Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 4


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 911

When Julia takes Quentin back to his old bedroom, will romantic music finally get a rise out of him or a could a surprise visit from David deflate her aspirations? Quentin Collins: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.)

David catches Quentin touring his old bedroom, still believing himself to be Grant Douglas. Thinking that Quentin’s ghost has returned, he uses this to menace Amy, and continues to investigate at the antique shop as the two actually meet. Meanwhile, Alexander exerts more and more control over David, who manipulates Amy into the strange room at the Todds’, where familiar and unearthly breathing is heard.

Long before Harlan Ellison, Nicholas Meyer, Robert Zemeckis, and other talented storytellers explored the more nuanced issues related to time travel, Dark Shadows had already shared a cigarette with the subject matter and asked what it was doing next Saturday. If we can take anything away from the program’s perspective, it’s that time travel is a big mess, and we all need a Tylenol and a long nap. But not nearly as long as the show’s primary writers. In actuality, the issue of What to Do with Quentin Collins was probably very well thought-out. It’s just that once they actually dropped him down in 1969, the Leviathans were already established. They were practically holding court in the drawing room, having raided the refrigerator and drunk all of Mrs. Johnson’s “Magic Sprite” before David could find out that it was only vodka spiked with seltzer.

I have every certainty that they more or less followed their plan. Trask would be killed and walled up in the room, Barnabas' intervention would eventually attract Count Petofi, who would attract Charles Delaware-Tate, who would paint the painting that would cure the curse and make Quentin Collins immortal. Did you get all of that? And now, the next event can be interpreted at least two ways, probably more. You could look at it from a production point of view or you could look at it from my point of view, primarily appreciating the finished story, where everything is intentional.

From a production perspective, although I doubt they had planned on it, the idea of having David remain aware of Quentin Collins as a one-time ghost is too good to pass up. Even if they don't do a lot with it, it creates a marvelous slice of suspense that is part of -- and adds to -- the general paranoia of Collinwood. Quentin, who is now a good guy, fosters just as much suspense for David (now on the side of the villains) as he did when he was a bad guy. While it's important for the villains to make the heroes paranoid, the prolonged soap format cries out for the villains to enjoy some paranoia, as well. There's a sense of curious fair play to that, not to mention some great opportunities for David Henesy to own the stage.

The challenge lies in the fact that, with history altered by Quentin’s survival, there would never have been a ghost to haunt Collinwood, and thus, nothing for David to remember. I can’t fathom that the writers didn’t think of this, and I believe they went ahead with it anyway, putting a juicy moment above reasonable temporal mechanics. And so what? There was never any real intention for Dark Shadows to be seen more than once. As such, it is a story that believes it’s ephemeral, and that the viewing experience of the past is subordinated to an eternal present. (Which is both convenient and ironic considering that it’s so often about dealing with a sometimes misremembered past.)

That all adds up to beans when watching the show on DVD or streaming, at any pace, in any order. As far as viewers are concerned now, this is a story, dammit, and must be seen as one. Because that’s what it is. If that seems like it’s going too far, keep in mind that the Earl of Oxford William Shakespeare -- who was no Gordon Russell -- never intended for his plays to be published, much less to have the Wikipedia entries studied in school. But here we are anyway, and we’re actually expected to have Timon of Athens read by Thursday for an in-class essay. No doubt for the sort of teacher who thinks that Chekhov is funny.

The upshot is that yes, there was a ghost, and yes, David remembers him. As I have stated before, I’m not sure it’s Quentin. We are led to believe it’s Quentin, but we later learn that ghosts can possess other ghosts and project illusions at will. If the body found in Quentin’s room was Trask all along, it explains more than it contradicts.

The other possibility is that altered pasts change the present by forcing us into new grooves of Parallel Time. When Vicki returns from 1795, Barnabas doesn’t suddenly forget Phyllis Wick. He seems to have two sets of memories at once. Yes, he recalls Wick, but now also recalls a timeline where Victoria was Sarah’s tutor. It’s no wonder that Collinwood is a nexus of alternate universes. And it’s no wonder why an ancient Leviathan altar can just kind of appear where it had never been recalled before. Or why a playroom can come and go to the consternation of a man who helped build the house, and who would have put a playroom there if he wanted one, but he didn’t, so knock it off, Gerard. In this sense, all of Collinwood is a massive Parallel Time room. Maybe the room, itself, is the heart of that… or the engine… or a someplace where the shift is so violent that anyone can see it. Other than the occasional I Ching trance in the Old House, where does most of the time travel take place? Collinwood. I don’t recall Joe going into the men’s room at the Blue Whale and mysteriously emerging in 1997 to an enormous bar tab hijacked by Willie Loomis twenty-five years prior. Nope. Starting with Vicki during the seance, these things are largely Collinwood-based. We think of the time staircase as a chaotic agent, but it may be the only stable piece of architecture in the house. Even the I Ching wands used in Barnabas’ cellar spent seven decades soaking up temporal weirdness in Quentin’s room.

It’s also funny when Quentin unconvincingly hides behind a curtain, like a cheating gigolo in a Playboy cartoon, and David freaks out. He’d recognize those pant cuffs anywhere!  Who else would wear wool trousers and Italian half-boots with such a sense of paranormal menace? That’s reason enough to tell temporal mechanics to get a job and stop trying to distract the writers with endless loops of continuity porn. Maybe they should go to 2002 and bother Rick Berman, instead. He was used to it.

And it’s tough for David to do either the hero or villain thing. Alexander is a patently ludicrous threat, and yet David jumps and asks how high when it comes to menacing Amy. There is a great lesson in acting encoded in this. Yes, your honor, top scientists concur that David Jay is a truly creepy kid, but intimidating only if you think he’s going to pick out your neckties. However, Henesy, as always, sells it. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a primordial snake god. As long as they treat you as if you were, you might as well be a primordial snake god.

And may Haza and Oberon bless us. Every one.

This episode was broadcast Dec. 23, 1969.

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