Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 19


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 292

Woodard confronts Julia about Maggie’s extended stay at Windcliff, and she reveals the connection to the supernatural, convincing to continue covering for her. Outside the Old House, Sarah bemoans the fact that she can’t find the very much alive Maggie. David takes the story of Maggie’s survival back to Collinwood, and Vicki reveals to Burke that she’s become strangely smitten with a new house by the sea.

Let’s hear it for Gordon Russell and his first episode. Over the next four years, he will become DARK SHADOWS’ most prolific writer. In it, we see his one of his great strengths: writing relationships with truth, twists, and surprises. Grayson Hall is particularly adept at pulling off his verbal labyrinths. In the first scene with Woodard, Julia actually talks the hard-headed generalist into receptiveness toward her vision of science’s conquest of the supernatural. She evades, warns, bullies, and eventually flirts her way into his trust. Her coming out as what has become a mad scientist is done with both credibility and wit. DARK SHADOWS has expanded its redefinition of the soap opera universe as one in which the supernatural is seen as something absolutely real… and one in which we humans have a fighting chance. By selling Woodard on it, she further sells the audience. So often, supernatural stories -- from DRACULA to the world of Lovecraft -- posit a universe where terror exists because it cannot be understood.  Her quest to do so isn’t folly at all, and it further roots one of the key concepts of the series. These things have limits and origins, just like we do. Moreover, they have accessible weaknesses. This isn’t man vs. the omnipotent. The seemingly “omnipotent” have challenges and foibles of their own. The story shifts from drama to horror, then back to what DARK SHADOWS truly is: drama involving horror. The power that people like Barnabas wield makes their vulnerabilities all the more poignant. And doesn’t DARK SHADOWS begin that way? Despite all of their sway, the Collins family cannot escape guilt and fear.

We see further limits with the next scene, involving David and Sarah.  Sarah, a ghost who can materialize at will, has lost Maggie. As the scene went on, I wondered what the show would be like if Sarah had simply followed Maggie to Windlciff and encouraged her to escape. Just as interesting, but probably shorter. There is a natural sadness to the scene. Despite all of her talents, Sarah is a prisoner to the Collins estate, as are so many others for so many reasons, most of which boil down to relationships.

Russell curiously juxtaposes this with the next scene involving Burke and Victoria. Vicki is a human empowered by knowledge of the paranormal, and credits it with helping her discover Seaview, a house beyond, to which she’s inexplicably drawn.Escape from Collinwood may be possible after all.  So, what is the supernatural in so many of these cases but love? It’s an extraordinary power to some and an imprisoning imposition to others. Instead of referencing it literally, DARK SHADOWS accomplishes the same thing figuratively. It’s all the business of the daytime genre, but by using the supernatural as a metaphor, Russell gives the idea an even greater universality. Not only that, he opens up a world in which both love and the occult can be examined with fresh, occasionally jaundiced, and ultimately optimistic eyes.

This episode hit the airwaves Aug. 8, 1967.

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