Monday, January 14, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 15


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 941

Jeb’s romantic evening with Carolyn is interrupted by the surprise appearance of Quentin’s fist. But will Maggie pay the price? Quentin: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Quentin rescues Carolyn from Jeb with successful fisticuffs. Before Barnabas can whisk Carolyn away to seclusion and safety, Jeb kidnaps Maggie, suspecting that she is Barnabas’ weakness. As Barnabas threatens to summon Oberon, Jeb laughs, knowing that Maggie is laid out in a mausoleum.

There are a lot of audiences for the program, and between satisfying all of them, the show also has to be true to its own, unique mythology. Dark Shadows is both all continuity and flees from continuity whenever it can at this point. I don’t think there’s any greater corner into which they painted themselves than the one with muttonchops and a cool, grey coat called Quentin. It’s not just David who remembers him as a ghost; Liz does, too. I like how they acknowledge that in this episode, and I also understand why they dropped it pretty quickly -- or why the Collinses are a pretty forgiving, gullible family. The writers have to because it’s a conversation that goes nowhere. The characters have to because they’d have no relatives otherwise. Mrs. Johnson has leftovers, and if another “cousin from England” doesn’t show up pronto, that ambrosia salad will get to a point where even Willie wouldn’t eat it after a bender at the ‘Whale.

Quentin’s reluctance to re-engage Liz is a character moment that you might miss if you blink, but it’s enough to perform its function on the show. If it weren’t the Leviathan arc, they might be able to devote more screen time to Quentin’s Return by making it the sole story. But that might require bringing back a villain from 1897, like Petofi, and who wants to see that? (Except everyone.) However, that’s running in place, and to the show’s credit, they moved forward to book a third hottie on to the program. It not only kept the show fresh, it also -- and I’m just theorizing this -- kept Dan Curtis from being a victim to anyone’s success. There has to be a line for a producer between working for ratings and working for the source of your ratings. Just as no one suspected that Barnabas would be such a hit, no one suspected that Quentin would, either, and arguably to a greater merchandising degree. As much fun as 1969 was, 1970 would be about topping it, and retreading 1897 so soon was be a path they wisely avoided -- and at a cost. Barnabas and Quentin are kept around, because to not do so would have been suicide, but now often at the service of Chris Pennock and James Storm. The most strangely sexless arc is the one in between Jeb and Gerard -- 1970PT -- in which there was no hottie. Yes, Quentin is dashing in a Ron Burgundy sense, but he’s also a loudmouthed, clueless, overreacting bully. Cyrus may be sympathetic, but he’s hardly an alpha, and Yaeger? The mustache and wig don’t have the Goulet magic they might have hoped.

Before any of that, 941 presents a moment of 1897-style action that is always a cherry in the show’s fruit cocktail for me. The fight scene between Jeb and Quentin is a last hurrah that might as well have taken place on Cestus III so that the Metrons would release Collinwood from their grasp. Quentin introduces Jeb to his biscuithooks in his best and most Quentinesque modern costume, and the whole thing feels like a sly reassurance from Dan Curtis. The man can and will release the kraken when need be, so tune in. With enough patience, Dark Shadows is any show you need it to be. Soap opera? Of course. Character farce? When you least expect it. Musical? Oh, they go there. Horror? You bet. Science fiction? The time travel and dimensional leaps qualify. And prime-time action? That, too. It may even have a dash of Brady Bunch. 941 has a strangely and endearingly adolescent ending, as if they sensed what their prominent adolescent audience might do. Barnabas threatens to call Principal Oberon on Jeb and Jeb responds by making fun of Barnabas for having a crush on Maggie.

It’s a strangely sweet and innocent ending for an episode that begins with -- and let’s take the shmata off it -- Quentin preventing a rape. I don’t know if that is supposed to be mentioned or not, but Jeb slips Carolyn a mickey, and it’s not for a good night’s sleep. Now, Dan’s biggest problem is over how he redeems the guy. I’m not sure he worries too much about it or if he lets the story take care of it. That, and the culture of 1970. I’m not rushing to get out my hankie, but watching it in 2019, I wonder if they’d introduce that character choice at all or, if they did, if Jeb would be seen as eventually redeemable in any way. It also helps to humanize Joan Bennett after turn as a good, stoic, dedicated hostess to Leviathan functions. It would have been easy to turn her into Mrs. Johnny Iselin and fork her daughter over to the cult, but you don’t come back from that choice. The characters might get their memories erased, but the audience doesn’t. Wise to have her go along with Barnabas’ plan to take her to an island -- any island. There are a lot of audiences for Dark Shadows, but they all can agree on basic right and wrong.

This episode was broadcast Feb. 2, 1970.

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