Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 8


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 562

Joe finally learns the truth behind Collinsport’s nocturnal activities. But if he’s a puppet, who is the hand? Angelique or Nicholas? Joe Haskell: Joel Crothers. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Joe stumbles upon Willie, who is digging up a grave. Nicholas and Angelique divert Joe from informing the authorities, and Joe later goes to a nervous Barnabas to suggest that the police will not be involved. Joe continues to succumb to Angelique’s bite, despite resisting.

Dark Shadows started out as one thing. And that one thing cannot escape what the show is becoming. The saddest example of that is the transformation of Joe Haskell.  Sad because he is a wasted, maddened casualty, played with a wonderful sense of dawning horror by Joel Crothers. He and his character were once the show’s rays of light. (Excluding an understandable temper and one, allowable, drunken night of soaking up beer and piddling class envy on the Collinsport Afgan.) Now, he’s Angelique’s blood doll, and a pitiful, disheveled one, at that. His captivation by Angelique can be written off to the supernatural, but that feels superficial. Angelique is, In every way, the anti-Maggie. Does this make her the wrong woman or the wrong woman in the right ways? Joe’s desperate attraction feels tragically right. Even her comparative indifference to him is both repulsive and alluring. 

Dark Shadows’ early world of blackmail and revenge was built for Joe Haskell, and Joe was built to be the paragon withstanding it. He reeks of honest work, integrity, and common sense. When Willie needs a warning or Sam needs a sober ear, Joe’s the guy. Vampires and demons, not so much. Dark Shadows was careful to segregate guys like Joe and Burke from the incipient sideshow. They were just not built for moments like this, and all of Collinsport Revealed to be an elaborate shell to hide what was really brewing under the surface. Jeffrey Beaumont is designed to successfully segue back and forth between the genres. His story is, by classical definitions, a comedy. Joe’s is a tragedy. When Jeffrey says that, “It’s a strange world,” he does so with bemused wonder. But when Joe Haskell says it, there is nothing more nor less than horror -- at the world and his own combination of eager desire and spoonfed ignorance. He is the doomed hero of Lovecraft, not Lynch. But David Lynch is an optimist compared to the minds behind Dark Shadows, and the fall of Joe Haskell is a prime example.

In fact, he is so alien to the newly revealed world of the supernatural in Dark Shadows that Angelique seems subtly indifferent towards him. He’s a meal to her more than a man, and she takes the job because she’s a pro. Not because she wants to. He’s a worthy victim in only the biological sense. When they share the screen, it feels like two vastly different shows have been Frankensteined together, but that adds to the dark fascination of it. Because it’s clear which is going to win, we also see which vision of the universe is stronger. Suddenly, the pedestrian world of everyday, mortal storytelling is revealed to be on the thinnest of stilts. Van Helsing doesn’t stand a chance, and we knew it all along. The unseemly and fascinating part of this story is how it brazenly tells that truth about mortal life after setting it up as unimpeachable for the past two years. Joe has been played all along, and the audience -- part of Joe’s world all along -- has been, as well.

When Barnabas returns from 1795, he immediately starts draining Vicki of blood. It’s a metaphor for the show reinventing itself by feeding off its own beginnings until they cease to be relevant. Joe’s victimization by Angelique is simply equal opportunity with a thousand-yard stare. And not without regrets. In 562, both Joe and Angelique seem equally horrified and enthralled at the prospect of meeting each other. Joe seems to have more of the opportunity to resist than any victim we’ve seen. Consequently, his eventual capitulation to bites and blackmail is all the more poignant.

This episode hit the airwaves Aug. 20, 1968.

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