Charmed and Cole Turner, Barnabas Collins and Dark Shadows
Two very similar television programs
One was a daytime soap opera for the ABC network in the ‘60s, the other a drama/adventure produced for a minor television network in 1998. Both amassed a certain cult following with paperback novels, web sites, and other memorabilia created for fans. These two unrelated television programs, produced 30 years apart, bore some remarkable similarities. Their stories emphasized demons and the occult, but paradoxically made love and family their main focus. Although the parallels to each other were numerous, I wish to examine one resemblance in particular: both featured strange men that embodied evil but strove to be good. These men possessed powers which set them apart from others, but walked as a human. They were reluctant monsters.
The two characters were Barnabas Collins and Cole Turner, and the TV programs they starred in were Dark Shadows and Charmed, respectively. The shows were sometimes hokey or poorly acted, but both were tremendously important to me. As a child I watched Dark Shadows after school with my brother and grandmother, racing home to view the exploits of this cool if oddly dressed vampire—back in the days when vampires turned into bats and bit their victims on the neck. Three decades later I tuned in to Charmed after seeing it on a New Year’s Day marathon. I found the adventures of three gorgeous sisters who vanquished demons each week irresistible, and was intrigued by the youngest daughter’s enigmatic lover.
The Power of Three
Vampires, Demons and the women who loved them
Who were these powerful, tragic characters?
Barnabas Collins and Dark Shadows. In the Dark Shadows mythology, Barnabas was born to the wealthy Joshua and Naomi Collins and intended to marry his beautiful fiancé, Josette DuPres in the year 1795. However, an ill-advised interlude with her maidservant, Angelique Bouchard doomed their romance. Angelique was a powerful witch and ruined the family through use of black magic. She cursed Barnabas to walk the earth as a vampire. Barnabas approached Josette and offered her eternal life as his bride, but she would not love the monster he became and threw herself from the cliffs of Widow’s Hill to her death. Barnabas’ father couldn’t bring himself to destroy his son, and ordered the coffin he lay in to be chained shut for what he thought would be eternity.
Barnabas was accidentally freed in 1967 and returned to Collinwood. He introduced himself to the family as a cousin from England, and they noted his uncanny resemblance to the portrait of their ancestor from 1795 which hung in the foyer of their great house. The resemblance was not coincidence—Barnabas was indeed the man in the portrait. He soon met Maggie Evans, a woman who reminded him of his lost love, Josette. Determined to finally marry his bride, he kidnapped Maggie and hypnotized her into believing she was Josette. A Dr. Julia Hoffman eventually rescued Maggie and managed to appeal to the good within Barnabas, and while they overcame many dangerous threats in the next four years, he could never rid himself of the evil within him. Even when he was human for a time, he manipulated the other members of the family in what he believed to be their best interests. He defended them from the evil forces that sought to harm them, but never completely exorcised his own demons.
Barnabas Collins was portrayed on Dark Shadows by the Canadian actor Jonathan Frid. Originally intended to appear for thirteen weeks, Frid’s character proved so popular he was retained and became the show’s de facto star.
Cole Turner and Charmed. Approximately thirty years later, we met Cole Turner in the third season of Charmed. He was an Assistant District Attorney, but soon revealed to be only half-human—he was also the demonic soldier of fortune, Belthazor. Cole fell in love with Phoebe Halliwell, the youngest of three witches called the Charmed Ones. He was originally sent by an evil force known as the Triad to destroy the sisters, and used Phoebe’s attraction to him to infiltrate their ranks. His growing love for her compelled him to betray his dark lords, and Cole sought to marry Phoebe when the Triad was defeated. He fought with the Charmed Ones as their ally against fiends bent on destroying them, and while combating another demon, a potion extinguished his monstrous side. Cole Turner was completely human and free to marry Phoebe.
In human form he was frequently threatened by the evil forces attacking the sisters, and as he defended Phoebe from the Source of All Evil, he inadvertently absorbed its demonic powers. His love for Phoebe never diminished but the evil that resided in him could not be repressed. He was the new Source of All Evil, ruler of the Demonic Underworld—and he desired for Phoebe Halliwell to become his bride. Following a series of tricks initiated by an evil Seer to lure the couple into iniquity, Cole and Phoebe ruled the underworld together. Wickedness seduced them both, but they were not truly wicked and ultimately rejected their malevolent purpose.
Phoebe returned to her sisters and Cole was exiled to the demonic underworld. In a realm where banished evil spirits resided, Cole learned to absorb the remnant energies of the vanquished demons. He returned to the Charmed Ones more powerful than ever, and vowed to regain Phoebe’s heart. His evil nature could never entirely be extinguished, however, and he was incapable of convincing Phoebe he was worthy of her trust and love. Eventually she and her sisters finally destroyed him forever.
The character of Cole Turner was brought to life by Julian McMahon, who played the half-human/half demon for 47 episodes. McMahon also starred in the quirky series Nip/Tuck and played the villainous Doctor Doom in the Fantastic Four motion pictures.
The creators of Charmed seemed heavily influenced by Dark Shadows, and perhaps used this gothic soap opera as a blueprint while updating it for the 21st century. These two prominent characters were so much alike, they would have easily sympathized with each others’ plight and their respective struggles.
What did Barnabas and Cole have in common? Both were powerful characters in the worlds they inhabited. While they attempted to use their might for good, their strength sprung from evil sources. Barnabas was a vampire and Cole was (in order) a demon, the Source of All Evil and an Avatar. They battled their evil impulses but couldn’t eradicate them. They reluctantly accepted their fate while constantly desiring a normal life. They carried an air of sadness about them that would not abate.
The two were also tragically in love. Barnabas could never forget his love for Josette Dupres, and saw her in every woman he fell for. Cole stubbornly held onto his passion for Phoebe, even when her feelings for him had ended. Neither Barnabas nor Cole could move on, and it doomed them to an eternity of sorrow. Both hoped their loves might share in their dark existence, but weren’t surprised when they were rejected. They realized they were unworthy of the love they sought above all else.
Why is it so easy to empathize with this vampire and demon? These tragically flawed characters speak to our sadness and our insecurities. They express our thoughts and desires. They validate and dignify our feelings. They want to be loved but feel unlovable—just like us. They want to side with goodness but sometimes cannot. When we do wrong, we share their hopes for redemption. When we can no longer stand our situation and wish we could strike back at the world when it hurts us, these fictional characters do so for us with their amazing abilities. When they go too far and hurt the people around us, we fear we could perhaps someday do the same.
We are Barnabas Collins and Cole Turner. There is a tragic hero within us all, fighting endlessly to come to terms with our demons. These two bizarre characters are us.
Dark Shadows Lives!
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