Friday, April 24, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 24


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1001

What’s better than Lara Parker? Two Lara Parkers! Dark Shadows is seeing double in this very special episode where Angelique inaugurates her new life by beginning a spree of murder, malice, magic, and mirth! Chris Collins: Don Briscoe. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Angelique rises from the grave, draining Alexis of her life energy, exchanging clothes with her, and consigning her to the coffin to take her place at Collinwood. Cyrus begins changing spontaneously into Yaeger as Quentin moves to destroy what he things is Angelique’s body.

Dark Shadows passes its 1000th episode, and with no more milestones left, it slides into entropy, a perspective only possible when seeing the series as a whole. To put the division of the story into perspective, it has 224 episodes left. That’s only a few more than carried the story between Vicki’s arrival in Collinsport and the unleashing of Barnabas. 200 after that moment? We’ll find ourselves in the thick of the great man’s origin in 1795. The end of the next 200 brings Barnabas to the height of his struggle to reclaim his core goodness through both working for and fighting against Nicholas and Eve, seeing how easily his second self, Adam, falls from innocence to malevolence. The eventual triumph makes a proper midpoint for the series and over the next two hundred, our first hero -- Vicki -- leaves, and Barnabas enjoys the full height of his power before having iy taken away. The journey to episode 1000 will lead to his complete immobilization in Parallel Time while the series builds the necessity for him to stop running. In the final arc of the series, he realizes (like Dorothy Gale) that he lost nothing; a good man forced into the service of evil doesn’t become evil. In the right circumstances, he finally stops seeing himself as the man who was defeated by his own past and recognizes that the future is eternally unwritten.

You know, then it’s all 1841PT. And we all know how THAT is? Amiright? Amiright? And howabout that airline food? What’s up with that? Here’s a joke Jim Pierson told me over a curling match: an Irishman, Istvan, and a Leviathan walk into the Blue Whale….

… and the bartender says, “Aristede can stay, but only if the Caretaker gets to watch!”

1001 is all about unholy twins -- Angelique and Yaeger -- taking replacing the rightful hosts. The horror here is Dark Shadows at its most meta, because what else is Parallel Time but an unwelcomed substitute that seems interesting on the surface, but leaves us, like Barnabas, a chained prisoner who’s beginning to fear that this sinister duplicate might never leave? On some level, the writers had to be aware of that, even if it were never spoken aloud.

And before that sounds like a catty strike at the show, think about how that tight audience identification helps the overall story. Dark Shadows begins as the saga of someone seeking a home. But it never quite takes, does it? Barnabas refashions his house over and over again, only to lose it over and over again. In the case of Parallel Time, he thinks he’s found a better home, only to realize that he should have valued what he had in the first place, even if it smells like Teen Jeb. Perhaps we should have, also. But once he realizes that, it’s too late. When he returns to Collinwood, it is already a smoldering hulk he failed to save… before he even gets the chance.

Dark Shadows is rampant with twins, doubles, and alternate sides. Of course, any drama is (actor vs. part), and none more than those in which we follow performers taking on parts so numerous that we stop identifying roles and simply note the actor beneath as the real character we follow. But PT is literally the show’s twin, born while the crew is creating yet another twin for the big screen. As we see Angelique take over for Alexa, and John “Lounge Hulk” Yeager burst out of Cyrus of his own volition, the show feels like it is finally being honest. Twins are intrinsically nightmares. If they are worse than us, we dread their potential havoc and implication. If they are better than we are, we dread them even more. We’ve been fighting to maintain our optimism while the show grinds away, and just when it’s wise to give up, the evil twins at least get it over with and assume the places of the good. PT thus earns its place, if not as a second home, then as a proving ground for Barnabas to see who he really is.

Lara Parker’s doubled performance, timed exquisitely, allows her to demonstrate range like few other moments granted to any actor on the show. She’s at her most maniacally fierce, so much so that we glimpse a strange rage boiling under the skin of a Memphis debutante who’s escaped the south but not quite the 1960’s. It’s a performance that, sure, what the hell, it’s acting… but it’s acting with a realism more easily interpreted as real. Parker, here, represents what makes the show so vital, and what makes her so vital to the show. It is that fusion of impossible beauty, impossible knowledge, and impossible rage that fascinates us, frightens us, repels us, and makes it impossible to turn away.

One veteran not to survive this moment is Don Briscoe. It’s his last, haggard, exhausted episode. Briscoe remains a paragon of gentle magnetism and relatability. He’s what we’d like to see in ourselves, and somehow that guy snuck onto the set. His presence, even as a villain, was immediately reassuring that we, inexplicably but clearly, had a friend at Collinwood. He was holding a place for us at the table, not as impossibly macho as Burke nor as neurotic as Willie, Briscoe was the truest audience surrogate on the show. It’s a colder show -- and world -- without him.

This episode hit the airwaves on April 27, 1970.

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