Monday, April 8, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 8


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 732

When Laura uses the power of the Phoenix to torture Quentin, will Barnabas’ new bride-to-be throw a wet blanket on her plans? Angelique: Lara Parker. (Repeat; 30 min.) 

Laura reveals that she has returned from her death in Alexandria, and she seeks revenge on Quentin, who abandoned her to pagan priests and their altar. Angelique agrees to help Quentin if Barnabas will introduce her to his family as his fiance. This thrills Rachel Drummond, as you can imagine. Meanwhile, Quentin learns that Laura’s survival is contingent on a flame in a small pot remaining lit. he’s determined to snuff it.

Quentin dies a lot. Given what he deals with in the average week, I don’t blame him. But it’s not by (his) design. No, on top of everything else, crazy spouses and fire goddesses top off the day by killing him. Fate made the wrong guy into the family vampire, although he fits a little better into the coffin than Quentin. Not that he’s having a good week either, and of course, Angelique is at the heart of it. Only she could combine gifting Quentin with the spark of divine life and ruining date night for Barnabas. The moment when she reveals herself to Rachel as the next Mrs. Barnabas Collins is as deliciously sadistic as the series at its cattiest. The execution hovers right -- right -- on the edge of farce, and were the genre any closer to real life, it would be. The horror expressed by Jonathan Frid (mixed with all-around mortification at the whole thing) is perhaps the most honest moment of acting in the series. I say “perhaps the most,” because the most most goes to Kathryn Leigh Scott in the same scene as she gets the news.

Most Kathryn Leigh Scott characters live to suffer. Somehow, she can pull it all off with a strange strength and integrity. I never get the idea that she’s a victim because, as an actress, she thrives on the promise of action. In her reaction, there is confusion, pain, and then, just as the camera fades out, a hint of knowing umbrage blended with a tad of revenge. For most actors, it would be the first choice, and once you go there, what else is left? By reserving it for just a vanishing quantum of frames, Scott maintains the potential for the character to go anywhere. Lara Parker’s decadent cruelty, Jonathan Frid’s tightly disciplined displays of controlled humiliation, and Kathryn Leigh Scott’s subtly and deliberately controlled emotional gamut make for a master class, and it all takes place between that scene’s last line and the following fadeout.

And that’s why we watch Dark Shadows. One of the reasons, anyway.

Knowing Angelique’s purpose here, which is only understood after 1897 ends, her actions at the beginning are all the more intriguing. And it’s a long, long game. Potentially decades long and layers deep. As the storyline wraps up, we learn that Angelique is there On His Majesty’s Satanic Service under a special agreement that she land a man her using without her powers. Instead, she must rely on good, old-fashioned guilt and blackmail. At this point, her plot may or may not be many men deep, and perhaps repeated. It’s Barnabas, first, just to get rid of Rachel. Then, it’s Quentin, but just to remind Barnabas that Q’s face is on the record album cover, too. Then, she looks all the more selfless when she “works hard” to cure Barnabas of her curse, which, if you’ve seen the entire series, you know that she can do with nary a nose twitch. But she gets to be the martyr here by stretching it out. So, how long does Angelique’s plan go? At least the next seventy years, and then back another 130 or so. If we ignore the hints that 1840 Angelique is in direct continuity following 1795 Angelique. But just ignore that. Imagine.

Very occasionally, Dark Shadows boils itself down to something very simple. And if a Major Plot Event gets in the way of a convenient interpretation, fall back on the defense of “poetic truth.” This isn’t history and it’s not science and sometimes even the writers got confused. But there was a consistency of intent. That’s what shines through and matters as much as anything. The idea of Angelique’s Long Game of Redemption (and staying on Earth, where the hours are better than in Hell, and the English chefs stay in England) ties parts of the room together. And if we imagine that she’s only feigning unfamiliarity with the timeline in 1840, it explains the character and her evolving choices with an eerie sense of strategy. Now that we have the advantage of seeing the entire series before us at once in streaming and on dvd, we can look down on it as would a satellite. Small plot events and occasionally contradictory lines become the tiniest pieces of geography. They become invisible when seen beside sprawling continents and mighty oceans. It’s a stunning view, and Angelique’s machinations in this episode hint at that.

This episode hit the airwaves April 15, 1969.

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