Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: September 26


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 858

Can Quentin convince Julia to remove him from Petofi’s body before she returns to 1969? Beth: Terry Crawford. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Petofi continues to make plans with Angelique, all the while trying to balance his attentions with those he lavishes upon a suspicious Beth. Meanwhile, Quentin -- unsuccessful with Beth -- nevertheless persuades Julia that he is living inside Petofi’s body. Unfortunately, she is whisked back to the present before they can act on it.

It’s hard not to rant, rave, and wrap yourself up in an episode such as 858 like a cape on the Fourth of July. The characters have clear goals. They pursue them with a directness defiant of the soap opera dictum to fuddle and futz. There’s passion, surprise, elation, just desserts, and heartbreak. DARK SHADOWS usually mutes and dilutes these to stretch them over the maximum number of episodes possible, but there’s an unusual urgency here. And yet, it doesn’t feel harried. As much as I love 1840, I’ll freely admit that it has an occasionally desperate quality under its breakneck pace. This has that strangely easygoing intensity of a confident, high school quarterback sauntering onto the field in the September of his senior year.*

One of the great things about 1897’s assuredness is that it’s clearly self-reinforcing. The right risks led to storylines demanding further risks -- risks that were the correct choices, also. This led to more risks, etc. Note that I said “right risks.” The story decisions were both bold and wise. Part of the reason is that they were revamping a lot of what they had tinkered with before and/or going much deeper with possibilities that were previously only hinted at. In this episode, we cover tremendous ground in just a few minutes, with Grayson Hall at the heart of it. The sister act she’s formed with Angelique is the show’s most dynamic duo, and it’s a shame it doesn’t last. Their differences are clear. Their similarities delight -- two whip-smart experts in the manipulation of mind and body from vastly diverse ends of the spectrum. They are bound in their unrequited love for Barnabas and their inevitable knack for kicking ass. We don’t see enough of them together in this episode, but the fact that they innately trust each other, with so much blood under the bridge, is authentically inspiring. Then, to see Julia actually trust that Petofi is Quentin? We knew you had it in ya to see what Petofi had in him. Thayer David’s mile-long grin at the realization that Julia believes him is a rare moment of happiness on DARK SHADOWS, and it’s exactly the boost we need in the face of David Selby’s increasingly cruel Petofi.

Another highlight. Everytime I think I have seen all that Selby has in his hat for the Count, out comes another rabbit. He’s building something with the writers -- the increasing cruelty of the Count. It feels like some of Petofi’s most reprehensible actions and statements come when he’s in Quentin’s body. It is reminiscent of the kind of creepily cheerful indifference you sometimes get from friends who successfully diet or get beautiful significant others. It makes some people simply happy. It turns others into weird sociopaths. There is a compassionate humility that can soothe the bitterness of body issues and romantic failure. These are sad things, but they can root a person in their humanity. Petofi is a guy with an instant diet and two hot babes who’re already woo’d. Quentin (literally) did the heavy lifting. Look at the voracious way that Petofi is kissing these women. It goes beyond lustful and into the demented. He’s killed before, but always somewhat surgically. Now, people are so many leaves, and he’s perfectly happy if he denudes every tree in Maine. Petofi is full of such self-hatred and self-congratulation that he almost burns his old face with a cigarillo to celebrate and make his point. I’m not sure if the point is, “Stay single and eat more fudge,” but the wisdom of James Whale rings true, thirty years later.... “Very pretty people often do very ugly things.”

DARK SHADOWS is a world built partly on romantic frustration and mistrust. To see Petofi hijack a handsome body and make hay with it is adding insult to injury. And what happens when three lost characters connect, at least platonically? Julia -- the hub -- gets ripped back to the present. A painful twist that Thayer David sells with a sad desperation, somehow making Quentin into a pudgy little boy whose only friend moves away. Fits, since Petofi was no doubt a pudgy little boy and his sad tale began with the death of a pet unicorn. It’s a bit of backstory that should be ridiculous, but like so many things on the show, it lingers with a deliberately hazy poignance.

*Or so I imagine. I’ve never actually seen a football game, but I regularly read GIL THORPE. And I saw ROLLERBALL. So, I think I’m something of an authority.

This episode was broadcast Oct. 8, 1969.

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