Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: September 17

I was away from the Historical Society HQ Monday-Wednesday assisting with a documentary. While I could write about something shot today, September 20, it looks like this past Monday is worthy of commemoration, so indulge me as I hit the Way Back machine for October 17.


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1108

When Maggie’s life hangs in the balance, Barnabas may be forced to make the ultimate sacrifice to find the missing Quentin. Maggie Evans: Kathryn Leigh Scott. (Repeat. 30 min.)

As Maggie’s condition worsens, Sebastian insists on relocating her. He agrees to use his powers to find Quentin if Barnabas will release her. Finding little conclusive, Sebastian is still allowed to take a shaken and wan Maggie to Windlcliff. Barnabas and Julia receive portents that the destruction of Collinwood will happen that night and discover an important clue when a heartbeat rings out from Quentin’s aging portrait.

1108 falls at a very awkward time for DARK SHADOWS, and it explains the formula of plot events within. First, it was broadcast on a Thursday. Fridays are often set aside for Big Plot Events, and so many Thursdays have a tough set of jobs. They have to tell the story, but not too much. They save Friday for the big cliffhangers by holding back. But they have to tease enough to make you want to get to the big cliffhanger. And the next episode, 1109, is perhaps the most dramatic and profound cliffhanger the series ever had as zombies invade and destroy Collinwood, the children are seemingly murdered, Barnabas is last seen being nearly torn apart by the living dead, and Julia -- yes, Julia -- is our last best hope, thrust 130 years into the past.


But we’re not there yet, and 1108 has one of the most important plot events to cover… and not cover… to justify and commemorate, but not necessarily condone.

We say goodbye to Maggie Evans and founding ensemble giant, Kathryn Leigh Scott. Holding out hope that the show would continue for many years and that she would return from Europe eager to rejoin the cast, the character’s life was spared. Come on, this is Maggie Evans, not Megan Todd. And yes, she is important to the plot -- after all, she proves the potency of Roxanne Drew’s powers of vampirism, draining Maggie’s life away just as she drains the character’s importance as a love interest away, infusing it in herself. There is an irony to that, but they didn’t really have the time to dress it up. The inclusion of Roxanne is one of the most underdeveloped aspects of this story, and Maggie’s sacrifice for it feels equally like a non-sequitur on the surface. What the story gains is an exercise in stakes. This arc takes no prisoners. If you want to show the strength of your villain, have him take out some of the most resilient characters early on. It hurts, but it reminds us that there are real consequences to their attacks. This isn’t a sitcom with a reset button at the end of every episode. Maggie is human, and humans have limits. Quentin was, vaguely, a gentleman. Roxanne? She has no such prejudices of courtly restraint, and in that way, her very feminine attack on what Barnabas values most is the kind of dirty pool we associate with women preemptively scorned. It’s a good thing Nicholas Blair isn’t around. I can barely fathom the reckoning.

Ms. Scott’s exit  is one of the show’s most mournful moments, and its quick-and-dirty near-senselessness mirrors the gruesome routine that Vietnam casualty reports had on the nightly news. But what were they to do? To make her exit a major plot element would have required either…
a) killing Maggie, and that was out of the question if a return were ever hoped for, or…
b) some kind of kidnapping, which would never be resolved unless a return were guaranteed.
Without those options, shuffling her off to Windcliff was one of the only resorts. The curt exit and scant sentimentality of the episode feels vaguely passive aggressive. This is not the kind of clip-show retrospective to which primetime would have treated us. But that’s not uncommon for soaps, especially one embroiled at the turning point of its darkest and most far-reaching storyline. And, reportedly, it was an inside joke by Dan Curtis, who reportedly told her she was crazy for leaving the show.

As Freud said, “There’s no such thing as a joke.”

And what exactly was she to do? After five years of alternating between victim and voice-of-reason, the options were growing slim. The movie was done, its structure pretty much guaranteeing that no franchise was in the offing to let her reprise the role. Parallel Time was a shrill exercise in victimhood, where her character was forced into the appearance of whiny neediness and again, serving as a the subject for a kidnapping. The only real plot advancement available would have been if Maggie had embraced the memory of Josette and become willingly romantic with Barnabas. It’s an interesting alternate path for the franchise, and without it, almost every other permutation had been exhausted.

Once she leaves and reasons, quite rightly, that she’ll never see these people again, the other characters miss no beats moving on. Is it a case of “Maggie, who?” or is it that the current crises -- threatened children and an entombed Quentin -- are so severe that there’s no time for sentiment. Both. And the lesson of very real casualties heightens stakes for the apocalyptic episode to come. The oncoming weekend was destined to be a long one for DARK SHADOWS and its fans. 

This episode was broadcast Sept. 23, 1970.

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