Monday, February 24, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 24


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 701

In 1897, unwitting gypsies react to the return of Quentin Collins by unleashing a living death from beyond the grave. Quentin: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Quentin arrives back at Collinwood, despite having sewn domestic chaos there with his exit. His dying grandmother welcomes him cautiously, but warns that his brother Edward will inherit the secret of the Collins family. Meanwhile, desperate gypsies raid Barnabas’ casket in search of jewels, but find Barnabas, inhabited by his soul from 1969, more than ready to greet them.

Some transitions feel right.

Julia encountering Ben Stokes in hideous age makeup in 1840? Not right.

Vicki encountering a wide-eyed Barnabas on the Old House lawn in 1795? Right.

1897? Right beyond right. Like a smoking jacket delivered by a Greek god and tailored by St. George W. Trippon, himself.

It’s a transition that’s warm and fond of the actors and its audience and the show that is to come. It lets us know that although David’s life hangs in the balance, that’s 75 years or so in the future, so swing, baby. Unlike the DS of old, which often trickled onto screens with the urgency of frozen sap, this moves so quickly that it unleashes Barnabas by episode’s end. Up to a certain point, Dark Shadows asked anxious audience members, “What’s the rush?”

DS1897 has too much story to tell for that. It’s a soap with a confidence to do more than string us along between Ronco ads. It slides with refreshing effortlessness for one timeline to another. And it helps that we’ve already been introduced to Magda, Quentin, and Beth.

When Barnabas departs 1969, he is flanked by Julia and Stokes: friends. They are the last faces we see from 1969, and Magda and Szandor — Grayson Hall and Thayer David — are the first we find in 1897. Barnabas’ Necropod 1 will land among friends. Instantly, we know them to be on our side. Sleazy. Opportunistic. But warm, affectionate, and canny. Smarter than Willie. Less cruel than Jason McGuire… yet every bit his match. And refreshingly non-anglo. Yes, a mess of vices, but as “ethnic-others,”, they are courageous and aware individuals. They are destined to be wise allies and formidable enemies. This is important in the Curse Slinger department. If remorse doesn’t follow, the audience learns nothing, the show lacks poignance, and storylines end when the villains meet justice or death. We have no way of knowing that Magda will deliver Quentin’s destiny, but it will make nuanced sense when she does.

Quentin’s entrance, sans painting, begins as a nearly shot-for-shot remake of Barnabas’ first trip to Collinwood ‘67. That introduction told us to expect mystery. Now, this introduction tells us to expect our new co-protagonist. He wastes no time in speaking, telling Beth (proto-reunited) that she is still beautiful. It’s a line of swagger, charm, sincerity, and utter bunk. In other words, Quentin. Without his voice, we only knew part of the picture.  He was a ghost doing a dedicated impression of Edward, stern and severe. We know that edge. We know that potential. The brothers share it, even if we don’t know one of them. Now, we see the justifiably-held charm with which it is bound. Has any character been so bold on Dark Shadows? Nathan Forbes? Your ship is casting off.

There is a new scoundrel in town. One we know will have powers vast and true.

And we see exactly why matriarch Edith lets him back; he’s fun — a presence we’ve never seen among the Collins clan. Think back. I mean, Jeremiah, a little. Carolyn, if you’re named Buzz, but that’s it. This immediately sets him apart. If he’s unhappy, we know he’ll deal with it with wit, irony, and edge. He is the modernist answer to the Romantic’s assertion of Barnabas.

We already know that he’ll find no equal at Collinwood, and by introducing that edge, Dark Shadows grows up. Took ‘em going back 75 years, but it’s high time. And to remind us that some things never change in a universe that seems to thrive on instability? Barnabas enters in the traditional way, with a mouth-breathing hayseed looking for his family jewels. Szandor should be as lucky as Willie. But with Thayer David in the role, we see a connection between Willie and Ben, if only in spirit.

Barnabas will soon learn that you have to go places you’d never expect to finally make it home.

This episode hit the airwaves March 3, 1969.

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