Monday, November 18, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 18


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 631

Nicholas pulls out all the stops, and stakes, when he revives a vampire to ensure the resurrection of a demonic undead vixen to secure a master race for the prince of darkness. Harry Johnson: Craig Slocum. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Nicholas revives Tom as an agent to assist in the revival of Eve. After unsuccessfully attacking Victoria, and after being investigated by his own brother, Chris Jennings, Tom is hunted down by Barnabas who incinerates him in the sunrise.

Dark Shadows 631 could not be any manlier if it were written by Robert Bly and featured a drumming circle of Bill Malloy, Sam Evans, and Istvan. I guess I could like the episode more if you threw in Count Petofi being instructed in Zumba by the curvaceous Chuck Morgan to a tune by Jerry Reed, but other than that, this episode has reached the scientific limit for entertainment. If we experienced any more, it would have the side effects that top scientists warned pilots they would experience if they broke the sound barrier. Especially while wearing that, thank you very much. It’s after Labor Day. Have some decorum, General Yeager. Have some decorum.

It’s a laundry list of delight. (And just to check, has anyone here ever listed their laundry? I haven’t. It’s all I can do to get it into a bag.) first of all, we have not one, but two Don Briscoes, with the revival of Tom being followed hot on the hindpaws of his brother, Chris. What would’ve happened to Chris if Tom had attacked him? Would Chris become all the more powerful? Would the werewolf part neutralize the vampire part? If someone got bit, would they only become a werewolf if they had been bitten during the full moon, or at any point in the lunar cycle? Or does he stop craving blood when he becomes a werewolf? I’m sure they’ve solved this in the Bloodlines portion of Second Life, but who plays that? With our luck, that’s where David Henesy has been all along.

The beginning is terrific, because Nicolas Blair goes to revive Tom Jennings, which he does by pulling the stake out of his heart. And he’s perfectly preserved! He’s just like some kind of human pen and pencil set. Except he’s not human and that’s neither a Ticonderoga in his chest, nor is he just glad to see us. Nicholas warned him that if he should defy him in any way, Tom would be sentenced to eternal damnation. And I guess it’ll really be eternal this time. Not semi-eternal or temporarily-eternal like it was the last time. The inclusion of Tom and Chris in the same episode feels like a kind of stunt, but I admire it, and it’s the sort of muscle flexing that feels like a warm up to the hijinks that would become routine in 1897.

An attack on Victoria leads to Barnabas finally telling her that yes, there are vampires. Now, it’s not like I’m an expert on the series who has gone for long stints writing about it every day. But you know, I would be amazed if Victoria had not gotten the memo of at least a rumor of vampires somewhere along the line. Maybe in 1795 or something? I’m pretty sure she had Barnabas‘s number when she came back. At least, you know, the “cousin.“ Anyway, it’s a new actress in the part so I assume that Barnabas is filling her in as one of the most meta-acts of the series. Speaking of new actresses, it’s time for my annual crush on Betsy Durkin to return. There, I said it. She’s got brains and intensity and, honestly, looks like she has the capacity to understand pretty darn quickly. I’m not comparing her with anyone. Except that she looks a lot like Julia Louis Dreyfus, which is a good thing. But I’m not comparing her with anyone on the show. Or who was on the show. Wink wink. Her brief tenure is a welcome sight for me. And maybe it’s just because of novelty. Even if you have a great homeroom teacher, nothing beats a permissive substitute.

 After Barnabas and Nicholas have words, it feels as if Blake Edwards took over as director. First of all, Nicholas Blair officially becomes the frustrated mirror for Barnabas. Digging up bodies. Assisted by an ineffectual redneck with a phallic name. You can almost see Nicholas thinking, “I knew I signed up for the wrong team. He gets Willie Loomis. The best I get? Harry Johnson. And a useless one, at that.”

Eventually you have, within the same 8 feet of woods, Nicholas and Harry, secretly followed by Barnabas, secretly followed by Tom Jennings. At some point, it stops being a Dark Shadows episode and becomes a Jack Davis poster for the mid-70’s Buck Henry film adaptation.

Not to say that pathos doesn’t enter the picture. Barnabas goes full on Peter Cushing van Helsing when he destroys Tom Jennings, mit crossed candlesticks at daybreak. And Tom has one of the most logical lines ever spoken on Dark Shadows. Barnabas stands there telling Tom how painful the sunrise is going to be, as if Tom is supposed to do something other than suffer within it, and Tom simply says, “then don’t do it to me!” And you know, he has an excellent point. But unfortunately, Barnabas is too much in the moment to ask something like, “Do you have an alternative to suggest?“

The entire line between the dead and the undead has always been heavily blurred, at best, but there was a poignant and painful irony as Tom died, screaming “Let me live! Let me live!”

 At that moment, I didn’t know if he were asking to simply be allowed to continue surviving as a vampire, brought back from a second death only to be tortured back to death again in the space of a few hours, or if he were asking to legitimately live, meaning to never have been a vampire in the first place. How many vampires would ask the same thing? Because we see them speaking and displaying feelings and passions, we are never given a deep chance to contemplate the metaphysical significance of un-death. As much as they are known for drinking blood to survive, there is and must be a profoundly wrong and ultimately alienated essence to being a vampire. People long to be vampires. The hours are great. The wardrobe works. Rent is minimal. But I wonder if the real reason we identify with them is because we all, to some extent, feel separated from this concept of “living” that seems to be shared like an inside joke by everyone else.   The vampire wears otherness like a badge of, if not honor, at least honesty.

Ultimately, Tom Jennings’ final plea is the plea of all of us. It is a quest for Barnabas that only begins with Dr. Lang’s cure.

This episode was broadcast Nov. 25, 1968.

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