Hard to believe that just six nights ago Victoria Winters was on board a train headed up the New England coast “to a strange and dark place, to the edge of the sea, high atop Widow’s Hill…” while here as Dark Shadows wades through its thirteenth week of episodes it feels more like it ought to be six months. Like back in episode 36 whereupon during their “first” meeting Sam Evans talks with Victoria Winters to ask about her employer Elizabeth Stoddard and he opens with, “Miss Winters, you’ve been in Collinwood some time now and you know Mrs. Stoddard pretty well…” as if it had already been months when in fact barely forty-eight hours of story time had yet elapsed.
Given the cyclic nature of storytelling on a daytime “soap” drama, it is to be expected that details relating to the story of Victoria Winters for instance would accumulate in a similar cyclic fashion, where at some point a new clue would arise that may shed some light on the mystery of her past. Yet take as an example episode 34, which led Vicki to Burke’s hotel room to read a report on her generated by Devlin’s private investigator Wilbur Strake. After weeks of having been sidelined by the missing brake valve caper, which took up only a page and a half or so in the series outline Shadows on the Wall, Victoria was ultimately left to realize that the report told her of “nothing I didn’t already know.” Sidelined yet again by the disappearance and subsequent death of Bill Malloy, Victoria has had to wait another twenty-six episodes to encounter the portrait of Betty Hanscom, while Dark Shadows continues to plod along in blocks of micro-time.
It’s one thing if the executive producer has never done a soap before, given how the “fish out of water” element can actually be an advantage at times, especially in the case of Dan Curtis who would simply think nothing of suddenly transforming his show from a “gothic romance” to a murder mystery not in the style of The Edge of Night, but rather more in line with what Alfred Hitchcock had brought to nighttime television over the previous decade with shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, but it’s something else altogether when your one-man writing staff has likewise never before had the experience of scripting for a daytime drama. The closest Art Wallace had yet come to grazing the realm of serialized narrative was one of the early prime-time medical dramas of the period, The Doctors and The Nurses, having penned eight episodes of that one-hour series over two years.
Perhaps Wallace approached Dark Shadows with the idea that story content for daytime television should simply be drawn out so as to keep audiences aligned with the day-to-day lives of the characters they were tuning in to see, given how there are five consecutive half-hour segments to be filled each week, whereas in a prime-time episodic drama stories can be told in full in around fifty minutes not counting commercial breaks. Indeed, whereas the arc of Jason McGuire and the blackmail/Paul Stoddard story on Dark Shadows runs for nearly eighty episodes, Wallace himself had already presented a complete version of that story as a one-hour drama in 1957, which had evolved from the original half-hour version first broadcast in 1954 (both productions titled “The House”).
You have to wonder what the Dark Shadows fan discussions were like in 1966. Imagine a couple of viewers comparing notes that September just as the thirteenth week of episodes are being aired; one has stayed with the show all summer long, while the other lost interest after the first few weeks. The one who no longer watches asks, “Did they ever get out of that first week?” The one who’s still a regular viewer answers, “No, not yet.” Bemused, the first one adds, “You should watch Secret Storm instead.”
In Collinsport, time moves so slowly that in the lobby of the Collinsport Inn they have an hourglass that’s filled with molasses. Day 6 began with episode 53, a day that won’t even see midnight by the time Dark Shadows is wrapping up its first thirteen-week cycle with episode 65. Three months of episodes, six days of story, almost. Maybe all those folks who are critical of the beginning episodes of Dark Shadows for being slow kind of have a point after all.
Another thing about this period of the show is that lately certain episodes seem almost to be sequels of those that came before, and today’s episode is a case in point. Episode 62 overall is like a reprise of episode 46, wherein both Sam and Roger are on the block once again, as if the destruction of their very way of life may be at stake, this time though relating to suspicion in the death of Bill Malloy, but with the testy reminder of Burke’s manslaughter conviction still at the heart of it. Whereas the hand of both Roger and Sam had been forced by Bill Malloy in the earlier episode through the action he was determined to take in the hope of resolving the matter of Devlin’s vendetta against the Collins family, here in today’s episode Roger and Sam are each playing their own hand by choice. Each will have a confessor they approach voluntarily; for Sam it will be Burke Devlin and for Roger it will be Victoria Winters, and through a deceptive and determined blend of lies and half-truths each will attempt to clear himself of all suspicion relating to matters both past and present.
However, as noted in the opening image above, such measures could just as easily bring about their complete undoing, especially for Sam Evans who is yet again driven to desperation.