Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 2


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 933

Quentin and Amana have crossed the decades to reunite, but can they cross Hell, itself? Amanda: Donna McKechnie. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Quentin and Amanda navigate through hell, never allowed to touch, as they prove their love through twisted ankles and giant spiders. Paul Stoddard sits in a faux fugue at Chez Stokes until he encounters his doom at the hands of the Prime Leviathan in the professor’s rumpus room. As he dies, Amanda seemingly pitches over a bridge in the underworld.

While 933 wouldn’t air for three weeks or so into January, it was still the first episode shot as a new decade began. Violet Welles, who often refereed during plot arc exploration with Russell and Hall, shows the wit and gravitas of the best of those two writers, and this installment is a grand example. The show was standing atop the magical year of 1969. This was, in many ways, one of the last hurrahs of that intense madhouse of creativity and fun that began with Barnabas’ mercy mission to 1796 and ended with the rise of the Leviathans -- with the 1897 spinoff in between. Was 933 seen as a beginning or an end? It was both and neither. A film was in the works and I suspect that Parallel Time was being talked about. They had freedom to jettison two, great characters because so much was possible, but to see them both (well, almost both) go in one installment is a brash choice nonetheless. Paul Stoddard, the most important non-character of the series, barely establishes himself before serving as one of the cruelest sacrifices to the Leviathans. Wasteful? Perhaps, but I see it as a gusty statement of where the show was willing to take audiences. If they can kill the entire reason the house was a crypt in the first place, nothing was too precious to be above becoming cannon and canon fodder. There is a lot of “new” upon our return from 1897, and killing Paul Stoddard both re-centers the story on essential characters (and a reemergingly heroic Barnabas) and opens up room for the character of Jeb. The Dark Shadows canvas may be broad, but it still benefits from a tad of elegance.

The reappearance of Amanda Harris can be seen as a non sequitur, given how little impact it ultimately has on the story. They may have had bigger plans for the character; it feels that way. Donna McKechnie certainly has a breathtaking beauty and integrity, like a Brundlefly fusion of Kathryn Leigh Scott and Alexandra Moltke. Never let it be said that Dan Curtis didn’t have a type. I can see the reluctance to jettison her as an actress, however, Stephen Sondheim’s landmark musical, Company, would open in late April, and McKechnie was a key player. Doing both could not be an option, and so Amanda had to go.

I’m not sure anyone on the show ever received as mythical a sendoff. Sy Tomashoff must be congratulated. Building all of Collinsport in something the size and width of a small bowling alley was tough enough. Putting in what at least appear to be multiple levels of Hell, a chasm into an abyss, and the pit of a giant spider, also? It’s a creative masterstroke by the entire production team. Is it “Hollywood”? No. But if you focus on that kind of realism, it’s like getting a box of doughnuts and only seeing holes. They took a world of handwringing over the kitchen table and put the pits of Hades in its place. Both David Selby and Donna McKechnie are key to selling dramatic truth of the show’s wildest setting, and their trip through the underworld is an example of the program’s creative ambition and generosity toward the audience. I can only imagine being a kid and connecting the dots.

The program’s been dabbling with a hellish subdimension for some time. How close were they to Diablos’ office? Could they have wandered in? Was the interior of the Leviathan altar overhead? Was it hollow inside? Were there batpoles? How closely connected could these things have been? And did they stand a chance of bumping into the Transformed Jeb, shambling toward Professor Stokes’ place through the servants’ corridors? How did Nicholas keep that tan down there? Because it was a good one.

Not too long to think about it. The show typically moves sequentially in the episodes, but in what feels like a warmup for cinematic storytelling, 933 employs crosscutting between two concurrent narratives, and does a sophisticated job at letting each build the tension of the other. The mini-climaxes and (often literal) cliffhangers have a precision that Hollywood often lacks. The Last Jedi comes to mind as a film that mangled the same attempt.

But let’s face it -- the Walt Disney company is no Dan Curtis Productions.

I mean it.

This episode was broadcast Jan. 21, 1970.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...