Friday, May 17, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 17


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 501

Barnabas takes arms against a sea of Adam, but can he, by opposing, end him before the creature works his reamimated charm on the single Ladies of Collinwood? Adam: Robert Rodin. (Repeat; 30 min.)

I love to make things up. And in my defense when it comes to pulling a whopper, I always admit it immediately and then go on telling the tale as if the fact that it’s completely false were irrelevant. Because it is. We’re in the middle of a good story. So just go with it.

I mention all of this because even though I fully confess when I am full of beans, people can still take a lot of convincing when something sounds improbable, but is not. It’s an occupational hazard, and the wolf still hasn’t caught up with me. It goes with the territory of my hobby of claiming ludicrous things, like Ernest Borgnine being Playboy’s 1966 Playmate of the Year, a claim to which a bewildered cheerleader in the class I was teaching murmured in genuine wonder, “How does he know all these things?”

In the case of episode 501, I can’t believe that any description would or could pass as believable.  I would certainly not believe me. But I wouldn’t believe anyone if they described it. I was eating some barbecue as I watched it, and I think it may have been something in the sauce. Or it may have been the fact that it was episode 501. That the entire Dark Shadows staff was absolutely astounded that this bizarre, wonderfully ridiculous show had been going on for 500 episodes, which was over 200 past when 1960s standards and practices should have seen them canceled. I honestly think they just sat around, convinced they were sharing a mutual hallucination, and so they made up the events of episode 501 to test the theory. As far as I know, the top is still spinning. 

We begin with Barnabas, one of the most proper, thoughtful, and deliberately civilized heroes of television loading a gun. A big gun. Not the little flintlock he reserves for shooting occult spouses. No, he has gone completely John Wayne. Except he’s still in men’s clothing. He knows this act will kill him, or turn him into a vampire, which is kind of the same thing, but he has had it up to here with Adam and his entire storyline.  Later, as he is tromping around the woods with Julia, at her most nagging and ineffectual in tow, he brags about the fact that he is not thinking for once. 

Here is where I normally stop and do some sort of analysis of the arc of the character of Barnabas Collins, but this is so gloriously ridiculous that I’m not sure I need to. I may give it a shot anyway. I think this may be his most human moment thus far. When you think about everything that the man has gone through in his past waking year or so, not including his time in suspended animation, I’m not sure I can blame him. And I’m not sure he would stop with Adam. I think he would just go on a spree, then lock himself up in the Collinsport jail with a blanket over his head, and wait for sunrise, hoping that the blanket would protect him like some sort of Nosferatu Otis the drunk. The whole time, just bellowing, “not a jury in the land!“

A potential marriage was destroyed. And then another marriage was destroyed. His mother kills herself. His fiancé jumps off a hill. He winds up in a coffin for nearly two centuries. He meets his fiancée again, and he can’t convince her that she is his fiancée, so we has to lose her to some mouth-breathing fisherman. He falls in love with another girl who probably knows he’s a vampire, but then he loses her to Roger Davis. At some point, his assistant get shot in the back five times, which is actually a relief, but he springs him out of the nuthouse anyway because his only other friend keeps poisoning him. There’s only one person fancy enough for him to talk with about a good scherzo, but he goes off and marries the witch who caused all of the trouble he got into the coffin to avoid. So she’s back. That’s a thing. And he’s had to promise to be nice to her. Most of Collinsport knows where his coffin is. He’s still trying to figure out how Phyllis Wick fits into all of this. He gets cured, and then finds that his life is tied to a big, shambling idiot who doesn’t even have the decency to do a good job of it when it comes to killing Willie. And he probably has to potty train him. Yeah, imagine that. That’s how his day begins. Oh yeah, and he can’t go to sleep because there’s some sort of curse that’s going to kill him after making him walk around a foggy soundstage filled with embarrassing special-effects. And his sister’s ghost won’t forgive him, even though he really couldn’t control what happened and even begged there ineffectual father to kill him. And she won’t stop singing London Bridge.

So, yeah, we see where thinking has gotten him.

Meanwhile, Adam is reenacting a scene from Porky’s as he leers at Carolyn through the window Collinwood. He kind of does a pratfall backwards through the main doors, and Liz thinks she can scare him off with elevator music. But he likes it, so she grabs a knife that just happens to be laying out and goes all Michael Hadge on the lug. He responds, and I may have this out of order at this point, but it’s all a fever dream anyway, by chasing Carolyn around and grabbing at her from behind as her skirt keeps flying up. And there are a number of angles that look like their physical arrangement is exactly what you think it looks like.

Then, he kidnaps her. And that’s the most peaceful moment in the episode.

I swear, I’m not making any of this up. Top that, Secret Storm.

Roger Ebert had a Maxim. It was probably the one with Alyson Hannigan in it. But he also had a saying, and that was, “There are some movies where you would much rather hear the people who made it sit around talking about it for two hours than to watch the movie itself.”

This is the opposite. I’m sure there’s some kind of trenchant analysis that can be made of this hootenanny. But in this case, I need to stop thinking also. To overthink it would be like overthinking an ice cold Pepsi on a hot day because it lacks protein. This episode, when you try to describe it to people who don’t watch the program very often, is the creature on the wing of the plane, and I am, at the very least, John Lithgow.

The important point is that they got away with it. Imagine if they had tried this as the pilot. It would be the greatest pilot ever made, prior to Lookwell, and it would’ve been just as unsellable. But I am convinced, after 500 episodes, Dan and the team sat down, wondered how much longer this could go on, and tested the waters by plunging the entire program as deep as possible. It swam like Esther Williams in a pool full of Baby Ruths. Dry, Dark Shadows was nothing. Wet, and Thayer David is a star.

Children and authors of ostensibly daily columns about increasingly obscure television series often test boundaries to see where they can go and where they cannot. Dark Shadows tests a boundary with 501, and realized that there is none.

Nicholas Blair, Eve and the lucky pantyhose into which she was born, Magda, Szandor, Petofi & Aristede, melting Evan Hanley, John Yaeger, Mr. Juggins, Julianka’s voice, Judah Zachery’s Head, Dameon Edward’s Bea Arthurian pantsuit, Bruno’s hair, Mr. Best, Robot Roger Davis with Head Popping Action, and Chuck Morgan as the Best Fed Zombie in Town? Start limbering up. And you’re welcome. The water is going to be fine for nearly three more years.

This episode hit the airwaves May 27, 1968.

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