“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
— Danny Horn