Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 13


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 628

With Nicholas falling head over heels and Angelique getting a little too cozy, Diabolos finds that the water may be too hot even for him! Diabolos: Duane Morris. (Repeat; 30 min.)

In a shadowy underworld, Angelique rats on Nicholas to a cloaked figure named Diabolos. He puts her in charge of Nicholas’ punishment. Meanwhile, Julia reveals  Eve’s death to Nicholas. He relates this to Adam, and it seems as if they might need to leave town. Suddenly, a hypnotized Maggie appears and from her mouth, Diabolos tells him that his trial is imminent. 

And now, Diabolos. And by “Diabolos,” I mean Satan.

In an era when horror is chic, it can be hard to remember exactly how taboo the genre once was. Even in parts of the American south of 1997, it was far easier to find secular school teachers afraid to put up witch/ghost/skeleton Halloween decorations than it was to buy a devil costume. So, crank the WayBack Machine thirty years, and the rural reactions to Dark Shadows are sadly predictable. Parts of the country bullied TV stations into censoring the program and Jack Chick’s minions festooned windshields with tracts against the show. 

It’s an occasionally free country, so good for them. And good for Dan Curtis and ABC for doubling down. No one’s going to cite the appearance of “Diabolos” as a profound blow for civil liberties on the level of Captain Kirk kind of kissing Uhura, except....

You know, any time someone tells you not to do something, and they tell you not to do it because of reasons you can’t see, smell, or poke with a stick? It can be considered a cosmic obligation to do it. Even if they called him “Diabolos,” his appearance was a political statement. It was a rejection of the reasons that many people objected to the show. Normally, storytellers avoid pulling out their biggest guns. Doing so leaves them no other place to go. But not only was it a bold gesture of narrative, “going there” was about as eeevil as you could get. Once that went on the air and no one was fired, Curtis was pretty much safe to do anything else.

It doesn’t hurt that Diabolos is a ludicrous figure, dressed in a monk’s robe and seated behind a desk on a little dais, like the host of a Vatican game show. I know what they were going for -- a kind of ancient-yet-neutral officiousness. To either side of the desk in the smoky, wrought iron hellcave, little gargoyles adorn his workspace, making me wonder if he picked them out himself or if he had a decorator find them in the Infernal equivalent of Hobby Lobby. He’s a tall guy, and he doesn’t have much leg room under his desk. Does this bother him? Is it for his posture, because if so, it’s working.

Diabolos is also irritable at being disturbed, but takes appointments, anyway. He doesn’t get the latest news. He begins sentences with things like, “From what I know….” What? “From what I know?” What kind of underworld overlord is he? He can’t keep tabs on things better than that? He has no real idea what Nicholas is up to, staying ignorant of his ace agent having an affair behind his back. Then, he fumblingly trusts Angelique, despite her being on secret double probation, to punish him? For a guy who wants a master race to rule humanity, Diabolos seems like he’s just going through the motions nowadays. He even sounds bored.

Which is great. For all of the snarling, ranting, cursing, howling, and blood spurting that we could see the devil doing, instead, he’s just a guy at a desk, like any other network executive. If he had a putting set or a Newton’s cradle, with those four balls that rocked back and forth, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Later, when he contacts Nicholas, he has to go through Maggie’s mouth to do so, which is another piece of bureaucracy that must frustrate him. It turns the show into a supernatural Get Smart episode, which works, since Humbert Astredo sounds like Don Adams. At least he gets his own lighting, which is, predictably, red. Of course, why he gives Nicholas a day to prepare for judgment is beyond me. Not much to do in hell, I suppose, so he has to stretch it out.  I know I would.

This episode was broadcast Nov. 20, 1968. 

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