Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: Jan. 5

Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 404


Does Vicki have the power of witchcraft after all? All bets are off when a smitten jail guard quits his day job to become Collinsport’s newest lawyer for her defense. Peter Bradford: Roger Davis. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Judge Matigan goes from defending Vicki against Trask to distancing himself when she reveals her anachronistic origins. From the wings, a handsome young gaoler named Peter Bradford volunteers to defend her innocence. Meanwhile, Barnabas is interrupted by a spying bat when he attempts to tell Josette the true identity of the witch. 

If the Monolith from 2001 were to have taken a break from filming his upcoming Valentine’s Day special across the hall, he would have dropped in on this episode of Dark Shadows. Apes at his feet. Golf club over his shoulder. “Thanks for the Memories” wafting around him thanks to Bob Cobert. Why? Change must be heralded. And to be certain, change is arriving. Dark Shadows, cauldron of moral ambiguity, is about to get its first, pure hero. Ladies and gentlemen, join me, Richard Strauss, and the Also Sprach Zarathustra Dancers as we welcome Mr. Roger Davis

Specifically, Peter Bradford. A character unlike any that the show has introduced in 400 episodes. He’s a capital-R Romantic hero in the midst of a Greek tragedy. Both the actor and character bring everything right to Dark Shadows, filling needs we never knew the show had until now.  It's appropriate that this segment of the show should feel even more like a Greek tragedy than Dark Shadows normally does. And that’s saying a lot. If this program were any more Greek, it would smashing plates and awaiting the Pierce Brosnan musical number. The show may have have been low in budget, but the stakes in the drama are inventive and gripping.

The forces opposing Victoria Winters are like those tormenting Gods themselves. They are relentless. Vast to the point of institutional. And inevitable. Vicki’s journey is a maddening cycle of hopes dashed, raised, and dashed again. The arrival of Peter Bradford is part of that cycle, but it also feels like the storyline is finally bucking with an unexpected defiance toward fate. Vicky deserves it. It's awfully cheeky of the universe to pick on Victoria in the first place. Did it not have a worthier target? This is the person famous for saying that she doesn't understand.  I love her to death, but I think few could argue that Vicky could get stuck on a broken escalator. As always, I ask why is she back there? Why was she chosen?  

Especially with her growing fascination with Josette and her era, Vicky makes an ideal witness.  She departs for the past as something of a Collins fangirl, herself. Her reverence for the Collins fam puts her in a perfect position to be let down by the clay footed reality. The mighty have to fall. It’s what makes high drama so satisfying. Besides, we can’t get the deposit back on the periaktoi, so we might as well use them. Pure as they come, Victoria is untouched by the tragic flaws creating the forced implosion of the Collins family. She’s an outsider. (Then again, so is Angelique… and Josette.) It makes sense that an outsider would be her undoing. 

Everyone admits that Trask is full of monkey feathers, but they seem incapable of honoring the wisdom of Susan Powter and stopping the insanity. She is surrounded by ineffectual voices of wealthy, Enlightenment reason consistently subordinated by a superstitious redneck.  In this episode, it looks like she’ll be getting the best lawyer in town. Complete with judiciary super powers, Addison Powell might as well enter nude and greased up on a wrecking ball to save her, just like Miley Cyrus did, and Kate Smith, before her. The day is saved until she makes the mistake of telling the truth, and then the needle scratches off the record with cosmic inevitability. 

Enter Peter Bradford. This guy’s different. He doesn’t even look like he belongs in a Dan Curtis production. Tenor, not baritone. Sandy haired, not dark. Physically proportionate rather than elongated and looming. The Dan Curtis taste in casting men who look like he did has trained us to expect a pattern, and Roger Davis breaks it. In doing so, he feels like an ambassador from the real world, and we instantly trust him. As he offers a tearful Vicki his help, seasoned viewers wait for the music or lingering shot that would normally signal a hidden agenda. Wait all you want; we finally have a genuine mensch. If Dark Shadows is a universe where the average person harbors secret hazards, then the very presence of an average person implies statistical outliers. One would be a Trask, who is nothing but a public menace. And now, we meet his opposite. Just as rare. Seemingly, just as inevitable. 

In his debut, Davis does what few actors can: he makes doing the right thing actually interesting. We see a compassionate strategist in Davis, with a purity of purpose that suggests a man who will not back down. That very sense of dedication hints at a man of both love and principle, who will, by turns, be equally feral and contemplative. His benevolence has a necessary edge, and Davis’ native senses of intelligence, passion, and mischief are precisely the elements that define the program’s unpredictable bravado.

Vicki may finally have a fighting chance. As Dark Shadows explores its power to push beyond limits, it also finds new limits to push. 

This episode was broadcast Jan. 11, 1968.

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