[31 Days of TV Anthology Terror] Darkroom: Exit Line

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To celebrate horror on television, I’m looking back at 31 tales from various anthology series. They’re the ones I vividly remember or respond to the most. No matter what, though, they are proof that horror and suspense aren’t limited to the big screen.

Criticism isn’t always easy to hear.

Polite society believes if we have nothing nice to say, then we don’t say anything at all. That’s sage advice so long as you’re not a critic. For big-time theatre reviewer Alexis St. Clair (Samantha Eggar), her praises can be life-changing or utterly ruining.

Aired over a period of seven weeks, NBC’s anthology Darkroom came and went without leaving a large impression. Host James Coburn offered ominous or insightful narration while standing in the show’s namesake. It was a standard setup for a very average show. Even so, there were a handful of standouts as well as many familiar faces.

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“Exit Line” has the aforesaid Miss St. Clair exiting the audience of a new stage play early. This worries the show’s star, Dan (Stan Shaw), who is on the cusp of stardom so long as St. Clair gives him a positive review. Dan confronts her beforehand, and he gets emotional and handsy with her. This doesn’t bode well for him. As expected, her review of Dan’s ‘Black on Black’ is negative. This sends the actor spiraling as he hopes to star in the film adaptation, but the studio will only cast him if Alexis changes her mind. Despite being invited to an encore, Miss St. Clair doesn’t go. This urges Dan to instead bring the show to her.

It’s unclear why the protagonist is so hard on Dan’s play. Alexis may have simply disliked the show; she did bow out long before the curtains closed and while Dan was in the midst of strangling his female costar. There is also the fact she’s caught in an unhappy relationship. Is Dan on the chopping block because Alexis is resentful towards a lover? Perhaps, there is a racially charged motive at hand. Nevertheless, Miss St. Clair’s opinion is disregarded by every man on screen. Dan thinks she’s misread his performance despite her stating her reason on the air. Then there’s Dan’s manager, who behaves no better than a high school football coach trying to sweet talk his player’s determined teacher.

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The episode hits its stride with the final confrontation between the two leads. An uninvited Dan holds Alexis hostage until she can escape. Not before she bashes his head in, of course. The sickest irony here is that Miss St. Clair achieved exactly what Dan and his manager feared all along — she ended a promising actor’s career before it ever began.

Well-acted and tense, “Exit Line” is a grim yet high point in Darkroom‘s short run.

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