“In the name of sanity, what’s going on in Maggie Evans’ blood?”
Good news: As a special treat today, we’re going to leave Collinsport and travel a hundred miles away, to a private sanitarium called either Windcliff or Wyndcliffe. (Or possibly Wyndcliff. We never see it written down, and nobody can agree on how to spell it. Someone asked the writers once, and they said they didn’t care.)
Even more good news: Maggie is now under the care of Dr. Julia Hoffman, who’s shining a penlight in her eyes and pretending to hypnotize her.
“Concentrate on the light,” she says. “Raise your right hand.” Maggie starts to move her left hand, and the doctor corrects her: “Your right hand. Raise your right hand.”
Maggie raises her right hand. “Very good,” the doctor says. “Lower your right hand.”
Which begs the question: Why doesn’t Maggie know which is her right hand? Also, what kind of voodoo medical care is this supposed to be?
In other words: welcome to the television show formerly known as Dark Shadows. After ten months of stumbling around, the producers have managed to fall backwards downstairs into a hit show. They’ve got a vampire all set up, plus a spooky ghost girl, so now it’s time for whatever the hell this turns out to be.
The doctor is still shining her light in Maggie’s eyes. “Do you know who is speaking?” she asks.
Maggie falters. “Doc-tor…”
Still with the light. “Yes, Doctor. But do I have a name? What is my name?”
Maggie isn’t sure, so the doctor tells her: “Doctor Hoffman. Doc-tor Hoff-man.”
This is actually one of the great character introductions of all time — during the first two minutes of the show, she basically hypnotizes the audience, and then slowly repeats her character’s name over and over. Doc-tor Hoff-man.
Back in Collinsport, Sam is worried, because he hasn’t been allowed to see Maggie. And who’s responsible for that? Doc-tor Hoff-man.
It’s been several days since Dr. Woodard came up with the brilliant idea of telling everyone that Maggie’s dead, while she recovers from her ordeal with his weird blood-specialist/hypnotist friend. Apparently, it’s not going as smoothly as he’d expected.
Woodard urges Sam to be patient, but Sam can’t stand this anymore — he’s got to see Maggie, just to make sure that she’s okay. He’s going to drive up to the sanitarium with Joe, and find out what’s going on.
So then we see Sam and Joe driving their make-believe car up to Windcliff. The car doesn’t really go anywhere, but Joe moves the steering wheel back and forth while fake tree branches whirl past the back window.
First there’s a tree on the right side, and then a tree on the left side. Then right again, and left again, and apparently that means we’re driving somewhere.
This is an effect that can only be described as awfulsome, and I for one am entirely convinced by it. Sometimes an appreciation of the awfulsome is a requirement for enjoying Dark Shadows.
At the sanitarium, Dr. Hoffman is not amused. “I’m sorry to be so abrupt,” she tells Dr. Woodard, “but I can’t say I’m happy to see you, or Mr. Evans and Mr. Haskell.”
“I didn’t think you would be, doctor,” Woodard says. “But I still think that Sam Evans’ feelings should be taken into consideration.”
Julia takes a deep breath, and rises to her feet as if it’s taking every ounce of her energy. “I am not interested in Mister Evans,” she hisses. “My only concern is with Miss Evans.” And then she just stands there rigidly and stares into the middle distance.
So, basically, she’s amazing. This is Grayson Hall, and she’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen, on this show or anywhere else. She was a stage and movie actress who was nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role in the 1964 film Night of the Iguana. But she lived in New York and didn’t want to move to Hollywood, so when she was offered a few weeks’ work on Dark Shadows, she took the job.
She ends up staying on Dark Shadows for four years, and practically takes over the whole thing. And here in her first episode, you can already see why. On a soap opera, the most interesting actors are rewarded with more screen time, and Grayson Hall is always the most interesting person in a scene.
Woodard appeals to her sympathies, begging her to give Sam a chance to see his daughter. Julia heaves an enormous sigh, and then picks up the telephone and asks the nurse to send in Sam and Joe.
The boys enter nervously, like they’re being sent to the principal.
Julia sits at her desk and glares at them. “Good afternoon, Mr. Evans,” she says. “This is an unexpected pleasure.”
But she seems to be in a forgiving mood, and she agrees to let them see Maggie.
She fixes them with a look.
Julia: I must warn you, however, that it could prove quite… painful. Both to you and to your daughter.
Sam: Well, isn’t that more or less to be expected?
Julia: Pain does not always come in the way we expect. I just want to be sure that you’re ready for what may happen.
Sam: And what do you think might happen?
Julia: I don’t know. If I knew, I wouldn’t have to allow you to see your daughter so I could find out.
And then she gets up, crosses the room and stands next to her aquarium.
Because that is how Doctor Julia Hoffman rolls.
And look at that face. I’m using lots of screenshots for this episode, because it’s impossible for me to describe how Grayson Hall uses her face. Her expression changes every second; she’s in constant motion.
Curious, commanding, sarcastic, angry — she is absolutely determined to act the hell out of every moment. She’s terrifying. I think she’s moving parts of her face that nobody else even has.
On his way upstairs, Sam offers a mumbled, “Thanks, doctor.”
“Reserve your thanks for afterwards, Mr. Evans,” Julia replies. “I have a feeling they’re going to be a little more hesitant.”
And she stares off into space and plays with her aquarium implement.
Dr. Woodard is concerned.
Woodard: Do you really mean you don’t know what’s going to happen and you’re going to let them go up there and see her?
Julia: I know exactly what’s going to happen.
Woodard: What do you mean?
Julia: Oh, it’ll be terrible. For her, for them…
Woodard: Well, then why are you letting them go?
Julia: It’s the only way to convince them not to meddle.
I have to assume that this is not necessarily the character as the writers originally expected her to be, because nobody can expect a thing like Grayson Hall arriving in your life. You just appreciate it, and try to stand at a safe distance.
Sam and Joe visit with Maggie, and guess what, it’s terrible. It really is. She’s staring off into space and clutching her doll. She doesn’t even acknowledge them.
They say hello, and try to ask her questions. She drifts over to the window, singing.
London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.
She clutches at the bars on the window.
Take the key, and lock her up…
Lock her up! LOCK HER UP!
She starts to howl.
Take the key, and LOCK HER UP!
LOCK HER UP! LOCK HER UP!
She’s screaming, hysterical.
LOCK HER UP!
LOCK HER UP!
So, yeah, I’d say Dr. Hoffman pretty much nailed it.
This is a genuinely upsetting scene, probably the scariest thing they’ve ever done on the show.
Downstairs, Julia is still messing with Dr. Woodard.
Woodard: Have you been able to find any hint at all of what’s going on with the girl?
Julia: Mmm, yes.
Woodard: Well, is there anything you’d care to tell me?
Julia: Not at this time.
And that’s all she’ll say. Yes, she’s starting to understand Maggie — yes, she’s discovered something in the blood samples — yes, she has plans for what to do next.
But when he presses her for details, she closes up, and says, “Not at this time.” She’s driving him crazy.
Finally, Sam and Joe shuffle back into the principal’s office.
Julia: I’m sorry you had to come so far, for such a brief visit.
Sam: Well, I guess we shouldn’t have seen her.
Julia: She was very frightened, wasn’t she?
Julia: And it was very painful for you, as well.
Sam: I don’t want to talk about it.
Julia: Then perhaps you’ll allow me to say one thing.
Sam: What’s that?
Julia: Trust me. Trust me to let you know when it’s advisable for another visit.
Sam: I had to see her.
Julia: But you didn’t see her.
Julia: Was that your daughter? That poor, frightened child? Most certainly it was not.
Julia: It may be a long time, Mr. Evans, before you can see your daughter. Until that time, may I observe… that your absence may hasten the day.
Her face freezes into a pointed stare. Sam turns, and walks out of the room.
I wish I could say that this is the moment when the new Dark Shadows is born. Yesterday’s episode started to redefine Barnabas’ role, and today we’ve met his new sparring partner. These are two impossible creatures, theatrical and fierce and unpredictable. This show is just on the brink of becoming Dark Shadows.
But not on Monday. Coming up, we’ve actually got two solid weeks of Liz, Jason, Carolyn, the wedding, and whatever’s buried under the floor in the basement. Thankfully, that’ll be the end of the blackmail storyline, finished and forgotten.
And this craziness? This is what’s waiting for us on the other side. See you on Monday.
Monday: Jump Start.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Dr. Woodard’s plan is that everyone thinks that Maggie’s dead — the only four people who are supposed to know that she’s alive are Woodard, Sam, Joe and Dr. Hoffman. But clearly the staff at Wyndcliffe know that this is Maggie Evans; the nurse calls her by name. We know that Maggie’s picture was featured in the newspaper in Collinsport, and the story of her abduction must be interesting enough to be newsworthy in the Wyndcliffe area, only 100 miles away. They couldn’t even try to give her an alias?
Behind the Scenes:
Nurse Jackson is played by Alice Drummond, who appeared in four episodes between June and August. This was Drummond’s first credited role. She appeared on some other soap operas, including Ryan’s Hope and Where the Heart Is, but her most memorable role is in the 1984 film Ghostbusters, where she played the elderly librarian who’s frightened by a ghost.
Expert prop-spotter Prisoner of the Night notes that the green “tortoise lamp” that was first noticed in episode 237 appears twice in this episode — in the Evans cottage, and on Julia’s desk at Windcliff. It shows up next week in Jason’s room, in episode 270.
Monday: Jump Start.
— Danny Horn