Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 22


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 311

When the hunt for Sarah leads Barnabas, Willie, and David all to trap themselves in the secret room of the mausoleum, who gets dibs on the coffin? Willie: John Karlen. (Repeat; 30min.)

David, searching for Sarah, locks himself in the secret vault of the mausoleum. When Barnabas and Willie also look for Sarah, David hides in Barnabas’ coffin. From within, he hears Barnabas abuse Willie and wax on Sarah. Later, Vicki seeks consolation over David’s disappearance. Barnabas, giving his shoulder to cry on, rears back to bite her.

It’s a little too slow and a little too sweet, right… up… until… okay, there it is. At the end. Because he spends so much of the series as the troubled hero, it can be jarring to go back and see Barnabas not only as a villain, but one who enjoys being such. Under what circumstances would someone do that? Yes, DARK SHADOWS is fiction, and so none of these characters have an obligation to be plausible -- but it’s good fiction, and that demands more scrutiny. Of course, these authors had no idea where they were going when they wrote the show. There was no master plan running up through April of 1971. That doesn’t change the fact that this is a complete text that begins, expands, and ends. The fact that Barnabas does evolve -- and even contradicts himself -- makes him all the more human and dynamic. I’m not sure that a pre-planned series could have captured human complexities quite as well; we’re too complicated for that.

At this point in Barnabas’ journey, every institution in the 1795 world has failed him. Marriage. Law. Science. Friendship. Even family… with Joshua’s inability to stake him, Barnabas learns that his fate is a product of Existentialism more than Enlightenment. Trapped in a coffin for nearly two hundred years. Reduced to living in the rat trap echo of his beloved home with a thieving redneck as his only tie to reality. What did he have to live for? The dead ringer for his fiancee turns out to be a mentally fragile serving girl. Yes, Barnabas likes serving girls, but Angelique set a certain standard. No, not mentally stable, but a damn fine conversationalist, I imagine. Not so much for what he met of Maggie. So, that effort fails and plunges him into guilt, regret, and eventually white-hot paranoia. The next person to find his secret -- Julia Hoffman -- is playing the ultimate game of FMK with him, and the only thing unclear is the order. As far as he knows, with each injection, he’s an undead dead man walking.

In the depths of his alienation comes the one thing that never failed him in 1795 -- his sister. As the memory of 1795 continues to rot into vinegar, and as the reality of 1967 is even more disheartening, it’s natural that Barnabas would respond to the only unalloyed happiness in his memory. Is she there to comfort him or chastise him? He knows it’s the latter. But people crave limits, and he respects the source. If he is evil, it’s a despondent shopping spree of choice. And it’s not that his choices don’t ring with consequence, the rub is in the truth that all his choices ring with consequence. He can’t pick up a newspaper without it leading to the most terrifying night of his life. Listen to the opening narrations to the show. How often are these people plunged into terrors they never knew possible? Constantly. Every night. So, yes, Vicki is despondent over a missing David? Sure, why not use this as an opportunity to console her at the end? As he tells her to cling to him and let it all out, his line delivery is as deliberately facetious and half-hearted as Otter Stratton on Sadie Hawkins Day. As Barnabas lunges in to bite her, my concern and sympathy is challenged as I ponder her almost athletic lack of awareness. Of course, I’ll inevitably side with the person getting her throat ripped out… but it won’t stop me from wondering why she’s practically painting a landing strip on her neck. Vicki? You have a generation of young people idolizing you.

Today, the discussion isn’t even a metaphor. No, she’s not asking for it. No one is. So, what is the message that we’re supposed to take away from a dangerous conversation like this? For a person constantly asking questions about everything -- and never understanding what she hears -- Vicki is the picture of unawareness. Evil is evil. An attack is an attack. And awareness is power. Ironic that her would-be attacker, Barnabas, is frequently even more unaware than is she. However, if anyone on a soap paid attention at all, the stories would last ten minutes. But that’s the point. The more the characters lack focus, the more we learn its value. David is the most aware character on the show, and in this episode, he learns the most he ever will in one night. Pity it’s from inside a coffin.

That part of the discussion is too much metaphor to ignore.

This episode was broadcast Sept. 4, 1967.

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