Monday, May 13, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 13


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 495

When Roger hears that a new giant of a man is on the grounds, his pistol is fully loaded. Can Barnabas make the proper introductions or will Roger shoot on sight? Adam: Robert Rodan. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Adam speaks his first word: Barnabas. After a rousing soup-eating seminar, Adam becomes distraught when Barnabas leaves, so he escapes. He and David play, but when they rumble over David’s new knife, Roger shoots Adam and probably goes home and laughs about it. Adam is wounded, but not down.

Everyone comes to Dark Shadows for the vampire. Everyone then finds their own reasons to stay. Episodes like 495 are replete with mine, and if you watch it without tearing up, we can turn this Daybook around right now and go home. I have plenty of GIRLS NEXT DOOR episodes I can write about, thank you. Agreed?

Isolation, misunderstandings, alienation and all of the other pillars of my self-esteem grab the baton and share duties as grand marshall of the parade here. In fact, 495 might be the most emotionally arresting installment in the show’s five year run. Other episodes have more arresting moments, but I can think of few others that establish and sustain such poignance. Robert Rodan’s sensitive and liberated performance is key, and it’s no wonder that children rushing home from school now had a character with whom they could identify, and a character capable of unlocking the parental side of Barnabas they always knew was there. Not that Rodan was an ideal child and not that Barnabas was an ideal parent, as the great man admits in the soup scene. (And it has a Soup Scene. Even the hippest cities can’t boast of a thriving soup scene, yet here ya go.) The fact that they fall short makes it all the more touching because the intention is there. Adam may be a wayward student of the spoon, but the pain we see when he attempts to make Barnabas stay is authentic and affectionate. Jonathan Frid similarly finds lovely and ambiguous texture in that scene, playing off of Rodan for dynamics we’d rarely see again. Barnabas shows a mournful pride; he hears his name as Adam’s first word and then chides himself for having unrealistic expectations based on that. Just as pointed is the pain and desperation Adam freely shows when Barnabas leaves. For many young viewers, the tv was their primary companion when adults left… if they were ever really there. The truth of that moment, shared by Sam Hall and Robert Rodan, cuts through plot, character, atmosphere, and everything else to speak directly to viewers, confronting as well as comforting. It’s a biting reminder of the job Dark Shadows was fulfilling.

Hall then does something uncommon for Dark Shadows. He doubles down on it all with the other mismatched father/son pair, Roger and David. David is trying to show off a new knife, and Roger is pulling a muscle to feign interest. It’s clear they’re both trying, and they both know it’s probably pointless. But what alternative have they? David later confides to Adam that he wishes that speaking were unnecessary, since it’s usually a vehicle for prying information more than connecting. Is anyone connecting in the episode? Roger even asks Barnabas to try a little harder to get along with Cassandra, as if his cousin were the petulant son of a newly married dad. David and Adam are the closest to each other, and even they suffer potentially fatal misunderstandings. In classic, Frankenstein tradition, Adam’s heartfelt attempts to assist are misinterpreted in a way with which only well-meaning children (and recovering ones) can relate.

One person at least tries: Barnabas. When Roger and Barnabas face down Adam (with David), the two sets of fathers and sons are matched up perfectly. We see the future play out in the present. We get how Roger got to be Roger and what David will become. Barnabas, a mild-mannered outsider (now) uses rational speech with Adam. Roger? A gun. Which he fires at Adam, anyway, even after Barnabas’ technique works. The episode ends with a hint of Dumas, as do so many others (usually involving Burke Devlin). Adam ends as prone, afraid, and powerless as he begins, he rubs his gun-shot shoulder. Given his connection to Barnabas, will they share the same pain, ala The Corsican Brothers? Neither Cheech nor Chong weigh in.

This episode hit the airwaves May 17, 1968.

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