Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dark Shadows Diary, Episode 87

Episode 87, "Secret Passage"
Oct. 25, 1966

Just when I was expecting a lengthy sequestration for Victoria Winters in the West Wing, she's freed from captivity. And it happens in a way that I don't think anyone was expecting.

This episode is visually dynamic in a way that defies the claustrophobic Manhattan television studio where the series was filmed. We get our first look at Collinwood's many secret passages as Roger slips away through a hidden door in the drawing room to go spelunking in the West Wing. Prompted by David's cavalier attitude about Victoria's disappearance, he decides to take a look around Collinwood's less-visited areas, but does so in secret. It's a credit to the work that Louis Edmonds has done so far that we're willing to make this motivational leap with him. We don't question why he's being so sneaky about his investigation, because we understand that his motives are rarely altruistic. When he turns off the lights in the drawing room and quietly opens the secret passage, it's understood that Victoria's rescue is far from assured.

And Roger's journey is pretty fantastic. The camera follows him down cobwebbed passages and a spiral staircase in a lengthy tracking shot that surely involved a little camera trickery. Not only is the photography top notch, but the live editing used to illustrate Roger's trip to the West Wing is so deft that most viewers would forget it's just an actor (and possibly a stand-in) walking between sets on a single soundstage. It's as impressive a use of space as I've ever seen on DARK SHADOWS.

Not to be outdone, Alexandra Moltke, who's essentially been benched during Victoria's captivity, pulls out all the stops upon her rescue. Roger finds Victoria has become a frazzled mess during the hours she's been missing. Not only has she been tormented by a very real ghost during her stay in the West Wing, Roger takes a moment to secretly  terrorize her by banging on the walls and using his spookiest voice to warn her to leave Collinwood. He finds out in the episode's final scene, though, that the very real ghost of Bill Malloy had beat him to the punch.

Whatever empathy Victoria had for her charge has dried up. After referring to David as a "monster," she tells Roger, "He tried to kill you and now he tried to kill me." She's not wrong on either count, but she's probably confiding in the wrong person.

It's not Roger's only show of dubious moral ethics in this episode. Before venturing out to find Victoria, he shares a little family time with Carolyn, where he waxes philosophical about the governess's transient personality. "She came to us from nowhere, and now it seems as though she's disappeared into nowhere," he says. Carolyn is rightfully worried about the disappearance, prompting a morbid form of reassurance that would chill Sylvia Plath. When Bill Malloy disappeared, he explains, it was equally mysterious ... but there turned out to be a "logical reason" for his vanishing. Of course, that reason involved murder, so Carolyn fails to see how that's supposed to be comforting.

The B Plot is surprisingly sweet and energetic, especially when you consider that its featured characters are a little square. This should have been a huge speedbump in the episode, but the writers and actors are invested in making this part of the story work. Their scenes include tales of misadventure on the high seas, a Joseph Campbell reference and a shocking amount of nautical lingo that left me stumped (and I was a Navy brat.) Maggie makes a definite impression on Joe when she rattles off her intimate understanding of sailing, and you can see the exact moment when Joe falls for her. Joel Crothers deserves some praise for bringing the right amount of naivety to the role, but it's Kathryn Leigh Scott that really makes these scenes sing. She not only has to make Joe love her, she's got to make the audience love her, as well. And she knocks it out of the park.


Melissa said...

Huh, Sam and Maggie have a set of the DEVO teacups, too!

Joe and Maggie were one of the most adorable and believable couples in TV history. Of course they were doomed.

MissSpottyJane said...

This is one of my favorite Dark Shadows episodes. The first time I watched it, I couldn't believe how delightfully rotten Roger was. Later on in the series he mellowed out into a bystander or victim, it's too bad we never got the really rotten Roger again.

Anonymous said...

There were a couple klunky things in this episode that bugged me for the rest of the night after watching it. First off, it was pretty cruel of Roger to pretend to be a ghost, given Vicky's mental state at that particular moment. But if he was going to do it, you'd think he'd wait a few more minutes before finally unlocking the door. Seems unbelievable to me that Vicky wouldn't suspect that Roger was doing spooky voices from the other side of the door, when he then opens it a second later. And then there's the key. You got the sense that David really wanted to do her in...so why the hell would he bother to leave the key behind like that?! (obviously so Roger could free her a couple episodes later) Still, as a story point it's pretty klunky.

Anonymous said...

Roger is rotten, but he's not thoroughly rotten Roger, or he could have and would have left Victoria to succumb to the inevitable in a locked room where she couldn't be heard. Since he doesn't like the governess or his own son, it would remove both annoyances from his life. Surely even Elizabeth would see that David's attempted murder of his own father coupled with the murder of his governess would mean he would have to leave Collinwood to get professional help.

Alexandra Moltke's rescue scene in this episode is one of her finest acting moments in the show. She had to have been thrilled to finally have a scene to show off her acting chops.


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