Friday, March 22, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 22


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1243

Morgan traps Bramwell in the haunted room, but can the family stop him from touching a corpse? Julia: Grayson Hall. (Repeat; 30 min.)

The family realizes that Bramwell is trapped in the room in Kendrick’s stead, but can do nothing. Morgan manipulates Catherine into being trapped within, also, and she and Bramwell receive instructions to refrain from touching the corpses of James and Amanda unless they, too, want to be possessed. Which they don’t.

Can we get to at least one happy marriage?

Even up to the end, Dark Shadows understands the luxury of abundant pacing. Which is not to say it’s slow. The functions here are to show Catherine thrown in the room, survival within, healing the ghost of Brutus, the rescue attempt of others, and the final confrontation with Morgan. As any Gilligan’s Island scholar can tell you, all of that can live within the real estate of 24 minutes with room for a gorilla (Keith Prentice -- har har) to spare. These writers get three episodes out of it, and none of it feels padded.

Given the cyclical nature of the series, is this the end or the beginning? Yes, no, and neither, given that it’s a parallel universe. Dealing with the punishment of betraying spouses starts the series with the long-brewing aftermath of Liz and Paul, and it ends the series with Morgan and Catherine. If we go from the premise that Liz is Victoria’s mother, then questionable (at best) fidelity is a factor of both couples, as well. Wouldn’t that be tidy? Unfortunately, Vicki was born in 1946 and Paul was “murdered” in 1949. Which, and this is an admitted tangent, makes me wonder about the father and what Paul thought about this, or where he was in the first place.

Or is it a tangent? I can’t imagine that he missed the pregnancy, and it was after the war, so it stands to reason that he was around. But then, he never mentions it during the leviathan storyline. And when discussing his own murder, you’d think that the subject of his wife’s mysterious pregnancy might come up in casual conversation.  It commonly does, according to marriage counselors.

The connection is that both storylines deal with unhappy marriages, thwarted desires to escape them, children of questionable parentage, and murder as a preferable choice over divorce. Of course, that was unthinkable in Morgan’s time and nearly as unthinkable in Liz’s. Perhaps one of the reasons the show has yet  to be successfully revived is because one of the course ends lying under the mantle is no longer a sin. An inconvenience, perhaps. Painful one. But not a sin.

Both storylines also celebrate, if you can call it that, female autonomy in these situations. Okay, it’s autonomy loosely defined and drawing outside the lines — in Liz’s case, with Paul’s brains. But both women feel trapped. Both take extreme measures to escape. Both stories equal dark fantasies for the intended audience of housewives. Liz gives Paul what-for when he tries to leave. Catherine? More complicated. She marries the Rich One, who goes mad(der) over her having her Bramwell and eating it, too. Then, we get to pity her because her husband is a lout. It’s a subtle shift of statement and fantasy that still lets both women be agents of agency and yet victims of male maleosity, anyway. Both are locked (almost) alone in haunted (sets of) rooms as a punishment, like housewives trapped at home alone. And, most importantly, they look great, doing it. Of course, once Barnabas enters the picture, the show somewhat shifts to depicting male protagonists of female wrath. It doesn’t begin that way, nor does it end in that fashion, either. But even that has the fantasy of, “Well, I wouldn’t treat Barnabas that way.”

And central to this is Lara Parker, going from taking out her anger on Barnabas to suffering the price of loyalty to him. (If we see Catherine and Bramwell as warped analogues.) She can’t help loving that man of hers. She flexes the muscles of jealousy, which wasn’t always an option for women at the time (in the late 60’s, wooden soldiers and scarves were in short supply)... and then suffers the fate of being on the business end of jealousy at the end of the run.

I say, lock Morgan and Angelique in the room together and call it a series.

This episode was broadcast March 31, 1971.

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