“I assure you, I am who I am.”
Parallel housekeeper Julia Hoffman approaches the coffin with hammer and stake. There’s a vampire at Loomis House, an undead creature with jaws that bite and claws that catch, and the only one who’s able to do anything about it is this fearless domestic. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the forces of darkness. She is the one that destiny has chosen. She is the Slayer.
And then: WHAM!
The Slayer is slain, laid low by a lookalike in a respectable cloth coat. This is the real Julia Hoffman — Doctor Julia Hoffman, thank you — and she drops her doppleganger dead in its tracks. There’s nothing that says “you have made the wrong parallel-dimension life choices” like a fire iron to the back of the head.
It’s fantastic. Julia’s back!
It’s a triumphant moment, for several reasons. Julia is a mythopoetic trickster figure, like Reynard the Fox, Br’er Rabbit and Special Agent Dale Cooper, who destabilizes narrative in productive and entertaining ways, by imagining a new way of looking at the world, and convincing the audience to go along with it. Julia Hoffman is the element of surprise.
So it’s fitting that this return was impossible to predict. It’s not just that we didn’t know Julia was standing behind Hoffman holding a cast-iron pink slip; we didn’t even know that she was in this universe. There was a clue planted a week ago, when Barnabas briefly journeyed back to his home dimension for a quick conversation with Julia, but you don’t realize that’s a clue until afterwards.
And it’s over before you know it — a whack to the skull, a cry of pain, Hoffman crumples, end of action sequence.
Over the last few months, they’ve gotten a lot better at editing pre-taped segments into the show, experimenting with different ways to cut back and forth between a character and their parallel counterpart. Sometimes it’s worked, and sometimes it hasn’t — Barnabas’ return to Parallel Time last week was so botched that I suspect they ruined some footage, and had to splice together shots from the previous episode.
This is probably their most effective pre-tape so far: the hammer is raised, we cut to Julia’s windup, a THWACK as we cut to Hoffman’s grimace, and then a Chromakey two-shot as Julia watches her double fall to the floor. She stands there, stunned, and then turns to her friend in the coffin and chokes, “Barnabas…” And it wraps up with a quiet pre-taped shot of Barnabas, safe and sound and still undead.
And it all takes place in eerie silence, because they can’t edit the music cues. That’s usually how you can tell when there’s an unplanned edit; the music skips from one place to another. But here, with five different shots being spliced together, they have to do it without music, so there’s no dramatic sting, no orchestra to say “holy shit!” on our behalf. We have to do all the work of reacting to this brutal and utterly crazy scene by ourselves.
Julia’s next move is to leave the secret coffin chamber, shutting the bookcase behind her, so that Barnabas can wake up in the evening and find a dead housekeeper in his bedroom. Then she walks to the front door, apparently heading back to her home dimension. She’s not even going to leave a note.
That’s how amazing she is; this is not a big deal to her. For Julia, cracking someone’s skull with a blunt object is just another way of prescribing a sedative.
But she’s interrupted by Bruno, who enters the house without an invite, because why should the show start making sense now. He’s surprised to find the Collinwood housekeeper outside her jurisdiction, with a new hairstyle and dressed in another dimension’s fashion. He asks what she’s doing here and why she looks different, the usual body-snatcher suspicion checklist.
Luckily, Julia’s spent her entire life emitting a constant stream of lies, so this isn’t that big of a deal. “I was on my way to town,” she says. “Is there anything wrong with that?”
It works, obviously, because it’s more interesting to see Julia fake her way through a conversation than it is to have her dragged off to a witchcraft trial. This is how Julia operates; she identifies opportunities for storyline improvement.
So Bruno says, “You know something? You don’t sound like you, and you don’t quite look like you. Strange…” And Julia just smiles, and says, “I assure you, I am who I am,” and there’s nothing that Bruno can do about it. Who do you call, when somebody doesn’t look like herself?
Once Bruno’s gone, Julia checks on the situation behind the bookcase, and then the master of the house returns. Will sees somebody in the secret room, and for a second, it looks like he’s going to grab a fireplace poker and whack Julia in the back of the head too. The Hoffmans are going to really pile up after a while.
She emerges, and finds Will holding a gun on her.
Will: Hoffman! You know, when I looked for you in the house and I couldn’t find you, I figured this is where you’d be.
Julia: I — I can explain.
Will: Oh, there’s no need to.
Julia: But — I’m not Hoffman.
Will: Well, isn’t that interesting!
Julia: I mean, I’m a friend of Barnabas.
Will: I know whose friend you are!
Julia: Please —
Will: Now, don’t move or I’ll shoot!
Julia: Hoffman’s… in there. If you’ll look in there, please?
Will: What are you talking about?
Julia: She’s in there, Hoffman’s in there, and she’s — she’s dead.
And what do you know, that turns out to be a compelling enough claim to get Will to lower the gun, look at the body, and come to grips with a new status quo.
So we end up with a completely adorable scene, reuniting Julia with another version of Willie. The Will Loomis of this parallel dimension is also Barnabas’ blood-slave, but he’s not pals with his supernatural captor, like Willie is. He hates Barnabas, and blames him, correctly, for destroying his already half-destroyed life.
But once he recognizes Julia as the doctor that Barnabas told him about, they start chatting, in that endearingly cold-blooded way that only Dark Shadows characters can.
Will: But how did you get here?
Julia: The same way that Barnabas did, through the time warp in Angelique’s room. Barnabas told me that his coffin was here, and when I arrived —
Will: Hoffman was here?
Julia: Yes, with a hammer and a stake. And the coffin was open… I didn’t mean to kill her.
Will: Oh, well, you’ll pardon me if I’m not sorry, eh?
Julia: But if I had lived in this time… this would have been me! I don’t understand it, but… it feels very strange. Her name was Hoffman, too.
And now they’re friends! In the next scene, Julia and Will sit down on the couch together and talk about how they can help Barnabas, and it’s so cute that I hardly even mind that we’re still in Parallel Time.
This is a huge relief for me, you have no idea. As impossible as it is to believe, there are still five more weeks of Parallel Time that we have to live through, and I’ve been slowly leaking will-to-live for a while now. Cyrus and Sabrina are finally out of my life, but there’s still this endless, repetitive Bermuda love triangle with Quentin, Angelique and Maggie, and I don’t know if I have anything left to say about it.
And here’s Julia — surprising, fearless, delightful Julia — making friends, and coming up with new trickster schemes. She’s not going back to her home dimension, she’s going to stay, and take over the show again. I looked ahead, and Julia is in 18 of the 25 remaining Parallel Time episodes, including all five days next week, and life is worth living again.
They’re worried that Barnabas is still in danger — maybe Hoffman told Angelique about Barnabas’ secret, before she came over to destroy him. They need to figure out how to make sure Angelique doesn’t know, and suddenly Julia brightens up.
“Suppose I pass as Hoffman!” she cries, and oh, the look on her face, like this is Christmas morning for her. Protecting Barnabas by putting herself in harm’s way is her very favorite thing to do.
“I’ll change into Hoffman’s clothes, and I’ll fix my hair,” she says, “and you tell me everything that you know about Alexis, and about Hoffman, and everything about that house.” And now all they have to do is go strip the clothes off of the corpse of the human being that she just murdered.
So that’s where we are, with five weeks on the clock. We’re still stuck here, trapped in a world not mine own. But Julia Hoffman is lying again, and we are saved, merciful heavens, we are saved.
Tomorrow: The Things That Have Been Happening.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Juia bends down to look at Hoffman’s body, there’s tape marks on the floor.
When Will and Julia sit down and talk about Angelique, there’s a dialogue malfunction.
Julia: What if Hoffman told her Barnabas’ secret before she came here?
Will: No, it’s all right. She was in Bangor. Oh — but she might have phoned. No, but she, she just — now, she just, she didn’t act strangely when I just saw her.
Julia: What are we going to do?
Will: I don’t know.
Julia: (scanning the teleprompter) She’s — she might have! What can we do? What — what if she wrote a note?
Will: She might have!
When Bruno shouts at the notebook “Where is your money?” you can see the reflection of a crew member passing by.
Will asks, “What about Barnabas?” and Julia says, “She didn’t tell her anything. Hoffman never told her anything. She doesn’t know anything about what’s been happening.”
Behind the Scenes:
Jonathan Frid is credited as Barnabas in this episode, although he hardly appears. We see him lying in the coffin in the teaser, which is from yesterday’s episode. At the beginning of act 1, we see his feet, in a pretaped Chromakey overlay, and then a pretaped shot of him sleeping in the coffin. He probably wasn’t in the studio at all today.
Tomorrow: The Things That Have Been Happening.
— Danny Horn