Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 24


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 482

When Lang is in search of a new assistant with nerves of steel, Barnabas can think of only one man: Loomis. Willie Loomis. Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Barnabas suggests Willie to Lang as his new assistant after Jeff Clark quits. Jeff is compelled to appear at Maggie’s and hear the dream. That night, he has it.

Barnabas Collins reveals himself to be master of the game as he delivers the greatest blow possible to Eric Lang. When the greatest scientific mind in the western world, abandoned by Roger Davis, needs an assistant for the most important experiment in human history, Barnabas knows just the man. The assistant need only “good hands and a lot of nerve.” Who’s up? Joe Haskell? Buzz Hackett? Ross “The” Skipper?

No. No, my friends. For such a mission, there is only one man.

Who better than the cravenly, hysterical, alcoholic, multiple bullet wound survivor and PTSD poster boy, William H. Loomis, esq, late of Windcliff Sanitarium? This, to me, is proof positive that Barnabas has no real interest in a cure. Yes, Roger Davis -- who now has friends in Collinsport and good for him -- is an impossible act to follow, but is Willie really the preferred weapon here? The best part is that Lang hears that the lad is in a mental institution and has absolutely no qualms about using him. It just goes to show what you can accomplish when you have the lowest (or most conveniently expedient) standards possible. With this one decision, and perhaps it’s a test by Barnabas that they both fail. In doing so, Lang reveals himself to be the Hal Needham of mad science. Complete daring and utterly artless. And THAT’S why he gets things done. If only Mike Henry had played Adam.

Then Maggie answers the door in an oven mitt.

It may be the single most ghastly costume piece ever forced on a performer on Dark Shadows. When a skirt made from the Collinsport Afghan is too muted and tasteful, look to Ohrbach’s, my friend. And when people want to know what women actually wore in the era, look to certain scenes on Dark Shadows. This is a garment so eye-popping that no one would have kept it. No one would revive it. No costume designer would try putting a star in it for some period piece. It is a skirt lost to history. But no agendas existed then except to sell stuff from Ohrbach’s, and thus, the show again serves a new purpose -- that of time capsule. Like David Collins’ Matt Mason toys, Dark Shadows is an accidental portrait of so much that would otherwise be lost to Newer and Better. And what else are you supposed to wear for Roger Davis to appear at your door and ask you about your dreams?

The dream curse is truly up and running now as we have our first viral transmission of it, and as we understand what the shtick is going to be for the next few weeks. It both builds and consistently backfires as the show’s effects reach finally exceeds its practical and budgetary grasp. This is a problematic era for the show, at once a pure example of it and the first major storyline that gets vague derision from certain fans. Still, it serves an interesting set of purposes, psychologically. First, of course, it’s a basic Rorschach test to reveal the characters. Although we know them intimately, the program was gaining new audiences by the thousands each week, and the dream curse cleverly catches them up with the core roster, including their most revealing fears. It’s also the first example of the show letting itself down in almost every aspect of the technical execution of something. This is important to fans, because it forces you to make a choice: accept the effects for what they are or defect. Once you agree to go with it, you agree to accept that the special effects on the program are symbolic. And after that compact is made, the show is no longer bound by any attempt to render the fantastic credibly. Only then can they truly cut loose with thinking that suggests, “Hey, they accepted the dream curse. Why not take them to Hell?” Dark Shadows could only do the impossible because all effects were probably going to fall short. Not that they’d aim for that, but when that is the result, anything is possible.

In this sense, the dream curse is more a blessing than something less.

This episode hit the airwaves April 30, 1968.

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