Monday, August 12, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 12


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1083

Sebastian Shaw disturbs Hallie with news from the beyond, but will he open his third eye in time to see that Collinsport’s most venerable hunk is coming his way? Professor Stokes: Thayer David. (Repeat; 30 min.)

David and Hallie find a dollhouse of Rose Cottage in the playroom and are disturbed by the presence of dolls that resemble themselves. Driven my Hallie’s evasions, Professor Stokes visits Sebastian. Although he implies that Sebastian is a fraud, Sebastian demonstrates his powers through a heartfelt vision that ends in the sight of the children sleeping. After Stokes leaves, Sebastian confides in Roxanne that the children were actually dead. At Collinwood, David and Hallie try to break Gerard’s spell by burning the dolls. When they return to the playroom, the dolls have reappeared, unharmed.

The irony of Dark Shadows’ broadcast history is that, by the time they were making the episodes that would have really given kids nightmares, the kids for whom the show was vaguely aimed were too old to be scared. Or given nightmares by soap operas. Or maybe still watching But 1083 is a fine candidate for nightmare inducement, and a perfectly good reason to walk a little slower on the way home from school. Lately, Jonathan Frid and Grayson Hall are not reliably waiting to greet them

It’s a cursed storyline. Cursed by the fact that we already know they’re doomed. Yes, the whole point is averting it, but at no point do our heroes catch a glimmer of hope. In this episode, we have only the third stringers to rely upon. And I hate to call Professor Stokes this, but the role of skeptic is a strange one for him, and it’s a little odd to try and get behind him not believing in something. Especially because he gets it wrong. And that’s what they do in the Ragnarok sequence. They get it wrong at every crucial point when getting it right would thwart Gerard. He is a villain whose plan only works because of entropy. An all-star can only get it right so many times. Stokes not only has trouble detecting that Sebastain Shaw is the real deal, but he even fails to detect the only lie told by him: that the children were in no real danger. In fact, he saw them dead. This isn’t a testament to Stokes’ waning powers; it’s a tribute to the insurmountable odds he faces in near ignorance.

Killing kids is one of horror’s few taboos, reserved only when the medium has no interest in charming the audience. (And to witness what happens when you effectively break that taboo, revisit Pet Sematary.) Sure, kids have died/almost died before on the show, but never just… because. Heroes constantly outmatched? One of the only things that makes much horror watchable is the knowledge that the forces of good may somehow escape. Or, as with the 1982 The Thing, at least take “it” with them on the way down. The last victory Gerard wants is a moral one, and it’s clear that none will happen on his watch.

1083 typifies the storyline in that David and Hallie are on the front lines of both the attack and the defense. Fewer things are more unsettling than trying to solve a problem you may be unwittingly creating, and episodes like these are strange precursors to the feeling that Candyman gave audiences. There, too, the heroine is a lightning rod for manipulation by the villain. Dollhouses, as I’ve noted before, are testaments to our desire to control. As David and Hallie try to sidestep its rules by burning the dolls, Gerard must again deliver a memo in inevitability by making them reappear.

Why a dollhouse? Coming up on a future episode, David and Hallie will see themselves replacing the figurines within. It’s what I consider to be the single most disturbing image on the show. Gerard’s message is a clear one; David and Hallie are already dolls in a dollhouse, themselves: Collinwood. Gerard is its clear master, and maybe he has been for a very, very long time.

This episode hit the airwaves Aug. 19, 1970.

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