“Not even the jaw of the wolf itself is more devastating than this cane, when it’s in my hands.”
Let’s see if we can figure this out, together. Eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins is in a parallel dimension, as you know, and he’s convinced that Maggie’s in terrible danger, which she is. But all he knows is that she’s gone, and that’s not much to go on. She’s probably being held somewhere by someone, but if so, then where, and by who?
Barnabas stamps into the Old House and shouts for Will, his blood slave and parallel landlord. “Will, are you here?” he hollers up the stairs. “I need you!” No answer. He crosses over to the back parlor. Still nothing. Then he approaches the bookcase, flips the hidden switch, and opens up the secret panel.
Question: Why does Barnabas think that Will is hiding behind the bookcase? It doesn’t seem super likely, and I’m not sure why he even wants Will in the first place. Will is a drunk, he hates Barnabas, he doesn’t care about Maggie, and he has no missing persons expertise. What value does he bring to the operation?
I mean, obviously the answer is that Hoffman needs to find out about the bookcase, and this is how she finds out. Angelique sent the hostile housekeeper out on a fishing expedition, and she’s currently outside the window, sniffing for secrets. The writers have a particularly thrilling Friday cliffhanger in mind, but it depends on Hoffman knowing that Barnabas has a secret, and it’s hidden behind that bookcase.
This is how serialized narrative works, I’m afraid, when you’re out of ideas and under the gun. You need to improvise a reason to get to a particular plot point, and sometimes that’s going to be brilliant and sometimes it’s just not. So you give Elizabeth a dream sequence, and you remind yourself it’s not supposed to be literature.
And if we have to have a swing and a miss, then it might as well happen today, because this is one of those episodes where the show basically just disintegrates before our eyes. Everybody gets things wrong today — the plot logic, the cameras, the dialogue, the set construction. It’s one of those super-messy episodes that turns afternoon television into the challenging intellectual experience that the audience needs, in order to grow as human beings.
But that’s okay. Today, everyone can do silly, illogical things in order to progress silly, illogical plot points, swallowing their lines and teleporting magically from one set to another. Do whatever you need to do. Just remove Sabrina Stuart as a factor in my life.
So Hoffman skedaddles, holding half a secret, and Barnabas strikes a pose in the private space behind the bookcase that ought to have a coffin in it but suddenly doesn’t.
“I shall have to find Maggie without Will’s help,” Barnabas says in thinks. Then he looks at his silver-handled cane. “If I find the one who’s hiding Maggie, I can use this, rather than take the chance of revealing my powers. Not even the jaw of the wolf itself is more devastating than this cane, when it’s in my hands.”
Question: Sorry, what?
Did Barnabas just decide that he’s going to beat somebody to death? And if using the cane is better than using his powers, then why doesn’t he use it all the time? And why is the cane more devastating than anything else he might use?
While we’re at it, why does Barnabas carry a cane around anyway? It doesn’t help him to walk. What does he use it for? Does he keep it handy in case he wants to bludgeon somebody? And why am I just thinking about this now, after three years of hanging out with the guy?
Barnabas leaves the room and shuts the secret panel, giving us a clear view of the coffin that absolutely isn’t there, while we lurk behind a light fixture. That lamp on the right stays in shot for almost fifteen seconds, which is marvelous but hard to figure. It’s just an extra bit of visual interest, if anyone wants some.
On his way out, Barnabas pauses and looks around quizzically, like he’s trying to remember if he left the oven on. By the way, that secret panel is getting less secret every time they use it. Look at the seams around the bookcase; they might as well put a doorknob on it.
It’s that old alchemical axiom: as above, so below. For the alchemists, transforming base metal into pure gold wasn’t just a get-rich-quick scheme; it was a way to achieve spiritual perfection as well. The idea is that the pattern at one level of a system is repeated at all levels, so the alignment of the heavens indicates a similar alignment on the earth. If the alchemists could purify lead into gold, then they could use that knowledge to purify the race of man.
And that principle is operating here, in this episode. Maggie is desperate to escape from her prison, just as the writers are scrambling to extricate themselves from a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde storyline that has nowhere else to run. That chaos and confusion in the writer’s room is then reflected in the show itself, which is why the cameras can’t focus and nobody knows how to say their lines properly.
“I feel so stupid,” Sabrina tells Liz, as they clomp down the stairs of the laboratory set. “I’m sorry I caused you all this trouble.” I do not accept her apology.
Sabrina Stuart is my current least favorite character on Dark Shadows. As Leona Eltridge might say, I dislike her for a variety of reasons, all of them, I think, quite valid. For one thing, she’s not very observant. She’s the lab assistant for the local Jekyll, and apparently that involves wearing a white coat and not paying attention to anything her boss is doing.
Cyrus Longworth — her head chef, fiancee and engagement ring retrieval service — has spent years researching a chemical compound which, when taken internally, splits man’s dual nature into its component parts. For the last couple months, he’s been chugging that magic potion on a daily basis, handing himself a license to rape women, steal clothes and beat people to death with his cane. (Note: Everyone who carries a cane is a psychopath.)
And Sabrina ignored it all, just wafting about the laboratory cleaning the blood off the countertops and not asking questions. She didn’t catch on until he went and changed into a monster, right in front of her eyes. In fact, she still hasn’t caught on, not really, and at this rate, I doubt she ever will.
And she can’t even keep track of her personal possessions; tonight, she ruined an evening out at the theater with Elizabeth by leaving her wallet on a table at work. I don’t know why she took her wallet out of her purse in the middle of the laboratory; what did she think she was paying for? But she did, and here it is.
“I’m as stupid as I thought it was,” she says. Indeed.
And then here comes John Yaeger, the Hyde to Cyrus’ Jekyll, apparently coming to the office to have a word with Sabrina, who’s out at the theater. He introduces himself to Elizabeth, while Sabrina looks directly at the camera with a weird, pinched expression. I don’t understand what Sabrina does with her face most of the time. She acts like she just got it recently, and she hasn’t figured out how to use it yet.
They chase Liz out, and then Yaeger turns on Sabrina, asking why she’s bringing guests to the murder lab.
“We went to a concert,” she says. “I left my purse here. We came back.” This is not actually the case. She had her purse, she left her wallet. There’s a lot wrong with this scene; I’m just running through the issues.
For instance: Yaeger opens the wall safe, retrieving a sheaf of bills. There’s a nice clear boom mic shadow on his back as he waggles the money at Sabrina. Then somebody in the studio coughs.
Then Yaeger opens the locked cabinet and reveals his secret clothes closet, saying, “Have you ever seen, Sabrina, the wardrobe of the sartorial John Yaeger?”
There’s more. Yaeger sits down to write a check, and you can see the shadow of a camera as it moves into position.
When he’s done, he closes the checkbook and slams it down, which makes the stack of dollar bills on the desk fly into the air.
Then Yaeger gets up, hands the check to Sabrina, and leaves the money on the desk. These people are really not good at holding onto their valuables.
There’s a confusing stab at dialogue — “you’ll miss me whether I go or stay, because Cyrus is never coming back” — and then Yaeger exits. Sabrina stands there dithering for about ten seconds, and then she turns off the lights and follows him out the door, leaving the safe open and the money on the desk, and she’s forgotten to take her purse again. Honestly, this girl; she hasn’t learned a thing.
The next scene starts with a complicated camera move that ultimately doesn’t work that well. The shot starts on the fireplace, pulls back to show a tea set as Hoffman pours for Liz, follows the cup as Liz takes the tea, stays on Liz as she sits down for a sip, and then swings around behind the chair to show Hoffman standing by the couch.
There’s no reason why the camera blocking has to be that complicated; any other soap would do a wide shot and call it a day. But Dark Shadows has to be ambitious at all times and in all ways, and it almost works.
The problem is they can’t stick the landing, once they’ve done all the maneuvering and come to a stop behind Liz. First the camera is too low, cutting off Hoffman’s head, then it drifts to the left and needs readjustment, and then it swings too high, bobbling around for a couple of seconds.
Once their conversation is over, the camera swings all the way back around from behind the chair, casting a shadow on Liz as it moves.
And then Liz puts down the tea, emits some concerned thinks, and falls right the hell to sleep. Just loses consciousness, right in the middle of a perfectly good cup of tea.
The dream sequence which ensues begins with mysterious green fluid dripping on an incline. This is a new concept in dream sequences that they’ve just thought of this minute.
The camera follows the dripping fluid to its source, and we see that we’re in the laboratory, where a tangled scientific apparatus has been rent asunder, leaving a beaker full of green liquid bleeding out onto the table. This is stylish and fantastic. I like this dream sequence a lot.
An offscreen bucket gets kicked over just at the moment that Sabrina enters the shot, because Sabrina ruins everything.
The lab is a disaster, just wreckage everywhere; there’s been a world war, I think, and then a pack of timberwolves stopped by. Sabrina bends down, picks up a book off the floor, and then looks at the title on the spine. Is that really the most important thing going on right now?
Sabrina sets a chair back on its feet, and then picks up the telephone and returns it to the desk. No idea why we’re looking at this. Why is Liz dreaming about Sabrina cleaning up?
Then Sabrina turns, and executes one of her super-fake screams that I for one do not find dramatically compelling.
But then they do something amazing. The camera pulls back and there’s Maggie, lying on top of a heap of broken lab equipment, all bent up and twisted in the wrong directions. Add the lighting and the dream effects, and it makes a really disturbing image, so ten points for that.
Now, that’s clearly Sabrina’s dream, but Liz wakes up, all riled up over someone else’s nightmare. Realizing that something awful has happened to Maggie, she jumps up, puts on her coat and dashes out of the house, to go… where?
Next up: Maggie finally breaks through the lock on her prison door, and carefully sneaks out, making sure that nobody’s around to see her. Meanwhile, you can hear people in the studio walking by, and then a door slamming. Also, over Maggie’s shoulder, you can see past the edge of the set, where the orange and blue lights from the dream sequence are still flashing.
Yaeger catches her, naturally, and throws her back into the cell, where you can see past the edge of the set on the left. “I wasn’t trying to escape!” she claims, and he sneers, “Well, now, do you believe me to — do you expect me to believe that?”
Enraged, Yaeger grabs Maggie and ties her up. You can see electrical cables on the floor.
But, surprise: Sabrina’s there, she’s followed him all the way to the farmhouse, and now she’s hiding on the other side of the basement door. Well, sort of hiding, in the sense that she is absolutely within Yaeger’s line of sight and he pretends not to notice.
When we last saw Barnabas, he couldn’t find Will, so he rushed out of the Old House in search of Maggie. And now he’s back in the Old House, with his coat off, casually greeting visitors. This is where Liz was hurrying to, by the way, when she woke up and ran out of the house.
Liz tells Barnabas about her dream, and for some reason, they both act like it’s evidence. She should get more sleep, who knows what kind of crimes she could solve. The police should have her on the payroll.
“Do you think Yaeger has something to do with Maggie’s disappearance?” she asks, and Barnabas mutters, “There’s only one way to find out.” Really? Cause I think there’s probably a dozen ways to find out. Which one does he mean?
Then he turns — and trips over something on his way to the door. I swear, this episode. The whole show is like that today.
As Barnabas and Liz open the Old House doors, the scene switches to Maggie, tied up in the farmhouse. Then we hear them close the Old House doors.
As Yaeger bundles Maggie onto her cot, Sabrina tries to sneak away — but she makes a noise, and he rushes out to see who’s there.
On the stairway, he finds the check that he gave to Sabrina, which must have fallen out of her pocket, and oh my god Sabrina, this is why you should have your purse. God damn it!
In the next scene, Barnabas breaks into Cyrus’ lab, and the scene begins with a shot of a magnifying lens, with Barnabas and the lamp reflected upside down. They really were trying to make this episode exciting and au courant, and look what happened, the poor dopes.
Barnabas paces through the lab, and look! The wall safe that Sabrina left open has magically closed itself. It’s even covered by the picture again.
Barnabas finds Yaeger’s wardrobe, and has another burst of thinks: “Clothes! But they wouldn’t belong to Cyrus… Yes! To Yaeger! But why here, in Cyrus’ laboratory? There’s a connection!”
So there you have it, after all this time, Barnabas is the only person who didn’t realize that there’s a connection between Cyrus and Yaeger. Everyone else has been talking about it for months. I suppose the main character is always the last to know.
We hear a car pull up outside Collinwood, and then Sabrina rushes in, screaming, “Quentin! Elizabeth!” She’s discovered that Maggie is Yaeger’s prisoner, so she hurries to report this crime to… her friends?
Sabrina picks up the phone, and suddenly Yaeger is upon her, grabbing her and pulling the phone lead out of the wall. He tries to deposit the phone on the table instead of just dropping it on the floor for some reason, so it takes a little extra maneuvering.
He throws Sabrina into the drawing room, slams the doors, and pulls this phone lead out of the wall too. He tosses it onto the credenza, and it hits the lamp, sending a piece of glass flying.
As above, so below: The lamp, and the lens, and the doors, and the cables, everything is falling to pieces. They’re running around, tripping over things, and all they really care about is telephone placement.
Somebody’s rifled the safe of the sartorial John Yaeger, and snatched Sabrina’s purse, and grabbed the loose change off the desk, and who knows what they’ve done with all that money? We were going to use that to make Dark Shadows with. What are we supposed to do now?
Tomorrow: Mistakes in Justice.
Behind the Scenes:
This is Lisa Richards’ last episode on Dark Shadows, thank goodness; when they return from Parallel Time, the regular-time Sabrina has left town with Chris and Amy. Richards has had a very active career since Dark Shadows, including some soap operas, lots of primetime TV appearances, some Broadway shows, and parts in a lot of movies I never heard of.
Here’s a quick sample: on TV, she was a cast member on One Life to Live and Where the Heart Is, and appearing on CHiPs, Fantasy Island, Falcon Crest, Lou Grant and Moonlighting. On Broadway, she was in The Love Suicide at Schofield Barracks and Jumpers, and revival productions of Mourning Becomes Electra, Sweet Bird of Youth and Our Town. As for movies, she was in Heaven Can Wait and Mr. Mom, and then a whole string of things like Return and Scenes from the Goldmine and who knows what.
She’s also appeared in several of Big Finish’s Dark Shadows audio plays, most recently 2015’s Deliver Us From Evil.
Tomorrow: Mistakes in Justice.
— Danny Horn