Friday, September 1, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: September 1


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 837

Thanks to the I Ching trance, Julia hurls herself back in time to the year 1897, where she is in a wordless daze. Found by Edward and eventually Quentin, she rests at Collinwood where Quentin discovers Barnabas’ note in her pocket. (He left it for her in a bureau for her to find in 1969, which she did.) Quentin rescues Barnabas, who explains that Pansy Faye’s predictions around Quentin’s doom have come to pass, save his abandonment by Jamison. Edward is befuddled when he goes to kill Barnabas, only to find him missing. Meanwhile, Barnabas, Quentin, and Julia gather in a hidden location to prepare for September 10, prophesied as Quentin’s last day alive.

More than an episode of a soap opera, this installment of DARK SHADOWS is a tight time travel adventure that rivals the best work of Zemeckis and Gale or Nicholas Meyer. It is an ideal gem of a chapter, eons from the humble beginnings of Vicki’s arrival, the wacky excesses of its more psychedelic episodes, or the grim and portentous fatalism of the Ragnarok arc. Even with the handicap of lacking Count Petofi, who was probably too busy watching it to be bothered to appear, it’s an easy nominee for the best 1897 episode out there, and that’s some heavy competition. Are there episodes that do certain things better? Yes. But it’s a lot like CASABLANCA. There are films of that era that have better writing, acting, editing, etc. However, none put together as many solid elements in one place. 837 is a close cousin to CASABLANCA in that regard. Even Louis Edmond’s mistakenly repeated lines and the shaky camerawork outside the foyer on Julia’s collapse are easy to ignore.

One thing that works particularly well in this episode is something for which soaps are not known, and that’s shape. The story is vaguely self-contained, despite being a cliffhanger-ended part of a much larger arc. Barnabas is rescued from certain doom as Edward Collins: Vampire Hunter is temporarily foiled. It’s also an audaciously clever time travel story, where Barnabas is rescued by sending the means of his salvation into the future, only to have them circle back to the past. It’s a move we’d see echoed by BACK TO THE FUTURE II, TIME AFTER TIME, and STAR TREK IV. Quentin is reaching his full potential as Barnabas’ heroic ally, as well. David Selby and Jonathan Frid are especially convincing in the jail scene, as Quentin goes from laughing skepticism at Pansy Faye’s prophecy to driven credulity… while maintaining his cynic’s edge. Frid is also a standout in the episode. When Julia arrives back, there are so many places for an actor to indulge in sentimentality and ebullience. Instead, Frid keeps Barnabas’ aristocratic stoicism operating at full steam. That makes his joy all the more interesting to watch as it peeks around his mask of manly propriety.

In the grand scheme of the series, it is also a fantastic Julia Hoffman episode, although she’s more-or-less mute for its entirety. She’s gone from adversary to conscience to a cowardly voice of reason in the 1795 flashback-flashback of Christmas ‘68 to maybe the gutsiest character on the show. Julia’s bravery and loyalty make her a role model par excellence for either gender. I think the square coat and dress get in the way of this idea’s accessibility. If this were shot now, where fashion rarely betrays age, she’d be dressed to kick ass, and we’d never think of her as a fuddy duddy middle aged woman with too much makeup, out of her element. So, re-costume her in your mind if that helps. Either way, at least Barnabas has a body in the past. Julia’s force of will is so strong she simply projects her mind and body precisely to her destination with only a mild hangover. Tough character. Maybe the toughest on the show.

I am in constant search for the “ultimate DARK SHADOWS episode.” For me, this is a prime candidate thanks to its romance, imagination, supernatural mystery, vivid characters, sparkling acting, and high adventure. We’ve seen monsters a thousand times. Monsters who become heroes? Far more interesting. Monsters who inspire the loyalty of mortals? Even more so.

At this time in 1969, the fourth Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon was just beginning. It would still be a few years before he would end each one hopped up on painkillers, tie askew, bearing orange skin, bathed in a sweat that made him look like a walking sample from Krispy Kreme, telling people he didn’t care if they liked him, but they needed to give! And then he’d sing, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” forever unaware of the irony.

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