Episode 974: Your Declining Days

“My mission here has been a failure.”

Normal soap: Angelique is a scheming gold-digger.
Vampire soap: Angelique is a two hundred year old blood-soaked sorceress.

Normal soap: Sky is an arrogant magazine publisher who’s in deep with the mob.
Vampire soap: Sky is an arrogant magazine publisher who’s in deep with a pack of disgruntled blasphemies from the past.

Normal soap: Sky divorces his errant wife, and strips her of her home, her furs, her jewelry, her chauffeur and her social circle.
Vampire soap: Sky tries to murder his errant wife with a burning torch.

Normal soap: Angelique gets her revenge on Sky by teaming up with his business rival, using inside information to destroy him.
Vampire soap: I haven’t the faintest idea. Won’t it be fun to find out?

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Or at least, it would be, if I had any hope of this turning into an ongoing story thread that I was supposed to care about. One advantage of a normal soap is that they’re usually not planning to jump off into a repertory-theater reboot of the entire show twice a year, and therefore normal soaps have to actually invest in how a character transitions from one storyline into another. Done skillfully, this creates a rich, evolving tapestry of story threads that are always crossing over, where questions like “what will this character do next?” is an interesting creative challenge.

But this is Dark Shadows, where they play by different rules. This is now a show with a specific rhythm — home, somewhere else, home, somewhere else, home — swapping back and forth, at four to five month intervals. It didn’t used to be like this — the 1795 flashback was supposed to be a one-off extravagance, not a trial run for a new bonkers way to structure the whole show. But now that we’ve been to 1897 and back again, Dark Shadows has a brand-new story structure that nobody else has ever tried before, or ever will again. This is another one of those things that makes Dark Shadows unique, and as everyone knows, on network television,”unique” is always associated with success.

The problem that we’re faced with now — as we were, at the end of the 1897 storyline — is that this structure demands a wrap-up for all of the characters that we don’t think we’ll need in the next chapter. And since nobody on this show ends up happily ever after, that means we have to generate some terrible force — a dead prison guard strangling people with a chain, let’s say, or a shadow made out of construction paper going boogley boogley boogley at people — and use it to thin out the herd.

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Now that we’ve run through this cycle a couple of times, it’s actually remarkable that they left a minor character like Sabrina Stuart alive at the tail end of the 1968/69 period, so that she was still around nine months later, when they got back from 1897. Well, they won’t make that mistake again.

From here on, there’s only one way that a storyline ends, and that’s a scorched earth clearance sale. And that’s “scorched earth” as in they literally burn the house down, and everybody dies. That is an actual option that’s on the table.

Given that, I suppose it’s rather sweet that they’re still planning to attend to everyone individually, instead of just dropping an A-bomb on the Leviathan HQ, and then politely changing the subject. In the last week and a half, they’ve dispensed with Philip, Peter and Megan, and there’s four more to go.

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That includes the supposedly sinister Nicholas Blair, who’s proving once again that he is surplus to requirements.

Nicholas:  Haven’t you begun to wonder how Jeb is managing to stay alive?

Bruno:  Well, he’s not going to stay alive much longer. Angelique is seeing to that.

Nicholas:  I don’t want Angelique to see to that! I want to get him. Now, I believe that his marriage to Carolyn is keeping him alive; I think that she is providing him with the will to live. If anything should happen to Carolyn, Jeb would lose the will to live, wouldn’t he?

Bruno:  Yes…

Nicholas:  We must work very quickly, Bruno. My mission here has been a failure. If I can destroy Jeb, I will have salvaged something. If Angelique gets to him first… it’s all over for me, Bruno.

Bruno:  Just tell me what you want me to do.

Okay, how about you go out and find some story points that make sense? Because this “middle manager from Hell” routine has never worked before, and it’s not working now. They’ve never managed to come up with a compelling vision of who the Devil is or what he wants, which is remarkable, considering the high demon-to-human ratio on the show.

Recently, Angelique claimed that her “Master” allowed her to remain on Earth, if she could convince a man to love her, without using her powers. That arrangement apparently kept her operating from 1897 to 1969 inclusive, before she finally met a man who was willing to fall in love with a woman who was intelligent, spirited and breathtakingly attractive. No rationale is provided to explain why the Devil would make such a bargain. What does he get out of it, whether Angelique is loved or not? It seems like something that he made up to get her to stop bugging him.

And now Nicholas is apparently competing against Angelique to destroy Jeb, which again I don’t understand why the Devil would care. It’s no wonder this mission’s been a failure, if everything hinges on nonsensical Satanic office politics.

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But Angelique, as always, gives value for money. We see her twice today, and in both scenes, she tells the Leviathan story to go fuck itself, which it is currently in the process of doing.

Angelique:  Tell me, how does it feel to be a has-been?

Sky:  What are you talking about?

Angelique:  Every one of your business ventures is a disaster, and there’s nothing you can do about it, because all you are now is Nicholas Blair’s slave.

Sky:  That’s not true; I’m very important to him!

Angelique:  Oh, don’t be absurd. Consider right now, what he has you doing: keeping guard over a helpless young girl. He doesn’t care anything about you.

Sky:  That’s not true!

Angelique:  What does Nicholas plan to do with that girl, anyway? Or hasn’t he consulted you?

Sky:  Get off my back!

Angelique:  You’ve become quite thin-skinned in your declining days, haven’t you? Shall I tell you how it’s all going to end? Nicholas is going to find some ingenious way of doing himself in; he always does. And then you’re going to be alone, all alone, with no one to turn to. And then, someone’s going to put you out of your misery. Who knows? It may even be me.

Now, this is a satisfying scene, because Angelique is being funny and cruel, and she’s pointing something out that the audience has wanted to say for a while. That’s the great thing about the major kaiju characters; their interests tend to align with the audience’s interests. Right now, we want Angelique to sucker punch this dude, and get him off the show.

Unfortunately, this verifies what we’ve been thinking all along, which is that Sky is a big dumb dope who Angelique could not possibly have fallen in love with. I’m glad she’s finally admitting that, but this story thread never really worked in any way, which means that Angelique doesn’t actually have a reason to punish Jeb, except she does anyway, because why not.

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And then Nicholas goes and has exactly the same scene with Jeb. He makes fun of Jeb for sitting around and hiding in the dark, he says that Jeb should accept the fact that he’s doomed, and then he says, “One of us is going to finish you off. I only hope it’s me.”

And then Angelique shows up, and she has the same scene with Jeb all over again. He asks for her help, which she ridicules. He points out that there’s no reason for her to want revenge against him, and she agrees, but says she’s doing it anyway. And then she closes with, “You haven’t got much longer to wait. In only a short time now, the shadow will be full grown, and that’ll be the end of you. I’ll be there to witness it, Jeb. I wouldn’t want to miss it.”

She doesn’t say that someone’s going to destroy him and it might be her, but she might as well. This is what the story has become, just Angelique telling everybody that they suck, which they do, and she’ll be happy when they’re dead, which she will, and so will I.

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And it’s hard to say what we’re supposed to feel about Jeb at this point. He hasn’t really become any more likeable since he made peace with Barnabas and married Carolyn — as Nicholas pointed out, he’s spent the last couple weeks whining, and hiding in the dark. Carolyn still doesn’t and never will know that Jeb is a monster who killed her father. So I don’t feel angry, or sorry, or excited, or really much of anything about him at all, except that I wish I could stop thinking about him and his terrible storyline.

Dark Shadows fans think of the Leviathan story as the worst in the show’s history. It’s not, really — the Dream Curse was much worse, in terms of the day-to-day pleasure of watching the show. But the Leviathans came in right after the show’s very best period, and nobody ever really thought it through very well, because Dan, Sam, Gordon and pretty much everybody else in the production team were all working on House of Dark Shadows.

So there were amazing moments — Paul learning about the terrible bargain that he’d made, Julia challenging Barnabas and taking over the show, the werewolves and zombies and slime attacks and doomed investigators, and especially those magical youngsters — Alexander and Michael and Jeb, each of them surprising and totally bonkers in their own way. Taking it episode by episode, this has been a pretty good period of the show.

But damn it, this ending is terrible. This is what I was afraid was happening in the last couple weeks of 1897, when it was mostly Petofi and Tate and Aristede yelling at each other, just dark and grim and losing its way. But 1897 pulled itself together just at the right moment, reminding us of the characters that we loved, and sending us out of the theater with a smile.

The Leviathans have nothing that even approaches that moment. There’s no opportunity for the fun characters to come together for a closing number. This is just villains snarling at other villains, telling each other how pointless and lame they are, and always have been.

Shall I tell you how it’s all going to end? Nicholas is going to find some ingenious way of doing himself in; he always does. And then this storyline is going to be alone, all alone, with no one to turn to. And then, someone’s going to put it out of its misery. Who knows? It may even be me.

Tomorrow: Bruno Dies at the End.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

They start the episode with that weird directorial trick that they tried in episode 961, where there are two people clearly standing at right angles to each other, but both acting as if the other is right in front of them, so the camera can switch back and forth between perspectives. But the audience knows where they are in relation to each other, and the effect does not work on any level. This time, Bruno is horrified to see that Sabrina is pointing her gun across the room, and not at him. See the screenshot below; it’s a bizarre thing to attempt.

Also, they can’t seem to figure out where the front door is on Bruno’s set. There are two doors — one on the left, one on the right. Here’s how it breaks down: Episode 973: The right door is the front door; when Jeb comes in, we can see blue sky and greenery. The left door leads to a hallway, with a closet and other doors. Episode 974: The left door is the front door; we see Nicholas, Sky, Angelique and Chris enter and exit. The right door leads to the “back room”, where Sky keeps Sabrina. Episode 975: Now the left door leads to the room where Sabrina and Chris are kept. At the end of the episode, Bruno locks Chris up behind the left door. He says to Sabrina, “Now, my dear, for your new resting place, come!” and then he leads her to a different part of the set. Carolyn enters through the right door, and Bruno locks Carolyn in with Chris behind the left door. Episode 976: In the reprise, Carolyn enters via the left door. Bruno locks Carolyn in with Chris behind the right door. Roger enters from the left, rescues Carolyn, and takes her out through the left. Chris makes his own arrangements. After that, things settle down; we see the set in episodes 978, 979 and 980, and the left door is still the front door.

Bruno says that he admires Sabrina. She asks why, and he says, “Because you diss — because you’ve shown me how much you love Chris Jennings!”

Bruno warns Sky, “If it’s a question of my authority versing yours, then Nicholas is going to back me up.”

Sky tells Chris, “I just don’t want to be involved with these people anymore. All’s I want to do is get out from under.”

Bruno tells Sky, “I worry about you, Jeb.”

Once again, Geoffrey Scott is credited as Geoffery Scott.

Tomorrow: Bruno Dies at the End.

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Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

14 thoughts on “Episode 974: Your Declining Days

  1. IMO, Christopher Pennock was horrible in most of his DS roles. Just not likeable or believable. The only character who worked was Gabriel, because we weren’t supposed to like him.

  2. The Dream Curse is one of my favorite parts. Sure, the dreams remind me of something Beavis and Butt-Head would watch, and go “uhh, does thith suck or does thith rule? I can’t tell”, but I love the rest of it.

    I’m totally fascinated by Cassandra, Nicholas, and Professor Stokes, so whenever any of them are on, I’m interested.
    When Stokes disrupts the dream, and forces Angelique to appear, that was a major moment for me. And the scenes between Nicholas and Eve are some of my favorites.

    I never could get into Jeb, never looked forward to seeing him, although I have gotten used to him. At the same time, I love Chris Pennock’s work as Gabriel Collins, John Yaeger, and most of all, Cyrus Longworth. His Cyrus is wonderful. He’s imploding, while Yaeger is exploding.

    1. You remind me, Richard, of one of my personal all-time Top Ten scenes and lines of dialogue from DS. It’s when Prof. Stokes and Cassandra have just had a rather tense conversation in, I believe, Sam Evans’s old home/studio, and Stokes says (again, I believe) to Maggie that he’s no longer interested in that old portrait of Angelique because [meaningful glance toward Cassandra] “I’ve seen the original.” And Cassandra then casts a bit of a smirk toward Stokes that wordlessly says something akin to “I know what you mean, and I know you know I know what you mean, even if nobody else does, and even though I’m your enemy, I can’t help but respect how damn clever you are.”

      Come to think of it, I believe Thayer David and Lara Parker always had terrific “acting chemistry” in their scenes together, regardless of the situation or the roles they were playing — which is not surprising considering they were among the series’ two most skilled actors.

      1. Hmmm — “… among the series’ two most skilled actors.” I didn’t phrase that very well, did I? How I regret that we don’t have editing capabilities here.

      2. Wayne, yes, that’s a fantastic moment, one of the best, one of my favorites. I’m going to have to cue that up tonight, and watch it.
        Great dialogue, and at the same time, fantastic nonverbal communication. The attitude Stokes is giving Cassandra is enough to give her a conniption, but there are other people in the room, so she has to behave. It’s great seeing Stokes so pleased with himself.

        There should have been a spin off, The Really Spooky Adventures Of Professor Stokes. He’s a Sherlock Holmes of the supernatural world. Barnabas and Julia would pop in from time to time, but mostly it would be a different cast, with weekly quest stars, with supernatural problems that Stokes can solve. Magda’s ghost could be his unreliable Watson.

        Dan Curtis ended up doing Kolchak, which is similar, only with Darren McGavin, instead of Thayer David.

        1. I love this idea! Now THAT would be a good tribute show. At the very least, one of those fan fiction writers should do something with it.

  3. I’ve said it before, but (even though I’ve never owned many of them) Chris Pennock always reminds me of a character in some early ‘ 70s D.C. horror comic, so that’s enough to make me biased about him on Dark Shadows.

  4. I disliked Chris Pennock on Dark Shadows at first, I guess because of Jeb, and not being able to care about him. But he grew on me a little. And I really love him in this – putting his DS experience to excellent use (and wearing the T-shirt to underline that point). Just fantastic.

  5. YES, the Master was laughing at Angie but not to her face, and was just sick of her pleading and made what he considered a laughable bargain to torture her. And she got lucky.

    Not so fast, Angie.

    Nick wants to kill the traitor, Angie wants the same.

    And Cyrus rocks, dammit.

  6. Another minor blooper. Lara Parker was having some trouble with her lines in her scene with Chris Pennock…she keeps looking at the teleprompter…then, while apparently still looking at the teleprompter, she starts to say “I feel” then has to go back and start “I identify with Carolyn, I know how that feels”.

  7. Chris Pennock seemed like an overbearing Roger Davis type at times – there was definitely a different ‘feel’ between the 60’s actors and the 70’s actors – just think of Chris Pennock or Roger Davis compared to Burke (either one) – the change in clothing, hair styles was just so DRAMATIC during these few years. Also the smoking was so predominant in the early show – did Julia even smoke at this time in the series. Nancy Barrett seemed to make the transition from one era to another virtually effortless – some people have that ability to ‘transcend time’ and never present a ‘dated’ look no matter how they dress or style their hair.

  8. I rather liked the Dream Curse, but it’s your blog; I agree with your analysis of how it fails to deliver on its promises, though.

    »»therefore normal soaps have to actually invest in how a character transitions from one storyline into another««
    I’m not sure they do this anymore. There’s only one soap left that I watch, and it has been particularly terrible at this in the last 2-5 years, with an increasing number of sharp character turns with every headwriting change (now happening about every 9 months).

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