Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 5


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 774

Edward and Barnabas team up to destroy the vampire ravaging Collinsport… and this time, it’s not Barnabas! Dirk Wilkins: Roger Davis. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Dirk Wilkins bites Rachel and then maintains conspicuous control over Judith, leading Edward to suspect and interview Barnabas, mistaking him for the attacking vampire. When the two meet, Barnabas explains to Wilkins that his fury will not bring Laura back. Dirk responds by sending Judith to plug Rachel full of lead.

“But like a poor marksman, you keep… missing… the target.”

That doesn’t stop Dirk Wilkins from being astonishingly prodigious for a Dark Shadows villain. In the course of two episodes, he bites at least three key players and puts them under his control. If he were either less or more furious, there’s no telling what he’d accomplish. Probably end the series within a week. Then, we would send our factory owners over to his homeland to learn the Wilkinsian mindset that allows him to achieve such miracles. For Barnabas, it’s the sorcerer’s apprentice in red shoes. At one point, it looks like he’s killed Edward, too.

This is a surprisingly efficient slice of Dark Shadows. It can be easily forgotten -- to the fan’s detriment -- because the agent of vengeance is played by Roger Davis, who excels at light comedy and earnest leading manishness. Davis is an actor who has fun no matter what the circumstances, and the nutty, goth girl eye makeup and Phyllis Dilleresque hairdo makes him look and act a bit like a refugee from a Murnau movie by way of Love, American Style. Between this episode and the ones prior, he plays the series’ most frightening psychotic since Conrad Bain’s chilling turn as Mr. Wells. Is he harmless? Is he joking? No, not really, and that’s what makes him and his maniacal joy ultimately so unsettling. He spends a lot of time hiding by his empty coffin, waiting for people like Rachel or Tim Shaw to look in so he can engage them in conversation about it. He’s practically turned creeping into an olympic sport. Of course, he’s more Buck Owens than Jessie, and his blend of folksiness and angry, vaguely justified evil make him a candidate for the best Joker who never got the green wig. Best of all, he’s not a man of hollow threats. He says he’ll punish Rachel, and he actually follows through with it. Immediately. With an elaborate plan that still seems to work, despite being, you know, elaborate. And has just enough cruelty to really hurt.

Well-played. Are you sure you want to be on Dark Shadows?

The other highlight, foreshadowing what is to come, is Edward’s completely sober, almost nonchalant, interrogation of Barnabas about vampires. He’s both serious and oddly casual about the subject matter, as if he’s asking about bobcats on the property. Edward is a favorite character from 1897, seemingly prissy and ineffectual and becoming prissy and effectual. Keep an eye on him, Barnabas. You gotta sleep sometime. 

This episode hit the airwaves June 12, 1969.

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