Friday, January 11, 2019

Dark Shadows, The 1973 Tapes: The Harvest of Souls


Caution, Sailor. Here Be SPOILERS AHEAD.

“My name is Maggie Evans, and this is the end of my story…”

1973 goes Full Lovecraftian in the wooly, but entertaining The Harvest of Souls. Given novelty by the return of not one, but TWO major Dark Shadows baddies, but given heart by the wonderful leads of the story, this story exploring the aftermath of Beyond the Grave and the toll it has taken on Collinsport is a raw, introspective tale that relies more on emotions than shocks. After the blood curdling scares of the previous audio, it couldn’t have come at a better time if i’m being totally honest. Though the plot is a touch dense and gets a bit widdly toward the end, The Harvest of Souls is a wonderful resetting story for the arc, for the shellshocked town of Collinsport, and her citizens.

Collinsport is basically in ruins after the events of Beyond the Grave. Houses lie abandoned. Shops are still smashed up from the rioting. And the papers and the BBC are chalking it up to a “gas leak”. Because of course they are. But nobody is taking the aftermath harder than Maggie Evans, who we open on in the blackest of moods, chasing her antidepressants with liquor. It is hard stuff to listen to for sure, but James Goss’ empathetic and heartfelt script never plays this stuff as exploitive. There is a real empathy running throughout this story that I much appreciated and that starts and end with James Goss.

Of course it also doesn’t hurt that he and directors David Darlington and Darren Gross are working with two of the finest actors in this range, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Colin Baker. Yes, Gerald Conway...excuse me, NICHOLAS BLAIR makes his grand return to the franchise in the dead, but possessed body of Gerald, saving Maggie from her suicidal depression by...chucking her in the sea. It is a harrowing scene to open up the story with, but like I said, it is staged, written, and played beautifully by all involved.

And it only gets better from there as Maggie is drawn into vast magic weaved by a diabolical team up between Blair and The Leviathans! Gladdening my Shoggoth loving heart! “I can’t even KILL myself without some MONSTER butting in!” Maggie grouses in one of the story’s best lines. And where is the lie? Because while Collinsport was burning, Nicholas was striking a deal with the Leviathans from Seaview, aiming to clear the town of it’s human infestation for the Leviathans to rise again while the human populace of the town live “forever” in a dream state in wyrewood box, carved from the wood of Collinwood’s staircase, which apparently was ITSELF carved from “the first tree” of the Leviathans from a universe where they had ruled for thousands of years?

Like I said, this thing gets a bit...dense at the end, and I had some trouble following the whole “plan” once Blair started to walk Maggie through it all. I am big enough to admit that. BUT, my being a rube aside, the performances and interplay between Baker and Scott is really just wonderful and elevates this story from “fun diversion” to “essential listening”, ESPECIALLY for Maggie fans. Baker and Scott lean into the character’s history with one another and use that to inform their performances and interactions throughout, giving this whole story, even at its most insane (and trust me it does get insane), a real air of realism, at least on the emotional level.

I am sure there are those out there that will bemoan Colin Baker’s exit from the range, but I am pleased enough with his time in Collinsport. To allow him to stay around as Blair’s new avatar would really spoil the last minute turn to grace the character has AND would have had an ultra powerful loose end plot wise running around the town in future stories. Plus the man has Doctor Who stuff to do! What’s he gonna do, NOT be the Sixth Doctor in fantastic stories like Order of the Daleks or ...Ish?!  C’mon man, we know better than that.

I also have to point out the fantastic decision to make Maggie’s relationship with the late great Sheriff Hardy (played with affability through the ages by Jonathon Marx) another emotional focal point of the episode, but NOT in an expressly romantic way! I know Maggie Evans is often kind of pigeonholed into the role of female romantic lead but thankfully The Harvest of Souls neatly side steps that, establishing how Jim had basically been a presence in Maggie’s life for as long as WE have known her and their connection ran much deeper than just mere romance. It was a really mature direction for the story to take and I’m glad they did it. It made this one feel a lot more real than most even with actual Shoggoth like creatures showing up.

All in all, I was very impressed with The Harvest of Souls. It was exactly what I needed after having my sanity shattered by the previous adventure. Graced with tremendous performances backed by a stellar script and production values, The Harvest of Souls is a downshift in scares for sure, but a real winner all the same thanks to the story’s heart and emotion. When I look back on this arc I have a feeling I will thinking of this one pretty fondly. When Collinsport was pushed to the brink, love won the day. That is the kind of stuff I will always respond to.

NEXT TIME! The Happier Dead! The penultimate column of the 1973 Tapes! Are you as excited as I am?! Probably not! But that’s okay. Until then, be seeing you.

The complete 1973 saga:

Justin Partridge has always loved monsters and he thinks that explains a lot about him. When he isn’t over analyzing comics at Newsarama or ranting about Tom Clancy over at Rogues Portal, he is building Call of Cthulhu games, spreading the good word of Anti-Life, or rewatching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace for the dozenth time. He can be reached at the gasping Lovecraftian void that is Twitter @j_partridgeIII or via e-mail at Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.

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