Wednesday, September 25, 2013


(Warning: mild spoilers follow.)

THE FLIP SIDE is not a story as concerned with monsters and maniacs as it is a tale focused on the paralyzing nature of regret. The latest DARK SHADOWS audio drama from Big Finish almost serves as a love letter to anyone who has made a bad decision, which means it should have a broad appeal.

To be honest, I didn't approach THE FLIP SIDE with much enthusiasm. Carolyn Stoddard has never been among my favorite characters on DARK SHADOWS. She seems almost genetically engineered to make the wrong decision, usually for no other reason than to push a story forward. While there's something to be said about the dramatic possibilities of this kind of character, it can also make her a little predictable. Boring, even. Writer CODY QUIJANO-SCHELL isn't unaware of these problems. In fact, the plot and themes of THE FLIP SIDE  make surprisingly good use of them. It's a smart tale that even manages to blur the lines between metatext and subtext.

Here's the official episode summary from BIG FINISH:
"Carolyn Stoddard is lost. Widowed at an early age, she's the lonely rich girl, drinking her life away as her friends grow up and move on. But Carolyn's life is about to change. Because Carolyn is about to be given a set of choices. And those choices will determine whether she is allowed to live or die. It's closing time at the Blue Whale but for Carolyn Stoddard the night is far from over. It's time to face the music ..."
When the story begins, Carolyn is having a few drinks with some familiar friends at The Blue Whale. It soon becomes clear that Carolyn has lingered too long in her childhood, trapped by habit and routine. She eventually finds herself alone in the bar with Jonah Rooney, the grown ward of Bartender Bob, whose attentions become increasingly hostile.

Naturally, Jonah isn't all he appears to be. While Carolyn is a character who's become immobilized by her fear of making yet another tragic decision, Jonah is a man who has surrendered all pretenses of free will. He reveals himself to be from one of Collinsport's many parallel timelines, one in which Carolyn made the decision to help her late husband, Jeb Hawkes, and the Leviathans bring about the end of the world. Like Billy Pilgrim in SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE, he's unstuck in time, traveling to alternate histories to exact futile revenge on the Collins family.

THE FLIP SIDE is pretty good, and not just in a "better than I was expecting" kind of way. I was anticipating a filler episode, a little something to tide us over until reaching the inevitable conclusion to this year's on-going storyline. There are some good ideas on display in THE FLIP SIDE, as well as a little subversive commentary on Tim Burton's recent DARK SHADOWS feature. Jonah taunts Carolyn about her many bad decisions, at one point saying they've led her to become a vampire and a werewolf in other realities. These are, of course, references to HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and the Burton film. Carolyn's response? "You're talking rubbish."

This isn't just snark. With a few words of dialogue, QUIJANO-SCHELL ties together the many incarnations of DARK SHADOWS into a single storyline. And, despite Carolyn's dismissive response, I think the story functions as a plea for acceptance from fans about the show's many incarnations ... not only for what's come before, but for those yet to come. This is a story about the fertile nature of possibility, after all.

And, after more than 40 years, The Blue Whale finally gets a new song on its jukebox. THE FLIP SIDE features a new song by singer-songwriter SEAN McGHEE – one half of the band ARTMAGIC, with RICHARD OAKES from SUEDE. This isn't a publicity stunt or some half-assed attempt to create  peripheral merchandise for Big Finish. The song is used for subtle purpose here, and the episode's producers are content to let its curious existence support the story's theme. From a distance, it certainly feels like the kind of pop song that might have wandered onto a jukebox in the early 1970s. As a bonus, the song is packaged with the episode as an independent track.

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