Episode 471: A Farewell to Arms

“Do you remember I told you when I was in the past that I shot someone?”

At the end of Friday’s episode, Dr. Eric Lang’s assistant brought him a package straight from the cemetery. Delighted, the doctor opened the box and said, “Oh, Jeff! Don’t be so squeamish! Come have a look at it! It’s a perfect specimen!”

Then the camera zooms in on the box to show us a detached human arm, which actually does look pretty nice, if you like guys from the elbow down.

We’re not going to reach that level of damn-the-torpedoes lunacy again until, ooh, about halfway through Tuesday, so we might as well take a moment to talk about The Munsters and The Addams Family.

addams thing

The Munsters and The Addams Family are an unlikely pair of twin sitcoms that premiered within a week of each other in September, 1964. They each presented a vision of suburban American life, challenged and interrupted by a ghoulish and macabre family of monsters just down the street.

munsters 2

The Munsters, which aired on CBS, was about a loud, happy family who happen to be creatures of the night. The show was produced by Universal Television, so they were able to use the character designs from the Universal Monsters films — most notably Boris Karloff’s creature from Frankenstein, which inspired the look for the squared-off head of the household, Herman Munster. His wife, Lily, is a vampire, and Grampa Munster’s look is modeled on Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. Herman and Lily’s young son, Eddie, is an elementary school version of the title character in I Was a Teenage Werewolf. 

The gist of The Munsters is that the family tries to fit in with their suburban neighbors, despite the obvious challenges. The stories in each episode were comparable to other mid-60s sitcoms, with episodes based around all the typical family enthusiasms and anxieties — ball games, ham radio, getting a driver’s license, office parties, camping trips, pop songs and small-time con artists.

The difference was that the family’s peculiarities — especially Herman’s — would turn any situation into a high-concept comedy of errors. Take any family sitcom trope — a school talent show, for example, where a well-meaning father promises to perform even though he doesn’t have any actual talent. The comic twist is that the father is an enormous, lumbering Frankenstein monster, complete with bolts in his neck. Panic invariably ensues.

But in the end, the family is exonerated and cleared of all charges, because they’re obviously so nice and eager-to-please. It’s essentially the story of an immigrant family, so determined to assimilate into American culture that they hardly even notice the weird looks they get on the bus.

addams family

The Addams Family is a stranger beast. The show is based on Charles Addams’ series of cartoons for The New Yorker about a wealthy and eccentric family with macabre tastes. Gomez and Morticia Addams aren’t monsters in the Frankenstein sense — they just happen to enjoy death, suffering and dangerous animals, and they assume that everyone else does too.

Most of the cast are human beings, but there are a few members of the household that appear monstrous. Their butler, Lurch, is a taciturn ghoul in the Frankenstein/White Zombie area, Cousin Itt is covered in hair from head to toe and speaks in alien gibberish, and they have what appears to be a detached human forearm called Thing, who pops out of a box to fetch the mail or hand Gomez a cigar, among other small household duties.

Unlike the Munsters, the Addams family doesn’t try to fit in with their neighbors. They simply live their exotic lives in their crumbling, cobwebbed mansion, constantly surprised that anyone finds them unnerving. They don’t leave the house much, mostly choosing to pursue their unusual hobbies in peace. They’re hospitable to guests, although the regular people who interact with them often end up mentally or emotionally damaged in some way.

471 dark shadows collinwood barnabas liz

Strangely, both shows ran for two seasons and ended in spring 1966, just before Dark Shadows premiered on ABC’s daytime schedule. I don’t know if anyone made the connection between the Munsters, the Addams and the Collins families at the time — Dark Shadows was certainly gloomy, but not gleefully macabre. But over time, as DS devoted more attention to the supernatural, they started to drift over into Munster and Addams territory.

The key similarity to all three shows is that the families hardly notice that they’re out of step with the rest of the world. By this point in Dark Shadows, the inmates at Collinwood are having casual conversations about ghosts, witchcraft and time travel, which they find puzzling but not existentially challenging. They can discuss questions like Is that antique portrait casting a hypnotic spell on Roger? with only occasional, fleeting references to the possibility of a “logical explanation”.

471 dark shadows normal barnabas vicki

But the seance which sent the family’s governess to 1795 means that the family is now open to all kinds of outlandish theories.

Vicki was originally introduced as the audience identification character — the fish out of water who arrived at Collinwood in episode 1, and led the audience through our introduction to this strange and haunted family. Now, Vicki is even more haunted than anyone; she’s been back in the 1960s for a couple weeks and she’s still talking about witches and time travel, with the rest of the household following suit.

471 dark shadows addams vicki

So, naturally, it’s Vicki who delivers the show’s first true Addams Family moment. There’s a knock at the door, and when Vicki opens it, she lets out a piercing shriek and runs into the foyer, followed at a safe distance by their puzzled guest.

This is Harry Johnson, the son of housekeeper Mrs. Johnson, and he’s come to stay at Collinwood with his mother. But he happens to look like kidnapper and storyline speed bump Noah Gifford, who was shot in 1796 when Vicki rescued Daniel from his clutches.

Or, at least, Vicki thinks that Harry looks like Noah. Who even knows with this girl.

471 dark shadows foyer liz vicki

Liz hurries over to see what the noise is all about.

Liz:  Vicki, what’s the matter?

Vicki:  That man! It’s impossible!

Liz:  What are you talking about? What’s impossible?

471 dark shadows past vicki liz

Harry introduces himself, and Vicki starts to calm down a little.

Harry:  I’m sorry if I startled you; I didn’t mean to.

Vicki:  It’s all right.

Liz:  Why did you scream?

Vicki:  Mrs. Stoddard, do you remember I told you when I was in the past that I shot someone?

Liz:  Yes.

Vicki:  Well — this man — he looks exactly like him! And when I opened the door and saw him, I was terrified!

Okay, granted, she doesn’t calm down very much. In fact, she turns and delivers that last line directly to Harry’s face.

471 dark shadows arrived mrs johnson harry

So the guy has to be wondering what kind of madhouse he’s walked into. And oddly, he seems vaguely puzzled by his welcome, but not particularly bothered by the fact that the first person he’s met is apparently confusing him with a previous murder victim.

Mrs. Johnson emerges, and Liz is extremely casual about the entire experience.

Liz:  It was just a case of mistaken identity.

Mrs. Johnson:  Mistaken identity?

Harry:  Yes, this lady thought I was someone else, and —

Mrs. Johnson:  Be quiet, Harry. Mrs. Stoddard, what happened?

Liz:  Now, don’t get upset, Mrs. Johnson. I’m sure your son will be glad to explain it to you while I take Vicki upstairs.

Yeah, I’m not convinced that he’s qualified to explain anything. He’s not accustomed to having his life turned upside down like this; he only met Vicki a minute ago.

471 dark shadows prepared harry mrs johnson

But the really weird thing about this sequence is that it doesn’t appear to be connected to anything else on the show right now. Mrs. Johnson gives Harry a dressing-down, and warns him not to cause any trouble here. Then there’s a scene at the very end of the episode, where Harry sneaks into the drawing room and starts rifling through the drawers.

And then the episode ends, and we don’t see Harry again until episode 542, three months from now. Tomorrow’s episode picks up from a Barnabas/Dr. Lang scene, and we never find out what Harry thinks he’s looking for, or why he’s even on the show.

But that appears to be where we’re going right now. The 1795 storyline started to drag a bit towards the end, but all of the plot elements were there for a reason. Everything fit together, and contributed to the story of the Collins tragedy.

Now, we’re heading into a much looser period of the show, where the storylines aren’t as focused or coherent. The producers aren’t thinking about “1968” in the way that Dark Shadows fans do — as a limited story arc, bounded on one side by the 1795 flashback and on the other side by 1897. As far as they’re concerned, we’re back to the standard soap opera never-ending story, so they just start chucking all kinds of things into the mix. After a while, you stop asking questions; you just open the door, and see what walks in.

So the Collins family becomes this wild bunch of eccentrics, accepting every loose bit of chaos that comes their way. Like The Munsters and The Addams Family, everyone who crosses their path is sucked into the madness.

There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s just one of those Things.

Tomorrow: Lethal Weapon.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

At the beginning of Act 1, Mrs. Johnson talks to Liz in the foyer. As Liz takes off her coat, the shadow of a camera can be seen moving across the drawing room floor. About ten seconds later, you can hear someone in the studio cough.

There’s a tape edit at the end of act 2, as Vicki walks to the front door. She leaves the drawing room, and then it cuts instantly to her screaming as she sees Harry through the door that she didn’t have time to open.

At the end of act 3, as Harry smokes, there’s another cough from the studio.

In act 4, the studio lights are reflected in Dr. Lang’s mirror as Liz examines it.

At the beginning of Barnabas’ scene with Dr. Lang, there’s a loud squeak from the studio.

Barnabas tells Lang, “Then I’m sorry, Doctor, but I cannot in effect consign my future to you, unless you’re willing to be… free, uh, to be very… open with me.”

Tomorrow: Lethal Weapon.

471 dark shadows desk harry

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

21 thoughts on “Episode 471: A Farewell to Arms

  1. It’s easy to understand why the folks at Collinwood seem so out of step with the rest of the modern world and why it is so easy for Roger to become enchanted and hypnotized by a portrait, when you realize that there is no television in the house to distract them. In fact, it seems that no one in all of Collinsport has a television set either. The first time you notice one in the entire series is in a few episodes in 1970, and you have to get to parallel time to see it–and it’s owned by the waitress at the Blue Whale, Buffie Harrington. It’s a tiny 12-inch model, no doubt black and white; in addition, it’s never even on.

    Another thing that’s missing at Collinwood and elsewhere is a good hi-fi turntable setup. All we see otherwise is a tiny handheld radio that Carolyn switches on when dancing with Buzz, and in 1970 Roger gives David a transistor radio, but it gets swiped by that Leviathan kid before he even gets a chance to play it. It seems the folks at Collinwood have never even heard of record albums. There was a record player in the house in 1897, but maybe that scary business with Quentin put the family permanently off turntable technology over subsequent decades.

    A couple of those modern home entertainment gadgets might have saved the folks at Collinwood from several supernatural disturbances and shown them a bit more of the modern world than just the same two Bob Cobert tunes playing from the jukebox down at the Blue Whale.

    1. Regarding your mention of Buffie Harrington I just wanted to comment that I’m just finishing up the 1970 parallel time story and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to find out who ‘the murderer’ was. I won’t go into details but just had to say what a GREAT storyline this was – a wonderful combination of chills and thrills but combined with good old fashioned storytelling and suspense…

      1. I just finished my second run-through of the complete series and that’s a favorite story of mine as well, or rather one of my favorites. I especially like Chris Pennock’s portrayal of John Yaeger. Apparently Lela Swift pushed him to a new level in that role, when she noted to him one morning in rehearsal that his John Yaeger was the same as his Cyrus Longworth. There’s also a great mistake that was made on camera while filming the take that was to air, where Yaeger and Buffie are in the Blue Whale and he takes up that cane of his and strokes the tip of it against her neck while he issues a warning to her. They had two separate canes to work with, one with a knife that popped out and one without, and Pennock realized only too late that he had picked up the wrong cane to be holding against Elizabeth Eis’ neck, the one with the knife that popped out. He could have killed her right there on camera. Now wouldn’t that have been a blooper to remember?

        1. Yes I just watched the scene where the knife dropped out of the cane and Chris Pennock had to nonchalantly pick it up while trying to maintain his evil menacing persona. I really enjoyed Chris Pennock’s tour de force performance as well..everything just seemed to fall into place with this storyline – it was the perfect combination of both old (i.e. pre-Barnabas) and new superntural Dark Shadows elements. I felt like I was back in the days when they were trying to solve the Bill Malloy murder mystery, but with a refreshing new twist on the story (the occult, Jekyll/Hyde, and everyone’s favorite witch of course).

  2. So, I had no idea Craig Slocum was coming back to the show when I was watching, and I admit I screamed right along with Vicki when she opened the door – albeit for different reasons.

    Also just bizarre how Mrs. Johnson has a son all of a sudden, since there had been no mention of one before. But I guess that’s just how soaps work.

  3. I think in the earlier episodes Mrs Johnson had a daughter – maybe she was ashamed (with good reason) to talk about him since he was apparently an ex-con. Another thing – Jeff/Peter is a real moron – why did he just bring one arm back instead of two?? Or better yet how about a whole body instead of bits and pieces. Or maybe that conniving Lang was sending him on a ‘fools errand’ since Lang may have already been scheming all along to use Jeff/Peter’s head so why not just use his whole body??

    1. I remember them mentioning a sister – but maybe it was a daughter, not sure. I always assumed she was never really married anyway and the “Mrs.” was just a sign of respect (not uncommon with older, unmarried women). I just got that impression cause it seemed like she doted on Bill Malloy all her life. Guess I was wrong.

      1. I think she did mention a sister and a daughter in the early episodes. Also I think she also told Jason and Willy (when he was played by that creepy actor before John Karlen) that her husband was ‘a man of the sea’..

        1. Cyrus longworths girlfriend, or assistant, in PT , Sabrina, was the first SHOUTING actress of the series, maybe the only one, oops I forget Olivia Cory. Good story, and Chris pennock is great in every role, but this one showed his soft side nicely.

        2. I remember that! And that confused me at the time – I thought she was talking about Bill Malloy because she was so madly in love with him she thought of him as her husband (I remember her telling the sherriff after Malloy’s death that he was like a husband to her). I think that’s where my confusion came from.

  4. Every time I see Slocum, I hear the MST3K guys saying “Let’s go talk about our superior relationship.”

  5. Oh, I love the Addams family, from the original one-panel cartoons right up the musical, but the sitcom is my favourite incarnation.

    Even as a kid I noticed how unusual it was for a family-based sitcom – most of the dramatic tension comes from the way outsiders view the family, rather than from the interactions of the family members. In a sea of shows about dysfunctional families, the Addamses were extremely functional – loving and supporting each other through everything. As a weird (some might say spooky) kid with a less-than-caring family, I fell for the lot of them pretty much instantly.

    Ah, memories.

    Back to DS: Slocum’s back.

    Oh, crap.

    Can we stick with the Addamses instead, just for a little while?

    1. i was touched by your comments, Clay. someone wise said they learned everything they needed to learn about love from Gomez and Morticia. that’s the real difference between the Addams Family and the Munsters, in fact, between the Addams Family and just about anybody else. the people who visited freaked out, but the Addamses were always more moral than any of their guests.

      1. I loved the Munsters. The Munsters had me cracking up and I still will go and watch it and still to this day laugh my ass off. I didn’t care for the Addams family. I think the most interesting character in the Addams family was Lurch. Lurch was so funny. I was sad when he died. Everybody else was cool also, but I preferred the Munsters.

    2. Has anyone else noticed the extreme similarities in the voice of Dr. Lang (Addison Powell) and Gomez Addams (John Aston)?

  6. This is a weird comparison, but the way Danny describes how 1968 as a less structured stretch between two more clearly defined narratives makes me think 1968 is like one of ancient Egypt’s Intermediate Periods stuck between its Kingdom eras: ’68 and the Intermediate periods aren’t true “dark ages” but they’re not clear stand-alone eras either.

    Maybe, maybe not? I only know a couple things that are about to happen. Some friends have warn-told me that the Adam stuff drags on.

  7. It’s interesting that you bring up “The Addams Family” as Dr. Lang’s home exterior reminded me of the Addams mansion.

    And DAMMIT, Smee aka Who-I-Think-Is-The-Worst-Actor-on-Dark-Shadows Slocum is back. UGH! Please don’t let him, Lang, and Clark have a scene together! That would just be too much bad acting all in one place!

    I’m also intrigued by Lang saying he can make Barnabas look like Jeff…except then that means a possibility for double the bad acting…or in this case since Slocum is back QUADRUPLE the bad acting (Lang, Slocum, and two Jeff Clarks).

  8. Yeah, if I opened the door and saw Craig Slocum I’d scream too, and not just because he died in 1978. His pockmarked face, rouged cheeks and Chernobyl-red hair would scare anyone. Addison Powell is Olivier compared to our boy Craig.

    1. Straker, I’m right there with you. Craig Slokum reminds me of a bad community theater actor. And the way he shuffles when he walks drives me crazy.

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