“Where did this woman come from, all of a sudden?”
There’s a moment in today’s episode where you can see the edge of the sky.
Willie and Professor Stokes are talking in the Old House drawing room, and a mysterious gust of wind blows the front door open.
And there, shot at just at the wrong angle, is the edge of the light blue scenery flat that they use to represent whatever they remember of the outside world before they were all sealed forever in the dark catacombs of ABC Studio 16.
Dark Shadows fans love being able to spot mistakes like that. Partly, we’re seduced by the schadenfreude of it all, just excited by the cheap thrill of seeing somebody’s pants fall down on more-or-less live television.
But there’s more to it than that. Spotting the bloopers creates a sense of intimacy, which partly explains why we’re still watching this silly old spook show fifty years later. We feel a kinship with the cast and the production, far more than with any other show, because we’re literally watching the show get made.
These days, thanks to internet leaks, pre-release social media campaigns, behind-the-scenes featurettes and Entertainment Weekly, we can pretty much assemble a day-by-day journal of every step in the making of a blockbuster movie.
None of that existed in the 1960s, except on Dark Shadows, which was broadcasting its own behind-the-scenes subreddit every day. At its core, Dark Shadows is actually the story of an over-worked, under-resourced team of lunatics who spend five years desperately struggling to make a daily television show.
That applies to the writing as well, which is one of the reasons I love looking closely at the show. They wrote and filmed things so close to airtime that sometimes you can almost see the writer offstage, just past the edge of the sky, making furious storyline course corrections.
I’ve been writing this blog for a year and a half, and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at finding the cracks where you can see story decisions being made — but that makes it extra frustrating on a day when I seriously can’t understand what the hell happened. Like today.
As the episode opens, Professor Stokes comes to the abandoned room in the west wing of Collinwood, looking for Adam, the enormous Frankenstein monster who’s been hiding here for the last few months.
Last night, Adam finally got Barnabas and Julia to create a Bride for him — and shortly after that, the happy newlyweds sneaked out of the Old House for parts unknown. Now Stokes has wandered up to Adam’s secret Collinwood hideaway, because he’s a Dark Shadows character, and trespassing is a form of exercise for these people.
Then young David saunters in, taking the Professor by surprise.
“You’re probably wondering what I’m doing in this part of the house,” Stokes says. “Carolyn told me that there were some old books up here, gathering dust, so I came up to have a look at them.”
“Oh,” David shrugs. “I thought you might be looking for Adam.”
And damn it if that’s not the best cue for a spit-take I’ve ever seen.
Because David doesn’t know that Adam is hiding up here. He just doesn’t. David and Adam have interacted a grand total of one time — back in May, when they met briefly in the woods, and that scene ended in a hail of gunfire.
So I’m going to take a moment and catalog the transparent lies that come out of David’s mouth over the next two minutes.
Preposterous lie #1: “He and I were good friends.”
Preposterous lie #2: “I came up to bring Adam some new books, and he told me it was the last time I’d ever see him.”
Preposterous lie #3: Stokes asks how long David’s known Adam was here, and David says, “Oh, a long time now.”
Preposterous lie #4: “When he was first here, I was pretty scared, until Carolyn told me not to be afraid, because Adam wouldn’t hurt me.”
Preposterous lie #5: “After a while, Adam and I became pretty good friends. He used to like to have me up here, so he could show off how quickly he learned.”
So, okay. I guess we’re doing a retcon.
That’s not out of bounds for Dark Shadows; pretty much the entire show is just one retcon after another. The Collinses tend to read their family history with a black magic marker close at hand, so they can scribble corrections and  tags.
As a retcon, this actually isn’t bad — David hasn’t been on the show very much since we came back from the 18th century in April, and he must been doing something all this time. It’s not out of character for him to hang out with a friendly monster; his entire social circle is dead people. I’m sure most people watching today’s episode would just assume that this was all established in some previous episodes that they missed.
And then the bad thing happens.
Carolyn enters the room, and shoos David out so that she can talk to Professor Stokes. She’s got a grievance that she needs to discuss.
Carolyn: I’d like to know why you told Barnabas that I was keeping Adam here.
Stokes: I told him nothing he didn’t already know.
Carolyn: He only suspected Adam was here. You confirmed it for him. Why?
That’s another retcon, I guess, because I have no idea what they’re talking about. The dialogue implies that there were at least two scenes that we didn’t see: Stokes telling Barnabas where Adam was hiding, and Barnabas confronting Carolyn about it. Neither of those happened.
Again, this retcon is entirely plausible — those interactions are entirely in character, and they could have happened while we weren’t looking. But it’s a puzzling addition to the timeline, because that’s the beginning and the end of that conversation. Stokes just changes the subject, and they start talking about something else. So why bother inventing more made-up history?
But that’s not the bad thing. This is the bad thing.
Carolyn: I was shocked when I found out Adam had gone. He gave no indication he was planning to leave. He never even said goodbye to me.
Stokes: I see. He must have a plan of some sort; they couldn’t survive without one.
Stokes: Adam, and his friend.
Carolyn: What friend?
Which is — wait, what?
Stokes: You don’t know about — the woman?
Carolyn: Woman? No, of course not. Who is she?
Stokes: An old friend of Adam’s, I suppose. I know very little about her.
Carolyn: Adam knew no one around here. He told me that many times. Where did this woman come from, all of a sudden?
So that’s just… I don’t even know what to do with that.
Carolyn has played a pretty key role in the Adam storyline over the last several months. After Adam was created, one of the first things that he did was kidnap Carolyn, and then fall in love with her. She’s been hiding him in the west wing since July, and his growing devotion to her has motivated everything he’s done since then. And now it seems like even David is more in the loop, and his relationship with Adam is entirely make-believe.
But that’s the curse of Nicholas Blair, a carpetbagging warlock who’s shutting down story progression left and right these days. Last Thursday, he used Carolyn in a ritual to summon a spirit — and then he hypnotized her, and told her to forget about the entire storyline.
Now Carolyn’s been wiped clean, apparently, thanks to the blue boringer that is Nicholas Blair, and he’s not even done yet.
So the only thing I can do is gesture helplessly towards the credits, and say:
I TOLD YOU RON SPROAT WAS A PROBLEM.
Cause guess who wrote the episode last Thursday when Carolyn was hypno-wiped? And guess who wrote tomorrow’s episode, when the exact same thing happens with another character? Ron freakin’ Sproat, that’s who. He’s the weak link on the Dark Shadows writing team, who still believes in recaps and reset buttons.
So that settles it. One way or another: Ron Sproat has got to go.
Tomorrow: Live, Die, Repeat.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Near the end of the teaser, when the camera cuts to a close-up of David as he’s lying on the bed, the right edge of the screen looks fuzzy. It’s possible that that camera happened to be shooting at an angle where it was behind some of the fake cobweb in the room.
When David stops eavesdropping and walks away from the door of Adam’s room, you can see the silhouette of the stick holding the boom mic at the top left of the screen. If you look closely, you can also see that the sky outside the window is wrinkled.
Tomorrow: Live, Die, Repeat.
— Danny Horn