Episode 502: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

“I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. Why do you want to kill me? Are you insane?”

Okay, here’s the meet-cute scenario: Adam, our enormous new Frankenstein monster, was running away from home after getting a savage beating from Barnabas, who we might as well call his dad.

Alone, afraid, and with only a slight vocabulary advantage over Chewbacca, Adam stumbled into Collinwood, where he demanded the only two things he knows how to ask for — music and food.

Then Barnabas rushed in with a gun, so Adam picked up the closest thing he could grab, which happened to be Carolyn Stoddard, and carried her away. Oh, like you’ve never had a weird first date.

502 dark shadows carolyn adam help

So this is where we left our lovebirds, two mixed-up kids in a classic Luke and Laura summer on the run storyline. Sure, Carolyn didn’t exactly buy a ticket for this ride, but this is a soap opera. You adapt.

This is another in the long series of fantasy-metaphor sexual assault stories that make up a disturbingly large chunk of our popular culture. We’ve had a few of these since the show decided to focus on a sociopathic serial rapist as the main character, and I’d expect there are more to come.

502 dark shadows carolyn adam fight

So it’s a little troubling, for those of us who are generally well-disposed towards women, to see another new character establish his monster bona fides by carrying off a teenage girl for who knows what kind of nutty adventures. Obviously, we’re not supposed to be admiring Adam for his taste and sophistication, but this is happening on our television screens because of the assumption that the audience finds this kind of thing thrilling and enjoyable.

However, this story does have one huge selling point, namely: Nancy Barrett, who doesn’t take well to this kind of treatment. As we join the abduction already in progress, Carolyn is fighting back like crazy. She’s hitting him as hard as she can, and she’s emitting a high-frequency sonic screwdriver police-car noise that makes you want to lower the volume on your TV so your neighbor doesn’t think you’re murdering somebody.

At one point, Adam gets the bright idea to put his hand over her mouth to stop the racket and get a moment’s peace. That situation lasts for exactly one and a quarter seconds before she bites his hand, and he has to come up with a whole new strategy. It’s like Alien vs. Predator; she’s evolving new defenses as we watch.

Keep in mind that Carolyn is the only woman he’s ever seen who hasn’t tried to stab him with something sharp. You kind of feel bad for the guy.

502 dark shadows adam carolyn predator

Now, one thing that I love about Nancy Barrett as an actress is that she’s a very pretty young woman who doesn’t actually care whether she looks good in the scene. She’s not trying to find her light, or pose for the camera. She’s trying to get away from the monster that’s abducting her.

Her hair is in her face, she’s facing away from the camera, and she’s shrieking and squirming. This is not adult fun time for her. She’s not having fun right now.

502 dark shadows carolyn adam flat

Obviously, at a certain point she has to lose consciousness, just so we can get her over to the next set. This abduction story is supposed to last us all week, and if she keeps up this unilateral mixed martial arts cage match routine for much longer, then she’s going to win the fight. There’s no other option. Adam would need to call in air strikes at that point, or just stand back and wait for the sanctions to work.

502 wonder woman death heap

So Carolyn slips into a temporary plot-mandated coma, which is a crushingly sexist trope, but at least we’re not supposed to enjoy it.

She doesn’t fall into the standard Feminine Death Heap, as seen on Wonder Woman, where she’s got her hips raised off the ground and her breasts displayed at an appealing angle.

As far as Carolyn Stoddard is concerned, if you want to find violence against women sexy, then you’re going to have to take care of that on your end. She is not part of that process.

502 dark shadows adam carolyn love

Adam’s response to all this sound and fury is to paw at her face, sobbing and yelping, “Love… love!” So that’s where his head is at.

502 dark shadows adam carolyn hoist

And so our young hero hoists up his fallen sweetheart, sweating and sobbing incoherently, carrying her like he just bought her at IKEA and can’t figure out how to get her into the back seat of his car.

I should point out here that today’s episode was written by Sam Hall, the writer who brought the concept of narrative collision to the show — throwing in characters and plot points from other stories, just to see what happens.

In this case, he’s suddenly switched from Frankenstein to another misunderstood behemoth. This isn’t a Frankenstein plot at all. This is King Kong.

502 king kong fay wray

That brings us to another vaguely unhealthy concept — the King Kong / Bride and the Beast / Mars Needs Women idea that a romantic interest in young blonde women is a universal imperative that crosses all cultural, species and planetary boundaries.

This is a fairly troubling premise, because it makes the cultural assumption that young white women are the “prize” that everybody’s competing for. According to this worldview, even a giant sentient grasshopper, given the opportunity, would gladly ditch the giant sentient grasshopper dating scene, if it thought it had a shot with a white girl.

502 dark shadows carolyn adam parts

I mean, at least Adam has the advantage of being roughly the correct species. He might not be quite human, but he was assembled from human parts.

In today’s episode, Liz describes the attacker: “He’s not human, and I choose my words carefully. He is not human.” But, come on. Look at the guy. The Dark Shadows theory appears to be that no human being could ever be 6’6″. It’s not possible; he must be some kind of a monster!

I mean, with Boris Karloff, they gave him a flat head and tall boots and built-up shoulders and bolts in his neck. Frankenstein looked convincingly non-human. Adam is basically a tall guy in a turtleneck with a complexion problem.

502 dark shadows carolyn adam swing

But there is a real tension in this episode, as we watch Adam carry his new love interest from one location to the next. Dark Shadows has a unique quality that other monster movies don’t, which is that they’re going to keep rolling tape no matter what happens.

Adam is a big guy, on a small set, and they only figured out the blocking about two hours ago. There is a very good chance that he’s going to pivot, and accidentally smack Nancy Barrett’s head into a prop tree.

By the way, where the hell is Barnabas? He was right behind them yesterday with a rifle, which would probably come in useful right about now. Adam can’t run; he’s got his hands full. How do you not catch this guy?

502 dark shadows adam carolyn set

Anyway, if you were hoping to see Carolyn home and safe any time soon, then here’s some bad news: There’s a new set. There’s no way she’s getting out of this for the rest of the week. It looks like the “abduct a pretty grl” storyline is a go.

502 dark shadows carolyn abduction

But, as I said, Nancy Barrett has decided to play against the Bride and the Beast stereotype. It would be easy for her to just look sultry and inconvenienced here, rather than traumatized. She doesn’t make that choice. It’s like she’s doing her own alternate reading of the scene, working against the deliberate use of the pulp-adventure girl victim trope.

This kind of personal rewrite by the actors is part of why Dark Shadows is a fantastic piece of television, and why its success has never been duplicated. The relentless pace of daily production means that individual contributors can make huge decisions, essentially on their own. Even if a director had said “act more like a sexy victim,” Nancy Barrett is going to do what she feels like doing, and there’s no second take to get her to tone it down.

And so the show stumbles on, trying to move people from one place to another, as the characters wriggle and squirm out of its grasp. Maybe these crazy kids have a future after all.

Tomorrow: Lock Her Up.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In the teaser, Tony asks if she’s talked to the police. Liz says, “They’ve been here, and gone. They’re out searching them now.”

In act 3, Tony is in the Collinwood foyer, reassuring Liz. When he says “I have had some experience with the criminal mind,” there’s a brief sound of chains clanking — the sound effect they’ve been using when Adam walks with the broken chain on his leg.

In Willie’s dream, the third door opens the wrong way. When he closes the door and leans against the frame, it wobbles alarmingly.

Tomorrow: Lock Her Up.

502 bride_and_beast_poster sm

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

25 thoughts on “Episode 502: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

  1. Poor Carolyn was very unlucky in the relationship department: she was either terrorized (Adam, Barnabas) or dumped for someone else (Joe Haskell, Burke Devlin, Chris Jennings). Barnabas basically scared Tony Peterson away and her ‘true’ love Jeb Hawkes was murdered and when his doppelganger (Sebastian Shaw) showed up he scorned her in favor of Maggie Evans – and this is just normal, never mind ‘parallel’ time. I actually think in the end Adam’s feelings towards Carolyn were the most genuine.

    1. True – since Joe was a childhood friend and then Carolyn’s first ‘love’ she assumed he’d always be around to pick up the pieces for her. I thought Maggie and Joe were really meant for each other and didn’t like the outcome of that story at all.

      1. It’s interesting to compare the Collins family as depicted pre-Barnabas to the ones we see in 1795, 1897, and 1840. The family becomes, retroactively, far more aristocratic — Joe shouldn’t have gotten a country mile near Carolyn. But the Collins of 1966 seem well-off but not so far removed from the people who live in Collinsport. Roger, after all, still works in the cannery.

        Arguably, the Collins could have suffered reversals during the Great Depression but that — in a Downton Abbey manner — would have necessitated an even better “match’ for Carolyn than someone like Joe Haskell.

        1. You get the sense that maybe the family was still somewhat “aristocratic” prior to Paul Stoddard’s marriage to Elizabeth, since we hear tales of the west wing being open and the house full of servants. It was after Paul and Liz’s marriage broke down that she became a recluse (for 18 years!), got rid of the entire staff and sealed up most of the house.

          So perhaps it was Liz’s disastrous marriage to Paul (and her belief that she had murdered him) that led to her not caring about the typical wealthy lifestyle – and wanted Carolyn to have a relatively normal life, hence not objecting to her relationship with Joe. Mind you, if you think of it, from what we know of Paul Stoddard, he hardly sounds like the type of person a wealthy debutante would go after either.

          (I also get the sense that the only reason Roger is working at the cannery is because Liz wanted to keep him in line and give him something to do. It certainly seemed like it was Bill Malloy who really ran the place.)

          1. I think the explanation for Joe and Carolyn’s friendship is that they live in a town where there are only about eight people who talk, and everyone else just mills around in the background and pretends to eat.

  2. Is Tony Peterson’s apartment still being shown in these later episodes in which he appears? I’ve lately been watching the series from the beginning and have noticed that some of the sets for 1967 and 1968 appear to have been remade from the 1966 shows. Tony Peterson’s apartment has the same layout, with all the same doors and windows, as Burke Devlin’s room at the Collinsport Inn. Likewise, Professor Stokes’ apartment resembles Roger Collins’ office at the cannery, with the fireplace in the same location near the door at stage right, and the two sets even have a prop in common: the mustachioed “Smith Brother” portrait, which can first be seen at Roger’s office in episode 45.

    The Ralston Purina lamp is another prop from 1966 that is used in subsequent years. Months before making its first appearance in the study at Collinwood, it can be seen on the front desk of the Collinsport Inn as the credits roll at the end of episode 61.

    1. That’s awesome; I didn’t realize the lamp went back that far. I love that thing.

      Tony’s apartment is the same as Burke’s, with the apartment number flipped. Burke’s apartment was #42; Tony’s is #24. In episode 561, we see Joe’s apartment, which is also #24.

      We also recently saw Barnabas’ 1795 bedroom redressed as Dr. Lang’s drawing room. I don’t think they do anything with Carolyn and Adam’s root cellar.

      1. Actually, the Ralston Purina lamp is in the very first episode, and it can be seen as Vicky and Burke enter the hotel lobby together. On the very first interior set of the show, it’s the prop nearest the camera (not including the plant, but the lamp is the first full prop the viewer sees). The set designers must have seen it and said, “Hey! We’ve got to have this lamp on the show first thing. Maybe we’ll get Ralston Purina as a sponsor!”

        By the way, Burke’s room number was also 24.

  3. The hand over the mouth moment between Adam and Carolyn seems modeled on the scene between the Creature and William Frankenstein in the novel, which of course has a sad ending. (If only William had thought to do some of that BITING!)

  4. How could Sam Hall forget about gunny Barnabas? It is an omission so glaring that I have to believe that Sam was writing these scripts before then after a vacation and in a rush to meet deadline.

    But then, I won’t even care when Carolyn wakes up. The root cellar scenes are some of my favorites of the series. All is good when Nancy is onscreen.

  5. Nancy Barrett and Robert Rodan are selling this thing to me. This was the most physical stuff I’ve seen yet on DS.

    I was kind of dreading the Adam storyline — and perhaps I will come to dislike it down the road. But for now, it’s a pleasant surprise and much better than I thought it would be. They really could have done all of this without Cassandra or the Dream Curse.

    And where in the heck is Cassandra? She is so damn random.

    I think a secondary storyline a la Liz/Jason would have served the show much better. Perhaps a Joe/Maggie story that featured Joe slowly morphing into Nathan Forbes … or have the actress who played Suki Forbes back with her eye on Roger, but without all the supernatural witchery. (Or maybe she is a student of Stokes and slowly learns the ropes after reading about Angelique).

    1. All good alternative ideas, and I agree with you, the sheer physicality of the Adam/Carolyn abduction, and the root cellar are really compelling me to watch. Nancy is made of very tough mettle, and i applaud her that she’s not so concerned with her hair, and how she looks when she’s fainted. Bravo, Nancy Barrett.

  6. And speaking of the Dream Curse. OH MAH GAH! How did ANYONE involved with the show think that these dream sequences were scary.

    John Karlen’s performance of a man terrified was so out of sync with the show’s junior high efforts at scaring the characters and the audience. It’s just awful.

    They had so many genuinely good and spooky moments by now. The Dream Curse is just a train wreck.

  7. “So this is where we left our lovebirds, two mixed-up kids in a classic Luke and Laura summer on the run storyline. Sure, Carolyn didn’t exactly buy a ticket for this ride, but this is a soap opera. You adapt.”

    You are more right than you know! Remember, Luke and Laura began with a sexual assault at the disco which (very troublingly) later becomes a decades long love affair. Soap operas have always had a troubled relationship with conflating rape and romance in plot lines; the gothic as a genre isn’t much better. We’re lucky DS only goes this far.

  8. “I don’t want to hear any more about your dream!” ~Elizabeth to Willie

    SAME, GIRL, SAME! I wonder if you were to read through any of the letters to TV Guide at the time if someone mentioned how horrible this Dream Curse story is. And John Karlen’s screaming and over-acting was just about on par with Grayson Hall’s in terms of annoyance. That fox head or whatever it was that was growling behind the door reminded me of the clock on “The Addams Family” that would growl on the hour.

    I also think it would’ve been hilarious for Willie to have said in regards to Carolyn’s abductor, “I don’t know him from Adam!” LOL

    It was super scary seeing Carolyn fear for her life, and also super sad, because we know Adam didn’t want to hurt her. The acting on both Nancy Barrett and Robert Rodan’s parts was very good. I felt so bad for Adam burning himself.

    I still want that grandfather clock!

  9. Further proof that Nancy Barrett is the best actress on the show.

    As for Karlen, whose return I was looking forward to, I get the feeling he’s having a private joke which the rest of us aren’t in on.

  10. Well, Mister Willie Loomis really gives his turn at the Dream Curse a true thespian’s take on the whole thing. The passing on to Carolyn seems odd given that she’s currently in stir as a hostage with the Big Guy.

    And a note on the Dream Curse Poem that we’ve heard recited ad nauseum now about 100 times…the last line bothers me, I mean, everyone knows the phrase “the point of no return,” so the “point of return” (even as a door to gain re-entry, which is what I suppose is the writer’s intent here) just doesn’t work rhythmically. But then nothing about it seems to work at all so that’s hardly surprising. How many more of these do we have to endure? I’ve lost track of how many cast members have gone through it.

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