Thursday, April 2, 2020

The graceful ending of Dark Shadows


Episode 1245 is the most important episode of DARK SHADOWS. It may also be my favorite.

In 2012, I watched all of DARK SHADOWS in 45 days. One of the results was that the beginning of the show was still fresh in my mind as I watched the ending. Seen that way, the show became more than a mishmash of episodes and storylines; it was a story. One story. One, long, rambling, inconsistent story, but a story nonetheless. We all know that it wasn’t written that way. It was assembled piecemeal, one thrill being stacked on top of the next as the show continually tried to hold viewers and outdo itself.

Doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter one bit. When any story is finished, it stands on its own. The meaning and significance of that tale belongs to each viewer as true and inviolate. Their interpretation and experience with the piece is as true for them as anyone’s That includes the author.

Episode 1245 unspooled before me with a cavalcade of emotions. Relief was chief among them. It had been a long two months. With that, I was also profoundly surprised. These writers accomplished the impossible: they ended the DARK SHADOWS story.

As we commonly think of it, the DARK SHADOWS saga ends with the death of Angelique and the desolate return of Barnabas to 1971… yet another year in which he doesn’t belong. But that’s not the finale of the story. The constant time travel and recasting of a core ensemble have a striking effect. At a certain point, despite their versatility, we are no longer seeing an individual character played by an actor. We are seeing one figure, played by one actor, sporting a multitude of masks and identities, exploring the essence of their true character. We don’t see Willie and Kendrick and Desmond. We see "The Karlen.” The same with “The Barrett,” “The Frid,” and so on. All sides of the same basic figure. Looked at this way, the death of Angelique and the emotional ruin of Barnabas are ends of facets of the characters, but not the characters, themselves.

I think of 1841PT as an epilogue in which the characters have evolved to their highest and final states. Think of how different they’ve become from when we first met them in the roles the actors initially played. The Frid and the Parker can openly pursue the love only hinted at at the end of 1840. Morgan stands in for Trask, and it’s Bramwell who’s shot. The Karlen has evolved from a sycophantic lackey into a man of action who risks all to defend Bramwell. Justice is served. The curse of Collinwood is defeated by the one element it seemed designed to eradicate: human loyalty.

When I see the love between Catherine and Bramwell, as well as Kendrick and Melanie, I can’t help but see Barnabas and Angelique, as well as Willie and Carolyn. What have they symbolically overcome? As several admit in the episode, the past. I have always felt that one of the key messages of the show was that our current happiness is based in our ability to overcome the wrongs of the past. Very few characters come to that realization with such finality. And the house is full of orphans at that point… those who either don’t belong or didn’t grow up there. By the end, each has learned what Collinwood was built to teach them and plans on moving on. Considering that the show begins with an orphan seeking answers, it’s only fitting that it ends with spiritual orphans finding the strength to leave. Yes, Bramwell and Catherine eventually return, but that is on their own terms, as masters of the house, perhaps to oversee the adoption and transformation of a new generation.

There is no finer way in which the saga of DARK SHADOW could come full circle. For me, it could have no finer ending.

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