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Episode 512: Everybody Rise

“I am prepared to convene a jury of the dead in this room!”

He meant well, is the thing that you have to remember. There’s an evil witch who’s living at Collinwood these days, and she’s making life complicated for everybody, so Professor Stokes thought, hey, we’ve got a witch, why not raise the spirit of a bad-tempered 18th-century witch hunter?

Stokes learned that Reverend Trask was buried alive behind a brick wall in the basement of the Old House, so he figured, let’s wake Trask up, point him in the direction of Angelique, and then just let nature take its course. Stokes is something of a lateral thinker.

So, yeah. It’s not one of the top ten plans. But at least it doesn’t involve terrorizing a young child, so for Dark Shadows, it’s actually not that bad. You have to grade these things on a curve.

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Episode 511: Séance Fiction

“Look, I’m not carrying anybody’s will but my own, and I’ll prove that to you!”

A summer crush is always fun, isn’t it? As we’ve been heading into June 1968, I’ve talked about nothing but Professor Timothy Stokes, occult expert and storyline accelerator. Over the last week, Stokes has taken the lead in five straight episodes — completely taking over the Dream Curse storyline, and sticking his nose into the Adam plot as well — and he’s done it using the sheer power of being smarter and more interesting than anyone else. He’s clearly a Dark Shadows star in the making.

But sadly, this is actually his peak moment for a long time. After one more episode later this week, Stokes is going to fade back into the chorus for a while. He has a little run of episodes in mid-July, and another in October, and besides that, he just pops up periodically over the next year. He doesn’t make it into the top tier of essential characters like Barnabas, Julia, Angelique and Quentin, who must have a major role in every storyline. So what happened?

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Episode 510: Some Enchanted Evening

“Do you still believe we cannot gain help from the dead?”

Professor Stokes steps to the phone, and places a call. “Julia, thank goodness it’s you,” he says. “You must come here immediately.”

“Well, what happened?” says Julia. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m afraid I’ve just killed a man,” Stokes says, and then the credits kick in.

See, I told you that Professor Stokes is amazing. Can you believe this guy? This is how he starts an episode.

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Episode 509: Blind Date

“Germs — I’ve never been a big believer in them, but they do exist.”

A couple weeks ago, grouchy painter Sam Evans was struck blind, following an encounter with a witch that I don’t have time to get into right now. In a normal soap opera, a character going blind would be a huge focus for the show for months. We’d see all the doctor’s visits, they’d be trying out experimental treatments, and the character would go through a lengthy grieving process as they adjust to the loss of their sight.

But I don’t know why I even bother to bring that up anymore. I might as well say, “In a beach party movie, Annette Funicello would be singing about surfboards.” We may have reached the point where comparisons between Dark Shadows and normal soap operas are no longer relevant.

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Time Travel, part 3: Blood Chemistry

“Hot tentacles stretch upwards.”

We’ve reached a milestone in our uncertain and frightening journey into the past — June 6th, 1968, the day that Senator Robert F. Kennedy died. Kennedy was in the middle of a Presidential campaign, and he was gunned down by an assassin on June 5th, just after winning the Democratic primaries in California and South Dakota.

So Dark Shadows was pre-empted on June 6th, along with the other network daytime shows, to present news coverage of the assassination.

On this blog, a pre-emption day means I fill in with an episode of NBC’s 1991 Dark Shadows revival series. We watched episode 1 of the new series for Thanksgiving 1967, and episode 2 a month later for Christmas. Marking a more somber occasion, I’m going to draw a respectful curtain over the tragic circumstances of this particular pre-emption, and move on to my discussion of this mediocre vampire show.

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Episode 508: Dream Beater

“Why am I not opening your doors?”

What, when you get right down to it, is magic?

In the context of a story, anyone can have magic powers, and there really aren’t any hard and fast rules about how they work. Take Angelique, for example — a ladies’ maid from Martinique with reality-warping abilities, apparently granted to her by Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies.

Angelique started out with some rather modest household voodoo, choking a toy soldier to make Barnabas gasp for breath. But pretty soon, she was raising zombies from their graves, and turning people into cats, and generally wiping the floor with the Collins family.

By this point, she has a baffling assortment of abilities, including the power of getting really super old when somebody paints over her portrait. She doesn’t use that one very much, because it’s hard to weaponize.

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Episode 507: The Spirit of St. George

“According to my calculations, only one more person must have the dream.”

I knew this was going to be hard. When I started this strange and terrifying journey through Dark Shadows, I knew that the Dream Curse storyline was waiting for me, and it was going to test my endurance more than anything else on the show. But here I am, six weeks into the story, and I just looked at my episode guide, and I’m only halfway through. We’re currently at the beginning of June 1968, and the Dream Curse ends in mid-July.

I know I keep saying “Here’s the problem with the Dream Curse,” but here’s the problem with the Dream Curse: characters just saunter in and out of the storyline, and it doesn’t seem to matter. The allegedly terrifying chain letter / dream sequence moves from one character to another, and once they’ve passed the baton on to the  next person, they drop out of the storyline.

Remember when it was a big deal that Mrs. Johnson needed to go to Boston, so she wouldn’t pass the dream on to Jeff? Or was that David? Or Julia. I’m pretty sure it was either Julia or River Song. No, wait, that’s Doctor Who. I’ve got this written down somewhere.

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Episode 506: After the Fall

“You broke into my room to tell me about a dream?”

Here’s the kind of thing that Dark Shadows had to deal with: They moved the taping schedule around to accommodate Jonathan Frid’s insane ten-city publicity tour a couple weeks ago, and as it shook out, there were three episodes this week that taped the day before they aired.

It’s actually hard to get your mind around how close to the edge that is. If anything went wrong with the taping, then there’s nothing to show tomorrow; it’s dead air. And this is Dark Shadows; of course something’s going to go wrong. Things go wrong, like, all the time.

So if this was a show produced by sane people, they’d probably want to throw together a couple episodes where everybody sits around in the living room and talks over the events of the day. That’s what every other daily soap opera ever made does all the time anyway. But, no — it’s Dark Shadows, which means we need three cops and a Frankenstein monster and a seance and a dream sequence and a skeleton and a brick wall falling apart and a root cellar.

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Episode 505: The Sinking Detective

“You might as well prepare yourself for an ordeal.”

It’s a tough job, I get that. Police officers on Dark Shadows combine the inadequacy of soap opera cops with the inadequacy of monster movie cops. Police officer characters can do very well, if they stay in their own genres, but when they stray too far from home, they start competing with characters that are automatically way more interesting.

The outbreak of lawlessness that Sheriff George Patterson is currently investigating centers around Adam, the patchwork Frankenstein monster. If they catch him, they’re planning to charge him with being brought to life without a license, which I don’t think is even a misdemeanor.

So you’ve got to feel bad for the Sheriff, unless you forget all about him the moment he’s off the screen, like everybody else does.

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