Monday, June 25, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 25


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 273

Sheriff Patterson, resisting the urge to rip off his tear-a-way sheriff’s uniform and reveal the g-string beneath, joins Burke in the basement as they discover that the trunk allegedly carrying Paul Stoddard’s remains is empty. Eventually, after an agreement with Liz, Jason reveals that Paul was merely stunned by Liz’s blow many years ago. He escaped while Jason made it appear as if Paul’s body were buried in the basement. In exchange for the truth, Liz declines to press charges. Given a day to leave Collinwood, Jason scopes out the Old House.

It’s not too wild to state that one world ends and another world begins with episode 273. It has one very simple and very complex job: to forever close the door on the world of DARK SHADOWS as it began and graciously segue into the series it was meant to be. It casts aspersions on neither side of that narrative fence, but make no mistake, there are sides. Jason McGuire is the last “secular” villain of note on the series -- unconnected to the supernatural -- to be introduced before the arrival of Barnabas Collins, and he ably carries and resolves (despite himself) the primary mystery that has powered the show for an entire year. When first imagined, Jason had the luxury of being the sole villain at Collinwood and defining evil in its walls. Jason may have had Willie in tow, but this was never designed to be a sinister sister act. Nevertheless, with Barnabas shoehorned into the action, He and his threat had to ensure that viewers uncertain about this vampire business had a good, old fashioned bad guy to hiss. Had the Barnabas storyline sunk like a dockside victim, Jason had to be more than enough to keep the show afloat. And since the vampire storyline was, um, more than mildly successful, Jason and his arc had to be both charming and compelling enough to engage viewers when away from Barnabas. I mean, YOU compete with TV’s first continuing vampire anti-hero.

Yes, creating and sustaining a daytime drama featuring a pensive, undead, Standards and Practices-friendly, prostitute-slaying blood-cannibal could be seen as an artistic and commercial challenge. Sure. But Dan Curtis, the writers, Joan Bennett, and Dennis Patrick had a tougher one. A vampire kind of sells himself to viewers. It’s not a hard pitch. But the aforementioned team -- ably supported -- took a repetitive, glacially-developed, penny-ante blackmail potboiler and stole their episodes right out from Barnabas’ Inverness. No excess of praise can be enough for Patrick as he modulates from sincere lovability to Puckish gamesmanship to brutal, emotional sadism all within the space of a line. He’s a bizarre cross between Fagin and Harold Hill. He’ll make you love him and then hate yourself for doing so. As his counterpart, Bennett is marvelously sincere as a titanium strong woman with a weak spot only seen by one man. Is it guilt that motivates her? Not so much as the ghost of Jamison… himself living under the ghost of Edward. She’s willing to torment herself for eighteen years to protect the Collins name and the esteem with which Collinsport holds itself.

The emotional core of the early Barnabas episodes rests in sympathizing with a sad monster who has immense power that he tries (and usually fails) not to use. That, and the raw terror of hoping that Maggie, a victim of mistaken identity, can escape him. Alternately, this is a very mixed and melancholy journey with Barnabas and a simple, unambiguous survival story with Maggie. They can both be filed under “compelling downers.” In relief, the Jason McGuire story is like a flare on a moonless night. The two arcs are similar in that they both feature a dark-haired woman being trapped in a house they dislike by a courtly and violent man trying to bully and gaslight them into marriage motivated by events from the past.  They differ in tone. Barnabas has mystery. Liz and Jason have humor, warmth, an evenly-matched cattiness, and a sense of suspense lacking in the Barnabas story. Maggie is rarely on even or superior footing with Barnabas. Even Julia is one bad choice away from joining the undead. But Liz has the power we rally behind all blackmail and bullying victims to seize: the power to say no. Jason knows it. We know it. And yet we sympathize with her reticence just as we celebrate when she seizes sovereignty at last.

As part of the ritual, McGuire shows up at the Old House with his stolen time. To steal jewels? To nab Willie, and the two of them amscray? We don’t know, but we can guess that he won’t find as much lenience with the Master of the Old House as he did with Collinwood’s Mistress.

And it becomes another show.

Roll credits.

This episode hit the airwaves July 26, 1967.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...