Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 22


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 764

What’s in the cards? Can Barnabas stop Quentin or will an ultimate assassin bring a new shadow of death to Collinsport? Tim: Don Briscoe. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas attempts to learn the identity of the werewolf as he tracks down the silversmith who made the amulet of protection that will one day be found in the 1960s. Evan tests Tim’s programming as an assassin and Beth, reluctant to out Quentin to Barnabas, has the choice removed when he bites her.

As the episode ends, Barnabas again bites someone to place them under his control, reminding viewers that he uses his abilities to strategic ends as much as to feed. Would he have been this cavalier in the 1960? He’s used this advantage twice in the space of a week or so. As much as I feel sorry for Beth, who ends up being a pawn of Quentin, Barnabas, AND Petofi, it’s nice to see her current, new master so confidently on a mission. It’s an increasing level of chutzpah. Would he have had it a year before, meaning seventy-one years ahead? Perhaps. Back then in the future, he recalls how he will be chasing Adam around with a gun. But certainly not in 1967, as he slyly swaps blood slides and works to revive the mind of Josette. Prior still? In 1795, his reactions are almost entirely reactive and based on following or defiling the codes of the day. Like the two-blooded, red fisted heroes before and after him, this time, Barnabas Collins makes his own rules. This time, it’s personal. This time, he’s bringing his Vigoda.

He also tells a young Abe Vigoda that he’ll have a bright future. Kind of. I mean, I wish. In a beautiful nod to continuity, young Ezra Braithwaite (played by Edward Marshall, who also popped up as Harry Johnson in episode 669) reappears for the very first time to make the pentagram that he’ll die for in episode 685. If that makes sense. By the late 1960’s, the fully developed Ezra was played by future nighttime TV hunk, Abe Vigoda. Even though Vigoda is not in this episode, he’s a well-crafted minor character in the DSU and Vigoda gives a touching performance. But he’s not in this one. (So Soo me.) However, Edward Marshall is, and he’s good, too.

The rest of the episode (that’s not about Barnabas trying to beat the fleas off of Quentin) is devoted to Humbert Allen Astredo and Don Briscoe starring in the first remake of The Manchurian Candidate. This is where 1897’s hellzapoppin approach to storytelling starts to consume itself with too many ideas thrown around too frenetically. You can feel the generous creativity oozing from every corner of the show, but perhaps there is so much going on that you increase the opportunity for a bad idea to slip through. Dark Shadows is known for, um, borrowing? Is that the right word? It seeks inspiration from many sources, reprocessing them for a different era and audience, and with the depth and dynamism of a soap, it arguably does some of them a service. But most of these are pretty old, or, in the Case of the Leviathanly Lifted Lovecraft, at least FELT pretty old. But the very liberal borrowing from the recent film and novel of The Manchurian Candidate is the strangest “quoting” ever executed by the writing staff. A guy gets a whammy to play cards until a specific card triggers the urge to kill. Same thing. It even feels stranger because it’s that rare case of the show taking a modern story that verges on science fiction and plunging it into the past. Dark Shadows defined itself by going in the opposite direction and confronting contemporary characters with the dangers of costume dramas. In the case of the Tim Shaw storyline, it accomplishes the plot objective, but with too much winking. When a quoted idea, whether for the sake of satire or not, exists to be recognized more than to be revised and reconsidered, it’s not a shining moment.

I mention it here not to bury Dark Shadows, but to praise it. Out of 450 hours of storylines, it may be the one fumbled misstep regarding the issue of storytelling-by-pastiche, constituting the smallest fraction of the show’s screentime. Exceptions do prove rules.

This episode hit the airwaves May 29, 1969.

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