“Put down that letter opener, you look ridiculous.”
We’ve watched our enormous teenage Frankenstein monster as he was brought to life from weeks-old corpse parts. We’ve seen him read poetry, and play chess. We’ve seen him kidnap women, break out of jail and jump off a cliff. We’ve even seen him cry.
But have you ever seen him in bed, wearing revealing nightwear? Welcome to Dark Shadows After Dark.
Today’s episode opens with sinister mastermind Nicholas Blair waking Adam out of a sound sleep to announce that he’s prevented Barnabas from hurting Eve, which if it was stop-press news Adam would have already been awake for.
You don’t typically see characters in bed on Dark Shadows unless they’re setting up a dream or some kind of hypnosis sequence, so it’s an unusual way to begin a scene that’s otherwise just a standard information-management exchange.
But they stage it this way for one reason: to reveal that Adam has mysterious bite marks on his neck. Well, two reasons.
Just to get this out of the way, I’ll explain the bite marks.
Angelique, who’s a vampire now, has just bitten Barnabas, who isn’t. Barnabas and Adam share a life force, for complicated “if they both live”-related reasons, and that means that anything that happens to Barnabas also happens to Adam, except when it doesn’t, which is most of the time.
There, that takes care of the lunatic plot contrivance for the day; now we can talk about something that actually matters. The real “This Day in Dark Shadows History” item is that today we see Adam’s chest hair. The importance of this moment cannot be overstated.
Six months ago, I discussed the rules of Dark Shadows fashion in some detail. Sportcoats and ties are mandatory for all older male characters and authority figures, even as casualwear. Younger men can wear turtlenecks, or switch between ties and turtlenecks, depending on their role in the scene. Usually, if you’re planning on raising your voice, you should have a tie on.
As a man-made man, Adam was literally born wearing a sportcoat, and he’s been rocking a green turtleneck sweater for the last couple months. But today, for the visual enjoyment of the eager housewives and teenagers in the audience: a glimpse of what lies beneath.
As Adam wakes up, we get a quick flash of his chest, but then he starts rubbing his neck, blocking our view. Then Nicholas reaches out and says, “Let me see your neck.” It turns out Nicholas has been the hero of the show this whole time.
And here it is, the close-up view that the audience has been hoping for. It’s a tremendously exciting moment.
Now, it’s easy for modern audiences to miss the significance, because shirtless guys are commonplace on TV now. That’s especially true on daytime soap operas, where many of the male actors under 40 are issued a Magic Mike-style wardrobe that is largely conceptual.
On my other favorite soap, One Life to Live, they used to have sauna scenes that would span multiple episodes, with an assortment of male characters discussing current events while wearing nothing but towels. It was a golden age.
Unfortunately, I don’t know how Dark Shadows compares to its 1968 contemporaries, because nobody’s written the comprehensive history of dudes taking their shirts off in soap operas, which now that I think about it should definitely be my next project.
But things have been heating up in pop culture since Dark Shadows began. When the Beatles landed at JFK in 1964, they were all wearing jackets and ties. By 1968, they’re doing Transcendental Meditation, and you can’t do that with a vest on. Even more importantly for late 60s sexuality, Jim Morrison’s 1966 “Young Lion” photo shoot set a new standard for bedroom poster hotness.
So as the teenagers start to edge out the housewives as the primary Dark Shadows demographic, the show has been exploring new, productive areas of male objectification. What follows is a quick survey of what we’ve seen this fall, since Angelique became a vampire.
(By the way, if you think that I’ve chosen this topic just because I’m shallow and I like talking about cute boys, then you’re wrong. I’m doing this because it’s a Ron Sproat episode and I don’t have anything else to say about it, plus it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want, so shut up.)
There’s always been a handful of handsome men hanging around Dark Shadows, but the introduction of Tom Jennings in August was the first time that the show brought in a new guy specifically for the purpose of visual spectacle.
After all, we only knew Tom for half an episode by the time Angelique bit him. He hardly even counts as a character; he’s basically just a smile and a Southern drawl.
In his second appearance, Tom was put on display like a buffet lunch for monsters, and we got the first known confirmation that Collinsport men actually exist from the neck down.
Since then, Angelique’s been going through the dudes like a buzzsaw, biting practically every guy on the show between the ages of 18 and 39. After Tom, she had the cute day-player deputy, and then Joe, and Jeff, and she probably would have got Tony too, if he hadn’t left the show just a minute too early.
Barnabas’ vampire bites have usually been played as two parts hunger and one part shame, but the new vampires have taken a much more intimate approach. Joe and Jeff are being seduced rather than assaulted — and in the moment, at least, they’re clearly having a good time.
And it’s not just the guys, of course. Marie Wallace’s audition story was all about how the producers wanted to find the right “look” for Eve, and they brought in a panel of three girls — blonde, brunette and redhead. Marie teased up her hair and deliberately gave them a bold, sensual performance, and she got the job.
That’s a different approach to casting than we’ve seen before. The days of Reverend Trask standing around and yelling at Joshua and Andre may be drawing to a close.
To wrap this up, I’m going to jump ahead to tomorrow’s episode for the ultimate expression of the new, more tactile Dark Shadows.
Joe’s got a self-inflicted stomach wound, for reasons that we don’t need to discuss right now, and Barnabas has called in Dr. Hoffman to patch the boy up. She fusses around and takes his pulse or whatever, and then she gets to the real emergency medical care — taking a big pair of scissors out of her bag, and methodically cutting Joe’s turtleneck in half.
Flustered and overwrought, Barnabas asks, “Is that necessary?”
Julia just clicks her tongue and says, “Well, obviously. I need to clean the wound.”
The idea of simply asking Joe to take his shirt off is not an option at this point, because this is not a medical procedure. It’s a ritual.
Joe’s turtleneck can’t just be removed and discarded. It must be destroyed.
So they fill up some time with idle chatter about Maggie, while Julia gets to work on the menswear.
She has some trouble cutting through the fabric as she gets to the top, and there’s a fierce little struggle over the last couple snips. Joe is squirming slightly and moaning in pain, his eyes clamped shut so that he doesn’t have to look at the blades pointed directly at his face.
It’s actually difficult to watch this sequence without flinching, because there’s a moment when she’s pushing at the fabric and it really looks like she’s about to stab him in the neck. Dark Shadows is pretty much the only scripted programming where life-threatening injury to a cast member is actually on the table as a possible outcome.
But she finally breaks on through, and now we can all see the important thing in this shot — the vampire bite marks, right there on Joe’s neck.
I said the neck, people. Try to focus on the neck.
But it’s no use; we’ve seen enough neck wounds on the show, and they no longer have the power to grip. So Joe just squrims around and moans and breathes heavy, basically doing everything that he can to make the show more interesting.
This is definitely some good medical care. I don’t know about Joe, but I’m feeling better already.
So you can see why this sequence is such an important milestone in the show’s uncertain and frightening journey through time. It was only two months ago that the show even hinted at the existence of the male torso, and here’s Joe, fully exposed for the world to see.
At one point, he actually tilts his body toward the camera to make sure the audience is getting their money’s worth. For 1968 daytime, this is practically porn.
So that’s where we’ll leave him for now, lying on the altar like a sacrificial victim, as Julia performs the ceremony to end the tyranny of shirts forever.
Let the joyous news be spread, the turtleneck is finally dead. Feast your eyes on the shape of things to come.
Tomorrow: You Are My Someone.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Nicholas is off his game today. In the teaser, when Adam wakes up startled, Nicholas says, “Well, who did you think I — who did you think it was?”
In act 1, when Adam tells Nicholas that he didn’t see Angelique tonight, there’s a long pause, and then Nicholas looks at the teleprompter. He says, “Well, I think I know what happened,” and then looks at the prompter again. Delightfully, his next line is “I haven’t time to explain.”
In the middle of act 1, as we cut from Adam’s room to the parlor, there’s a ton of studio noise in the background — shuffling feet, and a door opens. There’s a little tape edit here, and the music cue skips ahead a couple seconds.
When Angelique tells Joe to look in the magic mirror, we can see the reflection of the stagehands wheeling in the blue screen behind them.
The copyright date at the end of the episode says 1966.
Behind the Scenes:
Tom Gorman plays the Bartender at the Blue Whale, a role that’s usually played by Bob O’Connell. Gorman played one of the judges in Vicki’s 1795 witch trial, and he also played Ezra Simpson, a dead criminal who presided over Barnabas’ mock trial in June.
Adam is sleeping under the colorful Collinsport Afghan, an often-used prop that’s usually seen on the back of Maggie’s couch. It’s recently been on a tour, popping up in Josette’s room at the Old House, in Liz’s bedroom at Collinwood, and in Joe’s apartment.
The checkerboard Ralston-Purina lamp is also close by, on the nightstand by Adam’s bed. This is usually seen in the Collinwood study, but it migrates occasionally.
Tomorrow: You Are My Someone.
— Danny Horn