Monday, May 6, 2024

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 6



Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 751

When Quentin transforms into a wolf, no one is safe. As others succumb to fear, will Trask let go of his? Dorcas: Gail Strickland. (Repeat; 30 min.)

After Beth sees Quentin transform, she begs Rachel for help… yet can’t tell her why. Meanwhile, Trask conspires to lure Rachel back to Worthington Hall by mixing threats to Jamison with reminders of her alleged crimes. He is aided by a jealous faculty colleague of Rachel’s, the lovely Dorcas Trilling. Dorcas all too happily aids Trask in his misdeeds. Quentin, as the werewolf, appears at Worthington Hall and slaughters Dorcas. Later, Beth finds a disheveled and bloody Quentin waking up on the entryway floor at Collinwood.

All stories are about suspense. All stories are about heroes. All stories are about mistakes. Boring stories make that a flat intersection with a very slow red light. Great stories allow them to criss-cross like those singing kids who wore their pants on backward. And also like the multilevel skyways crushed by Freder and pals in Metropolis. They intersect smoothly, surprisingly, and without interrupting each other. And only from a certain point of view, Luke.

Boring stories versus great stories. And Dark Shadows is which kind?

751 is bookended by Quentin Collins as a very anguished and then confused Clark Kent, going to and from his double life as the shaggiest Superman in the Rolodex. It's not necessarily the most immediate comparison to consider, but in the cosmic scheme, it fits eerily well. This only works in the context of Dorcas. Yes, Dorcas. No, not you! I mean, yes, that's the character's name. I would never call you that. Largely because it's probably not your name. It comes from the Bible, and we need to return it to the Bible by 6:00, or else we get charged for using it the entire night. We won't need Dorcas long.

Her brutal mutilation really peps up an episode devoted to the study of lying. And it certainly gives us a prime peck of pickled prevarications from which we can pick. For reasons good and bad. Beth is simply trying to secure as much help for Quentin as possible without mentioning that it’s related to an occult transformation. So, that’s good. But then we have Gregory Trask looking Dorcas straight in the eye and explaining that confinement and starvation are for Jamison’s own good. That’s bad. He is in one of his most priapic moods, as well, and extorts his way into a visit from Rachel. Jerry Lacy is given plenty of mutedly randy dialogue to recite, and it is a tribute to his subtlety and sense of taste that he pulls it off for the delight of the audience without tipping off Dorcas, a character smitten with Trask, and willing to turn a blind eye to actively keeping and starving a hostage. A child hostage.

Clearly, it's a quietly nasty installment. Beth and Rachel flail about in helpless ignorance. Trask goes back and forth on the right amount of food to deny Jamison to wring out maximum levels of misplaced guilt from Rachel. For an episode that starts with Quentin’s excruciating transformation into the wolf, it’s in no danger of exploiting the creature. It slides precariously near the humdrum as we see Dark Shadows again serve up its blue plate special of Horrible People Gloating.

Then Wolf-Quentin smashes into Worthington Hall, kills Dorcas, and vanishes into the night.

Okay, yes, it’s Dickensian coincidence, but that’s the point. There is no reason for Quentin to seek out and attack Dorcas. As with the appearance of most short-timers on the show, the introduction of Dorcas precedes her inevitable sacrifice on the altars of stakes and suspense. It becomes a strangely cosmic statement, where the series regulars become Sam Fuller’s Four Horsemen from The Big Red One, doomed to live, while everyone else is just another pin cushion of Damocles. In a show rife with class tension, here is another take on haves and have-nots. As unfair as it is accurate. But the universe is built on thermodynamic balance.

I was deeply satisfied by the wolf’s choice of victims. She was volitionally cruel, and Dark Shadows has quite enough of that, thank you. However, Quentin, even in his lupine delusions, had no real reason to attack that location with such surgical precision. But perhaps he followed Rachel? Perhaps he sensed Jamison’s peril? Perhaps the universe sent him there as a reminder that actions have consequences, and acts must be cleaned up but pronto. He’s not the hero of the episode; the very mechanism of the plot is. And there is a vast comfort in that. It's about time the universe took a break from all the entropy, already.

The story gods revel in saving just a few of the right people. Dark Shadows knows that we are not the right people. After all, we have the time to watch TV, and you never hear about a luxury like that at Collinwood. But although we may not be the stars, we are not necessarily doomed. The formula is simple.

Life: just don’t be a Dorcas about it.

This episode hit the airwaves on May 6, 1969.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 2


Aired on this day in 1971: Episode 1245


When Brutus makes the mistake of chuckling, Bramwell and Catherine find salvation in a convenient rooster. Bramwell: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 23 min)

Bramwell and Catherine navigate their last hours in the cursed room. Brutus almost wins Catherine over, but common sense rules the day. Later, Morgan attacks and falls to his death. 

Oh, my darling.

I feel guilty when you call me that.

But you are my darling.

Yes, yes.

You always will be.


We will leave here within the week. We will forget everything that ever happened here.

No, I can never forget. I’ll remember now that I must follow my heart, not my head. I will never make that mistake again.

Never forget that you will always have my love.

That I will remember.

              Sam Hall, DARK SHADOWS 1245

Even though the final episode of Dark Shadows has minutes to go, these lines basically end it.  Spiritually. The rest is just a matter of tipping the padre on the way out and being the first to hit the oneg before those damned kids make off with far more hamantaschen than they’ve any right to. 

I’ve left off the character names. This is Bramwell and Catherine, yes. That means it’s Jonathan Frid and Lara Parker. And when we see them, we really see Barnabas and Angelique. And when we hear them speak of the past, it could mean any point on the spectrum of time that radiates from them. Words like these, or similar, could have been spoken by either character at a number of points. Most notably, points in 1840. 

It’s good to be home. For all of us. Just in time to say goodbye, unfortunately.

The final episode of the series coincides with the anniversary of the Daybook, and I am compelled to revisit it because, in a story with no map, it is nonetheless our destination. Kind of. By the very nature of text, it is the ending, and thus, the point. What is Dark Shadows but Xeno’s Cliffhanger? Our hands have slipped 1223 times, and to our thankful dismay, a tiny outcropping of plot presented itself just as many times to keep us from plunging over for permanent. We may root for Catherine and Bramwell (and Melanie and Kendrick, too) in this episode, but we are all Morgan Collins, plunging away from a Collinwood without end. 

There is so much emotion and background noise of series significance going on in this final episode that it’s easy for a guy like me to get distracted. I’m so busy with the sizzle that I don’t even notice the steak. This episode is doing several opposite things at once, and manages to pull off the destiny of Dark Shadows while it’s at it. It speaks to love and loneliness. It speaks to limits and forgiveness. 

How? Well, what’s going on with Brutus at this hour of the morning? I’m seeing a bad husband catching his wife in the arms of someone who actually cares about her. Brutus’s response? The picture of Relationship Privilege: he ignores the lovestruck sap and simply tells his wife to knock it off and come to bed. At first, anyway. 

No, no, Catherine isn’t Amanda. We get it. But stop the presses, Olsen, because Catherine’s not Catherine, either. Symbolically, she’s Angelique with hipper hair. This is a metaphorical afterword and epilogue and coda and Columbovian “one more thing.” So, just… go with it. 

Note that Brutus isn’t even wrathful with the fool who’s wasting his time being in love with his wife. Brutus just chuckles at him, which is what I imagine most husbands do regarding the rest of us… just because they knew about the marital job fair that we single guys slept through. Day ain’t over yet, my friends. Remember when I said it spoke to loneliness? Yes, by implication.   

So, Brutus is chuckling like a Rembrandt cover of the Monopoly Man, telling Catherine, “Come to me! Come to me!” She’s considering it. 

Amidst this laughter, Bramwell points out to Catherine that going with the evil ghost papi isn’t the best life plan. I mean, does Brutus say “Come to me” to every blonde who’s cheating on one of his descendants with another one of his descendants? 

Your golf ball?  Your car? Does everything belong to you?

Not so fast, Brutus! She’s not Amanda and everyone admits that you’ve had too many victims. (Which begs the question of, “How many victims can you have as a Collins patriarch and still be considered a decent marriage prospect?”)

But these Husbandoids are clever.  Watch Brutus swallow his pride and falsify contrition as he asks Catherine, a woman he’s never met, to forgive him. And it works. Once again, Dark Shadows is the most realistic show on TV. The abusive (symbolic) husband proclaims he still loves her, despite the body count, and Catherine seems perfectly enthused by it. What do these guys have? These abusive, privileged schmucks act like they own the world because the women in their lives treat them like they… well… own the world. Everybody: knock it off. It’s the 21st century and you’re all part of the problem now. I mean, seriously. 

This is important. This isn’t just my standard Single Lament. This is Dark Shadows’s last appeal to their key demographic. 

Anyway, Bramwell tries to restrain her. Brutus force-chokes him. And the only way that Brutus loses is by gloating so much that Catherine comes to her senses. That, and he looks pretty silly in that collar. A rooster crows, Brutus’s time is up. Catherine will stick with the guy who actually loves her.

And I privately hope that maybe life’s solitude can end like that for all of us. 

Yeah, I know. It’s asking a lot. 

The story of Dark Shadows begins with a woman trapped at home because she lacked the option of divorce. So she thought. Yes, okay, there’s an attempted murder in there. But we look over that because the show does.

It ends very differently. 

Better choices are possible with enough time. With enough of a pause, the rooster crows. The worst of us goes back into the coffin. The best of us wait to use a fireplace poker that only parts Dennis Patrick’s hair.  

Impetuousness is the enemy here. Yes, Catherine, you say that life’s villain is the practice of the heart following the head, rather than the other way around. Incorrect. Neither heart nor head are unimportant if you simply take the time for them to catch up with each other. Dark Shadows is about patience. 

In this sense, it speaks to viewers as well, forcing them to be patient, 1244 times in a row. In a show about rituals, it is the greatest ritual of all.

Clocks dominate. Time is a prison. As Dark Shadows leaves the air, we are given one last gift: choosing which side of the bars we’ll occupy. 

This series left the world of the living on April 2, 1971.

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