Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: October 9


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1125

When Gabriel and Desmond team up to find hidden treasure, will a darker destiny find them? Desmond: John Karlen. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Desmond ponders Otis Green’s final words as the head of Judah Zachary moves him to find even more artifacts under Collinsport. Thanks to Gabriel, who’s been managing the angst of Collinwood’s jittery residents, he locates a hidden vault in a graveyard. Within? A coffin trapped under a giant cross. From a secret panel, Desmond finds a golden mask, encrusted with gems.

1840 is a storyline beset with ambiguity. It’s one of the show’s darkest, most occult entries and also the real culmination of the series. Why it should also have so many unwatchable elements is flummoxing, and it think it’s due to the long struggle the sequence has to connect us to the characters. 1795 can be seen through Vicki’s eyes if need be, but if not, we already know Barnabas and kinda-sorta know Josette. The central mystery -- about how Barnabas became a vampire -- has been talked about and pondered for nearly a year. Everything revolves around that or the agent of that change, Angelique. 1897 strives to take greater autonomy, but the puzzle of Quentin Collins is at least about a Collins. We follow Barnabas as he is introduced to the family on a clear mission to save David, and the initial foray into telling the story apart from him is about one, central point of suspense -- the matter of the will. It also has some of Barnabas’ fingerprints involved since he’s the Family Secret that may be divulged as part of the inheritance.

1840 is a largely independent story that moves without Barnabas or even Julia, and without those surrogates, it’s easy to lose us. Quentin isn’t Quentin, and we don’t see that much of him in the beginning. Who is Desmond? Who cares? He’s got a head and he’s ranting at Letitia, who is sort of Pansy, but not Pansy in any way. Finally, we meet Gerard, and he’s not even entirely Gerard. He’s some guy named Ivan Miller who’s loafing at Collinwood… why? To take it over from characters we don’t know nor care about. He’s a frenemy of strangers, and then when he gets around to real evil, he’s not even Gerard. He’s possessed by the head. Wait. Okay. He’s Ivan Miller claiming to be Gerard Stiles, who is actually the puppet of a disembodied, silent head of a man from Bedford named Judah Zachary. The guy who influenced Angelique back when she was… what? Who is Miranda Duval? Did I miss a staff meeting? Is Nicholas Blair involved with this? Was this in an email attachment? Because I never read those.

Well, when you put it that way, it reminds me of why I like it.

Do you see my dilemma? Fascinating and yet strangely not. Then in an episode like this, you get lots of arguing about Samantha, and I only care about that because the story tells me to. Will anyone here who gives a rat’s patoot about Samantha Collins raise their hand? What? Not a single hand. Didn’t you people hit the Mitchum after your showered? No one? Yeah, no wonder Virginia Vestoff left Collinwood to marry John Adams. 

In 1966, Victoria gets dropped into a story that’s been well underway for twenty years or so. Why do we care? Because Vicki is stuck there. Her past is a blank, but she (and we) know that her only real and new home is one in trouble. Whatever affects these people will affect her because it will affect David, and he’s her job. Oh, and where else is she going to go? Vicki is firmly planted in the eye of that storm. We are all new to Collinwood, and by stranding her in the midst of it all, we explore those pertinent mysteries together. 1840 has no Vicki Winters, and Barnabas is too tangential to the storytelling. So is Julia. 1840’s challenge is not that it’s too slow or too fast or too complicated or too simple. It’s that it is too distant to why we really care.

Thank goodness that a severed head is involved. The occult aspects remain compelling, and their exoticism is of a grotesquerie and size that we have to learn more -- if only to see what it does. Any episode involving a severed head leading a man to a cemetery’s hidden vault containing a casket pinned shut by a giant cross can’t be all bad. And that it has a secret compartment containing a jewelled mask? Thank you, Dan. Those are the cherries in the fruit cocktail that we were fishing for. What else kept us afloat? We may not care what James Storm and Chris Pennock are talking about, but I’d watch them read a Denny’s menu and find it compelling. As much as anything, the pleasure they take in their acting is a delight, and that kind of dramatic sportsmanship may be the real secret to Dark Shadows after all.

This episode was broadcast Oct. 16, 1970.

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