Friday, November 15, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 15


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 367

After a seance thrusts Victoria backwards in time, she must contend with a representative of morality who tries to burn her clothing. Abigail Collins: Clarice Blackburn. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Victoria awakens to a suspicious Abigail, who wastes no time in proclaiming her to be possessed by Satan. The governess then visits an unfinished Collinwood, where she meets the dashing Jeremiah. Later, after the family debates taking her on as Sarah’s tutor, Victoria wins the job.

367 is an episode that holds a strange magic. Victoria is back in 1795, and, instead of just fainting and being carted off to her room, actually takes action exploring the world and carving a little place in it. She even challenges Abigail on the insanity of her religious fanaticism. In the space of 22 minutes, Victoria shows more gumption, drive, and nerve than she's probably displayed in the entire series and finally earns legitimate recognition as the heroine of the show. Since Barnabas will spend months as someone tantamount to a hapless victim, if not simply a hapless victim, Victoria becomes the lead we've been hoping to see for the past sixteen months.

The prior episode, which introduces Victoria to 1795, is even more magical, but it is so surreal and intoxicating that it feels like the dream for which Vicki mistakes it. In 367, we awaken from the dream, as does Victoria, and we find that it's still real. Bracingly so. From the start of 367, the show is off to the races. 366 finds Jonathan Frid trying a bit too hard to be the Blue Boy come to life, playing a wide-eyed innocence which is incompatible with his mordant, Canadian wit. An episode or two in, and Frid will be in his element. The only one in 367 who seems as ill-at-ease is Anthony George, and it never seems to take for him. Contrast this with Clarice Blackburn, who finally has a part worthy of her pointy and acerbic talent. She's like the bitter, hypocritical wives in the domestic WC Fields movies, and she will find a way to keep that shtick fresh until Barnabas does her in, months from now. Of course, Joan Bennett is finally playing to her strengths and reads like she walked right off the set of Man in the Iron Mask. In all of this, lends a touch of MGM grandeur to the proceedings. Most of all, Louis Edmonds is completely transformed as Joshua. It's the toughest role in the storyline to play. It requires him to be a stiff, unyielding representative of the double standard while still having a compassionate heart buried deep somewhere. His take on the job interview with Victoria lacks a script as funny as the one that will be perfected for the 1990 series, but the strange mixture of fairness and frugality in it makes for great TV.

Likewise, Lela Swift is composing shots and using lighting with a creativity and sense of art far beyond what we usually expect from her and hurriedly-assembled daytime soap operas. There's a unique thrill for Dark Shadows fans in seeing Collinwood still under construction, and the early morning sun with which it is lit gives an old set a brand-spanking-new aura. Back at the not-yet-Old House, in the scene where the family is considering whether or not to take on Victoria, Swift paints one meaningful screen picture after another. She lines up the characters from most skeptical to least, often balancing the screen picture with them. These are small touches, completely unnecessary for the practical job, but they have a sense of art that is clearly inspired by the unique nature of the episode. An incredibly complicated set of given circumstances is communicated with economy and panache.

1795, as a storyline, is as much about the mixed-blessing necessity of compromises as it is about anything. Barnabas compromises with Angelique. The entire family compromises with Abigail until it’s too late. But we also see Victoria compromise with Joshua and her own sense of honor as she lies her way into survival. A new skill for the usually honorable governess. She’s spent a year and a half as the measure of purity against which we judge the dirty hands of her fellow characters. Now, seeing life in a true survival mode, she’ll finally gain the skills and make the choices to ultimately understand. And figure out how to play the clavichord.

This episode was broadcast Nov. 21, 1967.

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