Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 5


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 576

Liz finds out if dreams really do come true when she believes herself to be buried alive! Elizabeth Collins Stoddard: Joan Bennett. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Liz continues to fixate on death as Angelique bites Jeff and increases her hold on him. Jeff infuriates Vicki by rejecting Roger’s offer of a job. Liz has a nightmare of being buried alive.

DARK SHADOWS would die several times, but in 576, there’s an actual funeral. Can’t be all bad, because the eulogy is given by the next phase of the franchise.

I don’t think Joan Bennett was missing any meals. From what I can tell, DARK SHADOWS was a diversion, yes, but just that. In this section of the series, she’s skipping across episodes like a stone on a pond. It’s to the point that her appearances are reminders of what the show once was, and that would feel wistful were she not obsessed with death. I think we are supposed to feel as moved as Carolyn, but her conversation is so single-minded that I just want her to get it over with. She’s not dead yet. And it’s a writing decision of marvelous economy. With the Jason McGuire mystery resolved, there’s not a lot for Liz to do unless they invent some even worse scandal. Maybe she doesn’t floss. I don’t know. They never reveal it. Instead, they know that a depressed and gloomy Liz is a Liz in her element, so they just put her under a standard issue death obsession spell and call it a series. At least until Angelique goes away again. But it kind of happens once more with the Leviathans… another spell. And Gerard. Another spell. In looking it over, did they have any idea that Liz is a precariously hypnotizable matriarch who spends more time miserable than happy? Seeing her now provides a poignant reminder of what what the series was designed to be before Jonathan Frid. For some, that’s nostalgic. For others, it’s a cautionary warning of what the show was and could become again.

576 begins by pulling a fast one. Liz is back, in a good mood, and having a warm talk with Carolyn. Like speaking with any mentally unstable drama queen, it’s just a matter of time until things turn dour and Carolyn & the audience realize they’ve been suckered in. Her moodiness is an emblematic element of the show at an arguably stagnant time as it lurches from one program wholly to another. Roger’s business offer to Jeff -- similar to the one that will be given to Jeb, as well -- stands out as an odd reminder that Roger has a job… a weird reminder of the show’s prior focus. It’s appropriate that Jeff turns it down; he’s too busy with the show’s new tone to have time for the old one. There’s a dead woman waiting to be reanimated in the basement, Roger, and I just don’t have time for threatening pens, master brake cylinders, or your new director of public relations. Besides, I’m a slave to a vampire woman who works directly for Satan, so if you don’t mind, I’m kind of busy. Why don’t you offer the sales job to Vicki? Oh, I forgot, it’s 1968.

The episode features a nightmare funeral sequence so archetypal that it goes beyond the realm of cliche and strikes an authentically disturbing note. From the discordant music to the dramatic use of scenery and smoke, this is a death sequence both dramatic and strangely classy enough to be worthy of Liz Stoddard. It’s a nightmare done correctly, and if you’re going to have one, I can see the appeal of this approach. Even the lighting on Liz in the coffin is somewhere between Margaret Hamilton and the woman in the crystal ball of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. Finally, a payoff that drags the insinuation of a death obsession into the garishly wonderful world of color. Welcome, new DARK SHADOWS.

Liz getting it all over with or Vicki scolding Jeff is about the extent of agency for women on DARK SHADOWS when Julia Hoffman isn’t on screen. It is hard to entirely see Angelique as the villain when she shows agency with such moxie and passion. She does that like gangbusters in this episode, and it stands out in literal relief to the party pooping worrywarts of Liz, Carolyn, and Vicki. If you separate the what and the why from Angelique’s actions and just focus on the passion and confidence, you actually get a marvelous role model. It’s as if the series is saying that the well-behaved model for women is meant to worry, fret, and heart-to-heart its way into an early grave, while the more passionate agent of volition is literally an undying force, totally beyond the reach of death, supernatural in its power. I know that Angelique is no more a role model than Quentin if you look at most of her actions and their motives. Instead, look at her spirit and her belief that she is in charge of her destiny. Taken for granted now, yes, but then compare it to the norm for women on the show. Of course, the dynamic one is positioned as the villain, but metaphorically, to whom is she the baddie?

For a show from yesterday, DARK SHADOWS remains a show of the future.

This episode was broadcast Sept. 9, 1968.

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