Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 13


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 585

When Barnabas locks and loads, has Adam met his match or will Barnabas become the once and future vampire? Barnabas Collins: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat. 30 min.)

After Barnabas confronts Adam with a rifle, a rampage ensues, leading to an attack on Julia and Vicki’s midnight kidnapping.

For me, as maybe for all of us, the perfect DARK SHADOWS is broadcast in only one place: the mind. Because there’s so much of the show, it’s easy for a gap to form between what it actually is and what we imagine it was and might become. While that may be a minus if you’re one of the authors of the text, it is a bonus as a fan because it gives us a little bit of ownership of the show as we individually see it. Coming from a comic book background, the show that exists in my mind is a hazy compromise between the objective DARK SHADOWS and Marvel Team-Up, with a dash of BLACKADDER. 585 combines all of that beautifully. Is it another DS-as-sitcom episode? It has that, too.

As with a number of episodes, it begins with the end of the prior installment, which means a powerful and high note. Barnabas is unusually arch and mordant while batting away Julia’s endless cavils. Frid is having a blast with Gordon Russell’s opportunities to flex his darkly comedic chops. It’s a subtle performance, requiring you to look closely to catch the sly grins that flash across his face for an instant, but it gives you a good opportunity to see Barnabas at his most editorial. Adam represents raw force, and the only thing that can top such brutal vitality is irony. This is why victims of abuse often have such sharp (if dark) senses of humor. It’s refreshing to see Barnabas and Russell gravitate toward that choice after months and months of deadpan hand-wringing.

Julia and Barnabas have entered into an interesting phase of their relationship. When we first arrive back from 1795, she’s still a threat, but the creation of Adam quickly puts them on the same team and the appearance of Jeff Clark effectively removes the threat of Vicki to the pursuit of her man. Julia knows she may not get Barnabas, but it’s a nice consolation that Barnabas has no shot with Vicki, either. They settle into a comfortable pattern of constant bickering, uniting mostly when on vacation in 1897, Parallel Time, and 1840. Other than that, Barnabas remains the dreamer while Julia is the party-pooping literalist, often right but rarely fun. Having lived such a strange life, Barnabas is more than happy to shoot Adam, consequences be damned. Of course, Barnabas would be damned, also, as Julia reminds him. Can’t the guy just shoot a reanimated corpse and then revert to vampirism in peace? Is that so much to ask? Barnabas struts and preens like he’s auditioning for the part of John Adams in 1776 until Julia, of course, talks him out of it. This is DARK SHADOWS at its most HONEYMOONERS. When Barnabas bolts the rifle, there’s an unmistakable mix of bravado and veiled uncertainty. Now that he’s got the gun, he’s the man of the house, as long as he can convince everyone he knows what he’s doing. I half expect Julia to remind him that he has no idea how to work that thing, and he’ll probably get them both killed. Which is pretty much what happens. When Barnabas grabs the gun again, he’s so nervous, he can’t remember Julia’s name and calls her be a number of others. Yes, this was Jonathan Frid with the lines again, but it becomes actual humor if you just see it as Barnabas posing with a gun he has no idea how to use, obsessed with his own nervousness. I mean, really? Where did this come from? What does Willie expect him to do with it? The only reason Willie feels comfortable with it around the house is because he doubts Barnabas could even load it. A flintlock, yes. Deadly accurate. A bolt action rifle? Maybe not. When Adam grabs the gun and it disintegrates into pieces, barrel clattering to the floor, the scene becomes a weird precursor to Spike Milligan and Christopher Lee’s gun shtick in Dick Lester’s THREE MUSKETEERS. Depending on my mood, it’s either twice as funny or half.

The rest of the episode is pure action, too. Julia duking it out in the woods. Adam looking like he’s rushing a fraternity as he’s climbs in windows after a nightgown-clad Vicki, with Barnabas snooping around in the dark, downstairs. This is DARK SHADOWS at its purest. Even if the results are both comical and frightening, it’s good to see Barnabas large and in charge instead of twisting his hands in tortured indecision. As have the writers and audience, it looks like he’s tired of being paralyzed by indecision. There’s something satisfying to making a choice, even the wrong one. He’ll improve, and by 1897, at his most “John Steed,” the only joke will be on those who underestimate him. The name’s Collins. Barnabas Collins. Accept no substitutions.

This episode was broadcast Sept. 20, 1968.

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