Monday, July 16, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 16


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 804

Edward encounters Jamison, now possessed by Petofi, and is rewarded for ripping off the lad’s now-artificial hand by being transformed into a doddering butler. Petofi, on a mission to force the family to return his hand, continues to terrorize Collinwood by transforming Charity Trask into Pansy Faye, a lowbrow music hall singer. It’s part of the Count’s plan to reveal the inner selves of all at Collinwood. Charles Delaware Tate arrives to ostensibly paint Edith’s portrait. Finding that she has died, he insists upon painting Quentin. Barnabas and Quentin discuss the latter’s loss of a child and his newfound sense of morality and purpose. After Charity’s psychic trance suggests that Quentin murdered Carl, Barnabas kidnaps the bewitched Jamison.

It’s taken three years for the mind-switch episode of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND to infiltrate daytime soaps, but it finally arrives in high style in episode 804. The result is another slice of wackiness that, if it weren’t for the specter of Quentin’s lost child and murdered brother, would deserve a laugh track. Quite purposefully. This was arguably the apex of the show’s popularity, with market saturation that went far beyond the bored and distracted hausfrau for which the soap medium was designed. The writers had a chance to write, not just write repetitive exposition. DARK SHADOWS was finally a show, and the writers were determined to get the most from the opportunity. Nothing else describes the freedom to explore the wild heights of drama, humor, imagination, and creativity that they display here. Successfully! Why didn’t the entire medium go here as the rule, not the exception? The fact that they did not is a fact that should shame DARK SHADOWS’ contemporaries and descendants. Yes, sometimes we would get the exception with a program, but it was just an exception, not the rule. But beyond content creators, we should shame audiences who were so dull and unimaginative that they spent decades to come lapping up water instead of champagne. And I make no apologies; DARK SHADOWS 804 is Dom Perignon. It’s fun, light, constantly inventive, never boring, and has just enough of a thoughtful kick that you remember the experience.

In the midst of this, it leaves puzzling questions and implications. My favorite is at the beginning; what happened to Jamison’s hand? Is it on Petofi’s stump? Is Petofi wandering around with a boy’s hand on his meaty wrist? Is that more shameful than a wooden hand? And where did Jamison get the little, wooden hand that Edward pulls off? Did Petofi leave it under his pillow?

David Selby bests a wonderful challenge 804, going from saucy cad, an easy part to play, to a normative voice of morality and reason. In other words, the downer. He does this and still keeps the character consistent. Entertainingly following that arc is a true test of an actor, and the transformation is completely successful. Frid did it as well, as did Lara Parker and even John Karlen, before. With Quentin, the shift is the least gradual and is rooted in the most inner pain. We see it happen before us, but the character never loses his edge. If anything, Quentin’s lines echo with the knowledge that caused so much of this. Rarely does a drunk remember the night that forged his hangover. Quentin vividly recalls the choices that earned all of Collinsport the hangover he now shares with them.

Also intriguing is the concept of people revealing their inner selves. Pansy Faye is easy -- from prim, religious schoolmarm to an outrageous flirt. Edward is a tad stranger. To whom does he so wish to be subservient that he transforms into a sycophantic butler? His form of indulging is to serve. In the age of 50 SHADES awareness, the implications are a little kooky. Of course, Louis Edmonds adds to this subliminal kinkiness. When he says that there should be a place at Collinwood for a man willing to do “anything,” Edmonds rolls his eyes at Selby in a manner just not quick enough for today’s widescreen televisions to sell as anything but the fractional leer that it is. It makes me wonder what Quentin and Barnabas would have become, if anything, had their inner sides been unleashed. Back to Pansy Faye, Nancy Barrett finally discovers the role that will give her so much fun and be such a perfect match that she kinda-sorta plays it in 1840, as well. We also have Barrett and the show’s most reliable earworm, “I Wanna Dance with You” paired together, and she’ll sing it only slightly more than Ginger Grant sang, “I Wanna Be Loved by You.” Which is a lot.

And it brings us back to GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, as well it should. The circle is now complete. 

This episode hit the airwaves July 24, 1969.

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