Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 23


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 570

Julia is in the thrall of Tom Jennings as Barnabas continues his dogged search. After another excursion is fruitless, Willie cajoles Barnabas to admit that his determination to find Jennings is actually powered by his affection for Julia. Liz, wandering around in a paranoid daze, wanders into the building holding both Tom’s coffin and Julia. When Liz shows up at the Old House, Barnabas and Willie extract Julia’s location. After the rescue her, Barnabas returns to destroy Jennings. They grapple as the episode ends, and it appears as if Barnabas will be bitten.

Growth and dynamism are dangerous things in soap operas. The stories are supposed to move glacially so that nothing is missed when you’re out freshening junior, glazing the diaper, or putting tonight’s ham down for its nap. Or some arrangement of those activities. But while you’re up to your elbows in freshness, glaze, and sleeping hams, episode 570 is (sometimes) quietly hurling all of its characters out of their comfort zones and allowing the actors to either really act or at least have new things to indicate. Nary a scene goes by without characters having to make choices fundamentally different than those we ever would have imagined when we met them. Either that, or in the case of Liz, they finally fulfill what we’ve suspected all along. Honestly, the level of crazy that she shows in this episode is the ultimate fulfillment of what we’ve imagined was lurking since we first met her. I don’t think a curse caused this. I think a curse removed whatever veil of counterfeit sanity that Liz draped over herself. The fascinating thing is that Joan Bennett’s acting is no different. Liz still specializes in forlorned statements in a voice that sounds like Tara by way of Connecticut Lockjaw. But in this case, the character’s statements are far more dire. I’ll give Joan this; she’s consistent, classic Hollywood. Versatile? No. Grand? You bet.

Jonathan Frid has far more to do, too. This may be the closest that Barnabas has come to admitting affection for Julia. Frid seems more engaged in the material, as is John Karlen, his Jiminy Cricket. Both men are reaping the benefits that can only come from acting in the longform medium of the soap. Usually, actors in plays and films only get a few pages of a glimpse into the characters; they have to extrapolate and invent the rest. Acting in a soap poses the opposite challenge; remembering, rather than manufacturing, scores of hours of character work. It might have been overwhelming. Neither Frid nor Karlen have the grip on the lines that I think they’d like. However, as I’ve often contended, this just makes it more realistic. (I forget my “lines” in life all the time.) The episode concludes with a struggle between Barnabas and Jennings, and is far more visceral and high stakes than we’re used to.

The show is giving us a tremendous setup for new character dynamics. Willie has Barnabas’ number on every level. Barnabas has admitted to feeling something more than professional courtesy for Julia. And once Liz is better, the entire ensemble of good WASPs will be forced to pretend that nothing happened. Topping this off is the sight of television’s first and most emotionally complex vampire becoming perhaps its first vampire hunter. Given Barnabas’ track record of seeking cures and compassion, why would violence be his first resort with Jennings? My theory is that Barnabas knows exactly how dangerous another vampire can be. If Jennings finds a cure before Barnabas finds him, bully. But Jennings seems to savor his power, making that unlikely and Barnabas’ mission imminently reasonable.

I keep a small list of above average episodes where worlds change and you can actually show the program to doubting friends. 570 is an easy addition.

On this day in 1968, Ringo Starr temporarily left the Beatles, driving his desperate and hapless backup performers (McCartney, Lennon, and Harrison) to creative bankruptcy without his aggressive, driving, demanding influence. 

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