“You were convinced that I was dead — and I was, for a while! I was actually dead!”
Hey, you know how Elizabeth has been telling everyone for weeks that she’s going to lose consciousness, and everyone’s going to think that she’s dead? Well, guess what: it happened! And she’s still upset about it. I guess there’s no pleasing some people.
So here she is, out like a light, for no particular reason: Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, former occupant. No pulse, no heartbeat, not breathing as far as anyone can detect. Overall status: inert. Why they don’t think of holding a glass of sherry under her nose I can’t say.
Luckily, Dr. Julia Hoffman is on the scene, on account of she came to visit more than a year ago and nobody’s worked up the courage to ask her to leave.
Julia gives the dearly departed a once-over, and slips the bystanders the bad news: Elizabeth is dead. Naturally, that’s Liz’s cue to open her eyes and scream, delivering an utterly devastating “Gotcha” that’ll take months for everybody to live down.
Julia emits some kind of reassuring horseradish about a “catatonic state”, which is apparently doctor for “I forgot how to take a pulse,” and then it’s time for some post-mortem medical care.
Liz: I don’t care what the reasons are. I want to know what can be done about it!
Julia: I don’t think we should try to do anything right now. You’ve had a severe shock, and you must rest. Please, take this.
Liz: What is it?
Julia: It’s a sedative. It’ll help you relax.
Right, of course. What else could it possibly be? As far as Julia Hoffman is concerned, there’s not a diagnosis in this world that can stand up to a good, stiff sedative-and-water. Now she’s handing out pills to a woman who didn’t even have a pulse forty-five seconds ago, which, in my opinion, is already pretty sedate.
So I’m just going to throw this out there — what if Dark Shadows is actually the story of the greatest door-to-door sedative salesman of all time?
It’s an odd theme, and it runs through the whole show. Dr. Woodard prescribed tranquilizers for Maggie when she was found sleepwalking in a cemetery, and he gave David a sedative when he’d been locked in a mausoleum for three days. Julia’s offered sedatives to a rampaging Frankenstein monster, and a guy who just went blind. Even the 1795 doctor who examined Barnabas after the bat attack gave him a sedative, and Barnabas was basically already dead by that time. Apparently, everyone in Collinsport has an urgent need to simmer the hell down.
So the question is: what is the purpose of all of this chemistry-assisted serenity?
The American obsession with chillaxing basically dates back to the end of World War II. We’d just fought the Nazis, which was stressful, and now that the soldiers were home, we were determined to keep calm and carry on.
The emotional repression of the 1950s was based on the cultural idea that it’s wrong — even dangerous — to be upset. There are a lot of late-50s educational shorts teaching kids that mealtime conversations should always be neutral and pleasant, so that everyone in the family can digest their food in peace.
By the mid-60s, the kids had internalized that message so well that they weaponized it, turning it back on their tightly-wound parents. Hippies were constantly advising people to relax, and stop being so uptight.
Even getting high was soothing. In the 1930s Reefer Madness era, marijuana was associated with jittery psychopaths who strangled people and got into car accidents, but by the 60s, smoking pot and taking acid were the keys to meditation and enlightenment.
Meanwhile, the moms were also working themselves to a frazzle, and they needed their own mood-altering medicine. Valium was introduced in 1963, and quickly became the drug of choice for high-strung housewives. The Rolling Stones’ song “Mother’s Little Helper” was in the pop charts in 1966, and by 1969, Valium was the #1 most-prescribed medication in America.
So the Dark Shadows cast is actually behind the times here. The housewives and teenagers in the audience are all on a regular diet of anxiolytics, while the Collins family needs an on-call doctor on the premises, to dole out the tranquilizers one pill at a time.
The funny thing is that Dark Shadows is one of your less relaxing shows. Soap operas are already supposed to be about big, melodramatic emotional expression, and DS layers in thick slices of existential terror. The soundtrack is constantly throwing tension stings at you, trying to keep you on the edge of your seat. You’d think this would be the last show that the kids of 1968 would want to watch; it’s basically a guaranteed bad trip, for 30 minutes a day.
That’s the true horror story for the self-medicated — a world where everybody’s freaking out, and they don’t know who’s holding. When this scene started, Elizabeth was resting in peace. Now she’s getting tugged back and forth through the doorways of perception, and everybody’s giving her a plastic hassle. What a drag.
Tomorrow: The Crazy World.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Vicki is examining Liz on the couch, Jeff says “I think she fainted” at the same time that Vicki says “There’s no pulse.”
Near the beginning of Barnabas and Julia’s scene in the first act, a camera butts into the frame on the right.
When Jeff is pleading with Vicki in the drawing room in act 2, there’s a tape edit — apparently Jeff did something so terrible that it had to be expunged from the record.
Tomorrow: The Crazy World.
— Danny Horn