Friday, March 8, 2013

Dark Shadows Diary, Episode 70

Episode 70, "Years of Brooding Existence"
Sept. 30, 1966

Goodbye, ambiguity! It was nice knowing you, but it's time for us both to see other people. We've had a swell time along the way. I especially enjoyed how you teased us with the idea that Collinwood might be haunted, only to have a character come along and dismiss the whole notion as asinine. After 70 episodes together, though, it's clear we've simply grown apart. As this episode drew to a close, we got our first genuine look at the ghost of Josette Collins, and there's no goddamn way you're going to tell me it was a figment of my imagination, an LSD flashback, a bit of undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato or whatever the hell else Roger might suggest.

Because nobody else on the show saw this ghost. It was a moment purely for the audience.

But I"m getting ahead of myself.

As any DARK SHADOWS fan will tell you, patience is a virtue. I've made no real secret that the last few episodes were a slog to get through. For a time, the show even lost track of the "Who Killed Bill Malloy" plot and seemed to have lost its way. DARK SHADOWS falls into a unique pattern of scene and sequel. Writers will typically give you a scene with some kind of conflict, something relevant to not only the plot, but the nature of the characters involved. The "sequel" will be a scene that follows to illustrate how the characters deal with the conflict. In DARK SHADOWS, though, we get scene and sequel and sequel and sequel, etc.

But that's OK, because the endless pageantry of consequences is what DARK SHADOWS is all about. It's just a matter of making sure the initial scene is strong enough to support it's offspring. So far, "Who Killed  Bill Malloy" is a bit of a deadbeat dad. Sure, it means well ... but it never seems to be there whenever the bills are due.

This episode might be the strongest since the pilot. It not only expands on the show's mythology, but it's geography, as well. In addition to our first no-shit ghost, we get our first look at the Old House, the "original" Collinwood located elsewhere on the grounds. It's the second most important location for the series and arrives fully realized. It might get tidied up a little when Barnabas Collins eventually moves in, but it looks the same here as it will in the show's final episodes.

Matthew Morgan is also back in this episode to provide his own unique form of menace. There's something about Morgan that's just not right. Perhaps it's his violent temper, secretive nature or the way he casually tosses dead bodies into the surf, but he's not someone to be trusted. As the episode begins, he catches David eavesdropping at the door of the drawing room as Liz and Victoria talk about Burke Devlin's tangled opinions of the Collins family. Morgan gets a little grabby with the boy, but Liz intervenes before he does the sensible thing and strangles the little sociopath.

David later shows Victoria a drawing of one of his ghost friends, an image that looks a great deal like that of a drawing of Josette Collins in the family history. He says Josette, who he sees from time to time, is condemned to wander Collinwood until a third woman falls to her death from Widow's Hill (and charmingly suggests Victoria might be Lucky #3.) He then leads the governess on a ghost tour of the Old House, telling Carolyn on the way out, "I'll take care of her, don't worry." It wouldn't sound so threatening coming from anyone other than David, but he stays true to his word.

The B-plot gets a limited (and appropriate) amount of attention in this episode. Carolyn suggests Liz take on Mrs. Johnson as a housekeeper/companion, unknowingly inviting a spy into their home. Like Josette, Mrs. Johnson turns out to be another big piece of the DARK SHADOWS puzzle, not so much because of the character, but because of the presence that actress Clarice Blackburn will have on the show during the next few years. As I said at the start, this episode was a doozey, not only for writing, but for the way it expands the show's mythology.

Victoria and David arrive at the Old House to see it in shambles. The place is a wreck ... windows are broken, what little furniture remains is damaged, etc. The building looks like it's on the verge of falling down around them. Victoria sees the portrait of Josette hanging over the fireplace and, understandably, accuses David of copying it for his drawing. Matthew barges in on them, lantern in hand, and politely escorts them away. He's fairly understanding to David, even forced to kowtow to the little brat out of a misplace sense of status. I mean, shouldn't any grown-up automatically have a position of authority over a child, especially one putting himself in significant danger by traipsing through a dilapidated building at night?

Once the trio leaves, though, we get a look at the Old House's real tenant. The ghost of Josette steps out of her painting and walks through the living room. The episode ends with a bit of filmed footage outside Spratt Mansion, the building used for exterior shots of the Old House, as Josette pirouettes around the property like the ghost of Isadora Duncan. No matter what happens next, this scene confirms two significant facts: Collinwood is really haunted, and David is a lot less crazy than we've been led to believe.


Jeff said...

I completely agree that this is the best episode since the pilot. Everything changes with episode 70. (I'm excited for you to get to 85, the next in my list of faves...) Thanks for the beautiful description!

Anonymous said...

This episode really shed light of things too come! The series took off and was a success. In my opinion of course! Love Dark Shadows with Jonathan Frid playing Barnabas Collins!

Mark Hille said...

Couldn't you count the shadowy figure way back in episode 30 as the first apparition?

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