By PATRICK McCRAY
Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 590
Barnabas arrives home, fraught with tension over his new discovery; Maggie’s memory of last year’s events have returned, and she’s fingered him as the vampire. Barnabas poignantly sinks into regret, begging Julia to erase her memory. The doctor refuses, citing the experiment. In the eyes of Barnabas, killing her is the only other alternative, and he decides that with no happiness. Barnabas later equivocates on the matter, and soon after, Adam arrives to resume the pressure on Julia to finish the experiment. Barnabas and Julia try to swap Maggie out as the life-force and in the midst of the talk, Willie appears on the balcony of the Old House, brandishing a gun! Adam quickly disarms the scamp and hurries them on with creating Eve. They even persuade Adam to let Willie hang around like a kid at a cocktail party, promising that he’ll remain upstairs. Later, Barnabas sends Willie to the mausoleum to watch Maggie. Willie rues the past, but Barnabas contemplatively directs him to focus on the future; the past should be forgotten. Willie asks what he should say to Maggie, and Barnabas stammers that it can be anything he likes, as long as he keeps it quiet. Downstairs, Adam warns Julia to treat his mate better than she treated him. They quibble. She explains that the process will be very painful for Carolyn as the life-force. As he hurries them toward the experiment, Adam roils with megalomaniacal purpose. He must have his mate!
In any genre or series, different stories emphasize different parts of the “5W-How” spectrum. Some episodes are more “what” or “why” driven. This one is very squarely a study in “who.” Adam has taken everything wrong from Stokes and Nicholas, and is elevated to a smug, Nietzschean tyrant. Willie shows all of the compassion that defines his character at its best. (Both he and Barnabas are on a trajectory that seems to say, “If I can’t rule them, I’ll die protecting them.”) Julia keeps it together with Adam, bludgeoning him with iron fists of logic and German Catholic guilt, cast in the velvet gloves of a deadly serious idle conversation. And Barnabas? It’s so easy to become numbed by his ubiquity and take him for granted. What a mistake. In the face of the other actors, it’s easy to take his stagecrafted stiffness and nigh-unto-constant fretting as actually-not-the-most-interest-acting-on-the-show. Note, I said “interesting.” From a writer’s perspective, I agree that Frid gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop. At first, Barnabas was called upon to elicit all manner of dramatic modes and moments never asked of prior actors in vampire stories. This hooked audiences with the unique mixture of pain, regret, tenderness, and ruthlessness that defined the character. And then… we enter this phase of the series. A fine one, don’t get me wrong. But for a man who experiences little but trials, this section showcases them at their most excruciating. In 1795, he endures trials of love. In 1966, his relationship with power is put on trial. Then, his relationship with secrets. Now? He navigates the trials of reclaiming the best of himself from the worst while the thunder of his past sins echoes like thunder on Widow’s Hill. So, is the performance one-note? Only if you fail to really look and really listen. Frid smartly keeps Barnabas as a man of his era, with all of the attending social and emotional reflexes that defined a well-groomed aristocrat of the time. In this episodes, he glides through remorse and determination with the nuance that Vermeer used with shadow and light. What’s more remarkable is that it is a tone of controlled ambiguity and possibility that rubs off on John Karlen, whose acting has improved by miles since Frid’s debut. In fact, for an episode with such broad strokes, everyone seems to have picked up Frid’s sense of emotional contemplativeness and cerebral perspicacity. The writing ain’t bad, either.
In history, today will mark the debut of the longest-running crime series prior to the CSI dynasty. Of course, I refer to HAWAII 5-0. A few weeks ago, we celebrated the debut of STAR TREK, and Jack Lord was offered the lead. One can only imagine what that would have been like. Yeah, Shat’s not such a bad actor now, is he? Hell, he’s downright Actor’s Studio. But Lord has his place, and we can thank all involved for giving us an excuse for the greatest theme song in TV history. Behold!