“You will not be able to do anything to this house unless you deal with me first!”
At the top of the show today, mad medico Dr. Julia Hoffman rushes into her patient’s bedroom to announce, “Daphne is the one who is to be murdered, and the destruction of Rose Cottage — will be tonight!”
This is welcome news, because these characters have been discussing the destruction of Rose Cottage for weeks and weeks; it’s a pivotal moment in the story that I can’t wait for them to pivot to.
Alarmed, Barnabas gasps, “Julia, we need to get help!”
“But who can help us?”
“Possibly Sebastian,” he answers, as the other one hundred percent of the world asks, In what way?
I mean, there’s no reason to expect that Sebastian has anything to contribute; he’s not an exorcist, or a firefighter. He’s an astrologer who’s deliberately given Elizabeth the wrong horoscope for reasons that I’m starting to suspect we may never know; he also went on a date with Maggie, and he has a weird relationship with his co-worker Roxanne. Those are all the things that we know about Sebastian. So why would his name even come up, at such an urgent moment?
Well, because they want to put Barnabas in a scene with Roxanne is why, and if that requires some unmotivated help-asking, then so be it. Roxanne is the girl that they keep asserting that Barnabas is in love with, and then they forget about her. We haven’t seen Roxanne for several weeks, because Barnabas has been too busy worrying about the ghosts and the children and the cottage and the clues, but here she is again, saying, “From the very first time I met you, I had the strange feeling that there was a bond between us.”
He looks into her eyes, and he kisses her hand, and they do as much smoldering as they can muster, which is great but as far as I recall this is their third conversation and they don’t actually have anything to do with each other. She has no connection to the problems that he’s been attending to, and they had to invent a false crisis to even get them in the same room together.
Anyway, Barnabas leaves a message for Sebastian that he’s going to Rose Cottage, and then he rushes back to Collinwood to tell Julia that Sebastian wasn’t home, which is stop-press news somehow.
Then Julia tells him that the children have escaped from the therapeutic storage facility they were locked up in, so Barnabas has to rush off to Rose Cottage, which is where he should have rushed in the first place. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be all right,” he assures Julia. “Perhaps Sebastian will be there to meet me.”
There will be no further information about what Barnabas actually expects Sebastian to do if he ever shows up at Rose Cottage, which he doesn’t.
But who needs plot logic, when you’ve got a creepy music box? Barnabas arrives at Rose Cottage, which is still intact, but give it a minute to warm up. The place is deserted and silent, except for the carousel from the playroom, which is spinning and playing the storyline’s ominous theme song.
“The carousel!” Barnabas exclaims, in thinks. “It wasn’t in this room when I was here before. Why is it here now?” That’s a good question, which the show does not intend to answer. Barnabas decides that the evil ghost mastermind must have brought it to lure the children here, although there’s no evidence for that, and it’s unclear how that would even work.
But that’s just the opening act. Here comes the main event: the showdown between Barnabas Collins and Gerard Stiles.
Obviously, this is tremendously exciting. Barnabas is the show’s main character and protector of the Collins family, and Gerard is the evil spirit who’s destined to destroy Collinwood and all of its inhabitants. The last time these two faced each other, it was the final moments of the 1995 sequence, and Julia’s life hung in the balance. If not for Barnabas’ intervention, she would have stabbed herself, and become another victim of Gerard’s deadly machinations. But that was just the climax to their two-week 1995 adventure; this is the payoff for two months of story. This is gonna be good.
“I know you want to do harm to me, but I won’t let you,” Barnabas spits, as Gerard sneers his sinister sneer. “I’ve come here to get the children!”
He sees the ghost hesitate, and realizes that Gerard doesn’t know where the kids are either. “So much the better,” Barnabas declares, and then he strides toward the phantom menace, fire in his eyes.
“I know you intend to destroy this house tonight,” Barnabas announces, “and then murder Daphne Harridge. But I intend to stop you!”
Gerard stands firm, apparently untouchable, as if even the combined power of Barnabas’ supernatural abilities and teen magazine fame is not enough to stay his hand.
“I am here, Gerard!” the vampire growls. “And you will not be able to do anything to this house — unless you deal with me first!”
So that’s an incredible climax, one of the all-time best Dark Shadows cliffhangers — oh, except that it isn’t, it’s only the middle of act 3, and we fade to the Collinwood foyer, where the clock is chiming 9:10 for no apparent horological reason.
That’s a bit of a waste, really, they could have made a lot more out of that moment, but at least we know that Barnabas and Gerard are squaring off in Rose Cottage for an epic battle that will determine the fate of the Collins family.
Oh, except they aren’t, because Mrs. Johnson goes into the drawing room and now Gerard is here instead.
So I guess Barnabas growled, “Unless you deal with me first!” and then Gerard excused himself and went off to mess with the housekeeper, leaving Barnabas standing around on his own, feeling silly.
That is one of the strangest choices that I’ve ever seen on Dark Shadows, a television show made entirely of strange choices. They set up the most dramatic moment of the entire story — Barnabas confronting Gerard, standing in Rose Cottage on the night of its destined destruction — and then they fade to another scene that just casually negates the thrilling climax that they built.
So that’s the moment, if anybody’s keeping track, when they officially break the ancient truce between author and audience. We have agreed to give them our time and attention, in exchange for a story that’s worth paying attention to, but this scene indicates that they don’t understand the story that they’re telling at all. If your lead character confronts the supervillain and it doesn’t mean anything, then what is this story actually about?
They’ve got another six months left to run, but I’m calling it. Dark Shadows’ time of death: September 17th, 1970, at 4:16pm. Everything from here on is hospice care.
And the really crazy thing is that that’s not even the only time in this episode that they blow a big scene.
Gerard instructs Mrs. Johnson to go upstairs, and tell Julia that she had an ominous dream about Barnabas. Naturally, Julia rushes off to find him at Rose Cottage, which means they’re both on the scene when the door slams and the house bursts into flame. The villain has trapped them, and the destruction of Rose Cottage will be their destruction, too.
“Gerard knew it!” Barnabas cries. “He knew I wouldn’t leave you alone, and I won’t!”
“But Barnabas,” Julia shouts, “what about Daphne? You’ve got to go and get her, and save the children! Barnabas!”
And that would have made for a fantastic cliffhanger too, but it’s at that moment — just when we’re really starting to grasp the terrible challenge they face — that we hear somebody rattling the door handle, and the door opens, and guess what it’s Roxanne, and it’s still the middle of act 4.
So it turns out this is actually a scene about Roxanne, who’s upset with Sebastian for some reason. And then Barnabas and Julia have to go back to Collinwood to check on Maggie and Mrs. Johnson, and they get there and Maggie isn’t there, and in the final scene, we see Maggie walking through the woods and approaching the dark-robed form of the random vampire who we don’t even know who it is yet, which is exactly the same cliffhanger as three episodes ago, except it’s outside.
Tomorrow: The Burning Question.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
On Tuesday, Julia said that only Barnabas should watch over Maggie, because the vampire won’t have any power over him. Today, Barnabas rushes out of Maggie’s room twice, leaving Julia to watch her.
In act 1, as Barnabas is leaving Maggie’s room, someone in the studio coughs.
Barnabas asks Roxanne to tell Sebastian, “I’ll be on Cumberland Road at Rose Cottage, just outside of Collinsport.” But nobody knew that “the old McGruder place” was called Rose Cottage until about five minutes ago, and Sebastian wouldn’t know it.
When Roxanne opens the door and saves Barnabas and Julia from the flames, she keeps a fixed smile while the music cue plays. Then she ducks away, just a second too early for the transition to the next scene.
When Julia and Barnabas enter Collinwood, Julia says, “Oh, Barnabas, there’s no reason for you to come in. Oh, no, you come on up, and we’ll see how Maggie and Mrs. Johnson are, and then I’ll go to the Old House with you, and we’ll check on Daphne.”
Behind the Scenes:
This is Clarice Blackburn’s last episode on the series, and it ends with Mrs. Johnson lying on the floor, unconscious — not a super dignified end. Blackburn appeared in 79 episodes, from September 1966 to September 1970. While she doesn’t return to the series, she plays Mrs. Castle in the movie sequel, Night of Dark Shadows.
After Dark Shadows, Blackburn appeared on several soaps — The Secret Storm (1970), Where the Heart Is (1971-1973), One Life to Live (1973-1974), Somerset (1975-1976) and As the World Turns (1976-1978). She began writing episodes of As the World Turns as well, and eventually stopped acting and moved to writing full-time. She won two Emmy Awards for her work on All My Children, in 1985 and 1988.
In a morbid coincidence, Blackburn died on August 5th, 1995 — two weeks after the fictional date of Mrs. Johnson’s death (July 23rd, 1995).
Tomorrow: The Burning Question.
— Danny Horn