“Look, I’m not carrying anybody’s will but my own, and I’ll prove that to you!”
A summer crush is always fun, isn’t it? As we’ve been heading into June 1968, I’ve talked about nothing but Professor Timothy Stokes, occult expert and storyline accelerator. Over the last week, Stokes has taken the lead in five straight episodes — completely taking over the Dream Curse storyline, and sticking his nose into the Adam plot as well — and he’s done it using the sheer power of being smarter and more interesting than anyone else. He’s clearly a Dark Shadows star in the making.
But sadly, this is actually his peak moment for a long time. After one more episode later this week, Stokes is going to fade back into the chorus for a while. He has a little run of episodes in mid-July, and another in October, and besides that, he just pops up periodically over the next year. He doesn’t make it into the top tier of essential characters like Barnabas, Julia, Angelique and Quentin, who must have a major role in every storyline. So what happened?
For the moment, at least, Professor Stokes is an absolute hero, battling to stop the tedious Dream Curse by calling on the power of a more entertaining storyline. Last week, he just went ahead and decided that he’s at war with Angelique, the evil sorceress who wants to make sure that Barnabas never escapes her vampire curse. Stokes knows that Barnabas is the ultimate target of the Dream Curse, but he doesn’t know why; he’s just fighting with a witch for the sheer love of lighting candles and shouting.
So he’s come up with the deliciously crackpot idea of summoning the spirit of Reverend Trask, the fanatical 18th-century witch hunter who was tricked into prosecuting Victoria Winters instead of Angelique. Stokes knows that Trask was sealed up behind a wall in the Old House basement by “the original Barnabas,” and he’s brought Julia and Tony downstairs to ask for Trask’s help in fighting Angelique.
By the way, Tony’s here because he tried to poison Professor Stokes earlier in the evening. It’s been a weird week.
As with all television séances, it works like a charm — Tony instantly goes into a trance, and the spirit of Reverend Trask speaks through him.
Stokes: Where are you, Trask? We need you!
Trask: Ben Stokes does not need me!
Stokes: I am not Ben Stokes! I am his descendant, and I need you very much! Tonight, the witch tried to kill me.
They’re messing around with a unique little quirk of Dark Shadows here — the fact that everyone in the cast played a different role during Vicki’s trip to 1795. Thayer David plays Professor Stokes as well as Barnabas’ servant Ben, and Jerry Lacy, who plays Tony, was also Reverend Trask.
Professor Stokes is Ben’s descendant, so there’s a diegetic, in-universe rationale for having the same actor play both parts. But there’s no relationship between Tony and Reverend Trask — at least, none that we ever hear about.
The audience recognizes Tony and Trask as the same actor, so when other characters notice how much they look alike, it creates a pleasurable friction between what we know as the audience and what the characters can perceive. Stokes’ recognition that there’s an affinity between them almost feels like cheating, as if he reached outside the narrative to check the call sheets.
At this point, Trask clams up, and the candle blows out.
Then the wall behind them shatters, revealing Trask’s skeleton, chained up where Barnabas left him. It’s a marvelous image, with a perfect mix of Dark Shadows’ three fundamental concerns — death, time and architecture.
Tony, Stokes and Julia take this astonishing circumstance entirely in their stride, which gives you an idea of how far this show has drifted from civilization. You’d think that discovering human remains three feet away would provoke some kind of response stronger than mild surprise — but they just look up for a moment, and then they carry on with their conversation as if this is totally normal, which I guess for them it kind of is.
As usual, the séance turns into an opportunity for the actors to stare around the room and holler at nothing, which is always enjoyable. Stokes tries every persuasion he can muster, one after the other.
Stokes: Trask, are you in this room? You knew my ancestor, Ben — he hated to call you Reverend. Well, I am willing to say Reverend. Let us see you, Reverend Trask! We are the first people to have thought of you in almost two hundred years. When a call is made, do you not heed it, Reverend Trask? Show yourself to us!
He doesn’t try “pretty please with sugar on top” or “I’ll be your best friend,” but that’s only because he hasn’t thought of it yet.
Trask is apparently a no-show, but Stokes and Julia wonder if the Reverend is still being channeled through Tony. They have an extremely Dark Shadows-y conversation about it.
Julia: The voice came from you.
Stokes: And since Reverend Trask did not show himself to us…
Tony: You think — you think he’s in me?
Stokes: It’s not impossible. A spirit has been known to choose a body to carry it… do its will.
Tony: Look, I’m not carrying anybody’s will but my own, and I’ll prove that to you!
Stokes: Where are you going?
Stokes and Julia manage to talk him into staying, and then they return to the ritual, picking things up again from the “look around the room and holler” stage.
Stokes calls to Trask, tellling him that Angelique is now living at Collinwood and calling herself Cassandra; it’s kind of a necromancy version of filing a change of address form. This doesn’t seem to accomplish anything in particular.
And look at this, for a shot — a backacting tableau with the skeleton over Stokes’ shoulder, paying close attention in the unblinking way that only skeletons can manage.
But Stokes can’t reach the restless spirit, who stubbornly refuses to play along. This is breaking Stokes’ week-long hot streak, where everything he’s done has been exactly correct.
This moment is Stokes’ first mistake — thinking that he can call up an avatar of vengeance, and then direct it towards a chosen target. Stokes is in love with his own cleverness, and it doesn’t occur to him that Trask may have other issues to resolve.
The terrible secrets of the past can’t just be invoked and controlled like this. The past is a living thing, especially on Dark Shadows, and a time travel story can skitter off unbidden, in unexpected directions.
Suddenly, they hear a snatch of classical music playing above them. Julia thinks that her pet Frankenstein has come home, and she calls out, “Adam!” She hurries upstairs, followed closely by Professor Stokes.
But instead of the wayward corpse monster, they find David, who’s broken into the Old House to play with Adam’s tape recorder. This kind of thing happens all the time; the Old House has trespassers like other houses have mice.
Julia chases David away, but now they’re a little worried — if David mentions to Cassandra that he’s seen Stokes, she’ll know that they’re plotting against her.
Julia: I told you not to come up here with me.
Stokes: But I am a very curious person. And downstairs, you said something that drew me irresistibly to follow you, in spite of danger. A most unexpected name — “Adam”. Who is Adam, Doctor? Tell me all about him, please.
But she doesn’t. She dissembles, because she’s Julia, and for her, lying is like breathing. She claims that he must have misheard her — she doesn’t know anyone named Adam.
Stokes counters by telling her that he met a very unusual person named Adam last night — a strange, mute giant, with scars on his face.
Julia forces a smile. “Where did you meet him?” she asks.
Stokes settles into an armchair, and says, “That is my secret. I am allowed one, too.”
That is Stokes’ second mistake, and it’s a big one. That’s the explanation for why his character drifts out of the spotlight, after this spectacular week.
Stokes thinks that once the ghost of Reverend Trask is set loose upon the world, the spirit’s driving passion for destroying witches will lead him straight to Collinwood, and Cassandra. He doesn’t realize that Trask has a different target in mind — another person from the 18th century, who’s still around in the present day.
The shame of it is that Stokes makes that mistake because Julia’s keeping information from him. She doesn’t trust him enough to tell him the truth — that the Barnabas he knows and “the original Barnabas” are the same man.
Stokes even gets a couple of clues to this mystery during the séance scene. Reverend Trask addressed him as Ben, directing the audience’s attention to the link between the Professor and his ancestor. Stokes was even smart enough to pick up on the behind-the-scenes affinity between Tony and Reverend Trask.
But for some reason, Stokes has a blind spot when it comes to Barnabas. All week, he’s been doggedly following every lead that he can find, refusing to accept that there are secrets he can’t know — until it leads to Barnabas, and then he lets it drop.
He doesn’t pursue his suspicions about the connection between Barnabas and Adam, or why Angelique is targeting the present-day Barnabas, or why the Old House basement is called “the coffin room,” and this means that he’s missing the crucial fact that would help him really understand what’s going on. Even worse, he decides to keep his own secret about Adam, and not share it with Julia.
This isn’t just a personal failure; it’s a failure for the team. Julia, Stokes and Barnabas should all be working together, sharing information and making better plans. But Stokes stands apart, and that’s ultimately why the character never reaches the top tier that you’d expect after his domination of the last couple weeks.
It was all going so well, just yesterday — Stokes poisoned Tony, and the first thing that he thought to do was to call Julia, and tell her everything. He should be a charter member of the Unscooby Gang, a monster superteam devoted to actively protecting the things that go bump in the night.
Ultimately, on a soap opera, a person is only as strong as his connection to other characters. That goes double on Dark Shadows, where the only game worth playing is called Stand Next to Barnabas.
Professor Timothy Stokes could really be something on this show, if he could just hold tighter to Julia. Instead, he ends up alone, calling to the spirits — reaching out for a connection with someone who isn’t even there.
Tomorrow: Everybody Rise.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the opening voiceover, Grayson Hall says that Reverend Trask has been sealed up in a wall for over 200 years. She means almost 200 years.
During the séance, Stokes puts the wrong stress on a line when he’s talking to Reverend Trask through Tony.
Stokes: You remember Angelique. You let her live!
Tony: I had no choice!
Stokes: You can!… have a choice now!
There’s a big close-up on the skeleton at the end of the teaser, and you can clearly see that the skeleton has a hinge in the middle of its skull.
After the opening titles, the scene opens with a shot of the skeleton chained up behind the wall. There’s a cloud of dust from the shattered brick wall, but it’s obviously being blown onto the set from just off-camera.
In yesterday’s episode, the candle on the table was tall and red; it’s replaced today with a short, blue candle.
The end of Act 2 closes too quickly, cutting off in the middle of the music cue.
In Act 3, Stokes and Julia discover that Trask’s skeleton has disappeared. Stokes says, “Amazing,” and someone in the studio whistles, as if they agree.
About thirty seconds after that, Stokes calls out to Trask, and a camera pokes into view on the left side of the screen.
Behind the Scenes
Stokes introduces himself to David today as “Professor Timothy Eliot Stokes.” This is going to cause a bit of confusion later on in the series, when they can’t quite remember whether they’re supposed to call him Timothy or Eliot.
When Dark Shadows was offered in syndication by Worldvision, episode 771 was accidentally placed between episodes 511 and 512, a year out of sequence. Episode 771 is from the 1897 storyline, and it’s the episode where Pansy Faye is introduced and then killed.
The mixup may have had something to do with the confusion around episode 509. The intended air date for 509 was June 6, 1968, the episode that was pre-empted for coverage of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination. Also, the master videotape for 509 was damaged, and Worldvision didn’t realize that there was a kinescope backup. Episode 771 aired on June 9, 1969. This was all cleared up when MPI got the license for home video release in 1989.
Tomorrow: Everybody Rise.
— Danny Horn