Monday, April 16, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 16


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 212

Elizabeth and Barnabas talk of his remarkable knowledge of the family history, although he politely declines her offer to stay at Collinwood. Later, after meeting Vicki, he encounters David at the Old House. When David leaves, he gazes at the portrait of Josette and explains that he’s back to stay.

It’s hard to watch 212 without very strong feelings, and few modern viewers will ever share them with those who saw the episode in 1967. Contemporary viewers see the opposite story, in fact. In a world without Barnabas Collins and “a soap opera about a vampire,” 1967 audiences saw a show where familiar Liz, Vicki, and David meet their English cousin. They’d started the show nearly a year before, and as viewers of that era, they saw the events through the family’s eyes. For us, Barnabas is our context. We start DARK SHADOWS with him, and we learn the family and related details as he does. Although it would be interesting to induce a temporary amnesia and see the show as they did on its first broadcast, the contemporary reading is much more intriguing.

If you’ve never seen the show before, everyone is a stranger. If you’ve been through at least once, as is the case with most viewers, you already know Barnabas as the “main character.” You know his unfortunate origin, and you know his sometimes-heroic future. Given that, 212 is an episode rife with fear and sadness, but those emotions belong to Barnabas. Although the bangs may not yet be there, Barnabas wrings his hands like a champ. Imagine this from Barnabas’ perspective. The evil aunt you killed -- from your perspective, a month or so ago -- answers the door and introduces your mother who committed suicide when she learned your secret. Is it any wonder that he accidentally talks about remembering Collinwood and its first inhabitants? He was supposed to be its master only a subjectively scant time before. Then, he goes over to the Old House where his kind-of nephew tells him that the OTHER woman who committed suicide over him is haunting her own painting. Jonathan Frid gives a vampire performance like no other prior to this. Yes, he’s obsequious, but it’s not just to win the loyalty of locals. He’s experiencing genuine sentiment, loss, regret, and longing. Just as Vicki is lost, without a family, in a house that both is hers and is not, so is Barnabas. The only difference is that he understands that he should.

In most vampire stories, he’d be something like Jerry in FRIGHT NIGHT, there to feed and revel in ee-vil. Maybe talk about a master race at some point. Barnabas is a man out of time, first, and a vampire, second. He’s not a comfort eater; food’s not on his mind 24/7. All he wants is for his father’s ghost to know he’s free to “live the life I never had. Whatever that may turn out to be.”

With a lesser actor, we’d be given the obvious choice on that last line. He’d probably gloat. Barnabas dreads his own potential, and in his delivery, Jonathan Frid communicates an awed uncertainty that sets up a character on a fearful quest. He’s no conqueror. Like any of us, he’s just out to rediscover the modest happiness he thought was everyone’s birthright.

Ron Sproat never intended for this episode to be from Barnabas’ perspective any more than he planned on creating a protagonist who would carry DS until its end. But that’s exactly what happened.

This episode hit the airwaves April 19, 1967.

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