Monday, June 4, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 4


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 508

Within the dream curse, Professor Stokes defies the set pattern at every turn, forcing Angelique to investigate this saucy jack. Nearly overcome by womanly urges, she nonetheless attempts the impossible feat of bending him to her will. He scoffs at her attempts to intimidate him. If she calls him Ben, he shrugs it off. If she marks his hand with the brand of Satan, well, he must have a handkerchief around here somewhere. Stokes awakens and consoles Julia that he is still single and unaffected by the curse. It ends here. He has no reason to tell his guide, Sam Evans, what happened. This is proved when Sam conveniently knocks on the door. Later, when Sam is at home, a noise alerts him to a visitor. It’s Adam. Cut. Bloody. And brandishing a knife. 

Most shows redefine themselves as they find their voice and footing. DARK SHADOWS doesn't redefine itself so much as it expands constantly its own vision, mood, and mission statement. Few episodes do that as dramatically and excitingly as 508. For most shows involving the supernatural, protecting the mysterious indomitability Of magic is the primary duty of the writers. And as long as no one says that the emperor wears no tux, they can use the vast power of the occult to get their characters into and out of any story corner at will. With that ultimate rabbit waiting in the Hat, who would dare expose  anything else? Who would have the chutzpah to cry shenanigans on this supreme form of gatekeeping, and position mere Mortals above gods by looking at the man behind the curtain?

Especially for a show like DARK SHADOWS, an act like this should be storytelling suicide. Instead, it's the core of one of the most memorable episodes in the entire series. Professor Stokes becomes the ultimate surrogate and champion for the rest of us muggles, proving that magic often only works when a victim is gullible enough to allow it. If anything gives us a reason to keep watching, it's this… and if anything makes later, more successful feats of magic that much more terrifying, it's this, as well. But at least on this night, Angelique, and all that she represents, is sent packing -- not by greater sorcery, but by courage, clear thinking, and a refusal to be intimidated by suggestion.

It’s about time. We’ve spent two years seeing our protagonists bullied and victimized. Now, as the program moves further and further away from a traditional soap and into the realm of comic book psychedelia, a victory like this lends respectability to the heroes, puts the villains on red alert, and adds genuine suspense. The occult will no longer be an automatic win, and by knowing that Angelique and Nicholas could fail, we can now find surprising moments to sympathize with them.

Thayer David revels in Stokes’ arrogance, as do we. The Professor now knows the extent of his powers (his words), so grab him a sherry. Wisely, the actor balances this insouciance with genuine fear. At any point in the dream curse, this might not work, Angelique might succeed, and the audience is never allowed to get ahead of the action. Because, as always, getting one step ahead of the action is the job of one man.

You know his name.

Stokes. T. Eliot Stokes.

And Professor T. Eliot Stokes will return.

This episode hit the airwaves June 5, 1968.

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