December 1, 2017
A "Bewitching" finale
I, Samantha, Take This Mortal, Darrin
by Adam-Michael James
Bright Horse Publishing, 210 pp, $9.99
ou remember how on Christmas morning when you were little, when you opened the last present that Santa had left under the tree, you were convinced there had to be one more package somewhere under there? You'd sift through the discarded wrapping paper, look under other presents, even crawl under the branches and see if there was one hiding back there, somewhere you hadn't already looked. It wasn't that you were disappointed with what you had, it's just that you kept asking yourself, in Peggy Lee's words, if that was all there was.
Being a fan of a classic television show can be like that sometimes. As we've discussed in the past, the idea of a "final episode" is a relatively new development, at least in terms of the whole history of television. It wasn't that a final episode was denied, just that nobody really thought that way most of the time. Today's series all seem to be designed around some kind of arc, one that can digress for years at a time but will eventually force the writers to come full circle and tie up all the loose ends. And while many shows from the classic era simply ended, going their merry ways without so much as a "see you later," there have been the occasional series that begged for just a little bit more, that didn't leave us in limbo through countless cycles of reruns.
Bewitched is, I think, one of those series. Maybe not at first blush, since the show didn't end with any kind of cliffhanger dangling out there, leaving unanswered questions in its wake. But when you think about it, you are left wondering if the Stephens family was really going to have to keep that secret from Larry Tate, Darrin's boss-nemesis, and Mrs. Kravitz, the nosy neighbor, for the rest of time. I mean, isn't it bound to come out sooner or later, in a way that might be decidedly inconvenient? And, knowing the history of the program, aren't there bound to be unpleasant consequences should that come to pass? It's a scenario that really does beg for some type of closure.
Fortunately, Adam-Michael James has one. Author of the acclaimed The Bewitched Continuum, Adam-Michael has taken on the challenge of crafting the final episode that Bewitched never had, with his new novel I, Samantha, Take This Mortal, Darrin. If you read my interview with Adam-Michael on Wednesday (and if you haven't, why not?) you probably know a bit of the thinking that went into conjuring up the story. Now, however, it's time to take a look at the result. Does I, Samantha, serve as a proper send-off for the series?
I think it does. Although it's not written in script format, it takes as its premise a two-part episode that follows some days after the events of the final aired episode; thus, we're not dealing with some abstract future in which characters have developed out of our sight, but a clear continuation of the series. As the story opens, Darrin has, once again, been informed by Larry that he's finally about to be made a partner in McMann and Tate, the ad agency for which he's labored, often thanklessly, for these many years. He calls an overjoyed Samantha with the news, and the result is a giant party to celebrate Darrin's success - a party that, not coincidentally, reintroduces us to the familiar faces that populated the Bewitched universe for so many seasons. It's also where something happens that causes everyone - the Stephens', the guests, and even the Witches Council - to tackle the question at the heart of the show's premise, the one I mentioned at the beginning: how long can this keep going on?
Adam-Michael provides us with a look at the characters' lives before Bewitched - based, I'd say, on a keen understanding of their lives as portrayed in the series, combined with a flair for imagination - that adds an extra dimension to I, Samantha. At the same time, he makes sure we understand the story's place within the Bewitched' canon (not surprising for those who've read The Bewitched Continuum, probably the best TV series book of its kind), complete with footnotes referencing the episodes being referred to (a touch I really liked).
But does the story work, aside from a pleasant trip back to the past with likable characters? After all, I've mentioned before my distaste for phony cliffhangers, those "Perils of Pauline" moments that supposedly put series regulars in danger, only for them to scramble out of trouble before the episode ends - as if we're supposed to really believe that the star of the show might not make it through this one alive. It's often a cheap, lazy trick, and it's only really effective in two situations: if the star is in a contract dispute, or if it's a show's final episode. Fear not, then: the situation in which the Stephens family finds itself, the drama that carries the bulk of the book, is very real, an evolution of events that actually occurred in the series. In this "final episode," there are no guarantees, no promises that everyone will return next week. If a happy ending happens, it's been well-earned, just as an unhappy ending proceeds from a relentless logic. And for those who think this might be getting a little heavy, Adam-Michael has made sure that to keep the laughs present. They just don't overwhelm the story or cause us to take the situation less seriously. In other words, a lot like real life. And the lessons about justice and equality - themes that were present in the series as well - will strike many readers as being surprisingly relevant to today's world.
In short, I, Samantha, Take This Mortal, Darrin is a book that fans of the series will enjoy. Adam-Michael James has enabled us to return one more time to the suburbs of New York, the Madison Avenue ad agencies, the insufferable bosses and nosy neighbors and annoying in-laws, and simply enjoy. It's a story that takes both characters and reader and deposits them into a perfectly plausible scenario, struggling with the highest stakes. It allows us to understand our favorites just a little bit more, and see them react and evolve in ways that remain true to their television counterparts. It doesn't demand that you know every little bit of Bewitched trivia. It only asks you to come along for the ride, and it even provides the broomstick.