Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 28


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1071

Quentin has his doubts when Barnabas lures him to a closet with the assurance that there’s a playroom inside. Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.) 

Barnabas and Julia arrive from the future -- and the opposite end of the house -- to a delighted Quentin, Liz, and their new guest, Carrie Stokes, the professor’s niece. Carrie remains suspicious of the two, perhaps because there’s only so much bacon at bruch, and until recently, she had it all to herself since David read Maggie’s Casteneda book and went vegetarian. Barnabas and Julia set about trying to identify Daphne and Gerard. When Barnabas tries to show Quentin the playroom, he simply fubles around in the linen closet and shrugs. 

If there is one Dark Shadows episode that lurks in my memory as the model for all of the very best, it’s this one. It’s genuine speculative action. There’s mystery, suspense, a supernatural threat, lies, kindness, warmth, kinship, and an optimistic sense of adventure. Collinwood is treated as it should be; it’s a home that’s held with affection. This bastion is a fortress to be protected, not feared. And it’s first and last son, Barnabas, has such a sense of can-do problem-solving, he should be dressed as Athos and demanding that they stop the machinations of Richelieu and M’Lady at once, lest France fall to the Pope once and for all. I get that image from the way Barnabas bounds into the drawing room with Julia, to proudly announce they’ve arrived back from both Parallel Time and the Future. It’s the kind of delivery you’d see Errol Flynn give to Basil Rathbone… as balloons fell from the ceiling. 

And honestly, after arriving back from such exotic destinations, how else is a man to enter? They’ve even captured Kathy Cody trying to break into the ensemble, and she’s locked in Paul Stoddard’s trunk. What is Eliot doing trying to pawn her off at Collinwood, anyway? This man hosted Adam, for god’s sake. What is Carrie Stokes doing to the upholstery that he dumps her with Liz? She’s just warming up for an intensely uncomfortable evening visit to Quentin’s bedroom. Seriously, they remark about the strange feelings she’s been having. It’s the scene where Quentin barely restrains himself from sprinting out of the room and calling his lawyer.

Other than that, Collinwood has found a strange equilibrium. Carolyn’s in mourning, which has basically sedated her. Liz is in a decent mood, largely because she’s had David Selby all to her herself. Quentin has ditched the turtleneck for a suit, and seems blandly at peace, comfortable to stand around and look handsome. David and Carrie are busy ignoring the fact that they are almost out of puberty’s oven. It’s best we don’t know what they’ve found snooping in Quentin’s sock drawer, but I doubt it’s I Ching wands and a mummified hand. Life is good. It’s that weird calm that soap operas slip into between storylines. It’s important to see the house at such ease. Gordon Russell creates an excellent Pax Collinsus from which it’s all going to hell. These are the moments that will make us nostalgic in the times to come.

For a man charged with preventing a localized apocalypse, Barnabas is in an excellent mood. As well he should be. From his heroic high in 1897, he plunges in the Leviathan storyline, only having to work it off in Parallel Time and 1995. There’s an interesting detail to 1995, because it presupposes the absence of Barnabas and Julia. Why are they absent? Presumably because they are in Parallel Time. What were they doing in Parallel Time? At that hour? In those outfits? Barnabas, cursed with vampirism, was hoping he’d be different there. And why was he cursed with vampirism? Yet another deal for Josette with another sinister force. Had he recognized his power and thought more expansively, Barnabas might have used the situation rather than being used by it. He wasn’t in a position to do that, then. He is, now. And he has an ethical mandate to do it -- arguably, had he been at Collinwood, he might have prevented Gerard’s ascent.

At least, that’s what he thinks. Collinwood’s full of time travelers. They all have ample evidence that their actions can and will change the future. Barnabas has a road map to it. It’s incorrect. Doom will result. But now, Barnabas is ready. 

This episode hit the airwaves on Aug. 3, 1970.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 16


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1064

As Barnabas struggles in 1995 to assemble the clues of doomsday, Julia is preoccupied by a dashing ghost! Mrs. Johnson: Clarice Blackburn. (Repeat; 30 minutes.)

Julia reels from the psychic influence of Gerard as efforts to interrogate Carolyn about the disaster prove fruitless. The sheriff warns Barnabas and Julia to leave town, and if there were anyone else left alive, they’d smell torches and pitchforks, all the while wondering what would make pitchforks smell like that.

1995 is a fascinating mess. It’s a storyline that I want to shake by the lapels and ask it to be more. I mean, think of it… 1995! I’ve often bemoaned the lack of ray guns and mylar jumpsuits, and I’ve just as (at least once) often championed it for actually getting the era right, down to the 1970’s retro that Carolyn sports. It’s a vacation for most of the actors. Even though the majority of the original cast were absent for much of 1970 PT, they were missing from the show because they were shooting House of Dark Shadows. So, yes, they had a vacation coming. The upcoming Ragnarok storyline between 1995 and 1840 is a spare, modernist landscape where Roger is wholly missing and Liz might as well be. The post-apocalyptic wasteland of 1995 is a real slap on the backside from the OB/GYN to get us breathing in the real world.

And it is a ‘real world’ in the most poetic sense. How long has Collinsport comparatively ignored the PTSD-inducing madness regularly unleashed by the town’s namesake? Not since Victoria first arrived on the train bound for the beginning and the end of the world has the town been so realistically wigged out by the Collinses. This a Lovecraftian afterbirth of a village. In the past, the reliable, economic bounty of the cannery kept the locals quietly grumbling thank-you-may-I-have-another, but with the family either dead or insane, I can’t imagine there’s much left of Collinsport. The house may be in ruin, but so’s the local economy. Things are so bad, they have to order out to get a sheriff from the south. Because we all know that Dana Elcar would have had the whole mess cleaned up, and would have bested the conspicuously Rubenseque Chuck Morgan in any number of contests involving wrestling oil, lobster bibs, or both. Yes, of course, nude.

There’s not a lot of story to tell in such ruin, and it shocks on myriad levels. Barnabas and Julia spend a lot of time wandering back and forth between Collinwood and Collinsport, looking for clues and finding few. Gerard shows up and starts staring at people, giving them the creeps, but that’s about it. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever watched a 1995 episode with my full attention, and yet it satisfies the inauguration of my favorite storyline, the mindbendingly fatalistic fall of Collinwood. None of it is fun, and all of it is finally truthful. Haunted houses are not sustainable real estate prospects and the idea that the Collinses could have lived in one for more than a month is an assertion that needs the pantsing the show gives it, here. The other shoe of reality has fallen hard, and I think it’s for golfing.

So, what are they spending their time doing? Talking. Grayson Hall has the unenviable task of the infectious nihilism that Gerard inspires. This is a Dark Shadows of the post-Manson era, when the deaths of soldiers in a senseless war were only an hour or so away on this station. America still had illusions of being a moral empire when Vicki arrived from New York. Not so much now, and this is a reflection. There’s not much to do, hunkered down like a dog under a bed after a thunderstorm, other than muse that the lawn was so much prettier before the tempest. And that’s what they do. Julia struggles with a very new form of invasion, here. Prior victimizers imposed evil on her. Her fear of Gerard feels different. This is a force that shows her the evil she has within her, and that’s a nauseatingly Zen attack. All Gerard need do is hold up a mirror and let Julia do the rest. Barnabas seems vaguely invulnerable to it because, as he speculates, he’s not human. All he is are evil impulses that he’s learned to dress up in the suit of goodness. Gerard seems to wisely keep his distance because of it.

The episode shines with Clarice Blackburn’s surprisingly warm misremembering of Collinwood before the fall. Is she inaccurate in her memory of that sunny, happy place? It’s true for her, even if it’s a lie she’s memorized so often that it eclipses the past. In a sense, she’s like a viewer of Dark Shadows who’s romanticized what she would like to have been the warmth in the Collins home that was all too fleeting. 1995, and episode 1064 in particular, is a chance to see another fan who’s let the wishes of memory color the reality of what was. It’s a creeping preview of a storyline that would be all too ready to show us that the center cannot hold forever, if it ever did.

This episode hit the airwaves on July 23, 1970.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 6


Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 281

When a seance brings Josette to the present in Vicki’s body, to whom will Barnabas propose? Roger Collins: Louis Edmonds. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Vicki, possessed by Josette, narrates her last moments on earth until Barnabas stops her. Later, Barnabas hears Vicki speak of her love of the past, and presents her with the music box.

“What is the value of suffering if it isn’t to be enjoyed?”
-- Roger Collins, guru--

Roger Collins walks away with this one, but who is Roger? I’m not sure he ever is quite as, I don’t know, Roger as he is in this one. It’s as if a real guy were raised by Quentin’s nephew in an intensely haunted house, dodging murder raps, fire-demon ex-wives, vehicular patricide, and a hard-drinking, nymphomaniacal niece who never quite “got the memo.” The writers heard about this real guy and based a character on him. And for one episode, he got to write all of his own dialogue. Every aphorism is a gem. He’s giddy over the costume party, and equally oblivious to the terror and suffering endured by the employee forced to go there. In other words, he’s a great guy and I wish the writers had featured THAT Roger Collins more. Or that Roger Moore Collins. One or the other. But like that great thespian of the English screen might have done, Louis Edmonds dominates the episode. This is despite his minimal screen time. Roger has a marvelously fresh sense of aristocratic defiance in the drawing room scene, and the rarity of seeing a Collins enjoy himself is too much to ignore. Edmonds knows he has a killer scene, designed to make him look like a million bucks. He’s a team player, Louis. Yeah, he could out act a number of his fellow performers, but he shows Louisiana good manners by not doing so. However, in this case, the thoroughbred simply needs to gallop at full speed.

Roger aside, we’re cementing the mechanics of the seance, here. I suspect the staff is well aware that 1795 finery, seances, and Vicki in peril are their next servings of bread and butter. Although that’s months away, the long-game strategy of Team Shadows allows them to get the audience so used to it all that, when it happens, it’s so natural that I’m amazed anyone time travels without a seance. The costumes feel right on the actors because they’ve been training us. Like we were all rats in Dan Curtis’ insane maze. My god, we’ve got to get back to the ship. Don’t you understand? It’s a zoo! With a cookbook! What, which episode is this? Shit, “Hocus, Pocus, and Frisbee”? You gotta be kidding me. I need a better agent.

Back to reality, the show is also straining, barely successfully, with shoehorning Vicki in as Josette. But it can’t do it too well. Because, you know, she’s not. But with Maggie in the nuthouse and Barnabas looking for reasons not to linger in Dr. Hoffman’s bedroom when she puts on that Sergio Mendes album, opens up a Whitman Sampler, and starts daubing Campari behind her ears, someone has to be Josette. I guess it could have been Dana Elcar, but I think he’s off the show by now. Vicki is awkwardly attracted to the past, and the seance features a performance that is suggestive of something else. As Moltke rhythmically pants, moans, and says “Faster!” a lot, I expect the camera to pan over to Rob Reiner’s mom telling Willie, “I have what she’s having.”

One of the many original elements to Barnabas Collins is the terror he suffers. He may take far more than he dishes out. Not only is he a deeply tragic man out of time, he’s also haunted by two ghosts. But one appears to everyone OTHER than Barnabas, and she’s the one who’d give him solace. He’s in love with the other one, but she spends all of her time possessing people and trying to out him. In 281, he’s confronted by both. What’s Josette’s game? Perhaps Josette is the force that drags Vicki through time. Perhaps it’s the only way she can warn her about Barnabas. Unless she’s not trying to warn anyone about Barnabas. If I were Josette, I’d be warning people about Angelique. And if Barnabas would just let her finish a simple possession, maybe she would!

This episode hit the airwaves on July 24, 1967.
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