“We can stop the cause of what’s made all this happen if we go back!”
There’s a moment in this episode when it looks like Julia might give Quentin a lethal injection, as the Sheriff of Collinsport just stands there and watches.
It doesn’t happen, but that’s how bleak the current storyline is, that you sit there and think, wait, is Julia casually murdering one of her friends? Last year, we spent six weeks with the main character of the show mind-controlled by lurking horrors from the depths of space who wanted to cleanse the earth of humankind, and it wasn’t anywhere near as scary as this.
Escaping from an adventure in a parallel dimension, Barnabas and Julia have washed up on the shore of 1995, a post-apocalyptic dystopia where their house was destroyed by ghosts. Convinced somehow that they’ll be able to travel back to 1970 whenever they want to, they’ve spent the last two weeks trying to find out what happened twenty-five years ago, so they can hop back in time and put a stop to it. This is how your brain works when you’re pretty sure that you’re the protagonist, and the story is actually about you.
Unfortunately, that means everybody else is an add-on, and life has gotten progressively more difficult for Dark Shadows characters who aren’t named Barnabas or Julia. They just went through a harrowing storyline where almost everyone was either murdered or died in a fire, and now we’re watching Carolyn die, again, for the second time this month.
Carolyn was one of the oldest living survivors of whatever it was that killed everybody else, spending decades lost in guilt and grief and incipient cat-ladyness. Barnabas reassured her that she was strong enough to fight the ghost, and she believed him, except she wasn’t, and now she’s dead.
Carolyn Stoddard is survived by a scribbled list of bullet points, which she jotted down for a PowerPoint presentation she was planning to give in the ruins of her childhood home. But the evil ghost got there first, and cancelled the lecture. Once again, the villain wins, as they tend to do on Dark Shadows. Stay tuned for local programming.
And the ghost has his hooks into Julia, twisting her loyalties out of shape. He keeps appearing on the landing with vengeance on his mind and a spotlight on his face, silently filling her with destructive instructions. She promised she’d love the bat-man forever, but 1995 is a bad year for the franchise. Now that I think of it, Batman had sidekick troubles too, that year.
Barnabas and Julia thought they could just skip across the surface of this bloodstained field, picking up some helpful intel and then zipping back to headquarters to mull it over. Every single person they’ve talked to for the last two weeks has told them, don’t go into that house. And they keep going in and out, at least once per episode, because it’s a gorgeous set and you want to show it off. But it turns out they’re not untouchable after all. Hubris has a way of catching up with you; that’s pretty much what hubris is for.
So Barnabas is trying to interest Julia in a round of Junior Detectives, which is usually their favorite party game, but Julia is suddenly the party of no. “Julia! Carolyn’s dead!” he cries, but she just stands there in the foyer, looking up at a ghost who isn’t there.
“Come, you must examine the body!” he croaks. Barnabas is actually getting hoarse, because he’s been expressing surprise so much these days that it’s wearing out his voice. This is only going to get worse.
By the time he gets Julia into the drawing room, Carolyn’s body has vanished, spirited away by a spirit who probably should have taken the note instead.
“Well, she was here!” says Barnabas, his voice straining. “She was sitting at that table, with a pen in her hand!” Then he picks up a piece of paper, still yelling. “Julia — this is her writing! That note that she gave me! She remembered! She was trying to write down what she was trying to tell us!”
And this is just the beginning of the episode; Barnabas is going to need to find a way to stop being so emphatic all the time, or he isn’t going to make it to act three. But Julia keeps on contradicting everything he says.
Barnabas: The night of the sun and the moon…
Julia: That doesn’t make any sense, Barnabas!
Barnabas: The night Rose Cottage was destroyed…
Julia: Rose Cottage? There’s no house here by that name! Carolyn was mad, Barnabas!
Barnabas: The unfinished horoscope… the night I sang my song… the picnic… the murder! All of these are clues!
Julia: Really, Barnabas — that other note that she sent to you fooled me, it sounded coherent! But obviously —
Barnabas: Regardless of what you say, these are obviously im– very significant things, that she wanted to tell us!
It’s fantastic, one of the great moments in anti-infodumping. They’ve got a list of six phrases that the audience is supposed to absorb and remember, because they’re clues to the mystery that we’ve spent the last two weeks puzzling over. But he goes so fast, and his voice is failing, and he’s chewing up some of the lines, it’s impossible to really take any of it in. And meanwhile, Julia is being nothing but distracting; it’s like she’s at war with the audience.
He tells her to go call the Sheriff, and she’s got every possible reason to say no — I don’t know what to say, we’re not supposed to be in this house, he’ll think I’m mad, he’ll ask too many questions. And finally, Barnabas turns to face his friend.
Barnabas: Julia… what is wrong with you?
Barnabas: Something is!
Barnabas: Well, you disagree with everything I say! Whatever suggestion I make, you don’t want to do it!
Julia: Well, I’m just putting myself in the sheriff’s place, getting a seemingly mad telephone call from somebody.
Barnabas: Julia! Carolyn is dead!
And then Gerard is there, in his own little unearthly spotlight on the landing, pulling Julia’s strings. The formerly unbeatable Junior Detectives are turning against each other. Barnabas knows that something’s wrong, but he can’t imagine what it could be. All he knows is that his world has been destroyed, and he is completely and utterly alone.
This goes on all day; that was just act one. Barnabas finally gets Julia to go call the Sheriff, while he searches the house for the corpse. He knows that Carolyn’s dead and there’s nothing he can do to save her, but this is a person that he loved, and she shouldn’t be defiled by phantoms.
And they find her, laid out in the playroom among the stuffed animals and Raggedy Anns, just another toy that the poltergeist is playing with.
“Who put those flowers there?” Barnabas croaks. “What a grotesque sense of humor.”
Gerard is unstoppable, and his cruelty isn’t limited to killing them. He wants them to suffer, to betray each other, to lose hope. There’s no point to this weird display. He just does it because he can.
And then we get a sequence from the Satanic road company of Of Mice and Men, also known as George and Lennie at the Gates of Hell.
Over at the Old House, the deranged Quentin gets the news that Carolyn is dead, and he knows, with the simple clarity of the fictionally insane, that he’s next on the hit list. He cycles through a selection of manic attitudes.
“He killed her!” Quentin shouts. Everybody’s shouting today. “Barnabas Collins made him do it! He wasn’t satisfied! He had to try and find out for himself!”
And then: “No, no, he’ll kill me! He’ll kill me, too!”
And then: “Ohhh — don’t you mention that name! Don’t you ever mention that name, do you hear me? I don’t know any Gerard!”
And then: “I know! The woods! That’s where they found me, they found me in the woods! Where’s Elizabeth? Elizabeth!”
And then: “They did, they made me go there, just like they made Carolyn go there. Oh, I wonder what I was doing in the woods.”
And so on.
So by the time Julia comes in, Quentin is already all of the way wound up.
“You!” he shouts. “Yes! You were with him there, weren’t you? Weren’t you? No no no, don’t come near me, don’t you come near me!”
She goes into professional mode. “Sheriff, I am a doctor,” she explains. “Can you hold him, please?”
Quentin tries to struggle. “No, you keep her away from me, she’s not gonna touch me!”
“I’ve got to give him a sedative,” Julia says. “He’s been ill.”
So they hold him, and they make him sit down, and this might actually be the moment that Quentin Collins dies.
So Quentin sits there, in the chair, waiting for his execution.
“It really doesn’t matter, you know?” he says, dreamily. “Cause he always wins. He always wins…” This really is the bleakest thing they’ve ever done.
He turns to Julia. “I want to go back there. Will you take me back there?”
“Back where?” she says, readying the injection.
“Just away from here. Oh, I just want to go far away from here.”
“That might be a very good idea.”
And George raised the gun and steadied it, and he brought the muzzle of it close to the back of Lennie’s head. The hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger. The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again. Lennie jarred, and then settled slowly forward to the sand, and he lay without quivering.
George shivered and looked at the gun, and then he threw it from him, back up on the bank, near the pile of old ashes.
Tomorrow: Gangsta’s Paradise.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Barnabas holds onto Carolyn’s note through all of act 1, and he’s still holding it when we come back from commercial. In act 2, when he’s thinking outside the drawing room, he slowly crumples the note in his hand, and he’s still playing with it when he goes to check the secret panel, and when he sees Gerard. When Gerard disappears and Barnabas argues with Julia, he’s still fussing with the paper; you can hear it crunching in his hand every couple seconds. He goes upstairs to the playroom, and when we see him up there, he doesn’t have the paper anymore; it may have been reduced to its component molecules by that point.
When Barnabas touches the secret panel, Gerard steps into frame a little sooner than he should have.
Barnabas tells Julia, “We can stop the cause of what’s hap– made all this happen if we go back!”
When Barnabas shouts “You will not go unpunished, Gerard!”, the camera drifts a little too high and shows one of the studio lights.
Barnabas tells Julia and the Sheriff, “I’m going to get Eliot Stokes. He’ll tell me who’s the best person to have this exorcise conducted!”
Quentin tells the Sheriff, “I’ll kill him! He made her go to that room!” Then he corrects himself: “He made her go to that house!”
And a little later in that scene: “You see, he made me go there. They did, they made me go there, just like they made Carolyn go there.”
When the Sheriff is asking Julia where Barnabas is, the camera takes a while to focus on Gerard at the window, and manages to get as far as his hands when the dramatic sting chimes.
Tomorrow: Gangsta’s Paradise.
— Danny Horn