Episode 62: Destroy Me, Pt. 2

Destroy Me Pt 2_lead photo_ep62

 

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.

 

Continue reading “Episode 62: Destroy Me, Pt. 2”

Episode 61: Sorry to Drink and Run

Drink Run_lead photo (1)_ep61

 

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?”

I had a lot of time to make a pretty thorough search Burke_ep28

 

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.

 

Continue reading “Episode 61: Sorry to Drink and Run”

Episode 59: Oh, Brother

Episode 59 lead-in photo_I'm your brother_ep59

 

“Liz, before you go in there I want you to remember one thing… I’m your brother.”

 

Welcome to part 2 of What It Means to Be a Collins of Collinsport, in which the matriarch of the great house on the hill sets about once again diverting the sheriff from bringing suspicion in through the front door, this time if not so much to save the neck of her brother Roger, then at least to keep the threat of scandal from making another visitation upon the Collins family name.

 

For Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, it’s actually rather busy work, stepping forward to quash the sheriff’s line of questioning to keep the good name of Collins off the bad news of local headlines. Imagine all the sedatives it must take, just to go on being the matriarch of Collinwood.

 

“In my busy workaday life as a notorious recluse, there are those times when I just can’t function as smoothly as I’d like to, when all the ghosts of Collinwood get to be just too great a burden to bear. That’s why I take NerveAyd. Puts those pesky ghosts back in the closets and corners where they belong. NerveAyd; it’s the next best thing to a frontal lobotomy.”

Oh Brother_sedative_parody image_Shuuterstock (1)_ep59

 

First the sheriff comes up to Collinwood because Liz’s nephew is suspected of causing a near-fatal accident after loosening the brake valve on his father’s car, then just three days later the sheriff is back to question her brother, for the second time that day, because of another fatal car accident from ten years ago that someone else in town thinks Roger may have been responsible for.

 

What is it with this family and vehicular homicide? Things are so crazy around here that it would make for quite a soap opera, if it weren’t one already.

 

Like sludge through the sewer pipes, so are the Ways of Our Wives.

Oh Brother_Ways of Our Wives_parody_ep59

 

Continue reading “Episode 59: Oh, Brother”

Episode 58: Dead Man’s Holiday

Dead Man's Holiday_lead-in photo (2)_ep58

 

With the death of Bill Malloy now an official fact, on this day in the town of Collinsport measures are being taken to observe his passing. The family-owned business for which Malloy devoted the greater share of his livelihood, first on the fishing boats and then as plant manager, has shuttered its operations for the remainder of the day. It was Roger Collins who made the suggestion to Elizabeth, but of course Roger would do anything to get out of work, if only for an afternoon.

 

It’s a dead man’s holiday, but the day really belongs to the sheriff of Collinsport. Dana Elcar appears on every set in use during today’s episode, and each appearance made by Sheriff Patterson will have a decisive effect on the actions of whomever he interacts with.

 

The opening narration by Victoria Winters tells of how “the long shadows of fear do reach out, touching others, darkening their hearts with growing tension.” Sam Evans for one, and Roger Collins for another, each have reason to be tense and fearful, especially with the sheriff making his rounds with hard questions that demand frank answers.

 

Still, there are others whose hopes and dreams cannot be shattered by the grim fact of Malloy’s demise. Joe Haskell has stopped in at the Blue Whale and is flagged down by Sam who gets Joe to join him at his table for a beer. Then when the sheriff happens in and joins them, he convinces Joe to take advantage of this nice afternoon off and go with Carolyn out for a drive in the country. Joe’s dream is of course to marry Carolyn, and a few hours just getting away from it all might find them talking of plans for the future.

 

Then there’s young David Collins, who in a morbid twist finds renewed hope through Mr. Malloy’s death. With the aid of a book devoted to local tide charts and currents, David will do his best to see if he can determine where exactly Mr. Malloy fell in the water. David believes that Mr. Malloy was murdered by his father, because his crystal ball told him so, and because having his father sent to prison would mean becoming free of the pervasive threat of being sent away himself. As David admits in this episode, he likes it there at Collinwood, with all his ghost friends, one of whom may even be Mr. Malloy.

 

Continue reading “Episode 58: Dead Man’s Holiday”

Episode 56: More Problems Dead Than Alive

episode 56_opening GIF_ep56

 

One thing is now clear about the disappearance and death of Bill Malloy: Sam Evans couldn’t have been responsible. This doesn’t necessarily mean that other folks around Collinsport wouldn’t look upon him with suspicion, like the sheriff, were it determined that Malloy had indeed met his end as a result of foul play. In a poetic twist, he could even be framed, tried, and convicted just as Burke Devlin had been for manslaughter ten years before. Even worse, what happened to Bill could just as easily happen to him.

 

Sam Evans thus has reason to be running scared. If Malloy had made it to the meeting that night, Sam would be faced with charges for withholding evidence relating to the Devlin trial along with the possibility of prison time. Now with Malloy dead and the question of murder and motive not outside the realm of possibility, the penalty looming ahead could mean a life sentence.

 

Based on Sam’s words and actions in the previous episode and this one however, it seems the grim balance of fate is weighing most heavily on his mind today. In a drunk and desperate moment, he’s already admitted to Bill what he knows about Roger Collins, and now Malloy has turned up dead.

 

Whatever the outcome, for Sam Evans especially Bill Malloy represents more problems dead than alive.

 

Continue reading “Episode 56: More Problems Dead Than Alive”

Episode 55: Two Shades of Guilty

Roger and Sam_shades of guilty_opening GIF_ep55

 

Roger Collins is living on lies. To everyone he knows, he must remain a stranger. Yet with every passing day his veneer is being chipped away little by little, largely through the perceptive and watchful gaze of his sister Elizabeth, who but for the good of David would have little if any use for the thoughtless extravagance of her brother’s ways. If you think about it, since his return to the ancestral mansion around a month ago, Roger has brought nothing but trouble not only for the family name, but also to those even loosely associated with Collinwood and all it represents.

 

If only Roger had stayed away in Augusta, Burke Devlin would never have returned to Collinsport to set in motion a plot to ruin the Collins family, given how despite that he blames Collins money and prestige for railroading him into prison, his principal nemesis had been mainly Roger, with his testimony on the witness stand having sealed Devlin’s fate.

 

So Roger schemed his way back into Collinwood, using as his bargaining chip the welfare of David’s future: “Roger made an unexpected visit to his sister at Collins House, pleaded the cause of his son….the ‘poor nine-year old child, with no mother to care for him’. He appealed to Elizabeth’s family pride, skillfully reminded her that David was the heir to the Collins name, faithfully promised a renewal of responsibility and sobriety” (Shadows on the Wall, pp. 25-26).

 

Yet since Roger’s return there has been nothing but trouble. Burke Devlin is back in town, leaving Elizabeth Stoddard apprehensive over the future of the Collins family business holdings and even of Collinwood itself. Her plant manager Bill Malloy is dead, after having vowed to stop Burke from carrying out his vendetta against the Collins family. Even Carolyn is affected, what with the worldly sophistication of Burke’s attention setting up a speed bump in her relationship with Joe Haskell, which at any time could sprout up into a full roadblock. All because Roger couldn’t accept the permanence, not to mention the more modest living arrangement, of his paid exile away from Collinwood and Collinsport in general.

 

People elsewhere in Collinsport are affected, even those with no apparent relationship with the Collins family, like Sam Evans. Although Sam’s involvement in the events of ten years earlier that sent Burke Devlin to prison on a manslaughter charge and conviction hasn’t yet been made explicitly clear, he shares the guilt that Roger holds but suffers greatly as a result whether or not the threat of exposure is looming close by. Sam represents a different shade of guilty largely because his character is more complex; for one thing, unlike Roger, he has a conscience, while Roger on the other hand, after nearly five dozen episodes of daily half-hour soap opera, has yet to display in his character so much as a single redeeming human quality.

 

So what do you do with this walking collection of red check marks down a list of boxes outlining the more questionable traits of human nature? If you’re the creator of the character, like Art Wallace who authored the above-mentioned series bible that serves as the show’s guiding outline of probable events, or the executive producer Dan Curtis, who is struggling to pull the sagging ratings back up to a level that would safeguard the show from an almost certain cancellation later that year, you simply provide your viewing audience with a much needed wave of satisfaction by having the character killed off.

 

That’s what the original plan called for; with Roger burdened by his desperate need to suppress the truth of his guilt in sending Burke Devlin away to prison, he will begin to suspect that Collinwood’s recently installed governess is conspiring against him when she is invited over to dinner at the Evans cottage, suspicious of what she may have been told about the events of ten years ago especially with the way Sam’s penchant for excessive drinking tends to loosen his tongue. Roger will then lure Vicki out to Widow’s Hill and standing by the edge he will in a fevered moment of rage grab hold of her, reminding her of the legend of Collinwood, how two young women of Collins House had hurled themselves over the edge and that at some future time there would be a third, and Vicki unnerved by the crazed look in Roger’s eyes begins to struggle against his grip; but David having followed them out to the cliff rushes forward and cries out, and Roger in that split second of surprise loses his footing and goes over the edge himself… and who among the viewing audience that afternoon in the summer or fall of sixty-six would have missed him?

 

Somewhere, in an alternate universe perhaps accessible through some warp of parallel time as yet undiscovered in one of Collinwood’s closed off wings, there was an end to Roger Collins after however many weeks of the series; in the series bible it happens the day Vicki takes David over to the Evans cottage so he can meet Sam the artist, so roughly early on in the phoenix story. In that parallel present time, Louis Edmonds decides once again to give up on acting, just as he had earlier that year when a steady stream of acting roles in the theater had at last dried up; his swan song as an actor would have been a bit part in a movie that filmed just before he started working on Dark Shadows called Come Spy with Me, a typical spy drama of the time released the following January that met with critical hostility and tepid box office attendance. Instead, he would have simply retired to his Long Island residence known as the Rookery, resigned to the humble but satisfying life of being a regular in the local shops and singing in the choir every Sunday, and some other actor would have landed the part of Langley Wallingford on All My Children in 1979.

 

To think what might have been were the makers of Dark Shadows not the type of people who could appreciate the talent of actors who would distinguish themselves in their roles so much so that they would actually be willing to dispense with a key moment in a given story outline. But that turning point is still weeks ahead; for now, Roger the rogue is doing what he can between brandies to keep the truth of his deeds both past and present from spilling into view and exposing him for all to see.

 

Continue reading “Episode 55: Two Shades of Guilty”

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

Sheriff Patterson instructs Matthew to accompany his deputy out to Widow's Hill_ep54

 

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

Alfred Hitchcock Hour_The Black Curtain_opening monologue (1)_ep53

 

“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.”

Alfred Hitchcock Hour_The Black Curtain_opening monologue (2)_ep53

 

“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.”

Alfred Hitchcock Hour_The Black Curtain_opening monologue (3)_ep53

 

“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.”

Alfred Hitchcock Hour_The Black Curtain_opening monologue (4)_ep53

 

Continue reading “Episode 54: They Float Bodies, Don’t They?”