Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 10


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 711

What’s beautiful, brilliant, blonde, and set on Satanic revenge? Quentin Collins, meet your new girlfriend. Angelique: Lara Parker. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Quentin and Evan accidentally summon Angelique. After determining that she is in Collinsport, she finds that Barnabas is back in the arms of an avatar of Josette. She rolls up her sleeves and gets to work on brutal revenge for both of them.

We are ten episodes into 1897, and if you were not familiar with the series, you would swear I was making it up. Nothing that has come before can really prepare us for what just happened. It represents more than an arc of television. It represents a philosophy.

And it may be fan service, objections to which I do not understand, nor have I ever. From where I am standing, which is narrow and damp and smells like Wilford Brimley, fan service is just stuff someone doesn’t like in a thing they usually do. In ample supply, usually, and daring to please someone, thus triggering the following thought, “Somewhere, someone is having a good time, and I’ll put a stop to THAT!”

Dark Shadows has just run through ten days of the best fan service in horror. Which is saying something. Okay, what’s on the scoreboard? Barnabas: vampire. Time travel. Gypsies. A dead matriarch and her ghost. A child induced to rob a coffin. A Satanist attorney with a pointy beard. A tall blonde. John Karlen, shrieking with laughter and blasting away good taste with a “fib” flag. Swords wielded. Quentin speaks. Kids induced into devil ceremonies. Oh yeah, Josette is back, as is the music box, with Barnabas picking up like the past hundred years and 1960’s fever dream never happened. Louis Edmonds, a little more Louis Edmonds. Joan Bennett, even more imperious because she lacks the means to be. It’s more of everything you like and a healthy dollop of stuff you’re horrified you were being denied. I’m certain that someone out there can’t stand it, but let us revel at the philosophy that gave us this.

Specifically, that art can exist to delight us, even as it challenges. This is Dark Shadows gone mad with generosity, not always pushing the envelope, but stuffing it full of the things we love. If it is about mystery, that’s secondary. The main mission is to thank audiences for tuning in. And today, the mosaic became complete. Because Dark Shadows was missing only one thing to become the ultimate echo chamber of itself. Today, it got it.

There is a perfection to Angelique wandering into the frame that assures us that the writers are rock confident of what they have, and they disguise no qualms about sharing it. Quentin is as immediately smitten with her as is the audience. They are not wasting any time with her jumping through hoops of pretense in a black wig. She’s here. She’s choking Evan Hanley like a Sith badass, and she sizes Quentin up with more potential energy than Pavarotti on the high dive. Her mission is to Get Barnabas, and all it takes is once glance, like an erotically charged Gladys Kravitz, through a window to find that she’s arrived just in time to straighten out the unheavenly hash of that no good, two-timing, hemopathic husband of hers, running around with the reincarnated spirit of his dead fiance again, mere hours after he’s out of the coffin. She cannot let him out of her sight for a mere century, and he’s back at it again. The louse.

She really holds a grudge, but do you blame her? You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, and at the rate she went in 1795, she broke enough eggs to run an IHOP. She didn’t just pop out of her hammock one day in Martinique and decide that she was tired of kicking around the Islands, so she might as well disguise herself as a domestic, do back-breaking labor for a year or two, then kill almost everyone in a small, Maine coastal village. You know, if she could have accomplished her ends without all that bloodshed, I suspect she would have done so.

The poor demoness is not back for fifteen minutes before she sees that all of that work was for naught. Barnabas is back in the arms of that woman, but it hasn’t gone far enough that a good doll-stranglin’ won’t help. It’s kind of hard not to cheer her on... quietly.

There’s a payoff, too. I’m not sure that we can sense it’s coming, but it would be gratuitous, well, fan service,  to bring her back without a justification.

1897 is about transformation. A European society becoming an American one. One century becoming anothert. Quentin, not just becoming a werewolf, but becoming a man of the saddest maturity. Barnabas, finally mastering the game he was dealt into a century earlier. And Angelique?

This is her great maturing as well, going from declaring Barnabas a mutual enemy with Quentin to saving his life, turning him human, and aiding his fight with Laura. Not cleanly. Not without ambiguity. But with a firmness that will carry her well into 1970 and backwards to 1840. Unless it’s the other way around.

Quentin only meets her once before dubbing her a beautiful, blackhearted child of the angels. A contradictory description more apt than any other. With her landing, the show finally and truly gives itself permission to become Dark Shadows. Whether it’s Liz transforming from murderous to mother or Vicki finally understanding, Dark Shadows is about transformation more than anything else. After all, what is a shadow of the transformation of light to darkness and back again?  At this very moment, the show, itself, transforms.

69 years before the first episode even began.

This episode hit the airwaves March 17, 1969.

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