Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 16


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 759

With Angelique destroyed, Barnabas stands alone in the last stand against a pagan fire god…or does he? Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

After Angelique vanishes from Laura’s attack, Barnabas awakens to learn that she knows his secret. He attacks Dirk, placing him under vampiric control, taking him from Laura. She learns this after gloating over her knowledge of Barnabas and the recollection of her relationship with him when she tortured his uncle in the 1700’s. Going upstairs to gather Jamison, she finds that he is a decoy of stuffed pillows and that Angelique is alive and ready for action. Barnabas smiles broadly as Laura’s world crumbles.

Robert Cobert? You have the day off. Some times, like weddings and coronations, there is only one man to compose the proper music. In the case of 759, that man is Mike Post and Pete Carpenter. This episode lunges from the coffin, grabs art by the collar, and demands it. The only things missing are a jerry-rigged cabbage cannon, Szandor being drugged to the point where he’s not afraid to fly, and Barnabas lighting a cigar while loving it when a plan comes together. I suspect he even had Magda paint a red, diagonal stripe up the side of his coffin while he worked as a soldier of fortune in the LA underground. Make no mistake; this great episode of Dark Shadows does not look like an installment of The A-Team. It makes a great episode of The A-Team look like an installment of Dark Shadows. Get it straight.

With Jonathan Frid and Lara Parker, this much fun just can’t be legal. And what a way to kick off summer vacation for the kids. If I had been a ten year-old fan of the original run when this episode hit, you’d have needed a diamond-edged spatula to pry me off the ceiling. You may need one now. Outside of the sentimental moments of the bonding and friendship and alienation and loneliness that defined the series, storytelling like this defines why Dark Shadows is so watchable.

Like that time when he reveals the fate of Dirk Wilkins. And just stares at Laura as she finally realizes that she has no monopoly on mind control. Nor on a cruel disregard for the “sanctity” of human life.

To me, these moments -- are the absolute apex of Barnabas before his second fall and subsequent rise as the battlescarred, weary hero of 1840. He is so accustomed to being one step behind. Reacting only. Making decisions based on desperation and panic. 1897 -- specifically, this part of 1897 -- is his most heartening and endearing phase. Not only does he outwit Laura, but he does so while acknowledging their long, mutual history. She savors the fact that she has him in her power and has done so since he was a child. A little boy in love. Powerless to save his uncle from a doomed relationship. Creating the pattern that would make Jeremiah’s union with Josette just… plausible… enough. Barnabas always had to suspect that Angelique’s spell wasn’t the only thing driving his uncle.

The pleasure of his revenge is the pleasure of playing a game better than its ostensible master. Laura’s talents are for misdirection, a cultivated knack for being underestimated, and zero care for the lives of humans as she pursues her goals. Burn a kid. Release the worst in Dirk. She is the occult equivalent of Trask. There is no line between malicious madness and religious faith. Angelique may be a creature of the occult, but Barnabas is her higher power. Satan is just how she gets there. With Laura and Ra, it’s impossible to determine if she harms in service of Ra or if service to Ra excuses her bloodlust. Either way, Barnabas has seen too many people get the Ra deal, including Roger, Victoria, and David if he asked around upon his release.

Although they don’t celebrate victory with fist bumping and curling up in front of the latest episode of Fireplace!, we still get a true sense of how Barnabas and Angelique are an inevitable couple. This is a multiphasic collaboration of totally unnecessary set-ups and knock-downs designed not only to defeat Laura, but to humiliate her in a final blow for humanity. To send her back to the Egyptian underworld with no uncertainty that she is a ham-fisted amatuer in the occult cruelty department, and will never be better than second rate. Laura’s an immortal. Maybe a demigod. So there’s no true getting rid of her, and corporeal dissolution isn’t going to teach the lesson she needs. Laura needs the closest they can get to a prom night-sized bucket of pig’s blood, and that’s what she gets. It’s the kind of vengeful pedagogy that Barnabas can’t teach alone. He needs Angelique’s reassuring edge to overcome both his self-doubt and the distracting need to jump to Magda and Szandor as the next thing on his to-do list. Fortunately, he has Angelique in his corner at last, which is right where she wants him. Perhaps his eventual show of confidence in her in 1840 is his way of saying thanks. There are more ways to answer “I love you” than saying, “I know.”

How much does an imperfect man need to pay just to squeeze his way into purgatory? For Barnabas Collins, is it ever quite enough? Roger will get away with it. Whatever “it” is. Saint Joe Haskell, certainly. Poor guy. But no matter what Barnabas does, it may never be enough. There will always be new clauses to curses and further Trasks awaiting him in any decade.

It’s a troubling story if that’s the point. And it may be. But the point is not for Barnabas. It’s for us. Like everything on this show of outsiders, it’s to remind us, fellow outsiders, that we’re not alone. To reassure us of this when life throws us a Trask, life will also throw us a Roger Davis as our new familiar. Neither states are permanent. And that’s the good news. The only thing permanent is our potential for greatness. When he is later knocked down by the Leviathans, Parallel Time, and Gerard, it has increased resonance because we remember — even when he may not — what he has within him.

But for now? All of that matters for the series and none of that matters for the present. The only thing that counts in this moment is that Barnabas really, authentically smiles for the second of two times in the series. It’s a great smile.

The plan has come together. And that is just as much fun as it sounds.

This episode hit the airwaves May 22, 1969.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 14


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 1019

When danger deals its hand, Quentin is the first to smell it. So why is Hoffman smiling? Alexis: Lara Parker. (Repeat; 30 minutes.)

Quentin begins to suspect Maggie after discovering a voodoo doll in her belongings, and Cyrus confirms the occult association while discussing his estate planning. Meanwhile, Angelique discovers that she must remain warm at all times to sustain the illusion of life.

Parallel Time continues like the Parade Magazine of Dark Shadows. It has some sort of purpose, or else it wouldn’t be there. It’s a perfectly decent way to pass the time. But it’s not the Sunday paper, and even it seems to know that. I can never figure out if Parallel Time represents the series at its most liberated or at its least relevant. Maybe both.

Ideally, it would reflect the choices of our prime characters in a telling and interesting way. While it does not do that as much as I would like, it does it enough. And we see glimpses of it in this episode. They are the little places where the show asks “what if?”  Mostly, the answers are exactly what you would expect. And “interesting“ and “obvious“ can occasionally be synonymous, so the storyline gets another pass, especially in this installment.

So, what do the mirror universe depictions of characters in Dark Shadows tell us about their prime counterparts? Well, David Selby’s Quentin, put in charge, is a man so insecure about his ability to manage that he becomes a tyrant. Not a terrible person. But easily distracted and gulled. Pressured to avoid drinking and other stress-relieving vices, his temper and patience grow intolerably short.  The closest analog we have for Christopher Pennock’s Cyrus Longworth is Christopher Pennock’s Sebastian Shaw. No, they are not the same person, but they may have more in common than they have disparate. Both are methodical thinkers. Both are easily controlled by charismatic and powerful women. One has gone towards science. The other has gone more towards mysticism. But each man seeks extraordinary means to predict and control human nature. Neither one seems to be able to handle the extraordinary discoveries they make about processes that enhance and ultimately shackle humanity’s best to its worst.

As for the women in the episode?  Maggie, Hoffman, and Angelique fill the roster on the show’s most diverse, yet core, spectrum. Maggie finally is allowed to come to the Great House as something other than an employee, and the class differences and expectations to lead as a member of the aristocracy make her brittle. Of course, if Angelique were trying to drive me crazy, I would be brittle, also. Still, I sense that Maggie’s brass has worn off long before the storyline begins in earnest.

Hoffman is a portrait in power, but so is Julia. Ultimately, Julia is an honorable person and Hoffman is not. Why? Is it access to academia and the world of medicine that gave Julia the self-esteem to rise above her pettiness? Because she certainly has it, especially in her ruthless beginnings as the series began. We’ve never seen Julia particularly as such a sycophant as Hoffman, but Julia has the respect of her hospital upon which she can fall back if she’s ever feeling down in the dumps. All Hoffman really has is Angelique‘s approval. So, given the cutthroat choices we have seen Main Time Julia make, and taking away her intellectual growth and justified respect, I think this is a very credible road down which Julia Hoffman might have gone.

Finally, we are left with Angelique. And looking back at the series as one, massive text, the depiction of Angelique in Parallel Time may very well be the entire raison d’ĂȘtre for the storyline. Although we have seen Main Time Angelique making better and better choices, we still have the memory of the many terrible, lethal decisions that led to Barnabas to where he is. She will never be able to change those; we just have to ponder her status as an immortal and accept that our Newtonian morality might need a little more flexibility when examining her. From that vantage, which is admittedly challenging for a lot of viewers, one of Main Time Angelique‘s saving graces is her intent. It may be absolutely monstrously demonstrated, but it does come from something honorable and relatable: love. It keeps her coming back through time and Perdition, again and again. It empowers her worst choices. But it is a noble source of empowerment, and thus inspires her best choices, too. Choices that resolve the story of Dark Shadows.

As I watched Hoffman and Angelique scheme and gloat regarding Maggie in this episode, I found myself thinking that that was pure Angelique, and yet somewhat different. Off. Shallow. At that point it struck me why. I was seeing an Angelique without love. Yes, maybe she has a twisted love for her father. Or for herself. But no more. She is the quintessential mean girl, powered by low self-esteem and wrath.

It will take us a while to encounter Angelique again and when we do, it will be the Main Time version with which we are familiar. At that point, for all of her misdeeds, and despite being accompanied by Laszlo and His Amazing Fez, we are expected to see greater depth in her… even greater heroism than we saw in 1897 or against the Leviathans. If we are able to make that leap of vision, perhaps Parallel Time is the little bit of boost that made it possible. Thus far, we have only been able to measure Angelique against other, arguably nobler characters. In this instance, we can finally measure her against the woman she might have become without Barnabas. And thus, without the crazy, irrational, but enviably redeeming influence of love. Seen in this light, Parallel Time is infinitely relevant. And we are not the only people who see that.

Barnabas does, too. Whether he knows it at the time or not.

This episode hit the airwaves May 21, 1970.

What do we know about Dark Shadows: Windcliff?


Dark Shadows: Bloodline is over. You can read Justin Partridge's review of the final three episodes HERE, and those of you who opted out of the digital weekly releases should be getting your CDs in the mail soon enough. If you're the kind of person with an aversion to spoilers, you might want to stop reading here ... I don't believe there are any major reveals in this post but some folks are more sensitive than others to spoilers. Proceed with caution.

Big Finish kicked off its grand experiement in serials with Dark Shadows: Bloodlust back in 2015, then made us wait four years before returning to the format. By all accounts the production of these long-play audios is intense, but luckily Big Finish will only make us wait one year for the follow-up, Dark Shadows: Windcliff. The 13-part serial is scheduled for release in April 2020.

Written by Penelope Faith, Aaron Lamont, Rob Morris and Paul Phipps-Williams, Windcliff sees as-yet unnamed characters making a night-time visit to Collinsport’s regional sanitarium. We now have a poster and a snazzy logo for the serial.

While the Dark Shadows audio productions are traditionally shrouded in secrecy (I was generously invited to provide the voice of the radio newscaster in both Bloodlust and Bloodline, and only allowed to see my own lines of dialogue) producer Joe Lidster shared a few details about Windcliff back in September, as part of an announcement of what to expect from the Dark Shadows range in 2019.

“All we’ll say for now is that we, again, wanted to do something we haven’t done before so Windcliff is very different to both Bloodlust and Bloodline,” Lidster said. “The writers are working on the scripts now and we’re looking forward to releasing more details in the future.”

In 2021 we'll get another 13-part serial titled ... Thirteen.

But what about Windcliff ? We'll, there's this ...

Which doesn't tell us much. Curiously, Windcliff Sanitarium now has its own dedicated Twitter account, which started leaking documents from the 1980s earlier this morning.

If you follow the writers and producers of the Dark Shadows range on Twitter, though, you've already seen a bit of back and forth about the development of the next serial ... mostly from blabbermouth Paul Phipps-Williams. Here's a sampling. Draw your own conclusions.

Dark Shadows: Bloodline, Episodes 11-13 (Mega Finale Column)


He who controls the SPOILERS AHEAD controls the universe! 

“If you can do anything, why not do good?”

What else can I say but, wow? Big Finish’s massive new serial comes to a thunderous conclusion in it’s final three episodes. Bringing home a whole mass of plot lines, writers Aaron Lamont, Will Howells, Rob Morris and Alan Flanagan absolutely nail the landing. Both by bringing this huge, truly epic story to a great conclusion and by setting things up nicely for the next epic. But enough lead up, we have a lot to get to. So let’s get.

First up we have episode 11 by Aaron Lamont. Our return back to regular episodic format after the wonderfully gimmicky episode 10. That isn’t to say that is the last we see of Tom’s magic recorder. Far from it! But episode 11 does a fantastic job of getting the whole story back on the rails.

Even better, Lamont starts to slowly but surely establish the ever expanding scope of the time-warping. As he reveals that it is starting to affect the whole town, quaking ripples through time itself that are changing Collinsport as we know it

Now Time Travel Stories aren’t exactly groundbreaking for Dark Shadows but episode 11 really delves into the consequences of time travel in a very real and slightly disturbing way as we start to see the changes as audience members. With the added melancholy of the characters themselves not remembering their lost loved ones, but still KNOWING they don’t remember while seeing their town change around them. It is pretty harrowing stuff going into what is essentially a “season finale”. Brutally and wonderfully acted by the cast throughout.

Will Howells and Rob Morris’ episode 12 then doubles down on these time consequences. All centered around dangerous team-ups with Rosier and our principle cast. As all our time tossed cast attempts to survive their respective eras, Amy Jennings hatches a pragmatic plan with Rosier. One that finds her using his whole “heart’s one desire” schtick to her advantage, by turning it toward bringing back everyone they have lost. Their obvious “heart’s one desire.” It is a wickedly clever turn from the script. Not only that, but it is wickedly in character for Amy. And for third, Stephanie Ellyne acts the absolute hell out of it.

There is also the question of the missing Barnabas, last seen breaking his chains and feeding from poor Cody Hill. There are a ton of plates spinning going into this episode. Both in the past and the present. But Howells and Morris keep them all spinning well, giving us a briskly paced episode jolting from character to character as they all move to points of no return. There is a keen edge to the check ins too as our travelers are all placed in precarious situations in time. Situations in which they can change things. For good or for ill. 

Throughout they show a true reverence, both for the established TV canon and their own meticulously crafted Big Finishverse (this is going to catch on even if it kills me). Mainly by revealing that most of the time tossings are situated alongside major events both on TV and in the audios. Supported by even more well mixed uses of clips from the original series.

The thread of Barnabas’ simmering bloodlust also comes to a terrifying head. With the brutal murder of Jamie Forbes and Bonnie Sands, the teenybopper couple that has been skirting around the edges of this story. I hadn’t really talked about them much as they just kind of seemed like Collinsport yokel flavoring, but sakes alive is their end brutal. Doubly so thanks to the staging and acting of the scene, led by a positively feral Andrew Collins.Often we hear about the monster Barnabas Collins is, but rarely ever “see” it. Well, episode 12 shows us it in all it’s gory glory and it is a doozy to listen to.

And it is Barnabas’ monstrosity that brings us to the Alan Flanagan written finale; episode 13.

Amid all the vampirism and time travel stuff, the cliffhanger of episode 12 reveals that the mastermind behind the whole morass was ... DR. JULIA HOFFMAN! Kinda. It was actually a Dark Lord powered new antagonist called Lilith, who has been riding shotgun with Julia ever since her “regeneration”. You see, she engineered the whole body switch in order to infiltrate Collinwood. And torture Barnabas Collins by stealing his family and placing them through time, with the temptation to change their timelines. Thus ruining them for eternity!

Though I can see some listeners being slightly turned off by the culprit not being revealed as someone major. A “name” if you will. I can also see them similarly being perturbed at Rosier’s sudden departure from the story in the episode before. Call it a slight “villain problem.” But Flanagan brings it all home very nicely, cutting to the heart of Lillth’s quest for vengeance and pairing it neatly with the ongoing plot of Barnabas’ “am I man or monster?” C-story.

It also comes with a bit of bittersweetness. After appealing to Lillth’s better nature and rescuing the Collins family, both Julia and Barnabas are “restored” to their original bodies. And then set off into the sunset together after the dust settles around Collinwood. As a listener, I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to lose Julia and Barnabas again. Especially after hearing Julie Newmar and Andrew Collins exquisite playing of them. But on some level I get it. This new range is more about the newer generation of Collinses and their makeshift family so I can bear it for now. I am glad, however, that Andrew Collins isn’t going anywhere, having been absconded to the “new and improved” Windcliff, now known as Bramwell Collins. Now doubt we will be seeing him again once that serial spins up.

But to bring this now 900 word screed to a close, Bloodline’s final episode are a resounding success. Ones that redefine this cast and this range. Setting them up for larger, more enriching stories as they live, love, and try to survive the spookiest town in fiction. I also personally want to thank you all for reading along with me and commenting on our facebook or reaching out on twitter about the coverage. It means a lot to me, both as a writer and fan to know that you are just as exciting and obsessed with this show and range as I am. I have to sleep now, as I am an old man and get tired but keep listening, keep reading, and I’ll be seeing you. 

(Editor's note: Episodes 11-13 of Bloodline are available HERE.)

Justin Partridge has always loved monsters and he thinks that explains a lot about him. When he isn’t over analyzing comics at Newsarama or ranting about Tom Clancy over at Rogues Portal, he is building Call of Cthulhu games, spreading the good word of Anti-Life, or rewatching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace for the dozenth time. He can be reached at the gasping Lovecraftian void that is Twitter @j_partridgeIII or via e-mail at Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 13


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 495

When Roger hears that a new giant of a man is on the grounds, his pistol is fully loaded. Can Barnabas make the proper introductions or will Roger shoot on sight? Adam: Robert Rodan. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Adam speaks his first word: Barnabas. After a rousing soup-eating seminar, Adam becomes distraught when Barnabas leaves, so he escapes. He and David play, but when they rumble over David’s new knife, Roger shoots Adam and probably goes home and laughs about it. Adam is wounded, but not down.

Everyone comes to Dark Shadows for the vampire. Everyone then finds their own reasons to stay. Episodes like 495 are replete with mine, and if you watch it without tearing up, we can turn this Daybook around right now and go home. I have plenty of GIRLS NEXT DOOR episodes I can write about, thank you. Agreed?

Isolation, misunderstandings, alienation and all of the other pillars of my self-esteem grab the baton and share duties as grand marshall of the parade here. In fact, 495 might be the most emotionally arresting installment in the show’s five year run. Other episodes have more arresting moments, but I can think of few others that establish and sustain such poignance. Robert Rodan’s sensitive and liberated performance is key, and it’s no wonder that children rushing home from school now had a character with whom they could identify, and a character capable of unlocking the parental side of Barnabas they always knew was there. Not that Rodan was an ideal child and not that Barnabas was an ideal parent, as the great man admits in the soup scene. (And it has a Soup Scene. Even the hippest cities can’t boast of a thriving soup scene, yet here ya go.) The fact that they fall short makes it all the more touching because the intention is there. Adam may be a wayward student of the spoon, but the pain we see when he attempts to make Barnabas stay is authentic and affectionate. Jonathan Frid similarly finds lovely and ambiguous texture in that scene, playing off of Rodan for dynamics we’d rarely see again. Barnabas shows a mournful pride; he hears his name as Adam’s first word and then chides himself for having unrealistic expectations based on that. Just as pointed is the pain and desperation Adam freely shows when Barnabas leaves. For many young viewers, the tv was their primary companion when adults left… if they were ever really there. The truth of that moment, shared by Sam Hall and Robert Rodan, cuts through plot, character, atmosphere, and everything else to speak directly to viewers, confronting as well as comforting. It’s a biting reminder of the job Dark Shadows was fulfilling.

Hall then does something uncommon for Dark Shadows. He doubles down on it all with the other mismatched father/son pair, Roger and David. David is trying to show off a new knife, and Roger is pulling a muscle to feign interest. It’s clear they’re both trying, and they both know it’s probably pointless. But what alternative have they? David later confides to Adam that he wishes that speaking were unnecessary, since it’s usually a vehicle for prying information more than connecting. Is anyone connecting in the episode? Roger even asks Barnabas to try a little harder to get along with Cassandra, as if his cousin were the petulant son of a newly married dad. David and Adam are the closest to each other, and even they suffer potentially fatal misunderstandings. In classic, Frankenstein tradition, Adam’s heartfelt attempts to assist are misinterpreted in a way with which only well-meaning children (and recovering ones) can relate.

One person at least tries: Barnabas. When Roger and Barnabas face down Adam (with David), the two sets of fathers and sons are matched up perfectly. We see the future play out in the present. We get how Roger got to be Roger and what David will become. Barnabas, a mild-mannered outsider (now) uses rational speech with Adam. Roger? A gun. Which he fires at Adam, anyway, even after Barnabas’ technique works. The episode ends with a hint of Dumas, as do so many others (usually involving Burke Devlin). Adam ends as prone, afraid, and powerless as he begins, he rubs his gun-shot shoulder. Given his connection to Barnabas, will they share the same pain, ala The Corsican Brothers? Neither Cheech nor Chong weigh in.

This episode hit the airwaves May 17, 1968.

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 10


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 235

When Sam faces his last chance to confront Maggie’s danger, is he prepared to fight the impossible? Sam Evans: David Ford. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Seeing bite marks on Maggie’s neck, Sam wrestles with the origins and implications of Maggie’s assault. Seeing her dazed state and hearing Victoria’s reports, he tries to protect her further, but while a nurse is distracted, Maggie vanishes from the hospital by way of an open window. 

It’s easy to get used to good acting on Dark Shadows. So much so that it often goes unmentioned. But then there’s David Ford. Like so many vets of the show, he was also a vet of Broadway, and his transposed appearance in the film of 1776 further evidences his acumen. (Theatre insiders who saw his Dickinson report that it was even more impressive than his Hancock.) The measured intensity of Sam Evans in 235 sells the terror of Barnabas as much as Jonathan Frid, himself. Although Dark Shadows very quickly becomes a paean to outsiders, it begins very differently, and as it should. In these early months, we move among the normal insiders of society, and the show does a convincing job of throwing that world into uncertainty and peril with the arrival of vampires and phoenixes. Eventually, the show moves to the other side of the coffin lid. But before we get used to Barnabas and Quentin, we see how disturbing it is to be a mortal among gods, and few are more mortal than Sam Evans.

This episode could easily have turned into a tired-yet-subtle lecture on masculine arrogance. Today, it might have. Generalized Men have become incredibly safe targets for recriminating critique in the media, and Sam Evans is my Exhibit A to counteract this. He both represents ostensible male authority and displays perseverance in the face of its reevaluation. Yes, it will be deconstructed in this episode, but not as an all-knowing punishment or as guilt by association. It’s not sexist, it’s Shakespearean. No one could have known what was necessary to properly guard Maggie. In a poorly-written episode of the modern era, Sam would have been advised on the possibility of supernatural threats from the get-go. Of course, he would have rejected them. And of course, the implication would have been that he was blinded by rigid, masculine inflexibility, thus leading to his failure as parent and protector, etc, etc. Ron Sproat doesn’t play that game. The show skirts near implicating the fallibility of men, but instead does the more universal job of depicting fallibility, period. Because anyone would have made Sam’s choices. Or Joe’s. Or Woodard’s. 

The attacks on Maggie become a rape metaphor with very little imagination. In a ham-fisted episode, someone would have been warning Sam about a potential attacker as he would have been waving it away in a whiff of omniscient privilege. But there is no warning. To Sam, in his innocence, an attack like that is more than unthinkable; it doesn’t even exist. He’s a true naif, but so are they and so are we. None in Collinsport can conceive of this attack as even possible. Maggie is the ultimate victim, here, and right behind her is Sam. No one is implicitly or explicitly to blame of anything except being in the wrong place at the wrong time, regardless of role or gender. By making no move in that regard, the show actually makes a fascinating and bold one. Bold in the 1960’s. Arguably beyond progressively egalitarian, now, because of how tempting it would be as fodder for painfully “relevant” commentary.     

Bearded and robust, Sam Evans looks like the love child of Brian Blessed and God, making him a seeming straw man for a Statue of Liberty-sized misandry. Just as this makes him the perfect target, he’s just as perfect to see side-step becoming one. Opinionated at times, but never without a heart the size of China (and twice as fragile), his masculinity is a nourishing one, not toxic. Sam Evans is both parents, and he represents the best of them on the show, despite the alcoholism. 

And he increases the intensity of the show’s terror, as well. With no agenda except to love his daughter, his reactions inform us as to the magnitude of the horror in Collinsport -- the horror of Barnabas and how transgressive it is. He sees the bite marks. He knows what they are. We know what they are. Fiction is now fact. You don’t just witness the parent of an attack victim. You meet a man whose boundaries of safety and definitions of reality are stripped away. If vampires are real, what the hell else is out there? It’s the job of a parent to stretch the truth when they say that everything is going to be okay. But few have been on the business end of the boogeyman as Sam Evans. There are no limits to the possible dangers, now, and with that is his realization that he has no power to stop any of it. 

The show never could have sustained this level of existential dread, but rooting us in it roots us in the program’s sense of humanity. This establishes an emotional and ethical baseline, and as wild as the action becomes, we never stray from the terror experienced by everyone, including the monsters. We all share a fundamental need for safety, and safety is grounded in the footing of knowing what’s possible. That definition is tenuous in Dark Shadows -- even demons end with more questions than answers. Beginning that with a human parent is a crucial choice. Sam’s job as an artist makes him even more vital as our lens because it’s his job to represent reality, and doing so is important to him. He informs us early into the series that he’s not an abstract painter. Liz has such power and guilt that it’s hard to sympathize with her. Sam’s guilty, too, of lying on the witness stand, but the pressures and weaknesses experienced there are a tad more understandable. He’s a parent, not a paragon. Artist and parent, he’s joined in the dawning horror by Joe, who must be a realist to survive on the high seas. With them, and most tragic of all, perhaps, is Dave Woodard. He fights to understand the problem from every angle but the mythic. As physician, with the most power and responsibility, his late attendance at the party of the possible carries with it the most culpability for Maggie’s fate. Burke’s in that mix, as well. Materialists all, but not insensitive ones, their best estimates of reality leave them without a body, just an empty hospital bed. Robbed of all ability to protect, they are even robbed of the evidence of their failure. 

Ron Sproat’s script is an admirably balanced mix of propulsive and meditative. In the wrong hands, it would have devolved into a tired lecture. Is it a warning against arrogance? No. Episode 235 is a strange comfort that true horror will come when and where we know it shouldn’t be possible. The comfort comes from reminding us that we are all together in that predicament. More than any genre, horror can unite as much as comment or divide. In 235, it had the chance to do the worst of the latter. Thanks to Ron Sproat and David Ford, it does the opposite. 

This episode hit the airwaves May 19, 1967.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 9


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 755

For once, Beth has to explain to Quentin why his clothes are shredded; will Dirk’s surveillance mission on Barnabas be as revealing? Laura: Diana Millay. (Repeat; 30 min.)

In and around Quentin staggering in from the lycanthropic night before and learning that he transformed, Laura confirms her suspicions about Barnabas... by burning his home and having Dirk watch him phase out of the room.

“Gee, Lois, I never see Barnabas and Clark around at the same time.”

Which is pretty much the long and the long of it, since it takes Laura most of the episode to ask. The very brief money shot of the installment is when Beth tells Quentin what he’d been up to the night before -- the night of his first transformation. It goes about as you would expect -- he’s horrified beyond belief, but he must believe it anyway, because how else will David Selby explain the condition of his clothes to Ohrbach’s loss prevention department? Had Quentin been a scientist, like his avuncular namesake, he might have looked upon the situation somewhat differently, but Quentin is good at being a scoundrel, not scholar. It could be for the best. He prides himself on projecting very specific appearances at all times, not just for social propriety, but to escape the strictures of social propriety without anyone noticing. The real horror of a werewolf story lives with the man who can’t control what he becomes. For anyone who says the wrong thing without thinking, no matter the given circumstances, this is an understandable nightmare. For Quentin, that nightmare is just beginning. At one point in the episode, Laura cracks wise to Beth about being familiar with Quentin staggering in from a night on the town as the cock crows. In some ways, Magda’s curse will be even more enduring because the image of Quentin vaguely passed out in the drawing room, clothes in shredded disarray, is probably more familiar to early risers than Quentin pressed and dressed. Barnabas has a constant secret to hide. Quentin has a brief transformation. Thus, less to see, less to explain, less to elicit the concerns of others, and ultimately, a longer lifespan.

Laura might care to differ, and her campaign to out Barnabas makes her the Irwin Allen of such matters. Telling Dirk to casually reveal a mirror or crucifix is way too subtle. Why do that when you can magically set his house on fire, forcing him to dematerialize in front of a window? It’s too bad she’s not in love with him, because it’s precisely the kind of scheme into which Lois would drag Jimmy. And I’m thankful. The show has evolved into the Silver Age comic it was meant to be. If the expected dematerialization and secret wall panel don’t seal it, what will? And it’s clear why they must introduce Petofi. Barnabas is a superhero on a mission, but he’s still squaring off against (enhanced) soap opera villainesses.

Laura qualifies, and as those go, Diana Millay remains great fun. She has the uniquely brittle approach of a self-conscious social climber afraid someone will find out she’s not up to snuff. Angelique simply doesn’t care what others think -- in quite the same way. Perhaps that’s a function of Lara Parker actually coming from blue blood stock, but it’s an approach to a somewhat similar role that still differentiates them. On Millay’s part, that bleeds into Laura’s character. Angelique might one-up someone on the way to a more crucial goal, but for Laura, especially in an episode like this, the one-upmanship is the goal. She observes that her performance as a concerned mother is just that, a performance. It’s clear that she’s perhaps the most ruthless villain on the show, there to burn children alive, sustain her existence, and move on. Mother of the year, folks!

Come to think of it, maybe we don’t need Petofi so soon, after all.

What, what am I saying?

This episode hit the airwaves May 16, 1969.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Dark Shadows: Bloodline, Episodes 9-10


Careful, Ghost Rider! Spoilers Ahead!

“Where on earth is Marina Lane?”

Welcome back, my ever patient ghouls, to The Collinsport Historical Society’s coverage of Bloodline! The current massive serial from Big Finish that is currently emotionally and physically taxing us around here. We are all just so damn worried about Cody Hill, it’s getting to be a problem around the office. But we are going to get through it together, you and I! By picking apart every aspect of it like the proper nerds we are. Expressing our joy for new Dark Shadows in the only way we know now! Written analysis and criticism! Isn’t life in Collinsport just grand?! Let’s get to it, shall we?

First up, we have episode number 9 of 13! From the consistently great combo of Rob Morris and David Darlington, who also provides this series it’s brand new and gorgeously arranged new theme tune. This is something I don’t really get into often on these, mainly because I worry it might be a bit too “inside baseball”, but if you are a huge dork like me, you have noticed that most of these big arcs are written by a “writer’s room” as such. A collection of writers all working from what I assume would be like a “show bible” in which they have tracked everyone’s arc and broken it down into the episodes. I really, really love this kind of stuff and I really appreciate the way Big Finish has melded that work model onto Dark Shadows. It makes me excited for the incoming serials and proves that they are committed to structure.

Again, this might just be woolgathering on my part, but it reminds me a lot of seeing some of my favorite TV writers names pop up throughout a season. I love a good credit. But where was I? Oh, yeah, everyone is being thrown through time.

Episode 9 has the unfortunate burden of being the series’ first “table setting episode”. Meaning that they have to check in on a very large amount of plots and tweak them juuuuust so but nothing ever really happens. As it has “set the table” for stuff to happen further down the series. We should come up with a Dark Shadows equivalent term. The show was king at this kinda junk. Maybe “Lettuce Washing”? “Snoopin’ Round the Basement”? I dunno, but it is a crap job, for sure, but still not an un-entertaining one! Writer Rob Morris clearly cares about everyone as much as we do so that really helps things matters nicely. As such, he gives us a fairly decent amount of “screen time” for Cody, and Rosier, Julia, and everyone else at Collinwood who has survived the initial time quakes. As well as everyone in the past! Providing hard dates for everyone, cleverly centered around Tom’s tape recorder. Which is now functioning as a sort of weather vein through time for the scattered family.

A lot of these plots never really give up anything substantial (aside from maybe the implication that David could now be Quentin’s father?! Which if I think about too much my nose starts to bleed). But they do provide us a nice terra firma after the chaos of the volume openers. And it gets everyone else around the house pretty active in the story as they continue to search for clues about the missing people, with the reluctant help of Rosier, entirely speaking through Cody, allowing Walles Hamonde room for a creepy twist on Cody’s normal speaking voice.

But therein lies this episode’s cruel trick. While this episode largely sets up stuff, it adds a sharp new set of stakes to the time paradox, by revealing that it is ongoing and the fabled Marina Lane isn’t a place, but a person! A new character who is...erm...was set to take over the Collinsport Star (RIP Kate. we will miss you forever). Called to the mansion by a mysterious phone call, it is her ghost haunting the mansion which means she died in the past! And that is exactly what this episode portents! It is a cruel double-edge sword, time travel. I pray our heroes make out the other side in one piece.

Episode 10 doubles down on the set up of the tape recorder, calling to mind the sonic creepiness of Beyond the Grave. Taking up the story baton is Alan Flanagan, who smartly re-checks in with Lela and Tom, both of whom are stuck the furthest in the past in the 1700’s. As well as Jackie and Marina Lane, who was time-tossed last episode, settled into the 1800’s along with David who is toward the tail end of the century. And now...Harry has joined the lost somehow too. And he won’t let go the tape recorder. Even when faced with one incredibly young Dr. Richard Hill! And that’s just the opening, y’all!

One thing that Flanagan does clear the decks with right away is the implication that David may be responsible for his own birth. Thankfully this opening, while it is checking in with characters, reveals that Anna Collins (play sweetly by Stephanie Ellyne) is already pregnant with Quentin (at least by David’s surmation) by the time he starts pulling the “cousin from England” routine, which is a fantastic highlight of this whole arc. It doesn’t make the odd “awkward romance comedy” between them any better, but I very much appreciate that clarification.

But what of the newly taken? As the entries continue, the voice of Cyrus Longworth-Jennings comes across the tape. Dating his tossing to 1899. Another piece of the board, as Tom guessed. Christopher Pennock had already made his appearance in the past as Anna Collins’ domineering husband, but it was nice to get his affable and laid back Cyrus back into the mix and safe for now. Or is he?!

Sabrina has also been taken! Plunked down in the 1940s at the Blue Whale. But even better, it seems that the people taken start to remember the ones taken before they were! And complicating matters, they are starting to butt up against established Dark Shadows canon! Complete with archival sound clips! A time travel no-no, right?! I had bitten my fingernails down the quik before typing all this up precisely because of this. Mainly because of Vivian Bell trying to worm her way into the affections of Jaminson Collins!

And there is goes until the end, little snapshots of those lost in time trying to live carefully through Collinsport’s history on TV and not step on any butterflies. I can see people having problems with the episode’s disjointed format and the criticism is valid! I don’t exactly love that we don’t get a more substantial episode after the “Lettuce Washing” of 9. But I DO love the continued audacity of this serial, completely breaking format so WILDLY this deep into the run, just to up the stakes and to pep up the season overall. I am very, very into it (though I can see why some people might not be).

Until next time, be seeing you. I will be more prompt this time, I promise.

(Editor's note: Episodes 9 and 10 of Bloodline are available HERE.)

Justin Partridge has always loved monsters and he thinks that explains a lot about him. When he isn’t over analyzing comics at Newsarama or ranting about Tom Clancy over at Rogues Portal, he is building Call of Cthulhu games, spreading the good word of Anti-Life, or rewatching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace for the dozenth time. He can be reached at the gasping Lovecraftian void that is Twitter @j_partridgeIII or via e-mail at Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.
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