Monday, January 7, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 7


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 936

Carolyn goes from funeral to fun when her eulogy attracts the most eligible bachelor in Collinsport! Jeb: Christopher Pennock. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Paul is dead, Jeb is born, Roger is antsy, and Barnabas isn’t feeling too well, himself.

Why Barnabas? Why did they choose him? I’m sure there’s a more literal explanation, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that he was on TV, and that’s free publicity. Snake cults don’t run on love and good intentions. I assume Barnabas’ propensity for immortality is what led him to manage the Leviathan project. Oberon and Haza probably mentioned something else from his resume at the interview. They should have negotiated with Mr. Best and had Quentin transferred from his job cutting lemons at the High Hat Lounge. Neither Barnabas nor Quentin show a lot of management potential, but Quentin routinely caters Jeb’s lunch with his fist. They could have actually held Amanda Harris hostage, threatening a further, extreme coiffure. Josette was only good until a seance would come along. Given that it’s Collinsport, a seance is pretty much guaranteed with greater promptness and regularity than the bus to Logansport. But Barnabas is their guy. 

Right now, it’s like he got drunk and joined the Shriners without realizing what a demand it would place on his schedule. Barnabas comes off like a mid-century Catholic school administrator who’s been to a post-Vatican II educational convention and has to tell the brothers to stick to time-outs instead of running them down with Buicks as proscribed in the Book of Leviathan. David, even hypnotized David, is in need of discipline, but Jeb’s going a tad far. Bill Malloy would probably just have keel-hauled the boy, but ocean travel mellows a man. In all seriousness, if Jeb’s attack on David does anything, it allows Barnabas to display his sense of decency at the outrageous attack. Now that Jeb is aboard, Barnabas no longer has to sub as villain, and he makes up for it in this episode, putting out fires where he can. 

Neither of the Collinwood 1701-D staff (David and Carolyn) have an easy time of it in this one. Carolyn now permanently thinks of her better qualities as Stoddardian, and I can’t blame her. David’s no doubt looking into restaurant management opportunities in Panama, although I imagine pedestrian dangers are even more severe than in Collinsport. Roger suspects foul play, but #1 Dad may be too late on that one. Overall, it’s a bad day for parenting at Collinwood when Roger is the responsible one. Liz is too busy pouring herself a congratulatory Campari and Yoo Hoo for attending a funeral that’s not hers. Parenting has always been problematically demonstrated at Collinwood, and the rest of the series evidences that as Liz and Roger become increasingly distant. Excluding a few warm moments coming up, this sequence is a turning point in the kids’ erosion of trust in their parents. Of course, the story is shifting violently toward Barnabas’ journey rather than domestic travails so there’s not as much time, but Carolyn and David will pay various prices when Gerard attacks. The show can only pretend that this is a loving home for so long. The absent parent is always the preferred one for the kids, even when they’re trying to burn the kids alive. Dark Shadows has always been about sins of the past. With Laura gone, Roger steps up as much as he can, but that’s limited by fact that life at Collinwood got complicated when his ex-wife flamed on, and grew stranger from there.

I know this episode is “about” Carolyn, Jeb, and Carolyn & Jeb -- and about Barnabas’ futile attempts to unsmoke the cigarette of snakecultery. But I’m wondering more and more, “Where is Roger Collins?” In this arc, he’s taken into Quentin’s confidence and fights “on the team” more than he ever has. But even as he ostensibly participates, it’s not to an impressive degree. But what’s he going to do, issue a catty memo? Again, perspective splits between production and story. As far as production is concerned, Roger’s days as a villain are played out. He has to stay because of his plot function regarding David, a successful mini-heartthrob and story catalyst. Roger and Liz also make good civilians to remain vaguely threatened, vaguely unaware, and vaguely available to hear and deliver exposition. But with only +/- 6 parts to spread around per episode, the increasingly supernatural ensemble edges out the mortals.

But within the Dark Shadows universe, itself, what explains it? After you’ve seen your grandfather’s brother come back from the grave and try to kill Burke Devlin’s your son, you don’t have to touch that hot stove twice. Roger’s participation dwindles drastically after early 1969 when Barnabas leaves for the 1890’s. Gone on business for the beginning of the Leviathan arc. Gone again for Gerard’s haunting. In fact, Roger will not be seen after episode 979. For the character, that’s only six more episodes and the show still has nearly a year and a quarter left. A key reason that Dark Shadows feels less and less like Dark Shadows right now and onward? Well, Kitten, you’re looking at it. Liz doesn’t fare much better. She has fewer than 30 episodes left, although she is the first character we see at Main Time Collinwood and will be one of the very last. If the show (as we know it, on 1198) feels like Dark Shadows in its final moments, that’s it.

Because we’re influenced about what makes up the series by when we enter it, for most of us, this makes the latter section of the show feel alien to us. This is purely subjective, however. Start your viewing later, and Roger and Liz are strangers on a series belonging to Barnabas and Julia. Those heads of the family are absent for nearly 20% of it -- nearly 25% if we discount the pre-Barnabas segment.

This transition is all the more dramatic as Christopher Pennock is finding the character. He’s discussed being uncertain about his sure footing as he began as Jeb, but the character is written with the same ALL CAPS WITH WHICH HE ACTS HIM. Where is subtlety in bringing to life a primordial snake god man-messiah? You tell me. Storm and Selby, the other high-water marks on the hottie hunk scale, had the benefit of not speaking for their first months. So, not only did they get comfortable with the ensemble, but their speaking roles were entirely new characters. Few have had to so so much so quickly, and Pennock acquits himself with high style.

This episode was broadcast Jan. 26, 1970.

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