Monday, September 24, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: September 24


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 856

When Quentin awakens in Petofi’s body, will Magda think to pry him out in time? Quentin: Thayer David. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Petofi switches bodies with Quentin to travel through time, and Quentin is unable to convince Magda and Beth that he is not the Count.

We’ve seen it before… the old, Petofi body switcheroo. First Jamison, just for a laugh, and then Quentin, to travel in time. In at least two places -- the other being when Angelique makes a shadow decoy in the mirror to fool Laura -- the writers have the confidence and savvy (or maybe luck) to set up secondary payoffs to what seem like small story mechanics and surprise us. 1897 is such a generous storyline that we get these seeds planted not just weeks, but entire meteorological seasons in advance. In this case, it leads to two of the most interesting performances on the series, and sheds light on the pluses and minuses of the characterization of Quentin Collins.

As Ben Stokes, Thayer David blended strength and vulnerability with surprise and nuance. As Quentin Collins, trapped in Petofi’s body, David adds another layer to the alternating realizations of advantage and privation… intelligence. Quentin is a bright man, used to being in control of his immediate circumstances. If the 1897 storyline is about Quentin growing up (literally going from ghost to man), then to do so when deprived go his familiar talents, he’s got to rely on underdeveloped strengths. Is Quentin intelligent? Yes, quite so. He is perhaps not as academically advanced as Barnabas, but he excels at observation and processing, which are not always his vampiric cousin’s strengths. Do we see this? Up to now, not as much as we should. Quentin has height, looks, and limitless charm on which he can rely to get him out of most problems. Not only are these “muscles” stronger than his mind, they usually lead to results that are a lot more fun. Well, that fun is Petofi’s to be had as he kidnaps Quentin’s body and sticks our hero in the family truckster. As this storyline goes on, Quentin’s evolution is clear. The character is haunted by Petofi’s terrorist actions within his shape, learning of the privilege he took for granted and honing his humanity by relying on contemplativeness and compassion in the place of sex appeal. Never before or since has a character on DARK SHADOWS evolved so thoroughly, believably, and dramatically. He is cursed by the gods on a level that goes beyond the Shakespearean and into the amphitheaters of the Ancient Greeks. Quentin is a man who has everything, ignores that fact, and instead lusts for everything he doesn’t need. If his stint as the packless wolf began the lesson, this seals it.

Heightening this with both a wild theatricality and a strange subtlety is David Selby’s performance as Count Petofi. I was about to write that he makes a marvelous Bond villain, showing us who Quentin would have been if the writers hadn’t cared about making him anything other than a total, blackhearted bastard. As those guys go, this is one of the most charismatic portrayals I’ve seen on screens great or small. Then it struck me. I know what Selby’s doing, accidentally or not. He’s showing us the man Quentin would have been in middle age if he had learned none of the lessons forced on him by fate and the writers’ room. This Petofi’ized version of Quentin has everything he could have ever wanted, and is revoltingly smug about it. The sickening truth is that absolute power cannot corrupt the already-corrupted; it just serves as an admirable compliment.

In the moral balance, the “real” Quentin’s lesson is even more haunting. He is humbled. He learns. He becomes a better man. And perhaps as such, he is alone and empty for nearly a century. I say that passing no more judgement on it than does the show. It is simply a fact for him. Virtue is no guarantee of joy, and there is no ruder awakening for a man like Quentin Collins when vice has lost its luster as well. He becomes twice the moralist that his brother is, a fraction as happy, and unable to go back once he’s seen there’s a better way to treat the world. And we wonder why he goes mad.

This episode was broadcast Oct. 6, 1969.

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