Monday, December 31, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 31


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1186

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the east wing, Parallel Time is here to stay. But will Daphne go with it? Morgan Collins: Keith Prentice. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Quentin is sentenced to a beheading and denied an appeal as Barnabas schemes for a new plan of action. Meanwhile, Gabriel overhears Edith and Gerard in the throes of passion and subsequently kills her. Daphne stumbles onto the Parallel Time room where her double confronts a sister, Catherine, who is ambiguous over a marriage proposal from Morgan Collins. She is still in love with a prior flame.

The future coughs significantly in the wings as 1840 begins fumbling for its boarding pass, and the transition is a complex, rich delight, and easily the most nuanced storyline transition of any on the show. It has become a huge universe, and a “transish” should not be a tidy thing.

1186 is typical of the 1840 storyline. It packs in all of the thematic and ritualistic good stuff we look for in DS and skips the repetitive running-in-place that so often turns off new viewers. I know, because I watched it with someone who had only passing familiarity with the program, and it kept his attention on more than a polite level. In one episode, we have…

  1. The results of a witch trial, where the real world contends with the supernatural, and vice-versa. 
  2. The remorse from one friend toward a troubled other, defying expectation and ending with threats over the stewardship of Collinwood.
  3. The revelation of romance within.
  4. Quentin’s Theme as ghostly bait.
  5. A seemingly disabled man stands and kills his wife.
  6. Someone ventures near Parallel Time. 

It’s an almost dizzyingly dense combination of show elements. Are the writers getting desperate or are they just tired of ploddingly plotting at the strangely arrested pace demanded by the medium? It’s cosmically irrelevant. By this point, Dark Shadows has become its own medium and it is finding a tempo commensurate with the intelligence of its audience. Hey, you guys… the ones complaining that we suddenly have to tune in for every episode? Yeah, please go watch General Hospital or something. The rest of us like tuning in for every episode, and now we get even more great stuff per installment.

It’s a brisk, witty, suspenseful installment full of satisfying moments and strange wonder. Anything that begins with the threat of a beheading can’t be all bad, and the surrounding treatment of government bureaucracy should please anyone in the jaws of a mindless machine. When Barnabas appeals the impending separation of Quentin and Head, he’s told that, since there’s no precedent for that kind of crime & punishment, there’s no precedent for appeal. It’s reasoning that’s delivered with all of the confidence we expect from a bureaucrat who has no idea what’s going on, and who cares even less if you know it. With a week before the inevitability of death and axes, you’d think that Barnabas might want to, you know, send to Boston for a real lawyer, but he’s too busy working himself up to more harebrained schemes. What? We’ll have to find out.

This is an intensely head-oriented storyline, and as we see Gerard in vague remorse for Quentin, it could be that it’s both genuine and strategic. I never really know how much of what we see at this point is Gerard and how much is Judah Zachery, and I like to believe that it’s far more of the latter. Meanwhile, Christopher Pennock, perennial hero of the Daybook, knows that Gabriel is going into the windup for his exit and is relishing it. Gabriel may be the most dynamic and unpredictable limited-lifespan character on the show, and after brief, saving salvos of help and wit, he’s going for the Gloucester award with gusto. It’s a shame to see Terry Crawford go since Edith is the opposite of the simp that was Beth, but what an exit. 1840 admirably mixes the supernatural monsters with the real. The buildup of Gabriel in the wheelchair is suspenseful enough that a double dip of arise-and-kill is completely welcome, and Pennock’s towering height adds to the menace.

Speaking of double dips, it’s back to Parallel Time. Has Dark Shadows finally admitted that it works best as a period piece? With the exception of about 1710-1760, 1860, and 1920-1940, Dark Shadows has explored its timeline thoroughly, and even the treat of visiting one of those periods would be a challenge given the strictures of the mythos (not that it ever stopped the writers before). At this point, the only way forward is sideways, and the introduction of Morgan Collins and a mysterious “other man” expands the DSU and harkens back to its sudsy origins. Morgan is in the classic mold of the Dan Curtis tall-dark-and-baritone leading man, which sets up a great bait-and-switch when Bramwell enters the picture. I don’t begrudge Jonathan Frid wanting the opportunity to play an earthier leading man. Less fun, ultimately, for Lara Parker. She’s commented that Angelique was too much of a goody-goody, which is true when the character’s not trying to murder children, and if that is the case, Catherine may be the chance to Be Real Pretty, but I’m not sure she’s more interesting as a figure of agency.

The underrated 1840 is entering its climax and denouement. Shifting completely to an entirely new storyline, with no substantive crossover, may be the program’s biggest gamble. Any ongoing crossover character would have been an ill fit, anyway, and the strangely mature 1841PT storyline finishes the show in a manner both familiar and strikingly different. Look beyond the surface, and what seems like “more of the same” is quite the opposite. Dark Shadows is about cycles, and the only thing left after  1841PT is Vicki’s arrival in 1966 Main Time… followed by the rest of the series, chronologically. The eventual and stable union of Bramwell and Catherine is the opposite of the seething mistrust and betrayals experienced by both Roger and Elizabeth in their Main Time marriages. It shows us the arc — not of “the characters,” but of Characters in the story of Dark Shadows. Only at Collinwood is the brightest future in the distant past… and in a parallel universe, at that.

This episode was broadcast Jan. 11, 1971.

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