Friday, September 7, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 7


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1102

When vampires attack, ghosts live, and David draws a pentagram on the floor of a madhouse, Quentin discovers that spending the day as Master of Collinwood might not be for him. Quentin: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.) Julia sleeps through another attack on Maggie by the vampire as Quentin is drawn to Rose Cottage to discern purpose from the mysterious Daphne. Meanwhile, the possessed children attempt a ritual at Windcliff. The story goes that the writers were running out of ideas, and they created a story so convoluted that even they lost track of who was doing what to whom. They had about seven months left before they left the air, and there was probably some relief when those drums could be heard. I accept all of this as true; this is a sequence where it might help to take notes. Is that responsible storytelling? Well… it’s not traditional storytelling. But does that reflect badly on this sequence or does it reflect badly on everything that’s not this sequence? Two of the things that made the rest of the show so stately prior to that were the paucity of important plot points and the extravagant redundancy of exposition. For much of the series, it feels like vital new events happen about once a week, with the rest of the week devoted to either making sure everyone knows about the vital news or talking about what they’re going to do about the vital news. Now? You actually have to pay attention. It’s not moving at the pace of a 1966 episode. It’s happening at the pace of a 2006 episode, having more in common with the allusive and mysterious storytelling style of LOST or BATTLESTAR GALACTICA… sometimes even THE WIRE. If you began the entire series here, I think this episode would make more sense. Again, though, take notes. It ain’t the rest of the series. Nicholas Blair and Count Petofi can’t stop gabbing about their plans. They’ll explain them to the cat if they get a chance. But in this story arc -- highlighted by this episode -- characters make sudden, intuitive leaps (Quentin dashing to Rose Cottage) without explaining their process. That, or they say almost nothing at all (like Daphne). Compounding this is the fact that the characters who say nothing at all are easily understood by the characters who make intuitive leaps without explaining the process. Thus, unless you pay incredibly close attention, this sequence can feel like a Mad Lib with the blanks still empty. This is not inept storytelling, however. It puts the onus on the viewer-as-voyeur to be active, rather than passive. We’ve been spoonfed the program for long enough. It can be more exhausting to watch than other sequences, but it’s exhausting for the characters, as well, and that’s a rare type of emotional engagement in this era. Not every episode of STAR TREK can be “City on the Edge of Forever,” but for now, DARK SHADOWS approaches its equivalent of that. It also gives us another glimpse of DARK SHADOWS as a Quentin-driven program. If we think of TV in this era as a medium of shows driven by straight-reading, WASP men, DARK SHADOWS is an exception, rather than the rule. Quentin, post-Victorian/werewolf/SOB, anchors this episode as both problem solver and lover. It’s an interesting glimpse of a DS that conforms to the entertainment norms of the era, but just an interesting glimpse. The lion’s share of DARK SHADOWS presents a world of insinuation rather than direct attack. In this universe there’s something almost absurd about the square-jawed Quentin racing to the batmobile, and when we see how easily he gets run off the road by just a glimpse of Daphne, we see it in four-color process. It’s not a problem made for that kind of swagger; it's a trap for it. 

This episode was broadcast Sept. 15, 1970.

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