Friday, May 24, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 23


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 245

When Woodard needs a condemning sample, will Barnabas put the squeeze on a reluctant Willie? Dave Woodard: Robert Gerringer. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas guilts Willie into giving a sample of his blood to Dave Woodard, having stolen and swapped a clean sample some time earlier. He eventually reveals this to Willie, and warns him that he will not always be so protective. Woodard speaks with Burke and Vicki about the unholy goings on in Maggie’s blood.

Joe Caldwell had to be stopped. Dave Woodard had to be killed off. Daytime TV could have survived neither. With all due respect to St. Sam and St. Gordon, this is the best written episode of the series, and any more of it and the show would have collapsed under its own eloquence. Sam Hall and Gordon Russell had a series to write. Caldwell crafted a masterpiece, and that’s an accomplishment so situationally dependent, it would be rare to see one again.

On the basis of plot, alone, it is a tight and intense story of antiheroics and suspense, where you respect Barnabas’ realpolitik skullduggery while simultaneously admiring the incredible curiosity of Woodard. I don’t know what he saw in that microscope except for pure anti-life and the beginning and the end of the world.

Beyond that, the episode works because of its relentless and dark poetry. Most outstanding is the mind game that Barnabas plays and plays and plays with Willie. Ultimately, after an understandable background in the betrayal department, Barnabas is going to test and punish and punish and test Willie until he’s satisfied with the results, and then he’s going to do it some more. Back in the good old days, you’d just send Riggs out back to horsewhip Ben Stokes like banging a jar lid on the counter to loosen it. But, you know, you can’t do that now because “progress.” And because the cops are after you, so you don’t need extra attention. Why? Because you got your house back. And because you may get your fiance back. And because, along with it, some people are going to make their exits a little prematurely. Um, sorry. Yes, it’s a shame. It’s not like he doesn’t jump at the chance for a cure. Between here and there, it would be nice if Willie just, you know, put the seat down every once and awhile and stopped with the betrayal business. He is letting off some much needed steam here, and if he lets Willie dangle in uncertainty, it’s probably a fraction of the paranoia Barnabas suffers as he lies trapped in a wooden shell from the lethal rays of the sun while humans do Diabolos-knows-what in full view of the kids. I’m amazed that Roger is the alkie.

The real star of the episode is Robert Gerringer as Dave Woodard. It’s a human performance, both urban and urbane. The type of grownup we don’t see anymore. This was a generation of writers and actors who cut their teeth on Eugene O’Neill and have no compunction about mixing their poetry with their realism. It’s almost as if he and Barnabas get into a Flowery Introspection Duel, like a Profundity Slam as they talk about blood and the entity responsible for all of it. They share a bizarre duality of loathing and admiration. Woodard marvels at the unnatural progress of the biochemical rite. Barnabas all but confesses to the crimes. Woodard speaks with bizarre admiration that, “It’s the peculiar magnificence of the human spirit that’s required to provide the potential for such corruption.”

Barnabas adds that he must be, “at one and the same time, more than a man and less than a man.”

Woodard asks if he feels sorry for him, and Barnabas answers that he actually loathes him “very, very deeply.”

At the Blue Whale, Vicki’s take on life is at its most apocalyptically realistic. Woodard visits and rounds out the episode with a strangely aroused disgust at the unholy union going on in Maggie’s veins, and how her blood hastily accepts the corruption offered.

The metaphors run rampant, but at the core of it, there is the distinct feeling that Woodard is describing naughty sexy time, and he can’t bring himself to say it’s bad.

Mind games. Sexual metaphors. Probably homosexual metaphors. There is a bounty to unpack, all with a sense of inevitable doom for the entire town and maybe all of existence. Barnabas at this time is like a lingering rot, eating away at the pretenses of decency, and he is doing so openly compared to what the series has offered thus far. He is somewhere between a Ken Russell movie and a Prince album in his relative frankess, and although he would endear himself with a demand for mothering later on, at this point, Jonathan Frid is playing Barnabas Collins as pure sex in a world where only a Hefner would be such a thing. That openness is one world ending and another world beginning. Woodard admires it a little too much, but can’t take part.

Barnabas can. And right now, he knows it. 

This episode hit the airwaves June 2, 1967.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Collinsport's Library of Lost Souls

President Emeritus,
The Collinsport Historical Society

If you can read at a third-grade level, chances are you've visited The Collinsport Public Library at some point in your life. And, if you've visited The Collinsport Public Library, chances are you've had an unpleasant encounter with "Alice," the cosmic vapor that seems to haunt only the library departments that anybody cares about.

Artist rendition of Alice from
The Collinsport Star, 1951.
Alice has been providing local color to Collinsport since at least 1967, when the town's second-most-unqualified librarian (we're looking at you, Janet) was officially christened. We're confident in saying that "Alice" was probably Vera Frances Carl, a young woman slain in the library in 1938. As far as murders go, Vera's death was particularly brutal. I won't go into the details of the crime here, but to this day patrons are still finding her blood stains on Laura Ingalls Wilder books. That ain't ketchup on the title fore-edge of "On the Banks of Plum Creek," champ.

Where did Alice come from? Even the most brutal murders are eventually forgotten. In 1898, a storm here in Maine succeeded in sinking a hundred vessles within 36 hours, and when's the last time anybody mentioned that? By contrast, a single murder is barely a blip on our cultural radar. It didn't take long for the Collinsport community to forget the local library was closed for a few days in 1938 for "remodeling" because someone decided to paint its walls with the blood of a co-ed.

Vera became Alice in 1967 for reasons that are less mysterious than they are stupid. There was a short-lived television series that year called Captain Nice, which featured actress Alice Ghostley. Laughing yet? I'm not sure anybody was laughing in 1967, either at Captain Nice or local columnist Bill Stubbs. A retiree from Connecticut, Stubbs had spent his life in finance but, during his twilight years, fancied himself a latter-day Will Rogers. If Rogers had been a prissy control freak who spent most of his time obsessing over "proper grammar," Stubbs might be better remembered. (Or remembered, at all.) But Rogers was one of those people who thought the abilty to read a newspaper meant he was qualified to make a newspaper and became a pain in the ass for everybody in The Collinsport Star's modest newsroom. They still tell stories about him to scare journalism school graduates.

To summarize: Alice is named "Alice" because a turgid dullard who fancied himself a "newspaper man" wrote a column about one of our local hauntings and thought "Alice Ghostly" was a funny name. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.

"Who cares?" you're asking yourself. Nobody, truth be told. Except for whoever is running the social media accounts for The Collinsport Public Library, who called us out earlier today on Facebook. Behold!

Yes, there's more backstory. Remember poor Vera Frances Carl? She used to work here at The Collinsport Historical Society. She was working here when she died, which pretty well explains up our retirement plan. Because she was employed here at the time of her death, the legal experts at the local library think we have some kind of legal responsibilty for Alice's behavior. I'm just a humble  demonologist and don't claim any particular expertise in the American legal system. But possession is 9/10 of the law ... and ever since Alice possessed that homeless guy in their periodicals department, The Collinsport Public Library now owns that fierce bitch.

And it's not as if The Collinsport Historical Society isn't already up to its eyeballs in ghosts. We've partnered with Redbubble in a ceremony so arcane and foul that many of us had trouble making eye contact in the days following. Our plan? To transfer our backlog of cursed spirits from ancient bowls, dolls and music boxes to products more accessible to you fine people here in the 21st century. We've got t-shirts! Coffee mugs! Clocks! Stickers! Blankets! The demand has been so high that we've been forced to reduce our spectral offerings to a lottery system. One in every 13 products sold by us through Redbubble a gauranteed to be contaminated by the minions of Paenitentia, a minor archduke of hell who also happens to be the demon of buyer's remorse.

If you want a haunted t-shirt (or even a hainted mini-skirt!) please venture forth to our Redbubble store here:

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 22


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 764

What’s in the cards? Can Barnabas stop Quentin or will an ultimate assassin bring a new shadow of death to Collinsport? Tim: Don Briscoe. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas attempts to learn the identity of the werewolf as he tracks down the silversmith who made the amulet of protection that will one day be found in the 1960s. Evan tests Tim’s programming as an assassin and Beth, reluctant to out Quentin to Barnabas, has the choice removed when he bites her.

As the episode ends, Barnabas again bites someone to place them under his control, reminding viewers that he uses his abilities to strategic ends as much as to feed. Would he have been this cavalier in the 1960? He’s used this advantage twice in the space of a week or so. As much as I feel sorry for Beth, who ends up being a pawn of Quentin, Barnabas, AND Petofi, it’s nice to see her current, new master so confidently on a mission. It’s an increasing level of chutzpah. Would he have had it a year before, meaning seventy-one years ahead? Perhaps. Back then in the future, he recalls how he will be chasing Adam around with a gun. But certainly not in 1967, as he slyly swaps blood slides and works to revive the mind of Josette. Prior still? In 1795, his reactions are almost entirely reactive and based on following or defiling the codes of the day. Like the two-blooded, red fisted heroes before and after him, this time, Barnabas Collins makes his own rules. This time, it’s personal. This time, he’s bringing his Vigoda.

He also tells a young Abe Vigoda that he’ll have a bright future. Kind of. I mean, I wish. In a beautiful nod to continuity, young Ezra Braithwaite (played by Edward Marshall, who also popped up as Harry Johnson in episode 669) reappears for the very first time to make the pentagram that he’ll die for in episode 685. If that makes sense. By the late 1960’s, the fully developed Ezra was played by future nighttime TV hunk, Abe Vigoda. Even though Vigoda is not in this episode, he’s a well-crafted minor character in the DSU and Vigoda gives a touching performance. But he’s not in this one. (So Soo me.) However, Edward Marshall is, and he’s good, too.

The rest of the episode (that’s not about Barnabas trying to beat the fleas off of Quentin) is devoted to Humbert Allen Astredo and Don Briscoe starring in the first remake of The Manchurian Candidate. This is where 1897’s hellzapoppin approach to storytelling starts to consume itself with too many ideas thrown around too frenetically. You can feel the generous creativity oozing from every corner of the show, but perhaps there is so much going on that you increase the opportunity for a bad idea to slip through. Dark Shadows is known for, um, borrowing? Is that the right word? It seeks inspiration from many sources, reprocessing them for a different era and audience, and with the depth and dynamism of a soap, it arguably does some of them a service. But most of these are pretty old, or, in the Case of the Leviathanly Lifted Lovecraft, at least FELT pretty old. But the very liberal borrowing from the recent film and novel of The Manchurian Candidate is the strangest “quoting” ever executed by the writing staff. A guy gets a whammy to play cards until a specific card triggers the urge to kill. Same thing. It even feels stranger because it’s that rare case of the show taking a modern story that verges on science fiction and plunging it into the past. Dark Shadows defined itself by going in the opposite direction and confronting contemporary characters with the dangers of costume dramas. In the case of the Tim Shaw storyline, it accomplishes the plot objective, but with too much winking. When a quoted idea, whether for the sake of satire or not, exists to be recognized more than to be revised and reconsidered, it’s not a shining moment.

I mention it here not to bury Dark Shadows, but to praise it. Out of 450 hours of storylines, it may be the one fumbled misstep regarding the issue of storytelling-by-pastiche, constituting the smallest fraction of the show’s screentime. Exceptions do prove rules.

This episode hit the airwaves May 29, 1969.

The first year of Dark Shadows was goth as f*k

Happy World Goth Day! No extended commentary. No footnotes. No explanations. Just 13 photos of ghosts, demons, haunted houses and sad brunettes that prove the first year of Dark Shadows was goth as f*k.

Podcast: Barnabas Collins and the Bodice Tipplers

Jonathan Frid is on the cover of "Barnabas Collins," the 1968 Dark Shadows novel by Marilyn Ross, but he's otherwise absent from the book. You might even argue that Barnabas Collins, at least the character you might know from the television show, is also absent from the tale. A vampire bearing that name makes his way through the course of the story but, unguided by Frid's peculiar wounded menace and a staff of writers that understood how to find humanity even in the most inhuman of characters, there's not much in the story will look familiar to fans of the television series.

And that's OK. It might even be a good thing, even if the results are often not that good.

Tie-in properties are so tightly managed today that they rarely ever surprise. There's no place for innovation in stories intentionally designed not to affect the events around it. No matter the level of crisis introduced, we'll find our plucky heroes right back at square one by the end of the story. A Hollywood studio spent $200 million on the next movie in their blockbuster series and they're certainly not going to have their narrative upended by some $5 book.

The rules were different for tie-in proprieties when Dark Shadows hit the airwaves in 1966. Back then, these things were just products to be dumped on shelves, and little thought was given to whether or not they were any good. There were efforts taken to maintain a basic level of continuity (if you did nothing else, you had to at least make sure Spock, Napoleon Solo and Will Robinson's names were all spelled correctly) but after that all bets were off. It's just too difficult to maintain continuity between a monthly comic series and a weekly television series. The people that should have been doing quality control on these products were otherwise occupied, leaving those details to lawyers only concerned with making sure the networks and production companies got paid.

Dark Shadows had the additional complication of being a daily series. Whole characters and storylines would be over before the the next Marilyn Ross novel would hit stands, no matter how quickly he cranked them out. Trying to make these narratives line up was impossible, so Ross didn't bother trying. Besides, Ross (actually Dan Ross, a one-man gothic romance factory who wrote more than 300 novels under a variety of pen names) couldn't watch the show at his home in Canada, anyway. The end result was a line of books that only occasionally resembled the television series, usually by accident.

The same was true (to various degrees) for the Dark Shadows comics published by Gold Key, the daily newspaper strip and the two feature films, House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows. (Both movies killed off characters that were still appearing on the daily on the television series.) Just to make things even more difficult, the daytime serial even dabbled in parallel timelines, giving fans an almost endless buffet of interpretations.

While I've usually enjoyed seeing how the characters and situations from Dark Shadows might have developed in the hands of other creators, the differences can be quite jarring for even the most hardcore fan. And, if you don't already love the series, you might be less patience with Ross's seat-of-his-pants style of storytelling. He wrote more than 30 Dark Shadows novels in six years, as well as dozens of others during the same time frame. It's unsurprising that he was unable to maintain a continuity with the television series, but he was also unable to keep the facts straight in his own novels. The books frequently contradict each other. "Barnabas Collins" manages the stunning feat of contradicting itself.

This is the situation that Sara and Courtney wandered into with latest installment of the Bodice Tipplers podcast. To say they were confused is an understatement. If you're looking for an explanation for Dark Shadows' appeal, you ain't gonna find it in this book. It was kind of a lose-lose situation for everybody involved, not the least of which was Dan Ross. The novel was likely begun when Barnabas Collins was still intended to be a one-off villain on Dark Shadows in 1967. By the time the book hit the stands in November 1968, the character had become an unlikely pop idol and sex symbol. But the Barnabas Collins depicted in "Barnabas Collins" was a sexual predator with a penchant for grooming young girls into his service, a character that hardly earns the "America's grooviest ghoul" starburst plastered on the back cover. There's little fun to be had here, save for the archaeological kind.

To summarize: "Barnabas Collins" is a novel written by a man using a pseudonym about a television series he didn't watch, showcasing a character that had changed radically between the time the book was started and published, and features a supporting cast of characters that has almost nothing to do with anything seen on the daytime serial. Confused yet?

This episode marks the last one for Bodice Tipplers here at The Collinsport Historical Society. As of today they've got their own dedicated podcast feed, which means those of you listening here need to head over to wherever you get your podcasts and directly subscribe to them. (You can find them at iTunes HERE.)

You can listen to "Barnabas Collins" in the app near the top of this post, or download it directly HERE.

Jenn Vix has kindly let us use her song "In the House of Dark Shadows," a collaboration with Reeves Gabrels, in this podcast. Below is a full playlist of Jenn's music to accompany the "Barnabas Collins" episode. You can follow her on Twitter @JennVix or at her website

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 20


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 497

Will the gift of swanky earrings lead to new friendships or a lifetime supply of whipped carrots? Joe Haskell is about to find out! Joe: Joel Crothers. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Julia warns Mrs. Johnson not to tell David her dream, but she does so anyway. And indeed, he has the dream. Willie is his beckoner and spiders, his fear. Meanwhile, Joe informs Maggie that her new earrings are worth $15,000. When he suggests that there will be strings attached, she accuses him of being infantile. Later, Willie pressures her to become his friend when the earrings trigger her sense of vague memory about the Old House, leading her to visit.

So, Maggie thinks that Joe needs a restaurant that “serves baby food.”

Equally redoubtable and reliable, Kathryn Leigh Scott sells the suggestion with a trooper’s lack of self-consciousness. It’s both a fabulous bit of shade and a conspicuously poorly written line for Dark Shadows. It’s so awkward that I wish they had written more dialogue like it. It is equal parts completely unbelievable and totally realistic. It is an “allow myself to introduce myself“ moment. Almost. Maggie is clearly ticked off. Clearly needs to put Joe in his place. I think she assumes that this is the best way to do it. Either that, or she thought it was going to sound a lot better than it did when it came out of her mouth. Either way, the camera fixes on Joe’s expression, which is more baffled than insulted. As well it should be. Maggie is the one sashaying around with $15,000 earrings, and Joe is either envious of the person who gave them to her or is envious of the earrings. One or the other. Probably both.

The return of Josette is a strange bit of regression for the show. If I were Barnabas, I would demand a refund from Julia. How many times does he have to take her into the shop to get brainwashed? Between Adam and the fact that Barnabas is no longer a vampire and a dream curse that is more of an opportunity to tour the neuroses of the characters then it is to be scared, the program has run so far from Gothic romance that a gentle reminder of the show’s identity doesn’t hurt.  It’s both a good post-it of where we have been and of how far we have come.  There are contingents of Dark Shadows fans who dislike this storyline as if it took their lunch money and got them to write “pen 15” on their arm. It wears out his welcome now and then, but it’s also a prime example of the surprising versatility of the show’s format.

In terms of equal opportunity terror, the dream curse continues to impact everyone who has ever been on the show as it makes its march towards Barnabas. Thank God it got to Mrs. Johnson. Who among us has not wondered about her nightmares? Allegedly a woman who does not dream, why would she? She lives with the all-too-real fantasy of being Harry Johnson‘s mother.

Her eagerness to tell David is part of the curse, yes. We get that. And the show certainly is not ageist nor overprotective when it comes to excluding David from the accursed festivities. He gets dragged in with everyone else. If I were a recent viewer to the show, it would be easy to conclude that David were the poster boy for child psychological abuse. Because he takes a lot of it. Long-time viewers know that he is tougher than he looks, however, and in an odd way, including him in the proceedings is a sign of respectful acknowledgment that kids are more than spoonfuls of jelly necessitating constant coddling. They can be terrorized by giant dream spiders along with anyone else.

John Karlen is reliably outstanding in this episode, and the script supports him extremely well. One of his great strengths is showing characters who wrestle with deeply conflicted impulses and emotions. Most actors find challenge just accurately depicting one. Karlen can create a blend of inner conflict where each emotion is distinct-yet-blended. His desire to protect Maggie, romantically assert himself, be a friend, avoid the wrath of Barnabas, and sidestep Joe Haskell is a heady brew. He keeps it going with clarity and energy, and thus creates suspense over what will happen next that is more arresting than the horror elements in the show. It’s the episodes hidden highlight, and one of my favorite acting moments on the series.

No one’s telling HIM he needs baby food.

This episode hit the airwaves May 21, 1968.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 17


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 501

Barnabas takes arms against a sea of Adam, but can he, by opposing, end him before the creature works his reamimated charm on the single Ladies of Collinwood? Adam: Robert Rodin. (Repeat; 30 min.)

I love to make things up. And in my defense when it comes to pulling a whopper, I always admit it immediately and then go on telling the tale as if the fact that it’s completely false were irrelevant. Because it is. We’re in the middle of a good story. So just go with it.

I mention all of this because even though I fully confess when I am full of beans, people can still take a lot of convincing when something sounds improbable, but is not. It’s an occupational hazard, and the wolf still hasn’t caught up with me. It goes with the territory of my hobby of claiming ludicrous things, like Ernest Borgnine being Playboy’s 1966 Playmate of the Year, a claim to which a bewildered cheerleader in the class I was teaching murmured in genuine wonder, “How does he know all these things?”

In the case of episode 501, I can’t believe that any description would or could pass as believable.  I would certainly not believe me. But I wouldn’t believe anyone if they described it. I was eating some barbecue as I watched it, and I think it may have been something in the sauce. Or it may have been the fact that it was episode 501. That the entire Dark Shadows staff was absolutely astounded that this bizarre, wonderfully ridiculous show had been going on for 500 episodes, which was over 200 past when 1960s standards and practices should have seen them canceled. I honestly think they just sat around, convinced they were sharing a mutual hallucination, and so they made up the events of episode 501 to test the theory. As far as I know, the top is still spinning. 

We begin with Barnabas, one of the most proper, thoughtful, and deliberately civilized heroes of television loading a gun. A big gun. Not the little flintlock he reserves for shooting occult spouses. No, he has gone completely John Wayne. Except he’s still in men’s clothing. He knows this act will kill him, or turn him into a vampire, which is kind of the same thing, but he has had it up to here with Adam and his entire storyline.  Later, as he is tromping around the woods with Julia, at her most nagging and ineffectual in tow, he brags about the fact that he is not thinking for once. 

Here is where I normally stop and do some sort of analysis of the arc of the character of Barnabas Collins, but this is so gloriously ridiculous that I’m not sure I need to. I may give it a shot anyway. I think this may be his most human moment thus far. When you think about everything that the man has gone through in his past waking year or so, not including his time in suspended animation, I’m not sure I can blame him. And I’m not sure he would stop with Adam. I think he would just go on a spree, then lock himself up in the Collinsport jail with a blanket over his head, and wait for sunrise, hoping that the blanket would protect him like some sort of Nosferatu Otis the drunk. The whole time, just bellowing, “not a jury in the land!“

A potential marriage was destroyed. And then another marriage was destroyed. His mother kills herself. His fiancé jumps off a hill. He winds up in a coffin for nearly two centuries. He meets his fiancée again, and he can’t convince her that she is his fiancée, so we has to lose her to some mouth-breathing fisherman. He falls in love with another girl who probably knows he’s a vampire, but then he loses her to Roger Davis. At some point, his assistant get shot in the back five times, which is actually a relief, but he springs him out of the nuthouse anyway because his only other friend keeps poisoning him. There’s only one person fancy enough for him to talk with about a good scherzo, but he goes off and marries the witch who caused all of the trouble he got into the coffin to avoid. So she’s back. That’s a thing. And he’s had to promise to be nice to her. Most of Collinsport knows where his coffin is. He’s still trying to figure out how Phyllis Wick fits into all of this. He gets cured, and then finds that his life is tied to a big, shambling idiot who doesn’t even have the decency to do a good job of it when it comes to killing Willie. And he probably has to potty train him. Yeah, imagine that. That’s how his day begins. Oh yeah, and he can’t go to sleep because there’s some sort of curse that’s going to kill him after making him walk around a foggy soundstage filled with embarrassing special-effects. And his sister’s ghost won’t forgive him, even though he really couldn’t control what happened and even begged there ineffectual father to kill him. And she won’t stop singing London Bridge.

So, yeah, we see where thinking has gotten him.

Meanwhile, Adam is reenacting a scene from Porky’s as he leers at Carolyn through the window Collinwood. He kind of does a pratfall backwards through the main doors, and Liz thinks she can scare him off with elevator music. But he likes it, so she grabs a knife that just happens to be laying out and goes all Michael Hadge on the lug. He responds, and I may have this out of order at this point, but it’s all a fever dream anyway, by chasing Carolyn around and grabbing at her from behind as her skirt keeps flying up. And there are a number of angles that look like their physical arrangement is exactly what you think it looks like.

Then, he kidnaps her. And that’s the most peaceful moment in the episode.

I swear, I’m not making any of this up. Top that, Secret Storm.

Roger Ebert had a Maxim. It was probably the one with Alyson Hannigan in it. But he also had a saying, and that was, “There are some movies where you would much rather hear the people who made it sit around talking about it for two hours than to watch the movie itself.”

This is the opposite. I’m sure there’s some kind of trenchant analysis that can be made of this hootenanny. But in this case, I need to stop thinking also. To overthink it would be like overthinking an ice cold Pepsi on a hot day because it lacks protein. This episode, when you try to describe it to people who don’t watch the program very often, is the creature on the wing of the plane, and I am, at the very least, John Lithgow.

The important point is that they got away with it. Imagine if they had tried this as the pilot. It would be the greatest pilot ever made, prior to Lookwell, and it would’ve been just as unsellable. But I am convinced, after 500 episodes, Dan and the team sat down, wondered how much longer this could go on, and tested the waters by plunging the entire program as deep as possible. It swam like Esther Williams in a pool full of Baby Ruths. Dry, Dark Shadows was nothing. Wet, and Thayer David is a star.

Children and authors of ostensibly daily columns about increasingly obscure television series often test boundaries to see where they can go and where they cannot. Dark Shadows tests a boundary with 501, and realized that there is none.

Nicholas Blair, Eve and the lucky pantyhose into which she was born, Magda, Szandor, Petofi & Aristede, melting Evan Hanley, John Yaeger, Mr. Juggins, Julianka’s voice, Judah Zachery’s Head, Dameon Edward’s Bea Arthurian pantsuit, Bruno’s hair, Mr. Best, Robot Roger Davis with Head Popping Action, and Chuck Morgan as the Best Fed Zombie in Town? Start limbering up. And you’re welcome. The water is going to be fine for nearly three more years.

This episode hit the airwaves May 27, 1968.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 16


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 759

With Angelique destroyed, Barnabas stands alone in the last stand against a pagan fire god…or does he? Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

After Angelique vanishes from Laura’s attack, Barnabas awakens to learn that she knows his secret. He attacks Dirk, placing him under vampiric control, taking him from Laura. She learns this after gloating over her knowledge of Barnabas and the recollection of her relationship with him when she tortured his uncle in the 1700’s. Going upstairs to gather Jamison, she finds that he is a decoy of stuffed pillows and that Angelique is alive and ready for action. Barnabas smiles broadly as Laura’s world crumbles.

Robert Cobert? You have the day off. Some times, like weddings and coronations, there is only one man to compose the proper music. In the case of 759, that man is Mike Post and Pete Carpenter. This episode lunges from the coffin, grabs art by the collar, and demands it. The only things missing are a jerry-rigged cabbage cannon, Szandor being drugged to the point where he’s not afraid to fly, and Barnabas lighting a cigar while loving it when a plan comes together. I suspect he even had Magda paint a red, diagonal stripe up the side of his coffin while he worked as a soldier of fortune in the LA underground. Make no mistake; this great episode of Dark Shadows does not look like an installment of The A-Team. It makes a great episode of The A-Team look like an installment of Dark Shadows. Get it straight.

With Jonathan Frid and Lara Parker, this much fun just can’t be legal. And what a way to kick off summer vacation for the kids. If I had been a ten year-old fan of the original run when this episode hit, you’d have needed a diamond-edged spatula to pry me off the ceiling. You may need one now. Outside of the sentimental moments of the bonding and friendship and alienation and loneliness that defined the series, storytelling like this defines why Dark Shadows is so watchable.

Like that time when he reveals the fate of Dirk Wilkins. And just stares at Laura as she finally realizes that she has no monopoly on mind control. Nor on a cruel disregard for the “sanctity” of human life.

To me, these moments -- are the absolute apex of Barnabas before his second fall and subsequent rise as the battlescarred, weary hero of 1840. He is so accustomed to being one step behind. Reacting only. Making decisions based on desperation and panic. 1897 -- specifically, this part of 1897 -- is his most heartening and endearing phase. Not only does he outwit Laura, but he does so while acknowledging their long, mutual history. She savors the fact that she has him in her power and has done so since he was a child. A little boy in love. Powerless to save his uncle from a doomed relationship. Creating the pattern that would make Jeremiah’s union with Josette just… plausible… enough. Barnabas always had to suspect that Angelique’s spell wasn’t the only thing driving his uncle.

The pleasure of his revenge is the pleasure of playing a game better than its ostensible master. Laura’s talents are for misdirection, a cultivated knack for being underestimated, and zero care for the lives of humans as she pursues her goals. Burn a kid. Release the worst in Dirk. She is the occult equivalent of Trask. There is no line between malicious madness and religious faith. Angelique may be a creature of the occult, but Barnabas is her higher power. Satan is just how she gets there. With Laura and Ra, it’s impossible to determine if she harms in service of Ra or if service to Ra excuses her bloodlust. Either way, Barnabas has seen too many people get the Ra deal, including Roger, Victoria, and David if he asked around upon his release.

Although they don’t celebrate victory with fist bumping and curling up in front of the latest episode of Fireplace!, we still get a true sense of how Barnabas and Angelique are an inevitable couple. This is a multiphasic collaboration of totally unnecessary set-ups and knock-downs designed not only to defeat Laura, but to humiliate her in a final blow for humanity. To send her back to the Egyptian underworld with no uncertainty that she is a ham-fisted amatuer in the occult cruelty department, and will never be better than second rate. Laura’s an immortal. Maybe a demigod. So there’s no true getting rid of her, and corporeal dissolution isn’t going to teach the lesson she needs. Laura needs the closest they can get to a prom night-sized bucket of pig’s blood, and that’s what she gets. It’s the kind of vengeful pedagogy that Barnabas can’t teach alone. He needs Angelique’s reassuring edge to overcome both his self-doubt and the distracting need to jump to Magda and Szandor as the next thing on his to-do list. Fortunately, he has Angelique in his corner at last, which is right where she wants him. Perhaps his eventual show of confidence in her in 1840 is his way of saying thanks. There are more ways to answer “I love you” than saying, “I know.”

How much does an imperfect man need to pay just to squeeze his way into purgatory? For Barnabas Collins, is it ever quite enough? Roger will get away with it. Whatever “it” is. Saint Joe Haskell, certainly. Poor guy. But no matter what Barnabas does, it may never be enough. There will always be new clauses to curses and further Trasks awaiting him in any decade.

It’s a troubling story if that’s the point. And it may be. But the point is not for Barnabas. It’s for us. Like everything on this show of outsiders, it’s to remind us, fellow outsiders, that we’re not alone. To reassure us of this when life throws us a Trask, life will also throw us a Roger Davis as our new familiar. Neither states are permanent. And that’s the good news. The only thing permanent is our potential for greatness. When he is later knocked down by the Leviathans, Parallel Time, and Gerard, it has increased resonance because we remember — even when he may not — what he has within him.

But for now? All of that matters for the series and none of that matters for the present. The only thing that counts in this moment is that Barnabas really, authentically smiles for the second of two times in the series. It’s a great smile.

The plan has come together. And that is just as much fun as it sounds.

This episode hit the airwaves May 22, 1969.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 14


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 1019

When danger deals its hand, Quentin is the first to smell it. So why is Hoffman smiling? Alexis: Lara Parker. (Repeat; 30 minutes.)

Quentin begins to suspect Maggie after discovering a voodoo doll in her belongings, and Cyrus confirms the occult association while discussing his estate planning. Meanwhile, Angelique discovers that she must remain warm at all times to sustain the illusion of life.

Parallel Time continues like the Parade Magazine of Dark Shadows. It has some sort of purpose, or else it wouldn’t be there. It’s a perfectly decent way to pass the time. But it’s not the Sunday paper, and even it seems to know that. I can never figure out if Parallel Time represents the series at its most liberated or at its least relevant. Maybe both.

Ideally, it would reflect the choices of our prime characters in a telling and interesting way. While it does not do that as much as I would like, it does it enough. And we see glimpses of it in this episode. They are the little places where the show asks “what if?”  Mostly, the answers are exactly what you would expect. And “interesting“ and “obvious“ can occasionally be synonymous, so the storyline gets another pass, especially in this installment.

So, what do the mirror universe depictions of characters in Dark Shadows tell us about their prime counterparts? Well, David Selby’s Quentin, put in charge, is a man so insecure about his ability to manage that he becomes a tyrant. Not a terrible person. But easily distracted and gulled. Pressured to avoid drinking and other stress-relieving vices, his temper and patience grow intolerably short.  The closest analog we have for Christopher Pennock’s Cyrus Longworth is Christopher Pennock’s Sebastian Shaw. No, they are not the same person, but they may have more in common than they have disparate. Both are methodical thinkers. Both are easily controlled by charismatic and powerful women. One has gone towards science. The other has gone more towards mysticism. But each man seeks extraordinary means to predict and control human nature. Neither one seems to be able to handle the extraordinary discoveries they make about processes that enhance and ultimately shackle humanity’s best to its worst.

As for the women in the episode?  Maggie, Hoffman, and Angelique fill the roster on the show’s most diverse, yet core, spectrum. Maggie finally is allowed to come to the Great House as something other than an employee, and the class differences and expectations to lead as a member of the aristocracy make her brittle. Of course, if Angelique were trying to drive me crazy, I would be brittle, also. Still, I sense that Maggie’s brass has worn off long before the storyline begins in earnest.

Hoffman is a portrait in power, but so is Julia. Ultimately, Julia is an honorable person and Hoffman is not. Why? Is it access to academia and the world of medicine that gave Julia the self-esteem to rise above her pettiness? Because she certainly has it, especially in her ruthless beginnings as the series began. We’ve never seen Julia particularly as such a sycophant as Hoffman, but Julia has the respect of her hospital upon which she can fall back if she’s ever feeling down in the dumps. All Hoffman really has is Angelique‘s approval. So, given the cutthroat choices we have seen Main Time Julia make, and taking away her intellectual growth and justified respect, I think this is a very credible road down which Julia Hoffman might have gone.

Finally, we are left with Angelique. And looking back at the series as one, massive text, the depiction of Angelique in Parallel Time may very well be the entire raison d’être for the storyline. Although we have seen Main Time Angelique making better and better choices, we still have the memory of the many terrible, lethal decisions that led to Barnabas to where he is. She will never be able to change those; we just have to ponder her status as an immortal and accept that our Newtonian morality might need a little more flexibility when examining her. From that vantage, which is admittedly challenging for a lot of viewers, one of Main Time Angelique‘s saving graces is her intent. It may be absolutely monstrously demonstrated, but it does come from something honorable and relatable: love. It keeps her coming back through time and Perdition, again and again. It empowers her worst choices. But it is a noble source of empowerment, and thus inspires her best choices, too. Choices that resolve the story of Dark Shadows.

As I watched Hoffman and Angelique scheme and gloat regarding Maggie in this episode, I found myself thinking that that was pure Angelique, and yet somewhat different. Off. Shallow. At that point it struck me why. I was seeing an Angelique without love. Yes, maybe she has a twisted love for her father. Or for herself. But no more. She is the quintessential mean girl, powered by low self-esteem and wrath.

It will take us a while to encounter Angelique again and when we do, it will be the Main Time version with which we are familiar. At that point, for all of her misdeeds, and despite being accompanied by Laszlo and His Amazing Fez, we are expected to see greater depth in her… even greater heroism than we saw in 1897 or against the Leviathans. If we are able to make that leap of vision, perhaps Parallel Time is the little bit of boost that made it possible. Thus far, we have only been able to measure Angelique against other, arguably nobler characters. In this instance, we can finally measure her against the woman she might have become without Barnabas. And thus, without the crazy, irrational, but enviably redeeming influence of love. Seen in this light, Parallel Time is infinitely relevant. And we are not the only people who see that.

Barnabas does, too. Whether he knows it at the time or not.

This episode hit the airwaves May 21, 1970.

What do we know about Dark Shadows: Windcliff?


Dark Shadows: Bloodline is over. You can read Justin Partridge's review of the final three episodes HERE, and those of you who opted out of the digital weekly releases should be getting your CDs in the mail soon enough. If you're the kind of person with an aversion to spoilers, you might want to stop reading here ... I don't believe there are any major reveals in this post but some folks are more sensitive than others to spoilers. Proceed with caution.

Big Finish kicked off its grand experiement in serials with Dark Shadows: Bloodlust back in 2015, then made us wait four years before returning to the format. By all accounts the production of these long-play audios is intense, but luckily Big Finish will only make us wait one year for the follow-up, Dark Shadows: Windcliff. The 13-part serial is scheduled for release in April 2020.

Written by Penelope Faith, Aaron Lamont, Rob Morris and Paul Phipps-Williams, Windcliff sees as-yet unnamed characters making a night-time visit to Collinsport’s regional sanitarium. We now have a poster and a snazzy logo for the serial.

While the Dark Shadows audio productions are traditionally shrouded in secrecy (I was generously invited to provide the voice of the radio newscaster in both Bloodlust and Bloodline, and only allowed to see my own lines of dialogue) producer Joe Lidster shared a few details about Windcliff back in September, as part of an announcement of what to expect from the Dark Shadows range in 2019.

“All we’ll say for now is that we, again, wanted to do something we haven’t done before so Windcliff is very different to both Bloodlust and Bloodline,” Lidster said. “The writers are working on the scripts now and we’re looking forward to releasing more details in the future.”

In 2021 we'll get another 13-part serial titled ... Thirteen.

But what about Windcliff ? We'll, there's this ...

Which doesn't tell us much. Curiously, Windcliff Sanitarium now has its own dedicated Twitter account, which started leaking documents from the 1980s earlier this morning.

If you follow the writers and producers of the Dark Shadows range on Twitter, though, you've already seen a bit of back and forth about the development of the next serial ... mostly from blabbermouth Paul Phipps-Williams. Here's a sampling. Draw your own conclusions.

Dark Shadows: Bloodline, Episodes 11-13 (Mega Finale Column)


He who controls the SPOILERS AHEAD controls the universe! 

“If you can do anything, why not do good?”

What else can I say but, wow? Big Finish’s massive new serial comes to a thunderous conclusion in it’s final three episodes. Bringing home a whole mass of plot lines, writers Aaron Lamont, Will Howells, Rob Morris and Alan Flanagan absolutely nail the landing. Both by bringing this huge, truly epic story to a great conclusion and by setting things up nicely for the next epic. But enough lead up, we have a lot to get to. So let’s get.

First up we have episode 11 by Aaron Lamont. Our return back to regular episodic format after the wonderfully gimmicky episode 10. That isn’t to say that is the last we see of Tom’s magic recorder. Far from it! But episode 11 does a fantastic job of getting the whole story back on the rails.

Even better, Lamont starts to slowly but surely establish the ever expanding scope of the time-warping. As he reveals that it is starting to affect the whole town, quaking ripples through time itself that are changing Collinsport as we know it

Now Time Travel Stories aren’t exactly groundbreaking for Dark Shadows but episode 11 really delves into the consequences of time travel in a very real and slightly disturbing way as we start to see the changes as audience members. With the added melancholy of the characters themselves not remembering their lost loved ones, but still KNOWING they don’t remember while seeing their town change around them. It is pretty harrowing stuff going into what is essentially a “season finale”. Brutally and wonderfully acted by the cast throughout.

Will Howells and Rob Morris’ episode 12 then doubles down on these time consequences. All centered around dangerous team-ups with Rosier and our principle cast. As all our time tossed cast attempts to survive their respective eras, Amy Jennings hatches a pragmatic plan with Rosier. One that finds her using his whole “heart’s one desire” schtick to her advantage, by turning it toward bringing back everyone they have lost. Their obvious “heart’s one desire.” It is a wickedly clever turn from the script. Not only that, but it is wickedly in character for Amy. And for third, Stephanie Ellyne acts the absolute hell out of it.

There is also the question of the missing Barnabas, last seen breaking his chains and feeding from poor Cody Hill. There are a ton of plates spinning going into this episode. Both in the past and the present. But Howells and Morris keep them all spinning well, giving us a briskly paced episode jolting from character to character as they all move to points of no return. There is a keen edge to the check ins too as our travelers are all placed in precarious situations in time. Situations in which they can change things. For good or for ill. 

Throughout they show a true reverence, both for the established TV canon and their own meticulously crafted Big Finishverse (this is going to catch on even if it kills me). Mainly by revealing that most of the time tossings are situated alongside major events both on TV and in the audios. Supported by even more well mixed uses of clips from the original series.

The thread of Barnabas’ simmering bloodlust also comes to a terrifying head. With the brutal murder of Jamie Forbes and Bonnie Sands, the teenybopper couple that has been skirting around the edges of this story. I hadn’t really talked about them much as they just kind of seemed like Collinsport yokel flavoring, but sakes alive is their end brutal. Doubly so thanks to the staging and acting of the scene, led by a positively feral Andrew Collins.Often we hear about the monster Barnabas Collins is, but rarely ever “see” it. Well, episode 12 shows us it in all it’s gory glory and it is a doozy to listen to.

And it is Barnabas’ monstrosity that brings us to the Alan Flanagan written finale; episode 13.

Amid all the vampirism and time travel stuff, the cliffhanger of episode 12 reveals that the mastermind behind the whole morass was ... DR. JULIA HOFFMAN! Kinda. It was actually a Dark Lord powered new antagonist called Lilith, who has been riding shotgun with Julia ever since her “regeneration”. You see, she engineered the whole body switch in order to infiltrate Collinwood. And torture Barnabas Collins by stealing his family and placing them through time, with the temptation to change their timelines. Thus ruining them for eternity!

Though I can see some listeners being slightly turned off by the culprit not being revealed as someone major. A “name” if you will. I can also see them similarly being perturbed at Rosier’s sudden departure from the story in the episode before. Call it a slight “villain problem.” But Flanagan brings it all home very nicely, cutting to the heart of Lillth’s quest for vengeance and pairing it neatly with the ongoing plot of Barnabas’ “am I man or monster?” C-story.

It also comes with a bit of bittersweetness. After appealing to Lillth’s better nature and rescuing the Collins family, both Julia and Barnabas are “restored” to their original bodies. And then set off into the sunset together after the dust settles around Collinwood. As a listener, I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to lose Julia and Barnabas again. Especially after hearing Julie Newmar and Andrew Collins exquisite playing of them. But on some level I get it. This new range is more about the newer generation of Collinses and their makeshift family so I can bear it for now. I am glad, however, that Andrew Collins isn’t going anywhere, having been absconded to the “new and improved” Windcliff, now known as Bramwell Collins. Now doubt we will be seeing him again once that serial spins up.

But to bring this now 900 word screed to a close, Bloodline’s final episode are a resounding success. Ones that redefine this cast and this range. Setting them up for larger, more enriching stories as they live, love, and try to survive the spookiest town in fiction. I also personally want to thank you all for reading along with me and commenting on our facebook or reaching out on twitter about the coverage. It means a lot to me, both as a writer and fan to know that you are just as exciting and obsessed with this show and range as I am. I have to sleep now, as I am an old man and get tired but keep listening, keep reading, and I’ll be seeing you. 

(Editor's note: Episodes 11-13 of Bloodline are available HERE.)

Justin Partridge has always loved monsters and he thinks that explains a lot about him. When he isn’t over analyzing comics at Newsarama or ranting about Tom Clancy over at Rogues Portal, he is building Call of Cthulhu games, spreading the good word of Anti-Life, or rewatching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace for the dozenth time. He can be reached at the gasping Lovecraftian void that is Twitter @j_partridgeIII or via e-mail at Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 13


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 495

When Roger hears that a new giant of a man is on the grounds, his pistol is fully loaded. Can Barnabas make the proper introductions or will Roger shoot on sight? Adam: Robert Rodan. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Adam speaks his first word: Barnabas. After a rousing soup-eating seminar, Adam becomes distraught when Barnabas leaves, so he escapes. He and David play, but when they rumble over David’s new knife, Roger shoots Adam and probably goes home and laughs about it. Adam is wounded, but not down.

Everyone comes to Dark Shadows for the vampire. Everyone then finds their own reasons to stay. Episodes like 495 are replete with mine, and if you watch it without tearing up, we can turn this Daybook around right now and go home. I have plenty of GIRLS NEXT DOOR episodes I can write about, thank you. Agreed?

Isolation, misunderstandings, alienation and all of the other pillars of my self-esteem grab the baton and share duties as grand marshall of the parade here. In fact, 495 might be the most emotionally arresting installment in the show’s five year run. Other episodes have more arresting moments, but I can think of few others that establish and sustain such poignance. Robert Rodan’s sensitive and liberated performance is key, and it’s no wonder that children rushing home from school now had a character with whom they could identify, and a character capable of unlocking the parental side of Barnabas they always knew was there. Not that Rodan was an ideal child and not that Barnabas was an ideal parent, as the great man admits in the soup scene. (And it has a Soup Scene. Even the hippest cities can’t boast of a thriving soup scene, yet here ya go.) The fact that they fall short makes it all the more touching because the intention is there. Adam may be a wayward student of the spoon, but the pain we see when he attempts to make Barnabas stay is authentic and affectionate. Jonathan Frid similarly finds lovely and ambiguous texture in that scene, playing off of Rodan for dynamics we’d rarely see again. Barnabas shows a mournful pride; he hears his name as Adam’s first word and then chides himself for having unrealistic expectations based on that. Just as pointed is the pain and desperation Adam freely shows when Barnabas leaves. For many young viewers, the tv was their primary companion when adults left… if they were ever really there. The truth of that moment, shared by Sam Hall and Robert Rodan, cuts through plot, character, atmosphere, and everything else to speak directly to viewers, confronting as well as comforting. It’s a biting reminder of the job Dark Shadows was fulfilling.

Hall then does something uncommon for Dark Shadows. He doubles down on it all with the other mismatched father/son pair, Roger and David. David is trying to show off a new knife, and Roger is pulling a muscle to feign interest. It’s clear they’re both trying, and they both know it’s probably pointless. But what alternative have they? David later confides to Adam that he wishes that speaking were unnecessary, since it’s usually a vehicle for prying information more than connecting. Is anyone connecting in the episode? Roger even asks Barnabas to try a little harder to get along with Cassandra, as if his cousin were the petulant son of a newly married dad. David and Adam are the closest to each other, and even they suffer potentially fatal misunderstandings. In classic, Frankenstein tradition, Adam’s heartfelt attempts to assist are misinterpreted in a way with which only well-meaning children (and recovering ones) can relate.

One person at least tries: Barnabas. When Roger and Barnabas face down Adam (with David), the two sets of fathers and sons are matched up perfectly. We see the future play out in the present. We get how Roger got to be Roger and what David will become. Barnabas, a mild-mannered outsider (now) uses rational speech with Adam. Roger? A gun. Which he fires at Adam, anyway, even after Barnabas’ technique works. The episode ends with a hint of Dumas, as do so many others (usually involving Burke Devlin). Adam ends as prone, afraid, and powerless as he begins, he rubs his gun-shot shoulder. Given his connection to Barnabas, will they share the same pain, ala The Corsican Brothers? Neither Cheech nor Chong weigh in.

This episode hit the airwaves May 17, 1968.

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 10


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 235

When Sam faces his last chance to confront Maggie’s danger, is he prepared to fight the impossible? Sam Evans: David Ford. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Seeing bite marks on Maggie’s neck, Sam wrestles with the origins and implications of Maggie’s assault. Seeing her dazed state and hearing Victoria’s reports, he tries to protect her further, but while a nurse is distracted, Maggie vanishes from the hospital by way of an open window. 

It’s easy to get used to good acting on Dark Shadows. So much so that it often goes unmentioned. But then there’s David Ford. Like so many vets of the show, he was also a vet of Broadway, and his transposed appearance in the film of 1776 further evidences his acumen. (Theatre insiders who saw his Dickinson report that it was even more impressive than his Hancock.) The measured intensity of Sam Evans in 235 sells the terror of Barnabas as much as Jonathan Frid, himself. Although Dark Shadows very quickly becomes a paean to outsiders, it begins very differently, and as it should. In these early months, we move among the normal insiders of society, and the show does a convincing job of throwing that world into uncertainty and peril with the arrival of vampires and phoenixes. Eventually, the show moves to the other side of the coffin lid. But before we get used to Barnabas and Quentin, we see how disturbing it is to be a mortal among gods, and few are more mortal than Sam Evans.

This episode could easily have turned into a tired-yet-subtle lecture on masculine arrogance. Today, it might have. Generalized Men have become incredibly safe targets for recriminating critique in the media, and Sam Evans is my Exhibit A to counteract this. He both represents ostensible male authority and displays perseverance in the face of its reevaluation. Yes, it will be deconstructed in this episode, but not as an all-knowing punishment or as guilt by association. It’s not sexist, it’s Shakespearean. No one could have known what was necessary to properly guard Maggie. In a poorly-written episode of the modern era, Sam would have been advised on the possibility of supernatural threats from the get-go. Of course, he would have rejected them. And of course, the implication would have been that he was blinded by rigid, masculine inflexibility, thus leading to his failure as parent and protector, etc, etc. Ron Sproat doesn’t play that game. The show skirts near implicating the fallibility of men, but instead does the more universal job of depicting fallibility, period. Because anyone would have made Sam’s choices. Or Joe’s. Or Woodard’s. 

The attacks on Maggie become a rape metaphor with very little imagination. In a ham-fisted episode, someone would have been warning Sam about a potential attacker as he would have been waving it away in a whiff of omniscient privilege. But there is no warning. To Sam, in his innocence, an attack like that is more than unthinkable; it doesn’t even exist. He’s a true naif, but so are they and so are we. None in Collinsport can conceive of this attack as even possible. Maggie is the ultimate victim, here, and right behind her is Sam. No one is implicitly or explicitly to blame of anything except being in the wrong place at the wrong time, regardless of role or gender. By making no move in that regard, the show actually makes a fascinating and bold one. Bold in the 1960’s. Arguably beyond progressively egalitarian, now, because of how tempting it would be as fodder for painfully “relevant” commentary.     

Bearded and robust, Sam Evans looks like the love child of Brian Blessed and God, making him a seeming straw man for a Statue of Liberty-sized misandry. Just as this makes him the perfect target, he’s just as perfect to see side-step becoming one. Opinionated at times, but never without a heart the size of China (and twice as fragile), his masculinity is a nourishing one, not toxic. Sam Evans is both parents, and he represents the best of them on the show, despite the alcoholism. 

And he increases the intensity of the show’s terror, as well. With no agenda except to love his daughter, his reactions inform us as to the magnitude of the horror in Collinsport -- the horror of Barnabas and how transgressive it is. He sees the bite marks. He knows what they are. We know what they are. Fiction is now fact. You don’t just witness the parent of an attack victim. You meet a man whose boundaries of safety and definitions of reality are stripped away. If vampires are real, what the hell else is out there? It’s the job of a parent to stretch the truth when they say that everything is going to be okay. But few have been on the business end of the boogeyman as Sam Evans. There are no limits to the possible dangers, now, and with that is his realization that he has no power to stop any of it. 

The show never could have sustained this level of existential dread, but rooting us in it roots us in the program’s sense of humanity. This establishes an emotional and ethical baseline, and as wild as the action becomes, we never stray from the terror experienced by everyone, including the monsters. We all share a fundamental need for safety, and safety is grounded in the footing of knowing what’s possible. That definition is tenuous in Dark Shadows -- even demons end with more questions than answers. Beginning that with a human parent is a crucial choice. Sam’s job as an artist makes him even more vital as our lens because it’s his job to represent reality, and doing so is important to him. He informs us early into the series that he’s not an abstract painter. Liz has such power and guilt that it’s hard to sympathize with her. Sam’s guilty, too, of lying on the witness stand, but the pressures and weaknesses experienced there are a tad more understandable. He’s a parent, not a paragon. Artist and parent, he’s joined in the dawning horror by Joe, who must be a realist to survive on the high seas. With them, and most tragic of all, perhaps, is Dave Woodard. He fights to understand the problem from every angle but the mythic. As physician, with the most power and responsibility, his late attendance at the party of the possible carries with it the most culpability for Maggie’s fate. Burke’s in that mix, as well. Materialists all, but not insensitive ones, their best estimates of reality leave them without a body, just an empty hospital bed. Robbed of all ability to protect, they are even robbed of the evidence of their failure. 

Ron Sproat’s script is an admirably balanced mix of propulsive and meditative. In the wrong hands, it would have devolved into a tired lecture. Is it a warning against arrogance? No. Episode 235 is a strange comfort that true horror will come when and where we know it shouldn’t be possible. The comfort comes from reminding us that we are all together in that predicament. More than any genre, horror can unite as much as comment or divide. In 235, it had the chance to do the worst of the latter. Thanks to Ron Sproat and David Ford, it does the opposite. 

This episode hit the airwaves May 19, 1967.
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