Monday, February 3, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 3


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 953

Love is in the air for Jeb, but with Nicholas in the house, a dead man may be the only one grinning! Nicholas Blair: Humbert Allen Astredo. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Nicholas returns to reign in Jeb for his desire to stray from his Leviathan destiny. As he and Bruno increase the pressure on the Leviathan messiah, Carolyn has dreams suggesting Jeb’s connection to Paul’s death. Digging up his body, Paul is seen to be dead, but grinning madly.

The cosmology of the Dark Shadows universe just mopped itself up, and it’s about time. It’s shameful for a franchise like that to walk around with its Leviathan Transformation Chamber looking like Willie’s bedroom. And there’s only one man who can tidy up a cosmology with lemon-fresh continuity, making it both the candy mint and the breath mint of television horror.

If continuity has a name, it must be Humbert.

You were expecting someone else?

Quickly into Jeb’s tenure, it’s clear where this is going. Barnabas is again fully weaponized and strapped into the DB5 of Purpose, which is what happens when you mess with the ghost of his girl and put him on a liquid diet. Quentin’s in the ring. And Roger’s coming home, so God help the forces of evil when he puts down his 30-year-old fine, indifferently blended, to clear the property. Jeb can be sent packing any moment.

With an overdose of bon-bois.

Most important, Jeb has quickly learned to hate his monstrous form and longs for humanity, following the fine DS tradition of assimilation-by-infatuation. It’s happened before and will happen again. Nicholas may have been assigned to the job specifically because he has experience with chucking his ignoble responsibilities in the name of loving a gal from Collinsport. He knows full well that it leads to only one place: cleaning Diablos’ litterbox for all eternity.

This is the first storyline I can recall where the villain is just as eager to end it as the heroes. It's a sophisticated move on the part of the show and brings up a wonderful ambiguity to the proceedings. Other villains have followed internal instincts toward wickedness, having to temper those with higher-order thoughts that suggest other choices. In the case of Jeb, his heart is genuinely in the right place. It's his lawful evil alignment that forces him to go down a dark road. And is his alignment really that bad? Or is it just his job? Jeb, like many of the Christopher Pennock characters, is a wonderful study in the corruption of untempered innocence. With Jeb, who is just an overgrown kid, we see that we are both the noble savage and completely given to immature impulses, all at once. Like Adam. The show seems to cleanse its palate with a revisitation on youth and the balance between unspoiled benevolence and myopic selfishness.

Power corrupts on Dark Shadows, but those born with it are often born with hearts that are equally loving. Look at Angelique, for instance. It’s the same ambiguity. Life is much tougher for someone like Barnabas. He’s the saddest of the show’s dark clowns because he was a good man before he gained his powers. He knows exactly what horrible parts of himself they unleash. Quentin goes one step further. His final, dark ability is the show’s most fantastic, and his foreknowledge leads him to be at his most conservative when he can afford to be his least.

In other words, Jeb and the show need a guiding hand, and that guiding hand wears a natty, gray glove.

For seasoned viewers, this is a much-needed delight. We’ve been gone from 1897 for almost two months. We’ve been spoiled by Count Petofi; the angst of Paul’s return, the demonic domestic displeasures of the Todds, and the machinations of their marble-mouthed tots sit with the unwelcome determination of a hangover from the high livin’ of the last flashback. With the return of Nicholas Blair, we are treated to an unapologetic villain with a goal, allowing us to pull for Jeb and feel heartbreak, rather than fear when he strays.

He’s a curbed villain, however. He’s no longer the freewheeling contractor for the devil… he’s a number of rungs down. Or up. Depends on how you look at Satanic promotions. Either way, he’s clearly working his way back up from the mailroom. His presence also puts the purposefully vague Leviathans into a much-needed context. Like the HP Lovecraft works that inspired them, the Leviathans began as creatures akin to the Phoenix, existing beyond western, Judeo-Christian mythos and morality. As scary as that kind of unknowable neutrality can be, you know, pick a side, why don’t you? And they do. The entire scheme gets cleared up with Nicholas’ entrance, and the Leviathans now exist in the context of Diabolos, a subsidiary of Comcast Xfinity.

Evil has a vast variety of internal struggles within 593. Megan, Bruno, Jeb, and Nicholas all have varying agendas. Carolyn is the only standout, and this presages the show’s later descent into the Gerard storyline, where evil will isolate good almost completely out of the picture. Carolyn will be one of the last, good people standing, long after the show has abandoned the sense of family unit it would wear in the height of the Barnabas and Adam storylines. For now, the show still hums with much-needed mirth and silliness within the darkness. If it’s not Nicholas switching doors, it’s exhuming the buried slide of a grinning Dennis Patrick. Either way, we’re grinning as well.

This episode hit the airwaves Feb. 18, 1970.

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