Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 20


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 785

Quentin is introduced to the mute, baffled, and deformed Evan Hanley, whose identity Magda declines to reveal. Wigged out by the Hand’s handiwork, Quentin retreats to Collinwood, where he dives into the Deep Dish Schadenfreude of Judith’s news that she’s marrying Trask and putting the Reverend in charge. Edward fumes and Quentin savors the misery of his siblings, consoling them with the news that “happiness does not exist.” Later, Judith is haunted by the ghost of (perhaps) Minerva Trask, who torments her with juvenile art and will-ripping. Quentin begins to transform and demands the Hand, good or bad.

High weirdness at Collinwood, Grand Guignol style!

Appropriate, since the Grand Guignol theatrical productions began in 1897… the same year that DRACULA saw the light of day, making it an appropriately helluva year. But not for Evan Hanley. The spectacle of Humbert Allen Astredo in full makeup, face hideously warped and eye askew, is one of the most grotesque images on the show, and easily the most sustained. The fact that this made it to the airwaves is the greatest testament to DARK SHADOWS’ unstoppable popularity in 1969. The camera lingers for so long that the horror becomes normalized, giving its ugliness a strangely existential weight. That works on DARK SHADOWS, especially  in the context of 785. It’s an unusually philosophical episode, thanks to Sam Hall’s eloquent, melancholy, and incisive teleplay. It’s a platform for Quentin to become a bar side philosopher, waxing on everything from the ironic downfall of a dilettante who dabbles in the black arts to happiness. (It doesn’t exist, says Quentin, as more-or-less a wedding toast to Judith.) Barnabas Collins openly longs for the past that was. Quentin longs for the present that should be, but isn’t. DARK SHADOWS grows up in 1897, and Quentin’s dead-man-walking perspectives on family and fate betray that. When Barnabas acts, it’s to create a better world, if only for himself, and it’s modeled on yesterday. For Quentin, a better world is impossible. The most we can hope for is a distracted present before moonrise. Despite that, when pushed to the limits of terror, Quentin will try for an escape, as he does with the Hand in this episode. Optimism and blind fear weave and loop within him until they become indistinguishable. 

For only children, 785 is also a primer in why they need to stay that way. Liz and Roger may bicker, but they’re like something out of a VC Andrews novel compared with Judith and Edward. It’s another example of 1897 as DARK SHADOWS’ retelling of DARK SHADOWS. They’ve become such seasoned experts at revising and reconsidering the classics that it was inevitable they should turn that lens into a mirror. Louis and Joan are once more catty brother and sister, but because we’re short timers here, there’s no reason to return to civility as the uneasy baseline. Marvel’s WHAT IF? was criticized by publisher Todd Loren as an example of creative cowardice. He didn’t see why they shouldn’t just make the actual changes teased at by that comic. By using time travel to create exaggerated parallels, the DSU gets to sidestep the accusation of over-cautiousness and still explore alternate paths. In this case, What If Liz actually had gone through with the marriage to Jason as a hornswaggled party, jeopardizing David’s inheritance? Interesting storyline, but through whose eyes would we have seen it? Carolyn’s? Of course, but Carolyn might have been too close to the bride for irony and too unequal to the Roger character to engage in the detached-but-knowing banter that Quentin enjoys. Quentin’s used to losing. Carolyn rarely knows she’s in a game… at least a game that’s called DARK SHADOWS and not CAROLYN! -- A GAME FOR ONE. Situations like the Edward/Judith/Trask conundrum (made worse by the fact that Edward ostensibly admires Trask) demand a commentator, and if he’s wry and aloof, all the better.

David Selby plays a delightful and dire range of responses in this episode. When you’ve recently returned from a magical hand terrorizing a horribly deformed man in your vampire cousin’s gypsy-infested bonus room, your sister marrying a Trask is the best news of the day. No wonder he’s so hepcat about it. He’s been doing a lot of screaming and panicking over the Hand, the deformed weirdo, and whether or not it will cure him of his lycanthropy. The man needs a break, and Selby clearly relishes an episode that mixes histrionics with plentiful opportunities for his wry, southern wit to Joseph Cotton its way around stiffnecked siblings. Sam Hall and company have given up pretending that Quentin is a product of New England and capitulated to the truth; he’s a Tennessee Williams philosopher-cad who’s strolled into a more interesting genre.

Which scientifically proves my assertion that DARK SHADOWS needs Burl Ives, who is clearly a Brundlefly fusion of David Ford and Thayer David

This episode hit the airwaves June 27, 1969.

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