Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 10



By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 472

When Roger visits Lang on a hypnotized mission of murder, who will be Ahab and who will be the whale? Roger Collins: Louis Edmonds. (Repeat; 30 min.)

With the Angelique painting missing, Julia and Barnabas take the discovery of Lang’s head mirror in Roger’s bedroom as an indication that Roger is trying to kill the doctor. They show up in time to prevent Roger from stabbing Lang with a harpoon from the scientist’s collection. Lang, however, resists the notion that this is voodoo. After a Stokes encounter, Barnabas and Julia discover that the painting, theoretically with Roger, is back at Collinwood. Lang also suggests that Barnabas might have more luck with Vicki if he looked like someone she’s attracted to.

Is there a way to adequately address the strangeness of episode 472? Yes, but I won’t avail myself of it. Not when there are shallow and puerile double entendre to cite. Because I think it’s intentional. This episode was shot on April 8. A week prior was April Fools day, and there is a possibility that 472 was written then. Or revised. Or sketched out. Or vandalized. Let’s face it, some form of this text was on someone’s desk at that point. The show was just becoming comfortable with itself. They were now immune of the cancellation threat that loomed the prior year. The audience loved whatever the writers did. It was high time for Gordon Russell to have fun. And he did.

Jonathan Frid and Addison Powell have a comic chemistry that belongs in Noel Coward for half of the year and alongside Gallagher and Sheen for the other. Powell begins the episode as a white-haired Gomez Addams, enthusiastically selling Barnabas on his new key to love and survival -- just look like Roger Davis. As long as Barnabas will allow some kind of extreme Roger Davis makeover, Vicki will be his. The details of HOW to look like Roger Davis are just those -- pesky details. And now, Frid gets to do something completely different. His well-worn shtick with Julia and Willie is to suggest an extreme solution that forces them do bug-eyed doubletakes. (Well, takes, anyway.) Finally, the hand is on the other foot as Frid luxuriates in the pleasure of Powell doing the heavy lifting while he roils with deadpan incredulity. The show has finally gotten so implicitly outrageous that Barnabas, who was brought into the fold of conservative, daytime hundrummery to liven it up, gets to be the measure of realism. The recovering vampire from the 1790’s is now the most relatable character for entire episodes. Let that sink in. And it’s only taken about a week or so. When the show premiered, it took that long for characters to join a subject and a verb. Now, Roger is hypnotized, Vicki is obsessed with one man from the past while being the obsession of another man from the past, Barnabas is a (mostly) cured romantic lead, and Julia has gone from trying to kill our hero to being Monk & Ham, Spock & Bones, and very much a smoky voiced Jiminy Cricket to him. She and Barnabas have slipped into an effortless partnership, and as he explains “What’s an Angelique” and she doesn’t use it as a new reason to poison him, we see a series being born.

Then there’s Roger asking to hold Dr. Lang’s harpoon.

I’m not making this up. And there is no way on Diabolos’ red Earth that writer Gordon Russell wasn’t smirking at Standards and Practices’ inability to make effective objections. I won’t say “phallic frenzy,” because we’re in mixed company. But you and I are seasoned sophisticates of the world. We’re not bourgeois. Have the rubes and wet blankets left the room? Good. We’re alone. Between us, “phallic frenzy.”

Of all the props. I mean, of all the props. And Roger keeps asking about it... when he’s not insisting on preemptive care for a stroke. Fortunately, and I’m not making this up, while the whammified Roger is ostensibly there because a prophetic dream told him he would die that night, the dream also said that his death wasn’t for a few hours, so tell me about that harpoon. Let me hold it. You seem to be an expert on harpoons. I still have a few hours left to chat about harpoons before we have to talk about the unseen voice that foretold my doom. Right now, I want to know more about your hobby.

And the more they talk about harpoons, the more ridiculous the word becomes.

Say it.

“Harpooooon.”

It just sounds funny, and that’s on top of the weird connotations. Of course, we’ve already heard that Roger stole away with Angelique’s painting, whereupon he booked a room at the Collinsport Inn for himself and the amorous artwork, locking himself away with it for the afternoon. Um, okay. That’s not even subtext. That’s just text.

The actors admirably play it as straight as humanly possible. Powell later gets to swap the comic dynamic he had with Jonathan Frid, going from playing the nut to playing the norm as he attempts to take Roger seriously and look past the subtext. Somewhere, Leslie Nielson was taking notes. It won’t be long, however, that he’s once again rolling his eyes and proclaiming that he’s a man of science! This is as Barnabas is explaining how Angelique used black magic to torture the doctor. His evidence? Lang’s head mirror was found in Roger’s bedroom.

Only on Dark Shadows (and the TV of the age) would voodoo be the most reasonable explanation for finding a grown man’s personal articles in the bedroom of another grown man. I mean, yeah, it’s true. But it’s also a strange memo from another age. In some ways quaint. In some ways sad. Was Gordon Russell pointing all of this out, if only in code? If he were not a member of the family, he was most inevitably a friend.

This is how to handle political moments. Tuck them so deeply into plots that people tell you you’re seeing things, and it’s all in your fevered imagination, and you need to grow up. Yeah, whatever. It was a repressed and miserable time. This episode is a subtle and comical moment of the Venetian blinds being parted. On purpose. Not on purpose. Not sure. But there. Not literally. The truth is sometimes too important to state literally.

And let’s say that sometimes a harpoon is not a harpoon and that head mirrors get left in bedrooms for reasons other than voodoo. There’s a juvenile part of us that might giggle at the implications, but that chortling passes. When it does, there is a mature part within us that speaks up and wonders if this were code. Because there was a need and reason for code in 1968. That’s a vital history lesson, if only in my mind. That’s a tribute to yet another facet of Dark Shadows. Code is communication. Code is an act of resistance. Even seeing code where none might be is an act of resistance. And there was a lot to resist in 1968. And still, in 2019.

Harpoon.

This episode hit the airwaves April 16, 1968.

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