Friday, June 24, 2022

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 23

Taped on this day in June 23, 1967: Episode  271


If it’s wedding bells for Liz and Jason, why is she ringing them with a bloody fireplace poker? Paul Stoddard: Dennis Patrick. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Liz explains why she cannot marry Jason in a flashback depicting her attempted assassination of Paul Stoddard. 18 years prior, after using the fireplace set for a rather extreme couples therapy role-play to respond to his attempts to leave, she seemingly murdered Paul, whose body was ostensibly buried in a trunk in the basement.

At this point, I really don’t know how most people watch Dark Shadows, or if there even is such a thing as “most people.” With DVDs largely dead as a medium and streaming packages insisting on separating the pre-Barnabas episodes has a weird (but potentially telling) afterthought, I really can’t responsibly begin this essay the way I would have a few years ago. Therefore, I shall.

When most people watch Dark Shadows, they begin with the unleashing of Barnabas, and immediately, it’s clear to anyone that he is not the villain of the series. It may be televisions greatest morality trick. I mean, yes he’s a kidnapper who kills people, but he’s no JR Ewing. He’s doing the former simply because he hast to eat. He’s doing the latter because he thinks, in someway, he can release the true, inner spirit from some sort of weird, working class prison of internally mistaken identity. Well, OK, he also beats the shisha out of Willie Loomis on a regular basis, but everyone has to have a hobby. And considering where he came from, that’s simply how you maintain a home appliance, like knocking a television on the side (back when they had sides) or whacking something with batteries in it to do… Whatever that’s supposed to do. Teach them manners or something. 

Realistically, the villain is obviously Jason Maguire. Jason does what he does not just out of greed, but because he legitimately enjoys torturing Liz. Maybe it’s class envy. Maybe it’s deep seated, Irish Catholic rage aimed at someone who is more than likely an atheist. Or a Protestant. And to Jason, they’re probably the same thing. We don’t know much about the alleged death of Paul Stoddard, but we know that Liz has basically made herself serve 18 years with Matthew Morgan’s cooking with no time off for good digestion. It’s clear that she feels bad and that she has done more than her share of time served.  So, we naturally feel sorry for her and that makes him all the more hateful. 

What’s worse is that Dennis Patrick is quite probably the most charming actor to ever darken the towels of Collinwood, and while it won’t be the first thing out of my mouth if I ever see a cast member again, I suspect most of them would agree with me.  So, we wind up with that weird animal of “the villain you love to hate.”   

And pardon if I digress from my digression, but doesn’t that phrase seem a little turned around? Shouldn’t you take a certain modicum of satisfaction in having the ethics to, if not love the act of hating a villain, at least have no compunction about hating them? Now that I think about it, the expression that is probably more accurate is, “the villain you hate to love.” Because you know that you should just like him, but he’s such an ingratiating person that, honestly, I often find myself thinking, “well, if I’m going to be married to a hateful parasite, at least he’s fun to be around.“

Liz has been alone for 18 years. She has more money than she knows what to do with. I’m not saying that she should fall head over heels for every extortionist who helps to bury a murdered spouse, but now that I’m thinking about it, I sort of wonder how bad life with Jason would really be. I mean, I’m sure marriage would be terrible. Especially because all of my married friends warn me that it’s terrible. But… I’ve seen close-ups of Bill Malloy‘s beard. And no, I’m not talking about Mrs. Johnson. I’m just saying that she could do worse. I see people get married for money all the time, and I have to give props to Jason for at least being honest about it.  

And you can’t say that Liz doesn’t mind slumming it when it comes to husbands. I always detected a class difference between Liz and Paul. There are never any references to the mighty Stoddard belt loop empire or whatever people make their fortunes with. (I hear rumors that it has something to do with hard work, but I haven’t the nerve to try it.) And besides, give Jason a mustache and cut off his supply of Grecian formula, and you have yourself one Paul Stoddard with a more winning accent.  

So even with all of that, Jason‘s moments of sadism are striking enough that it overcomes even Dennis Patrick’s effervescence. (Which, ironically, makes him all the more adept as an actor.) 

As a Dark Shadows viewer, this episode, and the ones that immediately follow it, are some of the first most reassuring moments for most viewers that the show will deliver. Because at this point, Barnabas has given up on Maggie, probably because he thinks she’s dead (but not in the right way). So that entire storyline vaguely feels like it went nowhere. But this one had to go somewhere. It’s a bit of terrestrial nastiness that has to end in a wedding. 

The show does such a masterful job at reiterating the source of Liz’s anxiety that, even if we have not followed it from episode one, we still feel a profound satisfaction at seeing the flashback to Paul’s murder. As a kid, I didn’t think they would ever show something like that. And you only got it once, unlike everything else on the show, where the same pivotal moments are often repeated at least five times so that everyone, no matter what day of the week they see it on, gets the thrill.  This felt like a genuine reward for paying attention and tuning in every day. It was somehow both the Easter Egg and the entire basket.

Coming about one year and a week after the show went on the air, it had to be even more luxuriously satisfying for viewers who’d been with it from the start.

It takes four more episodes for the complete dénouement. It seems like a typically excessive length until you combine it with the typically excessive build up. At which point, the five episode pay off feels almost generous. 

Watching the hand of Barnabas rise up to crush Jason‘s life was a quick and brutally satisfying moment, as well. It’s a gesture that becomes a force of nature. For Willie, it was a moment that created a new life. For Jason, it means some thing else. But it makes the force within Barnabas seem like something out of Greek mythology, a cruel and honest crucible responding to an intruder’s essence. In some ways it almost feels as if that force within Barnabas has a judgmental autonomy completely divorced from the great man. A bit like Count Petofi’s capricious hand would be several years later. Because both times, it’s basically just Barnabas‘s instinctive response to having someone throw open his bedroom door without even knocking.

And although the coffin was not necessarily rocking, Willie and Jason really should have at least greeted him from his sleep with a newspaper and some toast. 

This episode hit the airwaves July 10, 1967.

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