Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 7


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1102

Julia collapses into a hypnotized daze as Maggie is lured to her sickroom window by a figure in a broad cape and slouch-brimmed hat. Before it can strike, Quentin enters and rallies Julia to stay awake. She contacts Windcliff, where she learns that the children are in increasingly dire condition. Barnabas takes the next shift with Maggie and ruminates deeply on his past culpability for her suffering. He divulges to Quentin that Rose Cottage is the old McGruder mansion, which leads the former werewolf to seek the living Daphne there. He’s successful, although she is of little help, preoccupied with Gerard. She tries to summon him to somehow aid the children, but to no avail. Later, she appears to Quentin at Collinwood, and against his better judgement, they proceed to Windcliff. David claims that his name is “Tad,” and raves about those from the past while drawing pentagrams on the floor. Is this Gerard’s revenge for their isolation from the house? Daphne attempts a summoning ceremony while Quentin stands guard. Julia bursts in, amazed by the sight.

I can completely understand what makes this section of the series a pariah, and it’s for those same reasons that I love it. Now, we have the luxury of seeing it in the context of the complete series on YouTube, which we lovingly pilfer. Back in the days of first run (and reruns, although I’m not sure the reruns ever got this far), I’d have been disturbed as hell if I thought this were the only DARK SHADOWS I was going to get. I remember when it left the air (for the third time, counting 1971) in Louisville. We were in the middle of 1970 Parallel Time, one of the show’s nadirs, and I knew the end was inevitable. It was a terrible storyline, and I’d be denied a full portion of the terrible-osity I so craved as a DS completist.

The disturbing elements are what I like. What makes this DARK SHADOWS different from all others? I’ve outlined a lot of examples before, but what I saw in this episode was the grappling with a plan so large, manipulative, and scorched-earth that it’s literally inconceivable to our heroes. It’s truly an Existential threat put up against Renaissance and Romantic agents. It’s like Doc Savage dealing with Christopher Nolan’s Joker as opposed to Fu Manchu. Barnabas works his tail off and we can see the panic when he doesn’t know where to turn. With Adam, he knew that all he needed to do was kill, isolate, or appease the lug to take care of business. Nicholas Blair? Send him back to Hell. You know. Simple enough. And Nicholas and Adam made their strengths and weaknesses pretty easily known. Heck, even the Leviathans, for all of their ancient mystery, had a team name and logo. But even they are far more complex than what Barnabas faced in the relatively simple days of 1795.

DARK SHADOWS takes him on a fascinating journey, and as he stands over Maggie in 1102, he has one of his deep, dark nights of the soul. In the face of Gerard, who is a sphinx of evil without the courtesy of a riddle, Barnabas’ powerlessness forces him to turn inward and truly question the collateral damage of his life. This is crucial for his journey. In 1795, his powers are thrust upon him, but they cost him dearly. Awakening in 1967, all he wants is to protect the few vestiges of home he can find, and does so viciously. Gradually, he learns both the futility of forcing happiness as well as the extent of his powers… and the fact that, while vast, they cannot the strange, fragile freedom of being human. He rediscovers his moral compass and finds that he is not alienated at all, but rather in the seat of love and friendship. When he becomes human, his willingness to take action against malevolence sets him apart. No, he’s no longer a troubled, supernatural agent of justice-by-night, but his sense of ethics is the same. He thinks nothing of traveling through time to save Vicki, and then David. By the time he is in 1897, Barnabas is wielding magic, teleporting, and confidently matching wits against Petofi with the smooth, clever confidence of Napoleon Solo. But is evil-smashing what his life is ultimately about? No. He’s compensating for loss and emptiness and separation from home. This final leg of the journey gives him a series of problems seemingly beyond his powers. What must he do? Fight his own battle… the battle of his conflicted heart, still confused and confounded over The Issue of Angelique. His inability to forgive and acknowledge that others who’ve done bad things can change and grow just as he has. By trusting Angelique, he ultimately trusts the reality of his own transformation to goodness, thus authenticating it for both of them.

We see some of Barnabas out of his element here, but it is largely Quentin we see transformed. Serious, driven, but baffled by what’s going on, Quentin simply spins plates in the name of love. He is, as always, the wolf without a pack, and so love and belonging will always be his weakness and greatest source of need. Now, we take away the one-liners and braggadocio and even his reliance on the supernatural, which seems like a force he’s either beyond, bored with, or resigned to never truly understand. Unlike Barnabas, he is a figure of total indulgence, and now, when maturity is called for, his time to pay up has come.

It’s a tense little episode featuring a vampire at the beginning who looks like either of the pro/antagonists from SPY VS SPY. The characters get to do new things and speak new truths, and it’s a fitting send off for writer Joe Caldwell who, with Ron Sproat, created Barnabas Collins as we know him. Hall and Russell would become the Lennon and McCartney of the writer’s room, balancing each other marvelously, and perhaps Caldwell and Sproat get short shrift because of that. He was an enthusiastic author, clearly in love with the characters. Caldwell was also a novelist and winner of the Rome Prize, which apparently cut little ice with his students compared with his work on DARK SHADOWS.

It’s also the birthday of John Harkins, one of the most versatile members of DARK SHADOWS’ background ensemble. For a man with a distinctive face, he morphed into a variety of interesting and menacing roles brought to us with wit and commitment. John gave us Garth Blackwood, Mr. Strack, and Horace Gladstone among others. An Actor’s Studio vet, Harkins came to DARK SHADOWS with the solid stage chops that distinguished the company. A familiar character actor, he was a ubiquitous presence in film and television for several decades, specializing in humorlessness… which, oddly, must have been fun. Like every single human to ever walk the planet on the 1980’s, he joined John Karlen with a recurring role on, you guessed it, CAGNEY AND LACEY. 

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