By PATRICK McCRAY
Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 483
Barnabas strong arms Julia into releasing Willie from Windcliff while he still seems to have only a vague memory and sense of identity. When they take the doddering lad home, they instruct him to keep a low profile. Instead, he steals a gun and escapes as soon as possible, going to Maggie’s to explain what happened the night he was shot. Joe Haskell chases him off and later warns Barnabas that if Willie pops up anywhere, he’ll shoot.
When Barnabas is accused of having a tenuous grip on reality, this should be exhibit A. It’s not in a lunatic fashion. Just in a comically self-serving one. The result is a Barnabas/Julia/Willie episode that, like several others, plays as high comedy if tilted the right way. Although not in ready production, THE HONEYMOONERS set the standard for television domestic satire in this era, and once again, the writers for DARK SHADOWS seem determined to match them. Barnabas’ obliviousness to the dangers posed by Willie. Willie’s innocent act. Julia’s bug-eyed incredulity. Willie’s 180. And Joe, who’s had it up to here. Along the way, Barnabas -- in his desperation and maybe even delusion -- shamelessly gaslights Julia like a pro regarding her feelings for Willie and her culpability for his fate. The episode takes a turn, though, when Joe confronts Barnabas. Frid has Barnabas float between genuine guilt and subtly manipulative showmanship. Joel Crothers is as serious as a wrecking ball in the confrontation, and we can see him begin to slip from righteous indignation into obsessive madness by graceful inches. John Karlen shines, as well. As far as all-around acting goes, it’s an unsung hero in the series. Each character is forced to explore something new, and the stakes remain intensely high… but never melodramatically shrill. 483 is a tiny gem with a little of everything and has the comic touch that should have served as the 2012 movie’s inspiration.
On this day in 1968, rising gang violence in Chicago led President Johnson to call for national unity. I’m still waiting.