Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 8


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 449

Joshua confides about Barnabas with the Countess, who begins a ritual to bring about a magic user who will erase the curse. As they wait, Nathan and Millicent discuss the light in the tower room. Millicent, despite her pleas for companionship, goes up alone, where she encounters Barnabas. He attacks. Downstairs, a strange, old crone arrives and announces herself as Bathia Mapes, there to lift the curse.

There are three 1795’s. There’s what we remember. There is a reality that’s often slower than seems possible. And then there’s an episode like this: the series at its finest. No lectures on camp, cultural relativism, nor irony are needed because none apply to the action. It is a gripping, straightforward supernatural drama worthy of MYSTERY! -- as hosted by Gene Shalit, thank you. Yeah, THAT era. 

The Bathia Mapes sequence received a dramatic makeover in the DARK SHADOWS YEAR ONE comic series.
At its core? People desperate to solve a problem rooted in paranormal unknowns. The solution, intoned by candlelight, is equally mysterious. The strange working used to summon Baphia Mapes has all of the logic of a dream… meaning none, yet it must be and is trusted implicitly. Like a dream, it is mundane, yet dramatic. It works, with dreamlike lighting to match. Rarely is the show this dark, yet steady and purposeful. 449 is rich with an atmosphere that arises from the situation and characters rather than being a desired, imposed “feel” in search of a story. (Tim Burton, take note.) There is a quiet, confident, and at times desperate sense of cosmic awe to the episode. It is about a leap of noir faith that, just as arbitrarily as the universe stuck them with Angelique, it can also -- just as bafflingly -- bring the solution. Faith usually represents sloppy thinking and sloppier storytelling. In this case, it is an organic response to the way reality has shifted out from under Joshua Collins, and his ability to work with the new normal makes his an astonishingly modern man and unsung hero of the sequence.

It’s deeply human and poignant, too. Within all of this is the strange, sad double-doublecross of Millicent and Nathan, each trying to manipulate the other upstairs to meet Barnabas. Millicent is simply outmatched in the bluffing department by the seasoned sailor, and we and she see her sliding toward fate with another bit of dreamlike inevitability. We know and she -- somehow -- knows what awaits her, but she goes anyway, embracing entropy without question nor pause. The saddest moment may be when Barnabas offers her the option to escape and live if she’ll simply agree to conceal what she’s found. Here, Jonathan Frid and Nancy Barrett shine like klieg lights. Millicent’s tragedy is that her nature compels her to tell the truth. She knows it will kill her and she knows that she is consigned to it. She is addicted to chatter and chatter will kill her. When she screams at Barnabas’ attack, I think she’s not so much screaming at the terror of the vampire as she is screaming at herself.

On this day in 1968, you could go to the movies and enjoy QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, PLANET OF THE APES, or THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY.

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