Episode 558: The Long, Hot Summer

“He may be eccentric or mysterious at times, but I don’t think he’s evil.”

They taught him how to speak. They taught him how to read. They taught him table manners. They taught him to fear the police. They even taught him what “kissing” means.

But they totally forgot to teach him about right and wrong, which turns out to be kind of important. Oops!

558 dark shadows stokes adam start

Here’s Adam, the enormous adolescent Frankenstein man, who’s just learned that he was created in a mad science lab and is therefore not eligible to win the hand of the multi-millionaire heiress that he has a crush on. Naturally, he finds this upsetting, as anyone would.

But when Adam has hurt feelings, he tends to express himself through the medium of kidnapping and confining young women, which is inconvenient for everyone.

At the moment, Adam has governess Victoria Winters locked up in a safe house somewhere, and he’s demanding that Barnabas create a mate for him, or he’ll kill Vicki. The idea that this might be the perfect opportunity to rid themselves of an exceptionally irritating governess does not appear to have occurred to anyone.

Professor Stokes is trying to make up for lost time in the moral education department.

Stokes:  I sympathize with your feelings. Perhaps what you want from Barnabas is right. What is wrong is using an innocent person to get it. Victoria Winters has nothing to do with all this. She is not to blame for the desperation and loneliness you feel!

Adam:  Professor, you say that it is wrong to hurt someone who is innocent. Well, Barnabas hurt me; he is responsible for what I am. And he didn’t even care enough to make me in a way that I can be loved! But he will care. He loves Vicki, and he knows if he doesn’t give me what I want, he will never see her alive again.

558 dark shadows adam minority

So what we have here is an oppressed minority — a minority of one, in fact, which is as much of a minority as you can possibly get — who’s realized that he’s been subject to systemic disadvantages imposed by people who are more powerful than he is, for reasons that he doesn’t even understand.

He’s taking action to force the powers that be to listen to his grievances, and bring about social change. Now he’s being scolded by a well-meaning but ultimately disinterested onlooker, who objects to his tactics, but doesn’t present an alternative plan for addressing the fundamental problems.

In other words, it’s 1968.

558 dark shadows adam stokes headlines

So let’s take a look at a couple of headlines from this tumultuous year.

In July 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders — known as the Kerner Commission after its chair, Governor Otto Kerner, Jr. of Illinois — and  tasked them with analyzing the causes of the race riots that swept the United States during “the long, hot summer” of ’67.

There were 159 riots in American cities in 1967, the most devastating in Newark and Detroit, where protests over the unfair treatment of African-American citizens by the police turned into generalized looting and destruction, which was exacerbated by the deployment of National Guard and Army troops.

In February 1968, the Kerner Commission published its report, which made a rather startling conclusion: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate but unequal.”

According to the Commission, the cause of the riots was “pervasive discrimination and segregation in employment, education and housing, which have resulted in the continuing exclusion of great numbers of Negroes from the benefit of economic progress.” Furthermore, “the frustrations of powerlessness have led some Negroes to the conviction that there is no effective alternative to violence as a means of achieving redress of grievances, and of ‘moving the system.'”

558 dark shadows stokes adam commission

President Johnson’s response to the report was to defund the Commission, ignore the findings and refuse to meet with the Commission members, which pretty much proved their point.

A month later, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, following a speech in support of striking African-American sanitation workers.

More riots, more pain. A week after King’s assassination, with devastating riots in 110 cities, and Marines with machine guns standing on the steps of the Capitol building, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, outlawing racial discrimination in housing.

So it turns out that maybe there really isn’t an effective alternative to violence as a means of achieving redress of grievances.

558 dark shadows adam stokes bizarre

Now, it may seem bizarre to relate these real-world events to an imaginary conflict between Dracula and the Frankenstein monster on afternoon television, but that’s the cultural context for this episode, and I think everyone in the audience could see the correspondence.

Adam:  I know what I want, and I know how to get it.

Stokes:  You’re going about it in the wrong way.

Adam:  You think Barnabas will give me what I want if I don’t keep Vicki?

Stokes:  I don’t know.

Adam:  Well, I do. He will not. He hates me.

Stokes:  Adam — no matter how just your cause may be, you cannot achieve it by committing an injustice, don’t you understand?

558 dark shadows adam riot

Adam scowls, and mutters “Injustice,” and you have to admit the guy has a point. He’s completely alone in the world, forced to live in a filthy, disused part of an otherwise opulent mansion, and if he ventures outside during the day, he’ll be imprisoned and probably dissected.

Meanwhile, he’s visited every day by a series of wealthy white people, who all feel perfectly free to explain how important it is that he stay indoors and read Elizabeth Barrett Browning, possibly forever. Nobody engages seriously with the question of what kind of life he’s expected to stitch together from the limited scraps of opportunity that lie before him.

The Kerner Commission talks about “the frustrations of powerlessness,” but here’s Adam, actually living it. Look at that face. This is a riot waiting to happen.

558 dark shadows adam stokes limits

And here, unfortunately, is where you run into the limits of fantasy metaphor.

Stokes says, “This is a question which should be settled between you and Barnabas,” which may be true for the in-universe narrative, but isn’t a very helpful artistic response to real-world social disruption.

In a civil rights struggle, the opposing parties can’t just sit down together on equal footing and hash things out. Adam can walk into Barnabas’ house and confront his oppressor directly, but if you want to stop by Congress and express your views on discrimination, they’ve got Marines with machine guns on the Capitol steps who have a different idea of how that interaction is going to play out.

558 dark shadows adam history

So the message that Dark Shadows conveys here is not exactly on the right side of history.

Everybody on the show keeps saying that Adam couldn’t have come up with this plan by himself — that there must be an outside agent who’s stirring him up with thoughts of rebellion. Even Stokes says, “You’ve been listening to someone else, haven’t you? Someone who’s been teaching you all the wrong things.”

And there is someone who’s feeding Adam’s unrest — Nicholas Blair, who is literally working on behalf of Satan to create “a new race” that will take over the world. As a metaphor for the civil rights struggle in America, this is staggeringly brutal.

There were voices in America in the 1950s and 60s who were placing the blame for African-American civil unrest on Communist instigators who wanted to destroy America. The underlying assumption was that Black people weren’t smart enough to notice their own oppression and organize to change the system — they had to be coached by sinister carpetbaggers like Nicholas Blair.

558 dark shadows adam intentino

Now, I don’t believe that the Dark Shadows writers created this storyline with the intention of making it a cruel metaphor for Satanic forces inspiring the civil rights movement. In fact, I am absolutely certain that the Dark Shadows writers never had any intentions to do anything at all, except to come up with a story that would be interesting enough to produce another couple weeks’ worth of scripts.

This correspondence is completely incidental — the Cassandra story was running out of steam, and the Adam story was going nowhere, so they used Nicholas as a plot device to connect the loose storylines and keep the show running for another day.

But the idea that Professor Stokes refers to — “no matter how just your cause may be, you cannot achieve it by committing an injustice” — was just running through everyone’s heads in 1968, the same way that it is in 2015, and the way that it probably will for decades and centuries to come. And Dark Shadows, as absurd and disconnected from reality as it is, ends up wrestling with these concerns, just like everything else in American culture.

In the end, there is only one lasting message of fundamental truth here: If you have the opportunity to imprison Victoria Winters, then for God’s sake, please take advantage of it. You never know when you’ll get another chance.

Tomorrow: Everything You Deserve.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

I edited one of Adam’s quotes above for clarity. What Adam actually says at the end of the teaser is, “He loves Vicki, and he knows — if he does not give me what he want, he will never see her alive again.” He means “what I want”.

At the beginning of act 2, Barnabas asks Stokes, “What did the two talk to — what did you both talk about?” When Stokes says that he doesn’t want to give them false hope about Adam’s plans, Barnabas cries, “Did you discuss that thing, or didn’t you?”

When Nicholas looks out of the window at the start of act 3, a fly buzzes around his head, and lands on his face several times. Nicholas has to subtly brush the fly away.

In act 4, Barnabas tells Adam, “She deserves to be free. She’s done nothing to do — she has nothing to do with any of this!”

Tomorrow: Everything You Deserve.

558 dark shadows barnabas julia frown

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

22 thoughts on “Episode 558: The Long, Hot Summer

  1. A civil rights movement or cause could never be built around Adam, because he isn’t part of a group, just a freak occurrence of one. That’s the great thing about Dark Shadows, that they never got political or topical, which is why it remains endlessly timeless, as a means of escape from whichever times you happen to be viewing from. Roger in one episode makes an offhanded remark about the younger generation being preoccupied by love, but’s that’s as far as they go. The most radical pop culture character they had on the show was beatnik biker Buzz, and he was already 10 years out of date at that point. Even hippy astrologer Sebastian Shaw was a few years past the pop culture sell date by the time he appeared at the start of the seventies. And no worries, Vicki Winters will soon be imprisoned by motherhood.

    I think perhaps the fact that Dark Shadows was not topical was a significant factor in its popularity at the time, because it represented an escape from the issues and headlines of the day and by appealing to a wider demographic who would be swept up by the more timelessly universal themes of life and death and tragically misguided romance (such as fans too young at the time to be seriously political). Thankfully Dark Shadows was written by those who were well into their forties at the time and for whom the headlines of 1968 would have been more peripheral. Imagine if the show had been written by hotshot writers in their twenties and early thirties. Imagine having to keep revisiting an episode where Burke’s plane gets shot down over Vietnam.

    1. I will have to agree with you. The majority of people watching dark shadows were youngsters including myself. While there was only one African American on the show, it did not matter. Every black and brown person I knew was front and center daily for dark shadows. We knew there were riots all around, the assassination of Martin Luther King, etc., however Dark Shadows was the diversion.

  2. The DS writers don’t have to intentionally be writing an allegory — it’s not the Twilight Zone, but they are middle-aged, middle-class Americans living in the 1960, so what they write will be influenced by the outside world and how their own unique perspectives.

    So, I like that Danny writes this blog keeping the cultural context in mind. Yes, the outside world is rarely mentioned but that is almost more of a statement about the times than if they had.

    1. White men in their 40s, not concerned or influenced by the political upheaval of 1968?The whole world was turning upside down.
      Thank you Danny for putting the context of era in your recaps. I was only eight in 1968, but I remember the confusion of the adults in my life, the rebellion of my teenage sisters, and the violence of revolution on tv.
      The times were changing, nobody was inured

      1. I don’t know, possibly. Here’s what Lara Parker had to say about whether these contemporary issues had an effect on the show when doing an online Q&A with fans:

        Question: Dear Lara: DS was filmed in the late sixties, a time of social change. Did the women’s liberation movement or the civil rights movement have an impact on the show?
        Answer: We all went to a candlelite vigil against the Vietnam War in Central Park and I went to the March on Washington. We were aware of the world around us. As far as the Women’s Liberation Movement, I believe the character of Angelique was so popular because she was one of the first women on TV to have that kind of power over men and the other people in her life. The ability to make people suffer, etc.

        Excerpted from: http://www.darkshadowsdvd.com/laraparker.html

        However, I don’t know whether she’s speaking for just the cast or the writers as well. Ultimately, the show was written by Dan Curtis, as writers like Sam Hall have mentioned. He pushed the themes, guided the writers, and rejected certain ideas for other directions the writers might have had. In 1966 he was basically putting Jane Eyre on television, and one and two years later was reviving the Universal monsters of the 1930s. As the issues of the late sixties intensified, Curtis seemed more interested in 1795 and 1897. The day of the Kent State shootings, Collinwood was in parallel time.

        I don’t know how Dan Curtis was affected by the late sixties, but it does seem that as the decade wore on the show spent less and less time in the present and more time in the past. Each year of the show, there is less of the present and more of times past and parallel.

        1. Quentin and his f you attitude to the conventions of every time he lived in, coupled with his love the one your with attitude, certainly resonated with the audience and mirrored the attitude of the times. Also the clothing and hairstyles of the past, looked alot like what was current at the time. I don’t think politically there was any conscious desicion on the writers part to make allegorical stories, but it seems impossible not to have the climate of the times seeping into a show that is written at the time. Especially one written for 5 shows a week.

          1. Lastly, I REALLY.just enjoy the show, and any new takes or insights on it, make it all the more interesting for me. There is a GREAT spin on The Wizard of Oz, I saw on Facebook, which points out glinda the good witch, was REALLY the source of ALL the trouble in dorothys journey. So just cool to revisit, rethink, and re see, what we enjoy.

  3. I still don’t comprehend WHY Lang deliberately gave Adam that patchwork face – I know it’s because of the Universal movie but if the teenage (who cares what the adults want) audience went as nuts about him as they did about Barnabas I’m sure he would have become a series regular and the constant make up application would have become a real challenge for Robert Rodan..

  4. Well… I can understand why they never they never tackled current affairs on Dark Shadows. For one thing it would have been controversial–could you imagine what Roger would have to say about Vietnam or Civil Rights? Just the sort of thing you wouldn’t want on a daytime soap trying to find an audience.

    Secondly any attempt to be up to date and “relevant” would have collided with Barnabas–Barnabas, who remembers the US as 13 states, the president as Washington, slavery as something recently abolished in Massachusetts but flourishing further south and “the war” as the Revolutionary War”. It could have been a good source of fish-out-of-water storylines, but the producers chose not to go that way.

    As for Adam–I’m inclined to think he’s a stand-in for nothing so much as DS’s teenage audience. He has the alienated adolescent angst down pat–he even gives the monster equivalent of the “I didn’t ask to be born!” speech!

  5. This post brought another 1968 flashback for me. I was 7 in ’68, watching TV at a neighbor’s house who was there with her sitter. The sitter was an older teen, somewhat jaded/sarcastic, but undoubtedly aware of current events. We lived in small town Iowa. “What this town needs is a good riot,” said our sitter. I was shocked at her comment and didn’t quite understand. Your commentary here about that time helped me put all of that in perspective.

    Years later, in summer 1982, I sold educational books door to door in rural Maryland, eastern shore, in another relatively small town, but very very socio-economically segregated. That town had had a race riot in the late ’60’s — in 1982, the term “colored” was still being used there — and some people talked about the riots as if they had happened yesterday. Several persons — black and white — advised me repeatedly to never try to sell books in the “colored” section at night. I was too young, foolish, naive and invincible — and even made some sales to black families. Heartbreaking, to me, that we still struggle with race issues in 1982 and even today!

  6. When you wrote this, Danny, you had no idea what horror was going to come in the 2016 election:
    “But the idea that Professor Stokes refers to — “no matter how just your cause may be, you cannot achieve it by committing an injustice” — was just running through everyone’s heads in 1968, the same way that it is in 2015, and the way that it probably will for decades and centuries to come.”
    I’m beginning to think that violence is the answer. Where is Barnabas when we need him? (Just kidding!)

  7. I was impressed by the way that Stokes and Blair both persuaded Adam. Stokes used an analogy: What if somebody did to Carolyn what you’re doing to Vicki? And then Blair said Stokes is tricking you so you won’t get what you want. Blair even explicitly dismisses the notion of “Do unto others.” These two mentors are really good at persuasion. Adam was persuaded by the last guy who talked to him. The difference is that Stokes appealed to Adam to think over a proposition and come to his own conclusion. Blair really wanted Adam to come to the “right” conclusion because Blair has a vested interest in exploiting Adam. Stokes really is disinterested except, of course, that he wants to save Vicki.The hate Vicki movement will not fail to get another chance. Vicki will take herself out before too long. Remember, though, for whatever reason, Dan Curtis liked Vicki and would have kept her on for the duration if she had not realized herself that there was no point in continuing. Ultimately, you have to give her credit there.

  8. At the end, Adam does an interesting and slightly unsettling thing. He finishes his lines to Barnabas and then looks directly at the camera. My first thought was that he was looking at the teleprompter, but that can’t be because he has no lines for the next 30 seconds or more. So what is he glaring at the camera for? Perhaps the director told him to do that so he would glare at the audience.

  9. It’s so ironic that I’m watching this episode/reading this recap right in the middle of all the George Floyd protests. Everything old is new again.

  10. Stokes at least has the advantage of being aware of his uselessness. “If I had had the foresight to marry and have children, I might have known what to say in this situation,” that sort of thing. And of course Nicholas and Angelique are self-consciously (and gleefully!) agents of Satan. But it’s consistently amazing to watch Barnabas and Julia in their firm conviction that what they are doing is promoting the cause of good. There’s a political message there, that anyone at all can choose to believe that whatever course of action they may be following at any given moment is not only justified, but necessary.

  11. Yes, acilius, I imagine many, many people at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 felt their actions were justified and necessary and that their violent actions were for a good cause.
    Does anyone consider what they themselves do “evil”? Don’t we all think that the things we do are justified?

    It is very disheartening that the same issues we faced in 1968 are still here in 2019.

    Really, I certainly never saw any connection between what was happening in the real world and Dark Shadows. That doesn’t mean that you can’t interpret it that way. Things that last often do so because each generation can find their own truth in it. That sounds a little lofty in relation to Dark Shadows, though.
    Maybe it’s lasted because even it’s real world is a fantasy . It’s like a long, dark fairy tale and fairy tales seem to keep their appeal.

  12. Adam certainly is persuadable, just knocked back and forth like a tennis ball by Nicholas and Professor Stokes.

    On another note, Robert Rodan now sounds to me like the actor Tony Curtis, even resembling him somewhat facially, with a little Cary Grant throw in. I don’t know yet whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

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