“Whatever they know, I’m afraid it’s a great deal more than we care to imagine.”
You know, people say that Dark Shadows storytelling is slow, but just look at Gerard and Lamar; it was only yesterday that they even thought of looking for secrets in Ben Stokes’ diary, and now here they are, all the way downstairs in someone else’s house, tearing into the architecture.
“It was during the witchcraft trial,” Ben wrote improbably, “that the Reverend Trask made his last trip to the Old House. He made the mistake of finding the secret in the basement.” Upon reading this, Lamar Trask remembered hearing something bumping behind a brick wall a few weeks ago, and less than one minute later, he and Gerard have broken and entered the Old House, stormed to the cellar, and banged on a brick wall with a hammer and chisel, and now — ta-dah! — they’ve uncorked it, the co-star of The Cask of Amontillado.
And here he is, the Reverend Trask in skeleton form, hanging on a hook behind a pile of bricks, just like he was when they unveiled him last time, in spring 1968. I don’t know how many times they’re planning to unimmure the same guy; at a certain point, you ought to just leave him upstairs in a glass case and charge admission.
So this is hardly proof of anything in particular, at least insofar as the 1840 storyline is concerned. Gerard and Lamar are already pretty sure that Barnabas is a vampire even before this sudden spelunking mission; that’s the reason they wanted to read the diary in the first place. What we’re about to see is a string of unfounded conclusions based on perfunctory and anachronistic evidence, each one perfectly correct.
They manage to tear down a large chunk of the scenery before they notice him, by the way; they’ve removed every single brick from the ceiling to the bottom of the skeleton’s bikini area before Lamar gasps, “At last I’ve found my father’s burial place!” which, yeah, you did, probably more than an hour ago. I don’t know what it is about that specific brick that gets the scene started.
“Yes,” Gerard agrees, “if we can only be sure it’s him!” He dips into the skeleton’s pocket — the skeleton’s wearing a cape, obviously, you know how it is with skeletons — and comes up with a folded-up piece of paper.
“So it’s true!” Lamar declares, without looking at the note. “Barnabas Collins killed my father!” Because I guess only Barnabas wrote things on paper? That note could be anything.
But never have there been two people who are so right on the basis of so wrong. Here’s the note.
My dear Reverend Trask,
If you want to know who is responsible for all of the recent attacks, and for the death of Abigail Collins, go to the cellar of the Old House — but only after dusk. Do not let Ben Stokes stop you from seeing the master of the house, for he will be there, and unless you go, he will live forever.
Which is clearly a forgery; this is probably one of those Russian bots you hear about. Back in 1796, there wasn’t any such thing as this note, and why would there be? Angelique couldn’t have cared less about Reverend Trask. The only time she took any notice of Vicki’s witch trial was the day she turned up dead in court and did the opposite of this note. Besides, she was a ghost at the time, and could have spoken to him spectrally if she wanted to get his attention.
In fact, that’s what Barnabas did, when he lured Trask to the basement all by himself, delivering his message through a series of ghoulish pranks, including blood running down a mirror, a huge disembodied hand floating around, a dead lady on the bed, and finally Abigail herself, directing Trask to get to the Old House and learn the secret of the witch.
Then Barnabas left Trask the following written message:
“The wind will speak his name, and the clock will chime the hour. But ere it strike again, he will know the darkness of the tomb. He will beg for the darkness of death itself. If you would know his name, listen to the wind.”
This didn’t mean anything in particular. Then Barnabas bricked him up behind a wall and forgot all about him.
But if Gerard found that note, it would have done him and the storyline no favors at all; we’d have a whole episode where he was listening to the wind, which would leave us precisely nowhere.
Besides, the only thing anyone remembers is the bricking, not the correspondence. People are very good at remembering visually interesting things, and very bad at pretty much everything else. We saw last week that the people at Gold Key Comics consider this to be pretty much the only story point that they expect us to recognize. The 1991 show did the Trask bricking too, and they didn’t even do Angelique’s curse right.
But let’s cross-reference the pretend note and the make-believe diary, put the episode guide in the wood chipper and see what happens.
“Let me see the date on this,” Trask says, which if there was a date on it, why didn’t he say so when he was reading it. “Yes! The date on this note is the same day as the entry in the diary that Ben tells of the appearance of the witch in the court!”
Which it wasn’t, it was seven episodes later, and this isn’t really a diary, it was a journal that Ben wrote after the fact, and besides, why would it be significant that Trask was killed on the same day that Angelique appeared in court? Are they suggesting that Trask died before the trial was over, and if so, why? What’s going on around here?
“The witch!” Trask muses. “A… Angelique? Angelique was Barnabas’ mother. Or, better still — what if Angelique and the witch are one and the same? Then Angelique wouldn’t be Barnabas’ mother — she would be his wife!” Which also doesn’t follow, because Angelique could have been Barnabas’ wife even if she wasn’t the witch. The key question isn’t whether Angelique was immortal, it’s whether Barnabas was immortal. Is anybody still following me on this?
Gerard has a point of order. “But if she were his wife, why would she betray him to your father?”
“It doesn’t matter!” Trask snarls, and if that’s his attitude, then I don’t know why he brought it up. “Barnabas Collins is a vampire — and he was married to a witch! Oh, it’s so clear to me now!” That makes one of us.
So I don’t know what to make of all that. Plot-wise, the only thing that they needed, down here among the dead men, was to find some confirmation that Barnabas is a vampire, a goal which they have absolutely not achieved in any way.
And then Trask asks if Gerard’s ever seen Barnabas in the daylight, a very good point that he could have made several hours ago, in a nice warm drawing room when they weren’t covered in brick dust.
That’s a long way around the block to not really confirm a piece of information that they already figured out yesterday, so it’s hard to parse this mystifying sequence.
Barnabas has been absent from the show for weeks, finally turning up last Thursday to pretend that he has something to do with Quentin’s witchcraft trial. That lasted for the space of one scene, at which point he got distracted by something else.
Yesterday, from a standing start, Trask suddenly decided that he wished he could get Barnabas beheaded for witchcraft, and then they fast-forwarded through a discussion with Flora, stealing and reading Ben’s diary, the unbricking and now the note, arriving at the unwarranted conclusion that Barnabas is a vampire in less than an episode.
It’s odd, because they had plenty of time to do all this last week, when we were getting bored by Quentin’s trial. They could have stretched this out over a couple of cliffhangers, as Gerard and Trask approach the shocking discovery of Barnabas’ curse in something more like real time. They definitely would have done it that way six months ago, back when there were three people on the writing staff and they had five minutes to think about where the story was going. But it’s just been Sam and Gordon since September, typing furiously and trying to remember what the characters are called. Plus, they weren’t sure when Grayson Hall was coming back.
But that’s the good news, at the top of the stairs and at long last: Julia Hoffman, back on Dark Shadows. Grayson took a plastic vacation three weeks ago, firming up her eyebags and leaving us minus a main character. Now it turns out she’s been sitting through all those trial scenes, too.
“Then there is hope,” Barnabas says, launching into a conversation mid-stream. I’m not sure what he’s supposed to be responding to, because we saw him in the drawing room alone, and now they’re playing the opening-door sound effect, which means Julia just walked in. Maybe she texted him on the way.
“Yes,” Julia agrees. “It’s going to be a long and grueling trial, but there is hope. Oh, there must be!” Well, at least we’re watching the same show.
“And what about Collinwood?” Barnabas asks, and hooray, they’re reviewing the case. I used to hate those scenes back in 1967 where Burke and the Sheriff would sit around and talk about stuff we already knew, but Barnabas and Julia are talking to each other. I’ll take it. “How is everything there, now that Gerard is in charge?”
“Well, Gerard has somehow managed to keep everything going very smoothly,” Julia says, referring to I don’t know what. “Barnabas, maybe we’ve misjudged him. Maybe he won’t become what we expect him to be. Or maybe there’s some kind of overall plan that we’re not aware of, something that we haven’t anticipated.”
She sighs. “I’ve never wished to be wrong about anything before, but oh, how I long to be wrong about Gerard!”
So that’s a fascinating little turn of the screw, which threatens to destabilize this entire storyline. Barnabas and Julia stumbled into the nineteenth century three months ago, specifically to track down Gerard and get him to not become an evil ghost pirate who they are absolutely certain will be responsible for unleashing a plague of zombies and destroying the ABC daytime schedule. Now they appear to be more concerned about Quentin’s witchcraft trial, and Julia’s willing to give Gerard the benefit of the doubt, because of what exactly? Because dinner is served on time?
But they manage to get it together by act 3, where they have a good old-fashioned circular melodrama scene, where they take turns pretending that they’re sure about something.
Barnabas: But why would they want to see that diary? They must be on to something. But what? And just how incriminating can that diary be?
Julia: Barnabas, I don’t know, but when you knew that Flora was devoting so much of her time to vampirism in her book, you should have known, Barnabas!
Barnabas: Not necessarily.
Which is gorgeous. Nobody can do a “But what?” followed by a “Not necessarily” like Jonathan Frid can, with complete conviction on both ends of the seesaw.
Barnabas: Ben knew the truth about me, but nobody else suspected that, so how could they know to look for it?
Julia: I don’t know.
Barnabas: But they did look for it.
And they’re back to starting positions.
Barnabas: Whatever they know, I’m afraid it’s a great deal more than we care to imagine.
Julia: Oh, Barnabas, what can they find? Oh, they can find things about the trial, of course, and Angelique, and you.
Barnabas: They will think Barnabas is my father.
Julia: Yes, of course they will, we hope they will. What else? Oh!
Barnabas: What is it?
Julia: Oh, I’ve just had a terrifying thought!
So that’s why we have Barnabas and Julia on the show, because somebody needs to have terrifying thoughts, and these two are the masters of making even the silliest lines sound urgent and dramatic.
Then they do something very dangerous: they block a shot in which Grayson Hall is facing away from the camera. She takes her revenge by completely blowing her line.
Barnabas: I assure you, Julia, Ben would never betray my secret, no part of it!
Julia: Oh, Barnabas, I want to believe that. Oh, Barnabas, I do believe it! But listen, Barnabas, suppose — suppose there’s something — some little, innocent — something that will give them a clue to what’s going on!
Things become even more urgent and exciting.
Julia: Barnabas, please, please go away. There’s no point in waiting here to try to figure out what they might find out. Go away, Barnabas!
Barnabas: Julia, I’m not going away and you know it!
Julia: Why not?
Barnabas: Because we came here to accomplish something! We mustn’t run away until we make it happen… if we can.
Julia: Barnabas, I won’t be running away. I’ll stay here, until all this passes, and then you can come back, oh, Barnabas, please go!
Barnabas turns, and gives her his earnest scowl.
Barnabas: Julia, I will never leave you behind. You know that! And you know you won’t come with me, so we will both stay!
Julia pauses, and there’s a moment where the light hits her earrings just right, and we can see that they look like two tiny versions of her old hypno-medallion, still casting its spell.
“All right, Barnabas,” she sighs. “We will stay. And I’ll help you.” Then she looks up. “Help you do what? What will we do?”
“I just don’t know,” Barnabas says, and he looks into the distance as he turns into a clock, and another scene starts somewhere else.
So they both stay, but at a terrible cost. Barnabas Collins and Julia Hoffman will remain on our TV screens for the next six weeks, until the end of the 1840 story, but they’ll have almost no scenes together. They’ve got another thrilling little moment tomorrow, but that’s all; after that, they appear separately. Basically, they switch off being the main character — Julia for three episodes, then Barnabas for three, and then it’s Julia’s turn again, all the way to 1198, when the story draws to a close.
I didn’t realize this was coming, until I saw a note on the Dark Shadows Wiki about tomorrow’s episode, and it’s a real punch in the gut. I’m sorry to everybody who’s following along with the show to deliver that blow myself, but I can’t write about how great these two are, without acknowledging that this is pretty much how it ends.
“Then there is hope,” Barnabas said ten minutes ago, as we cowered in the basement.
“Yes,” Julia replied. “It’s going to be a long and grueling trial, but there is hope. Oh, there must be!”
Tomorrow: This Wonderful Little Gathering.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Gerard says, “Ben worshipped Barnabas, and he would do everything to protect him.” Trask agrees, “Yes, there never was a more diverted – devoted servant.”
Trask reads, “Do not let Ben Stokes stop you from seeing the master of the house.” A minute later, looking directly at the note, Gerard reads, “Do not let Ben Stokes stop you from shhh- going to the master of the house.” Dude can’t even get his lines right when he’s reading them off a piece of paper.
Carrie stumbles on a line: “Did you and Mr. Trask tay my — take my grandfather’s diary?”
Gerard snaps at Carrie, “Now will you stop acting like a little — precautious child!” Later, Carrie complains to Julia that Gerard called her a “precocious child”. It’s not really much of an insult either way.
When the scene shifts from Carrie in the Collinwood drawing room to Barnabas at the Old House, you can hear Julia hurrying over to the Old House set to start the scene.
Julia says, “Barnabas, please, please go away.” Barnabas starts to begin his next line — “Julia–” — but she heads him off. “Yes, yes, there’s no point in waiting here to try to figure out what they might find out. Go away, Barnabas!” Then Barnabas responds with, “Julia, I’m not going away and you know it!”
When Gerard approaches the bookcase, he touches a row of books, which all move as one — obviously fake and all the same piece. Then Barnabas’ entrance comes about three seconds too late, so Gerard has to stand there and stroke the bookcase until Barnabas interrupts him.
Gerard told Trask that he’d go to the Old House first thing in the morning, but when Barnabas shows up, he says it’s two in the afternoon. In tomorrow’s episode, when Julia talks to Gerard in the Collinwood foyer, she’ll refer to this scene taking place in the morning.
And this isn’t a blooper, more a point of order: Trask uncovers his father’s corpse in the Old House basement, and he shows absolutely no interest in recovering the remains and giving it a proper Christian burial. All he cares about is the note. Also, Gerard and Trask’s method of making sure that nobody ever finds about the skeleton is to move a wardrobe in front of the hole.
Tomorrow: This Wonderful Little Gathering.
— Danny Horn