Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 16


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 984

Between haunted paintings and terrible advice from Hoffman, the last thing Maggie needs is more Angelique. But can she avoid it? Maggie: Kathryn Leigh Scott. (Repeat; 30 min.)

After Daniel dupes Maggie into thinking that Angelique’s painting is singing, he learns that there was no human there to sing it. Is her ghost present? Maggie gains advice from the manipulative Hoffman, who suggests that Maggie win Daniel over with his favorite music. Of course, it is the “Ode to Angelique,” enraging Quentin (or sustaining his rage). Later, Maggie is stunned to find someone identical to Angelique in the drawing room, chatting convivially with Quentin.

There’s little but tension in Parallel Time. Most of it is aimed at Maggie (in this section). This episode is a very slightly fevered core sample of that.

It’s happening one year before the show will leave the air. This is a franchise with no idea.

1970. A movie is in the works. It will come out later in the year. Currently, they are in their gutsiest storyline. Gutsy in that they’ve shuttled most of the traditional headliner actors (notably, Jonathan Frid) off the show to film the movie and gutsy in the high concept behind where they are. Dark Shadows is simultaneously trying their boldest concept with the most idiosyncratic cast -- at the height of their popularity. It all seemed like a good idea at the time, and in hindsight, fate is sharpening a Wusthof over a very special goose.

Part of the alchemy of Dark Shadows resides in combining its own best elements with it weaknesses. Stretches of exciting and dry. Great acting and stiff. Huge revelations and then a lot -- a lot -- of talk about those revelations. This strange rhythm keeps the show in a constant ascension and freefall. It’s never predictable. It’s never so consistently great that a dip in quality robs your confidence in the show. It’s never so consistently problematic that a clever plot twist or character moment can’t restore your enthusiasm.

Episode 984 is on the Fat City end of that balance in a storyline that’s not. It’s a puppy being kicked from the beginning of the episode to the end, and although it gets painful quickly and stays that way, the installment captivates because it never relents. In either universe, what’s consistent is the insistence on treating Maggie terribly, from one cruel joke -- a haunted voice singing -- to another -- buying a record that will enrage Quentin. If they could have shown it on April 1, it could not have been more apt. And although that similarity exists, Kathryn Leigh Scott finds differences between the two Maggies where she can. Both PT and Main Time Maggie are resilient, I don’t see the ex-diner waitress in this one. With less leather and more silk, she’s a bit more of a victim. That’s not always easy to watch as David Selby’s Quentin rages and Grayson Hall’s Hoffman schemes, but that increased and earnest vulnerability demonstrates something I never wanted to say about Parallel Time: it’s the show’s cruelest storyline.

Barnabas and MT Quentin have it coming. Maybe not to the degree it’s dished out, but I understand the cause and effect. Nicholas Blair isn’t there because it’s personal. He’s there to watch Angelique, for whom it IS personal. And we understand why, with her. But PT Angelique is just a Mean Girl, and Maggie is the new kid in the cafeteria. Hoffman’s just as bad, taking orders from her Queen Bee and lying about Daniel’s favorite music. She just sets Maggie up again and again for a Dr. Bellows of a husband who always walks in at the worst times.

(The net result of this is that it sets up John Yaeger to not look so bad. Hey, at least the guy’s honest.)

This may be the most horrific section of the series because its a dark Curb Your Enthusiasm. There’s one engineered social humiliation after another. Maggie tries so hard with that record. I mean, she’s so trusting of Hoffman that it doesn’t occur to her that a recording called “Ode to Angelique” might not be a hit with her grieving son and hysterical hubby. “Dream” is the easiest simile to abuse, but this is an absolutely realistic nightmare. And it’s a sharp poke in the eye to the swollen fan base that would dream of marrying the recently recovered Quentin and becoming the mistress of the diabolical Barbie Dream House. Well, the other diabolical Barbie Dream House.

“Oh yeah? You think that would be fun? You think that WASP culture is not a vicious hierarchy and that all women are instantly ‘besties’ who get along with no bullying? Especially once you’re made the new queen? Yeah? Really? Well, come to Parallel Time and bring a flak jacket.”

Even her stepson seems in on it. David Henesy reliably delivers one of his thousand subtle grins of savored evil as she falls into Hoffman’s tuneful trap. Denise Nickerson’s mouth forms an ‘o’ more perfect than a Zen master’s calligraphic circle. It’s both ends of counterfeit astonishment, thus shaming Maggie for being transgressive and dimwitted. Great job, kids. You’ll make fine Collinses, yet.

By the time the installment is over and it seems like Maggie might crawl out of the wreckage of the day, she finds that Alexis Stokes is in the house. An identical sister. It’s hard enough to compete with one of them. Competing with twin Lara Parkers is scientifically impossible.

I’m trying to do it now.

Nope. Not happening.

Poor Maggie.

This episode was broadcast April 2, 1970. 

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