“You will hear the sound of my voice in your mind!”
I remember the days when I loved Nicholas Blair.
He showed up at the house with a smile and a mysterious hat, claiming to be the brother of a woman who didn’t exist. He smiled, and he winked, and he hypnotized people, and there were wheels within wheels. He was a Satanic mob boss with the keys to the car, and everything he said was interesting.
It didn’t last, of course; nothing truly beautiful ever does. It turned out he was all mouth and no trousers, a confidence trickster who gradually lost our confidence. He never had the clever master plan that he kept suggesting that he had, a fact which became increasingly apparent as the weeks dragged by and he refused to progress the story. By the time he burned, we were glad to be rid of him.
That’s always the way with Dark Shadows, I’m afraid; the beginnings are always better than the endings. A storyline starts out full of promise, and gradually becomes a bore. It turns out that writing a daily soap opera is incredibly difficult, especially the way that they do it on Dark Shadows, which is to write storylines with a definite beginning and end. With a structure like that, you have to make sure that the overlapping plotlines all crescendo at the same time, and the only way to do that would be to plan every story beat in advance, which would take so much time that nobody would be available to write today’s episode. So it falls apart, somehow. Still, you can’t beat the beginnings.
Continue reading Episode 1115: The Gun Runner
“You don’t understand the enormities of your problems!”
It’s not really about the future, of course. If it was, they wouldn’t be doing Turn of the Screw II: The Returning.
Dark Shadows has a future, of sorts, in reboots and reruns and spinoffs, but right now, they’re running out of energy and ideas. They spent the spring making House of Dark Shadows, a feature film that explicitly rejects the idea that Dark Shadows is a continuing story, and kills off every character that you could possibly be interested in, just to make sure that there won’t be a sequel. (They make a sequel anyway.) Now they’re back to making a daily TV show, and they’re finding it increasingly difficult to imagine a future that runs as far as the next six months.
But for two weeks, at least, they’ve managed to put together a tight, emotionally engaging mini-storyline set in 1995, which focuses on exactly the right characters and manages to turn the familiar sets into an alienating nightmare landscape. Today’s episode is essentially the season finale, with Barnabas directly challenging the Big Bad, and daytime soaps don’t even do season finales. My argument, based on this episode, is that they should.
Continue reading Episode 1070: Gangsta’s Paradise
“I want you to get good and mad — mad enough to rip a man to shreds!”
“My, my, Mr. Jennings,” Bruno says, splitting his face with a lunatic’s grin. “How you’ve changed!” He’s sneering at the snarling werewolf that’s currently chained to the wall of this desolate crypt, and he’s staying just outside the creature’s reach, like Foghorn Leghorn standing at the dog’s leash limit.
“Does the tone of my voice anger you?” Bruno jeers. “Good! I want you to get good and mad — mad enough to rip a man to shreds!”
This is not typically a problem for werewolf handlers, because the entire point of werewolves is to be a metaphor for unchecked fury and explosive violence. You don’t need to rile up a werewolf. They come pre-riled.
Continue reading Episode 961: Protagonizing
“It’s a creature without a soul, that has to find one to be real.”
They say that art should hold a mirror up to nature, but the problem is there’s an awful lot of nature, and who has the time to just stand there and hold up mirrors? Plus, you go buy a mirror, and then you rustle up a decent patch of nature to hold it up to, and after all that hassle, what do you have? Backwards nature. Meanwhile, everybody else is holding mirrors up to superheroes and car chases.
But what the hell, just for today, let’s leave the blasphemous starbaby in his box, and partake in some good old-fashioned fam dram. Today’s slice of life begins with faithless father Paul Stoddard, recently returned to Collinsport, as he discovers that somebody has tattooed an ancient cult symbol on his inside left wrist, without his knowledge or consent.
Continue reading Episode 899: The Fam Dram
“I will know to trust them, to lead them through the mysteries that will make them respond.”
And Julia Hoffman seeks to find the secret to his behavior in a mysterious box, which he somehow brought from the past.
Continue reading Episode 890: The Curious Belief
“In the tropics, decisions melt like ice.”
When you get down to it, magic is just metaphor. It’s taking a symbol — like a toy soldier — and saying, this toy soldier represents Barnabas. Then you wrap a handkerchief around the soldier’s neck, pull it tight, and see what happens.
Anybody can do that, really, minus the magic part. Your boyfriend is far away, but every night you kiss a picture of him before you go to bed. You get an email from an annoying co-worker, and you roll your eyes and snarl at it, the way you’d like to treat the person if you could get away with it. When someone that you love dies, you light a candle, and leave flowers on the grave — and even if you don’t believe in ghosts or heaven, it comforts you.
But the people who know magic can take that a step further. Angelique isn’t just smacking a toy soldier around. She tricks the universe into believing that the soldier is Barnabas, and when she throttles the toy, Barnabas chokes.
That’s what magic is — you connect the symbol to the real thing that the symbol represents. Then you wish so hard that you punch a hole through reality, grab something on the other side, and pull.
Continue reading Episode 375: Dangerous Liaisons
“You’ll have to forgive me just now. My memory isn’t what it should be.”
Okay, settle down. I looked into it, and it turns out that hypnosis is actually a real thing.
I mean, there’s stage hypnosis, which is silly — that’s the magic show kind where they bring you up on stage and make you cluck like a chicken. That’s not real hypnosis. It’s just saying things, and then picking someone from the audience who looks like the kind of person who probably clucks like a chicken anyway.
Then there’s hypnotherapy, which is a legitimate technique that can help a patient to relax and focus. It’s helpful for relieving chronic pain, anxiety, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, bulimia, and other disorders that are amenable to a change in mood or outlook. The term was coined in the 1840s by a Scottish surgeon named James Braid, who developed the Eye-Fixation Hypnotic Induction Method that Julia used when she hypnotized Maggie at Windcliff Sanitarium.
But it turns out you don’t need to wave a watch or a light at somebody. It’s possible to get the same effect just by helping them relax and focus. Braid was actually a very interesting and thoughtful guy, who studied and wrote about hypnotism as a helpful complementary therapy that could be used in conjunction with other conventional forms of medical care.
Oh, and P.S.: It’s also possible to use hypnosis to record over a person’s memory, like it’s a cassette tape. That totally happens ALL THE TIME.
Continue reading Episode 297: The Honest Truth