Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 27


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 462

The man of Vicki’s dreams returns from the grave to warn her that Collinwood’s most eligible bachelor is the wrong kind of ladykiller! Barnabas Collins: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Post-hypnosis session, Vicki and Julia discuss the verisimilitude of her trip to the past. In a dream, the ghost of Jeremiah warns Vicki that Barnabas will kill her. Later, Julia and Barnabas reach a seeming detente toward dealing with Vicki, with Barnabas pushing for collaboration. He then reveals that Vicki took the place of a governess who died in his time, and that her story rings true. After Julia investigates Peter Bradford and Noah Gifford, Barnabas speaks of his connection to the past with Victoria. After she confesses that she can’t see him harming her as Jeremiah warned, he summons her to him, anyway.

Today is the fourth anniversary of the Daybook, and there are a lot of things I can say about the experience. But what’s useful? The most important thing I look for and ask is, “How does the show change here?” 

I have a basic pattern to writing these. The last thing I write is the synopsis. Before that, the TV Guide. That’s the part I like most, but I don’t want to say everything in the recap and then not have an adline. So, I do the recap after. 

Usually, at this point, I have only a vague idea of what I’m going to say. Sometimes, I take notes, but I usually ignore them because I get more interested in other things. But I’ll start with some general feeling about the episode, like this:

Cleaning up the biggest narrative risk taken by television since Elvis was glimpsed from the waist down takes more than one episode, and it will get one episode. Maybe more. Maybe, years of them. They have to keep the show absolutely the same, and transform it radically to accommodate heroes who become villains and upcoming villains far more dastardly than ones in the past… even if they are from there. The show may have more dramatic moments. More climactic moments. But it has few that are as openly transformative; we see the time lapse of the flower opening, yet it’s no time lapse.

That’s left me with options. I have imagery that’s got something vaguely poetic, because, you know, flowers. So, I could go profound. Because, you know, flowers. And I used the word, “transformative.” Or I could go glib. I dragged in Elvis, which automatically heralds a potential joke. Maybe about Quentin’s sideburns. But mentioning Elvis on TV also means that I can go with the theme of television history or follow the weirdness-of-60’s-teen-idols, both of which tie in to Dark Shadows. If I go with the concept of transformation, which leaves most of those options open, I’d better do it well, because it’s a frequent theme of the column, and I don’t want to repeat myself. I’ll probably go with where this fits into the show, unifying the ideas of the show transforming with and through a character transforming. 

And I know I need to work in something about the constant references to Julia’s new hairstyle. But if you’re a fan, you know she gets a new hairstyle. 

What’s great is that they spend an inordinate amount of time talking about it. Almost as if Grayson Hall’s husband wrote the episode. Sam clearly lost a bet here, just as Grayson seems to have lost a bet at the time of episode 1177, where he forces her to do a multi-act monologue about the show’s most impossibly complex storyline, 1840. That home could have been a micro-WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, except the son was real and they never killed him.

And now, I’m a little surprised, because there may be more to the Julia Hair Narrative, or “Hairrative,” that I thought. It’s all in the timing because this is a genuine turning point for the character, intentionally so. Barnabas is changing due to the lost love of Maggie/Josette, the possibilities of Miss Winters, the relief that Carolyn kinda gets stuff done, and the fact that Vicki knows his secret. Sort-of-but-not. Most importantly, Barnabas is changing because the audience loves him, so they’ll introduce REAL villains for him to fight. To do that and be constantly undermined by Julia? If he didn’t just kill her to save time, we wouldn’t take him seriously as someone who can stand up to Nicholas and Angelique. And he needs someone intelligent and capable of action as a confidant. Soaps are almost all dialogue, he requires a receptacle who can ask bright questions and trigger worthy challenges. Willie is not the man for that job. Both he and Julia will tell Barnabas that he can’t possibly do whatever it is that he’s planning, but Willie will just say it because it’s his job to tell Barnabas he’s wrong. Especially once he gets the necktie. Julia not only takes great pride in telling Barnabas that he’s wrong, but WHY he’s wrong. The haircut helps. I’m sure they didn’t intend it as such, but artistic intentions are ultimately meaningless compared to interpretive consequence. And the consequence is that as her hair changes, she changes.

Okay, so what? UNCLE called and said that Mark Slate wants his hair back and dyed blond again.  But what else? And I’m serious here. It’s talked about a lot -- by people who like the show and those who don’t. It’s two things. It’s modern and it’s masculine. The latter makes Julia (visually) even less of a romantic prospect, but she’s going for being less of one, too. It emphasizes her visual strengths -- the sharp eyes and sharper cheekbones. It’s modernity is ideally timed. After 1795, the females who visually harken back to that era will always echo it. Similarly, those who don’t will always be in stark contrast. Julia is a fine counter for Collinwood because it’s about the past and she’s about the present and future, iconoclastically so. The same goes for how she stands out against Barnabas, with past versus present. But he’s moving into the present more and more. We can compare “Present Barnabas” with “1795 Barnabas.” Julia, so different than Barnabas, now has a hairstyle that’s far more similar than it was before. She’s not a reflection, but she is an echo, usually carrying a message that he doesn’t want to acknowledge, but is the direct feedback he needs. A present voice for a man we now see as far more of the present than he once was.

Barnabas mellows, too. The behavioral changes are not immediate, but their conversation in the garden here is ripe with series-influencing implications. Both want answers from Vicki. Both have the means to get them. Rather than force them out, they both agree that they must work together for the good of someone toward whom neither means harm. Maybe out of fear. Maybe out of compassion. Maybe enough people have been hurt. Up to now, Julia (bringing Woodard along) and Barnabas are the sources of harm and peril within Collinwood. Enough of that. Vicki was dragged through time… for a reason? She could implicate Barnabas, and Barnabas could implicate Julia, and yet being tattled on is just the surface threat. The unspoken peril is that some force unknown to either now has the power over time and space. Indeed, it continues to meddle with affairs, sending horrific dreams of cautionary prophecy and eventual ambassadors from the past. Barnabas survives solely because he can deny and obscure the past. But the seeming-enemy who swapped Wick and Winters has another agenda and no identity to challenge, isolate, nor defeat. It’s an existential threat that intrigues Julia and quietly terrifies Barnabas. It’s the idea of everyone he’s hornswaggled potentially being toured through a past so unthinkable that he can only survive because he slept it off for nearly two-hundred years. Not only that, but, like Phyllis Wick, every aggrieved or talkative figure from the past can come this way, too. And they’re coming.

Victoria’s obsession with the past is no help, and as a storytelling move, it’s a masterstroke. If we compare Dark Shadows with the nighttime soaps of the golden era of Dallas, it’s a study in change. So many series hit reset buttons with abandon, but when Dark Shadows decides that a formative experience is formative, they mean it. She’ll never be as fun again, but we have the comfort that, on the fun scale, she was never exactly Carolyn, anyway. If I’d been ripped around time, almost hanged as a witch, and had Roger Davis macking on me, I wouldn’t understand, either.

On the other side of the aisle, a new Barnabas must work with a new Julia. The farmer and the cowman should be friends. We may need to bite Vicki, anyway, but that’s insurance. It’s also good TV, which Barnabas knows. As he progresses, it also keeps things moving at a steady rate. No change, and he runs out of Collinses to bite, and I don’t think Mrs. Johnson is his type. All change, and he’s no longer Barnabas. If viewers keep returning to Dark Shadows, it’s because, yes, there is growth, and it’s just about as gradual as in real life. Sometimes, though, you glimpse it. In this case, it’s between Barnabas and Julia in the garden. And that’s a welcome respite for all of us.

At this point, I’m clearly done. I might have been done several sentences ago, but there we are. This will forever be the “Julia’s Hair Episode” Essay, and notice that I avoided calling it “Julia’s Hair Piece”? You’re welcome. At this point, I still have to do the synopsis and the TV Guide. Go back up to the top. And thanks for reading!

This episode was broadcast April 2, 1968. 

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