Monday, October 15, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: October 15


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 874

Petofi must go on the run from gypsies as the power of the hand returns to Quentin, who uses it to restore minds. Meanwhile, Kitty begins to realize that she is Josette.

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly." — Ernest Hemingway, THE SUN ALSO RISES

Endings in DARK SHADOWS frequently feel like they happen in the same fashion: quickly. It’s jarring for a show where everything else is, to be polite, in no particular hurry. In the case of Jason McGuire, characters like Carolyn and Barnabas have simply had enough and they end his shenanigans unceremoniously. (Literally, since the wedding doesn’t take place.) Adam wanders away. In the case of Petofi, it’s a controlled implosion with a variety of calamities all happening around the same time. A disturbed jolt back from 1969. A rebounding Barnabas. Garth Blackwood. King Johnny’s widow. Beth’s cooking. Whatever Aristede brought back from Cabo. (Okay, I’m conjecturing the last part.) Still, for a character who’s been around for months, it’s a shock to see him undermined and petard-hoisted so quickly.

Putting almost all of the end in David Selby’s hands (or hand, in this case) is a master stroke. Petofi’s wit and strange gentility always seemed like a function of his ungainly physique. It was a source of humility beyond the deniable. In Quentin’s body, he becomes understandably and insufferably smug. And then far crueler with far less nuance to his approach. As far as games go, he’s moved from an elegant and Puckish game of go to football, with a brutal playbook, at that. By the same token, Quentin has yet another lesson in humility to learn, and he’s graduating with honors. I’m not surprised that the character is so boring when we meet him again. If I were Quentin, I’d be too terrified of life to do anything but wash my hands, walk old ladies to the grocery, and turn the pages for the chorus pianist. I don’t think Gerard drives him crazy; whatever happens to him on the Night of the Green Flag is the final chunk in the mosaic of All of the Things in Life that Can Go Horribly Wrong.

Not that it’s a miserable ride for the rest of us. Not here. Watching Petofi lose the power of his hand is like seeing Khan getting caught with his shields down. Although it would be fun to see Thayer David find a new way to chew the scenery, Selby’s eyes register shocked umbridge with olympian powers. It’s a bit of full circle. We met him as a petulant ghost, eyes blazing with disapproval and reproach. As human and humane as Quentin becomes, this is a nice reminder of why the man and actor were so captivating when we were first introduced.

As Petofi falls and Quentin learns his last lessons in responsibility, Barnabas is also on the ascendant, and it’s our warmest time with him. Watching him actually, really, I-swear-to-God get Josette back has a sweetness that even the show can’t yet believe. It metes it out as if we’re a deserving dog, they’re out of treats, and all that’s left is the fois gras. On our end, we’ll take what we can get, and yes, it’s fois gras. In the same fashion, it won’t last. It can’t. Happy characters don’t belong on soap operas, and it still feels like Barnabas has lessons to learn. Who knew they’d be so ugly? And it’s not like the fois gras is being served up by the shovelful. Kathryn Leigh Scott is charged with serving it in tiny bites at frustrating intervals. I have no idea if she ever got to play Nina in THE SEAGULL, but she gives the audition of her life, here. Seagull/Actress/Kitty/Josette, it becomes a blur that she navigates nimbly, and it’s her best acting on the show since the depths of her first of many kidnappings. Kitty’s transformation into Josette could have easily degenerated into a Carol Burnett skit, and if you’ve seen KLS on the inaugural POLICE SQUAD!, you know she’s an astoundingly underrated comedienne. The fact that she keeps it on just this side of credible (without degenerating into the dull) is a tribute to her sense of taste and discipline.

She plays one more character who’s not what she appears. As 1897 ends, almost no one is. Kitty is Josette. Quentin is Petofi. Petofi is Quentin. Barnabas is a human Doppelganger. Amanda’s a painting. Charity is Pansy Faye. And a sketch of Garth Blackwood is about to kill the Count. The deceptiveness of appearances is a bedrock of soap operatic writing, but DARK SHADOWS, epitomized by 1897, will never be content with only the basics. Curtis and the writers top themselves with no concept of ceiling. If appearances are deceptive, then they’ll deceive like they’re doing a daredevil stunt. Is it a stunt? Does it feel like it? No. It’s intrinsic to the story. Like Petofi’s end, it’s been so gradually cultivated, we don’t realize it’s upon us. So much of DARK SHADOWS could feel like a gimmick. From concept to credits, the show seems like it would be television’s greatest engine for gimmicks until you watch it.  The writers are too good for that, though, and so are the performers.

This episode was broadcast Oct. 30, 1969.

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