Thursday, August 5, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 5

Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 817


With David’s life in the balance over two centuries, Quentin learns that he lacks the one thing Petofi is determined to master: Time. David Collins: David Henesy. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Petofi allows Quentin to visit Barnabas in his coffin, and learns that the road to 1969 might be more challenging than he thought. Beth breaks from tending to David, now astrally trapped in Jamison’s body, to serve Barnabas… until Petofi shows her a vision of her vampiric future. 

Somewhere in the wilderness… as seen on a backlot.

Please, Robert Bly, put away the drum and step away from the fire with that drink. Who can see it’s a pousse cafe in a Yeti mug, anyway? No one’s impressed. Sure, we all think it’s mead. Now please go away before Paul Elam hears us and wakes up. Yes, we’re going to talk about manliness, as is my wont, but not your kind. We shall have no deep feelings shared nor bonding acknowledged, thank you. Because that’s all a bit much. Manhood is the opposite of flatulence. He who smell’t it is most certainly incapable of having dealt it. 

Go back and read that in Count Petofi’s voice. Yes, you hear the music, too. 

Manhood. Whatever that means. This really is a core reason of why I love Dark Shadows. Wallace and I have been in the midst of assembling the Daybook Book in fits and starts, and I frequently inundate him with new title ideas. Today’s? “How to Love Dark Shadows.” More accurately, it might be, “Why I Love Dark Shadows.” Episode 817 is a good place to start. 

As Wallace once wrote, “Dark Shadows doesn’t tell a story. It accumulates one.” If there is any real story to the show, it’s ours… the viewers’. Dark Shadows is a tough show to watch. It’s an even tougher show to “get.” It takes time away from our lives. Yet it becomes a genuine companion, ever-changing. And we can’t help but be changed by it. 

So, what is it… this Dark Shadows? You know the answer. It’s okay, we’re amongst friends. 

Dark Shadows is Barnabas Collins. Thus, transitively speaking, he is what changes us. Knowing him. Watching the arc of his second life… maybe even his Sansara. Feeling the pressure to make decisions burst into full-on choice. This daily immersion slowly wears away the import of our world and replaces it with his. 

817 is so beautifully resonant because it lets us step back and look at Barnabas and Quentin as the pure friends we always wanted them to be. Every Gilgamesh needs an Enkidu. That was a lesson in manhood for me when I first saw it. These things, if they are to have value, must be unexamined. They can only be acknowledged through silence. Ergo, I must write an essay about it. What’s more, Dark Shadows lets us ponder the power of the soap opera format to build that friendship in real-time, from a place of intense distrust. Its success both sneaks up on us and seems like the most natural thing in the underworld. Quentin approaches Barnabas in the coffin, and the respect and affection they share is effortless. David Selby does most of the heavy lifting in the scene. It’s some of his best work because it’s so relaxed, attentive, focused, and authentically kind. In the midst of a ludicrous situation which sneezes squarely in the soup of “write what you know,” he is like the very real stone in a Zen sand garden. 

Later, when Quentin compares notes with Beth, also having returned from Petofi’s, their conversation about the supernatural is stunningly casual-yet-intense. They are beyond romance and beyond the bodice-ripping hullabaloo that encapsulates how we met them. They are, maybe, friends, but colleagues-in-wartime, first. My, how things have changed in four months. And who was the agent of those changes? Barnabas, by action and by example, goes from being a stranger in his own hometown to the Jackie Daytona that everyone needs-but-never-knew-it. Beth needs a concerned mentor with no ulterior motives. Quentin needs a (literally) Edwardian hand of structure with no judgement. Selby’s Quentin is increasingly aware that, no matter how much Barnabas divulges about the future, there is something darker that he’s not being told. A few months ago, Quentin would have seized on the existence of such a secret. Now, we get the sense that he’s somewhat relieved at being sheltered from it. It’s a world all too eager to talk about ugly truths, and as 1897 goes on, it does so with less comical hysteria and more wistful acceptance. This is an episode where a twelve year old boy asks a woman what it feels like to die. 

They’ve all been awakened from the sleep by Barnabas Collins. And so have we. Dark Shadows, for once, talks about what matters at the most primal level… how the ritual changes us. Its characters become us and we become the characters. Down to Beth watching herself become a vampire on a suspiciously television-like box in Petofi’s chambers. It’s the only show that matters. 

This episode was broadcast Aug. 12, 1969.

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