Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: October 11


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 605

Stokes reunites his old crew to conduct one, last caper to rob Eve… of oxygen! Can they pull it off or does Nicholas Blair have the upper hand? Stokes: Thayer David. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Julia dreams that Barnabas’ mission to Blair House will end in death. He’s incredulous at this news, but they recruit Stokes anyway. Stokes visits Blair to gather intelligence and make a schematic, having located Eve’s room by its aroma. Back at the Old House, he schemes to invite Nicholas for dinner and bore him with stories as Barnabas sneaks over and drugs Eve. Unfortunately, Nicholas has seen the entire plan be sketched via his scrying mirror. The plan works until Barnabas discovers the blanket stuffed with pillows and Angelique waiting in the wings.

The most unwise assumption about Dark Shadows episodes is that they’re all alike. After all, out of the Fightin’ 1225, how many can be that different? The answer is, quite a few. Yes, there’s a lot of filler. Yes, Sturgeon’s Law dictates that only 10 percent of the episodes are any good. That’s 125.  Not much? If we apply that measure uniformly, it means that there are only two good episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer per year. Fourteen in all. Sixty-four The Simpsons episodes, which is not bad by any means. But you have to be 60 Minutes to beat DS, and how many 60 Minutes festivals have you been to? Exactly.

When I think of the very best of the best of Dark Shadows, there is surprising variety, and nested within, this particularly luminous gem. And, of all things, it’s a caper story. There are two types of these stories out there -- all plot or all style. Thanks to the urbane wit of Gordon Russell, we get a beautiful blend of both with a classic DS punchline.

I love it when a plan comes together, and before it does, the episode appropriately assumes the form of the Barnabas/Julia Dark Shadows sitcom where the only thing missing is a laugh track. Barnabas is on his way to Nicholas’ when Julia stops him. She does nothing for weeks but harangue him to get off his caboose and be a man, and now that he does it, she stops him. Before you can say, “That’s Our Julia,” she gives her reasoning… a scary dream. Jonathan Frid nails his you-gotta-be-kidding-me mug, and I completely expect him to look at the camera and proclaim, “As always, the doctor is OUT!” You may think I’m exaggerating. Watch the episode and get back to me. The show was finding a real rhythm between these newer characters, and rather than lose steam upon declaring peace, the duo departs off like a rocket.

When fans reminisce about the overabundant, cheerful self-appreciation of Professor Stokes, 605 is what we’re talking about. After we’ve gotten used to Barnabas and Julia being polar opposites on this battle, Stokes comes in and unites them with a plan while making them look utterly rational. Characters on Dark Shadows spend most of their time bewildered, frightened, or in denial, setting Stokes up as the show’s most memorable hero as he revels in a carnival of confidence. Whether it’s pulling out the hand sketched schematics of Blair House, identifying rooms by their owners’ scents, finding Nicholas’ boudoir ‘depressingly overdecorated,’ or torturing him with Collins minutiae rather than Willie’s cooking, Stokes makes the scene. There’s even a subtle homage to Ocean's 11,  the camera hovering unusually high in the air, as Team This Old House plans their wacky assassination attempt around a fancy card table that Willie, I’m sure, set up in the drawing room. It’s nothing but endearing joy, and if the scene ended with Stokes, then Julia, then Barnabas (with ring) putting their hands down in a stack on the table, I would have been satisfied on a disturbingly cosmic level.


The only thing better than the planning is the execution. Julia is petrified, Stokes is reveling in the scheme, and Barnabas is only barely keeping the dishonesty cogent. Now, of all times, he becomes a troubled bluffer. Well, if you’re used to having the luxury of 171 years of claustrophobic imprisonment to cook up a good whopper, it might sting to suddenly have but a few hours to get your lines down. Of course, the layered joke is that Nicholas is completely aware of the scene since he has Amazon Prime, too, streaming the show on his mirror at home. As smart as they are, Nicholas is just indulging them, making him a gamesman on par with the professor. It’s just a shame he doesn’t know it. Think how much faster Dark Shadows would go by if everyone on it watched Dark Shadows. Nicholas clearly does. Given how far ahead he is, Nicholas could have stopped the Stokespack at any point. Letting Barnabas wander into a ridiculous trap consisting of pillows piled up under a sheet and Angelique hiding in the corner? That’s not just winning. That’s an editorial. Take that, professor!

This episode was broadcast Oct. 18, 1968.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...