Monday, April 15, 2013

Dark Shadows Diary, Episode 80

Episode 80, "Pensiveness and Penmanship"
Oct. 14, 1966

There's more to serialized fiction that simply stringing together a bunch of scenes into a coherent narrative. Television is probably the most popular form of serialized fiction today, and it's a medium that brings with it some unique obstacles. Not only do you have to create vibrant characters and compelling stories, but you have to build them around regularly scheduled commercial breaks. Plot twists need to be created often and effectively, but not to such a degree that the audience realizes they're being played. And they need to be placed, more or less, at the same time in each episode. It's probably even harder to do than it sounds.

Daytime dramas have an additional hurdle that makes the routine commercial break look like a minor speed bump. The traditional pre-commercial plot twist only needs to be good enough to get you NOT to change the channel for a few minutes. Daytime dramas need to end on a note that makes you want to come back 24 hours later. Friday episodes have it even worse, which is why the most crucial cliffhangers tend to land on the last episodes of the week.

So far DARK SHADOWS hasn't really excelled at installing these plot devices. Some of it might be blamed on the nature of the story's early mystery, which has been fairly pedestrian. Whoever it was that killed Bill Malloy doesn't appear to pose much of a danger to anyone else on the show, so there's no sense of urgency to solve the mystery.It just leaves characters discussing subject endlessly.

Episode 80 was a Friday episode, and the best week-ending plot twist the writers could come up with was the revelation that Victoria had discovered the missing Silver Fountain Pen. It wasn't a exactly a revelation, because we saw her find the pen back in Episode 75. But now Roger knows she's got the pen, which means ... not much, really. The entire episode was spent casting further doubt on Roger's innocence in Malloy's murder as he quietly retraced his steps in search of the missing pen. We're supposed to believe he might be guilty of murder, but only because the writers have done nothing to paint anyone else as a serious suspect.

This story arc is a rough draft for what's to come later. In fact, the writers learned a lot from the failings of this mystery by creating more active (and dangerous) antagonists in the next few story arcs, so we owe a debt of gratitude to Bill Malloy. He's the human sacrifice that made the rest of DARK SHADOWS possible.

Speaking of sacrifices, we might have witnessed the end of the Joe/Carolyn romance in this episode. I know it ends soon, but Carolyn's behavior is so manic that it's impossible to evaluate the sincerity of her outbursts. Feeling especially dickish, Roger tells Carolyn about Joe and Maggie's "date," prompting the kind of response you might expect from her. Adding kerosene to the fire is the conversation between Joe and Liz about arranging his future at the company (which is connected to his future with Carolyn.) At this point, I don't Carolyn can be faulted for feeling as though she's getting pressured into a marriage she doesn't want any part in, and her mom and boyfriend are coming perilously close to strong-arming her into making a decision.

Still, the episode ends with the weak cliffhanger of the Silver Fountain Pen. Malloy's death has been ruled an accident, nobody is investigating further, the discovery of the pen has no real significance to anybody ... yet we're supposed to think it's a big deal. Had Roger taken a moment to say, "Oh! You found my pen!" it would have resolved itself immediately. But Friday demanded we end on DRAMA, so DRAMA we must have.

1 comment:

Mark Hille said...

Why even have the pen at the murder scene if it doesn't pay off. I was thinking about this most of last night. The pen would place Roger at the crime scene, and he had motive, but with the tides, I bet the beach would be underwater at that time of night. The writers are grasping at straws. The way this whole case has gone should point to Roger Collins or Sam Evans, but the police don't think so.

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