Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 23


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 481

After being caught snooping in the garden, Angelique has no choice but to steal Dr. Lang’s Secret Anti-Witch Medallion. But first, she’ll need a good lawyer -- to hypnotize! Tony Peterson: Jerry Lacy. (Repeat; 30 min.)

As Julia nearly calls the cops on Barnabas and Lang, she is reminded of Dave Woodard’s murder. Later, she and Barnabas fence over Lang’s plan, keeping the threat of Angelique in focus, which is easy because he catches her snooping on them. Later, she notices that Tony Peterson looks like Reverend Trask and relishes the irony of making him her slave to fetch Lang’s Secret Anti-Witch Medallion. Lang is duped into leaving his home, and when he realizes the deception, rushes back.

Reliable histrionics rule the day as Grayson Hall explores a completely understandable meltdown for Julia as she tries to decide whether to drop a dime on Barnabas for perhaps the last time. Not to be outdone, Addison Powell is again topping everyone, combined, as he reels with the news of missing medallions and dummy requests to render medical aid. Addison Powell was a serious actor, and yet… I have to wonder if anyone on the show asked him to tone it down, because his singularly athletic acting approach makes Keith Prentice sound like Ricky Jay at his most Atlantic School wooden. I think Powell would have just said, “The part said mad scientist, so I’m playing a mad scientist. What else am I supposed to play? ‘Bemused resignation’? By the way, once we go off the air in the afternoon, our prime demographic’s biggest concerns are cooties, geometry tests, and meat loaf.

Amazingly, Addison Powell plays a character who seems to know he’s trapped on a soap opera named ‘Dark Shadows’ and has adopted a defensively broad acting style to dupe producers into thinking he’s not in on it. He just needs to pull out the aces when the time is right.

In short, Roger Davis is about to get his face ripped off, and Julia decides to call the cops, despite the fact that Barnabas needs the face.

And then life wasn’t so easy.

Dark Shadows is a frustrating show by design because it’s reliably realistic in the way that matters. Like life, we know how it’s supposed to go. And unlike life, we know where it’s going. Julia and Barnabas are friends, and once the show comes back from 1795, it’s a different show and they’re pals real fast, right, because that’s the good part and we like the good part, right?

The tone above gives the answer. Of course it’s not that easy. From the most macroscopic perspective, this is true because we need it to be. It tells us that we are not alone in our frustration with progress toward the inevitable. Life should not be two steps forward, three steps back, but it is. It’s what makes Dark Shadows frustratingly slow, infinitely watchable, and the most identifiable on TV.

Actors like Jonathan Frid and Grayson Hall excel at navigating this peculiarly existential angst. As the episode begins, Julia contemplates what would have once been no dilemma at all. Face stealing is a crime, after all. Now? She’s so far down the rabbit hole, it’s an option to be debated with her soon to be best friend, Barnabas. Together, they are the Oliver and Lisa to Collinsport’s Hooterville. But, as Lang might do in an “experiment,” reverse the genders. Grayson is Oliver, trying to impose the last wisps of order on a maelstrom of weirdness. The more they try, the more they fail. Barnabas learned long, long ago to just go with it. Yes, Barnabas is our Eva Gabor. But I don’t need to tell you that. At the same time….

Barnabas Collins is the man that Angelique made him. Is he a paragon? In some senses. He’s also a hero who kills in cold blood and then sucks it dry it as a warning to anyone who might dream of crossing him. He’s a benevolent gentleman -- and he’s also the most brutal, sadistic, and vindictive dweller of the night to stalk the small screen. That Angelique should warm to Jerry Lacy’s vaguely bewildered Tony Peterson is obvious. It’s not that she has the opportunity to romance the great witch hunter. No. She finally unites with the man who joined in to inaugurate the undead living nightmare that binds him nearly two centuries later. When Barnabas grabs her and scolds her in front of Julia like the sitcom snoop she’s become? The destined bond of Trask and Bouchard is upgraded to inevitable.

Why Barnabas? I mean, I know literally “why,” but Dark Shadows is an engine of celebration of punishments that exceed their crimes by infinite degrees. So, why Barnabas? Why ANY of us? One of the reasons that Dark Shadows speaks to us is that it features characters trapped in a dishonorable world that nonetheless trumpets honorable standards regardless of those trapped in the chasm of the disparity. Depending on the storyline, Liz, Victoria, Maggie, and even NeoRoger sit with heads high and noses higher as everyone else fights backstairs battles quietly enough to not disturb the sherry break… taking it into the hall or Parallel Time if necessary. Barnabas is the ultimate victim of circumstance, as are we all.

But poor Tony Peterson may take the urinal cake of cosmic suffering in this one as we really kick off what would go on to become the most artistically successful spin-off of the Dark Shadows Universe, and that’s the perverse chemistry of Lara Parker’s evolvingly impish Angelique with long-suffering everyman, Jerry Lacy’s Tony Peterson -- the Man with Trask’s Face -- as they team up in the finest of the Big Finish productions, from the pen of the masterful Mark Passmore. It’s the least likely pair on the show, but with the two most unpredictable and autonomous characters in the ensemble, taking things Beyond Bewitched and perhaps even Beyond Westworld. Peterson handily inherits the throne of Callin’ Shenanigans from Harry Johnson’s fugitive father, Bill Malloy, but unlike Malloy, he hasn’t the luck of being thrown off a cliff by Matthew Morgan. Stuck with someone -- Angelique -- whose kindness comes only when it’s convenient, we have the one sap in Collinsport incapable of doing (much) wrong. He and Barnabas are strange brothers orbiting around Angelique… vaguely trying to do something right and receiving the proportionate punishment for it. But don’t we all? And by seeing it on Dark Shadows, that strange spookhouse progeny of James Whale and WC Fields, we can just barely survive it.

This episode hit the airwaves April 29, 1968.

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