Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 16, 1967

Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 368/369 


When Barnabas is reintroduced to Angelique, can he resist her temptation to stray from Josette or will the charming chambermaid distract him with an unforgettably new direction? Angelique: Lara Parker. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas is elated to find that Josette has arrived, however, when the news comes from Angelique, his old flame, he is reminded that his fidelity is precarious. Angelique does what she can to persuade him to stray, and his refusal to do so is a clear invitation to the dance for the sorceress. 

One of my favorite clichés in the Daybook is about “this being the official first episode of the series.“ Another one is, “this is the perfect place to introduce someone to the series.“ Far be it for me to disappoint because this episode does both. 

In the previous few episodes, we are just dealing with temporal jetlag and the thrill and shock of seeing the show take on such the wild ambition of 1795. The installments are certainly necessary for flavor, but when it comes to advancing the plot, this episode is all meat. As always, to find the beginning of a story, study the ending and work backward. In fact, that is the core of David Ball’s Backwards and Forwards playreading technique. When you read a play backwards, the context of the entire script is brought into crystal clarity. You “begin“ by seeing the final, deciding choice made by the characters… the choice that sums up the entire story. By then, it's the only choice possible. The rest of the plot is about exploring how all other alternatives fell away until you reach the beginning of the play, when everything was and should be possible. 

Just as Dark Shadows has one or more beginnings, it has at least two endings. One at the end of 1840, and one at the end of 1841PT. And both of those endings have a single thing in common: Jonathan Frid and Lara Parker are in each other’s arms. Seen this way, this show is about getting them there.

After seven months of hearing about Angelique, today, she enters. So, no pressure Lara. You only have to live up to a half year of build-up. No portrait. No ghost. No voice at a séance to tease the audience with your laughter. Nothing but Jonathan Frid and language. 

Oh, and she is entering as the first new female character to greet the ensemble in a year or so since Diana Millay. (Yes, I realized that I left out Grayson Hall. Sorry…? I read that as a testament to the strange gender neutrality of the part.) That’s a good point of comparison. Millay entered into a tight ensemble of women, each of whom had a distinct identity and place in the storytelling. And I know, it’s just me, but she never really fit. I mean, she was fine as far flaming fire spirit women go. But Millay kind of feels like an intruder into the pre-established chemistry of the show, and it’s an alienness that benefits the storytelling. 

With that as the only basis of comparison, Lara Parker gets to work. Given the results, I imagine that the last words a stagehand heard from her before she made her first entrance were, “Think that’s a tall order? Hold my daiquiri,” as an invisible timpani began its roll. 

Is she nervous? Is she confident? It doesn’t matter. The moment the camera records her, she transforms the program with a beauty, sense of truth, intelligence, eroticism, and dark integrity that feel absolutely real and wholly unique in television. The casting of Lara Parker was the single most important decision Dan Curtis ever made. Not to slight Jonathan Frid, but his job was made easier than you might think by the costume and the lyrical writing and the props and the old house set and the fact that he is playing a vampire. But who made the badass a badass? This challenge is far more sophisticated. And Lara Parker had no fangs (at this point). Her costume had to represent 18th-century refinement with a dishwater lack of glamour. Did she get an Inverness cape? Did she get a cool ring and a nifty cane? No. She got a handkerchief and Jeffersonian G.I. Joe. All of the power that she mustered had to come from within. And although she manifests no such abilities in this episode, the potential energy is clearly there. I think that’s true for viewers even if they somehow missed the context laid out in conversation over 1967.

Now we know why Barnabas became what he… will be? And with that, we know that the story can be told. It’s clear why Barnabas fell in love with this woman and her unique mix of capable strength, diplomacy, and emotional honesty. With that established, there is it last a pilot at the stick of this plane. That build-up actually meant something. The program has an actor who can make us believe that we are witnessing history rather than a reenactment. 

The episode works in every regard, showing us a world of hypocrisy destined to fall. This is the “before“ prior to countless little afterimages of disaster and triumph. We see all of the assumptions that will create the controlled demolition of Collinwood before it even enjoys its grand opening raffle. This begins with Joshua‘s dismissal of love as fit only for women, not men. This should, according to him, be a world of sensible, arranged marriages designed only to enhance commerce. Take that conflicted thinking, wrap it in the alluring regality of Kathryn Leigh Scott, and it’s easy to see the rationalizations that led to Barnabas‘s downfall. His continued pursuit of Josette nearly two centuries later isn’t love; it is his desire to earn his father’s approval by projecting a very specific type of masculinity. He just happens to be a great romantic, anyway, so he will do his best to merge his natural inclinations with a strategy to keep Joshua off his back. Thanks to Jonathan Frid‘s natural disinclination toward the erotic, his immediate and conflicted attraction to Angelique reads as far more personal than simpleminded priapism. When Barnabas loves, it’s clear that he’s responding to a woman’s deepest essence. It’s no wonder that Angelique responds as she does. Rejecting her is an act of brave determination, one commensurate with the brave determination shown by her. The pursuit of Barnabas forces her to hide her powers even longer. Not easily done as she risks everything to return home vis a sea voyage in the most inclement weather of the year. What makes it worth it? Angelique could have anyone. But Barnabas is hardly just anyone. And she has the right number. So what you will, Angelique is not a stalker, deluded into thinking that Barnabas is something he is not. Angelique doesn't just get the memo, she binds them for the Library of Congress, forgetting nothing. If Victoria exists to find ever-new things to not understand, Angelique resides at the opposite end of that spectrum.

Her willingness to fight for that love is made all the more admirable when we contrast her with the shallow and arrogant Countess Natalie, easily pleased with her title and the cruel privileges that it makes possible. When we meet Naomi here, day-drinking to distract herself from Joshua‘s world, we glimpse an even darker surrender. It is a surrender of greatness that makes Angelique‘s determination even more astonishing. 

She understands exactly what she will be fighting for. Eventually, in 1840, she will take a bullet for that belief. And she will finally die. But it will be on her own terms, having proved Barnabas’ love and the worthiness of her own character. It begins now.

This episode was broadcast Nov. 22, 1967.

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