Episode 511: Séance Fiction

“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?

511 dark shadows stokes seance

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.

511 dark shadows stokes tony seance

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.

511 dark shadows tony stokes lights

At this point, Trask clams up, and the candle blows out.

511 dark shadows trask skeleton

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.

511 dark shadows stokes julia amazed

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.

511 dark shadows stokes shouting

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.

511 dark shadows tony stokes spirit

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?

Tony:  Home!

511 dark shadows stokes julia listen

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.

511 dark shadows stokes skeleton

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.

511 dark shadows julia music

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.

511 dark shadows julia david trespassing

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.

511 dark shadows stokes julia backacting

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.

511 dark shadows stokes secret

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.

511 dark shadows stokes julia stare

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.

511 dark shadows julia stokes calling

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.

511 dark shadows stokes alone

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.

511 dark shadows trask skull

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

19 thoughts on “Episode 511: Séance Fiction

  1. I remember a scene from an episode in the 600s, when Barnabas goes to Stokes and flat out tells him that he’s from another century, to which Stokes responds, “that must be the best kept secret in Collinsport.” And then he never brings it up or asks Barnabas about it again.

    Barnabas practically gives him his secret on a silver platter and Stokes doesn’t do anything but look at it and go, ‘Oh, that’s nice, but as I was saying…’ and just continue on as if nothing happened. I would have LOVED to have Stokes on Team Barnabas, there’s no reason NOT to have him on Team Barnabas. There are soo many missed opportunities.

  2. I believe there was a fan theory that Charity Trask, still possessed by the spirit of Pansy Faye, was Tony Peterson’s grandmother. Of course, that doesn’t explain why Charity looks like Carolyn Stoddard.

    As for Stokes, perhaps the writers thought he was a “plot accelerant,” which is dangerous for a soap opera where you need a reason sometimes to drag things along. Stokes tended to show up during big moments in storylines (Quentin’s ghost, parallel time, 1840) and then quickly fade away before he could resolve anything.

    There was a period when it seemed like the insistence on keeping Stokes in the dark would drive a permanent wedge between Stokes and Barnabas/Julia, but the relationship becomes cordial again after Eve arrives.

    And ultimately, that was the reason why he could never be on “Team Barnabas.” Julia not only loved Barnabas but had committed her own share of crimes with him. Quentin, as well, had his own secret to keep hidden, which Barnabas and Julia knew. Stokes had no skeletons in his closet, to our knowledge, so if he wasn’t kept in the dark, there would be a constant power imbalance.

    1. Yes, the danger of keeping Stokes around would be that a plot that would take two months to develop would be solved in a week, and what would the writers do then?

      And if Stokes found certain unpleasant things about his new found friends…well, well… that would make for interesting plot developments… I can imagine him learning enough about them, and using it to have Barnbas turns himself in for research in his own occult studies.. And Julia would be forced to collaborate (“and if you feel like using a hypodermic again, there are others who know and who will NOT be kind”)

  3. It certainly does seem, especially with that smooth and clever drink-switching move in the previous episode, that Stokes is well on his way to becoming the James Bond of Dark Shadows.

    But I don’t think he belongs on Team Barnabas–at least not as a full-fledged, card-carrying member with all the insider knowledge, mainly because he is too much a man of conscience and integrity. He is truly a good guy. Those top-tier characters listed above–Barnabas, Julia, Angelique, and Quentin–they have all committed murder at one time or another. Had Stokes known all about Barnabas and Julia in 1967, surely we couldn’t imagine him in Dr. Woodard’s office prepared to assist in Woodard’s disposal and the subsequent cover up. His sense of morality would never have allowed it. This is what sets him apart from the likes of Barnabas and Julia, and for them to continue to interact to help each other, it is essential that Julia and Stokes maintain a certain distance, and this distance will be defined by the secrets that are kept from each other, particularly what Julia must keep from Stokes in order to maintain his good will toward her and Barnabas. Stokes later helps and protects Adam because he can sense that Adam is not evil, merely undeveloped. What would he have to gain from protecting the secrets of people like Barnabas and Julia, whose actions he would surely have found repugnant? Because whatever Adam may do or have done he doesn’t know better–but Barnabas and Julia do know better. They made choices, the likes of which a character such as Stokes would never approve of.

    1. Yeah, that’s a really good point — yours and Stephen’s. Stokes is kind of a “white knight” — like St. George, as he said last week.

      You’re absolutely right about Stokes being in Woodard’s office. That’s just unthinkable for the character.

      So that’s what shuts Stokes outside the inner circle — on a show dominated by flawed/psychopathic characters, the “good guy” has to be kept at a distance. Weird, weird show.

        1. Yeah, but Thayer David could also do other things. He had four major characters, all of them completely different from each other. Vicki was all that Alexandra Moltke had to offer.

  4. I wonder if Thayer David had other obligations (i.e. Broadway plays) that kept him from being on DS ‘full time’ during this period.There was a long stretch between his playing Matthew Morgan and then Ben Stokes. Did they possibly bring him back for the 1795 storyline because John Karlen was leaving for an extended period of time? He seemed to be around a lot more starting with the 1897 storyline.

    1. Well, when Matthew Morgan died in 1966, coming back as a new character wasn’t a thing yet. The start of the 1795 storyline was the first time when it was possible to return to the show and play somebody else.

      I agree that it’s likely John Karlen would have played that servant role if he was around, so I’m glad they brought Thayer David back instead.

      1. I like that John Karlen wasn’t in 1795, and it has nothing to do with the actor who I like on DS. I don’t think it would right to have a Willie lookalike in 1795 as he was Barnabas’ tie to the present who has nothing whatsoever connecting him to the past.

        I wonder though, did they approach Diana Millay to play Angelique before they hired Lara Parker?

    2. Thayer David has five theater credits listed between 1966 and 1968, three of them in 1966 and one each in 1967 and 1968, plus he did dozens of television and radio commercials even while he was on Dark Shadows.

      I had no idea, until reading the book Barnabas & Company recently, that he co-founded the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which subsequently went on to become a single-screen cinema that remains in operation to this day under its original name showing the best in vintage and art house film. I live in the Boston area and Cambridge is my hometown and I’ve been going to see films there for nearly a quarter century, so next time when I take my usual balcony seat in the back row on the left side I will think of Thayer during those minutes before the lights dim and the film begins.

  5. While an awesome effect and lots of great shots, love the backacting shot with it, it really wouldn’t work. Skeletons that stand like that are wired together. If it really was down to being a complete skeleton like that it would have fallen into a heap a long time ago. I’m sorry to hear that’s the last of Stokes for awhile. He is AWESOME!

    My brother has 2 middle names and some people he knows call him by his 1st name, some call him by his 3rd name. Nobody calls him by his second, but that could explain Timothy-Elliot.

    Some truly great lines tonight. I always enjoy your posts. (If they really did use blue candles to use them up after switch to color, shouldn’t they be running out of them by now?)

    1. I might be repeating what was already said, but if Julia let Stokes in on Barnabas’secret,she would have to admit her crimes as well. Except for her tour de force guilt trip after murdering Dr. Woodward, she has convienantly erased her culpability and simply moved on with her life, ala Don Draper. If you dont say it, it does not exist.

  6. In a youtube interview with an older Alexandra Moltke, she talked about being locked in the west wing with Thayer David for a long storyline (is she referring to the Matthew Morgan story?). One of the amazing things, to me, about this youtube interview was that Alexandra spoke with a definite New York accent, sort of a version of Brooklyn-ese but it was not quite that. It’s amazing to me that when Alexandra played Vicki, I noticed no trace of any accent. Anyhow, in the interview, Alexandra said that Thayer was doing a play and needed help learning this specific New York accent that Alexandra had (maybe a form of Bronx-ese?). Alexandra and Thayer were friends or became friends while in the west wing – and Alexandra helped Thayer learn that specific accent.

    Yes, Thayer’s confrontation with Angelique in his own dream and thus ending the dream curse was truly awesome. It’s too bad that they could not figure out a way to somehow get Thayer on Team Barnabus.

    BTW, I agree that Thayer David is an amazing character actor — there are at least 2 movies featuring a younger Thayer pre-DS. The 1959 “Journey to the Center of the Earth” which also stars a young shirtless smooth Pat Boone, in which I believe Pat Boone meets a villainous Thayer (a previous below-Earth explorer) near the Earth’s watery core (it’s watery, per Jules Verne). Also the 1950’s film “The Egyptian” (based on the novel of the same name), a younger Thayer played the scheming get-rich-quick slave of Sinuhe, an Egyptian doctor who was also probably the fictional long-lost abandoned brother of Pharaoh Akhnaten and was set in the interesting pre-King Tut/Akhnaten era (where Akhnaten advocated a mono-theistic worship of one god, Aten, symbolized by the sun).

    1. Not only is there a hinge on the skull, the postmortem cut removing the top of the skulls is always visible on DS and often on other shows. This is done to allow the brain to be removed, and the cavity for it can be seen by students as well. It would have been so easy to glue the top of the skull in place and putty in the cut so it’s either invisible or less obvious.

  7. I remember the episode swap airing in syndication and my friends and I wondering what was up. We called the local station and they didn’t seem to know/care.

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