Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 16


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 522

Angelique’s brother, Nicholas, charms his way quickly into Collinwood. Roger suspects nothing and invites the mysterious stranger into his bedroom to show him his art, but Barnabas and Julia decide to consult Professor Stokes. Nicholas learns that Cassandra’s trail begins at the Old House, and goes there. Although Willie is initially withdrawn, Nicholas pumps him for information until he is spent. The issue of Trask’s ghost is the result, and Nicholas heads to the cellar where he confronts the holy man’s long-dead skeleton.

Although he introduces himself in the prior installment, 522 is the first, full episode for Nicholas Blair. Given his introduction the day before as Cassandra’s brother, he is suddenly one of the most anticipated villains in DARK SHADOWS run although he arrives out of the blue. Astredo and the writers have a lot to deliver, and 522 fails no one. In the space of 22 minutes, he shmoozes Roger, intimidates Barnabas, successfully links minds with Angelique in Hell, mind controls Willie, and taunts a skeleton. Rarely have the creators of the show played so many hands at once. Characters are usually revealed at more than leisurely pace, but this kind of creative braggadocio and swagger implies that the producers have far more cards in the deck. The only person on the show with more to live up to is Humbert Allen Astredo, and he immediately displays a startling charisma and ferocity that will be unmatched until David Selby speaks as Quentin. Suddenly, DARK SHADOWS is Humbert’s world, and everyone else just lives in it. This new stroke by the writers is sorely needed. As a threat, Adam is earning more shrugs than screams, despite the dazzlingly introspective and nuanced performance by Robert Rodan. Stokes has a new, worthy opponent as well. Barnabas may be the once-undead heart of the show, but Stokes is its mind and Nicholas, quite startlingly, its obsidian soul.

NIcholas will remain a tantalizing mystery throughout his tenure on the series, opening up the gates of the underworld to grand speculation. His presence implies an organized netherworld rather than a vague place where Angelique may or may not be cleaning erasers. In executing it, the writing staff takes a strange and beautifully blasphemous chance in sixties television. Questions arise. What kind of life form are Nicholas and Angelique? Was he her brother in life? Or death? Were they ever human? What kind of bureaucracy exists in the underworld? Do they have a dental plan? And are there heavenly counterparts, refusing (unless they’re George Burns or Morgan Freeman) to intervene? Curses are one thing, but now, we’re looking at an entire system of cosmic organization. Unwittingly, the creators of the show are also crafting the payoff of Jeb Hawkes and the Leviathans, two years away.

The episode also treats us to a host of expected and surprising choices by John Karlen, who has a chance to show multiple facets of Willie’s evolving identity in the space of just a few minutes. A fretting mother hen. A gun-toting redneck. A surly and jealous Workin’ Joe, left out of the reindeer games by Barnabas, and not a little petulant about it. When Nicholas puts the data-draining whammy on him, does he recite exposition in a glazed-eyed monotone? No. His comical resentment pours out as Nicholas pulls other truths from him. Willie just lights a cigarette and turns into the barroom gossip, cockeyed grin and all. It’s just one more memorable and human display that only a demon could inspire, and few inspire like Nicholas Blair, esq.

This episode hit the airwaves June 26, 1968.

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