“We cannot love at will, any more than we could prevent our love.”
Oh, it was such a good idea at the time.
When Dark Shadows went to 1795, the show discovered that they could shake up the soap by traveling back into the past, using the existing cast but dressing them up in old-time costumes, and giving them new names and storylines. It was a spectacular way to move forward, interrupting a story that didn’t have anywhere to go, and breathing new life into the premise. While they were in the past, they figured out that you could have more than one monster on the show at the same time, and once they came back to the present, they started piling them up in heaps.
Problem is, they’re now doing time travel for the fourth time, and it turns out giving everybody a new character name every six months doesn’t automatically refresh the show; you also need to think up some new storylines. In fact, traveling to another time means that it’s possible to rehash the same plot points with a freshly neuralyzed set of family members, and there’s nobody around to say, wait a minute, this already happened, fifty-seven years from now.
Well, live and learn, I suppose, although on this show, it’s more like live and die and come back to life and then learn the same stuff over again.
So we find ourselves in the abridged version of The Thwarted Vampire Hunt storyline from 1897, which occupied five weeks worth of episodes back in fall 1969 and takes maybe two episodes this time. Yesterday — was it only yesterday? it feels like two months ago — possessed pirate Gerard Stiles and his ward, Lamar Trask, smashed their way through the wall in the basement of the house of eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins and found the skeleton of Lamar’s dad, which proved that Barnabas is a vampire, which he is, even if that didn’t actually prove it.
Now, Gerard has returned to the house with a shootin’ iron loaded with silver, prepared to take the “un” out of the undead. He knows that Barnabas is sleeping in a box in the secret vault behind the bookcase, and he’s planning to make a withdrawal.
And then he’s there, impossibly: Barnabas Collins, awake in the afternoon. “Gerard!” he crows. “Looking for a book?”
It’s always a delicious moment, thwarting someone, and Barnabas knows exactly how to play it. He’s weaseled his way out of his vampire curse somehow, made an offering to some dark deity who watches over imperiled predators, and he’s snatched away Gerard’s moment of triumph, and now he’s rubbing it in by being unflappable and urbane, the hound.
“You’re standing right before me,” Gerard gasps, “in broad daylight!”
Barnabas affects a puzzled look. “Why do you think there’s anything unusual about that?”
“You know what’s unusual,” Gerard scowls. “Vampirism!” He thinks he’s still in the Hammer horror movie, and he’s the one holding the hammer; it hasn’t sunk in that they switched channels while he wasn’t looking.
“Vampirism?” Barnabas boggles. “Well, what on Earth makes you think that I’m a vampire?” He hasn’t offered Gerard a glass of sherry yet, but it’s hovering in the air.
“You know my answer to that, Barnabas,” Gerard growls, entering the final stage of the thwarting process.
“Well, as far as I understand it,” Barnabas chirrups, “vampires cannot survive during the daytime. And isn’t it also true that vampires’ images cannot be reflected in mirrors?” He takes a step toward Gerard, and smiles. “Would you like me to stand in front of a mirror for you?”
And this was going to be such a fun day for Gerard, too. He’s been possessed by a warlock from 1692, it’s taking forever to get his best friend executed, and this is the only thing he had to look forward to.
Cornered, Gerard takes refuge in his favorite pastime, which is garbling his lines. “So it’s obviously that you’ve had assistance from someone,” he says, “and if I find out –”
Barnabas smirks; he’s been waiting for this cue. “Of course I’ve had assistance!” he says, brightly. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have someone nearby, offering a kind hand.”
And then there’s that little bomp-bomp surprise music cue, as Angelique enters the room, completing the loop.
She’s freed Barnabas from his curse somehow, probably by sewing together a bunch of dead people, hooking them up to machinery and electronically transferring part of Barnabas’ elan vital into some half-formed mockery of a man, then letting it loose to prowl the night, to everyone’s lasting detriment. Or maybe she just waved a wand and clicked her heels together three times; the chronicles don’t specify.
“Did you want me, darling?” she says, and then she gives the guest a smile. “Why, Gerard!” she cries. “How nice to see you. Well, won’t you sit down?”
“Would you like some tea?”
“No, thank you.”
“Well, what about a glass of sherry? Although it is a bit early –”
So they swarm in, surrounding him, the last great kaiju convention, and the weird thing is that this isn’t a Gerard plot point.
The bomp-bomp surprise cue only works if Gerard understands that Angelique is a witch, and she’s the one who helped Barnabas escape. Drat, I hadn’t thought of that, he should be saying to himself, to make this a truly satisfying scene. But he doesn’t know that this is Angelique; he thinks that her name is Valerie. He’s kind of aware that she’s a witch, because he knows that she was casting a spell to discover who’s possessed by Judah, and he’s kind of aware that she looks a lot like Miranda from the 1690s, but they haven’t really made a point of it. Two weeks ago, he had a brief scene with her where they talked about Judah Zachery’s journal, but then Daphne interrupted them and Angelique left the room, and Gerard didn’t give Angelique another thought.
In yesterday’s episode, Gerard and Trask were in the basement speculating about Barnabas’ vampire past, but it was Trask who figured out that there was a witch named Angelique who was married to Barnabas, and like I said, Gerard doesn’t even know that this is Angelique.
Except that he does. “Your composure is beautiful!” he spits, at the enemy he doesn’t know that he has. “Enjoy it while you can, because I swear that this wonderful little gathering won’t be going on for long!”
It’s a Count Petofi scene, really, circa 865. This is a plot point from a time when everybody knows who everybody is, because they extended the storyline a few extra months and they’ve run out of aliases. In the parallel universe of this scene, Gerard sees Angelique walk in, and he instantly appreciates, as we do, the bittersweet irony of the scenario. And, in that cloud-cuckoo otherworld of story logic where this scene apparently takes place, Barnabas, Julia and Angelique are fully aware that they’ve foiled their arch-enemy, instead of — as things really are, on ABC-TV’s Dark Shadows — just confused one of Quentin’s friends.
And the weird thing is, I’m not sure whether Gordon and Sam can even remember at this point which character knows who’s a time-traveling witch and who isn’t. They don’t sweat the small stuff in late-stage Dark Shadows.
Gerard exits, and then it’s time for some fantastic but entirely unearned fanservice for all the Barnabas and Angelique shippers.
“Angelique,” Barnabas begins, “when I came to you for help, I knew you would want something in return. You didn’t tell me, then. Tell me now what you expect.”
“I expect nothing!” she announces, determined as always to surprise everyone she talks to. “For once in my life, there is no price.” And she sticks to that story, all the way through a withering burst of skepticism from Julia. Angelique loves Barnabas, apparently, with a true and unselfish love that only makes sense if she remembers the last two years of storylines, which they’ve specifically made clear that she doesn’t.
This iteration of Angelique comes direct from 1795, having spent the last forty-five years drifting in circles and waiting for Barnabas to wake up. She didn’t follow Vicki to the twentieth century, she doesn’t know about Adam or Roger or Dr. Lang. She didn’t bite Joe Haskell, she didn’t fight a phoenix, and she didn’t marry Sky Rumson. She doesn’t remember any of the experiences that would lead her to this tender reawakening of simple, unselfish love.
Except she does. “Barnabas, I don’t expect you to believe me,” she says, “not after all we’ve been through. I have only myself to blame. Only myself.”
“Angelique, you are extraordinary,” he sighs. “I’ve seen you play this scene before, many times, but I have to confess that I’ve never been so convinced.” I agree with him, it’s a good scene, and it’s nice to have a little reminder that Dark Shadows can put a couple together that I care about. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that this was dropped from a passing helicopter, stolen from a storyline that I wish we’d been watching, instead of whatever actually happened over the last month.
He shakes his head. “Spare me the charade,” he says. “You do not love me, Angelique! You only want power over me.”
“Well, then, why would I lift your curse?” she says, the big blue eyes doing their stuff. “You’re free of me now. I have no hold over you. Barnabas, I did want you for myself, but rather than see you dead, I would see you free of my power — and free of me.”
And he is free now, free of conflict and complications and storyline requirements. If Barnabas isn’t a vampire, then Lamar Trask has no hold over him, and the Roxanne story is over. If Angelique isn’t threatening him, then he has no romantic story thread, either. And as he and Julia demonstrated yesterday, he has no idea that Gerard is possessed by Judah Zachery, so he doesn’t have a lot to offer there either. They have nerfed him completely.
If he’s not in danger from Gerard and Trask, and Julia’s not in danger from Angelique, then I think the only thing that Barnabas specifically cares about is Quentin’s witchcraft trial. Maybe that’s why they want him in daytime scenes, so he can show up at the courtroom and defend Quentin. Oh, dark lord, I think they’re planning to turn Barnabas into Peter Bradford.
“I believe you, Angelique,” he says. “I cannot say that I love you, but — I understand your love, for the first time since you came here from Martinique.”
“Does that make any difference?”
Barnabas looks thoughtful, and pained. “I don’t know,” he says. And it does make a difference, eventually, but they’re not going to put a lot of time into it. I’m afraid, just like in the last post, that I have another episode-guide gut punch to deliver, namely: we don’t see Barnabas and Angelique in the same room together for another six weeks. They both stay on the show and participate in the current storylines, but they don’t have an episode together until well into January, at which point it’s entirely too late.
This really has been a wonderful little gathering, getting Barnabas and Angelique and Julia and Gerard all in the same room together, a last little assortment of interesting scenes. Enjoy it while you can, as Gerard said, because it won’t be going on for long.
Tomorrow: This Place Is Not a Place of Honor.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Julia opened the door at the end of yesterday’s episode, Gerard said, “Well, Julia, that’s some — some answer. Did I frighten you?” In the recap today, he says, “Well, that’s some frightening welcome, Julia. What’s the matter, did I frighten you?” I wonder what the actual line was supposed to be.
Gerard tells Barnabas, “So, it’s obviously that you’ve had assistance from someone.”
I cleaned up the quote in the post, but what Gerard really says to Angelique is, “Your composure is beautiful! Take it while you can. Enjoy it while you can, because I swear this wonderful little gathering won’t be going on for long!”
Tomorrow: This Place Is Not a Place of Honor.
— Danny Horn