Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 31


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 815

Petofi and his hand are reunited, and Barnabas’ demands that he help Quentin are met with ambiguous responses. Petofi removes Barnabas’ ability to teleport and then shows him what he thinks is the vampire’s impending death. Instead, he sees David die in 1969. Petofi learns that he cannot show a death he did not cause. Petofi then goes to Magda, who sees the Hand and follows his command to be shown Barnabas’ coffin. There, he lays on the Hand and has Aristede chain the coffin.

Absolute evil provides too much fun to be all that bad, all the time. Christopher Pennock, one of the heroes of this column, once remarked that John Yaeger was rooted in the joy and freedom of pure evil. And let’s draw the line between evil and meanness. For our purposes, evil is intense self-interest to the exclusion of the needs of others. Cruelty is about causing harm to others for the sake of pleasure. Of course, “pure” is probably a bad word to use. These things aren’t scientific absolutes. (Which is a polite way of telling people with counterexamples what they can do with them.) Count Petofi is an interesting case. Much is made of his evil, and St. Thayer David rolls his eyes and cackles like he’s trying to show Plato’s Ideal a thing or two about how you really play a heavy. However, his punishment of others only comes when they get in his way. Just because he’s theatrical about it doesn’t mean that he’s deviating from his purpose: to get them to stop getting in his way. Ultimately, his desires make sense. He wants his hand back. (You know, so he won’t die.) He wants to escape an organized manhunt via extremely thorough means. He wants to ensure that those who threaten him leave him alone. Permanently. Can’t fault him for that. Along the way, like a dark Dr. Lao, he usually imparts some kind of lesson or reveals some kind of profound or lasting truth. He’s at least 150 years old, and so he views wants, needs, and consequences differently. I’m not saying that I would mind crossing the guy, because I intensely would. But unlike Angelique, he’s not cruel. His techniques have a more pedagogical bent, “Here, I made my point by taking away your powers of teleporting. Imagine what else I could do? Now, sit down and have some champagne whilst we talk about what brought us together.”

From the teaser for the episode onward, Petofi owns 815, both displaying his powers on Barnabas with surgical relish and then being hoisted by his ample petard when Barnabas teaches him a thing or two about gazing into the future. As arguably the most powerful character on the show, short of Diabolos, Judah Zachary, and Lela Swift, he needs regular humblings. First, they keep the program from lasting ten minutes. Secondly, they get him good and steamed, which is when great things tend to happen. He has surprisingly little ego -- after a tantrum or two -- about learning new things, even his own limits. DARK SHADOWS has introduced its first real supervillain since Nicholas Blair, and he’s arguably more powerful because of his unallegiant nature. Barnabas is intermittent as a presence now, and his almost-guest appearance requires a great show. The teleportation shuffle is just that, and add to it the wonderfully ambiguous loss and victory of seeing David’s death mixed with the knowledge that Petofi’s powers to display tomorrow are extremely limited. Does Petofi have the last laugh? It started about a drama regarding a will and has become the pilot for a never-made DEADLANDS tv series. Of course he does. Magda gets knocked down a cribbage board worth of pegs and Barnabas has the Hand placed on him in his soon-to-be-chained coffin. We’re off to the races.

This episode hit the airwaves Aug. 8, 1969.

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