Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 24


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1070

Can Barnabas forgive Julia’s seduction by a malevolent phantom before a sheriff from the future exacts vengeance? Professor Stokes: Thayer David. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas awakens to the sheriff trying to kill him. Surviving that, he meets with Julia and despite her intermittent control by Gerard, reassures her of his loyalty. Stokes soon perishes from spectral attacks after a seance, and Barnabas and Julia flee through a Time Staircase that takes them back to 1970, where a very loud young blonde girl demands to know who they are.

Blood, thunder, and all good things (unless you’re Professor Stokes) arrive in episode 1070, both wrapping up 1995 and using it as a launchpad for the series’ darkest and most daring storyline. Make no mistake, it’s also drenched in enough sexual subtext and, well, text, to send all of Little Rock diving under pews.

This is a period of intense episodes, where our characters are pushed to their limits, divulging nervous truths and betraying themselves and others the way they always feared was inevitable. They are our heroes and under circumstances of total, existential doom. It remains a challenging storyline to watch because it removes the one constant of the series: Collinwood will always be home. Well, no it won’t. In other news, friends and family members of viewers were being shot at in Vietnam, and the joy of the moon landings was losing altitude. Dark Shadows was as much a product of the Zeitgeist as it was a producer of it. When Barnabas declares his fealty to Julia, he means it, but there is also a halfheartedness and desperation lingering under the words that betrays their lack of steel.

Rather than waft around the edges of the plot and slowly insinuate his evil, as did his predecessors in villainy on the show, Gerard wages a full-on assault as his calling card. And after the Leviathan lethargy and a Parallel Time villainess who wasn’t necessarily there, he’s a welcomed change -- direct and unambiguous. The heroes will have enough ambiguity of their own production in facing him. Julia shows us that in a display of vulnerability that sums up Gerard’s power with exactitude. She’s betrayed Barnabas for Gerard and… I think she kind of liked it. There’s a fear that she’ll do it again, and the fear under the surface that I sense is that she will want to do it again.

And if this isn’t reeking of sexual guilt, I don’t know what is. Barnabas even greets Julia after her seizure by Gerard by remarking that Julia has “been with him.” Okay, it’s as good a verb as any, but coming from Jonathan Frid, it has a sense of Victorian reproach that combines disturbingly with Grayson Hall’s tightly strung guilt. Her sickened fear at her own potential for harming Barnabas is a disturbing admission of weakness from the doctor. Thanks to James Storm’s oily intensity, it’s easy to see why Julia is drawn in and just as easy to see why she seems to feel so dirty about it. Gerard seems to inspire his victims to not only engineer their own destructions, but to want to do so. He is unique in villains in that sense. Gerard is a master in the judo of encouraged self-harm. He is the voice that makes you so curious about jumping off that balcony that it seems almost inevitable. Humans are masters of self-destruction. All Gerard does is get out of the way. And cheer them on.

Thayer David will have more episodes as Eliot Stokes, but knowing that doesn’t remove the shock of his endlessly sudden death. 1080 also introduces the Time Staircase, a bizarre invention of the writers that is quintessentially Victorian in its vague unlikeliness. However, with trips to other time periods becoming more common than a quick stop at the Blue Whale, it’s tremendously economical. More than that, it’s fun. Leave it to Dark Shadows to make a dark, shameful, existential apocalypse a FUN, dark, shameful, existential apocalypse.

This episode hit the airwaves July 31, 1970.

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