Episode 464: First Wife’s Club

“I mean, the very idea of people cavorting in and out in time periods would be amusing, if it weren’t so preposterous.”

Sometimes I see a big event on a daytime soap opera — a wedding, or a black-tie charity fundraiser, or a serial killer holding a group of teens hostage in a police station during an earthquake while one of them is having a baby — and I think, it is seriously unbelievable that this is the same genre, the same medium and the same timeslot as Dark Shadows. It’s the budgets — I just can’t get my head around where all that money is coming from.

I understand that the technology has advanced — filming and editing and effects are easier than they used to be. But how can they afford all those people? When modern soaps do those big episodes, they just throw dozens of people at the screen — main cast, recurring players, guest roles, plus all those extras standing around in the background, pretending to dance or eat or tend to the wounded.

Dark Shadows could afford five and a half people a day. That’s it. If you’re lucky, we’ll get a guy to wrap some bandages around his head, and we’ll call him an ancestor. I mean, it’s not like people suddenly got less expensive. There can’t be that many out-of-work waiters willing to appear on a television show while they wait for something to open up at a restaurant.

464 dark shadows portrait roger

But here we are in 1968, and Roger Collins is falling in love with a portrait. That’s how bad it was back then. Imagine showing up to work, and they tell you that they can’t afford a co-star for the day, so you have to stand there and strike up a conversation with the decor.

464 dark shadows attitude roger julia

Still, if anyone can pull it off, I suppose Louis Edmonds is your guy. As far as I’m concerned, he can do anything. Just look at the way he’s standing here. He was playing the tragic, flint-hearted patriarch a week ago.

But something unearthly is going on here; we’re getting some weird echoes of the Collins family’s past.

Roger:  Have you ever seen a more beautiful face?

Julia:  She’s very pretty.

Roger:  Ah, pretty — too many women are described as being pretty. The beauty of that face is unique! I should think that you, being French, would be only too glad to acknowledge such beauty, Countess Du Prés.

So that’s a thing. One thing that’s nice about Dark Shadows these days is that they really don’t have the time for a lot of vague foreshadowing. If they want you to worry about something, they don’t beat around the bush. They just go ahead and do the weird thing they’re planning to do.

464 dark shadows welcome stokes

And speaking of weird things, guess who shows up at the door. It’s the lovely and adorable Ben Stokes, the downtrodden 18th century servant.

464 dark shadows professor stokes

But this is actually the latest model, Professor Timothy Stokes. Vicki’s taken aback when she sees him, and she has to explain, “You look rather like someone I once knew.” Luckily, the professor is too well-bred to call her out on this obvious lie. Stokes doesn’t look like anything in the world except Stokes. The world doesn’t make a matching set of faces like this; it’s one to a customer.

If you’re lucky enough to find a Stokes, then you need to lock that down, because there isn’t going to be another one coming by any time soon. Happily, Dark Shadows is now a good enough show to recognize value like this when they see it.

464 dark shadows shake barnabas stokes

So here he is, another member of the menagerie. Other soaps are issuing desperate casting calls for handsome, dynamic and charming late 20s bad boys, and good luck to them; I’m sure they’ll find one sooner or later.

Dark Shadows has no interest in that sort of thing. Give us eccentrics, they say. Give us your quirky, your odd, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. You’d have a hard time finding a mass more huddled than this.

464 dark shadows relative stokes

Stokes is here — and he’s always Stokes, by the way; he eventually acquires a different first name because everyone forgot that he already had one — because the antique shop owner told him that Vicki had bought the portrait.

Stokes is researching the life of his ancestor Ben, who worked at Collinwood in the late 18th century, and he has reason to believe that the woman in the portrait was also living at Collinwood at that time. Stokes has been reading the memoir that Ben wrote in his old age.

There are so many improbable things going on in this scene that it’s hard to tell which one is the more puzzling — that Ben took up a literary career, that Ben had descendants, or that it takes Stokes a full sixty seconds before he pulls a monocle out of his vest pocket and sticks it in his eye. The man is clearly a monocle waiting to happen.

464 dark shadows remember vicki

It doesn’t take long before the art appreciation salon gets into full swing, and just look at this gathering of lunatics. It doesn’t even matter what they’re talking about at this point; I would watch these three guys do absolutely anything. They could do a spinoff where they live together in a New York townhouse and raise a pair of adopted kids from Harlem, and call it Diff’rent Stokes.

Yes, I admit that was kind of a long walk to get to a stupid joke, but who cares. I’m just in a really good mood this week.

464 dark shadows grin barnabas stokes

Because the last four days have seen a positive shift in the show’s development. Things were starting to feel a bit claustrophobic towards the end of the 1795 trip, as the cast dwindled down to about six people and a bat puppet. But the return to 1968 has been a dream so far, and even the dreams have zombie guardian angels in them, bellowing and rolling their eyes with a feverish intensity. They’re having fun. The show is fun again.

464 dark shadows justice barnabas stokes

It won’t last; I say that every time we hit a happy groove like this. There are some slow times coming up that will test our patience like nothing ever has before. But we have Stokes now, and a mean painting, and that has to count for something.

There’s a rising tide of creative eccentricity on Dark Shadows, and the baseline for quality has noticeably improved. The average episode in 1968 is way more interesting than the average 1967 episode. It doesn’t always sparkle, but keep your eye on that monocle, and vice versa.

They didn’t have to keep Stokes on the show. Their decision to backfill Dr. Woodard’s spot in the cast with another unpredictable eccentric means that they’re starting to get a handle on what kind of show Dark Shadows should be.

Tomorrow: The Best of All Possible Worlds.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In the teaser, a fly crosses Angelique’s portrait just before Barnabas slices it with a knife.

Vicki is wearing a sleeveless dress; apparently the bullet wound in her shoulder healed right up.

And this isn’t a blooper yet, but it will be — Stokes says that Ben died at the age of 75. We’ll see Ben’s tombstone in episode 756, and it’ll say 1756-1816 — putting Ben’s age at 60 when he died. Then in episode 1119, we’ll actually see Ben die onscreen, in 1840 — which would make him 84.

Tomorrow: The Best of All Possible Worlds.

 464 dark shadows information stokes

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

29 thoughts on “Episode 464: First Wife’s Club

  1. Someone has mentioned that they believe that Vicky’s presence in 1795 has signaled to Angelique that Barnabas is alive in the future and that she finds a way to travel through time so that he will not be free of her. But in 1840, after making her annual pilgrimage to the secret room of the mausoleum to celebrate his demise she is surprised to find that he has been let out of his coffin. And when posing in Collinwood as Valerie, after she discovers Julia’s true identity, she is amazed to discover from Julia’s appointment book that Barnabas will still be alive and active in 1970 and is further surprised when Julia tells her that she, too, will exist in Collinwood in 1968 as Cassandra. But perhaps by this time the writers were overlooking this inconsistency, since after Alexandre Moltke leaves the show none of the characters mention Vicky again, as if she never even existed.

    Still, it is uncanny that just after Vicky arrives back to the present she feels strangely compelled to purchase the portrait of Angelique, which has an even more mystifying effect on Roger, who as an eligible male will be able to allow the physical manifestation of the portrait a full-time presence in Collinwood as Cassandra.

    Great to see the arrival of one of my favorite Thayer David characters, Professor Stokes, or as Barnabas will, in one scene up ahead, say his name in Fridspeak as Professor Strokes. Thayer David, in turn, around the same time will in conversation refer to a Barnabas Columns. Sometimes on this show the bloopers provide the best and most memorable lines of all.

      1. These and other inconsistencies are what made me think that 1840 was in another Parallel Time, that Quentin’s staircase through time also went through different dimensions and dropped that Parallel time issues on our own.

  2. A prime example of a bigger budget comes from comparing the ‘costume party’ Barnabas threw at the Old House (way back around Episode #280). The TV version had 6 guests (+Willie filling in as hatcheck boy, bartender, caterer…) – of the 6 guests all were family with the exception of Burke (who may actually be a distant relative himself owing to his strong resemblance to Jeremiah) and Vicki who may or may not be a family member, she’s not at this point. Then when they recreate this scene in HODS the party the Collins family throws FOR (not by) Barnabas there is music dancing, real refreshments, and about 100 guests. I actually prefer the TV version. It seems much more intense having a seance with 6 people than watching 100 people dancing the minuet. Also no one (particularly Vicki) mentions Professor and Ben Stokes resemblance to the Collins former brutish servant Matthew Morgan, who tried to kill Vicki multiple times and held her hostage for over a week.

    1. Vicki reacts pretty severely (but understandably) when she first met Ben in 1795 – she’s probably just used to it by now. (I think there was also a nice, subtle reaction when Ben suggested hiding her in the old house drawing room’s secret room after she’d been shot, but I might have been projecting that, since ‘nice’ and ‘subtle’ are not commonly used words when describing Moltke’s performance…)

  3. IIR when soaps started out, they were pretty much viewed as cash cows by the network. They had small budgets, but brought in tons of revenue. For years I heard that the networks made up the money they lost on prime time TV with the money soaps brought in. The nature of them was that they had intimate settings, required few sets and since so much of the story was about the emotional lives of the characters, you didn’t need a lot of characters on in a day. Also, the actors were only paid for when they appeared on screen, so if Barnabas was off on the farm attacking cows, they didn’t pay Jonathan Frid. I don’t know a lot about the pay structure, but today, the actors are guaranteed a certain number of appearances in a set amount of time, and extra if they have more appearances. That may not have been true back in the 60’s and 70s.

    Eventually soap operas went from a nice, stable source of income to a phenomenon. The Luke/Laura Mikos Cassadine story was expensive, and a huge hit. Other soaps followed suit and people started to expect it. Plus soaps expanded to one hour, meaning more budget and more actors had to be in an episode to fill the time. In the end, it contributed to the decline of soaps. Suddenly they needed to be bigger, better and they no longer were the financial support of the network. I actually liked the older smaller soaps, but the did move slow as molasses going uphill in January.

    1. Looking at this first week back in 1968 it’s really quite astonishing how much they crammed into it: Vicki’s return, Carolyn and Tony, Angelique’s portrait and Roger’s fascination, Professor Stokes, Barnabas finally biting Vicki and their subsequent elopement, Peter’s unexpected reappearance, Julia’s new haircut, and Vicki’s new eye makeup! That’s about six months worth of storylines back in 1966 all crammed in five days.

      1. Yes – I see Vicki is also wearing a fashionable print scarf around her neck, this season’s new ‘must have’ wardrobe essential for total, discreet vampire bite mark coverage..

      2. For sure! It’s clear that the 1795 experiment has lasting effects. If anything, “the present” is going down the autobahn even faster the 1795.

    2. Great comments here about soaps’ humble low-budget beginnings. In my opinion, while soaps were, at one point, cash cows for the network (particularly with Luke/Laura leading the way in the late 70’s and early 80’s) and then the soaps themselves got bigger and bigger budgets too (more location shots and bigger casts), it was the OJ trial, cable proliferation, more women in the workplace, the internet and then finally the crash of 2008-09, and the big old soaps like Guiding Light, As The World Turns, All My Children all unfortunately bit the dust, with only All My Children ending with even better writing/storylines and a bigger cliffhanger. The genie was apparently out of the bottle, and the powers that be thought that the soaps could not go back to low budget, smaller casts, fewer extras, shorter shows (maybe half-hour, maybe 15 minutes as it was in the early 50’s and on radio). The ratings could not justify the expense of doing the bloated 5-day-a-week hour-long soap. I have been amazed as I enjoy DS to see that it had the same complexities of storytelling of any modern-day soap (in my opinion) — jealousies, love triangles, romance, marriages, etc., unrequited love, etc. and instead of doctors, nurses and lawyers, the characters just happened to be vampires, werewolves, mad scientists, ghosts, witches, warlocks, etc. And I am more than willing to forgive the bloopers and even the logical inconsistencies for the sentimental and honestly expressed emotion. Anyone wanting to do some kind of short small-scale internet-based soap today (are you listening Prospect Park?) would do well to look at the inherent lessons that could be learned by taking a closer look at DS.

      1. I agree in large part with everything you’re saying. For instance, I think both AMC and OLTL might have been saved had they been cut back to 30 minutes. But for any smart person looking at soap, there remains one shining example of a show that is rather similar to DS in many ways: Bold & Beautiful. It has an incredibly small cast, tells one or two stories at a time, and is only 30 minutes long. It’s also wildly successful not only in the US, but around the world. (That latter fact, however, has more to do with when it was launched and what was, at the time, the international hunger for programming… and B&B, set in California and starring beautiful people, sort of represented, in those foreign markets, a daily vision of the “American Dream”).

        1. Sales to foreign markets are very important for current day soaps to thrive. I’m glad B&B is thriving both domestically and overseas. I can’t bring myself to get into B&B however, given I’m still grieving about AMC’s network and it’s internet reboot cancellations. At one point, old reruns of AMC (several years behind) were popular in Italy under the name “La Valley di Pini” (or the Italian for where AMC took place, Pine Valley). Unfortunately, AMC’s run overseas ended several years before ABC canceled AMC.

        2. Yeah, I’ve often thought the main thing that saved “B&B” was the 30-minute format. They have more cast members per day than “DS” and they certainly have some “big party” moments, but day in and out, it very much has a “DS” pacing.

  4. Its a strong spell, neither Roger or Joshua who Roger thinks he is sometimes now were that interested in a painting of Angelique.

  5. Stokes is as close to a true “hero” as the 1968 storyline gets. Barnabas acts only in his own interests — he’s not “evil” any more but he’s selfish and by the end of the year, the lives destroyed on the altar of Barnabas’s own happiness is shocking (Joe, Sam Evans chief among them). Remove Barnabas and there’s no Cassandra, no Nicholas Blair and a lot of happier people. In every storyline after this, you’ll note that Barnabas himself is not the root of the trauma — he doesn’t cause Quentin to haunt Collinwood, he’s not responsible for Yaeger or Angelique in parallel time, and so on.

    However, in 1968, Stokes is the one who investigates problems and offers solutions, often at great risk to himself and for no personal gain.

    1. Hey, becoming a hero is a slow process.

      Actually Barnabas had to be cured out of being an entitled rich kid, and there are no injections for that. It takes a lot of kicks in the butt for that to happen.

    2. Stokes gets a bit more problematic once Adam comes along though and he pretty much stops caring about the Dream Curse. There’s an episode where Vicki goes to him for help and he pretty much throws her out saying, “Well, nothing I can do, sorry, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Despite having sworn to defeat Angelique and protect those under the Curse. But I’ll complain about this when the time comes : )

      1. Stokes is a potentially narrative disaster. He is smart, he can solve problems, and quickly. Which means that he can solve two months worth of narrative in two days. That cannot be allowed to happen. So he is still smart, and resourceful, and deterniend, but VERY ineffective…

        It took the invention of narrative arcs in primetime series to tackle this contradiction. People do have inmediate problems which they solve quickly, and a looming threat of which they have little inlling at first, not enough information and some of it contradictory. So the situation does not get resolved quickly, but smart, resourceful and determined people keep solving problems as they pop up.

  6. It really needs to be said: Your attention to detail is incredible. The fact that you know the episode numbers and dates which create discrepancies in Ben’s history blows me away. It happens every time you pull something like that out. Bravo, Danny. Bravo.

  7. “Stokes doesn’t look like anything in the world except Stokes. The world doesn’t make a matching set of faces like this; it’s one to a customer.”

    Oh, I don’t know. There is a vague resemblance to one Matthew Morgan. 🙂

  8. My history with “DS”:

    I remember vague snippets here and there from the first run (including the giant spider scene with Quentin). But it was mostly just impressions — I was too young to fully comprehend it and wasn’t always home in time to watch it. Plus, it terrified me as a child and I was forbidden to watch it, so it was only once in awhile.

    Then around 1978 when I was in high school, I saw reruns from Willie opening the coffin to Dr. Lang opening the curtains.

    Then in the late ’90s, I saw reruns of 1897 and most of the Leviathan storyline. Anything else I knew, I learned from reading compendiums or online stuff.

    That’s until this past summer when I decided to watch the series from start to finish. I’ve had several nice surprises and a few disappointments, but one of my best surprises: Thayer David.

    I never saw Matthew Morgan (underrated character because of the early timing), and I just never appreciated the art and craft he brought to Ben Stokes or Sandor or Petofi.

    But I’m thrilled with Professor Stokes after one episode. In my personal DS world, Thayer David is a crucial part of the fabric.

  9. It really is amazing the difference in the show from “Before 1795” to “After 1795.” I guess once they had Angelique on — and the wild range of things she did — the sky was the limit. I think turning Joshua into a cat was the moment when anything was possible.

    I think that was both a good thing and bad thing, depending on what’s going on. Part of me did like the black and white melancholy of the first 250 episodes or so, particularly with Laura, the Maggie kidnapping and Liz’s blackmail. But this faster pace and more going on has me watching the show with more frequency. That says something too.

    Even though only a few days on the show have passed from the seance to now, it’s such a different pace and feel. I look forward to seeing how this plays out, though I admit I’m dreading the Dream Curse (which sounds good in theory and bad in execution) and Adam (bad in both).

  10. Why are we not spending more time discussing how Louis Edmonds is reciting “Dover Beach” to a portrait of Angelique? If anything represents the show’s new found commitment to the odd, it is that. And Louis Edmonds is almost trying to stifle a smile, despite reciting one of the most dour poems in the English language. I just assume he’s having a great time. I am.

  11. I am pleased that Thayer David will now be given the chance to expand his acting range beyond “gruff, poorly-educated menial” (Matthew, Ben).

  12. “But here we are in 1968, and Roger Collins is falling in love with a portrait. That’s how bad it was back then. Imagine showing up to work, and they tell you that they can’t afford a co-star for the day, so you have to stand there and strike up a conversation with the decor. . . . Still, if anyone can pull it off, I suppose Louis Edmonds is your guy. As far as I’m concerned, he can do anything. Just look at the way he’s standing here.”

    Funny y’all should mention the name Laura, because “clever intellectual awesome gay guy without a lot of hair who falls in love with a woman (or with the idea that he could ever be with that woman, anyway) whom we know as a portrait but who (spoiler alert) comes back from what we thought was her being dead” is the plot of the film LAURA (with Clifton Webb), with Louis Edmonds doing the quasi-Clifton-Webb character that he did– no, that he LIVED– every day of his life.

    I can’t take the credit, my wife spotted this possible narrative collision.

  13. So nobody, and Im talking about the original 3, Vicki, Roger and I am sure Liz, is going to acknowledge the resemblance of Prof Stokes to Matthew? Maybe they only remember the original Matthew, blocking out Matthew 2.0 because he brought shame to the family.

    Or maybe, stick with me here, the Matthew that looks like Stokes was actually Ben who time travelled into the future to kill Bill Malloy to protect the Collins family because he was paying back Barnabas’ favor of getting him set free. Then he didn’t really die of fright, he just hopped a ride back to the 18th century with those women yelling his name after he kidnapped Vicki. Cut, print, next scene.

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