“Why? Why alter a human being?”
“Let me begin,” the doctor says, “by saying that man is chemical in his composition.” Oh boy, here we go.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the simpering Dr. Cyrus Longworth: a man, a plan, an apparatus. That’s him back there, behind the equipment, workshopping his defense attorney’s closing arguments.
We’re in another weird basement science dungeon today, one of those makeshift conceptual sets made of equal parts brick, stone and middle school classroom. There are wire cages holding a rabbit and a guinea pig, quietly munching on carrots and wondering why they ever got into show business. The apparatus isn’t bubbling and nobody’s having their head removed yet, but give them time; they’re just getting started.
But I’m interrupting Dr. Longworth, who has a theory to expound that you may find difficult to swallow. Still, people used to believe that the sun was flat.
So man is chemical in his composition, is Dr. Longworth’s point. “Now, if the proper compound was distilled and administered to a human being,” he says, “this chemical composition could be radically changed — radically altered — and I’ve been working on this composition.”
“Why?” his friend Chris sighs, because you have to say something. “Why alter a human being?”
“Now let me also say this,” Cyrus continues, refusing as usual to acknowledge a reasonable sanity check, “that man is not one person. He is two. One is good, and the other is — well, let us say for scientific conversation — the other is evil.”
Naturally, this is not actually science talk; it’s mad science talk, which is a whole other department. It’s also a little hard to take seriously, because I’ve known several men, and as far as I could tell, there was one apiece, thank goodness. Dealing with one man is hard enough. Still, I’m game for a recount. Somebody go out and get me a man.
Sorry, Cyrus is still talking. “Now, these two people are within each of us,” he says, posing next to a mirror for metaphorical purposes, “and they are always fighting against each other. But if these elements could be separated — just imagine the possibilities! Evil could go its own way, completely free of any aspirations or remorse that are foreign to it, and good — good could have its own life, free of any struggle against evil impulses or hostile thoughts!”
And that’s it, that’s the whole plan; everything after that is just bookkeeping. We separate the two men, and evil goes its own way, with good, presumably, following behind him, offering apologies and paper towels.
It’s hard to think of a practical use for this technology, unless you want to disrupt the philosophy industry, but presumably Dr. Longworth has some kind of an idea how to monetize this. Evil does seem to be pretty lucrative, especially these days.
So it’s another narrative collision, is what I’m saying, where they take another story and throw it head-first into Dark Shadows, just to see what happens. This time, it’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson novella about a worried lawyer.
The weird thing about adaptations of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is that nobody has ever actually produced one, after 130 years of trying. The story is about Gabriel John Utterson, a lawyer who’s perplexed by his friend and client, Dr. Henry Jekyll. The doctor appears to be under some obligation to a despicable little man named Hyde, and nobody knows why Jekyll appears to be cleaning up, every time Hyde’s criminal behavior creates a mess. Utterson engages in a kind of low-speed chase for clues to help him understand Jekyll’s behavior, which goes on for a year and a half, until he finally breaks into Jekyll’s laboratory and finds him dead on the floor. That’s the first three-quarters of the story.
The final quarter of the story is a letter — Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case — which finally tells his version of the story, 74 pages in. This is presented as the killer’s confession in a murder mystery — a way to explain how the clues all fit together, and to tie up the loose ends. The reader hardly sees Jekyll “on-camera” in the story itself, and even less of Hyde; besides a few choice examples, most of Hyde’s wickedness is presented as suggestion.
But that’s not very good box office material, so literally every adaptation ignores the first three-quarters of the story and just dramatizes the conclusion, doing the whole story from Jekyll’s point of view. In Dan Curtis’ 1968 telefilm version, there isn’t even a character named Utterson.
So all this time, they’ve basically taken the last two pages of a mystery novel, and made that the story. It’s kind of like if Star Wars only made the three prequels, and they never had the moment where Darth Vader tells Luke, “I am your father,” because a) everybody already knows that, and b) they forgot to make a movie with Luke in it.
That being said, Jekyll and Hyde is a great choice for Dark Shadows source material, because it’s got a lot of the features that a soap opera needs: rising action, mysterious wills, deceit, costume changes, sporadic outbreaks of violence. It’s got arresting visual hooks, and crazy props. It’s amazing that they haven’t done it already, it could’ve fit into 1897 with no questions asked.
So bring on the mad science, boys; it’s been a year and a half since we had any, and it’s great to see an apparatus again. The only things that can really compete with an apparatus are a werewolf and a magical severed hand, and unfortunately, we’re not going to see those on the show anymore.
Bring on the beakers with colorful fluids, the chemistry words, the villains and victims and unintended consequences, the transformations and the audience-pleasing slide into decadence. Most of all, bring on the bunny, who is actually two bunnies, the good bunny and the evil bunny, except one of them is a guinea pig, and you’ll never guess which. Stay tuned for more on this story as it develops.
Tomorrow: Truly Two.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the opening narration, Michael Stroka trips over the word “dissolute”.
In the first scene of act 1, the boom mic doesn’t pick up one of Quentin’s lines very well: “Forgive my abruptness.” The mic picks him up fine in the next sentence.
At the top of act 2, a studio light is visible as the camera pans from the clock to the drawing room.
Quentin dials eight numbers when he calls Maggie’s sister.
When Quentin slams the cottage door, the wall shakes.
Bruno asks Amy, “Who do you know — how do you know who I came to see?”
Amy is listed as “Amy Jennings”; she’s actually Amy Collins in Parallel Time.
Behind the Scenes:
There’s a multi-colored afghan in Parallel Time, too, and today we see it on Bruno’s piano. We last saw it in November, when Megan was using it as a blanket.
Tomorrow: Truly Two.
— Danny Horn