“I have a terrible fear that something’s going to happen.”
Yesterday’s episode closed with Adam, our enormous and confused teen Frankenstein, thrusting himself romantically at a young woman who would have preferred otherwise. He’s six-foot-six and has superhuman strength, while she’s somewhere in the low five feet, and at press time was saying “Adam, you’re hurting me.” Things were definitely shaping up to be one of those American tragedies that you read about in the papers.
Today’s episode begins with Carolyn walking downstairs, post-trauma. Her hair is messed up, but her blouse and skirt are intact, so I guess that means that everything worked out more or less okay.
So I just want to take a second to appreciate the careful and painstaking work being performed by that hairstyle.
They never explain exactly how Carolyn disentangled herself from the situation upstairs. All we know is that she’s shaken, and the first thing that she does is to call Professor Stokes and ask him to take Adam away. We don’t know how much worse things got. We don’t know if she managed to fight him off, or if he realized that he was hurting her, or what.
With the rhythm of four commercial breaks and a daily cliffhanger, there are plenty of opportunities for the show to draw a discreet veil over any action that might be considered unacceptable for public broadcast. You play a dramatic sting, you cut away for a word about new Sunshine Rinso, and you leave everything else up to the viewer’s imagination.
So Carolyn’s hair has to do a lot of the heavy lifting here. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that level of hair distress means that Adam only learned what “kissing” was last week, and he hasn’t figured out that there are any steps beyond that, thank goodness.
But they’re playing with the audience here, in a very effective way. Carolyn’s call to Stokes comes perilously close to actually telling us what the hell just happened, and then veers away at the last second.
Carolyn: I must see you immediately.
Stokes: Has something happened to Adam? Or can’t you talk?
Carolyn: I’d rather not.
Stokes: Is he all right?
Carolyn: Yes. In a way.
Stokes: He hasn’t escaped.
Carolyn: No. No, it’s — something I can’t deal with.
And Nancy Barrett is doing that thing that she does, where her voice breaks in a way that makes you want to go out and make sure that nobody hurts anybody ever again.
Stokes is trying to keep up.
Carolyn: Professor, he can’t stay here any longer. He can’t.
Stokes: Can’t you tell me?
Carolyn: No. No.
Stokes: I’ll be right over.
Carolyn: Come to the drawing room. I won’t be in Adam’s room. I can’t go there alone, ever.
Stokes: Miss Stoddard, are you much given to melodrama? No, I’ll answer that myself later. I’ll hurry.
Carolyn murmurs, “Thank you. Oh, thank you,” and hangs up.
And then there’s the opening titles and a word about Ken-L Ration burger for dogs, and we have to spend that entire time worrying about her.
Now, this is afternoon television, so an overwrought telephone conversation is pretty much business as usual. That goes double for Dark Shadows, where a character aged two hundred years and dropped dead in an armchair just a couple days ago. The bar for shocking developments has been raised higher than your average run-of-the-mill daytime weeper.
Curiously, in that context, Stokes’ last line — “are you much given to melodrama?” — actually helps to ratchet the tension up a notch.
That question is an example of lampshading — having a character raise a question that the audience might be asking, in order to hang a lampshade over it and dismiss it. If anybody’s wondering if Carolyn is just making a big deal about getting kissed by a boy she doesn’t like, then we’ve got a well-educated man on the screen confirming that this is more than just a misunderstanding.
When we come back from the commercial break, Professor Stokes has arrived at Collinwood — but they put him in a scene with Vicki, which is simply unfair. They know that we want to find out what happened to Carolyn, but they’ve invented an offstage emergency in the kitchen that apparently requires her urgent attention.
In Carolyn’s place, we get Vicki, who we don’t really want to see, even at the best of times. She wants to tell Stokes about what happened to Cassandra, which is old business, and we already know way more than Vicki does about it anyway.
Carolyn finally comes in, and her hair is back under control. She’s had a couple of minutes to pull herself back together, which helps us to relax a little. We know that it’s still a serious situation, because she’s still got that little catch in her voice, but it looks like the crisis has been downgraded from orange to yellow.
There are a few more lines exchanged between Stokes and Vicki, and then Carolyn closes the doors. That gives us an extra thirty seconds to adjust to the fact that we’re not going to hear any more details about what happened. Carolyn has brushed her hair, and that means we’re focused on the future.
Now, sometimes when I get super detailed like this about the writing and acting choices, it’s because I’m intentionally over-analyzing, or I’m making a backhanded joke. But in this case, I think I’m describing a real problem that they had to figure out — how to give the audience enough information to make us take this moment seriously, but not so seriously that we can’t get past it and move on to the next plot point.
We just watched Carolyn get sexually assaulted by a giant monster. We’re not going to actually process that experience in any kind of meaningful way, because Dark Shadows isn’t the “social issues” soap. It’s the non-stop thrill-ride spook show, and besides, there are kids watching.
It’s a delicate balance, and they actually handle it in a skillful way. Cleaning up after your Frankenstein monster isn’t a skill that anybody involved ever thought they’d have to develop, but life can surprise you sometimes.
Monday: Cruel World.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Jeff proposes to Vicki, she sits down on a bench. You can see the boom mic at the top of the screen, following her as she sits.
A moment later, Jeff spaces out in the middle of his line: “Well, don’t look like that; I’ll think you’re going to say no. I, uh — I had enough trouble…” (He consults the teleprompter) “with the… effort just to ask you.”
There’s a tape edit when Adam is talking to Stokes, just as he says, “If both live, Barnabas will be free.”
Behind the Scenes:
When Carolyn calls Professor Stokes, the camera cuts to a close-up on his telephone, which is labeled “Collinsport 4099”, as if that’s an important clue that we’re supposed to pay attention to. A little over a month ago, Julia actually mentioned that Stokes’ phone number is Rockport 6868, so apparently the producers are under the impression that the audience is desperate to know how to get in touch with him.
They used this prop phone in Collinwood in episode 44, with the same number, so apparently Collinwood and Stokes share the phone number.
Monday: Cruel World.
— Danny Horn