Monday, February 21, 2022

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 17

Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 965


When zombies seal Quentin in a coffin, Barnabas knows that love must be in the air. It’s a Very Valentine’s Dark Shadows, but will a wedding spoil the fun? With Barnabas and Jeb, this much fun just can’t be legal! Nicholas Blair: Humbert Allen Astredo. (Repeat; 30 minutes.)

Jeb goes from burying Quentin alive to kidnapping Julia. He wants to be human. Although, at the same time, Nicolas Blair prepares a wedding ceremony that will end with Carolyn being turned into a Leviathan. However, the satanic secret agent is double-crossed when Jeb recruits Barnabas to usher Carolyn away from the Leviathan altar as he destroys the Naga box.

For a lot of us, Dark Shadows is the only soap opera we will ever watch. Given that, I am still amazed at my capacity to see the storytelling as a stunt. Because it’s not storytelling. It’s anti-storytelling. Storytelling is all about getting to a catharsis. You know, these people learn in their lesson, a few of them die, and the rest of us go home to watch Benny Hill. That’s how this is supposed to go. But a soap opera can’t end. It’s like Data playing Strategema. The point isn’t to win. The point is to just keep playing. It’s a narrative shepherd tone, continually descending as it slips in new beginnings destined to also descend. So that’s great. Let’s take a moment to appreciate that before admitting that it can also drive you a little crazy after a while.

And then there’s an episode like this. Boom. Over. Done. Nothing left but a wedding, the death of Sky Rumson, and that embarrassing shadow curse that we really don’t talk about with strangers. 

You can just feel the massive satisfaction that rolls off of it for everyone involved. Mark your calendar with that red pen that the show only needs about two or three times a year. Something actually happens. Today, wonder team action force goes to work, and they end the Leviathan storyline with a beautifully baffling abruptness that perfectly matches its beginning. It’s like a Battle of the Network Stars where every contestant is Robert Conrad. There’s an honestly giddy disregard for consequences to be appreciated. Both by the characters and by the producers of the show. The heroes recklessly attack an ancient relic that sizzles with powers none of them understand. The only person who has an inkling of what it means is Nicholas Blair, and when they break the box, he runs like hell. The rest of them just shrug and book a wedding. 

The zany ending is a relief for the writers, also. Because they’re just having too much fun. Laura’s death wasn’t this much fun now, was it? See? The very fact that the story can end so extraplusdoublequick, with Jeb doing a 180 without even changing lanes, says it all. Best to just get it over with and pretend it didn’t happen. And they keep the good part. In the divorce with the Leviathans, they make sure they get custody of Christopher Pennock, because none of this is about him. 

When you look at this in the overall life of the show, they are busy elevating Barnabas to the big screen, which is a clear statement of what they know Dark Shadows is — and what ultimately makes it work. Leviathan, schlmiathan, baby, we’re going to Hollywood.  So, with that prospect in mind, we get a brief and daffy Viking funeral for everything else.  The ball drops as Quentin is buried alive, which starts to happen so frequently that he might as well get his suits made by Liberace at Whispering Glades. (After all, the foot curls when rigmo sets in.) And he’s buried alive by zombies, who are probably glad to have the company. But it’s only two zombies today. He was kidnapped by about four zombies in the prior episode. What happened to the other two zombies? Were they only temps? Was there a budget cut? Did they not test well with other zombies? Were they booked on Password? We will never know.

Meanwhile, Jeb, who really hasn’t had time to figure out who he is at all, decides he’s going to be a human and kidnaps Julia to do the biomedical honors. I can only imagine this is the most extreme Bris ever conceived. They did not cover this in medical school, but somehow, he wants her to change him completely into another… creature? One that’s not a God. I mean, I’m not even sure Julia is qualified to perform a nose job. This is all very specialized stuff. But, this was in the days of the HMO, and I guess anything was possible. 

Why is he doing it? Why does any villain ever do an about face on Dark Shadows? Because they’re in love of course. That quintessential motif should be obvious to viewers by now, but they make the point again with absolute clarity just to make sure that no one is confused. It’s like a teacher doing a review straight out of the test the day before. We are as grateful now as we were back in Enochian school. 

And it’s a proper Leviathan wedding. You’ve been to a million of them. Traditional, February, outdoor, Maine ceremony. And overseen of course by Humbert Allen Astredo in a tasteful but quietly lively sequined gown. The bride, as is the way, is hypnotized by Humbert with his magical cigarette case. Out of sight of the groom, of course. As the vows are exchanged, the groom grabs the celebrant’s horned devil stick and beats the sacred relic into nonexistence as Barnabas ushers the bride away to help him finish 30 pounds of deviled eggs that the two missing zombies were supposed to make and have plated as the reception began. But they are nowhere to be seen. Which is why you hire licensed caterers for these things and not the first zombies you see hanging around in the parking lot of Home Depot at 6 AM. 

And then, as Humbert flees the exploding altar, the groom clutches his abdomen with the realization that there was no prenup. The episode ends. 

Oh, but before that, those love tattoos show back up from 1795 — one of them, still on Kathryn Leigh Scott and the other one on David Selby. So, they declare love for each other for the sole reason that it’s a very special episode. 

The whole thing is a hoot from start to finish. And I think it was supposed to be. The only thing missing? Collinwood‘s favorite zombie, the reliably and suspiciously plump Chuck Morgan, who appeared yesterday and will appear again to tear apart Collinwood a few months down the road. I suspect his fellow actors on the show signed a petition to get him temporarily banned because they knew he would have emerged as the real star. And to me, he is. 

Chuck makes for a magnificently unlikely zombie. So much that I actually researched him as the episode was going on. I had heard that he was a wrestler, and by God he was, sometimes going by the name of Big Ben Morgan. Texan by birth, Morgan had Show Business in his unitard, also appearing on Broadway in Teahouse of the August Moon. And in this case, I’m not pulling your leg. Look it up. He’s buried with his wife vera in a cemetery in Chattanooga, and I think a road trip is in my future. Care to tagalong? I think there are some good stories to be discovered about this robust wrestler. 

So, all of this and a Texas wrestler, too. Maybe this is the high point of the series. In the words of my Academy professor, the guy who made you think or sink, “the more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play.”

After following up the 1897 Collinsport Exhibition of the Future by making Barnabas a failed villain managing a rather waterlogged Armageddon, everyone deserved a last hurrah like this. Two grim movies, a nihilistic trip to parallel dimensions, a harrowing 1995, the destruction of Collinwood, and a Pyrrhic victory over ultimate evil are all waiting in line. 

This episode hit the airwaves on March 6, 1970. 

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