“Why do you think you’re the only one who hears dogs?”
Let’s start, once again, with the notebook. I’m going to assume you’ve been following the story, and you already know everything you need to know about the vampire, the doctor, the experiments, the murder, the notebook, the niece and the crystal chandelier. If you’re new to the group, feel free to read up on the old episodes, because frankly I’ve had it with trying to explain this weird little knot of a storyline.
Fortunately, the show is less than two weeks away from coming to the exact same conclusion.
Yesterday’s episode ended with a stalemate straight out of a door-slamming bedroom farce. Julia’s hidden her notebook in the grandfather clock in the Collinwood foyer, so Carolyn won’t find it and give it to Barnabas.
Carolyn looks at the clock, and realizes it didn’t strike the hour. She reaches for the cabinet door, to see what’s wrong.
To distract her, Julia tries to strike up a conversation about Barnabas. But then there’s a knock at the door, and a stranger walks in.
His name is Tony Peterson, he’s here to see Roger, and he does a great impression of Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon. Carolyn goes upstairs to find Roger, leaving Julia and Tony standing around awkwardly in the foyer.
So this is probably a good time to talk about the new writer, Sam Hall, who starts today. He’s married to Grayson Hall, who plays Julia, and executive producer Dan Curtis offered him the job after meeting him at a cast party at Grayson’s apartment.
Sam was a playwright who’d spent several years on the CBS soap The Brighter Day, and he didn’t really want another TV job. But the family had been struggling for a while, and Sam was considering moving back to Ohio, to work at his father’s rubber gloves factory. (Seriously. That’s a real fact.) Then Grayson got a short-term gig on Dark Shadows, which turned into a long-term gig, and that kept them in New York. So when Curtis said he needed a new writer to replace Malcolm Marmorstein, Sam said he’d give it a try.
Spoiler alert: He’s amazing. My fascination with the Dark Shadows writers started when I was watching the reruns on public TV in high school, and I noticed that all of the episodes that I really liked were written by the same guy. Hall’s scripts are witty, and fast-paced, and he comes up with ideas that nobody else could.
Now, the credits at the end of today’s episode actually say that it’s written by Gordon Russell. The credits are lying. The Dark Shadows Program Guide, which is my nerd Bible, says it’s Sam Hall, and I believe it. You’ll see why in a minute; we’re keeping poor Tony Peterson waiting, and we should probably get back to Collinwood.
With Tony stashed in the drawing room and Carolyn upstairs fetching Roger, Julia decides to get her notebook out of the clock. Just as she opens the cabinet, Roger heads downstairs, and he says, “It’s a fascinating piece, isn’t it, Miss Hoffman? The original Barnabas Collins had it made as a wedding present for Josette.”
And Julia laughs. After weeks of tension and drama, this weird little coincidence just breaks her, and she can’t help it. “I’m sorry,” she chuckles, “it’s just — my nerves, the storm, and just now, the clock didn’t strike. Something’s wrong with it.”
Then Roger turns to the young man who’s shown up uninvited. Tony’s a lawyer, and he’s representing an injured cannery employee who’s been trying to get compensation from the Collins family.
Roger enters the drawing room, saying that he can give Tony five minutes.
Once the guys are occupied, Julia looks around, hoping for a moment to get the notebook out of the clock without anybody seeing it. Roger and Tony continue their conversation.
Roger: Now, this accident Newley supposedly —
Tony: This accident Newley had is a result of your worn-out machinery. As his lawyer, I intend to get…
Roger: Do you live in Collinsport?
Tony: All my life.
Roger: Yet, I don’t know you.
Tony: You will.
Julia checks to make sure Carolyn isn’t going to come back downstairs. The guys are still arguing.
Roger: You are an extremely insolent young man!
Tony: Growing up in your town made me that way.
Roger: Contact Phelps at the cannery tomorrow.
Tony: And hear his one line? “I’ll get in touch with Mr. Collins”?
Roger: He will… in due time.
Tony: Meanwhile, my client is using up his savings.
Roger: I’ll send him a check.
Tony: Unbelievable! Pure 18th century. Why don’t you send the lady of the house down with a basket of food?
It’s a nice, tightly written scene, and the thing that I love about it is that it isn’t even the real scene. On any normal soap opera, that would be a nice dramatic story point — the young firebrand lawyer making his mark by taking down the heartless fish baron.
But on Dark Shadows, the normal soap opera stuff is what happens in the background, while the two mad women are in the other room, engaged in a desperate life-or-death struggle for possession of a notebook stuffed with vampire secrets. It’s the vampire-soap-opera version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
Carolyn stalks downstairs, and it looks like the ladies are about to get into a fight over the book — but then Tony stomps out of the drawing room, saying that he’ll be in Roger’s office first thing in the morning to finish their talk.
That puts the kibosh on the notebook chase for a moment, as Tony puts on his coat. Julia hears the dogs howling outside, and she knows this may be her only chance to escape.
She asks Tony if he’d mind driving her into town, and he agrees. While Carolyn glares at her, Julia puts on her coat and leaves with Tony.
And that was probably the last peaceful moment Tony Peterson will ever experience. You know what happens to people, once they get involved with the inmates at Collinwood. There are hamsters with a longer life expectancy.
Carolyn strikes up a conversation with Roger, which is an opportunity for more fast-paced one-liners.
Carolyn: Uncle Roger, who is Mr. Peterson?
Roger: A most unpleasant young man.
Carolyn: Aside from that.
Roger: So angry! From my reading, I understood the younger generation to be obsessed with love. He certainly didn’t get that message.
Carolyn: Is his office in town?
Roger: If he has an office. I wouldn’t be surprised if he operated out of his briefcase and car.
Carolyn: Didn’t your great-great-grandfather arrive here with nothing more than a Bible and eighteen dollars? Wasn’t that all?
Roger: No, it was not! He arrived with manners, if he was any great-great-grandfather of mine.
It’s lovely. I mean, Roger usually gets good dialogue, but everything feels fresh today.
Downtown, Julia paces around Tony’s office, jumping at sudden noises. Tony stares at her, and tries to figure out what the hell he just drove into town. A dog howls.
Julia: Did — did you hear that?
Julia: That dog howling. Did you hear it?
Tony: Why, yes.
Julia sighs with relief.
Julia: I was beginning to think I was the only one that heard it. Now, where do we start?
Tony: Well, I see one logical place. Why do you think you’re the only one who hears dogs?
And that’s it, right there — the thing we’ve been waiting for. That’s what Sam Hall is going to bring to the show.
Tony Peterson is from a completely different fictional universe. He’s a visitor from the world of detective novels, or possibly a romance novel where the poor, headstrong young lawyer wins the heart of the pretty rich girl whose uncle owns the cannery. He could actually be from the original version of Dark Shadows, in that first year when Burke Devlin walked around with a chip on his shoulder, grumbling about dark secrets and the Collins family.
But Dark Shadows has become something different, and now Tony is an outsider, looking at the madness with fresh eyes. When he looks at Julia, he doesn’t see the brilliant and secretive doctor who’s been pushed to her limits. All he sees is the crazy lady that she’s become.
Julia: You hate the Collinses. Why?
Tony: I’m that type of fella.
Julia: That’s not an answer.
Tony: I grew up without money. I had to think about every dime. What was the last dime Roger Collins ever thought about? I bet it was an original pressing of a first edition from the Denver Mint. I want what they’ve got.
Julia: You wouldn’t, if you knew.
A dog howls outside.
Tony: Knew what?
Julia: What… they… have got.
So, yeah, I’m just going to be quoting dialogue all day, and pretty much for the next three years. I hope you get used to it.
What Sam Hall has figured out — on his very first day — is that Dark Shadows is a mash-up.
That’s not a completely new idea, obviously, because they’ve already grafted characters and plot points from Dracula onto a daytime soap opera. But now that storyline is running out of steam, and they’ve been flirting with the idea of closing down the vampire story and starting over with another monster.
Hall’s contribution is to say, essentially: We don’t need to do these one at a time. If you need some fresh energy in the show, just throw in something new, and see what happens.
So what we’ve got now is a hard-boiled Dashiell Hammett detective story colliding with the chaotic vampire bedroom farce, and creating something new that makes you look at both genres in a different way.
Julia’s given Tony her notebook, begging him to keep it for her in his office safe. And then, just like in every film noir pastiche — a beautiful dame walks in, and I predict that before this scene is over, he’s going to say that she looks like trouble.
Carolyn: I’m Carolyn Stoddard.
Carolyn: You know that, of course.
Tony: Of course.
Carolyn: I came to apologize. Someone should.
She parks herself on the edge of his desk, her fingers idly brushing the cover of the notebook.
Carolyn: I’m not like the rest of them.
Tony: Just born lucky, I guess.
Carolyn: You have everything figured out, don’t you?
Carolyn: You look as if you do.
Tony: You don’t know how I look; you never have.
Carolyn: I’ve just met you.
Tony: Come on. I was the lifeguard at the beach, the day you wore your first bikini. And when you learned to play golf, I was a caddie… yours.
Carolyn: That’s impossible!
Tony: Nah, you couldn’t see me for the golf bag then. Oh, I may have grown a bit taller. I certainly shave oftener. But… still the same package.
Carolyn: Maybe I like men who shave oftener.
Tony: Yeah. And maybe you just like trouble.
There, I told you! He has to say she’s trouble, it’s an essential part of the hard-boiled lifestyle. This character clearly does not belong in a vampire soap opera. But here he is, Hall’s first narrative collision, and there’s more to come. Tomorrow, believe it or not, we get a taste of Caribbean voodoo magic. It all fits together, sort of.
And that’s how Sam Hall is going to save Dark Shadows. They started down this road six months ago when they introduced a vampire, and Hall knows that they can’t ever go back. There’s only one direction this can go, and that’s forward, straight off the cliff on Widow’s Hilll.
Tomorrow: Boy Meets Ghoul.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Roger comes down the stairs in the foyer, there’s a boom mic very clearly in the shot, and at the same time, a crew member can be seen passing by the bottom of the frame.
Carolyn messes up her line, giving Tony the wrong cue:
Carolyn: You have everything figured out, don’t you?
Carolyn: You sound as if you do. You look as if you do.
Tony: You don’t know how I look. You never have.
Behind the Scenes:
Tony Peterson is played by Jerry Lacy, who had been a stage actor up to now — mostly in regional theater, although he’d played the Sheriff in an Off-Broadway production of Desire Under the Elms in 1963. Lacy was referred to Dark Shadows by Nancy Barrett (Carolyn) and David Ford (Sam), who met him in the summer of 1967 while doing a show at the Wayside Theatre in Virginia. (Barrett and Ford were taking a break from Dark Shadows.) This is Lacy’s first television role. He’s going to play five different characters on DS, most of them named Trask.
The set for Tony’s office will be redressed in 1968 as the Old House master bedroom, Dr. Lang’s house, and then Nicholas’ house. (Thanks to prop-spotter Prisoner of the Night.)
Tomorrow: Boy Meets Ghoul.
— Danny Horn