Episode 62: Destroy Me, Pt. 2

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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.

 

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Episode 61: Sorry to Drink and Run

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One of the really fun things about Burke Devlin is the way he just goes wherever he pleases, which is to say where he’s not wanted. What a change from how the character was first introduced, a dark but affable Trojan Horse working his hidden agenda by schmoozing his way from person to person aided by a smug, deceptive charm that just below the surface is as patronizing as it is ingratiating. Yet it’s true that a lot has changed in just these few days since his return to Collinsport.

 

A missing brake valve from a car brought Roger Collins unannounced to his hotel room for a midnight tirade. The following morning, his breakfast was interrupted by another unannounced visitor, this time Bill Malloy, who as Burke finished eating just hovered nearby with the determined gruffness of a drill sergeant pulling a surprise inspection on the barracks. Speaking of surprise inspections, while Burke was away in Bangor meeting with a business associate, the sheriff walked through and made a full search of his wardrobe. That last one was actually courtesy of Collinsport’s parallel constable, Jonas Carter, who besides mustard on ham had other preoccupations to consider apart from missing brake valves: “I had a lot of time to make a pretty thorough search, Burke. You know, you’ve got some nice clothes up there. Where’d you buy ‘em?”

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Bill Malloy’s untimely sudden, and for some folks convenient, demise has lately provided Burke with ample justification for making unwelcome cameos in other people’s domains in search of clues; whether inviting himself up to Collinwood, barging into Roger’s office armed with allegations intended to extract an admission of guilt or at the very least some telltale hint of perfidy, or simply storming into the sheriff’s office demanding an explanation, Burke has all the questions that no one wants to answer.

 

Today it’s to be the Evans cottage that’s added to Burke’s roving itinerary, crashing a dinner party in grand fashion like a grizzly bear wandering into a picnic area and helping itself to any discarded or neglected edibles while the hapless campers keep huddled in their camper vans nearby.

 

Burke of course had prior knowledge of the dinner party, having chatted with Vicki earlier while fueling his afternoon coffee binge at the Collinsport Inn restaurant. Hot under the collar over Bill Malloy and fresh from a heated exchange with the sheriff, Burke wants to talk manslaughter with Sam Evans. At the back of your mind, though, you have to be wondering whether Burke may be going to such a bother on this evening because he knows Victoria Winters will be there. After all, any host would be on his best behavior with a dinner guest in their midst, regardless of whether someone showed up at the front door uninvited. Burke might not get an honest answer out of Sam, but at least under the guise of civility he could be sure of an opportunity to pose a certain pointed question or ten.

 

Then again, there is still that underlying question about Burke and Vicki. Art Wallace, being a middle-aged male writer, couldn’t resist adding to the series outline Shadows on the Wall an additional story fragment suggesting the possibility that the two might eventually be linked romantically:

 

“…The reappearance of Burke relights a flame that once burned between them…and Vicki is trapped in its center” (Shadows on the Wall, p. 89).

 

Art Wallace envisioned the two enmeshed in a “violent triangle” with none other than Frank Garner, junior partner in the family law firm which looks after the legal and financial interests of the Collinses and who we shall be meeting further along in 1966, by which time the mystery of Victoria Winters will appear to hold an irrefutable link with Collinwood’s past.

 

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Episode 57: The Ripple Effect

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As the news of Bill Malloy’s death ripples across Collinsport, it seems a cruel hand of fate that Burke Devlin is the last to find out, the one who had been counting on him the most and therefore whose lingering hope had held out the longest.

 

Different people have been affected by Malloy’s death in different ways, and this week of episodes presents a series of character defining moments for those most centrally involved. For Elizabeth Stoddard, after the initial shock of caretaker Matthew Morgan’s questionable deed in trying to cover up that Malloy’s body had washed ashore near Collinwood by pushing the body back out to sea, there is in keeping with a matriarch of her stature the necessity of maintaining the dignity of not only herself, but also of Collinwood by seeing to it that all members of the household are allowed to function normally while still maintaining a certain tone of mourning, especially with Carolyn having felt the loss more profoundly than most in having lost a key paternal figure which she has previously cited as the closest thing she has ever known to a real father.

 

Burke Devlin’s reaction is the most curious, in the way that he seems to view Malloy’s death as a fundamental flaw in human nature, as if fate had intervened specifically to prevent him from clearing his name. Unlike those who mourn the passing of Bill Malloy for the life he lived, Burke takes this grim occasion to eulogize on the death of honesty, in mourning for himself.

 

It’s a soap opera after all, a show about people and the troubled unsatisfied lives they lead, and no one is perfect, not even the man who seemingly has everything in the palm of his hand.

 

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Episode 54: They Float Bodies, Don’t They?

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“Good eve – uh, good afternoon ladies and gentlemen… No, that isn’t it either. Good afternoon ladies and shut-ins.”

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“From yesterday afternoon’s half-hour, we found out something rather shocking about the Collins family’s gem of a caretaker. Personally, from what I’ve been able to observe thus far, being the caretaker of Collinwood is more akin to being a zookeeper. Half the people living there think of the big house as a sort of cage anyway, and with certain members of the household there is the greatest difficulty in keeping their behavior and drives in check. As with wild animals, tensions exist which are liable to flare up at any moment.”

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“However, today’s television playlet concerns itself with the motivations of the caretaker himself, who, when a friend of the family has drowned and washes ashore on the great estate, sees nothing wrong in giving him a push back into the water so that said friend may wash ashore somewhere else, or perhaps not at all.”

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“Given Matthew the caretaker’s casual admission of such an act, even when questioned by the police, today’s play is called “They Float Bodies, Don’t They?”. Because that’s what a caretaker at Collinwood does; trim the hedges, carry the firewood, and float bodies that have washed ashore back out to sea where they can hopefully never be found. Now, if only someone could do that with my dreaded sponsors, I would never again have to suffer through another commercial break. In the meantime, I shall consult with the production crew and see if Matthew the caretaker is available for immediate employment. Until then, another sponsor with yet another commercial message is just about to wash ashore.”

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Episode 50: What The Tide Brought In

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It almost feels like the supernatural era of Dark Shadows starts right here in episode 50.

 

Aside from the fact that a man Elizabeth Stoddard has known for twenty-five years is still missing, these late evening scenes in and around the Collinwood estate carry a decidedly ominous tone throughout.

 

There’s talk of ghosts and tragic family legends, the Wailing Widows, and premonitions of death courtesy of a nine-year-old boy with a crystal ball who seems to know for certain what grim and deathly portents this night will bring forth and for whom.

 

Lately daytime television’s first gothic serial drama has been branching into mystery and suspense, and here in this episode story creator and developer Art Wallace is reaching back for the supernatural and noirish mid-1940s inspirations of Dark Shadows to bring a kind of otherworldly atmosphere to the current story, enough so that the viewer would possibly be wondering whether Bill Malloy’s disappearance may be the result of darker, more paranormal forces at work.

 

Episode 50 is about as close to the supernatural as Dark Shadows has gotten thus far without actually crossing over; it will be in one of next week’s episodes when the lines between the physical and spirit worlds really begin to blur.

 

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Episode 49: The Case of the Vanishing Man: Part 2, Questions and Concerns

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Today the talk of Collinsport is Bill Malloy.

 

Not that he was particularly popular; matter of fact, most folks just seemed to take him for granted, that is, when he was around.

 

It’s a seeming disappearance that has everyone talking about a man many around town wouldn’t have otherwise given a second thought to.

 

Even more than this, there exists in the minds of some the possibility of foul play, causing even friends of long-standing to begin turning against one another.

 

That’s what happens when you bring Alfred Hitchcock to a town like Collinsport; the smaller the populace, the larger the mystery, the more persistent the questions, the greater the concerns.

 

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Episode 48: The Case of the Vanishing Man: Part 1, Questions and Theories

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It was in episode 45 that Bill Malloy stormed into Roger’s office at the cannery to present an ultimatum: either go to the police and confess his guilt for wrongfully sending Burke Devlin to prison on a manslaughter conviction ten years ago, or let Sam Evans reveal that he’s the only thing standing between Roger Collins and a prison sentence.

 

This option was reiterated in episode 46 when Bill showed up at Collinwood at ten that night, during which time Roger practically admitted to Malloy that Burke was not guilty but that because it was a long time ago and Burke was now a rich man, Bill should just let the matter slide for the sake of the Collins family.

 

So when in episode 47 Malloy fails to show up at the meeting he arranged between himself, Roger, Burke, and Sam in Roger’s office for eleven on the dot, Roger begins to relax; just after midnight, he’s positively buoyant as he returns home and strolls into the drawing room for a late brandy before turning in. You have to wonder why in those moments he would seem so carefree. Despite that Bill didn’t show up for the meeting, surely the ultimatum regarding Roger and going to the police would still stand the following day.

 

So here it is episode 48 and the next day; Bill Malloy has evidently disappeared, and people are starting to ask questions. Now it looks like Roger will have to face a threat even more terrifying than the police – his sister Elizabeth.

 

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