By WALLACE McBRIDE
Licensed storytelling is often seen as something inherently illegitimate.
If you have any doubts about that, remember that Disney effortlessly flushed several decades of "expanded universe" STAR WARS storytelling with its purchase of Lucasfilm. Once the Mouse House took control, they deemed the hundreds of books, comics and videogames produced since the late 1990s as no longer canon. Because they're still interested in making money, though, Disney opted to keep most of these products in circulation ... but now they're designated as "just for fun." But wasn't that always the point?
I had to step away from DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST for a while because of personal obligations. These write-ups require a bit more time and effort than news-related posts. I spent the early part of the week re-visiting the first four episodes, as well as the "Snowflake" prologue. During some downtime I also listened to 2012 DARK SHADOWS audiodrama, "Speak No Evil." The contrast between the two stories is startling.
When I fired up "Speak No Evil," I was under the impression that it was my first time listening to it. About half way through, though, I realized I'd already heard it. The tale was so insubstantial that it slipped my memory ... and will probably do so again.
Speak No Evil" exists in that negative space where all tie-in properties live: between plot points in the canonical narrative (wow, that sounds pretentious). The main character is an adult version of "Tad Collins," played by David Henesy in 19 episodes of the original DARK SHADOWS. I don't think many people wondered what happened to the character in the events following the 1840 storyline. "Speak No Evil" is the answer to a question that nobody asked, and wanders perilously close to the old "two characters arguing in a darkened room" formula that made some of the early DARK SHADOWS audiodramas kinda lame.
But this is how tie-in properties work. If you can't retell/reboot/rehash the original storyline, you have to build your story in the narrative's gaps. And these areas are on notoriously shaky foundations.
Big Finish is rapidly approaching the release of its 50th (?!) DARK SHADOWS audiodrama, and BLOODLUST is evidence that lessons have been learned from past mistakes. The series has spent the last few years developing its own continuity and no longer has to rely on the table scraps of the original series. Many of the "new" characters in this series aren't really new, at all. Kate Ripperton has already appeared "The Phantom Bride" and "Beyond the Grave," while its a safe bet that there's some kind of relationship between Matthew Waterhouse's two "Cunningham" characters from BLOODLUST and "The Creeping Fog."
There are also deep ties to the KINGDOM OF THE DEAD, the multi-part DARK SHADOWS serial from 2010. While I doubt Big Finish will ever outgrow the need for formal ties to the original series, those ties are definitely less important than they used to be.
And there's drama galore in this episode of BLOODLUST, hardly any of it relying on your good will for classic DARK SHADOWS as a crutch. This series is working without a safety net and taking some real chances.
Exhibit A: Tommy Cunningham. As an infant in previous episodes his dialogue was limited too background cooing (I like to think it's producer Joseph Lidster providing the baby babble). Thanks to Angelique, Tommy is now a fully gown man with a rapidly developing vocabulary. His interaction with his incredulous parents is sweet, funny and bizarre in all the right WTF? kinds of ways.
While Andrew Cunningham is aghast at the change in his younger son, mom Amy isn't quite is rattled. As an occult expert she quickly figures out what has happened and devises a plan to set things right. First up is kicking Andrew to the curb, a plan that receives surprising support from his elder son, Harry. This leads to a confrontation with Angelique that made me realize the two characters might not have actually met on the original series.
Angelique comes across as sadistic in a way that was surprising to me. She's the DARK SHADOWS patron saint of vindictiveness, but had evolved over the course of the series to be a little less petty and cruel. Here, she couldn't care less about Amy or her problems, and is disinclined to even barter with her. Angelique is certainly more bitter than I'd have guessed ... and that's saying a lot.
|Carvalho and Perry|
As sad as I am to see Matthew Waterhouse leave (presumably; I haven't listened to the next episode yet) I'd also really grown to like Wallace's character. She seemed like the kind of local kook that would be fun to hang out — and gossip — with.
Then, just as the cast was beginning to thin itself out, Quentin Collins wanders in during the episode's final moments, looking for a room at the Collinsport Inn.
In between all of this Franklin (Roger Carvalho) and Ripperton (Asta Perry) have some serious talks about the nature of their relationship. Ripperton admits she's become a danger junkie — which will make Collinsport a difficult place for her to quit. Franklin has a few secrets, himself ... one of which is so deep even he's unaware of it. He tells Ripperton he's in love with her, but also compulsively repeats the phrase "Another day, another dollar" whenever asked about his job at the mine.
David Collins is going to have some 'splaining to do.
This week's theme song: