Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 25


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1049

When a drunken Carolyn announces that she knows the deadliest secret at Collinwood, will she live to tell it? Carolyn Loomis: Nancy Barrett. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Carolyn, thinking she knows the secret of Angelique and Alexis, gleefully taunts everyone at Collinwood. Unfortunately, the killer lures her away and stabs her in retribution.

As a showrunner, Dan Curtis was too far ahead of his time. The Parallel Time sequence of the show is an experiment in and testament to that, as is the project he had running, yes, parallel, the film House of Dark Shadows. An episode like this allows him to test waters and flex muscles that we can see later in his career as a bloodthirsty and unsentimental filmmaker. He sets up the cliches of the soap opera and then shows his frustration by smashing them with an unceremonious sense of ritual. And if he didn’t, the writers, reading the room, did it for him.

Even though I’ve summarized the episode twice, let me take my own go at it, neither doing a TV Guide nor a vaguely quantitative recap. Carolyn, in a miasma of booze, bitchiness, and low self-esteem, plays informational keepaway without realizing the actual consequences that follow. As a result, she gets stabbed to death by the one character bitchier and low self-esteemier than she: Roger. Dark Shadows has had enough of that nonsense and starts playing for keeps, a practice that it will follow throughout the final sequence of the series. If you screw up (or even if you keep company with screw ups), you’ll die. In today’s world of ruthless “real” television series, killing off central characters is an event that’s no longer shocking. Dan Curtis inarguably invented it, so all you other guys, get back in line.

Nancy Barrett and Dan Curtis on the set of
House of Dark Shadows, 1970.
Across town, Curtis is preparing House of Dark Shadows. Although we rarely acknowledge it as such, it’s the second Parallel Time storyline that he would present, each one getting uglier and more nihilistic. Each one, more relentlessly transparent in the logic of what it plays out. In 1970 PT, we see a Carolyn who is also widowed, paranoid, and unstable. Just like in “real life.” In her dialogue with a heartbroken Liz, it’s not so much a glimpse into a parallel universe as it is into a future that Dark Shadows never quite reached. She’s both explosively abusive toward those with failed love and implosive as a reaction to the one she’s lost completely. Unlike the world of standard tv (of the era), there’s only so long that can go, and the show finally exploits that ugly truth.

Similarly, on the big screen, Curtis will take it a step further. I’m no expert on things that don’t exist, which is why I’m not a theologian, but I can guess that an emotionally shattered hemopathic man who profited from the dehumanizing slave trade, starved for two centuries, will probably dine without sentiment nor remorse when released on an unsuspecting world by an incompetent redneck. And someone will eventually take him out once he plays all of his cards by becoming the most prodigious and swiftest serial killer in the history of Maine. Because that’s Barnabas 2.0.

This is a reflection of Dan Curtis, himself. Uncle Barnabas the hero is a concession to tv. Barnabas the killer is probably more like the truth. When writers asked Dan where the tv version was, and he responded that he wasn’t doing it that way again, we get the most revealing statement about the creator possible. This is the producer who would send writers running from meetings throwing up. And Parallel Time -- this kind of blunt, pained, short-timer, unsentimental Parallel Time as we have in this episode -- is not necessarily so parallel. It’s unfortunately true. The secret to Dark Shadows is not that we’ve gone to Parallel Time, but that we’ve finally emerged from it.

This episode hit the airwaves July 2, 1970.

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