyone, Parallel or not? Technically, he’s a great great grand uncle (or so) to the Collins family. Jeremiah was his uncle, and Millicent and Daniel were first cousins twice removed. Well, I guess as long as there’s SOME relationship, Barnabas can call himself anything he darn well pleases, he may be related to Phil Collins and Joan Collins for all we know. Heck, Angelique’s even related, she married Barnabas AND Roger ( and don’t give me any “Cassandra” nonsense, she wasn’t fooling anyone with that black wig!)

    1. Stephen King used that in ‘Salem’s Lot, if I recall. The vampire caused the priest to doubt his faith, and the crucifix lost its power.

  10. Also in the classic “Doctor Who” episode “The Curse of Fenric” where vampire like aliens are held at bay by any talisman or symbol someone completely believed in (someone uses a military insignia) but the power would be lost if doubt set in.

  11. Drac Has Risen From the Grave is not exactly the same but a variation. In an amazingly great though really stupid scene, a young guy plunges a big stake through Drac’s heart but he pulls it out because the guy has no faith and can’t pray. Presumably he would extricate himself from the giant crucifix on which he just happens to fall if a priest didn’t chant some Latin mumbo-jumbo prior to expiring. In Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers (aka Dance of the Vampires) most vampires are afraid of crosses but there’s a Jewish one who isn’t.

    Apropos nothing, I cringe when I hear Barnabas moaning “Maggie…” Maggie was not supposed to be Victoria Winters 2.0. The name was chosen to fit a working class Collinsport hash-slinger who was originally likened to Eve Arden (not that KLS ever had any comic timing). Victooooria is a name for a vampire to sigh. Roxaaaanne is a name for a vampire to sigh. Not Maggie with the goat-like Meehhhh and those ugly hard g’s and the diminutive suffix that makes me think of haggis.

    1. I think the flees-from-the-cross idea only works if everyone involved has faith in the power of the cross. As a shape, the cross isn’t more powerful than any other shape — the thing that gives it power is its cultural association with Christianity.

      The concept of “vampire” is a metaphor for several related ideas, including but not limited to corruption, disease, decadence, class warfare, lust, greed, consensual rape fantasies and so on. The cross works to the extent that the audience thinks that Christianity is the solution for those problems.

    2. Since he initially refused to call Victoria Vickie for fear of losing . . . one . . . sylla-ble (in the one line that went straight from original DS to the Burton movie, incidentally), you’d think he’d go for “Margaret” . . . but then, by now, aren’t we all tired of trying to stir up some heat between J Frid and KL Scott in ingenue mode?

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