Monday, September 23, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: September 23


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1111

Julia responds to the need to pass for normal in 1840 by unleashing a blood crazed monster to claim is her brother. Daniel: Louis Edmonds. (Repeat; 30 min.)

In 1840, Julia hatches a plan with Ben to pass as a Collins. She meets Daniel, the insane patriarch, and Gabriel, his disabled son. Gabriel may have evidence to her real identity via a stolen earring or he may choose to wear it to compliment his girlish bouffant. Julia goes to the mausoleum to unleash Barnabas, displaying the sound, evidence-based thinking that proceeded her in the field of medicine.

1111 is a breathlessly dense episode, introducing (or reintroducing) audiences to scads of characters. Welcome to 1840 proper. It’s a Dickensian time, and the coincidence of so many important characters being in a single Dark Shadows episode at once is, well, one worthy of Dickens. The writers have gotten almost too good at this by now. 1795 and 1897 felt as if they rationally meted out new casts of characters very few at a time. In this case, we meet or hear of nine or ten. It’s almost dizzying. But above all else, it’s brave. This is not an incipient universe, but one fully formed. They drop us off in the middle of it, send us a care package, and wish us the best.

It’s easy to admire the guts behind this. What’s not as easy is caring as much as we should. When you meet the characters just a few at a time, you have the luxury of building sympathies with each before the next round comes in. Well, by the time Flora and Gerard enter, I’m exhausted.  On the surface, it’s easy to conclude that the cast so far isn’t particularly likable. Ben looks more grotesquely malignant than aged. It would be easy to appreciate Daniel more if he didn’t introduce himself by confessing that he murdered his wife. The character of Gabriel is designed to be one of the villains of the series, and Christopher Pennock has yet to be given the opportunity to enhance him into a delightful one.  Not only is Flora a gullible dingbat, and she is executed with a voice that really drives the point home. (Note, Joan Bennett does a hell of a Tiny Tim impression.) We meet Gerard and hear him speak for the first time, but we already know where his character will wind up, so confirmation bias goes crazy as we look for him to slip up.

There’s an interesting storytelling lesson here. When Barnabas goes back to deal with Quentin, we already know that the solution to the problem resides in solving the mystery of who Quentin was and how/why he died. While Gerard certainly is responsible for what happened in 1970, he still feels somewhat secondary to all of this.

Of course, the sympathetic character in the midst of this is Julia. She hasn’t always been the easiest character to like, and her pluckiness here and strange optimism about releasing Barnabas lift her standing even more than seeing her battle zombies. Her first act in the episode is getting into a rumble with a walking, talking story theme. The aged and mentally bereft patriarch, Daniel, introduces himself by mistaking her for the wife he murdered, and tries to murder her all over again. As he does so, he begs to know how many times he will be confronted by this.

What a reflective statement by the franchise. Everything here has to do with sins of the past. Everything here deals with people sacrificed for reasons pertaining to love and convenience of love. How many times does the show take us back, with the optimism that, if we can just go back far enough, to the right enough place, we can prevent even the need to make amends? In his madness, there is wisdom, and it could very well be that Daniel, the show’s once and future child and patriarch is the ideal character to represent all of it. Played by both David Henesy and Louis Edmonds, Daniel is, at times, innocence, corruption, father, and son. He is both ends of the spectrum that we know too well, and he unites generations of both actors and characters under similar and disparate roofs.

Of course, we will learn that Gabriel is desperate for his approval. Even to the point of faking his own disability. And even to the point of murdering him to succeed him. Daniel is the ultimate Collins. In the fusion of generations and actors, he has no female equivalent. In a show with such a female heavy audience and female heavy ensemble, which begins with a female protagonist, the fact that the ultimate Collins is male is another quiet way that the show spreads focus and opportunities between the genders.

Appropriate that Julia, vaguely androgynous herself, is our surrogate here. It's high time that Barnabas, her other half, who also has a blend of the complimentary gender in his persona, arrives. They have a storyline to save.

This episode hit the airwaves Sept. 28, 1970.

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