“It could be a matter of minutes. Then again, it could be a matter of hours.”
On Friday, we had the first genuinely suspenseful Dark Shadows episode, with an exciting cliffhanger that promised an unpredictable change in the status quo. Today, they have to deliver on that promise. Let’s see what happens.
Last week, Maggie found the secret door in her cell, and now she’s making her way through the passages under the Old House. Barnabas is following her, but it’s a lot bigger and more complicated down there than you might expect.
It’s not just one secret hallway leading somewhere — it’s a whole maze of corridors, with doors and stairs and wrong turns. The Old House basement must be a TARDIS; it’s bigger on the inside.
Maggie isn’t sure which way to go, but she hears a little snatch of “London Bridge” played on the recorder, and a door swings open.
This is an odd moment, because we’ve heard that music cue before, and it was just background music. This blurs the line between what we hear on the soundtrack, and what the characters can hear. At this point, I could probably get into some kind of film-crit discussion about postmodernism and the uncanny, but life is too short.
And there’s more important things to think about, like: Where is all the light coming from? This is the basement, but there’s light sources all over the place, all pointed in different directions.
At one point, Maggie looks at a stairwell that’s slightly dimmer than the hallway she’s currently standing in, and says, “I see a light!” This is an area where you just have to take their word for it.
Maggie follows the recorder music, and makes her way through a secret door onto the beach below Widows’ Hill. She gasps, “I’m free!” and then collapses into the sand.
Meanwhile, Maggie’s father has come to the beach, following the tip that the mysterious little girl gave him on Friday.
So all three characters are converging on the same point, guided by the spirit of a dead little girl. This is a fairly new experience for the Dark Shadows audience; it’s called interesting television.
Barnabas finds Maggie, and sneers, “Did you really think you could escape me?” He tries to pull her to her feet, but she screams, and Sam rushes to the spot.
And Sam finds Maggie! She’s unconscious, but still alive. He tries to rouse her, because this is 1967, and the nearest phone is about a mile away. If she’s ever going to get to the hospital, then she’ll need to be more of an active participant in the process.
Meanwhile, Barnabas is watching from the rocks as Sam tries to wake Maggie.
You may have noticed that I’m using a lot of screenshots today, because the Dark Shadows team has finally realized that their television show is being broadcast on television. Typically, a Dark Shadows action sequence is just opening and closing a bunch of doors.
Things slow down a little when we get to the hospital, where grumpy old Dr. Woodard is frowning at unconscious people again.
Here’s some good old-fashioned Dark Shadows doctor dialogue:
Sam: How long is she going to be this way?
Woodard: There’s no telling, Sam. It could be a matter of minutes. Then again, it could be a matter of hours.
Sam: Even days?
Happily, it only takes a few minutes before Maggie comes to. This is almost unheard of in Dark Shadows history; it’s a medical miracle.
Maggie opens her eyes, and she greets Sam with a warm smile.
But something’s wrong — she wants the doll that Sarah gave her, and she asks her father when they’re going to the fair. She’s reverted to childhood. On the plus side, it’s nice to see her relaxing for a change. She’s had some hard days recently; she deserves a break.
The doctor takes Sam and Joe into the hallway, and tells them that Maggie has amnesia, a very common soap opera malady that means whatever the hell they want it to mean.
Amnesia is one of the all-time great soap opera plot devices, because it extracts you from the obvious, logical and therefore less interesting chain of events. In this case, the next step should be that Maggie tells everyone that Barnabas is a vampire, and they go and burn down his house. But that’s boring, and a waste of a good vampire. Amnesia allows them to sidestep that, and go someplace different.
How different, you ask? Let’s see what the eminent Dr. Woodard has up his sleeve.
The doctor is concerned about Maggie’s immediate future.
Woodard: Face the facts, whoever it was that kidnapped her may try again, and he might be successful.
Sam: Well, we won’t give him the chance! We’ll put a guard on the thing 24 hours a day, and we’ll —
Woodard: Ssh! Ssh! Quiet. I’ve got a much better idea than that.
Uh oh. You guys might want to step back a little bit. Dave Woodard has an idea.
Woodard: I think that we should let it be known that Maggie is dead.
Okay, sure, that totally makes sense. Wait — what?
Woodard: I think I can arrange it so that everyone will believe it. The proper records, and the death certificate, they’ll all be signed so that it’ll look legitimate. Everyone in Collinsport will believe that when Maggie got here to the hospital, she died — including the person who kidnapped her. As far as I can see, that’s the only way that we can keep her completely safe.
It’s fantastic. That’s the only way? Just fake a death certificate. Final answer.
By this point, Sam is looking at Dave as if it’s taking all of his powers of concentration to figure out what the hell is going on. He’s thinking, I’m an alcoholic, and I couldn’t come up with this kind of nonsense on the drunkest day of the year.
Woodard: My plan is to send her to a nursing home about a hundred miles north of here. One run by Dr. Hoffman — Julia Hoffman, you remember the doctor that was supposed to examine her blood sample before it was stolen? She’s already extremely interested in the case, and I think she could be convinced to cooperate.
I love this idea so much. In the coming days and weeks, when I refer to this as a lunatic plot contrivance, please understand that I mean that as a compliment. Good soap opera runs almost exclusively on lunatic plot contrivances.
Woodard: We three must be the only three in the world, outside of Dr. Hoffman, who know that Maggie is still alive.
And the police, right? You’re probably going to want to inform the police, because this is an ongoing police investigation?
Okay, maybe not. Sorry, forget I even asked.
Okay, here’s the big finish. According to the clock on the wall, it’s 3:30am, and Barnabas shows up at the hospital.
He explains to Woodard that he heard a rumor that Maggie was found tonight. The doctor asks who he heard that from, and Barnabas says, “From several people. Everyone in town is talking about it.”
Woodard nods, and says, “I’m not surprised.”
Really? Cause it’s 3:30 in the morning.
Luckily, that’s not the craziest thing that somebody has said in this hospital tonight, so Woodard lets it pass.
The doctor tells Barnabas that Maggie died, before she could say anything about what happened to her. Barnabas says that he’s terribly sorry to hear that, and then walks off with a satisfied smile.
They’re really getting the hang of this suspense thing. There are still a few bumps coming up, but the purpose of the show is starting to come together. Like the Old House basement, this story is bigger and crazier than you’d ever expect.
Tomorrow: Feelin’ Gloomy.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Maggie finds the secret door in her cell, the “brick” wall moves like the painted plywood that it is.
When Sam finds Maggie on the beach at the end of the first act, they play the dramatic music cue too early. There are two almost identical cutaways to Barnabas standing by the rocks, and they’re supposed to play the music during the second one. They end up playing it during both shots.
Woodard tells Barnabas that “[Sam] and Joe are in the hospital now.” He means they’re in Maggie’s room.
You can see the boom mic at the top of the frame in the last shot, as Barnabas walks away from Dr. Woodard.
Behind the Scenes:
Nurse Packard is played by Jani Darnaglo. This is her only appearance on the show. It’s actually odd that she’s here at all — she only has a few lines, and she’s only there to tell Barnabas something that Woodard confirms a minute later.
Tomorrow: Feelin’ Gloomy.
— Danny Horn