Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 22


Aired on this date in 1991: Revival Episode 12 (series finale)

In 1791, Vicki awaits execution while Barnabas accidentally drives his mother into near-catatonic, delusional madness. A snooping Abigail meets her end at Barnabas' hands, and Joshua, discovering this, arranges for Trask to visit via Ben Loomis. Barnabas and Ben extract an admission of Vicki's innocence from Trask, before walling him up for the public good. Peter Bradford takes the document with him to a magistrate, but Angelique's powers cause it to be forgotten. Meanwhile, Sarah dies, having hidden from Barnabas on a cold, Maine night. Daniel barely lives, thanks to Vicki's knowledge of treating fevers. Barnabas begs his father to kill him, but he cannot. Instead, he assigns Ben to chain his son forever in the mausoleum. In the present, Maggie breaks Julia's strange possession, only to become possessed by Angelique, herself. 

At a certain point, it almost resembles the end of THE WILD BUNCH. Cold, nihilistic, with a slash-and-burn viciousness regarding its own body count, the episode feels as if they know it's a swan song after the royal rogering of the Gulf War and NBC's lackadaisical management. Not the case, however. This was filmed in November of 1990, months before they would go to air. Still, it exists in the context of "The Best of Both Worlds," and even if they weren't Trekkers, the creative team now lived in a world where genre television went there. Again, there's almost nothing unsatisfying about these 1790 episodes of the 1991 series. Grand and sumptuous in every regard, they use handsome appointments to highlight what's already the star: the writing. These are dense episodes, full of action and plot-plot-plot after the occasionally pokey first six installments. I don't know how they play for those unfamiliar with the show, but -- excluding the missing Nathan Forbes -- this really demonstrates how arguably labored and plot-piebald the 1795 sequence in the original series could get. Especially in episode 12, we get a constant barrage of heartbreaks and triumphs, including wacky exorcisms and the end of Abigail, Sarah, and a drunken Trask. The performances are as fine as the best in genre television, with special kudos going to... well, the entire cast. Stefan Gierasch and Jean Simmons handle Naomi's descent into madness with tenderness and dignity, and Gierasch's stony heart continues to crumble as he becomes perhaps the saddest collateral damage of all of this: the one cursed to survive. Along with him is Jim Fyfe, playing a deeply sentimental man with a subtlety that adds a resonant counterpoint to the broad approach he explored as Willie. 

I remember communicating over Prodigy with young Joey Gordon Levitt, who implored fellow Prodigians to hector NBC, which I did. I knew it was hopeless, but it was something. I would have been far more perturbed about the cancellation, but... the show ended on a satisfyingly high note and never got a chance to get bad. The Gulf War can always be blamed for its ratings failure, and I rarely show it to people who don't deeply enjoy it. The show is a great ambassador for the franchise, and I hope it will continue to be honored as such. 

On this day in 1991, NBC made a big, dumb mistake. So there. 

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