Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 2



Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 771

When Carl brings home his shocking true love, everyone at Collinwood needs to take a shot… probably of penicillin. Carl Collins: John Karlen. (Repeat; 30 min.)

As Barnabas and Beth plan to find the undead Dirk Wilkins to distract Edward, Carl interrupts with his vulgar, cockney fiancee, the alleged medium and music hall embarrassment, Pansy Faye. Her display of second sight ends with an accusation that one of the Collinses will be knit up in Dirk’s death. Later, Barnabas returns to the Old House where he finds her bitten and collapsed. 

Dark Shadows is about as self-contained as a pair of fishnets on the opening day of a Pritiken camp, and that makes it murder to introduce to prospective viewers. No, this one isn’t self-contained, but it comes very close, beginning with vampire-on-vampire suspense and ending in the murder of a character we meet just a few minutes before. It’s an hilarious little jewel that is inarguably pure comedy, as Jonathan Frid gets the easy job and big payoffs of doing astonished take after take. The heavy lifting is done by an especially histrionic John Karlen and then Kay Frye, as his Alfred Doolittle of a fiancee, the psychic medium, Pansy Faye. Barnabas is at the height of his swashbuckling best, with Beth at his side, as he plots to foil Edward by revealing Dirk as the local vampire (this week). With cosmic inevitability, the endeavor is halted mid-batpole by Carl, blithering of saltwater taffy and true love. It’s a great summation of a universe that encourages heroism and then mocks us with its ridiculousness. Think you’re going to help the community while your social equals look on in disgusted apathy? Don’t worry. The community you’re there to help will soon arrive to make the effort look pointless.  

Class envy is an ugly thing, and envy isn’t even the right word. Envy goes from the bottom-up. From the top-down? See: Collins, Judith. Pansy Faye is exactly the sort of figure designed, like a Xenomorph by a Predator, for her to hunt. You can almost hear the thermographic scan kick in when she catches sight of the crassly cacaphonic strumpet. The episode does a funny thing when they meet, because it allows you to see the conflict from both perspectives at once. Judith is a snobbish and intolerant prig, and it’s in response to a boorish sense of entitlement. The one that completely betrays the promise of humble, respectful good values that the working class claim when it wants to Be Offended into getting something. 

Unless a Vanderbilt were tuning in, no viewer then or now knows what it’s like to be a Collins just three generations away from Joshua. But Pansy Faye’s brash idiocy, with the jibbering Carl as ambassador, kind of inspires everyone to feel like a Collins, and it’s a subtle lesson in taste and etiquette for anyone willing to peek into the mirror. We’ve been spoiled by Vicki’s example to see female outsiders to Clan Collins as possessing a purity of spirit often lacked by the decadently corrupt residents. But that changes, too.

If you’ve seen the series before, you know that Pansy Faye’s spirit possesses Charity Trask, largely because it gave Nancy Barrett something interesting to do. That, and Dan Curtis was suffering under a curse that compelled him to make America listen to “I Wanna Dance with You” to an extent that almost -- almost -- makes us long for “London Bridge.” Under the Barrett administration, the United States of Pansy changes as drastically as it can without ushering in a new character. Was this planned? Was this a response to the writers honing the part for a familiar actress’ strengths? I have no idea, and the “why” is irrelevant. She warms and humanizes as a character, and we can credit death for that. Go down as Kay Frye, come up as Nancy Barrett. Gain a lot of nuance on the way. 

It’s not the only place this happens in the series. On Dark Shadows, death isn’t an end; it’s just a cue for transformation. The show takes the esoteric, gatekeeping mumbo-jumbo surrounding the Transformative Nature of Death and makes it literal enough that the rest of us unenlightened slobs might get some practical use out of it. Every culture kills its youth to one extent or another in the form of liminal rituals like hazings and walkabouts, where the prior identity is removed, a form of symbolic death is imposed, and an adult magically pops out the other end. This is a constant theme of Dark Shadows, starting with Liz Stoddard more-or-less killing her youthful, married identity and cocooning for a couple of decades before emerging in that smart red dress she wears to bail Carolyn outta the can. Vicki passes through death, kind of, in 1795. Adam is nothing without the death certificate he brings with him when he applies for fast food jobs. Quentin, of course. Only in Collinsport does Avis rent more coffins than cars. But the king, predictably, is Barnabas, who dies with a greater regularity than South Park’s Kenny. 

Each time he rises, which is arguably at the crack of dusk every night, he transforms. Sometimes wiser. Sometimes more impulsive. Inevitably, a tad on the hungry side. Even if we only count his transitions between humanity and parahumanity, that’s still six ping-pongs between the worlds. On a strictly symbolic level, he simply has that much learning to do. For Barnabas, the story of Dark Shadows isn’t Dracula; it’s Groundhog Day. We see that down to the various rituals of renovating the Old House and agreeing with Joan Bennett that, yeah, the resemblance to that portrait sure is weird, and now, I need the keys to the Old House because Lowe’s is delivering, like, a metric ton of backsplash tiles, and if I’m not there when they arrive, they’ll take them back and restock them, and I’ll have to send the gypsies to Logansport to straighten it out, and I think we know how that’ll go. 

On a show that constantly remakes itself in varied cycles, this is the most primal of all, and it often smells exactly like you might think. On Dark Shadows, transformation isn’t a mandate, but it is a fact. Sometimes, as with Pansy Faye, it’s the result of a terribly unfunny practical joke. Sometimes, it’s a punishment. Sometimes, it makes no sense at all. Often, I don’t even see the characters learn from it. They don’t need to. Not as long as we learn the lessons. Sometimes, that lesson is to value the changes, like we see with Pansy Faye. Sometimes, the lesson is to hold fast to what hasn’t changed. With Barnabas, it’s a matter of knowing the difference. 

This episode hit the airwaves on June 9, 1969.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...