“We must send that demon back to Hell. The mystic drums must sound again!”
This week, we’re taking a break from Dark Shadows to watch the first week of Strange Paradise, a strange Canadian/US knock-off supernatural soap that began here, in fall 1969. If you need the links, here’s the other Strange Paradise posts and a YouTube channel that has all the episodes, although you can consider this a week-long warning label, rather than a recommendation.
What I’m interested in is figuring out what happens when somebody decides to make a Dark Shadows-like show, using the same format and timeslot as Dark Shadows, with similar resources, and with exactly the same cultural context, and still winds up with something that doesn’t feel like Dark Shadows at all. I’m not sure what the rest of you are interested in.
We’re on the oddly caucasian Caribbean island of Maljardin — or “garden of melons,” as I choose to believe — in a creepy castle full of mystery and yelling.
The owner of the island and the series’ principal blasphemer is Jean-Paul Desmond, a whiny plutocrat whose beautiful young bride died several hours before the show began, and who he is desperate to resuscitate using the amazing rejuvenative powers of dry ice. It’s not really working so far, on account of she’s already dead, and there’s only so much that refrigeration can do.
Reaching out in desperation for any ludicrous plot point he can grab, Jean-Paul has followed the instructions of his wicked 17th-century lookalike ancestor, Jacques Eloi des Mondes, who’s communicating with him via a portrait hanging in the front parlor of his luxurious island retreat.
At the end of yesterday’s episode, Jean-Paul descended into the crypt/voodoo temple that the family maintains in the basement for some reason, and he disturbed the icons keeping Jacques’ spirit chained up. As a result, Jean-Paul is now inhabited by an alien spirit from the past — just like the blog is, this week — and we’ll see how that works out for both of us.
Hysterical housekeeper Raxl is convinced that Jacques Eloi des Mondes is the very Devil himself, and that his possession of Jean-Paul is a crisis of galactic significance. This is why you shouldn’t listen to religious crackpots like Raxl. I take the opposite position, which is that Jean-Paul is creepy and depressing, while Jacques is an absolute delight.
So the concept, as far as I can understand it, is that some 17th-century busybody shackled Jacques’ immortal soul to this earth by putting a voodoo doll in his coffin, and driving a silver nail through its head. I can absolutely understand why Jacques would find that disagreeable, and he prefers not to repeat the experience.
And here he comes now, reborn, swanking around the house, waving his toys around and magically dressed in his 17th-century play clothes. He makes an elaborate curtsey to the portrait where he’s been imprisoned all these years, a mocking gesture that the portrait is probably not smart enough to appreciate. Jacques is having a marvelous time.
Honestly, it’s nice to have something that perks up this gloomy rat trap. In yesterday’s episode, Jean-Paul went on and on about his recently deceased wife, punctuated by Raxl helping him through the grief process by screaming at him about the Devil. I couldn’t have stood that for another half-hour.
But Jacques is acting like a kid who’s managed to convince his mother that he needs to stay home from school and play with his action figures. Leaping onto the couch, he crows, “It’s great to be alive!” which is a minority opinion on this television show.
The voodoo doll and the silver nail have kept his spirit bound to the temple, which is a phrase that means something, so he has to make sure that doesn’t happen again. But as he explains to the objects, “to destroy you would be to destroy myself!” although if that’s the case, then I don’t know why the voodoo people didn’t do that in the first place.
So now he has to find a hiding place for them, which shouldn’t be too hard, because this is a huge mansion, and hardly anybody lives in it. Also, he’s on an island. Go outside and throw them into the sea. Problem solved.
Really, the only thing that could go wrong is if he does something titanically stupid, like hide them within a direct line of sight from the front door, which I have a sinking feeling he’s probably going to do.
Downstairs in the crypt, Raxl inspects the damage, and issues one of her constant security briefings to Quito, her enormous mute colleague.
“The doll, the silver sword, we must get them!” she cries. “Jacques Eloi des Mondes belongs in Hell! We will return him there!”
So I guess grim, shouty Raxl is supposed to be the audience identification figure, and we’re expected to accept her point of view on faith. So far, there has been no evidence of Jacques being anything but lovely. I bet there were faults on both sides.
Meanwhile, across the channel, we find Alison, the sister of Jean-Paul’s flash-frozen wife, waiting for her opportunity to flag down a boat and graduate to the main set. She’s approached by a friendly waitress, who notes Alison’s thoughtful expression and asks if she’s by herself.
“Oh, I’m not alone,” Alison explains. “Mr. Forrest is making a long-distance phone call.”
“Dan Forrest?” the waitress says. “He’s an old friend.” I guess white people all know each other.
Then it’s back to Raxl, with another in her series of identical news bulletins. “The boat’s in the wharf area,” she says. “Quito, we must find that doll and pin, before this whole island, and all who come upon it, are DOOMED forever!”
Quito doesn’t say anything. He seems pretty checked out in general. I suppose working with Raxl exposes you to a lot of this kind of thing.
The domestics scurry away somewhere, which means it’s time for Jacques to mooch around the empty set again, examining the decor. “That’s new,” he notes, glancing at nothing in particular. “This is new,” he says, toying with a loose dagger that happens to be on an end table. Yeah, dude, it’s been three centuries. Things accumulate.
There’s a commercial, and then Raxl and Quito wander back onto the set. Apparently wherever they went and whatever it was they wanted to do, they went there and did that, and now it’s time to yell at the portrait again. Then they drift upstairs, and Jacques strolls back into the parlor. I’m starting to get the feeling that they don’t have a hell of a lot of plot points planned for today.
Okay, back to the tiki bar, where Alison is approached by a local caricaturist, who offers to draw a picture of her. This is how we introduce characters now, they just kind of wander by. His name is Tim, and he has a backstory, so I guess he’s sticking around.
While he’s drawing Alison, he gives her the sob story. His mother was sick, and he didn’t have any money for her medical care, so he borrowed money from shady characters, and he can’t pay it back. Now there’s a thug mooching around in the background, planning to kill him or take his art supplies away.
Alison offers to help — she’s here with a lawyer, and lawyers have magic powers — but Tim doesn’t want to be a burden. Then he hands her the drawing that he’s made, free of charge, so it’s no wonder he’s having financial trouble.
Then it’s over to the crypt again, where Jean-Paul has resumed being Jean-Paul. He opens up Erica’s coffin, and makes a speech about how the people from the Cryonics Institute are going to keep her flavor-sealed, until somebody figures out how to cure being dead. Jean-Paul seems worried about how long she’s going to last, so I don’t know why he’s standing there with the refrigerator door open. I mean, the thing he wants to do is already impossible, but even so, this seems counter-productive.
Quito wanders by, at a loose end as usual, so Jean-Paul shouts, “Quito! We need more dry ice!” Quito nods and exits, apparently heading for the shed out back, where they keep all the dry ice they’re not using.
There’s some mild drama at the bar with Tim, who’s being shaken down for money that he doesn’t have. It’s not clear why we care, but with serialized narrative, you just have to accept that some people are going to be part of the show, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
This isn’t a problem on Dark Shadows anymore, because the show has narrowed its field of interest down to the people living at Collinwood, plus a few local fiends, but they can’t do that here. Jean-Paul’s house only has three people in it — four, if you count Jacques, and three again if you don’t count Quito.
Raxl finds Quito in the crypt, loading a fresh supply of dry ice into Erica’s coffin. He’s still using his hands, which I find baffling. They had a line of dialogue yesterday about the danger of touching dry ice, but then they keep giving him dry ice handling scenes. This clearly troubles me a lot more than it does them.
Raxl is still pacing around from one set to another, muttering about destroying the Devil. She must have a Fitbit or something; she’s constantly on the move. You know, I’ve been calling her a housekeeper, but it’s been two episodes and so far I haven’t seen her do a damn thing other than this.
So she tells Quito to open the secret doors to the catacombs, which turns out to be right over there on the same set, and that’s the end of this episode. This week is going great so far.
Tomorrow: Church and Estate.
— Danny Horn