Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 11


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1172

As Barnabas faces his ultimate reckoning, can Julia risk an alliance with Gerard? Lamar Trask: Jerry Lacy. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Trask walls his father’s murderer up in the basement of the Old House in a grand gesture of revenge. Julia smells foul play, and Quentin faces a trial without a key witness. Meanwhile, in trying to contact Joanna, Daphne finds herself in a trap.

It occured to me that he could have just slugged Trask.

But he doesn’t.

I keep waiting for an episode to come along where I can depict Barnabas with Falstaffian grandeur and call him “the great man.” Those come along sometimes, but he’s usually just a man. Yes, sometimes “the man,” but just as frequently, a man. With or without fangs. And therein lies what makes him so rich and compelling and fallible as a protagonist. A matinee idol like Quentin would have wrestled Trask for his gun when faced with the alternative of locking himself in shackles for a last taste of amontillado. Barnabas realizes that he has a better than average chance at being shot and dying very painfully on the spot. Does he imagine that Julia and Angelique will come to his rescue? I’d like to think so, but more than likely, he is just out of plans. Not that he was ever much of a planner. Only in times such as 1897, when facing off with Laura, does he really emerge as a chessmaster of note. For the most part, Barnabas, like all of us, is a lucky improviser. Sometimes, aided by his unique and inconsistent application of honor. Often bested by it.

At least he appreciates the irony of becoming definitively mortal just in time to die from it.

Chances are, Barnabas is a coward. And so what? Like Graves’ Claudius, it’s kept him alive. Yes, yes, he shows bravery many times. Usually out of immediate necessity. Sometimes out of love. Maybe even the right thing. But out of all of literature’s heroic protagonists, Barnabas consistently finds himself over his head and struggling to get by. For all of Quentin’s propensity for scrapping, where does it get him? Aristede, Jeb, and even the occasional werewolf may be slowed down a tad by his right hook, but just slowed down. Had he dematerialized like any self-respecting Collins, the most it would have cost him is a little pride. For all of his moments of impudence, Barnabas has far more episodes of being bullied at the core of his mantle of apparent strength.

Bless him for it.

I think this is the real secret of his appeal. He’s not Captain Kirk. Even one hour out of the week. That would be exhausting. Who can keep that going? He’s more like a vision that Q might show Picard of how he’ll end up if he doesn’t take a knife to the chest as a teachable moment. But Barnabas appears in and around 188 hours of Dark Shadows. Kirk? About 69 of his show. That leaves him 119 more hours than Kirk to dodge stakes, bullets, and hex-hurling wives. And he could really use a Spock, because Willie isn’t cutting it and Stokes has papers to grade. He has a McCoy, but only after she stops trying to blackmail and poison him for months and months. The guy is very often on his own. I don’t know about you, but it has a familiar ring for much of life. Not all, but much.

Sports and Lord of the Rings are for people with a steady flow of friends. It’s an ugly truth that sounds for all the world like mopey self-pity if I say that Dark Shadows is for the rest of us. And good for it. Sometimes, the friend stream goes dry because of bad choices. Sometimes, just bad luck. Sometimes, as with the Julias in life, we push them away because of incessant Goldilockism or because we think we don’t deserve them. And sometimes? We’re just, you know, vampires. This show is a bountiful companion, yes. 450 hours of it. But at its core, the program is that most dreaded of artforms; the teaching tool. And it exhorts us to persevere. Yes, Barnabas is often a stiff-necked coward and the most imperfect of heroes. But he endures. His plans often are incredibly sudden, ill-conceived, and born from compromise, but he has them. He tries to regain Josette. He goes to 1897. He returns to Parallel Time to save a Maggie he barely knows. These are his friends -- or the closest things he’ll concede. He may be a coward, but you’ll have to chase him the extra mile to call him that, because that’s where he begins. Most heroes are who we’ll never really be. But Barnabas? He’s who we are. Despite it all, he holds fast to survival, and he if can, so can we.

This episode was broadcast Dec. 22, 1970.

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