Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: September 25


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 593

It’s a series-ending move and a gesture that defines him: Barnabas is going to spill it. The whole maghilla. It’s a bold choice for both the character and the writers. I mean, where to from there? DARK SHADOWS returns again and again to the well of responsibility. Characters are either trying to take responsibility, like Liz bringing home Vicki, or they’re having responsibility cursed upon them, like Barnabas’ entire relationship with Angelique. But with so many secrets in the shadows, truth is almost always suicide -- literally with Angelique in 1840.

Of course, in the name of ratings, he can’t be allowed to do it. We know this, and when the allegedly-dead Carolyn answers door of Collinwood, the only one surprised is Barnabas. It’s a beautiful shot, and it gives nuance to our introduction to him from over a year before. When he steels himself at the door and then knocks, it’s incredibly reminiscent of the knock that introduces him to Mrs. Johnson. Now, we see the stakes. Now, we see his nervousness. It’s what we miss, thanks to selective camerawork, in the introductory episode. It made me wonder if he were on the cusp of simply confessing all back then, too. Is he always on that verge? The majority of DARK SHADOWS shows Barnabas as a deeply moral man. It just happens to be informed by a bizarre, realpolitik, anachronistic, and aristocratic compass. Taking responsibility for wrongdoings is a universal part of almost every ethos. Other things just get in the way. In his introduction, he can’t and won’t. He’s in survival mode, and it looks like his lost love (and the reason he wound up in this mess in the first place) is waiting for him. Then, he either acts to feed himself or acts against those who intend to harm him, like Dave Woodard. I’m not saying he’s a saint, but there’s a reason that they wrote in Angelique, Trask, and Nicholas Blair.

Barnabas, the son of a business tycoon and someone I easily surmise is a chess player, understands strategy and value. His truths are priceless commodities and also volatile ones. Yes, some sanctimonious simp -- like the eventual incarnation of Willie Loomis: Collinwood’s Most Jittery Hausfrau -- might want him to do it all the time, but under most circumstances, fessing up would do more harm than good. But you can only dodge the bill for so long, and the writers have created a magnificent vice from which the only escape, fantastic as it seems, is honesty. Yes, Liz and Roger would tell him he were barking mad, even with an incensed Maggie corroborating his confession… until a bulletproof, fireproof Adam burst in as a one-man wrecking crew capable of not just of killing them, but killing an entire house as well.

(I don’t quite know what Adam would do, only that everyone who looked at the semi-liquid remains of Collinwood afterwards would say it were dead. Only Professor Stokes knows of the powers and limits of Adam’s digestive track, but if it were employed in the field of architectural demolition, the possibilities are beyond the diabolical.)

The writers certainly have it (more than) both ways with Caroline’s reappearance. Barnabas -- spiritually -- gets to be the guy who tells the truth, and he gets spared the consequences of doing so. For the observant, Barnabas has rounded a corner. Honesty and consequences are not just idle options. He’s acted upon them. Now, one of his great struggles has gone from reasoning why he should be honest about his curse to why he should not. It’s a surprisingly dark question. Protecting others can be a nastier business than the guardians of goodness and honor sometimes admit. Sometimes, it takes a Barnabas to defend a Vicki. One of the dimly lit alleys that branches off of the Hero’s Journey suggests that this kind of truth would be the ultimate thing that Vicki would just not understand. Maybe Aaron Sorkin was right in A FEW GOOD MEN. But even if the Vickis of the world can’t handle the truth, it’s a giant step for a Barnabas to be willing to unleash it.

Sometimes, it’s even more heroic if he doesn’t. Good and evil isn’t always black and white, which is one more theme of DARK SHADOWS.

This episode was broadcast Oct. 2, 1968.

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