“I killed Paul Stoddard, and that man was my accomplice!”
We open this week with everybody standing in a line and facing forward. On Friday, Liz interrupted her wedding with Jason to confess that she killed her first husband. Now everyone has to stay very still, because there isn’t enough room for them all to react on camera.
They don’t usually have seven characters in the same scene, and this is why. They’ve only got three cameras. They’re using one for the front of the room, one for the side, and the third is dedicated to helping us keep track of the handgun Carolyn just dropped on the floor.
In other news, this is the episode where they break Joan Bennett, the actress who plays Elizabeth.
Back in April 1967, there was an actors’ strike, and they didn’t tape any episodes for two weeks. To get back on schedule, they’ve had to work six days a week, going straight through from Sunday to Friday.
Today’s episode was taped on Friday, at the end of a particularly grueling six-day week for Joan Bennett. Liz has been the focus of all six episodes filmed this week. Bennett’s a pro, but there’s a limit to the amount of dialogue you can memorize, and you can see the exact moment when she reaches that limit. It happens at sentence number four in the first act, when she strikes a dramatic pose that happens to be directly facing the teleprompter.
The judge makes a hasty exit, ostensibly because he may be asked to hear this case, but really more because the scene is too crowded and they’ve got another felony coming up.
Carolyn is absolutely shattered by the news. She looks away, and murmurs, “You killed him? You killed my father?”
Then Carolyn turns toward Jason.
Carolyn: I almost killed him.
Roger: Carolyn, what are you talking about?
Carolyn: Jason. I was standing right there. I was going to shoot him.
Liz: You were going to shoot him?
Carolyn: I couldn’t let you marry him!
That explanation actually makes a lot of sense for daytime television. This is basically how every soap opera wedding ends; the only question is whether they get to finish the ceremony before the murder confessions start piling up.
Burke scoops up the gun that Carolyn dropped on the floor, which is always a good idea in a situation like this.
Jason announces, “I’m sorry, but I have no intention of staying here any longer listening to these absurdities.”
Burke points the gun at Jason’s back, and says “I’m afraid you’re going to have to,” which I’m sure is totally super legal.
Liz positions herself at center stage, and says, “It happened in this very room.”
That’s the cue for everybody to clear the set for the big flashback.
The camera focuses on the windows, and we get some pre-recorded voice-over from Elizabeth as Joan Bennett scurries off to change clothes.
“There was a storm,” she says. “I remember the storm. The lightning crashing around the house seemed bent on destruction.”
They’re using thunder effects to cover the sound of all the actors moving around, not particularly successfully. It’s a nice live-theater moment.
And when the camera pans over to the fireplace — there’s Paul Stoddard, laughing as he takes a drink. Liz’s narration continues.
Paul was standing by the fireplace. His bag was packed beside him. He was drinking what seemed to be his final toast to Collinwood.
I had discovered that he was planning to leave that night — and never come back. I also knew something else that made it necessary for me to stop him. When I told him… he only laughed.
When we come back after the commercial break, Liz has changed her outfit — and what an outfit it is! Check out the feathers around her cuffs. It’s fantastic.
So this is a moment that really shows how the Dark Shadows team was trying to make something extraordinary. It would have been much easier just to have Liz walking around the room and telling her story, as the wedding guests stand in place and ask clarifying questions. Any other daytime soap would have been satisfied with that.
But that’s not enough for Dark Shadows; we need thunder and lightning and quick-change hairstyles, and a new actor to play Paul. We never see Paul’s face, which is another neat trick. We see him from behind, or with his face just above the frame.
With the storm raging outside, the melodrama ramps up several notches.
Liz: I know what’s in this suitcase. Bonds, jewelry, worth a fortune. I know what’s kept in the safe in the study, so I know exactly what’s in this suitcase.
Paul: Well, let’s just call it a settlement.
Liz: I can’t let you take it. You can go if you want to, but that suitcase stays here.
Paul: You’re the one who’s always saying that I have an unnatural avarice, and now you say you’ll do anything for the sake of a little bit of money.
Liz: You’re taking what belongs to Carolyn!
Paul: Tell her it’s a small payment for putting up with her for the last two years.
And that’s the point where something snaps. You can do a lot of bad things on a soap opera and the audience will forgive you — in fact, the next year of Dark Shadows is practically a master class on the subject — but if you don’t love your two-year-old daughter? Liz picks up a poker.
A nice solid thunk. The thunder and lightning are going like mad, it’s fantastic. If Joan Bennett could remember her lines, this would be a really effective scene.
And then guess who shows up? 1949 Jason! He comes in, and touches his hat when he greets Elizabeth.
Yesterday’s Jason is very gentle with Liz, and his Irish accent is stronger, to show that it’s 18 years ago. I love it.
Jason peeks into the drawing room to check out the body, and then he closes the doors again and tells Liz that he’ll take care of things.
By this point, she’s completely lost touch with her dialogue, and she just starts reading off the teleprompter.
This may actually be the reason why Dark Shadows tends to be more intense and melodramatic than other shows — the actors have to keep finding reasons to stare off into the distance.
Jason decided that Paul would be buried in the basement. I told him where he could find an old and empty trunk. He told me to stand guard in the foyer, to make sure no one interrupted his work.
I remember the lightning. I remember the thunder. I remember wishing that the whole house would be destroyed… and me with it.
There’s a cross-fade to Jason digging in the basement, and then he takes her downstairs, so she can lock the door.
I looked at the key that I held in my hand, and I knew that from that moment on, I was a prisoner of Collinwood… forever.
And then they cut to a commercial for Stripe toothpaste or Lux dishwashing liquid or whatever.
Tomorrow: Bourne Yesterday.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When the judge approaches Liz to excuse himself, Jason says, “Yes, that’s right; you talk to her, judge.” The judge steps on Jason’s line, as if he wasn’t supposed to say anything. Jason immediately checks the teleprompter, twice.
When the camera pans across to Paul by the fireplace, one of the wedding flower arrangements is in the bottom right corner of the frame. The camera moves up to get it out of the way.
Liz dries up on a lot of her lines during the confrontation with Paul, especially “It’s part of the Collins family money, and you know it.” She also says, “I can’t take you — I can’t let you take what belongs to Carolyn!”
The end credits run very long, and the closing theme ends halfway through. The credits go on for another 25 seconds in silence.
Behind the Scenes:
Joel Fabiani plays Paul Stoddard in the flashback; this is his only Dark Shadows episode. In 1985, Fabiani played Galen, the King of Moldavia on Dynasty. He also had roles on Dallas, The City and All My Children.
When Paul returns to the show in November 1969, he’ll be played by Dennis Patrick, who is currently playing Jason McGuire. This actually makes a weird kind of sense.
A little trivia note: This episode has eight speaking parts, which is very unusual — the cast is typically limited to five or six actors. There are only 12 episodes in the series with eight or more speaking parts. The last one was episode 201, when Roger confessed that he was responsible for the car accident. The next one is episode 655, in January 1969.
Tomorrow: Bourne Yesterday.
— Danny Horn