Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 21


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1115

Barnabas appears in Roxanne’s room, and his remorse at feeding is met with her smitten rapture. Has he found love at last? Downstairs, Gabriel finds Samantha sitting in mournful contemplation over her lost son, Tad, and -- to a much lesser degree -- her estranged husband, Quentin. Gabriel pouts that the family fortune should be his, but instead, Daniel’s will states that it should go to Quentin and Samantha. With Quentin lost at sea, that means he had better be nice to Samantha. Later, Gerard Stiles tries to woo Samantha, but his plan is disrupted by Gabriel. In private, Gabriel reveals that he’s done research on Gerard, and has found his real name to be Ivan Miller. He changed it ten years prior in London, and is wanted globally for all manner of crimes including dabbling with the occult. With knowledge of this safely protected, Gerard is at his mercy. Gerard’s first task as Gabriel’s puppet? Poison Samantha. She, however, has conferred with her sister Roxanne, who has slept late and seems a tad frail in the daytime. Roxanne reveals that a new man is in her life, but cannot say more. Elsewhere, Barnabas writes to Ben, begging his forgiveness. In the garden of Collinwood, Roxanne gives herself to his thirst. Satiated, Barnabas leaves her to die… and rise?

Well, well, well. Ivan Miller. I guess I’d change it to “Gerard Stiles,” too. Was his middle name, “Hair”?  I jest.

In every respect, this is a DARK SHADOWS episode that makes a viewer go, “yes, that’s more like it." Every scene unfolds something new and dramatically important. Christopher Pennock is, as usual, a delight. Gabriel is the Roger Collins we met in 1966, dialed to 11. While Pennock’s choices are passionate and committed, they are never predictable, and he brings the same gleam in his eye that he brought to the wickedness of John Yaeger. Freed from the silence of the spectral, James Storm shows an intense charm and brooding smoothness that reveals, at last, the dramatic firepower of that fully armed and operational battle station. This is why he was cast! Their chemistry shows a marvelous range of gleeful naughtiness, making them the Chang and Eng of evil. The program, just when we think we’ve seen its top, tops itself in marvelously watchable, new ways. Chris and James, where have you been all my show?

The other scene stealers are Jonathan Frid and Donna Wandrey. This is a Barnabas reset to his 1795 ways, and in his approach to Roxanne we see a fantastically assured vampiric seducer; the sex appeal of the character is evident even to those who doubted it at first glance. The romance is there, but it is neither innocent nor entitled nor fearful. Why? Although he’s relatively fresh from Josette, Roxanne is a different animal for him to encounter. Does she know he’s a vampire? It doesn’t matter. She’s that rarest of dream girls for the Unusual Man: one who simply and deeply “gets him.” Without, I might add, the usual dash of crazy that so often goes with that territory. No struggle. No sales pitch. No power agenda. Saying the wrong thing is actually impossible. She simply is present with him in ways that even Angelique is not. Does that make her a simp? No, and that’s the heart of her magic. Angelique is looking for a sparring partner. Roxanne is just looking to celebrate an extraordinary man.

Only a week into 1840, and the times are rife with intrigue. Finally taking a cue from the audience and representing a very counter cultural sentiment, the writers give us Roxanne. Like most of the audience, she was all too happy to have eternal youth and beauty and superpowers in exchange for supping on the occasional extra. Come to think of it, there are vast stretches of Barnabas’ vampirism where he goes on a rather extreme diet. It’s not like they have to feed that often, apparently.

I often compare STAR TREK to DARK SHADOWS. One of the shared principles is the importance of compassion toward the other. (In DARK SHADOWS, the other usually wants to assimilate. But that’s an issue I dealt with in a different essay, on September 6.) For DARK SHADOWS, it was rooted in a fear of the unknown that would seem like an irony, but all that did was reflect public sentiment. We all feel like monsters -- the misunderstood kind -- at times, but at least at Collinwood, we have good hair and the latest off-the-rack from Orbach’s and Junior Sophisticate. They took our fear of being the other and glamorized the taboo possibilities. Of course she wants to be a vampire. Everyone does. Perhaps Maggie was symbolic of the last generation to not glamorize their sense of difference. She had to be carted off as insane rather than remain a voice in the new era.

I was always fascinated with how the relative pasts of Collinwood looked. Before we got to those time trippy storylines, I eagerly anticipated how the designers would create yet another new world. 1840 doesn’t disappoint, and just like the show’s story, the visual world of 1840 distinguishes itself in a heavy, thunderous manner. The colors are darker and the scenic elements feel weighty. 1795 was about shape, in design elementese. 1897 was an orgy of color. 1840? Texture, and that’s so appropriate for what may be the show’s most textured era.

On this day in 1970, the world gained Monday Night Football. Dan Curtis put golf on TV. There’s a connection for ya. 

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