Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 29


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 464

After Angelique’s painting causes Roger to refer to Julia as a frenchwoman named “Countess Natalie,” a knock at the door signals the arrival of the man who was supposed to buy the portrait: a fastidious occult expert named T. Eliot Stokes. Smelling salts are passed out for the women, all of whom must be gently informed by Julia that this is what a Real Man looks like. He has deep knowledge of the life of his ancestor, Ben, and Barnabas is shocked by his suspicion that Vicki has paranormal insight into the 1790’s. Barnabas later bites Victoria, and when Julia discovers this, she threatens him with exposure.

Upon returning from 1795, the show moves at a rare, brisk pace, piling on new choices, twists, and vital characters with zesty abandon. Nothing stimulates the imagination for writing like writing, itself. It’s as if the mythic level of 1795 gave them permission to think big, and the form-free liberty of 1968 gives them room to explore the results. In just four episodes, we have Carolyn rebelling against Barnabas, Victoria finally under the control of the vampire, portents of the return of Angelique, and now, the arrival of one of the show’s most memorable characters, the fabulous T. Eliot Stokes.

The domination of Victoria is the most profoundly symbolic shift for the show since the arrival of Barnabas. Maybe more than that. It’s one thing to quietly swap protagonists. It’s another to have the new one enslave the former protagonist and use her as walking juice box. Victoria started out as a raven haired Nancy Drew, and it’s sad to see her devolve into little more than a bewildered victim. In the face of characters who are built to be more interesting, the focal shift is inevitable. The fact that she is being consumed as literal fuel by and for the new lead is a beautiful, poignant irony. Barnabas, you truly do drink her milkshake.

Barnabas needs all of the blood Wheaties he can eat for this one. The shock of seeing Professor Stokes is either the best thing or the worst thing he’s encountered in this week from hell. The fun of the (re)union scene is watching him try to figure out which end of that spectrum it will be. Just as he needed a physical strongman in the 1790’s, now he needs a paranormal heavy lifter. But with that brilliance comes autonomy, and that’s the last thing he needs in his associates with Angelique in the offing. 

From his entrance, Thayer David establishes a clear, confident, and charming character in Professor Stokes. The existence of Stokes also creates profound change in the fabric of the DSU. Up to this point, you either had civilians, who had no idea what was going on or antagonists, who usually only had slightly more of an idea of what was going on. Stokes changes that, and does so with great wit and seasoned cockiness. No one other than T. Eliot Stokes delivers exposition with greater gravitas, and no one has better judgement about when to look evil in the eye and tell it to catch that one and paint it green.

On this day in 1968, Lucy Lawless was born. The connection? She played Xena: Warrior Princess. Maybe… just maybe… this is a character who could have landed Stokes and kept up with him.


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