“There’s nothing on earth that can keep us together, or apart!”
Well, here we go again. The legendary head of Judah Zachery has detached once more from the legendary neck, and is now on display in the bedroom of Gerard Stiles, who happened to have a severed-head display case in his closet, just gathering dust. This is why you shouldn’t throw anything away; you never know when you might need it. In fact, that’s pretty much the guiding principle of the show these days.
We’re currently deep in the 1840 storyline, which is basically a retread of previous Dark Shadows hits. Just in today’s episode, we see the following:
- Barnabas in love with a random ingenue;
- Julia and Barnabas standing around in the drawing room talking about their problems;
- an incandescent Angelique acting out against a romantic rival using voodoo and fire;
- the terrible consequences of Barnabas’ imprudent vampire activity;
- Trask proclaiming that Barnabas is in league with darkness, and scheming to expose and destroy him;
- and an inanimate object acting like it’s people.
But it’s not totally fair to blame them for returning to the old reliable, because that’s standard practice for serialized narrative in general, and daily soap operas in particular. You do some trial runs and chemistry experiments, and if the new thing doesn’t click, you go back to basics. In the endless revolving door of producers and head writers on long-running soap operas, this is called “focusing on the core families,” and they do it approximately every 18 months.
So for Dark Shadows, facing a dangerous drop in viewership, Dan and the writers do the sensible thing — returning to the eternal love quadrangle of Barnabas, Angelique, Julia and, choosing at random, Roxanne.
Indeed, if Quentin was still acting like Quentin, you’d have the full set of Dark Shadows kaiju today, stomping around the studio and taking all the good plot points. But Quentin’s been transformed into his own great-grand-uncle or whatever it is, another Rochester-esque wife-shouter who already has all the money and power that the real Quentin used to scheme for, and now he just wants to be left alone, to flirt idly with the governess.
So the role of sexy scoundrel plot-driver is being filled by Gerard, whose current project is to hoist the stalled Judah Zachery stunt spectacular back up onto its feet after it was driven into a ditch. So far, this prop-comedy warlock relic is responsible for several severe neck-twistings, a heart attack, some tomb-defiling, a Frankenstein-style spot of mad science, and the intentional withholding of a stack of borrowed newspapers, but all for naught; it’s still sitting serenely in a glass case with its eyes closed, unmoved by its failure to exit this storyline traffic circle. The best it’s been able to do over the last four weeks of afternoon television is to travel upstairs.
But Gerard’s got it now, and that means something important is going to happen. Gerard is the key to this storyline, the spectral puppet-master who shook all the dolls out of the dollhouse and pulled it down after them, back in the distant future of 1995. So it’s no surprise that this has turned out to be a game of hot potato, with Desmond tossing the legendary head to Leticia, who throws it to Julia, who blows it up in a cloud of lightning-struck ether, and it finally comes to rest in the hungry hands of Gerard.
He has all the icons of power now — the head, the mask, the journal — and most importantly, the audience’s attention. Gerard is taking Quentin’s place as the new fourth kaiju. If James Storm isn’t quite as charismatic as David Selby is, then that’s not his problem; you’ll have to take care of it on your end.
And then there’s the expendable Roxanne, who they’ll be expending over the next week or so. She’s engaged to be married to another guy, but really she loves Barnabas Collins, even though she hardly knows him, they have nothing in common, and he doesn’t even belong in this century. This is what she sounds like.
Roxanne: I love you, Barnabas!
Barnabas: Roxanne, please!
Roxanne: And you still love me, don’t you?
Barnabas: Roxanne, you must leave here now!
Roxanne: Oh, but if you still love me, we can conquer anything! There’s nothing on earth that can keep us together, or apart!
And he just stands there, looking into the madwoman’s eyes, and wondering why he keeps getting mixed up with these dippy broads.
And there is something on earth, after all, namely Angelique, who walks into the room and finds her demon lover kissing up on yet another Josette. Everywhere Barnabas goes, he finds someone that he’s currently destined to love for all time; I believe this is number eight, not counting ghosts and flashbacks. The name doesn’t really matter that much anymore. They’re just here so Angelique has someone to blame.
Roxanne stands her ground. “He’s never loved you,” she spits. “Never! He loves me, and I love him!” and the rest is mythology.
“Now, listen to me,” Barnabas says, as Angelique glares, and prepares to slam doors in his face. “You must not think that it’s anything more than a temporary emotional outburst.” It’s not super clear what he’s referring to, although the word “temporary” sounds appropriate.
Two slammed doors later, Barnabas tells Julia, “I don’t know what to do now.”
“The question is,” Julia asks, “what will she do?” and Barnabas says, “I don’t know.”
But of course they do, she’s done it a dozen times. The next thing you know, she’s sitting next to the fire, with a clay doll in her hand. “If you want Barnabas so desperately, my dear Roxanne,” she smiles, “then you shall have him… but only on my terms.” The doll can’t think of a single thing to say.
And it’s amazing how she conjures up these dolls so quickly, these days. She just walked into the drawing room, and there it was in her hands; she wasn’t even carrying a purse. There must be little clay dolls scattered all over the house, just in case someone needs one, next to the loaded gun and the bottle of sherry that the Collins family provides in every room, free of charge.
But they really do come in handy; I believe this is Angelique’s third voodoo spellcasting of the year. She cursed Jeb with a shadow in March, she spent most of May and June manipulating the Parallel Maggie and Quentin, and now it’s November, and there’s another doll in her hand. I guess some things never go out of style.
And Roxanne just lies down and dies, blood spurting from her lily-white neck. It’s astonishing how quickly they’re running through the Josettes these days; once they’ve made up their mind to take one down, it’s over within minutes. This is the kind of thing that they would have dragged out for a week, back in the old days of last year or so, or at least saved it until the end of the episode. All Roxanne gets is the second commercial break.
And then it’s back to Gerard, squabbling with his new roommate. “Tell me what the writing means in the journal!” he demands. “Tell me what is going on here!”
The head’s been moving the props around, juggling the mask and the journal, and upsetting Gerard. But the head is just fulfilling its purpose, same as Angelique’s doll, or Roxanne’s neck. A place for everything, and everything in its place, just like it ought to be.
This is classic Dark Shadows, all the usual ingredients mixed according to familiar recipes. These are the correct characters, doing what the audience likes to see them do — Barnabas, Julia, Angelique and (substitute) Quentin wandering around the great estate, antagonizing each other, yelling at props and ruining other people’s lives. If I was suddenly in charge of Dark Shadows in this period, that’s the first thing I’d advise.
But “traditional” Dark Shadows is pretty much beside the point; that’s not what this television show is built for. There needs to be something blindingly new in the mix for all of this nonsense to be worthwhile, and at least for today, there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before.
Tomorrow: You’re a Miranda.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In act 1, when Gerard turns to look at Judah’s head in the case, a studio light can be seen above.
In act 2, when Barnabas says, “Roxanne, you must leave here now; let me talk to her alone!” the camera pulls back, and there’s a brief glimpse of another camera on the left.
I cleaned up this quote above: what Barnabas really says to Angelique is, “Now, listen to me. You must not think that it’s anything more than an emotional — temporary emotional outburst.” Then he pleads, “You mustn’t do anything that we’ll, something that we’ll both be sorry for.”
Roxanne’s eyelids are still fluttering as Julia tells Trask, “She’s dead.”
Gerard reads aloud from the journal, but what he reads doesn’t match the words we see on screen.
Gerard demands, “Tell me what the reading — tell me — tell me what the writing said in the journal!”
There’s an ugly tape edit between Gerard and Trask’s scene, and Gerard’s entrance at Collinwood. There’s no explanation for why Gerard suddenly needs to see Leticia, so maybe there was another scene in the middle?
Tomorrow: You’re a Miranda.
— Danny Horn