Episode 215: Where’s Willie?

“I haven’t seen him around, but I don’t know that he’s gone.”

We’re back at the Blue Whale today, and we’ll be here for the whole episode, so I hope you have a designated driver. The story plays out in real time, so it’s like 24 but without the action or suspense. But there is a mystery, and the question on everyone’s lips is: “Where’s Willie?”

215 burke jason drink

Turns out Willie wasn’t just bothering the Collins family — he was also causing trouble at the Blue Whale, and Burke threw him out and told him not to come back. And Willie hasn’t come back, so I’m not sure why Burke’s still being twitchy about it. I guess some people just can’t take not showing up for an answer.

Jason comes in to look for Willie and have a drink, not necessarily in that order, and Burke asks for a Willie update.

Burke: I haven’t seen him around lately.

Jason: Well, then you must be very pleased.

Burke: Possibly.

Jason: It must be a great weight off your mind.

Burke: Well, it’s not quite off my mind. I haven’t seen him around, but I’m not sure that he’s gone.

This conversation goes on forever.

Burke: Where is Willie Loomis?

Jason: I don’t know where he is.

Burke: What does that mean?

Jason: Just what I said! I don’t know.

Third base!

Burke: So it is possible that he’s left.

Jason: Well… anything’s possible.

Thanks, guys, I think this plot point has been established pretty comprehensively. We’ll get back to you if we need anything.

215 maggie joe burke table

Jason finally disengages, and leaves the bar. Burke sits down with Joe and Maggie.

Joe’s having a bad night — he just came from his uncle’s farm outside of town, where they found a calf that was completely drained of blood.

The veterinarian said that there weren’t any obvious wounds — just two puncture marks in the calf’s throat. Apparently, somebody’s going around perforating cows.

Maggie says, “There has to be a rational explanation for it!” And obviously if somebody says that on a television show, it can only mean one thing: alien cows.

215 dark shadows burke willie bar

But just as the empty calf conversation gets rolling, who should walk in but Willie Loomis. And he looks awful.

Burke approaches, expecting a fight, but all the fight’s gone out of Willie; he looks haunted, just staring off into space.

Willie mutters an apology to Burke, and says, “I won’t make any trouble.” Burke gets concerned, asking Willie what happened. Willie stares down at the bar and summons the energy to say, “Nothin’.”

This is actually a nice performance by John Karlen, subdued and weird. In his head, he’s doing Death of a Salesman, and actually he’s not doing a bad job.

215 dark shadows willie jason finger

Then Jason comes back into the bar. I’m not sure why he’s decided to check back in ten minutes after he left, but Willie’s here, so I guess it worked. He grabs Willie and starts another interrogation. Willie denies being in the cemetery, he doesn’t want the money, he can’t explain where he’s been, and so on.

Back at the table, Joe’s still all broken up about the calf. These are perfectly acceptable plot points, but they’re using about three minutes worth of story to fill a 22-minute episode.

For the big finish, Jason notices that there are specks of blood on Willie’s sleeve. I guess Willie’s been hollowing out cows again.

Tomorrow: I Don’t Dig You Out.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

When Jason’s talking to Willie at the bar, he hisses, “How could you sink so low, do a thing like that, rob a stiff?” Jason barely stifles a cough and then goes on.

Behind the Scenes:

John Karlen, who plays Willie, was born John Karlewicz, and grew up in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a historically tough neighborhood. (In 1990, Life magazine said that it was one of the worst neighborhoods in the US.) Karlen had a varied career on stage and television in the late 50s and early 60s, appearing on Broadway in Sweet Bird of Youth and All in Good Time. Like many of the Dark Shadows actors, this was his first regular appearance on a TV series.

Karlen was planning to move to California when his agent told him that Dark Shadows needed to replace an actor in a hurry. (James Hall, the original Willie, left the show after 4 episodes.) Karlen says that he never had a contract with executive producer Dan Curtis: “We had a handshake, which was pretty good.” This allowed him to take breaks from the show sometimes. One of those breaks will begin in a very dramatic fashion in September.

Tomorrow: I Don’t Dig You Out.

215 dark shadows willie eyes

Dark Shadows episode guide – 1967

— Danny Horn

20 thoughts on “Episode 215: Where’s Willie?

  1. Hey, farm reports and soaps go hand in hand, just not in the US. The beloved UK radio soap “The Archers” began precisely as a means of disseminating info to farmers in an entertaining way, still has an agricultural story editor, and I suspect it might be the only soap to ever have a major character be trampeled to death by stampeding sheep. There was a Canadian series on similar lines as well.

    Also, I do sort of wish the pre-210 episodes were online mainly because I’ve been curious about John Karlen and Willie, the transition from dangerous, brawling drifter (or so it reads) to Barnabas’ Renfield (although I don’t know if he ever really went into Dwight Frye hamminess; I know that’s how the 90s series played it, but) and (again just from reading) sometimes a rather poignant figure. Also, I sort of wish I had a Dark Shadows ref book handy, one of those which actually identifies all of the “Blue Whale patrons” slumped in the background. I also like how Mitch Ryan’s Burke really does have that general 1960s soap male look, craggy attractiveness which by now has become passé (and, as he aged, made him really well suited to comedic rich guys in “Grosse Pointe Blank” and “Dharma and Greg.”) More when/if I actually get through this episode!

  2. Yeah, I’m going to get into some Renfield/Willie comparisons in a couple weeks, when they finally bother to put Willie and Barnabas in a scene together. (This week, Willie’s just going to be acting with the portrait.) Even with only the scenes at the beginning of ep 210, you can see the difference between Willie pre-box and the wounded animal we see here.

    The Dark Shadows reference text that you’re dreaming of is called “The Dark Shadows Almanac: Millennium Edition”, and it’s fantastic. It’s got the entire cast list, including extras and stand-ins. It doesn’t actually break the extras list down by episodes, but it lists the year and the number of episodes the actor was in. For example, Jeff Gald was a Blue Whale customer in 2 episodes in 1966; Lenore Ellin was in 8 episodes in 1966-67, etc.

    Here’s a couple nerd cast notes, since you’re asking:

    Timothy Gordon was one of the Blue Whale regulars, appearing in 31 episodes from 1966 to 1969. He also played Barnabas’ hand coming out of the coffin to grab Willie’s neck in ep 210.

    The Blue Whale bartender is Bob O’Connell, who appears in 58 episodes, starting with episode 2 and ending with ep 951, and he only gets to speak once. He gets called various names, including Andy, Mike, Bob and Pudgy; he also plays the bartender in 1795, when he’s called Mr. Mooney. His one speaking role is in episode 319, when he asks the sheriff about a missing girl. The sheriff tells the bartender to forget everything he’s heard, and O’Connell obligingly falls back into an unbroken silence.

  3. Nonchalance would like to take this opportunity to comment on the unseemly awfulness of James Hall’s Willie Loomis. Although he does refer to himself in the third person, of which Nonchalance approves.

      1. I definitely preferred James Hall over Karlen. For an actor to only complete 4 episodes, he certainly made an impression on me. The guy just oozed sliminess that Karlen can’t seem to summon (at least not yet).

        Hall’s leering over the women and just being a general uber-creep makes me wish we could have seen more of him after the transformation. Hall made the character seem truly unstable and dangerous. Karlen comes across as a guy who is just mildly irritating to others.

        Any reason ever given as to why James Hall left the show?

        And I agree with the other post stating they would have loved to see Hall’s version of the character take the beating from Burke that Karlen received. Hall’s version truly deserved it.

        1. In an interview, Karlen stated that he was told James Hall did not provide the higher-ups what they envisioned of Willie as proper character development. Hall did portray him as James Dean before his accident, if Willie did portray Dean post-accident as the webmaster suggests. Karlen gave extra dimensions to the character. Whether Hall might have done the same is conjecture, since he was never given the chance to do so, but from what I saw, it is doubtful that he would have. On the other hand, once again, he was not given the chance to do so, so we will never know. I doubt though that Hall would have had the staying power that Karlen had. Also, considering what Karlen was able to do with his career after DS, he did turn out to be the better actor.

    1. My only regret about James Hall leaving is that he didn’t leave a couple of episodes later. I wanted to see him get beaten up by Burke in the bar!

  4. At rise, Burke seems to be having so much difficulty with his line deliveries that you’d swear he’d been in The Blue Whale for a few days doing scene prep. And the languid back-and-forth between Burke and Jason ends with what seems like a Kenny G solo. I had to lean in and make sure we hadn’t time warped to the ’80’s.

    There are more extras on deck tonight than I have ever seen at The Blue Whale. Must have had some lobster rolls for happy hour apps. They are positively everywhere! Bob must be really making bank in this episode.

    All of this wistful nostalgia for the whereabouts of Willie–well, you gotta hand it to ’em. They are definitely MISSING the poor bloke.

    Joe rolls in with one of the oddest intros from Maggie ever–“Hey, here’s the long-lost pride of our sardine fleet.” Really? He’s definitely the handsomest male ingenue on the show currently and Maggie would be well-advised to remember that. She may look back fondly on her days with Joe when she’s had a few weeks locked up with Barnabas at the Old House. Joe’s not exactly chopped liver and he’s going to eventually wind up as the male lead on the P&G CBS mystery police procedural, EDGE OF NIGHT, as Dr. Miles Cavanaugh.

    But first, there is the riveting story of Joe and The Missing Calf. As we march down the garden path towards All Things Vampire, this is a very telling first reveal of the fact that somebody has been doing major research into the matter and we can rest assured that all of the other vampire tropes will soon be resurrected as well. I am convinced that without this linchpin scene in DS, that we might never have had The X Files. And those puncture marks on the calf’s neck, well, Maggie, that outta give you quite a turn, if we’re future tripping.

    And, at long last, Willie makes his much anticipated Collinsport re-entry, plants himself at the bar like the lost puppy dog he now is–fully neutered by Barnabas–and forces both Jason and Burke to participate in an awful blocking run-around. Because Willie is stationery and lost “in his cups,” Jason and Burke have to constantly change positions on either side of him to give the scene at least the appearance of some kind of composition. Which could only mean that poor Bob probably had to hold the cue cards as well. He definitely needs a hike in pay, that Bob.

    1. I like this one. Sure, the writing has its flaws, and there are a couple of shots where it’s hard to tell what the visual composition was supposed to be. And Mitch Ryan is obviously drunk. But they rise beyond all that.

      Kathryn Leigh Scott plays Maggie throughout as an understated version of her original wised-up conception, very apt for the barroom setting and a fine offset to the intensity all the male characters have to show this time. She doesn’t have many lines, but she has everything she needs to keep the show on track.

      Dennis Patrick’s face and voice show at least two emotions in every shot, and he and Mitch Ryan do a terrific job as two men who don’t like each other but can’t help getting absorbed in a puzzle that fascinates them both. The music that builds throughout that scene and reaches its crescendo as Jason leaves the bar matches the complex emotional palette with which the actors are working; it doesn’t sound anything like the usual Dark Shadows music, and I don’t think we ever hear it again.

      Joel Crothers’ turn as the messenger announcing the tragedy of the calves is as tense as the dialogue between Patrick and Ryan, but his studiousness and deliberation change the pace sufficiently to keep the scenes from blurring together. Ryan and Scott deliver their responses to him with a calm intelligence that emphasizes those qualities and makes Willie’s stumbling entrance a real surprise.

      Ryan’s scene with John Karlen is a turning point in the series. Burke’s shift from a menacing demand that Willie leave town to an alarmed concern for his well-being marks the end of Scary Violent Willie and the arrival of Wretched Broken Willie, and his conference with Jason confirms that change. Everything Karlen does on the show from this point on, right up to his performance as Kendrick, begins with this scene.

  5. BTW: Danny–your “perforating cows” and “alien cows” actually caused me the closest thing to ROFL I am ever likely to get. Fall. Down. Funny.

  6. John Karlen brought a great deal to Dark Shadows; though I didn’t like Willie Loomis, it’s a credit to Karlen that he could portray that so effectively. It made the tragedy of his enslavement more poignant (and yes, good writing has much to do with it too).

    And he did more than that in his time on DS, though some of the roles were truncated – – it would have been fun to have kept Carl Collins on for a while longer.

  7. I know ive probably said this before, but as i keep coming back to re-read your posts while i re-watch the episodes, i am filled with gratitude for all the time and work you put into this. It has been over 6 years since i stumbled across you. Your work has continued to add to my enjoyment and appreciation of DS. Thank u

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