Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: Sept. 15


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1109

Can Barnabas and Quentin stop Gerard Stiles from raising an army of the dead to destroy Collinwood? Zombie: Chuck Morgan. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Julia and Barnabas rescue Quentin from being buried alive as Gerard prepares David and Hallie for their own ritual murder. After Quentin is driven mad by his attempt to thwart the evil specter, Barnabas is assailed by the living dead and Julia finds herself alone on an enchanted staircase, bound for 1840. 

Full disclosure: I’ve written about this one before, but in a long chain of most important Dark Shadows episodes, this thrusts itself to the head of the line and tells the others to just… back… off. And given what goes on in 1109, I wouldn’t want to throw down with it. As episodes go, I’m not going on the record to say it’s that well-written. It has a sweaty desperation to it on every level, and you could tell that the writers were pushing to create an event where one may not really exist. This sequence of the show is important, yes, but I’m not sure if it’s actually important or if I’m responding to a sense of obligation to find it so.

I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Completely innumerate. I don’t understand most movies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen The Living Daylights, and I haven’t a clue what’s going on. I think the Taliban are the heroes in it. No, I’m not kidding. If my brow were any lower, it would be lovingly described by the ghost of Jaques Cousteau. So, the only reason I usually claim to like good things is to keep the tasteful from brandishing rolled up copies of Cahiers du CinĂ©ma and taking my lunch money. (I’d rather be watching Smokey and the Bandit, Part 3.) Is that what’s happening in 1109? I could couch it in claims that its impenetrability is all part of Gerard’s existential plan to drive them mad. I’ve done that before. But is that honest or does it just sound good?

Still, I love it. Maybe that’s enough. Yes, it does have mysteries that never pay off. You know, like Gerard’s plan. There’s a whole thing about Quentin being forced to relive the death of his twin Uncle’s son and then re-die being buried alive like he was in… wait. Did any of that happen in 1840? I don’t think so. I don’t remember it. I guess the heroes changed the timeline. Sure. why not? It doesn’t really bother me that much, to be honest. The cast (especially combat-paid David Selby, who probably needed to take a nap for a month after this) really, really pulls it off. If you want what passes for spectacle on a budget that never exceeded the average daytime soap, your front row seat is waiting. 

I enjoy its baffling quality. It feels like a Robert Altman movie. I’m getting little slices of life connected to unexplained, offstage action with a significance that’s never fully revealed. So, where’s Paul Dooley? The obsession with reincarnation and twins runs throughout the episode. It’s deeply theatrical that way, as if the actors can’t quite shake parts they’ve never really played. Is Daphne a ghost or not? Is she on Gerard’s team or not? I don’t know. But I don’t understand most people, and watching Daphne ping-pong between agendas and loyalties is what I experience every day. 

One of the creepiest elements is Gerard’s obsession with the kids' clothing. I guess he went to Brewsters in between episodes and got them some fancy new duds, because he’s wildly insistent that children of the 1970’s, possessed by children from the 1840’s, have new clothes. You’d think he’d want them dressed in antique ensembles to relive the night he’ll never kill them, but these are right off the rack. It’s a sick moment on several levels beyond the mustard-yellow shirt he forces David Henesy to don. It’s only now that I’ve begun to wonder if he’s forcing them into the clothes they’ll have on at the visitation. After he kills them. It’s a level of thanophilic mockery to rival that of the most brutal serial killer. The other darkly kinky aspect to this is that David and Hallie will be undressing in the same room, aroused as they face certain death. The show pulls a muscle to deny that these kids are deep in the mournful summer heat of puberty, but then it does things like this. It’s sex and death and taboo that passes us by because zombies are on the march, so run home at 4:30 to catch it, kiddos. 

Yeah, we’re playing for keeps, and it makes me wonder what kids made of it. It was probably deeply cathartic to watch adults, who were talking about things they only pretended to understand, get hoisted by their own green flag. Finally. One tv show actually gets what it’s like to be a child. Or me. This episode is The Empire Strikes Back of Dark Shadows, with our heroes in constant retreat. 

But it has the undeniable grip of great drama, with our honestly beloved heroes pushed to brinks of terror beyond their reckoning. To hell with Willie emerging from a coma and spilling the beans to Dana Elcar, Barnabas. What you faced in 1967 was Tinker Toys compared to being grappled by zombies. Chuck Morgan threw off the fabric that was thrown over his head and chased you like you had the last two-for-one Malibu Chicken Sizzler coupons on earth. There’s a dark satisfaction to seeing our heroes really put to the test. The crashing kathunk of Quentin’s initial smugness of 1897 is not when he learns his unknown son is dead. That Hamleting around is a trip to Epcot compared to Gerard’s simple, maddening grip. Gerard is the era and ilk of ghost that Quentin would have feared as a child, and he cannot be outrun. Just as the teens are infantilized, so is Quentin… before being slammed back into adulthood to stagger away from another boy he couldn’t save. This is his fate. To be the loveless, misunderstood, lone wolf Collins. He’s destined to live for the sole purpose of officiating at funerals for children he never saved. The only ones naively wise enough to have loved him. 

Catharsis, yes. And a baseline to return from. We’ve always known that our heroes could get the best of Nicholas Blair and Petofi because guys like those don’t really play for keeps. They’re having too much fun. But Gerard is Lex Luthor. The real one. The one who doesn’t get his kicks from planning the deaths of innocent people, but causing them. And Barnabas is not innocent. Nor is Julia. Nor is Quentin. Nor even David, if you go back far enough. Remember when they were bad guys, and we hoped they’d get what was coming to them? Be careful what you wish for. Because Gerard is the hero that, once upon a time, we were hoping would put ‘em in their place. All motion is relative, Mr. Brady. All motion is relative. 

It’s an evil statement. It’s a statement that the universe doesn’t care about all the swell stuff you’ve done for hundreds of episodes. Because it has a moral agenda to fill. And that, alone, is a force for our heroes fight. For all of us. Because who they’ve become matters. The good that they’ve done matters. Now, in 1840, they’ll finally have a chance to prove it. Except for Quentin. Quentin the Second. He’ll just have to wait for a new timeline to pull in at the Collinsport Depot and take him to the beginning and the end of a better world. He deserves it. As do the rest. Thanks to the destruction of everything, they just might get it.

And I like 1109 a lot. A lot. But I like documentaries. 

This episode was broadcast Sept. 24, 1970.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: Sept. 9


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 842

Count Petofi and Angelique face the one force no occult power can overcome. But what could it be? Julia Hoffman: Grayson Hall. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Julia realizes that her force of will can not only propel her through time, but makes her immune to the machinations of Count Petofi. Surviving a point-blank shot, she responds by recruiting Angelique to best the Count. Later, Charles Delaware-Tate fully understands the extent of his powers by creating life from art. 

The Dark Shadows that I want, the Dark Shadows I remember, and the Dark Shadows I get are three distinctly different shows. I want an Edward Albee version of Doc Savage with vampires, and no one is sensible enough to make that. The Dark Shadows I remember is an endlessly engaging, unfinished symphony of surprise as Barnabas wanders toward episodes that I was told were too expensive to show. The Dark Shadows I get is a sustained note of comforting monotony spiked with fleeting moments of delight and wonder. They are moments where I shout to no one that, “There it is!  There’s the imagination and delight and risk!” 

When Dark Shadows is good, I mean very good, it crisscrosses the best of American character drama with tales of profound, speculative fantasy. It can be the equal of great theater and exceeds the brainiest science fiction. I say things like that, but when it comes to proving it, I’m often bereft. I usually have to tell people that, you know, there are 1225 episodes, and if you just watch it, that will appear, like some kind of theatrical magic eye poster. And I could never do those; it’s perverse to ask it of others. Which, of course, I love doing. 

Still, the pleasure of writing the Daybook is to become Khan in the Mutara sector, bolting from his chair and announcing, “There she is!  There she is!” And 842 needs to hop up on a pedestal and pose for that moment, because, well, there she is. It may be all of that or it may be all of that only in the context of the other 1224 installments. I’m not sure that anything in Dark Shadows is what I’d like it to be. Is anything a self-contained example of itself? You simply have to judge for yourself after watching it, and if you do that, by the end, even the most die-hard critic of the show has at least seen it. Does it amount to anything? Not my problem. 

It’s not a payoff episode in terms of resolving storylines, but it nevertheless answers questions the show has begged, which is a horror no-no, and depicts characters actually talking about their relationships, aspirations, and surprises. A secret to acting is that a performer can build a career on making decisions, discoveries, and disclosures. Taking a note from that, 842 propels itself with a marvelously satisfying sequence of all three. 

It may never top its beginning, as Julia suffers a fatal bullet wound from a diabolical trap... set by Petofi to force Barnabas to be her unwitting murderer. Such inventive sadism. In a Republic serial, it would all have been resolved with some kind of cheat that in no way matched the set-up. But Gordon Russell is too crafty for that. Why cheat when you can explore the existential extent of your own whackadoodle time travel conceit? That’s what they do, and in doing so the show uses its exhausting length to investigate all of those bizarre implications no other medium could afford. Time travel through an I Ching trance is patently silly (unlike the dignity of a flux capacitor or vaporising equalizer) until you really explore it to such an extent that it somehow legitimizes itself. Julia is there, but only through the force of will that symbolizes the spirit with which these characters soldier on through 950 hours of contrived terror and unlikely romance. These characters keep trudging on because they have to. You know, like we do in life. And Julia, more human than any of them, summons a friendship that dwarfs love and simply goes there. In doing so, she is a woman beyond time and may be the most powerful character in the Dark Shadows universe. Moving among cursed titans of cosmic powers and immortality, she is more immortal than any of them, immune even to the powers of the great Petofi. Now, she is a god, and instead of being driven mad with power, she represents all of us base creatures of limited time and matter by doing her frickin’ job. Finally, one of us is thrust into the fray and she spends her time finally talking sense to these giants. Getting them on the same team. Pointing out that there are stakes beyond what they want in the impulsive right now. And she gets Angelique -- Angelique -- on the side of truth, justice, and the Collinsport way. 

That’s how you thrash curses and send sorcerers running. That’s how you mix it up with monsters. Faulkner declined to accept the end of man, and when I see Julia Hoffman straighten her spine and go to work, I understand why.

That’s why Dark Shadows matters. 

This episode was broadcast Sept. 16, 1969.

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 28


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 835

When Julia receives a desperate plea for help from Barnabas, written seventy-two years before, can she still save him in the nick of time? Edward Collins: Louis Edmonds. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Edward, unable to kill Barnabas because he is a fellow Collins, locks him in a cell to await sunrise. Barnabas writes a letter to Julia and places it in a secret compartment, which is conveniently triggered and revealed by Amy in 1969. Julia and Stokes determine that she should go back in time to save Barnabas, but they need Amy to communicate with the spirits of Quentin and Beth for guidance.

On every level, this is one of the most conceptually revolutionary, nay, badass episodes of DARK SHADOWS ever conceived. Gordon Russell again delivers, and not just for the DARK SHADOWS franchise. 835 contains what may be his cleverest plot twist, and it’s one that was borrowed by Nicholas Meyer in TIME AFTER TIME (with the same furniture, no less) and STAR TREK IV: THE ONE WITH THE WHALES, as well as Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale in BACK TO THE FUTURE II. Barnabas leaves a letter for Julia in 1897 that’s (of course) received at the most crucial moment possible in 1969. If it weren’t for the earnestness of the actors, the whole thing would fall apart into a coincidence that would make even Dickens wince, but Grayson Hall and Thayer David do what they invariably do -- pull it off. It continues the one, wacky consistency of time travel in DARK SHADOWS, too; it’s all somehow concurrent. The possibility of Julia going back before Barnabas encountered Edward is never mentioned. And they don’t mention it to such a conspicuous extent that it’s easy to buy that it’s not possible. We, as viewers, also aid the storytelling. We want to see Barnabas saved. We want to see what happens when Julia mixes it up in the 1890’s. It’s a storytelling move too generous to limit by causality and common sense. If I wanted that, I’d watch the news. Come to think of it, there’s more of it on DARK SHADOWS.

Aside from killing her own evil twin in Parallel Time and faking her way through the 1840’s, where she knew no one, this is Julia Hoffman at her most stone cold. Even Stokes is a little weirded out by the concept of time travel with no receptacle. But Julia sees no other way. Is it love? Is it a sense of mission? The answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘who cares?’ It’s Julia Hoffman’s time stream, and we just swim in it, baby. And in a manner that would make Qui Gon Jinn proud, all it takes is jeopardizing a psychically sensitive child’s life to gather the intelligence she needs. It’s about time Amy earned her keep. Go into Collinwood and talk to an evil specter with a penchant for casting death spells on children, already, and stop with the noise. Roger’s new Muscle & Fitness arrived in the mail, and he hates being disturbed on that day of the month. And make it snappy. I have two shows in Vegas, or should I say, in 1897 tonight.

Julia once again almost spills the truth to Stokes about Barnabas, but he’s too good a man to be entrusted with that news. She twists in the wind once again, and given the perceptiveness of the professor, her hornswaggling is all the more impressive. What would have happened if Stokes had found out? Would his sense of morality have been meta enough to appreciate the big picture that Barnabas was a victim of ‘coicumstance’? It’s hard to say, but Julia is the one character man enough to beat him again with a successful bluff… and she’s still all woman.

Not that Louis Edmonds and Jonathan Frid don’t share about their most butch moment on the series together in this one, because they do. In a Victorian way. Barnabas talking Edward out of plugging him with a silver bullet is masterful reasoning. So few relatives, even in his own time, take being a Collins seriously. Barnabas finds the one other within earshot, and it works… enough. It works. With the exception of maybe Liz and Joshua, he was lucky enough to be held at gunpoint by the one member of the family for whom ‘not harming a Collins’ has merit. Because, dammit, Barnabas is the same way. A moment like that would have been tough to pull off in the 1960’s. Leave it to DARK SHADOWS to create its own spinoff within itself, where a move like that is the only one possible. Sometimes, as Julia shows and Edward discovers, we have no other choice. But the age of EDWARD COLLINS: VAMPIRE HUNTER is only beginning.

This episode was broadcast Sept. 5, 1969.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Ben Cross: In Memoriam

He was the last of his kind, truly. A regal actor for fantasy roles that required a star to speak clearly, command the room, and, you know, shave and bathe. They were parts that called for a man of both truth and imagination. A master of theatrical size and total sincerity. He was Captain Nemo. He was Ambassador Sarek. He was Barnabas Collins.

While he was never the first to essay those roles, he had the insightful integrity of a man who made each totally original.

For some, he was their Captain Nemo and their Ambassador Sarek. And although the productions in which he essayed the roles are not definitive versions, Ben Cross delivered performances that were as indelible as those who originated the parts.

For many of us, he was our Barnabas Collins. Not that we weren’t deeply familiar with Jonathan Frid, but the 1991 series spared no expense to give us all of the corners cut in the 1960’s. It was a reward for loyalty. Although it was not the original, it was the creator of the show standing atop the towering successes of the Wouk miniseries, determined to make every element the finest he could. Star Trek returned with Patrick Stewart as the lead. Well, Dan Curtis saw Gene Roddenberry’s Patrick Stewart and raised him a Ben Cross, matured beyond Chariots of Fire. Capable of bringing equal Classical artistry to television fantasy’s other great saga.

And he was every bit Stewart’s equal. He was ours because for many of us, Dark Shadows left the air before we were born. But, as with Next Generation, we had the excitement of following the production through its initial announcement to the first photo of the next Barnabas Collins.

Cross’ performance matched that first, soulful photo. Intelligent and ferocious, he lacked Jonathan Frid’s endearing neurosis, but that allowed him the chance to explore the role of Barnabas Collins with his own judgment. Both men are martyrs to loss and betrayal, but while Frid was determined to rebuild, Cross was bent on revenge. It’s a less subtle performance in that sense, but wholly appropriate for the beginning of an arc that would only last for a tad over three months. His game was all too brief. His performance matched it, burning hot and fast. But it was never without delightful humor and humanity.

This is what he brought to Dark Shadows. His Barnabas had a texture, energy, and life all its own, and as such was Richard Burton to Frid’s Laurence Olivier. They gave two vastly different interpretations of the great man, and thus, neither encroached on the other. Instead, they are colleagues, and they both gave us the finest performances in the role that we could want.

The same for his Nemo. The same for his Sarek.

At 72, the loss is stunningly premature. It is exceeded only by our fortune that, if batons were to be passed, his was the hand to grasp them.

- Patrick McCray

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 11


Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 305

When Sarah takes David on a tour of her home, will there be room for one more in the mausoleum? Sarah: Sharon Smyth. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas kvetches about the weakening side-effect of Julia’s injections, although she seems delighted. Meanwhile, Sarah shows David a hidden coffin.

Curses are blessings on Dark Shadows, and that’s not always limited within the series itself; it’s also true for how the show was made. Truth time: the soap format slides easily into something that, without love and context, is unwatchably slow and dull. But it is not without its advantages, also. Usually, the command to stretch it out is a mandate for repetition. But in certain cases, the writers found fascinating eddies of implication to explore, and 305 is an example of why people kept watching -- it asks the questions we all all have. In this case, about the afterlife and the practicalities of the paranormal.

The episode is vaguely split between Barnabas & Julia and David & Sarah. Both involve a human dealing with the vagaries of supernatural lifeforms, unwittingly or not. Barnabas is developing impatience with Julia’s conversion process. He’s tired of the perpetual hangover intrinsic to being human, and I think he’s beginning to suspect that Julia either has no idea what she’s doing or is purposefully dragging it out. Barnabas has had remarkably good health for nearly two centuries, so we can understand his disappointment. He’s reacting as if she’s spiking his sherry with saltpeter, and for all we know, she might. Julia’s savoring his lack of vitality, crossing weird lines between doctor, mother, and lover, promising that “she’ll take care of Burke Devlin” her own way, and conjuring images of Rosa Klebb’s clumsy attempt at lesbian seduction in From Russia with Love. It takes a very special lesbian to win Burke Devlin.

Meanwhile, outside, David and Sarah discuss her knack for letting David in on secrets, and she tantilizes him with the promise of a whopper. This leads to a marvelously acted dialogue where Smythe mixes a very simple honesty with a beautifully textured ambiguity, struggling to explain the where she lives in the afterlife. Sarah never claimed to be alive; she just uses the metaphors of living. Here, it’s clear that Sarah knows what she is, and as straight as she can be, how she lives. She’s not being coy. David is simply not hearing her. I have no idea if the young actress considered the strange weight of the netherworld of her implication, but I would love to know. Quite simply, Sharon Smyth kicks ass. For a child actress understandably entranced by the teleprompter, Smythe shows remarkable sophistication in this episode, and the result may be one of Sarah’s best, most empowered performances in the series. Dark Shadows, in this era, excels at hinting. Everything is offstage. Huge casts of characters we’ve yet to meet. To hear it about the afterlife only heightens our curiosity.

Dark Shadows excels not just at horror, but showing us the inner workings and practicalities of the horrific from new perspectives. The David/Sarah relationship is one of the most poignant on the program. Each is as lonely and lost as the adults on the show. (In that regard, Carolyn, Joe, and Maggie are the sore thumbs on the hand because they seem the least lonely, until they aren’t.) Sarah’s overall game may be to curb Barnabas’ opportunities for evil. Or, drawn from death’s domain by her brother’s resurrection, it may simply be to have a friend the way that Barnabas wants a lover. Vicki will recognize physical resemblances when she goes to the past. Does Sarah see the same thing? By making Sarah the most realistic ghost in horror, the show raises all of the right questions, and ones we never knew we had.

This episode hit the airwaves on Aug. 25, 1967.

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 10


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1079

When the power of a gorgeous ghost compels him, will Quentin complete an exorcism before the spirits change David’s wardrobe? Quentin: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Daphne leads Quentin to a graveyard to see familiar tombstones. He vows to help, but it’s clear she has mixed intentions. He later tries to exorcise the house, but Daphne’s influence strops him. Meanwhile, Hallie goes from slave to the ghosts to the realization that she’s their prisoner as she and David attempt a seance.

I’m not sure what’s going on in this episode or storyline, but I can’t stop watching it. If anything is my takeaway on Dark Shadows, it’s that. Beginning with Vicki’s parentage, it’s a program about withholding information. 1079 elevates the unspoken to its rarest expression. That kind of ambiguity draws the audience into the storytelling process, and the rigor of it in this is equally demanding and rewarding. Some of the power of Gerard’s plan, if we can even call it a plan, is its allusiveness. The ultimate goal is the destruction of Collinwood, but fewer knives have been as serrated, and the horror of Gerard (since we know where it’s going) lies in the unnecessary damage he causes to those he’s marked for death or madness, anyway.

When the episode isn’t reveling in repressed sexuality, it’s venturing a little too boldly into deeper taboo on a rubber raft of counterfeit ambiguity. It begins with a visual metaphor so bold there might be no meta left at all. We find Quentin in the graveyard as Daphne points out her own tombstone. Quentin must have some sort of partial memory of being a ghost or being dead, or a sense of it, because even though the timeline has changed, he was once a zombie, after all. And he certainly understands being from another time. Given that, a dead woman from the 1800’s is someone Quentin can't resist. Is she silently imploring his help, or is he simply assuming that? Considering that, as they begin their embrace, she's holding a knife at his back without his knowledge, it sums up far, far too many relationships.

As the episode goes on, Selby gets to show an amazing range of sincerity and furtiveness as he attempts to exorcise the home, and probably its temptations, eventually sabotaging those same efforts and lying about it. Not only is he lying about it, he's enjoying the process. As he lies to Julia about the extent of Daphne's control at the end of the episode, he has a naughty, hostile smile that is worthy of Jack Torrance. And it's an example of a very human, very subtle moment that exists completely in the face. It really has no formal name, but David Selby has a disturbing degree of control of it nonetheless.

David and Hallie dominate the rest of the episode, forced into playrooms and roleplay with dialogue that you have to strain to hear as single entendre. This is difficult subtext to confront because of the singularly awkward age of the performers. Both were around fifteen, neither adults nor children. In an effort not to sexualize them (ewww), the show goes too far in the other direction as it vaguely infantilizes them. The net result feels even more perverse than if they’d let them be fifteen. The exact reason for insisting that David dress up and submit to the whim of a beautiful ghost (who is nearly his age peer) is unclear and disturbing because of that murkiness. The substitute costumes only further this. The selected outfits are of both the early 70’s and the 1840’s. They are the costumes of a very formal child or a very fanciful adult. Which is it? Which does Gerard want them to be? All of it, as long as it’s in paralyzing quantities. Gerard wants the adult David to know exactly what’s being done to him while the child David knows he’s powerless to stop it.

This episode hit the airwaves on Aug. 13, 1970.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 28


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1071

Quentin has his doubts when Barnabas lures him to a closet with the assurance that there’s a playroom inside. Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.) 

Barnabas and Julia arrive from the future -- and the opposite end of the house -- to a delighted Quentin, Liz, and their new guest, Carrie Stokes, the professor’s niece. Carrie remains suspicious of the two, perhaps because there’s only so much bacon at bruch, and until recently, she had it all to herself since David read Maggie’s Casteneda book and went vegetarian. Barnabas and Julia set about trying to identify Daphne and Gerard. When Barnabas tries to show Quentin the playroom, he simply fubles around in the linen closet and shrugs. 

If there is one Dark Shadows episode that lurks in my memory as the model for all of the very best, it’s this one. It’s genuine speculative action. There’s mystery, suspense, a supernatural threat, lies, kindness, warmth, kinship, and an optimistic sense of adventure. Collinwood is treated as it should be; it’s a home that’s held with affection. This bastion is a fortress to be protected, not feared. And it’s first and last son, Barnabas, has such a sense of can-do problem-solving, he should be dressed as Athos and demanding that they stop the machinations of Richelieu and M’Lady at once, lest France fall to the Pope once and for all. I get that image from the way Barnabas bounds into the drawing room with Julia, to proudly announce they’ve arrived back from both Parallel Time and the Future. It’s the kind of delivery you’d see Errol Flynn give to Basil Rathbone… as balloons fell from the ceiling. 

And honestly, after arriving back from such exotic destinations, how else is a man to enter? They’ve even captured Kathy Cody trying to break into the ensemble, and she’s locked in Paul Stoddard’s trunk. What is Eliot doing trying to pawn her off at Collinwood, anyway? This man hosted Adam, for god’s sake. What is Carrie Stokes doing to the upholstery that he dumps her with Liz? She’s just warming up for an intensely uncomfortable evening visit to Quentin’s bedroom. Seriously, they remark about the strange feelings she’s been having. It’s the scene where Quentin barely restrains himself from sprinting out of the room and calling his lawyer.

Other than that, Collinwood has found a strange equilibrium. Carolyn’s in mourning, which has basically sedated her. Liz is in a decent mood, largely because she’s had David Selby all to her herself. Quentin has ditched the turtleneck for a suit, and seems blandly at peace, comfortable to stand around and look handsome. David and Carrie are busy ignoring the fact that they are almost out of puberty’s oven. It’s best we don’t know what they’ve found snooping in Quentin’s sock drawer, but I doubt it’s I Ching wands and a mummified hand. Life is good. It’s that weird calm that soap operas slip into between storylines. It’s important to see the house at such ease. Gordon Russell creates an excellent Pax Collinsus from which it’s all going to hell. These are the moments that will make us nostalgic in the times to come.

For a man charged with preventing a localized apocalypse, Barnabas is in an excellent mood. As well he should be. From his heroic high in 1897, he plunges in the Leviathan storyline, only having to work it off in Parallel Time and 1995. There’s an interesting detail to 1995, because it presupposes the absence of Barnabas and Julia. Why are they absent? Presumably because they are in Parallel Time. What were they doing in Parallel Time? At that hour? In those outfits? Barnabas, cursed with vampirism, was hoping he’d be different there. And why was he cursed with vampirism? Yet another deal for Josette with another sinister force. Had he recognized his power and thought more expansively, Barnabas might have used the situation rather than being used by it. He wasn’t in a position to do that, then. He is, now. And he has an ethical mandate to do it -- arguably, had he been at Collinwood, he might have prevented Gerard’s ascent.

At least, that’s what he thinks. Collinwood’s full of time travelers. They all have ample evidence that their actions can and will change the future. Barnabas has a road map to it. It’s incorrect. Doom will result. But now, Barnabas is ready. 

This episode hit the airwaves on Aug. 3, 1970.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 16


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1064

As Barnabas struggles in 1995 to assemble the clues of doomsday, Julia is preoccupied by a dashing ghost! Mrs. Johnson: Clarice Blackburn. (Repeat; 30 minutes.)

Julia reels from the psychic influence of Gerard as efforts to interrogate Carolyn about the disaster prove fruitless. The sheriff warns Barnabas and Julia to leave town, and if there were anyone else left alive, they’d smell torches and pitchforks, all the while wondering what would make pitchforks smell like that.

1995 is a fascinating mess. It’s a storyline that I want to shake by the lapels and ask it to be more. I mean, think of it… 1995! I’ve often bemoaned the lack of ray guns and mylar jumpsuits, and I’ve just as (at least once) often championed it for actually getting the era right, down to the 1970’s retro that Carolyn sports. It’s a vacation for most of the actors. Even though the majority of the original cast were absent for much of 1970 PT, they were missing from the show because they were shooting House of Dark Shadows. So, yes, they had a vacation coming. The upcoming Ragnarok storyline between 1995 and 1840 is a spare, modernist landscape where Roger is wholly missing and Liz might as well be. The post-apocalyptic wasteland of 1995 is a real slap on the backside from the OB/GYN to get us breathing in the real world.

And it is a ‘real world’ in the most poetic sense. How long has Collinsport comparatively ignored the PTSD-inducing madness regularly unleashed by the town’s namesake? Not since Victoria first arrived on the train bound for the beginning and the end of the world has the town been so realistically wigged out by the Collinses. This a Lovecraftian afterbirth of a village. In the past, the reliable, economic bounty of the cannery kept the locals quietly grumbling thank-you-may-I-have-another, but with the family either dead or insane, I can’t imagine there’s much left of Collinsport. The house may be in ruin, but so’s the local economy. Things are so bad, they have to order out to get a sheriff from the south. Because we all know that Dana Elcar would have had the whole mess cleaned up, and would have bested the conspicuously Rubenseque Chuck Morgan in any number of contests involving wrestling oil, lobster bibs, or both. Yes, of course, nude.

There’s not a lot of story to tell in such ruin, and it shocks on myriad levels. Barnabas and Julia spend a lot of time wandering back and forth between Collinwood and Collinsport, looking for clues and finding few. Gerard shows up and starts staring at people, giving them the creeps, but that’s about it. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever watched a 1995 episode with my full attention, and yet it satisfies the inauguration of my favorite storyline, the mindbendingly fatalistic fall of Collinwood. None of it is fun, and all of it is finally truthful. Haunted houses are not sustainable real estate prospects and the idea that the Collinses could have lived in one for more than a month is an assertion that needs the pantsing the show gives it, here. The other shoe of reality has fallen hard, and I think it’s for golfing.

So, what are they spending their time doing? Talking. Grayson Hall has the unenviable task of the infectious nihilism that Gerard inspires. This is a Dark Shadows of the post-Manson era, when the deaths of soldiers in a senseless war were only an hour or so away on this station. America still had illusions of being a moral empire when Vicki arrived from New York. Not so much now, and this is a reflection. There’s not much to do, hunkered down like a dog under a bed after a thunderstorm, other than muse that the lawn was so much prettier before the tempest. And that’s what they do. Julia struggles with a very new form of invasion, here. Prior victimizers imposed evil on her. Her fear of Gerard feels different. This is a force that shows her the evil she has within her, and that’s a nauseatingly Zen attack. All Gerard need do is hold up a mirror and let Julia do the rest. Barnabas seems vaguely invulnerable to it because, as he speculates, he’s not human. All he is are evil impulses that he’s learned to dress up in the suit of goodness. Gerard seems to wisely keep his distance because of it.

The episode shines with Clarice Blackburn’s surprisingly warm misremembering of Collinwood before the fall. Is she inaccurate in her memory of that sunny, happy place? It’s true for her, even if it’s a lie she’s memorized so often that it eclipses the past. In a sense, she’s like a viewer of Dark Shadows who’s romanticized what she would like to have been the warmth in the Collins home that was all too fleeting. 1995, and episode 1064 in particular, is a chance to see another fan who’s let the wishes of memory color the reality of what was. It’s a creeping preview of a storyline that would be all too ready to show us that the center cannot hold forever, if it ever did.

This episode hit the airwaves on July 23, 1970.
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