Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 9


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 234

Barnabas chastises Willie at the end of a cane for potentially alerting others to Maggie’s danger. At the Evans cottage, Sam and Dave Woodard discuss Maggie’s waning condition, and Woodard implies that there may be something beyond the medical that is to blame. Vicki takes over from Sam when he goes to paint Barnabas by moonlight, and she also finds that Maggie swings from thankful for supervision to petulantly resistant. At the Old House, Barnabas becomes restless with posing, and as his attention drifts elsewhere, Vicki and Maggie find themselves besieged by the sound of howling dogs and the start from violently shaking doors. Vicki leaves the room to call for Burke and afterwards, finds Maggie’s door suddenly locked.

For many, this is what DARK SHADOWS really is, as Barnabas rises in villainy and Maggie descends into victimhood. In tone, this stretch of episodes creates the ultimate chicken and egg debate for fans of the show. This realpolitik Barnabas is nothing like the avuncular, cured version with whom Roger leaves the kids as Quentin’s haunting begins. The dissimilarity is jarring. But would we ever have gotten that hero if he had not established himself in such a memorably wicked way? I like both sides of the character, and an episode like this reminds me of why people get hooked. The civility of Barnabas Collins is not an act. He is not a bloodthirsty European soldier posing as a suave gentleman to get his way. He IS a suave gentleman… and one for whom calculated brutality and intimidation are often best practices on the frontier. Don’t forget the world from which Barnabas arrived. The constant threat of invasion. Lethal winters. And untrustworthy house staff who connived for wildly unreasonable things, like dignity and freedom. People like Willie and Ben were major home appliances as much as they were humans. The aftermath -- almost always, the aftermath -- of Barnabas’ savage management methods exists in another context, as well. As sorry as we feel for Willie, we also remember him as a sleazy, thieving, barfighting, leering, vaguely-potentially-rapey weasel. It’s not like Barnabas is knocking around Mr. Wells at the Inn. This is a thug who can go toe-to-toe with Burke Devlin, and even if he knows that defeat is inevitable, goes out swinging. Willie can cower all he likes. He already bought into a world where problems are addressed like this all the time. I’m pretty sure that maritime discipline is designed similarly. As much as Barnabas would probably prefer to have Willie keel hauled, he’ll have to make due with his cane.

Still, this doesn’t mitigate the horror. If anything, the deliberate sense of tactics makes this episode effectively disturbing. Sam Evans is a determined, sharp, resilient parent. If that man is no match for a would-be kidnapper, who is? Steady and sober Vicky is similarly impotent as doors shake and unseen dogs snarl outside. What does Barnabas hope to gain? I suppose his powers of hypnosis are limited. By wearing Maggie down sufficiently, the certainty of Barnabas’ strange ways will be a relief compared to a threatening unknown. Kudos to Kathryn Leigh Scott for her transitions between needy victim and dispassionate conspirator in her own torment. DARK SHADOWS often requires a strange Tao from its actors. Both Scott and Jonathan Frid put that magnificently on display here in 234. She’s the frightened subject of mind control and a willing collaborator who wants to get her way. He’s a gentleman and a general. Both antitheses have elements of the other. DARK SHADOWS may evolve into a comic book about regret and restitution, but it begins as a study in the moral contradictions within us. DARK SHADOWS is literally about those -- the unsavory implications seemingly ignored when the spotlight celebrates what we want the world to see.

On this day in 1967, audiences laughed along with comedy team Eastwood and van Cleef as they mugged their way through the old west and did anything for a buck in Sergio Leone’s zesty romp, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE.

This episode hit the airwaves May 18, 1967.

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