Friday, May 31, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 31


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 506

Willie pulls out the stops when he tries to halt the dream curse while also discouraging Barnabas from shooting a man who may have died twice. Willie: John Karlen. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas and Willie bicker over whether or not Adam survived the fall. Meanwhile, Carolyn confesses that she felt no danger from Adam. Willie, desperate to pass on the dream curse, scales the stones of Collinwood and breaks into Carolyn’s room. As he holds her fast to tell her the dream, she bites his hand to escape.

SFX: Steampunk cpap wheezing. 

INT: Bedroom. A restless man sleeps on a disheveled, steadily leaking heart-shaped waterbed. The man’s head is in an inflating-deflating rubber hood, connected to the copper, iron, and brass cpap by massive black tubes. 

The man murmurs form beneath the hood. 

The Spice expands consciousness. 
The Spice extends dream sequences.

FADE TO: A social microcosm by the sea. Inescapable. Old money. Science run amok. Repressed desires. Honorable fishermen. And a hapless workin’ guy named Willie trapped in the middle, born to take the easy way out, but destined to face trials of terror, bravery, and even madness. Nearly invulnerable to harm. Squaring off with muscled beasts and unnatural mutations. A misunderstood ambassador from a generation apart, but not. Once a mate to an overly confident sailin’ man, but now both are landlocked, cut off from the sailor’s life by circumstances they never could have foreseen and surrounded by women out of their reach. 

Cut to: Man wakes up and speaks from beneath the hood. 

Okay, that’s about as far as I can drag John Karlen into the joke. While it’s funny to imagine Karlen and Dennis Patrick as, of course, Ginger and Mary Ann, it’s even funnier to imagine Bob Denver and Alan Hale, Jr. as Willie Loman and Jason of Star Command. Wait. What? Get a grip, McCray. Stop goofin’ around. This is for posterity. You’re building up to a book. You have a Rondo, for god’s sake. Fives of dozens of people didn’t stuff that ballot box for nothing. Come out of it. 


Sorry. I don’t know what happened. These rhapsodies are becoming more frequent. I think it was the result of a half-waking hallucination I had as the episode became its own dream curse. So, I pass it on to you, and please don’t bite my hand.

I love this show, and every episode counts, and now that I paid my dues with that, I’ll admit that 506 has so much excess stuffing, it belongs on a fat man’s plate at Thanksgiving in an Alka Seltzer ad from 1974. I champion the writers. They have to stretch out more material than Reed Richards’ unstable tailor. In this case, we have two, maybe three conversations that have one point each:

Yes, Willie, I sense that Adam is still alive.

No, mother, somehow I sense that the large man meant me no harm.

Stop squirmin’, I gotta tell ya this dream, Carolyn! Ouch! My finger!

Then, move on.

As is my signature, that’s a wildly unfair oversimplification. Here is a fair oversimplification: Willie Loomis really is the Gilligan of Dark Shadows, and it’s an inspiring irony that both share the first name, “Willie.” (At least, according to Sherwood Schwartz, although he spelled it with a y, as was later established in the legendary musical variety special, “Willy with a Y.”) That really comes out in this episode… not in a cloying way, but sympathetically. Both are simple, but not simple minded. Both have clear sets of objectives often overlooked by those who surround them. They put up with a lot of abuse by social “betters” who never take the time to listen to their common sense. They have to do scut work, and they gain the sympathy of the audience even if many of their deeds are questionable shortcuts. You know, like going to Maggie’s house with a gun.

I curse John Karlen’s robust career because it kinda kept him from doing even more episodes of Dark Shadows. No matter how blandly filleriffic an installment might be, there is no such thing as time wasted watching Karlen act… and watching him act the characters and dialogue he inspired from the writers. The character of Willie really is the rug that ties the room together, despite being walked -- and sometimes micturated -- upon. He is necessary in almost every episode, and his absence becomes apparent when you imagine any Loomisless episode with him woven in. It gets better. Always. John Karlen, thou art the bacon of acting. And never the ham.

The show had all of the elements but one, before he arrived. Aristocracy? Check. Kind-but-dimwitted villagers? Check. Powerful threats? Check. One realist to comment on it all, speaking for the rest of us and taking (literal) bullets as the true audience surrogate? Ecci Loomis. Willie Loomis. Because, unlike Vicky, he understands all too well. Maybe better than anyone else. Yes, he’s a coward, but it’s a cowardice that makes sense, even if it makes Willie a semi-informed expedience junkie.

In this case, he keeps Barnabas -- the man in charge WITH A GUN, NO LESS -- stymied and shouting for at least the first 40 or 50 minutes of the episode. That’s a feat. Then he manages to at least speak of few sentences of the dream despite having scaled a wall and wrestled a co-ed. And he does this as an inveterate smoker.

I was wrong to discount episode 506. Willie climbing a wall. Barnabas with a gun. And Joan Bennett as Joan Bennett, which is worth it right there.  It’s a scientific impossibility to walk away from Dark Shadows without seeing something to love, and I mean that. Don’t let the abundance of episodes and uniquely prolonged storytelling structure keep you from seeing it.

This episode hit the airwaves June 3, 1968.

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