Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 6


Taped on this day in 1966: Episode 57

When Burke discovers that his mentor is dead, he goes on a one-man war… but against whom? Burke: Mitch Ryan. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Maggie tells Burke about Bill Malloy’s death, leading him to both remember Bill fondly and vow to get to the bottom of it. He later visits Sheriff Patterson, who warns him to leave law enforcement to the professionals.

Episode 57 is a focused study in how much the show would change in its first year. That’s not damning with faint praise nor stating the obvious about supernatural vs secular threats. It’s a compelling little episode that moves faster than many in the post-1897 run of the series. Within it is an entirely different approach to storytelling. Far more than other soaps, DARK SHADOWS was a show about action. Characters did things in the present rather than just talk about things done in the past. And when time, space, morality, and death are irrelevant to many of your main characters, it’s easy to present a Nietzschean amusement park of action and story twists. That’s not how the program began, though. It was only with the introduction of Laura Collins that DARK SHADOWS became a series about possibilities, not limits. But limits, and seeing attractive, interesting people struggle against them, is the bread and butter of terrestrial TV drama, and episode 57 is a beautifully executed cage.

That’s easy to build when your most active and least fearful character gets the news that one of his role models is dead. He’s going to shake the bars. Excluding a visit by Vicki to the diner, this is Burke’s episode, and Mitch Ryan delivers (and is given the chance to deliver) monologues and transitions that range from tightly controlled fury to poignantly fond nostalgia. It’s mid-century theatrical writing the likes of which O’Neill, Miller, and Williams made the norm. We’ve lost that in the 21st century, and DARK SHADOWS would lose it over the course of the series. Seeing a brainy and thoughtful actor like Ryan muse about the past and justify the present is a gift that evidences a DARK SHADOWS that was perhaps more leisurely, but no less intense than it would become. His character’s connection with Bill Malloy reminds us of what a special character that was. Losing this active, observant, no-nonsense man of action was a blow to Collinsport (and the show), but Malloy was such a marvelously fiery character that his death demanded and deserved months of subsequent action. Episode 57 is the call to the post. Malloy had to be built up and removed to propel all of this. Little did they know that they had to extract him before Barnabas could arrive, anyway. Malloy was too good at getting things done to coexist with incredibly vulnerable monsters whose only protection came from how unobservant everyone else was. Finally, Malloy has to leave so that Barnabas can become the twisted moral compass that Collinsport would need. Bill Malloy was the moral glue that held Collinsport together, driving scandals aside, between Paul’s death and his own, as Liz excused herself from active duty. 

In every way, it was a different time. It’s quaint and almost relaxing to visit a DARK SHADOWS where the only villain is Roger Collins. Once he has “framing you for murder” out of his system, what’s he going to do? Sneer at your tie? Similarly quaint is the structure of most of the scenes. 95% percent of the episode is exposition it feels like we’ve heard before. The show keeps it fresh by having it delivered to characters who haven’t heard it before. Is it a story or a wacky party dance, where the partners keep changing? Yes! This is a DARK SHADOWS that’s in no hurry, but in the hands of Mitch Ryan, standing in the shadow of Bill Malloy, why would it be?

This episode was broadcast Sept. 13, 1966.

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