By PATRICK McCRAY
Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1245 (the final episode of the series)
As Brutus’ Ghost resigns in defeat, an escaping Bramwell and Catherine encounter a turgid Morgan, who shoots in excitement. Bramwell is grazed by the unfriendly fire. Morgan then kidnaps Catherine, but Kendrick and Bramwell find him upright on the roof. The three men tussle, and Morgan miscalculates his footing and plunges off the edge. Kendrick finds Melanie cured, and so they plan to celebrate the spent collapse of the manhandled Morgan by going away from Collinwood, as do the united Bramwell and Catherine. The past remains a specter, as Flora struggles and succeeds to forgive Kendrick and Bramwell. Likewise, Catherine works to overcome her misgivings over what has happened, but agrees to learn from her experiences at Collinwood rather than be ruled by them. All is well until Melanie is brought in with bite marks. A vampire is suspected, but we learn that this time, there is no vampire at Collinwood.
Here we are. If you’re like me, last episodes hold a special and bittersweet place in your hearts. I only learn to appreciate the process of a journey once I’ve seen that the destination has far less splendor and scenery than I thought. It’s at journey’s end that I really appreciate the trip and enjoy what it was for its own sake. This has a special truth with DARK SHADOWS because the end is so abstract. Because none of the “characters” have their “real names,” it’s easy to write off the show as ending on an unsuccessful storyline. Yes, I guess that kind of happened if you want to be painfully literal, traditional, and mired in ratings history.
And, 45 years later, that means jack.
Those are factors that existed at the time, but they don’t dictate the meaning of the text to viewers now, viewers unversed in the production history, or viewers who assume that this was created wholecloth. That meaning is what we find in it, and we discover that meaning from the elements that exist within the story and dialogue. Think of HAMLET, a lesser-but-significant piece of drama compared with DARK SHADOWS. I have no doubt that “the Sam Hall of 1600,” William Shakespeare, made all sorts of staging compromises when writing it. If he sat in on a class, I venture that he would pause readings all the time with, “Can you forget that scene? I had to please Lord Undergirth’s nephew by writing it. These things don’t fund themselves, don’t you know. What I really intended to happen was….”
So, the production history’s impact on the show is trivia compared with the show, itself, and I think we do it a disservice by primarily focusing on the show as a byproduct of that trivia. Given that, imagine 1841PT as existing for a reason. Imagine that it was just as much of Dan Curtis’ dream as was the girl from the train tearing through the blackened halls of a mansion by the sea.
If the characters speak their most important truths as the final, defining moments of the DARK SHADOWS story, we might find them here. Forgiveness -- of the self and for others -- is what the characters speak of. Is Collinwood a haunted place to be abandoned? No. Its lessons are painful, but that pain means nothing if we forget them. The pain from the lessons is the pain we bring to them, and only by confronting and owning those scars can we justify what we’ve learned. What if Liz had had this attitude? Or Roger? Or Angelique? It’s what we see them learn. If DARK SHADOWS has a message for me, it’s this; happiness now and in the future directly relates to our ability to forgive the past.
In production terms, this is packed with the most familiar cast members they could wedge in. David Selby was ill and Chris Pennock’s character was dead, but that’s it. Even the show’s senior writer, Gordon Russell, appeared.
Meanwhile, the future was bright for NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS.
On this day in 1971, DARK SHADOWS filmed its 1,225th installment. It would air on April 2.