Monday, July 8, 2013

DARK SHADOWS DIARY: Episodes 91-95

Episode 91-95: "Lost Causes"
Oct. 31 - Nov. 4, 1966

Carolyn Stoddard is a horrible, horrible human being. While her cousin David suffers from garden variety  psychopathy, Carolyn has a much more acute, pervasive and obnoxious personality defect. It's like a satanic variation of mean girl syndrome, one made all the more bizarre because she lacks the traditional social environment that produces those kinds of behaviors. She has no social ladder to climb, nor is her status in her limited social circle in danger of changing anytime soon. In a lot of ways, Carolyn is more like her cousin Barnabas than any other member of the family. She's destructive, self-destructive and immune to reason.

Carolyn has been showing signs of improvement in recent weeks, thanks to the negative reinforcement thrown her way by the many people sick of her bullshit. She's half-halfheartedly tried to make amends for her imaginary rivalry with Victoria for the affections of Burke Devlin, and has even shown signs of understanding why Joe Haskell had become frustrated with her. But, much like Barnabas, she takes two steps forward and about 100 steps back.

Things start off innocent enough this week, at least by Collinwood standards: Carolyn and Victoria discuss the identity of a "B. Hanscombe" on a legal ledger they found in a box of papers in the West Wing of the house. A phonecall to Sam Evans confirms Victoria's suspicions that the model/doppelgänger who posed for him years earlier was named "Betty Hanscombe," so Victoria decides to travel to Bangor to trace the origins of the mysterious ledger.

And this is when Carolyn decides to take the Crazy Train completely off the rails. While she and Victoria wait for a bus at the Collinsport Inn, she calls Burke Devlin and invites him down to the restaurant. Carolyn grows increasingly pissy as Burke fails to ignore Victoria's presence, but then goes full Sybil when he offers to drive the governess to Bangor, himself. Burke is primarily interested in hearing Victoria's tale of Bill Malloy's ghost, but he might as well have proposed to her on the Kiss Cam at Dodger Stadium based on Carolyn's response. The brat runs home and presents the encounter to Liz, Roger and anyone else who will listen as evidence that Victoria has joined a cabalistic conspiracy to ruin the Collins family ... conveniently leaving out her own actions and intentions with Burke Devlin during the re-telling.

Victoria's trek to Bangor serves as a soft reboot of the series, which was probably a necessity for a high-concept soap like DARK SHADOWS. A few new characters are introduced this week, most notably Victoria's new romantic interest, attorney Frank Garner, a blandly normal guy with no obvious skeletons trying to eject themselves from the proverbial closet.

And I kinda hate the guy.

In a show that's full of freaks and monsters, Frank Garner makes naïve heroine Victoria Winters look like Courtney Love. If I needed legal help, Frank Garner would be the guy to call. But the dude is in way over his head, and can only serve as a stone around Victoria's neck as she wades deeper into the corrupt morass of Collinwood.

He's also an asshole. Victoria tells him about her ghost sighting and his first response is to laugh at her. Frank follows this less-than-tactful move by offering a bunch of conjecture about how she imagined/dreamed/invented the entire incident, and wouldn't she be so much happier if she quit her job and moved to Bangor? He's just me her and already thinks he knows her life better than she knows it, herself.

I last saw these episodes in the early 1990s and have no memory of this character, so I expect Frank Garner to quietly fade into the background during the next hundred episodes. He's mostly a cypher for the audience, and excuse for the writers to re-state the show's various mysteries and relationships for new viewers. As such, this new character lacks ... well, character.
He also brings his father along on dates, which is just creepy.
Victoria soon finds herself at the center of a love hexagram that involves her, Carolyn, Joe, Maggie, Burke and Frank Garner. If you were to erase Carolyn from the equation, this problem would rapidly untangle itself, which is begins to do by the end of the week, but not before we're treated to a pageant of increasingly awkward dinner dates. The Burke/Victoria/Carolyn bi-polar shit storm on Monday leads directly to weird dinner dates involving random combinations of the three, as well as Frank's father, Maggie and Joe. Frowns are frowned, drinks are drunk and everyone grows to hate Carolyn.

Well, except for Liz.  As part of the week's soft reboot, we're reminded that Collinwood wasn't always the dour monument to decay that it was in 1966. The mansion used to have a full staff, one headed up by butler "B. Hanscombe," a man whose first name nobody seems to remember. Hanscombe left the premises during the exodus from Collinwood that followed the disappearance of Paul Stoddard two decades earlier. In a traditional display of awkward parenting, Liz tells Carolyn that she once made the mistake of jerking around a young man in the same manner that her daughter is jerking around Joe Haskell. Her own bad behavior resulted in a marriage to Paul Stoddard, a man more in love with the Collins money that with Liz.

Sam's not nearly drunk enough to deal with this situation.
She plays coy with the identity of this man, who Carolyn guesses is the late Bill Malloy. At this point in the show, pretty much everybody has been led to believe that Liz had been nailing Bill on the QT, which turns out to be wrong. The one who got away? NED CAULDER. Check out my diary entry for Episode 38 for a reminder about this guy.

For Carolyn, the moral of this story is ask Joe for a second chance, which he agrees to because ... well, I don't really know why anymore. But the increasingly awkward social encounters in this week's episodes illustrate a nasty streak on the part of the writers. Joe and Carolyn bump into Maggie and Sam at the Blue Whale, and the hurt in Maggie's eyes is genuinely uncomfortable. As I've said before, Maggie is the soul of DARK SHADOWS in the way that Alyson Hannigan was for BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. The best way to turn the audience against a character is to show them hurt Maggie, and Carolyn loses pretty much all sympathy by the end of this week's run of episodes because of this.

Things end of a happy note for some of these characters, though. Joe figures out that Carolyn's renewed interest in him was prompted by her jealousy over Burke and Victoria, and he immediately calls her on it. Joe and Maggie end the week having a nice time together at the Blue Whale, once Carolyn is gone.

Victoria is not so lucky.

While chatting with Burke's henchman James Blair, she notices the pen he's using is identical to the one she found on the beach near the scene of Bill Malloy's death. Blair tells her there are only six pens like it in the world, and that four of them are in South America ... leaving only his pen, and the one belonging to Burke Devlin. Unfamiliar with the convoluted, Hitchcockian backstory of her missing fountain pen, she leaps to the conclusion that Burke lost the pen on the beach while mudering Malloy. Afraid to ride home to Collinsport with him, she calls Roger for help ... which is as ambiguous an ending as you can ask from any story.

The Butterscotch Bastard to the rescue!
(NOTE: If you've been following this feature, you've probably noticed a change in format this week. It was easier to write about the show on an episode-by-episode basis when DARK SHADOWS was still establishing itself, but that's grown more difficult as the show has dug in its heels to explore its various plots, subplots and themes. The series has begun to construct story beats using week-long episode blocks, so it makes sense to watch them that way.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please, oh, please give us the next week-long episode block. I keep checking for it.


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