“You and he have always been in league with one another!”
“Trask held you prisoner?” says Quentin, from his prison cell.
“Yes,” answers time-traveling eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins, who is acting in Quentin’s defense. “He forced me at gunpoint into an alcove in the basement of his chapel, and he bricked up the alcove, and left me there to die.”
Quentin is astonished. “But why didn’t you tell the judge what he had done?”
“Because I chose not to!” declares Barnabas, proving once again that he is essential — not just to Dark Shadows, but to our quality of life in general.
Today is December 31st, 1970 — a date that, according to many observers, may be said to truly mark the end of 1970, and the beginning of 1971. This is the end of that magic week between Christmas and New Year’s, when everyone’s home from school and Dark Shadows might be able to pick up some lapsed viewers. They spent most of the week presenting furious recap, trying to get everyone up to speed on the current tangle of storylines, and they cap it off with the tried-and-true gimmick of releasing Barnabas from someplace, and then standing around and looking smug about it.
And it works, as it always does, because Jonathan Frid has the weird mix of gravitas, charisma and the ability to surprise that makes him, in his stronger moments, impossible to ignore. He can deliver a response like “Because I chose not to!” and the audience will say, okay, I guess that covers it. I’m glad we cleared that up.
Strangely, Barnabas has been taking a back seat in this story since early November, lost in a little three-person storyline cul-de-sac with Angelique and Julia, while Quentin, Daphne, Gerard and their associates spun up this whole complicated witchcraft trial. In fact, Quentin was in jail for over a week before Barnabas even heard about it. He hasn’t been involved in the trial in any way. In fact, last week, Lamar Trask forced him at gunpoint into an alcove in the b. of his c., and he bricked up the alcove, and left him to die.
But here, at this turning point in American jurisprudence, as Trask concludes his testimony for the prosecution about the unexplained death of several cows: in strides Barnabas Collins, special guest star and counsel for the defense.
And this is an interesting moment, which demonstrates that scene construction is more important than logic or sense. There is absolutely no reason why Barnabas showing up at this moment should save the day in any way. As the prosecutor immediately points out, Barnabas is not a lawyer, and has no special skills in this area. He doesn’t even really understand this storyline.
But they gave him an absurd but thrilling two-minute build-up at the end of the last episode, which is repeated at the top of today’s.
When Trask finishes his testimony, the judge asks if Quentin wishes to cross-examine, and Quentin says that it would be better if the cross-examination were handled by his counsel.
“I was under the impression, Mr. Collins,” the judge drawls, “that you were unable to find counsel.”
“Then I gave the court the wrong impression, your honor!” Quentin declares, which is the same kind of line as “Because I chose not to!” — irrational, unhelpful, and yet somehow deeply satisfying.
Then they kind of kick the idea around the room for a minute, with Dawson jumping up to proclaim, “It is obvious that this man is up to some form of trickery, that can cause no good to any of us.” And Quentin says “your honor, I assure you there is no trickery on my part.” Personally, I would like it if they kept saying the word “trickery” in every sentence for the rest of the episode, but we live in a fallen world.
The effect of all this is to build up to a big entrance, with royal guards and flower girls all singing “Hail, hail, Freedonia, land of the brave — and — free!” and then looking at the door expectantly.
And when the door opens, in comes that impossible man, Barnabas Collins, magically released from his fatal confinement, healthy and smiling, without even a hint of brick dust on his impeccable lapels.
They don’t explain how he managed to get out of his brick wall predicament; that happened off-screen while we were all reading Dreams of the Dark.
Later, when Barnabas is chilling in the cooler with Quentin, he says, “I didn’t think I was going to get out, but finally, Valerie and Julia found out where I was.” That’s it, that is the entire resolution to that week-long story thread. If you recall the end of episode 1177, we left Angelique and Julia standing, puzzled, on the street near Trask’s chapel, with the ghost of Roxanne moping helplessly by the bricked-up alcove.
Apparently, while we weren’t watching, Julia and Angelique a) figured out where Barnabas was, b) got inside Trask’s chapel, c) went down to the basement, d) broke the wall down using a sledgehammer, a chisel, a drill and a couple pairs of work gloves and safety glasses, e) broke the manacles off Barnabas using some kind of bolt cutter, and f) effected their escape, without Trask or anyone else noticing that it happened.
Did you expect that they would dramatize a complicated jewel heist/rescue operation like that? Then the show gave you the wrong impression!
And so, by the powers vested in him by the state of confusion and the element of surprise, Barnabas crashes into the courtroom, and everybody acts like this is a game changer that will blow the case wide open. And maybe it will, you never know.
“Actually, your honor,” Barnabas says, as Trask folds inwards and tries to disappear, “the defense would welcome a brief postponement, in order to more fully acquaint itself with the case.” Look, it’s already referring to itself in the third person; this lawyer thing is going to be a breeze.
“You’re telling me,” Quentin says, “after Trask what… what he did to you, you’re willing to let him go free?”
“For the moment, yes,” Barnabas answers.
“In heaven’s name, why?”
The counsel for the defense decides that this is an opportune time to walk three steps away from the person he’s talking to, and look in the other direction.
“Quentin,” he says, “you are under trial for your life.”
“That is the important consideration for us right now,” he continues, as he settles in a location that has not been mutually agreed upon with the lighting designer. “I can tell you that… that Trask… with has an act of revenge.”
“Barnabas, I don’t understand,” says Quentin, and I don’t blame him; this is some version of attorney-client privilege that doesn’t include the client.
“I’ve read the transcript of Trask’s testimony for the prosecution,” Barnabas claims. “If it stands, then… you are going to have a disaster.” He starts shuffling papers. “Now, I want you and I, right now, to go over this in detail, and find out how it can be broken down tomorrow.” Then he points at something on the paper, and shows it to Quentin, which is adorable.
And then the very next thing that happens is that Barnabas goes to the witness’ house and apparates silently behind him, scaring him all the way across the room and into a new and dreadful world.
“Aren’t you wondering how I got out of your cellar prison?” he asks, as Trask shakes and blusters.
“No!” Trask spits, and then he has a whole speech, because that is what Trasks are made for. “No, I don’t have to wonder, because I know how you got out — with Quentin’s help! You and he have always been in league with one another! He used his sorcery to free you! I know Satan’s work. You should be dead now!”
“Maybe I am dead,” Barnabas says, and then he just stands there and looks pleased with himself.
“Consider the possibility, Mr. Trask,” Barnabas continues. “You put me down in that basement to die. Perhaps I did die, and I have come back to haunt you for the rest of your days and nights!” This is a whole new advance in witness intimidation.
“I have no intentions of staying long, Mr. Trask,” he says, with a twinkle in his eye. “Just long enough to tell you that I have every intention of doing something for you, in revenge for what you’ve done to me.”
And there is magic there, in those carefully bungled lines; that particular kind of lunatic intensity that is Jonathan Frid, enjoying himself. The show is not really very good anymore; I think we’ve all come to accept that, but there are still moments like this, and I am grateful.
So here he is, our hero, dressed in a deep purple morning coat and matching tie, cross-examining. “Mr. Trask,” he says, among other things, “it has been established previously in this trial that raising a spirit from the dead, as in a séance, is… admitting a séance experience.” And in my heart, he will remain forever here, triumphant, saying these things, and establishing communication with life, as it should be lived.
Tomorrow: A New Year’s Day pre-emption special!
Time Travel, part 14: It Is What It Is
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Dawson objects: “Why, this is absurd. This man cannot act as defense for the counsel!”
Quentin asks where Barnabas has been, and he says, “Lamar Task had me under — under prison-en.”
Flora bobbles a word: “They produced the journal of Judah Zachery, that man who was beheaded for — for — witch-la — witchcraft.”
Barnabas asks Flora, “When Gerard was living here, Quentin used to — Trask made several visits to him, didn’t he?”
Dawson asks, “Mister Trask, do you know of an example of Quentin’s Collins’ strange powers over the dead?”
Tomorrow: A New Year’s Day pre-emption special!
Time Travel, part 14: It Is What It Is
— Danny Horn