Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 12


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 979

When Jeb takes on Nicholas Blair, does he count on also fighting the demon’s ghost? Jeb: Christopher Pennock. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Jeb stuns Nicholas by turning the shadow curse on him, sending him back to Hell. However, Nicholas’ ghost sends Sky on a mission to kill Jeb, later manipulating dreams and voices in the minds of Carolyn and her new husband. In a dream sequence, Sky and Jeb are seen plunging in combat over the edge of Widow’s Hill.

You can smell the end on Jeb more powerfully than Bruno’s cologne. I always find these end moments to be especially exciting. Seeing something end on Dark Shadows makes me feel like I’m breaking the rules. The experience of the show is about enjoying journeys, not destinations, yes, yes. We know. Yet, a journey is defined by its destination, even if you’re not supposed to care about getting there. Well, I, for one, do. I watch to see how these characters triumph. And you can’t blink. Paying attention consistently is the key, and that’s in a medium designed to not be consistently attended. Like everything in life, the struggles last far beyond their expiration dates. The victories pass in an instant. Being able to say, “I was there at Jason and Liz’s almost-wedding” is a badge of extreme pride. It meant that you hung in there and made the show more than a convenience. It’s worth that.

Keep in mind, it’s a just a show. This is America. You can watch it however you want. And consider the dedication it took to produce it. The cramming of lines. The grueling hours. These things make the show an achievement beyond what we see between opening narration and closing sting. I think this resonates with the show’s most ardent audience. These messengers don’t tell of the Battle of Marathon after running from it. The story is the run. That’s what makes these endpoints so outstandingly satisfying.

This one, especially so, because Jeb is taking such action within it. Often, endings happen to characters. In fact, such an ending happens to Nicholas Blair in this very episode, and we feel a strange sympathy for Sky as he realizes the bittersweet mission of being the last Leviathan. He’s determined to help and knows full well he’s not up to the job. Sky, we’ve been there.

I think that by giving Jeb a victory early on in the episode, it masterfully misdirects our expectations. Next stop, his escape. Yes, yes? Um, no. But they even do that a bit circuitously, having it live in a prophetic dream. It’s a cliffhanger, literally, but not, and it’s also a strange tribute to Republic serials. They’d often change crucial facts between cliffhangers and resolutions. Then, they hoped you wouldn’t catch them trying to get away with anything. Here, the Dark Shadows writers hope you do.

And I wonder what would have happened had Jeb been a success.

Barnabas established the possibility that a villain, with enough popularity, could be kept around, perhaps becoming the story. Now, when I see a villain offed, I assume this didn’t happen, and I ask myself what they lacked. Was Jeb too hip? God knows, I’m not, and when I visit Collinsport, I feel safe because Collinsport is where hipsters go to have bad things happen to them. They don’t even
have a band in Collinsport. They have a jukebox with the half-dozen songs that Bob hates the least. Buzz? Jeb? Bruno? Your table is ready. Yes, the hairdos and medallions lure in certain viewers, but then Dark Shadows, itself, keeps them.

Why wasn’t Jeb a success? Turn the question around. What would they have done with him had he stayed around? Unless they explored his eleventh-hour relationship with the 1790’s and Peter Bradford, he had no real past. No intrinsic relationship with the Collinses except by marriage. Does he still have powers? I don’t know. But we can’t see him when he Hulks out, so what’s the point. Barnabas and Quentin take on a strange, if hirsute, sexiness when they monster it up. So, he’s an edgy human. Well, the show has moved past the point of that. It’s a new world of gods and monsters, and Jeb is ultimately too little of each to hold his own. The real tragedy is that he knows it.

This episode was broadcast March 26, 1970.

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