Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Flip Side written by Cody Quijano-Schell and directed by David Darlington, Darren Gross & Jim Pierson

What's it about: It's my philosophy. Heads or tails. Chances and choices...” Carolyn Stoddard is lost. Widowed at an early age, she's the lonely rich girl, drinking her life away as her friends grow up and move on. But Carolyn's life is about to change. Because Carolyn is about to be given a set of choices. And those choices will determine whether she is allowed to live or die. It's closing time at the Blue Whale but for Carolyn Stoddard the night is far from over. It's time to face the music...

Carolyn: 'At least those versions of you had an excuse to be a monster!' Immediately this is pitched as a revenge story against the elusive Carolyn Stoddard, a character who has been at the periphery of many of the stories that I have listened to so far but never a firm participant in any of them. I have been looking forward to getting closer acquainted with her. She's drinking too much because she bored with her life and needs something to engage her. Unfortunately a malevolent force has its eyes on her and is about to turn her life upside down. She never says anything real, she never engages with anybody...she's just coasting through life and going through the motions. There is a malicious, calculating voice whispering in her friends ears, telling them that Carolyn is plotting and against and mocking them.. A chorus of hate and suspicion and lies, deafening them, turning them against her. Men used to line up around the block for her when she was a beauty. She's tired of the same old songs now and wants to dance her cares away. She never considered herself somebody who dances with anybody but for them. Like she is giving them a little part of her. Carolyn grew up without a father, her mother spend 18 years confined to the house. She's better now but she was deeply depressed and during the bad times being around her was worse than having no parents at all. She admits in a moment of desperation that she doesn't have anything anymore. She's a ruin of a woman, who came off the path of having everything. It says something about Carolyn's state of mind that she admits that no matter what she could have done in life things would have still turned out for the worst (even when there an intimate number of possibilities). Is her Uncle Roger really away on business? Or is it that he just doesn't want to be near Carolyn anymore? Given the levels of anxiety Jonah drags out of her it looks like Carolyn would be perfectly willing to throw herself under a bus (metaphorically speaking) in order to fulfil his desire to strike the heart of Jonah. All this discussion about realising your life in the best possible way has had a profound effect on Carolyn. She wants to go to Salem, go to college and do something with her life. By having the worst decisions of her life brought to light, she has been given a second chance at happiness and she intends to make the best of it.

Standout Performance: Christopher Ragland is absolutely superb as Jonah, giving a performance that allows the character to display both terrifying and sympathetic qualities. I was captivated by his voice at times, such was the hypnotism in his delivery. Nancy Barrett is only a heartbeat behind, expressing all kinds of emotions as Carolyn is put through the emotional wringer. Between them they make their dance one that you cannot drag yourself away from.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'My friend could be dying and you're just dancing!'
'Every time you made a decision there is a world where you made choice A and a world where you made choice B.'
'I'm choosing to live.'

Great Ideas: A night out with the girls always involves boys at some point...never a truer word spoken! Haven't you ever enjoyed a book so much that you can't wait to get back to it? I love books like that but they don't come along too often. Uncle Bob is dead in the cellar and the killer is seeking another victim. You can't accuse these Dark Shadows audios of not getting to the point quickly. There is dualism in the spiritual world, much like there is a massive gulf between men and women and black and white. Bringing together Sabrina, Amy and Carolyn allows all of the stories that I have been listening to so far to dovetail together beautifully for a few scenes. All these troubled women drawn together and walking away with their own struggles. Should we be so quick to assign blame in  the worst of situations when it seems clear cut who is the perpetrator and who is the victim? Are people aware of their own roles in tragic events...even if it appears they are blameless? Jonah has no compunction in admitting that he caused Sabrina's accident. A coin was found in a pile of dust...but it wasn't dust, it was sand. Carolyn was there on an Earth covered in desert, a world ravaged by the leviathans because of a choice that she made. She let the leviathans through and they granted Carolyn power. Time is malleable. Jonah returned home to many versions of his pub and met different versions of himself. He had the ability to travel through different parallel times. Every possibility is possible. Even one where Carolyn is married to Willie Lumis. She might have been a Leviathan Queen, a vampire, a werewolf. Jonah has seen them all. Rather wonderfully we get to find out what all the other characters in the Dark Shadows audio universe are doing right now (all of those stories sound fascinating I am willing to bet they are somewhere amongst the oeuvre) and it is all to prove the point that they are living their lives whereas Carolyn (or at least the one from this universe) has paused. I love how this ties all of the stories into a cohesive whole but in a completely unintrusive manner. Roger Collins took away Jonah's future and now he is out for revenge.

Audio Landscape: Electrics shorting out, the jukebox dying, going down stairs, knocking Jonah unconscious, coin in jukebox, rain pattering on glass, the needle slipping a groove, smashing a bottle, setting Jonah alight, heart monitor.

Standout Scene: I have heard an awful lot about the formidable Carolyn Stoddard and no matter how persuasive the writer and Barrett are at realising her depression...I was just waiting for the moment when she would drop the act and show her teeth. And boy does she bite back. Despite this wonderfully vicious reaction, it was the final scene where she allowed herself to cry that really affected me the most.

Result: 'You dance like a dead woman...' I love stories like this when the central character of a series is targeted for terror tactics. The New Avengers mastered it with Dead Men Are Dangerous. DS9 scored a winner with The Darkness and the Light. Doctor Who redefined the idea in Midnight. And now Dark Shadows has it's own masterclass to add to the list...and the target isn't even who you might think it would be. How awesome that Dark Shadows has the elasticity to take on massive science fiction concepts such as alternative realities and run with them. It's something that was played about with in some depth in both the New Adventures (Conundrum and Blood Heat aced the concept) and the EDAs (The Last Resort and Timeless took the idea to some imaginative and sinister places)  and so you might think that I would be exhausted by the concept by now. Not a bit of it, The Flip Side shows that there are still stories to tell within the alternative universe format and that there are substitute versions of the Dark Shadows characters that are well worth exploring further. Many of my favourite stories in any franchise have been those that scale away the massive casts and focus on a couple of characters and explore storytelling possibilities in a highly intimate way. Cody Quijano-Schell has done a superlative job of that here, highlighting both Carolyn and Jonah as vivid, multi-faceted characters and using their history (both in this universe and others) to paint a much larger picture of the Dark Shadows universe. It's expertly done. Add to this melting pot a number of philosophical questions to ponder, the best acting you could ask for and the events of this story having a huge impact on potentially the most important character in this range and you have as close to a perfect Dark Shadows release as I have listened to so far. Sublime: 10/10

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