Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 5


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 559

Will Nicholas solve his romantic problems with Maggie by insisting that Angelique have Joe for dinner? Nicholas: Humbert Allen Astredo. (Repeat; 30 min.)

With the aid of a magic mirror and the trio of powers of hypnosis, ventriloquism, and invisibility, Nicholas fools Victoria into thinking she’s been at the Old House instead of his prisoner. When she wanders in to see Jeff, he informs her that she’s been missing for days. Meanwhile, Nicholas again charms Maggie, but when Joe appears, it’s clear that there are rocks on the green for the devil’s Don Juan. Returning to the house by the sea, he suggests to Angelique that her next victim will be Joe Haskell.

Jeez, even a smooth-talking, well-dressed, hardworking, handsome professional guy from Hell doesn’t stand a chance against the eternal menace of The Old Boyfriend. It’s a credit to the casting and authorship of Dark Shadows that you side with the demon on the whole thing. It’s a longstanding tradition now that the show’s ostensible villains are the romantic heroes, but in this case, there’s no ostensible about it. He IS the villain. Nonetheless, he’s a villain experiencing his first love, and who can’t get behind that? Maggie brings out the best in him. Humbert Allen Astredo becomes a California-bronzed Richard Benjamin onscreen with Kathryn Leigh Scott, and together, they create television’s most subversive almost-couple.

There’s nothing new to seeing love depicted as a transformative force. That’s its job in art. It transforms the static, the pessimistic, the hopeless, and the innocent. Dark Shadows is bored with that, and reliably examines what love can do for evil. Angelique is the series’ longest-running experiment in that. Her story ends in the transformation that love can create. Just because she believes she begins the story as a woman in love, doesn’t mean that she is. Obsessed, maybe. Jealous, certainly. If she begins the series in love with anything, it’s with the idea of being someone else -- primarily a Collins, wealthy and waspy. She calls that love, and it may be, but its not romance. She just happens to find that along the way, and it’s a happy irony that it’s with the subject of her obsession. Even luckier? Having gotten the pleasure of burning her alive out of his system, he’s eventually open to exploring a future with the woman who condemned him to a godless, living death of savagery and solitude. As one should expect.

For Adam, love motivates him to improve himself. It also motivates him to become a serial kidnapper, but at least that gets him out of the house. Love transforms Julia Hoffman. Quentin, arguably. Certainly, Jeb. But with Nicholas, there is a genuine danger to the depiction and storyline. Not just that he’s doing something dangerous -- it’s that the writers are.

Depending on where you’re coming from. Love doesn’t really transform Nicholas so much as expand his range of delights. Because of the casting of Astredo, it’s hard not to root for him. Especially compared with the charming-but-bland quarterback-type presented by Joe Haskell, the program creates an immediate David-and-Goliath scenario where it’s very easy to root for the diabolical Blair. Joe’s spun his wheels for years… at least Nicholas wants to make a commitment. And it’s not because Maggie’s soul is the secret to some superweapon or something. No, he just authentically loves her. If Nicholas’ charm and awareness weren’t enough to make him the preferable Dr. Pepper to the predictable Coke of the good guys, now he’s a guy with a sincere interest in one of the show’s heroines. Because who knows what’s holding up Joe? Barnabas wasn’t in love with her; he was in love with someone who just looked like her. True, we don’t see how Joe responded to her when he and Maggie first met. We don’t see Joe infatuated. What we see is a Joe (yes, traumatized, but still….) who is complacent but arguably noncommittal. Contrasted with a Nicholas, motivated for the right reasons, it makes Joe’s upcoming fate even sadder. And Maggie’s affection for Joe, even more so, because we know where it’s headed.

As for Nicholas? Now more than ever, it’s hard to root against him. And maybe we don’t. We just root against his plans. Nicholas is a man who wants naughty naughty things. But Maggie’s not one of them.

This episode hit the airwaves Aug. 15, 1968.

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