“I don’t know what is happening inside you, but it is evil.”
“Witchcraft!” cries Barnabas. “Of course I’ll help Quentin, I’ll do anything I can.”
He seems utterly shocked by the idea that Quentin’s been accused of witchcraft, even though everyone’s been talking about it for weeks. I know the dude only works nights, but seriously, how are you this out of touch? What have you and Julia been doing all this time?
I mean, I was under the impression that Barnabas Collins and Julia Hoffman were the stars of this television show. They’re the ones who traveled all the way back in time from 1970 to 1840, in order to solve the mystery of why the scowling spirit of Gerard Stiles wanted to destroy Collinwood and kill all their friends. They’ve seen the destruction that Gerard is destined to unleash — the madness, the property damage, the hallway full of zombies — and they know that their only chance of handling this calamity is to catch the next stairway to the mid-19th and personally avert it. But they’ve had boots on the ground since late September, and here it is December and I don’t think they’re any closer to their goal than they were at the start. The best thing you can say is that they’ve gotten over their jet lag; that’s pretty much their only achievement to date.
They started strong; I’ll give them that. They suspected Gerard, they tried to keep Daphne away from Collinwood, and generally participated and took an interest in things.
In fact, for a while, they were on the track of the actual villain, the previously-deceased two-parter Judah Zachery. Back when Judah’s huge and headless body was roaming the woods, hunting for governesses with sonar, Barnabas was one of the guys chasing around after it, while Julia went to Bedford to look for clues in old newspapers.
And then Julia was hypnotized by Judah’s legendary head, which was the correct role for a main character. It brought her back to her mad science roots, performing strange and unholy experiments by night in a basement crypt, right in the center of the action. If you wanted plot development, you needed to go through Julia to get it.
But then it all went wrong, somehow. The crypt burned down with Judah’s body inside it, freeing Julia from the spell, and Barnabas and Julia decided that the threat must be over, and there was nothing more to do. They were still stuck in 1840 and I suppose they still had some questions about Gerard and Daphne, but that was pretty much the end of their involvement. A few episodes went by with the legendary head hypnotizing Gerard, and Barnabas and Julia missed it entirely. They had no idea Judah continued as an active force in the narrative. They still don’t.
In fact, since early November, they’ve been sidetracked in their own three-person storyline cul-de-sac, hardly paying attention to the outside world at all. Barnabas decided he was in love with a random girl, a typical side quest for him, and then Angelique showed up and decided to pose as his wife so she could live at Collinwood and make him miserable. He insisted he was in love with Roxanne, so Angelique turned Roxanne into a vampire and kidnapped Julia, triggering a couple weeks of frenzied captures, escapes and vampire bites. This kept everyone busy and was fun to look at, but meanwhile, Quentin, Daphne and Gerard set up a radioactive mansion-destroying love triangle that was exactly the kind of thing Barnabas and Julia should have been spending their time investigating.
And then there was the dreaded eyelift, which removed Julia from the show for three weeks. Gerard — who was entirely possessed by dead wizards, at this point — was starting to assert himself in the direction of killing Collinses, and Julia was just on the verge of putting two and two together, when Grayson Hall decided she wasn’t happy with the bags under her eyes and took an unauthorized surgical vacation. And that pretty much took the main characters out of the storyline entirely.
The problem, really, is that Barnabas and Julia came to 1840 together, more or less, which means that they weren’t forced to rely on other characters as allies. In 1897, Barnabas was flying solo, so he had to recruit Sandor and Magda as buddies and blood slaves, which gave him somebody to talk to and a natural stake in other people’s storylines. In Parallel Time, he was connected to Will and Carolyn, and at the beginning of this 1840 adventure, Julia was assisted by Ben Stokes.
But then Barnabas joined her, which meant it was okay for Ben to get his head ripped off and die. Barnabas didn’t need to bite any of the locals to keep people away from his coffin, because Julia was there to protect him during the day. She had him and he had her, and Angelique came in as the spoiler, and the three of them were allowed to drift off into their own little story world.
While Julia’s been away, Barnabas hasn’t had anything to do or anyone to talk to. He’s only bothered to show up once in the last two weeks, and all he did was try to talk Daniel into forgiving Quentin, which didn’t even work.
So I have to say, it’s a relief to see Barnabas showing up three-quarters of the way through an episode, expressing concern about something pertinent. Desmond is signed up to represent Quentin at the upcoming witchcraft trial, which is the front-burner storyline and something that Barnabas needs to attach himself to.
Unfortunately, Desmond and Barnabas both agree that Lorna Bell and Mildred Ward were murdered remotely via magic spells, which is not good brand positioning for the defense. In a witchcraft trial, the place you want to start is by telling people that there’s no such thing as witchcraft. That’s pretty much square one. Admitting that evil warlocks exist, but your client doesn’t happen to be one of them, doesn’t leave you a lot of room to run.
“He certainly had reason to kill the jailer’s wife; she was an open enemy,” Desmond huffs. “Why did Quentin have to always dabble in the occult?” I assume this isn’t an excerpt from his opening statement.
Barnabas shoots him a perceptive look. “Gerard Stiles is a very clever man,” he observes, pointing himself straight at the target.
“You think so and I think so,” Desmond moans, “if only Quentin did. Bring me proof, he asks! Bring me proof that Gerard Stiles is behind all this!”
And bless his tiny cold heart, Barnabas knows the right response. “Then we shall have to find that proof,” he says, as the scene cross-fades to a fireplace. “Won’t we?” Then he gives Desmond a meaningful look.
This is the right stuff at last, the hero of the story pledging to battle the evil wizard, and rescue the handsome prince from his tower. Now we’re getting somewhere.
And then it falls apart, one scene later. Desmond’s gone by now, but Barnabas is still standing around in the Rose Cottage drawing room, drawing a paycheck and not doing a thing.
“I’m writing a book on poor dear Roxanne, you know,” Flora says, which puts the kibosh on any meaningful story progression. Flora doesn’t want to talk about useful things like Gerard and the witchcraft trial; she wants to talk about Roxanne rising as a vampire, which is exactly the spin cycle Barnabas has been trapped in for weeks. He was just about to merge back into traffic, and she’s decided to set herself up as his personal speed bump.
So they end up hosting an unnecessary seance to contact Roxanne, dragging her back on screen long after I thought we were finally rid of her. I don’t think a single person requested a return engagement for this specific subplot, but here we are, ending an episode with Roxanne ready to spill the beans on who vamped her, which we already know and were hoping to forget.
They used to be so good at this, figuring out what the audience wanted to see and delivering it with pinpoint accuracy. The best characters stayed on screen, and their concerns drove the action. If Barnabas and Julia didn’t care about something, then it didn’t matter, and if one of them disappeared, then the other would move heaven and earth to find their missing half and drag them back to center stage, where they belonged.
At least we’ve got Gerard, who’s pure box office and is currently the only reason the show still has a beating pulse. But if they insist on keeping Barnabas, Julia and Angelique in a bottle, then there’s only so much one man can do.
“I don’t know what is happening inside you,” Barnabas says, grabbing Angelique and paying no attention to anything else, “but it is evil, and I am determined to find out what it is — even if I have to go to the gates of Hell!”
“You may have to do just that, Barnabas,” she snaps, and as far as the writers are concerned, we can all go to Hell as well. And so we shall.
Tomorrow: In the Haze of History.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
After Roxanne appears at the seance, Leticia’s voice is picked up by Roxanne’s mic, which makes Leticia’s lines get the same echo effect as Roxanne’s.
When Barnabas gets up from the seance table to light the lamp, the camera swings too high, and you can see the top of the set.
In act 1, there’s a gap in Flora’s dialogue: “If there is another –, I will find her.”
Barnabas informs Angelique, “Angelique has — Roxanne has identified you!” Then he says, “Flora has written a book on vampirism”; what he means is that she’s currently writing a book. He also says that Roxanne’s spirit entered Leticia’s body, but Roxanne spoke for herself.
When Angelique scoffs at Barnabas’ warning, the camera pulls back too far and reveals the edge of the set, including a video monitor and a studio clock.
Angelique bobbles a word when she talks to Gerard: “Remember you told me once about a journal written by a nan — a man named Judah something or other.”
This one is beautiful: when Daphne tells Gerard, “Tad’s gone to bed, and that would mean leaving him alone,” you can hear footsteps in the studio. “Isn’t it amazing,” Gerard frowns, “how empty this house has become, since I’ve moved in here.” Then more footsteps.
Tomorrow: In the Haze of History.
— Danny Horn