Episode 577: Artificial Intelligence

“We’re not going to solve my mother’s problems by talking about them.”

You know, I like Carolyn Stoddard a lot. She’s a great soap heroine — she’s pretty and funny and feisty, she’s got a smart mouth, she falls in love with all the wrong men, and she’s got this little catch in her voice when she’s sad that makes you want to go out and rescue a cat from a tree or something. I think she’s fantastic.

But I don’t think she’s very good at planning ahead. That’s where Carolyn and I part ways. She’s got this enormous Frankenstein that she keeps in an abandoned wing of the house, and she comes by every once in a while to bring him food and books and a clean turtleneck, and I don’t think she has the slightest idea what’s supposed to happen next. The writers don’t, either. Bad planning is kind of an epidemic around here.

577 dark shadows adam chess

On days like this, I try to keep perspective by reminding myself that I actually like the fact that the Dark Shadows writers never have more than a three week lead time on story development, and they’re just making things up as they go along, like Wallace and Gromit hastily laying down train tracks just ahead of the speeding locomotive.

In fact, that’s one of my favorite things about the show, because it has the restless energy of a down-on-its-luck improv troupe halfway through a sketch, always just one inspired ad-lib away from something unexpected and breathtaking. And they do hit that magic spot, more often than you’d think possible.

The downside is that sometimes they’ve just got a guy in a room, with no idea what they’re going to do with him.

577 dark shadows adam playing

Adam’s been cooped up in this shabby studio apartment for going on two months now, and it’s pretty clear that they just don’t know what the next story beat is supposed to be. They’ve been banging on the “Adam is slowly falling in love with Carolyn” idea so hard that they’re getting just as bored with it as we are.

So today’s episode finds Adam playing a one-handed game of chess, and teasing his imaginary opponent.

“Nope,” he says, shaking his head. “That would be a very bad move. You should read that book on chess more often; I thought you’d play better than you do, Carolyn. Now, if you don’t want to lose that knight, you’ll have to move the, uh…”

And then he trails off. So: that’s your challenge for the day. Deal with that.

577 dark shadows adam coming

Because it was really not that long ago that Adam could hardly put a sentence together. He said things like “Willie bad! Adam tear chain!” Now he’s lecturing imaginary people on how to play chess.

Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy Young Frankenstein has the monster tap dancing in a tuxedo and singing “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. Even Brooks wouldn’t have thought of making Frankenstein a grandmaster.

577 dark shadows carolyn adam chess

So when Carolyn arrives with today’s rations, she really has no idea what’s been going on up here. She’s upset right now, because Elizabeth is convinced that she’s going to be buried alive.

Adam says that Liz should go to a doctor, and Carolyn tries to humansplain.

Carolyn:  People are sometimes very complex in a way you don’t understand, simply because you don’t know very many people. My mother won’t go to a doctor, that’s all. What’s wrong is in her mind. She believes things she shouldn’t.

Adam:  Well, I have many thoughts, complex, too, in my mind. I’m positive.

Carolyn:  Of course you do.

Adam:  And I believe things that I shouldn’t, too.

577 dark shadows carolyn freud

Carolyn turns away.

Carolyn:  We’re not going to solve my mother’s problems by talking about them.

Adam:  Dr. Freud says talking is helpful.

577 dark shadows carolyn adam freud

That’s the moment that she isn’t prepared for.

Carolyn:  … Dr. Freud.

Adam:  Yes. Professor Stokes says every twentieth-century man should read Freud. And I am a twentieth-century man.

577 dark shadows carolyn adam book club

He crosses the room, and picks up a book.

Adam:  Women read him, too. Have you?

Carolyn:  No.

Adam:  Oh. I imagined that we would discuss Freud.

577 dark shadows carolyn adam take

He hands her the book.

Adam:  Well, here — you take this book that I’ve read on Freud.

Carolyn:  Thank you, Adam.

Adam:  And you read it tonight. We can discuss it tomorrow.

So that’s the show that we’re suddenly watching — the story of a misshapen mockery of a man brought to life on a mad scientist’s operating table, who’s apparently sitting on his own in a cobweb-strewn prison, studying for his master’s degree. It’s the mash-up of Frankenstein and Flowers for Algernon that you never realized you needed in your life.

577 dark shadows adam carolyn earth

And I love this, obviously, because it’s such a serialized-narrative idea — an approach to the situation that would only occur to a writer who’s living with this story in real time.

Adam was introduced as an innocent child when he got up off the slab, confused and scared at waking up in a world he didn’t understand. Those early story beats had to involve some fairly dramatic intellectual bootstrapping, because otherwise we have to watch the guy get potty-trained.

But now they’ve left him cooped up in a dorm room for two months with an apparently endless supply of hardcovers, taking the “you’re learning so quickly” idea to its logical conclusion, namely: rogue scholar.

577 dark shadows adam carolyn play

So who needs planning, really? Ten minutes ago, if you’d asked Sam Hall where he thought the Adam story was going, the phrase “psychology grad student” would not have come up. It just kind of spills out as Hall’s writing the scene, because the B-plot in today’s episode is about Elizabeth’s mental breakdown, and the characters have to talk about something.

It’s the equivalent of a writer’s ad-lib — a crazy idea that occurs to him on the spot, while he’s frantically typing to meet a tight deadline. And now it’s on television. I wonder what they’ll think of next?

Tomorrow: The Understudy.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

At the beginning of the episode, Liz wakes up in a different nightgown and with a different blanket than the ones she fell asleep with. (This episode was recorded out of sequence, two days before yesterday’s episode, not that it matters. They just don’t bother to keep track of stuff like that, because nobody had a VCR in 1968.)

When Carolyn is looking at the chessboard and agreeing to read Adam’s book, something bumps into the camera.

Liz calls Tony, and asks him to take over her legal affairs, which he’s apparently happy to do. When Tony was introduced last November, his entire character was based on his hatred of the Collins family.


Behind the Scenes:

When Liz wakes up, her bedspread is the Collinsport Afghan, a colorful blanket that pops up all over town. We just saw it at Maggie’s house last Thursday.

Liz tries to call her lawyer, Richard Garner, who doesn’t come to the phone because he’s not on the show anymore. His last appearance was in episode 246, in June 1967.

A close-up on Tony’s ringing telephone shows that his number is Collinsport 4099. This was also the number for Collinwood in episode 44, and for Professor Stokes in episode 550. Must be a popular number.

Tomorrow: The Understudy.

577 dark shadows telephone 4099

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

12 thoughts on “Episode 577: Artificial Intelligence

  1. Why is Carolyn still going to Adam’s room alone after he violently assaulted her on a previous occasion? And he has the gall to mention Freud as a future topic of discussion? Is this another ‘lapse’ by the writers to conveniently forget how brutally he treated her by having her traipse around in his room without even bringing Harry Johnson with her for protection?

  2. As Elizabeth changes her will to add special details about the coffin the show is referencing the short story The Premature Burial by Edgar Allan Poe. However, despite the fictional point of reference this fear was commonplace in everyday life of the 19th century and many coffins of this type were designed, which was known as a “safety coffin”. The coffin with the buzzer system is an updated version of Dr. Johann Gottfried Taberger’s system from 1829, which incorporated a bell attached above ground and operated by strings within the coffin to alert the nightwatchman of the cemetery in the event of premature burial.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safety_coffin

    1. It’s not only the early 19th century. When Angel Angley, the wife of Ernest Angley, evangelical preacher and faith healer, died he installed a live telephone in her coffin so she could call and chat if she wanted. He also believed she would forewarn him when The Rapture was about to happen. He also piped in live music, so she wouldn’t be bored. Akron, Ohio occasionally weirder than Collinport

      1. That reminds me an old Twilight Zone episode where someone keeps calling the old widow, and too late she realizes it was really her dead husband. The phone line is down, with a dangling end on his grave.

  3. Re: “The Collinsport Afghan”, it could happen. My mom and grandmother both sat around knitting these things, if they hit on one someone implied they liked just to be kind, there would be bushels of them produced by Christmas and you’d need a microscope to tell them apart. I thought it was rather silly, given the enormous amount of labor and they had to be hand-washed (they might survive the washer, but once you’ve had one uncoil around the agitator, it’s no longer worth the risk). Their seemingly identical afghans are strewn all over Texas. It would make perfect sense if they’d just thought to assign one character as the afghan maker, perhaps show Mrs. Johnson knitting furiously away on one of these things in her spare time…

    1. I teach knitting and crochet at our local library and at least once a year someone brings in a box of colored yarn squares that they found in the back of their mother or grandmother’s closet, that were never sewn together to complete a Collinsport style afghan. Apparently at some point, Mom or Grandma said ‘Enough!!” and threw them in the closet and took up making macrame plant hangers instead.

      1. I don’t recall if I made a similar post before, because I’ve been thinking about this a great deal when I read your blog. Adam’s intelligence is in line with the original novel. Mary Shelley’s story traced the creature’s development from a man sized baby to a self taught genius.

  4. I think Liz’s former attorney Richard Garner was played by the great Hugh Franklin. Hugh Franklin is best known for playing Dr. Charles Tyler on “All My Children” and is also the husband of the great Madeline L’Engle, author of “A Wrinkle in Time.” Hugh also had a brief cameo (as a city official “infected” with the fictional “euphoria virus” in the goofy movie “What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?” which starred Mary Tyler Moore, George Peppard and Dom Deluise. “What’s So Bad” also starred a great soap vet in a very strange role — the great Gillian Spencer as “The Sack” (a person who protests the sad state of the world by living inside a burlap sack) — Gillian Spencer was the original Viki on “One Life,” Jennifer Hughes on “World Turns” and the great Daisy/Monique (Nina’s bio mom) on “All My Children.” Sorry, Dan – I’m on a late-night stream of consciousness binge tonight, as I watch ep. 577 on hulu…

  5. BTW, that’s a Lardy chess set that Adam is playing with. They were made in France. I’m sure that only interests me, but I’m a chess player, so I thought I would mention it.

  6. In a close-up of Adam’s turtle-neck today, it looked quite moth-eaten. If Carolyn is bringing him new ones, she’s overdue!

  7. “Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy Young Frankenstein has the monster tap dancing in a tuxedo and singing “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. Even Brooks wouldn’t have thought of making Frankenstein a grandmaster.”

    Hey, remember that episode when Nicholas made friends (for his own purposes, of course) with Adam a while back? He buttered Adam up pretty well, flattering and praising him; this was around the time he also gave him the “take what you want” speech. Anyways, I kind of wondered if Mel Brooks was maybe watching that day, and that’s how we got the “you…are…a…GOD” speech Gene Wilder delivered. DS certainly predates “Young Frankenstein”, so who knows?

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