Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 16


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 760

Angelique hoodwinks Laura into thinking her dead by creating a doppelgänger. Thwarted at every turn, Laura takes ill, strategically denied fire by Barnabas. Edward, who doesn't believe in supernatural, takes it upon himself to light the fireplace, giving Laura the last power she needs to attempt to claim the children with a wall of flame. Barnabas persuades Angelique to try one, last gamble. The sorceress casts a spell on Laura that removes her illusion of youth, and the children refuse to go to her. She is immolated in the fire she worships. 

In Diana Millay’s last appearance on the show, Edward Collins comes of age and Angelique makes herself the Selina Kyle of DARK SHADOWS by officially switching sides -- kind of -- in episode 760. Between 759 and 760, she and Barnabas pull off not one, but rather two schemes to thwart Laura. Barnabas is at the top of his game here, and the fact that he finds himself in that position with the help of Angelique demonstrates that, yes, they belong together. Many viewers find his confession of love at the end of the 1840s to be a non sequitur. Episodes like this one provide ample evidence to the contrary. In the prior installment, when Barnabas confronts Laura with the news that he has destroyed her letter and eliminated her henchman, he smiles for the first time since Nicholas Blair went back to Hell. As much as he thinks he loves Josette, she never elicited a smile like that. Not that I saw, anyway. Seeing Barnabas and Angelique across these two episodes (and the one to follow) brings to mind Steed and Peel, forever the Ultimate Avengers around these parts.

I think this was a strategic choice on the part of the writers. This was their second summer with Barnabas, and the first since the commercialization of the show was beginning to saturate retail stores. With such a heavy, youth demographic, it was important to orient the program toward more of a prime time, escapist sensibility. Turning Barnabas into a ruthless, charming cock of the walk hero, finally a step ahead of the villain, was vital to that. Similarly, a vaguely reformed Angelique provided a surrogate heroine for young female viewers. Not that it became a kiddie show, but broadening the appeal and considering all aspects of the viewership didn't hurt. One of the head writers, Sam Hall, had a son who was smack dab in the middle of the younger demographic. If he wanted to consult a focus group, all he had to do was stroll into the living room and ask Matthew to take a break from his 12” GI Joes. In the same era that Batman was duking it out with King Tut and James Bond teamed up with ninjas to prevent rockets from stealing other rockets, there is nothing surprising about the antics of our protagonists in this arc. And Laura makes a suitably outlandish villain — again, aimed at the kids. In the course of three episodes, Barnabas eliminates Dirk Wilkins in a way to ensure maximum terror for Laura, Angelique creates a doppelgänger to hoodwink Laura into a botched assassination, then casts an aging spell on Laura to thwart her attempt to burn the kids alive, while Barnabas rescues Jamison and Nora by casually teleporting through walls and fire. When he's discovered by Edward inside a room that's impossible to access (in the next episode), he's practically buffing his nails on his lapel in a display of self-satisfied nonchalance.

Where was Dos Equis’ ad department when the most interesting man in the world was coming out of the coffin on ABC, five days a week?

Why would the show radically change directions yet again? The production timeline is helpful. In September, just in time for the kids to go back to school, Jonathan Frid takes a well deserved break. Quentin becomes your full-time protagonist, now with invulnerability that would do a Kryptonian proud. In planning the initial Leviathan storyline, it seems clear that Quentin would continue as hero, Barnabas could return to villainy and shore up brand recognition for a possible movie, and Jeb would provide an outsider for Quentin to fight without ruining the ratings by staking Barnabas.

It didn't work out that way for a number of reasons. Barnabas was a perfectly good hero and Quentin could only be threatened with mind control and live entombment so many times. The only real threat for him was existential, and Kafka can wait.

This episode hit the airwaves May 23, 1969.

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