Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dark Shadows Diary, Episode 86

Episode 86, "Camera Obscura"
Oct. 24, 1966

I started watching this story arc at the worst possible time. It's certainly going to drain some of the humor from this commentary for a few weeks, and I make no apologies for it. There's a right time and a wrong time for everything, even bondage jokes. It's not that I'm especially worried about offending anybody ... I'm just not in the mood for it.

Hey, it could be worse. I could be watching the arc where Barnabas kidnaps Maggie and spends a few months psychically tormenting her. Now THAT would be awkward.

Luckily for me, very little happens in today's episode, from a perspective of plot, at least. But, DARK SHADOWS can be deceptively complicated when it really wants to be, which isn't very often in these early episodes. Today's tale is a perfect example of this. The episode comes and goes without changing anyone's fortunes in any meaningful way, yet still manages to explore its various themes and situations in compelling (and often disturbing) ways.

When we last saw Victoria Winters, she was trapped in a room in an abandoned wing of Collinwood, locked away by her pupil, David Collins. Her situation remains the same when this episode concludes, temporarily making Victoria a non-player in her own story. But, much like the Barnabas/Maggie relationship, Victoria's struggle is also about identity. This kind of degradation isn't physical, instead striking at the very heart of identity. This is why we put people in prison: It removes them from the world, making them perpetual observers with no physical presence. It's probably a lot like being a ghost.

Victoria's makeshift prison cell started to change her even before she was even a formal prisoner, though. Terrified of being shuttered away with  discarded relics of Collinwood, she actually begged David to unlock the door, putting her in a reflexively submissive position. David is clearly enjoying his position of power, so much so that I'm surprised he doesn't pay her a visit to gloat.

For the first time in DARK SHADOWS, the stakes feel real. Victoria's danger is a legitimate one, which is more that can be said for the "Was Bill Malloy murdered or just fatally clumsy?" plot that's been driving the series in recent episodes. Thanks to the raging thunderstorm taking place in the background, as well as the manic sense of crisis that has distracted the rest of the cast, Victoria's predicament is genuinely suspenseful.

Things aren't going as well for David as he'd probably hoped. Roger suspects the boy knows more than he's telling about Victoria's absence, as does Liz, who finds a key to the locked wing in the boy's bedroom. These discoveries/accusations don't amount much in this episode, but they certainly keep David on his toes.

The B Plot is a little gross: Burke invites Carolyn up to his hotel room for a little innuendo, smooth jazz and party liquor, which is even creepier than you might think. Not only are we subjected to jokes about Carolyn being too young to drink (the subtext here should be obvious) before moving on to complementing Carolyn's "carriage" (i.e. her ass.)

That's about as far as things go, which is for the best. As soon as she leaves, Burke says (to nobody in particular) that she's going to soon find herself "in a whirlpool, with nowhere to go but down." It's been so long since I've seen these early episodes that I'd forgotten Burke was anything more than a charming rogue. He'd be a little more sinister if his ruthlessness was anything more than just pretense, though.

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