Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: September 18


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 328

After sending Julia to turn Willie into a stiff, Barnabas gets a rise out of the sheriff with the help of a carefully placed ring. Julia: Grayson Hall. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas frets over Willie’s potential recovery from being shot in the back five times. Because if anyone would have that kinda luck….  And Julia insists that she’s in no position to help kill the potential snitch. Barnabas prevails, and he lays a trap for the visiting sheriff to “accidentally find” Maggie’s ring under a candle in Willie’s room. All seems well when Barnabas learns that Willie is emerging from his coma, despite or because of Julia’s presence.

Barnabas has never been more of the aristocratic everyman and to-the-manor-born Joe Lunchbox than he is in 328, one of the show’s funniest episodes up to this point. If he ever wrote a biography, it would share a name with mine, “A Life Under Siege,” and if you can’t identify with that, well… I don’t trust you. If you have any doubt that Dark Shadows is often an intentional comedy, just imagine this one with a laugh track. But even without it, Jonathan Frid and Grayson Hall are clearly playing set-up-punchline-reverse with relish.

No one has less authority than the one in charge, as Barnabas learns. It should be so simple. He’s working with a doctor whose hands are getting dirtier by the episode. She has plenty to gain by killing Willie, and for Barnabas, it’s the only thing to do. He’s an 18th century dandy, and the home appliance called Loomis is beyond the repair stage. You can’t even donate him to Goodwill. No, the Loomis must go, and it should be obvious. But every time he sends Julia out to do the wrong thing, she comes back with the news that his health is improving. It’s a cacophony of counter-intuition. She claims he’s under too much supervision. He responds that she’s a doctor, and they kill people all the time “by accident,” with plenty of supervision. She nags him into planting even more evidence against Willie. He goes along with it, but surprises her by insisting that Willie still needs to die, no matter the evidence.

His insistence is not based entirely on fear of exposure. It’s based on simple, inhuman indecency. Why is he being questioned on something this simple? When will he be trusted instead of second-guessed? If he’s going to take the rap, he might as well have the authority to prevent it. Otherwise, like a community theater director, he has all of the responsibility and none of the power. Which is the repeated, comic lesson the show teaches him and the audience with a stinging regularity. It will take the appearance of Angelique, a dream curse, and a Noel Harrison hairdo to turn her around. In that sense, Julia’s hair is a good indicator of her stance on Barnabas. It’s like the Sisko Beard Rule. If Sisko has a beard, it’s a good episode of DS9. If Julia looks like she’s modeling John Hurt’s coif from I, Claudius, then the Great Man probably has a friend. But right now, she can endanger no one’s life but Barnabas’, and he’s the boss!

The episode, however, is a study in cosmic inevitability, proclaiming that Barnabas Collins is decidedly not the boss. In fact, he’s not even Tony Danza.

Of course, the art is in concealing the art, and Barnabas’ terrible line readings when he’s “guiding” the sheriff and Sam through Willie’s things make him a priceless popinjay. I said Barnabas’ terrible line readings, not Frid’s. The more gullible that his quarry becomes, the more Barnabas channels the Cosmic Eddie Haskell, “Gee, a candlestick toppled. Look. There is a ring inside. However did Maggie’s ring get there?”

“Oh, no. I’m falling over. Oh, I’m falling over again.”
-- A. Danger Powers, OBE

He’s loving how easily he led them straight to the evidence and how little cleverness he had to exercise in doing so. Can we blame the regal rascal? If he can’t get Loomis whacked, Barnabas can at least feel like a smartypants about something. And it looks like the episode is going to end on a note of quiet triumph for Our Hero, but Cosmic Inevitability still has more in store. Of course, a deputy comes running back to ruin Barnabas’ rebounding mood with the news that Willie is coming out of his coma.

And why shouldn’t he? He’s with Julia. As always, the good doctor’s Hippocratic Oath extends to everyone but the guy who needs it most: Barnabas!

If ever an episode of Dark Shadows needed to end with the theme from Curb Your Enthusiasm ...

This episode hit the airwaves Sept. 27, 1967.

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