Friday, March 23, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 23


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 205

Liz discovers Carolyn’s gun and the reason for having it: an amorous Willie. The matriarch goes on to confront Jason, who then corners his protege, asking him to exercise some patience. Willie’s curiosity about Barnabas Collins is peaked by David’s tales of his wealth and the evocative painting in the foyer. The eyes of the painting glow as the episode ends.

Four years prior to the show filming its penultimate swan song, it filmed its overture. Episode 205 is notable for two things -- we say goodbye to James Hall’s Willie Loomis and hello to The Portrait. And it becomes a vastly different show. Although there have been plenty of loopy, larger-than-life characters on the program so far (the Caretaker, Matthew Morgan, Frank Garner), overall, the tone is gritty. Between Dennis Patrick and John Karlen, that will mellow considerably with charm and warmth. Karlen, especially, will give a nuanced turn by creating one of the most human characters in all of television -- a figure made human by dealing with humanity’s antithesis. Does that make him the Rick Deckard of horror? 

This is an episode typical of the storyline… a series of two-handers where characters either threaten or reassure each other. Sometimes at once. But once we get to David bragging about the fortunes of Josette’s husband, we get something else. There were hints of Collinwood’s past from almost the beginning. The Ghost of Josette is an exceptional example of that past reaching into the present. But with the very exact portrait of Barnabas, glowing eyes and all, Josette’s example is no longer exceptional. It’s the norm. The characters we thought were the protagonists are just the opening act. They are short timers, only temporarily occupying Olympus until the titans awaken.

Poor James Hall. His performance is properly scary, and as a reflector character, allows Jason McGuire to nearly become a candidate for sainthood. It was not to be. In a rush to praise John Karlen, let’s not be too hasty to use terms like ‘better’ or ‘worse.’ We have no idea how Hall’s take would have changed and evolved over time and under the thumb of Barnabas. This is an exhibition, not a competition. Please, no wagering. 

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