“For as long as I exist, I’ll despise this room for what it has done to me.”
“Why is fate so determined to offer me a chance for happiness and then destroy it right before my eyes?” says Barnabas, because everything is always about you.
And we’re back! Gentleman vampire Barnabas Collins and his trickster pal Julia Hoffman have been dimension-slumming for the last several months, in an alternate Collinwood where people weren’t very nice to each other and almost everyone ended up dead. I believe the final score was sixteen murders total, wiping out almost the entire Collins family, all of their friends, a couple servants, a chemist, a guy who rented out his farmhouse, and a curly-haired hypnotist who we never really figured out who he was. Plus their mansion burned to the ground, with at least two people buried alive in the flaming wreckage. Meanwhile, Barnabas and Julia managed to flip back to their home dimension at the last second, and all they can do is complain.
“She was the only woman who ever made me forget my dear lost Josette,” the bloodsucker laments. He’s talking about his quickie Vegas wedding to a parallel nobody called Roxanne, who he decided he was in love with while she had her eyes shut. When she woke up, she was also struck with the revelation that Fate had brought them together, and she followed Barnabas around like a faithful pet, until she got herself abducted and mansion-roasted, which was also Fate. Everything is.
Narratively, Roxanne was dead weight, an answer to a question that nobody asked, and not dragging her across the border is the correct answer. These summer-camp romances never last anyway.
Julia, never one to miss an opportunity to emote, gets a close-up to express her feelings. They’ve been doing this lately with Julia and Barnabas, throwing bones to the shippers.
“We forget how rare a life of love can be,” Julia breathes, goggle-eyed. “You’re not the only one who’s had so little hope.” A heavy sigh. “It’s something one learns to live with,” she adds. “We can get used to anything if we have to.” But with bonus eye and lip trembles.
She turns her high beams on Barnabas, who ignores them completely. He moves across the room, strikes a pose in front of a nearby camera, and delivers, “For as long as I exist, I’ll dispise this room for what it has done to me.”
Then there’s a crash of thunder, signaling that the longing-for-Roxanne phase of our lives is over; they just move on and forget all about it. Hooray!
And this is the world we’ve leaped home to — a nightmare Collinwood, ruined and roachbit, an extreme home makeover rendered by catastrophe, sadness and time. Maybe being trapped in the burning Collinwood wasn’t so bad after all.
This is the foyer set that we love, but the roof’s caved in, the walls are cracked, and the spiders have upped their game considerably. It’s like they took a shambles, and dropped it from a great height onto another shambles.
It’s fantastic. In the previous time trips that the show’s taken, the travelers have always returned to safety and status quo, a Collinwood that has kept calm and carried on. They’ve never done anything remotely like this. Dark Shadows is an enterprise that runs entirely on surprise, and this is as surprising as it gets. There’s Vicki landing in the 18th century, there’s Julia getting a short haircut, and then there’s this; I can’t think of anything else in this league.
It’s an eerie mix of familiar and strange, the family home transformed into a treacherous landscape; it’s basically body horror for houses. But it makes sense, emotionally, because we’ve jumped from one apocalypse to another. We never thought we’d see Collinwood destroyed, and now we’ve seen it twice, two episodes in a row.
“Was there a war?” Julia wonders. “Or a hurricane?” Then she gasps, and picks up something from the table. “Oh, Barnabas, look!” she says. “Look, this glass! It’s as if it was left half-empty!” Which is an amazing thing to make a big deal about. You’ve got the top half of the Statue of Liberty sticking out of the front yard; stemware is not the issue.
And the plants, I can’t get over the plants. A little later in the week, they get sloppy with the lighting, and the foyer foliage starts to look a little silly, when you can see it’s a prop tree that’s leaning against the wall. But here, in the dim light of this spectacular moment, it looks like vines and creepers have invaded the house, filling up empty spaces like a cancer. Collinwood has fallen.
When we’ve had a second to adjust to that idea, they walk into the drawing room, and — bonnnnnnggg! — it’s happened there too! They could just spend the rest of the episode walking from room to room and doing dramatic stings; I would be completely fine with that.
“There was no war or hurricane here,” Barnabas pronounces. “It’s as though the house was simply abandoned.” My guess is it’s Vicki-related.
“Julia,” he gasps, “do you suppose that everyone we knew, all our friends — Maggie, Elizabeth, David — do you suppose they’re dead?” Julia doesn’t know what to suppose.
But this is a crime scene, and the Junior Detectives start piecing together some nonsensical clues. First there was the glass, and now some fossilized papers on the desk.
“Barnabas, look!” she says. “These papers! I left them here, the night I went into Parallel Time!” She picks up exhibit A. “Look, they crumble at my touch!” she says, actively crunching them to bits with both hands.
“It’s possible that some kind of radiation has sped up the process of deterioration!” says Barnabas, who is a scientist.
Then Julia finds another bit of paper, preserved in amber like dinosaur DNA. She reads: “We must leave Collinwood before the day is out! We must!” Then she says, “It’s a note in Elizabeth’s handwriting, but it’s not finished!” I don’t know how she knows that, it sounds pretty finished to me. Maybe Liz was planning on a couple more “we musts”, but we get the gist.
Barnabas looks outside, and notes that trees have grown all the way up to the door. He adopts a thoughtful expression, and delivers another helping of vampire science.
“Julia,” he considers, “do you think there was some disturbance in the time barrier — some disturbance in the warp — and we’ve come back to another time? Our own time — but at some time in the future?” This is what happens when you keep using the word “time” to mean things that aren’t actually time.
So they close the doors on Collinwood forever again, for the second time this week. Then there’s a long, delicious disaster-porn tracking shot across the set, because the set dressers have done a lot of work and it needs to be appreciated.
So Barnabas and Julia have to go to the cemetery, to find a place for his weary bones to rest — “past and future, our time or Parallel Time, the curse is still with me,” he says, because again this is mostly about him — and apparently the coffin in the Old House has been removed. There’s no sanctuary for them here.
And the really exciting thing is that they have no idea how to get back home. They’ve established that they can’t travel back via Parallel Time, because the PT Collinwood is no longer standing. They’re lost in this new, damaged world.
Here’s where they find out how far they’ve fallen: a new grave, dated 1995. They’re way off course, tossed a couple decades further than they wanted to go.
And that explains everything — now we know why everyone’s drinking Zima and wearing Rachel haircuts. It’s the 90s! That means Collinwood was destroyed by the Unabomber, or it’s the Oklahoma City bombings, or possibly the mansion collapsed under the weight of all those stacks of America Online CD-ROMs.
So here they are, two friends, adrift in an uncharted decade. They’re skipping straight to Star Trek: Voyager without watching The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, and they still think of OJ Simpson as the guy who won the Heisman Trophy. Nobody told them life was gonna be this way.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Barnabas is wearing his cape and holding his cane when he’s in the fire in Parallel Time — but when the room changes, both the cape and cane are gone.
After the Parallel Time room changes, Julia looks around and says, “It’s so — it’s so — it seems so different!”
In the foyer, Julia picks up a glass and says, “Look, this glass — it’s as if it was left half-empty!” It is empty, as far as I can see.
Just after Barnabas says, “It’s as though the house were simply abandoned!” a shadow passes by the set on the right.
When Barnabas and Julia find a new grave, Julia coughs.
Behind the Scenes:
In the teaser, a clip from the end of Friday’s episode, we hear Roxanne scream “Barnabas!” twice as he tries to reach her through the flames. It’s possible that the reason we don’t see her on the other side of the flames at the end of Friday’s episode — which would have been exciting and dramatic — is that they’d have to pay her for appearing in this episode. She doesn’t appear in today’s credits.
There are only five episodes of Dark Shadows that have three actors, and this is one of them. The other four are episode 18 (Roger, Vicki and David talk about Roger’s car accident), episode 244 (Jason pressures Liz into confessing to Carolyn), episode 250 (Maggie tries to talk Willie into helping her destroy Barnabas) and episode 507 (Stokes and Julia try to interfere in Carolyn’s Dream Curse dream).
Set designer Sy Thomashoff writes about the 1995 set in The Dark Shadows Almanac: Millennium Edition:
“We decided that under these conditions the windows would have been demolished, the ceiling and beams would have tumbled down and plaster would have fallen off the walls and the ceilings. Leaves, dirt and debris would have created havoc on the inside. I decided that the best way to achieve this was to layer on top of everything the added elements that would have registered their effects on the interior of the foyer and the drawing room. I designed what looked like the overhead beams and chunks of old plaster and had the crew suspend them from the grill above. We created torn and shredded draperies and broken windows in place of the existing ones. We took the doors off their hinges and stood them askew. We exposed the brick that was beneath the plaster, even though there never had been brick there before.
“The carpentry and paint shops had a couple of weeks to fabricate the various elements and ship them to the studio. I remember that it was a Friday night when the studio crew set everything in place in the drawing room and foyer. By midnight we had placed all the rubble and all but two of the eight hanging overhead sections of plaster and beams. The crew, who were by that time exhausted from a long and harrowing week of hard work, announced that whether I was done or not, they were going home. I really couldn’t blame them and I was only too happy myself to call it a night. The episodes that followed certainly gave the show yet another look, which was what kept us percolating.”
— Danny Horn