Friday, September 14, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 14


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1107

When Gerard springs the ultimate trap for Quentin, Barnabas must stop him before his best friend buries himself alive. Gerard Stiles: James Storm. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Collinwood is going to hell. Gerard possesses Quentin, who is more than happy to dig his own grave. Carolyn develops second sight, but is unable to give Barnabas information about where Quentin is. As Quentin nears death, Daphne falls ill and is presented with her dress from the 1840’s. In the middle, Barnabas Collins has nowhere to turn for help.

Just because it doesn’t make immediate sense, doesn’t make it bad.

Containing what is easily (?) the show’s most challenging storyline, this is a sequence that’s impossible to watch on autopilot. A viewer either has to zone out completely or athletically participate in interpreting the action. Last night, I exhausted myself as I watched the episode with a friend who had never seen DARK SHADOWS; there’s a lot to explain. That’s fine. That’s expected. The tough part isn’t the plot, but how it involves characters who behave in atypical and mercurial ways. At a certain point, you simply have to wave the white flag… or green flag in this case.

And yet, it worked. As a piece of high-stakes, suspenseful drama, it held my friend’s attention and made her want to watch more. Within the context of the larger show, it’s a very real nightmare for Barnabas. In that sense, it’s a perfect creation to come from Judah Zachary… the Dream Curse is an amateurish carnival ride by comparison. This isn’t a literal dream, but like so much in the Ragnarok sequence, it echoes the language of dreams and the ways in which they reveal disturbing and profound truths. This is as opposed to surface level sources of fright -- wolves, skeletons, beheadings. Yes, yes, we get it, Angelique, these things are all Real Scary. And in a foggy hall of doors, we kind of see it all coming, Real nightmares don’t traffic in fantasy. They don’t leave you waking up, saying, “That was weird.” They leaving you waking up saying, “I think that was real.”

It’s especially clever because 1107 reveals and exploits Barnabas’ greatest fears: complete responsibility for disaster mixed with a complete inability to control -- or even understand -- the causes of it. This is clearest as he tries to understand what’s upsetting Daphne, why Quentin has escaped, and what psychic truths are held by his now death-obsessed niece, Carolyn. Roger, Liz, and Stokes are nowhere to be found as he dashes about for answers, and said dashing only leads to more confusion. He’s a man of the Enlightenment, which means that he prizes cause & effect, clear reasoning, and crisp, persuasive rhetoric to describe the universe. Here, there is no cause and effect. Gerard’s reasoning is clearly strategic, but since he won’t speak, there is no understanding it, much less negotiation. His communication is psychic. If you’re lucky, he’ll have an expression or extend a hand. But that’s it. His victims change their minds, leap to conclusions, and follow orders by innately understanding them without articulation. To Barnabas, there are no clues to follow… there is no trail to chase, merely a city on fire with nary a bucket in sight. Beyond the morbid niece, who is his only connection to Quentin, there is a one-time ghost, Daphne, who is in extreme pain because the same man, Quentin, is somewhere, controlled by Gerard and vaguely possessed by his own ancestor. Quentin is beset by dread and relief as he digs his own grave.

Quentin is DARK SHADOWS’ most depressed character. (Even Liz has the hope for Carolyn’s love.) Eternally lost, he has every reason for lonely despair -- as well as every reason to be the happiest man in town. In 1107, there is an horrific relatability to his quietly ecstatic sense of release as he skips suicide to simply dig his own grave and climb in. It is a moment of such dark truth that very few will ever want to admit to themselves or others that they understand it. What sells the impossibly black mirror is Selby. You see the relief of a century’s worth of manufactured happiness and released despair in his simple decisions and discoveries alongside his wordless new liberator and jailer.

We’ve heard his mournful, favorite song. Thought it was charming. We saw his endless romancing. Thought it was dashing. We saw his drinking. Thought it made him hard-edged and contemplative. And we witnessed everything else and said, “That’s Quentin,” and left it at that. The clues were there and no one took them seriously. This is a wildly irresponsible betrayal of caring for a deeply unhappy court jester desperate for belonging and help. We should have seen it, and instead we wrote it off. The horror in the scene is as much at ourselves for ignoring the obvious as it is at Quentin. Imagine what Barnabas must be thinking as his savior and surrogate custodian.

Not stopping that fate, and not knowing there was anything to be stopped? That’s a nightmare. That’s a dream curse. That’s what Gerard does.

This episode was broadcast Sept. 22, 1970.

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