Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 19


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 392

There goes the neighborhood for Joshua when Barnabas announces he’s gone coconuts for an island girl! Will a walking corpse walk her down the aisle? Joshua Collins: Louis Edmonds. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas visits Josette at Jeremiah’s grave, tortured by his reasons for marrying. Her quiet insight remains as placid and piercing as ever. Later, Joshua bristles at the news of the wedding, and insists they move into Collinwood at once. Seeking to disrupt what may be rekindling feelings between Barnabas and Josette, Angelique resurrects Jeremiah.

What a sad, pained, mature, little gem of an episode. Everyone tries to make the best of it until there’s nothing left to do but reanimate the corpse of a beloved relative shot by another beloved relative. We’ve all been there. This is 1795 at its best, focusing on crucial depictions of character in conversations that define not only where they’ve come from, but where they are, where they are destined to go. But not just where they are destined to go… these are moments that define the future of the Collinses, as well. Everyone needs to be applauded for their acting in this one, because the humanity they show really reveals the truths of their contradictions and the contradictions of their truths. None more so than Joshua.

It’s easy to carry Naomi’s flag. She gets to be one of that handful of strong-willed-women-in-a-time-when-such-things-were-rare, and very proud we are of all of them. In that era, it’s only a handful, because any more is a waste. Joan Bennett excels at taking unbradge in the name of Decency and punctuating it with ultimatums. The writers clearly knew this was her strength because when she got to do anything else, it made the papers from here to Ulang Goom. Naomi is a voice of aristocratic uncommon sense until she, you know, kills herself. Largely to make another point -- largely that it’s wildly depressing to see your own son bite his cousin after Labor Day. Barnabas’ mother always was a bit extreme.

Joshua continues to reveal himself to be perhaps the saddest character among the profoundly Gloomy Gusses of 1795.

(Ok, maybe he’s not as sad as Barnabas when he shoots his uncle or sees Josette jump to her death because of the inhuman monster he’s become... or like that one time when he begs his own father to execute him. Or when he kills those prostitutes before he even gets a receipt for tax season. I don’t think he walked away from those tragic moments with his thumbs popping his suspenders and whistling “Turkey in the Straw,” buying the local orphans a round of daiquiris at the Eagle. [Historians would argue this is actually because “Turkey in the Straw” had not yet been written by Frederic Chopin and the daiquiri wouldn’t exist before the Spanish-American War. Truth be told, historians would argue anyway just to kill time while they’re waiting for more history to happen.] And I guess Vicki’s frown was maybe hard to turn upside down when the noose was placed around her neck for crimes she never commited, finally suspecting that Peter Bradford was no Dan Fielding. Of course, Dan was a prosecutor, so laws of nature prevent him from defending witches. And what’s the point of Markie Post if she’s not dressed like Elektra Woman? He’s a fictional character from even further in the future, so he’s of no help, anyway. Why was she thinking of him? And besides, we’ll never know if her frown turned upside down because they put her head in a bag to stop her from hyperventilating, which is a sight that really disturbs the kids and ruins a perfectly good hanging for everyone. Then there’s Naomi, again. She was arguably having a case of the Mondays that one time when she drank poison and ended her life. So, yeah, okay, okay, there are a maybe few other cranky fussbudgets hanging around in 1795. But if you exclude those whiny sad sacks, you’ll concede that Joshua is the tragic one.)

(And here’s why.)

Edmonds absolutely nails the performance of an incredibly fearful and tender man forced by his era to adopt complete rigidity. Everything he does is to fortify the Collins name, and it’s clear that no one -- not even he -- can live up to the standard they’ve bought into. Was it for business? Was it to keep the locals from seeing the man behind the curtain and ransacking the place? Was it because he absolutely believed in the highest standards and was going to craft the illusion until the rest of life caught up with him? Pessimist? Idealist? Yes to all. He even built a gargantuan mansion when he already had a gargantuan mansion, and for a family of five. It is the ultimate conspicuous consumption. Hardly an Old World sensibility. Correction. Joshua is an Old World bulwark forced to both exaggerate what he delivers for the bold frontier and maintain English dignity to the end. He both believes it and doubts it to the end, and the result is nothing but death and dissolution. There isn’t a so much a vampire soap opera; this is Arthur Miller every day at 4:30.

The episode is an embarrassment of riches elsewhere. Angelique has “the talk” with Naomi and Joshua about love and class mobility, and you can see Joshua caught between his sense of social propriety and his firm belief in the opportunities of America. Lara Parker navigates between the caste structure and optimistic common sense in a way that’s neither obsequious nor arrogant. You see a great woman here, and it underlines the exasperating circumstances that took that wise greatness and fused it with the evil of desperation. She didn’t need to turn out this way… a few hundred years and yet only 45 years hence, she won’t.

Equally winning is Josette. The scene in the graveyard with Barnabas is a masterclass by Kathryn Leigh Scott in portraying that strange, quiet wisdom that only comes from total decimation. Josette is a character we are so often told we must adore. Often, she’s just a bit of a porcelain doll. But not here. Here, we get it. Here, we see the controlled, intelligent woman for whom it could be argued Collinwood was ultimately built. It’s a Solomonic slow burn, and it’s one of our first glimpses of why Barnabas will risk everything for her, again and again.

The society of 1795 made these characters inhuman long before a curse did. In 392, we see the humanity that has struggled -- and will continue to struggle -- within.

This episode was broadcast Dec. 26, 1967.

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