Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: October 25


Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 354

When Barnabas learns that Julia is leading tours of his bedroom while he sleeps, will the doctor finally be out... for good? Julia: Grayson Hall. (Repeat; 30 min.)

As Barnabas firms up his alliance with his new assistant and spy, Carolyn, Julia uses her powers of hypnosis to reveal the truth of his dark side to Victoria. When Barnabas discovers this, predictably, he vows revenge.

One of the most satisfying things in watching Dark Shadows is seeing characters develop on an arc. Some of the arcs are fairly brief, like Quentin, Jeb, or Adam. Some of them are wildly macroscopic, like the one Barnabas follows. Usually, when a character finishes their arc, they’ve gone from bad to good. Barnabas is an exception to this. He goes from good, if na├»ve and a little selfish, to evil-in-the-name-of-self-preservation (with some extremely fuzzy lines in there), and then back to a good that is rigorously and heartbreakingly tested again and again. Helping him along that path is a character who has an arc of her own, Julia Hoffman. Her arc is neither endless nor brief, but it ends long, long before we say goodbye to her. 

Although I am a huge fan of both Grayson Hall and Julia Hoffman, I can also acknowledge that many people are not. They have issues with her acting style and they have issues with the character. In both cases, it’s arguably understandable, especially in the case of the character. In her own way, for the first leg of her journey on the show, Julia Hoffman may be its most interesting and insidious villain. She is quietly and single-mindedly determined, realistic in her humanity, and as carefree in the viciously destructive in the use of her abilities as Angelique. Diabolically, Julia manages to make herself indispensable to Barnabas despite all of this. And at the heart of the matter, the beauty of the character’s evil lies in her potential for good. Not only is she situationally vital, again and again, but she has the capability of being a far greater force for help than she is for harm. So you kind of have to keep her around.

If you watch the entire series, it becomes easy to forget how wicked she can be before she accepts that it’s better to have a distracted Barnabas, unable to reciprocate her affections than no Barnabas at all. In the early days, the other greatest threat to Barnabas is probably Barnabas, himself. (With a little help from Dave Woodard.) But once she is humbled by the fact that someone else cures him, and once the greater threats of Nicholas Blair and Angelique enter the 20th century, love takes over in an entirely different way, and she shapes up.

In the process, Julia mirrors Barnabas in the department of unrequited affection. In fact, because her maturity allows her to accept the fact that he is not a puppet to be manipulated into loving her, she surpasses Barnabas and Angelique, both of whom continue to chase lovers who are, by and large, never going to be interested in them. It is a painful, subtle, gradual, and quiet triumph for Julia, and by comparison, Barnabas and Angelique seem all the more melancholy and lost. We appreciate the severity of their challenge and feel deeply for their inability to “get over it“ because, by example, Julia could.

But when she’s bad, she is really bad, and whether it’s trying to poison Barnabas or poison Victoria’s  mind against him in the ugliest fashion, her ruthlessness is nearly boundless. For a character who is — somewhat thanks to the arguably unflattering haircut that she sports throughout most of the show — one of the most spiritually masculine on the series, her penchant for manipulation and character assassination makes her also one of the most feminine. By comparison, Angelique is actually extremely masculine. She thinks in terms of power structure, “king of the mountain,“ and gaining authority through direct attack and visceral revenge. It does not take Julia long to know that she never even stands a chance in the battle for Barnabas, so the best she can do is stick around and, if not just poison him, poison his entire social world. Long before (in the storytelling, at least) Angelique ever made his life miserable by revealing his secret to a lover, Julia begins infecting Victoria’s mind and heart with the ugly truth. But whereas Angelique used abilities that were patently naughty from the start, Julia destroys using powers designated for healing. In other words, she’s got a lot of ‘splaining to do, and she spends the next several years doing just that. We spend so much time watching Barnabas atone that it’s easy to ignore the fact the Julia has her fair share of atonement to accomplish, also.

In this episode, we get to see her at some of her delicious worst, partially driven by the fact that Barnabas now has a far more compliant and capable assistant. For now. In the world of  Barnabas Collins, it is frequently just “for now.” One of the show’s great and quiet ironies is that he will eventually go from being the man surrounded by untrustworthy assistants to being assisted by those who often mistrust him. But for now? Barnabas has to sleep sometime, and Julia knows it. and Barnabas knows that Julia knows it. And she knows that he knows that she knows it. And he knows that she knows that he knows…..

This episode was broadcast Nov. 2, 1967.

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