Monday, December 9, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: December 9


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 646

When Collinwood’s newest and oldest guest reveals himself, will there still be room for Roger? Quentin: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.)

David and Amy encounter the ghosts of Quentin and Beth, who telepathically instruct them to bury Quentin’s bones and then set up a tripwire for Roger on the stairs, which works. Perhaps lethally.

It may be the most awaited day in Dark Shadows history. The build up had been going on for several weeks. Today, we meet Quentin Collins. And few men just kind of stand there and look sharp with the same kind of benevolent and sybaritic menace as David Selby.

As smartalec as that sounds, it’s also true. That’s all the man needs to do to establish his presence. And stand, he does.

It was clear that something was coming. It was clear that he was named Quentin. And it was clear that it was the next big direction for the story because, let’s face it, Don Briscoe is too nice of a guy. Unlike the arrival of Barnabas, Quentin was coming into a series where anything could happen. That did a lot of the work for David Selby, but it also raised expectations meteorically. Quentin’s first appearance is a masterpiece of performance focus, lighting, makeup, and costume design. The accompaniment of Beth, lit beautifully because she barely had to move, is even more powerful because it puts this mystery man into a context. He has followers. He has a team. Unlike the accident that was Barnabas, he exists as the result of a campaign. And every time David visits, he grows more powerful, thus reinforcing every warning that kids ever got about goin’ too near the white van driven by the guy with muttonchops.

The show has it both ways on several accounts. The more Quentin moves, the more he reveals potentials and limitations. So he plays it as motionlessly as possible. It’s an old stage trick. When blocking a play, the less a character moves, the more powerful they are. All of Selby’s work is with the eyes, and the muttonchops direct and intensify them magnificently. The production also satisfies twin agendas by allowing Quentin to remain a silent cypher and still communicate, by speaking through David. When David tries on the Victorian clothes, he speaks as if he were Quentin, but the line between Quentin and Beth and David and Amy is wildly questionable. Is it Quentin or David or David-through-Quentin or David-empowered-by-Quentin who says that he was bound to get revenge for how both of them had been treated?

It’s a fantastically allusive line of dialogue. Maybe Quentin is speaking about himself and Beth, and how they were treated by ancestors… perhaps he doesn’t know they are dead. Or perhaps Roger and Elizabeth enact some bizarre legacy of which David is ignorant. Maybe David and Quentin see themselves as marginalized members of the family, brothers-under-the-shroud, and are striking out. Maybe David is speaking for himself and Amy. maybe it’s all of the above, and that’s why they were chosen. David did not discover Quentin. Quentin simply waited for the right one.

Because the right ones were watching every day. And god help their parents if they didn’t have a release like Dark Shadows.

It’s a cliché among fans of a certain age that they “ran home from school to watch dark shadows.“ It’s a very true cliché however. 646 really twists that cliche by very authentically representing and addressing those fans. They are finally the heroes, investigating the unknown and taking charge of discovering what others had been too lackadaisical to discover. And they are also the villains, being moved by an entirely new figure who didn’t just deal with them as curious happenstances, but as the target of their interests.  It’s easy to forget the sense of constant pain and unfairness that sits with an aware child, and I don’t think it’s going very far to say that dark shadows fans are, if anything, aware. Both David and Amy are only children, growing up with adults who treated them — almost — as equals, because how else are they to address them? But they are inconvenient, unwise adults, and children like David and Amy are aware of this, also. Before, the show focused this kind of interest entirely on how dangerous and random a kid like this could be. David trying to kill his father is absolutely nothing new. But now, we see this from Davis’s point of view, also. If an adult is encouraging him to kill, there must suddenly, finally be a rational reason.

Yes? No. But David’s rage at Roger has been assuaged for some time. Or has it? It doesn’t take much for Quentin to inspire more of it. Roger complains about David to Liz throughout the episode, and that’s a chicken-and-egg passive aggression that a kid is going to notice. When Roger wonders if he made a mistake letting that child into the house, Liz asks if he means Amy. She wouldn’t ask if “David” were not a likely answer as well. The storyline has a very political message between parent and child, because the tension between Roger and David has improved, yes, but maybe not healed. Roger has yet to contemplate losing him, and David has yet to see whether Roger cares. Quentin was rejected by Jamison, who believed that he didn’t care, either. If he sees David as Jamison and Roger as the nearest adult in the lad’s life, somewhere between himself and Edward, then perhaps this is to prove to the Jamison spirit that an adult can care. Even Roger.

Ghosts have strange logic. But it’s clear there is a logic. How will it involve Barnabas? Or will Barnabas go away? The questions in the era were heady as the show revs up for 1969, its greatest year and when the downfall -- very quietly -- began.

This episode hit the airwaves Dec. 16, 1968.

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