Monday, March 26, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 26


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 461

Vicki is almost-hanged in 1796, immediately chronoporting back to 1968 and changing places with Phyllis Wick. Barnabas is terrified that she’ll remember who he really is and out him, and Julia seems delighted at the prospect.

Back from 1795… 461 has a lot of work to do. 1968 inherits a very different show than we “last saw” several months ago. They just spent months in the 1790’s, dealing with witches, time travel, and Louis Edmonds as a cat. The rules were always pretty wonky once Barnabas entered, but now the rule book is in the furnace. Literally, anything can happen. Dealing with a mindbender of the seance -- with Vicki’s cha-cha body swap with Phyllis Wick -- is an experience that transcends anything they’ve seen before. Ghosts? There’s a reason a ghost exists. Vampires? The same. A Phoenix? Maybe not, but she at least tries to explain herself. But to the Collinses of 1968, there is nothing causal about what happened at the seance. As nutty as seances are, they’re not time portals. And the Collinses react appropriately -- with a mix of frightened confusion and businesslike problem solving.

No one is more unsettled than Barnabas. Jonathan Frid unleashes an encyclopedia of frightened and baffled expressions and goes for a Guinness record for “most ways a man can look like he’s about to bolt from a room.” Let me see if I have this. Julia is sort of on the verge of blackmailing him. His blood doll, Carolyn, is too ambitious for her own good. He’s in love with Vicki, who is kind of Josette-but-not because things with Maggie, who is kind of not-Josette-but-is, didn’t, um, really work out. Okay, that’s his life walking INTO the seance. Now, his brain is split by two timelines that he’s suddenly remembering at once, REALLY complicating his relationship with Vicki. And you know, under other circumstances, the accusation of vampirism would be easy to write off. But this woman just vanished, was replaced by someone no one had ever seen, and then reappeared in period dress with an instant bullet wound and rope burns around her neck. If she accused someone of being a vampire, I’d be inclined to listen.

New viewers are efficiently introduced to 1968, and veteran viewers are tantalized by the possibilities of returning to the present. The agendas of Barnabas, Julia, and Carolyn are clear. Julia instantly outs herself as a doctor, thus ending one scam and opening a host of new story possibilities. Vicki represents new dangers based in what she knows of Barnabas, which increases the need for Barnabas to intensify his pursuit of her… in both timeline and means. Returning from his origin story, the show suddenly and definitely poses him firmly as the dark hero and Vicki as the unwitting antagonist with the threat she presents.

Few episodes are tighter or cover so much new ground. The cast seems revitalized, reinhabiting their characters with a newfound confidence, comfort, and enthusiasm. All three of the core Collinses -- Joan Bennett, Louis Edmonds, and Nancy Barrett -- jump into the action with a clarity and spark unseen since the show’s inception, and in many ways, it feels like a new premier. I’m not sure that any other point in the series is such a point of redefinition. The existence of a time travel mechanism that works with such mystery and yet individually-tuned purpose reveals a universe where the characters are just that -- characters. There to be manipulated for much larger and more mysterious reasons and with much more complex and unknowable mechanics than we ever thought possible. Sometimes, I think DARK SHADOWS fans write off mysterious time travel or universe-shifting mechanics to expedient writing. Let’s not do that. Let’s at least confront them as the show’s most vast and unknowable puzzles. Let’s take a moment to put them center stage and say that these are happening for a reason by a force with an agenda… even if the agenda is chaos or that chaos results as a side effect of its existence. Collinwood and the surrounding estate almost become a strange, rocky, Lovecraftian god. No, not that. Those gods had only contempt or disregard for humans. This is something else. This has a purpose. People are moved too specifically for this to be completely random.

Discussions like these are the dinner bells for hungry pontification. I’ll spare you, except for the fish course. One of philosophy’s great debates is free will versus determinism. Are people unpredictable or are all of their choices the inevitable result of what’s happened before? DARK SHADOWS’ answer is ‘yes.’ Everything up to now is the result of the past. But starting now? We are perpetually free.

Today is the birthday of actor Phillip R. Allen, who played a police detective in the Parallel Time storyline and is best know as the captain of the USS Grissom, J.T. Esteban, in STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK, which may be one of the most underrated sequels in all of cinema.

On this day in 1968, audiences were yukking it up with cinematic funny men, Heywood and HAL, in Stanley Kubrick’s zany adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s heartwarming short story, “The Sentinel,” 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.  

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