Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 22


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 480

Heads up! Julia wigs out when she finds out Lang’s big plan, but will Jeff Clark continue to stick his neck out? Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Lang persuades Barnabas to recruit Julia’s hypnotic aid to relieve Jeff Clark of his near beheading. When Julia learns the truth, she vows to help the experiment but decides to call the cops on Lang, instead.

Mention the Adam storyline to fans, and -- because Adam is a big, shambling lug unconnected to the overall Collins family -- you’ll see an expression that is worn typically only by xenophobic toddlers dragged to cheese expos. Since Adam is missing a head, it may be the wrong time to talk about him as a sex symbol. However, it’s the perfect time to figure out why the Adam storyline is there, both in the saga’s timeline and to explain why it’s there at all in the overall series. Back in the days of VHS or strip syndication reruns, these questions were as useless as an AA meeting in the drawing room. You were lucky to see any of the show. Whatever fell into your lap from the gods of money, tv timing, and Suncoast was a randomly distributed bauble. Now, with the entire show in free streaming on Tubi, it’s only proper to see the show as One Big Red Marble that you consider all at once.

So, what I’m getting at is that the Adam storyline is the most important one to the series.

Like Adam, himself, it is a mechanical kind of importance. It is the fulcrum on which Barnabas’ journey gains its most important leverage… and it does similar things for Julia. I bring it up because we are seeing the choices in an episode like 480 that galvanizes that change. It is the change that will be celebrated in 1897, then challenged relentlessly until 1840 provides the opportunity for them to reclaim their moral identity for the final time. Right now, they’re just finding out that they have a moral identity to later reclaim.

Barnabas’ exploitation of Julia’s love gets Lang to put his gun away, which is always a calming sight in a lab full of overpowered electronics and wildly volatile chemicals. He merely wants one more decapitation… one more life so that her subscription to Scientific American wasn’t wasted. It’s an odd choice by Barnabas in the light of the man he will be for much of the series, but practically Dalai Lamatic compared to the creature Angelique made him. He would probably even help Lang give the head donor some novocaine so the decapitation would be something they’d never even notice. It seems like he almost has her convinced. Barnabas is doing this for both survival and love, so she should apply the same measure. But Barnabas Collins is no Vicki Winters in the siren department, and Julia’s love suddenly falters when the price is sawing a man’s head off… although if she chose carefully, it would somewhat reduce the catering bill at the wedding. So, both Barnabas and Julia are aware of the moral stakes at play, and even though Julia is passing the test and Barnabas is failing, he is aware that he’s failing as he moves from the world of the beast to the world of man.

Lang is crucial to the spectrum because he is a fusion of the best and worst of Barnabas and Julia. He’s a monstrous sociopath and a man of science. Both can see the worst of themselves in him, and both can see the strange optimism and sense of purpose that will be their greatest motivational ally.

Everyone is a swinger, here. Lara Parker sells total sincerity and total nonsense -- with a dash of seething jealousy -- as she thanks Julia for being her only friend at Collinwood. Unbeknownst to Julia, they have everything in common. Both came to the area to do specific jobs the Collinses couldn’t or wouldn’t do. Both have esoteric powers to bend minds and bodies. Both arrived there under false pretenses. Both are in love with Barnabas. Two women enter, only one will leave on her feet. Julia may not have Barnabas when she leaves 1840, but she does have Julia.

Jonathan Frid’s nervousness is once again his ally. Just as he flubs a few lines, so does Barnabas because that’s what people do at gunpoint. Grayson Hall has the unenviable task of having to Scream a Whole Lot, and this episode is the special delight of people who like to say she’s a bad actor. No, she’s a great actor. She’s a pro who was told to Scream a Whole Lot, and that’s exactly what she did. Roger Davis deserves special kudos for epitomizing the stakes of the episode. First roofied by Lang and then tied up in a bedroom, he arises from a slumber of uncomfortable subtext to explain to Julia what’s happening. The dialogue deals a lot with stealing his head, and Davis does what actors are supposed to do. He justifies its authenticity. Tough words to pull off? Whether it were Shakespeare at his wordiest or poorly translated Strindberg, he had flirted with both and more as a stage actor and a teacher. If he can make much of that sound true, he can sell a man’s reasonable concern with decapitation.

A last note in terms of when this falls. The show had not yet given up on the idea of Barnabas’ soul entering a new body with a new face. Considering that this was in and around the first anniversary of the debut of Barnabas Collins, it would not surprise me if this were also in and around the time for contract renegotiations. Could this have been a subtle message from Dan Curtis (the Sultan of Subtlety) that Dark Shadows may have needed Barnabas Collins, but Barnabas Collins doesn’t necessarily need Jonathan Frid?

Of course, this is a wild theory, but I know that it would be on my mind were I there.

This episode hit the airwaves on April 26, 1968.

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