Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: January 14


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1195

When Gerard claims a bride in a bizarre act of unnatural hypnosis, will Barnabas catch the garter? Judah Zachery: James Storm. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Gerard puts enough whammy on Daphne to marry him, and Quentin’s arrival comes too late. He is soon arrested again, and although Barnabas dedicates himself to ending the man he now knows to be Judah Zachery, he may not be able to. Angelique thinks it is hopeless. Her detached attitude about it is indicative of the Witch Privilege that Barnabas cites as the reason he cannot love her. Hearing this, she is determined to reform. Her voodoo attack on Gerard is cut short by the surprise arrival of her intended victim.

With this, we begin the final cycle of “this is it.” Not that it wants to make a big deal out of it. If it were any more modest and self-effacing, the episode would be mistaken for a Lutheran.

One of the things that makes 1840 so incredibly challenging for viewers is the fact that most other endings know that they’re endings. Most endings bellow the fact at you long before the climax and resolution… and, if the production caps off an epic story of British fantasy, it will still be ending hours later. But this doesn’t. It just happens. I hate to look at Dark Shadows as anything other than one, big interconnected story. The fact that it was not constructed with Straczynskian forethought is irrelevant to the finished product… except in certain idiosyncrasies of storytelling. Things ramble endlessly only to end abruptly. You know, like real life.

When a viewer abandons preconceived notions of structure and finally realizes that storytelling does not begin and end with the unholy conformist trinity of Syd Field, Robert McKee, and Joseph Campbell, endings like this one are stunningly truthful. Almost too much so. Real life doesn’t with cues for heartfelt conversations that sum up relationships. Real life has never provided me with my own montage so that I can get into shape, just like it’s never given me a clip reel of highlights so that I’ll know the show is over.

I wonder how the show would have treated these episodes if they’d really, honestly known that this was it. They are not devoid of summative sentiment. But they are summing up a storyline, not a series. Given that, they do so extremely well. If you look at the major “vacations” taken by the storyline, only 1795 is as self-consciously satisfying. Parallel time just mercifully ends, and does 1995 even count? 1897's ending is sort of the opposite of the rest of that story line. It's dour and melancholy and overstays it welcome. So that leaves 1840, and upon re-examination, I think it's the most satisfying ending that any storyline has on the program. Including the incredibly painful death that is just a few episodes away.

The most pivotal moments in the episode work in tandem, one after the other. Barnabas confronts Gerard and refers to him as Judah, which has to be a huge blow to Judah’s ego… and a great show of bravado for Barnabas, considering that Judah Zachery is the boogeyman for Barnabas’ generation; his offstage manipulations have slowly poisoned the family for hundreds of years, and we can thank him for what Barnabas finds when emerging in 1967. Of course, Zachery’s powers are potentially far more vulgar, and Barnabas’ risk in taunting him is all the more shocking when you consider that he very much knows the risk he’s taking.

In a Structured Ending, this would be the puffed-up moment where the hero gets a cosmic spanking for the sin of immodesty. But the up in question is not puffed enough for that. Nothing here is. Barnabas has just come off of telling Angelique the real reasons why he cannot love her. Yes, stop the presses. Important. Show. Moment.

And it kinda happens. That’s about the most you can say.

Yes, yes. It’s enough to make her risk everything to stop the wholesale slaughter she predicts. In that sense, Barnabas is a real value in the rhetoric department. Very casual about the whole thing. Reasonable to a predictably Canadian extent. So reasonable, I fear that he’ll transform into a Unitarian or Merkin Muffley on the Grey Phone with Dimitri.

He basically says, “Yeah, I mean, Angelique, you know… It’s just… You’ve got witch ways, you. You know? Witch, witchy, witch… you know… um, witchy ways. You’ll never stop using them. And that means you are not human. You know how it is. I mean, it’s not your fault, so don’t beat yourself up too much. But, you know. This is how… um, yeah. So, I’m going to make a cheese sandwich. Maybe change the litter box. Do you need anything?”

I’m not really exaggerating. And it’s perfect in its awkward straightforwardness. Even with all of the time travel and psychic premonitions on the show, they still don’t have DVDs, so they have no idea what’s coming. I’m sure if Barnabas knew this was one of the last times he’d be able to give The Speech, he would have really made it a humdinger.

For a viewer, it’s actually satisfying… enough. It passes a reality test that most shows are too teary eyed to par out of at this point. Jonathan Frid and Lara Parker could spellbind just by reading the iTunes terms and conditions aloud at this point. And Jerry Lacy, James Storm, and the Chairman of the Chops, himself, Mr. David Selby? They glide through the episode with an easy confidence the OED would brand Rat-Packian while hitting the notes of gravitas with utter respect for their significance. Storm is especially disciplined, transforming into the series’ Blofeld with a mid-Atlantic blend of Stanislavskian truth and Classical panache. Is this the evil that launched well over a thousand episodes?

Do not underestimate James Storm.

This episode hit the airwaves Jan. 22, 1971.

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