Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 18


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 291

Barnabas attempts to kill Julia at Collinwood, only to find that he’s been duped by a dummy. Julia emerges from the shadows and reveals that she knows his secrets, is a doctor, has a fascination with him as the link between life and death, and then wants to cure him. This fascinates Barnabas enough that he provides room for her at Collinwood while semi-secretly planning to kill her. When she reveals that Maggie lives -- and that she controls her amnesia -- Barnabas has no choice but to delay his plans to ensure that the doctor is out.

“Show me an episode of DARK SHADOWS.”

That prized and dreaded question from someone curious about what you’re into.

It’s somewhere between flattering and petrifying. Where do you begin? What can sum it up, show it off, move it out, Rawhide? Before I go on about that problem, let me say that 291 is your answer.

Some episodes are more fun. Some are cleverer. And some are more pivotal to the canon. But you know what? Not many. 291 is neither an origin nor a resolution, but a key moment of change and evolution for some of our main characters. It’s early enough that they’re still dropping exposition bombs on new audience members to catch them up. As for the present, this episode introduces and explains the strange and long-running relationship of Barnabas and Julia, which will mellow and evolve for the next three years. It is the longest running partnership on the show. But what is that relationship? With two unlikely stars playing even unlikelier characters, it’s not exactly enemies -- except when they’re trying to kill each other. It’s not always friends -- because they’re sometimes trying to kill each other. And we can’t really call it romantic, except that Julia often acts out of love. Even though Barnabas probably doesn’t reciprocate it, he’s aware that her motives become romantic. He plays up a counterfeit interest when necessary, but that’s an act he drops when it becomes clear that she’ll remain loyal to him anyway.

They’ve already met, so we can’t call this an origin story. But this is where she explains her fascination with life, death, and her desire to cure Barnabas in the name of SCIENCE! Oh, she also comes out of the closet as a doctor. Few characters establish themselves as so admirably formidable. When she lays her trap for Barnabas, she does so with no mirror, cross, impending sunrise, nor wooden stake at the ready. All she has are the revelations that she’s a doctor... who suspects his secrets... and has a living Maggie Evans as a patient she can control absolutely! That’s a lot of exposition to get out, so it’s a good thing that Barnabas is a very patient strangler.

We think of Julia as the mercurial one in the relationship, being so constantly in love with Barnabas that she schemes to get him exposed, hideously aged, and generally on edge for nearly the first year they know each other. And yes, that is the quintessence of the mixed bag, but when it comes to mixed bags, Barnabas doesn’t just have a bag… he has a Harrod’s. Willie (who also gets reintroduced enough in the episode that we learn who he is all over again) is so baffled by Barnabas in 291 that if this were the poster to a Dean Jones movie for Disney, he would be at the center of it, arms crossed, pointing in either direction with a perplexed expression… and maybe a cat paw print on his forehead. First, Barnabas moves her in, then he announces he’ll kill her, then he insists she stay even longer. Then he tries to kill her again. In the same scene with no real prompting to shift tactic! Which is it? I’m glad that she says that she has Maggie’s memory in her control. It buys us all some time. I know that men are loathe to commit, but this is outrageous!

And it’s just the beginning.

This episode hit the airwaves Aug. 7, 1967.

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