“I do hope he’s not becoming emotionally involved with anyone at Collinwood.”
Here it is, the climax of this epic tragedy: the love story of Barnabas Collins and the late Roxanne Drew. He’s followed her through three layers of paradox to arrive at this choice slice of cliffhanging: the zenith of all his mistakes, piled up on top of each other and ready to topple.
“You will never rest, Barnabas,” the witch spat back then, as she clutched the buckshot wound that he gave her as a wedding present. “And you will never be able to love anyone — for whoever loves you will die!”
And they have, one after another. Kill your darlings, they say, and he has — Josette and Rachel and Kitty and Vicki and Angelique and now, finally, Roxanne, the latest in every sense. He has what he always thought that he wanted — a daughter of Dracula, clad in a filmy shroud, ready to join with him for eternity in a casket built for two.
But it’s all gone wrong, somehow. It turns out a vampire vixen isn’t as sexy as everyone had hoped — instead, she’s a green-skinned witch of the west, hollow eyed and sallow cheeked, and she doesn’t seem to like him. The two predators square off in this shabby lighthouse, lightning flashing from their dark eyes, as the tension stretches to the breaking point.
And then Roxanne opens a door, and walks away.
You know, I was hoping to have a nice little picture at the top of the post there, showing Barnabas and Roxanne at war, but there isn’t a single two-shot in the entire sequence. That’s a blindingly weird choice, and it makes you wonder whether the directors remember that they’re shooting a television show. This is a standoff, a showdown, with the show’s lead character squaring off against his former love, with his best friend’s life hanging in the balance, and they refuse to show us where they are in relation to each other.
We don’t even see her enter the room. Barnabas is just leaning over Julia, and then he looks up and cries, “Roxanne!” And then we see her, green-faced and unhappy. Then he stands up, and talks to her, and then we see her, walking towards him — but not quite enough to get him in the frame. Then a close-up of him, and a close-up of her, and a really tight close-up of him just showing his eyes and nose, and a looser close-up of her that tightens into her eyes and nose, and then his, and then hers, and then she turns around and walks out the door. They could have filmed them on two completely different sets, or on different days, or not at all.
The directors are tired, I guess; I know that I am. And in a classic Dark Shadows power move, they don’t even do the obvious thing, which is to point a camera at the actors and show us a scene. They made the explicit decision to rehearse that blocking, and set up those shots, and ruin the show. Nobody knows where the drama is anymore; everyone is content to fritter the day away, five long days a week.
So I’m afraid this is going to be another one of those depressing “decline and fall” posts, which I warned you was going to happen a lot as we stumble through fall 1970, in search of a spring that never arrives. The writers are tapped out, putting one foot in front of the other as they present the uninspiring spectacle of some things we’ve seen a bunch of times before.
There’s a vampire bite in this episode, and some vampire hypnosis, and a vampire calling to her blood slave from way over on the other side of the studio. It turns out that the number of things that you can do with a vampire have been pretty comprehensively explored by this point. You wouldn’t think a vampire would have diminishing returns, but it does. That’s another one of those lessons that won’t do you much good, but now you’ve learned it, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Gordon Russell wrote today’s episode, and tomorrow’s, and two episodes next week and then three episodes the week after. There’s only two writers left, so if it’s not Gordon then it’s Sam, and vice versa. Joe Caldwell left the show in September, and they never got up the energy to replace him, so now Gordon and Sam are each writing two and a half episodes a week, which if you think it doesn’t sound so hard then you try it.
But if you recall the good old days when it actually mattered who wrote the episode, Sam was the writer who wrote interesting, literate dialogue, and Gordon was the one who kept the characters moving around the studio. His specialty was the tick-tock clockwork episodes, where characters moved purposefully from set to set, collecting plot tokens and then cashing them in at the end of the episode for an exciting cliffhanger. He presents each character with a complimentary FitBit at the start of the episode, and then the audience follows along as we count their steps. This one is one of those.
So Randall Drew is moping around Rose Cottage is the thing that’s happening, which is understandable under the circs but I get the feeling that he would be moping even if his sister hadn’t died a couple days ago, which she did. Some people are just born mopers.
“It’s very difficult for me to realize that she’s dead,” he tells Flora, and luckily for her, there’s a knock at the door, because how do you respond to a line like that. “I wonder who that could be,” she brightens, although pretty much anyone would be an improvement.
It’s Lamar Trask as it happens, a scolding undertaker and buttinsky who’s always on the lookout for other people’s lapses. You’d think an undertaker would be soft-spoken and reassuring, but Trask is the other kind. “I’d like to speak to Gerard Stiles,” he says, but Gerard isn’t in this episode, worse luck, so he gets Randall instead.
Flora tells Trask that Gerard isn’t there and she doesn’t know when he’ll be back, and instead of saying okay, I’ll check back later, he just moves further into the room and starts muttering dark speeches. This is typical Trask behavior.
“I do hope he’s not becoming emotionally involved with anyone at Collinwood,” he scowls, and when he’s asked what he means by that, he follows with, “An insidious evil has crept its way into that house! I am not at liberty at the moment to divulge its nature.”
Randall fumbles for a put-down. “Well, if you’re not at liberty to divulge it, why not — say anything at all about it?” he says, so thanks loads, Randall. People named Randall are always something of a disappointment.
Things devolve into a bit of a slap fight re: whether Quentin Collins is in league with the devil or not.
“Mr. Trask, I’ve had enough of your inflammatory nonsense!” fires Randall, and Trask shoots back with, “Inflammatory, is it! Well, I find that a curious charge coming from you, so soon after your dear sister’s untimely death.” This doesn’t seem to mean anything in particular. Trasks as a class are nonstop accusation generators, and occasionally they overheat.
Trask thinks that Roxanne was killed by an act of sorcery, which she absolutely was, so why we’re supposed to sympathize with Randall is anyone’s guess.
“I warn you,” Trask says, winding up for the big finish, “those who doubt the word of truth are only a shade less guilty than those who defile it!” And then he sweeps out of the room with a “that’s that” scowl all over his face.
So Trask goes off and tramps unhappily through the woods, and who does he run into but Elphaba herself. This is Roxanne’s bite scene, her big chance to earn a place in the female vampire fantasy bank, so it’s a shame they’ve decided to give her a sickly green skin condition that in my opinion is not a sexy look for her. The makeup is a signal that we don’t have to worry about Roxanne sticking around and becoming a main character; that is a three-episode staker if I ever saw one.
“Keep looking into my eyes,” she instructs, and presumably he does; it’s all close-ups again, and we’re expected to take the blocking on faith.
Randall and Flora have had dinner too, and she’s just about to usher her guest out of the house when Barnabas shows up, leading a sleepwalking Julia that he plans to park here for the duration. Julia’s lost a lot of blood, and she needs bed rest, plus a lot of blood. Ordinarily, Barnabas would take Julia to Collinwood, but everybody’s on the Rose Cottage set today, so he dumps her with Flora and then takes off for a doctor, without getting a baggage tag or anything.
One establishing shot of a clock later, Barnabas tells Randall that the doctor is taking care of Julia, who remains upstairs for the rest of the episode, polishing her skis. Randall asks if she’s going to be all right, and Barnabas groans, “That depends upon whether we can keep the person who attacked her away from her.”
Randall is puzzled, so Barnabas decides to confide. “I’m afraid there’s no gentle way of telling you this,” he says. “Roxanne has risen from the grave. It was she who attacked Julia!”
So that is just straight-up bad policy, encouraging the local Scully to believe in the undead. Barnabas’ precarious position as a totally normal guy who just happens to be busy during the day is based entirely on the care and feeding of logical explanation types like Randall. I’ve had to talk to Barnabas about this before, including some strong words in his last annual review.
Meanwhile, out in the woods, Roxanne is still informing Trask about his blood slave duties, a briefing which has apparently been going on long enough for Barnabas to dump Julia, get a doctor and have one and a half conversations. But there’s a complex relationship between time and location, which is characteristic of these tick-tock episodes. You can do time compression by cutting to another scene, or moving to a different place, or showing us a clock, but how much time passes depends on which plot token we’re collecting at the moment.
“I must leave you,” Roxanne says, “but you’ll be seeing me again, very soon. Everything is very different now, Lamar.” It’s not really as different as all that; we’ve seen this before, with sultrier vampires and tastier blood slaves.
Back at Rose Cottage, Randall says that it isn’t possible to return from the dead, but Barnabas is set on exposing himself to as much danger as possible.
“I am telling you what I saw with my own eyes!” he insists. “Roxanne died as the result of an attack by a vampire!” Which then the obvious question is, where did that vampire come from? I don’t know why Barnabas is working so hard at this, it’s not like Randall brings any skills or experience to the team. But in the tick-tock world, you use the materials you have on hand; the important thing is to keep the plot moving.
“There’s only one way that I could accept it,” Randall declares. “If I were to see her with my own eyes.” There’s a lot of eyes involved in this negotiation.
“I don’t know whether we’ll be able to find her tonight,” Barnabas admits, so why are you even talking to Randall? “But come with me, and I’ll show you that what I’ve told you is true.” And they rush out of the room, probably to get a specially-printed pamphlet on the subject of Vampires Are Real and Also I Am One.
Back from commercial break, we find that the lights are out in the Rose Cottage drawing room. The boys didn’t turn them off before they left, and Julia’s unconscious, so it must have been Flora, except the first thing that happens is that Flora walks in and turns them on again.
And what does she find? Lamar Trask, quietly trespassing on the couch, sitting in the dark and looking at nothing. He does not live here. Surprised, Flora says, “Why didn’t you say something?” He answers, “I’m sorry, I was meditating.” What?
She asks if he’s feeling all right, and he says, “Yes, of course,” and doesn’t go anywhere.
“I thought you were going home,” Flora says plaintively, her dreams shattered. “Why did you come back here?”
“I suddenly became very tired,” he says, so I guess he’s not feeling all right after all.
She feels his forehead. “I think you’re coming down with a fever. Let me take your temperature.”
He says, “No, I’m all right,” so that leaves us nowhere, “if I can just sit here for a moment.” He has no earthly reason for parking himself on this set, but he’s utterly determined to continue doing so, and he can fight it out on these lines all night long.
But Flora’s happy to have someone to talk to, because she’s had an epiphany: “I know now that those two attacks were not caused by natural means!” This is what happens when you walk in and out of a room a couple times; it clears your head. It’s called getting a change of scene.
And then, guess what? Barnabas and Randall come back in — you remember how they rushed out, earlier? well, they’re back — and Randall’s undergone an attitude adjustment himself. Whatever Barnabas showed him with his own eyes, it worked, and now he’s even gloomier and Droopy Doggier than he was before.
“You forget how well-read I am in the supernatural!” Flora announces, which I actually did forget; it hasn’t come up that much. “Those two scars on her neck — she was attacked by a vampire, wasn’t she?”
“Yes, she was,” says Randall, “as difficult as that is to believe.” Except now everybody believes it, apparently, and just in time. Barnabas took Randall on a field trip to Roxanne’s crypt, and the coffin was empty, therefore: vampires. If there’s anybody else who doesn’t currently believe in vampires, they can walk outside and then come back in, problem solved.
Entering the drawing room, they find Trask still sitting around being alternately ill and all right, so Barnabas does another lap around the track. He’s not ill, he’s only fatigued, he says; he just walked out of the house into the woods and then decided to come back.
So this is my point about Gordon Russell and the sad degradation of the clockwork episode. Gordon needs Trask to be here, post-bite, so that Roxanne can call him again, and Barnabas can realize he’s been vampire-bit. But back in the old days, when people cared, Gordon would have come up with at least a flimsy in-universe explanation for why Trask gets bitten, goes and sits somewhere that he doesn’t live, and then leaves again. Now they just openly admit that Trask came back because the light is better over here.
And why is Roxanne calling him, anyway? She had him out in the woods four scenes ago, and told him to go away. She said “you’ll be seeing me again very soon,” but we didn’t realize how soon that would be.
“I must be going,” Trask says. “It now appears that Gerard will be rather late, and I’m feeling very tired.” You can’t use “tired” as a reason to go home, you just used “tired” as a reason to sublet the couch.
So Trask goes to Roxanne’s crypt, where she wants to bite him again, but Barnabas and Randall followed him there, and it turns out we didn’t have to go through this whole experience in the first place, because the crypt is the place that Barnabas and Randall just were anyway.
Roxanne disappears, and Trask tries to go too, but Barnabas grabs him and tells him, “I’m not letting you out of my sight!” I have no idea why. Then Barnabas does some vampire hypnosis on him, right there in front of Randall and everybody. And then he says that Randall should stay and kill the vampire, while Barnabas takes Trask to the Old House.
“Aren’t you going to be here with me?” Randall asks, but Barnabas says, “Trask is under her spell; he will only hinder us!” but if he’s such a hindrance then why didn’t you let him run away thirty seconds ago, when he was trying to get out of your sight?
So we’re not even trying anymore, is what I’m saying, not Barnabas or Roxanne or Gordon or me. We’re going through the motions, repeating things that we’ve said and done before, because at a certain point there’s only so many ways to do a stake-the-vampire sequence.
Elphaba dies, and no one mourns the wicked. Dark Shadows spent four years defying gravity, but gravity has a tendency to reassert itself, eventually. Thank goodness.
Tomorrow: The Strange Goings-On.
Want to be part of the Night of Dark Shadows post?
The Night of Dark Shadows post is coming up on the next pre-emption day, and you’re invited! The comments have become a really important part of the blog, so I’d like to do a crowdsourced commentary on Dan Curtis’ 1971 feature film. All you have to do is watch the movie, write down your observations and send them to me at: Dannyhornmail at gmail dot com. Please don’t write a structured review, just brief thoughts as the movie goes on, and then I’ll stitch them together into a bizarre Frankenstein blog post that I’m excited to put together.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
At the end of act 2, as Barnabas and Randall leave the drawing room, the camera pulls back and briefly reveals the teleprompter.
Tomorrow: The Strange Goings-On.
— Danny Horn