Episode 647: The Wire

“I fear the séance didn’t put an end to what’s been happening here.”

The Turn of the Screw opens with a group of devoted thrill-seekers at a week-long house party, entertaining each other with ghost stories. Griffin has just finished telling the story of a young boy waking his mother up in the middle of the night, because a dreadful apparition had materialized in the bedroom, and he wanted her to see it. That is the beginning and end of that story, as I understand it, but it sounds like it was the hit of the evening, so hooray for low standards.

Unable to cope with his seething jealousy of the master raconteur, a guest named Douglas tries a bit of casual oneupmanship:

Before we scattered, he brought out what was in his mind.

“I quite agree — in regard to Griffin’s ghost, or whatever it was — that its appearing first to the little boy, at so tender an age, adds a particular touch. But it’s not the first occurrence of its charming kind that I know to have involved a child. If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to TWO children — ?”

“We say, of course,” somebody exclaimed, “that they give two turns! Also that we want to hear about them.”

Obviously, this is setting a bad precedent. It’s only a matter of time before Griffin comes up with a ghost story involving four children, and then Douglas ups the ante to a half dozen, until finally there’s a story about thirty-five children, each with his or her own personalized specter, and the bottom falls out of the ghost story market. This is not a scaleable business model.

647 dark shadows amy david wire

But I have to say, there is something about a spooky kid that rattles the nerves. I wouldn’t call it another turn of the screw, necessarily, because I’m not entirely sure what that means, but if it involves pre-meditated patricide, I’m willing to give it a few minutes of my valuable time.

David and Amy are currently under the spell of an angry ancestor named Quentin Collins, who wasn’t happy with the family when they locked him up and starved him to death seven decades ago, and the passage of time has not improved his mood. Quentin has given the kids the following instructions.

#1. Stretch a wire across one of the stairs on the big staircase in the foyer.

#2. Open the front door.

#3. Wake Roger up in the middle of the night, and tell him you heard burglars downstairs.

And then I guess you just clean up the mess, and get started on the next member of the family.

Quentin’s descendant extermination program shouldn’t take very long to complete, because there aren’t that many members of the Collins family, possibly because previous generations locked up siblings and starved them to death. You don’t get much of a crowd at family reunions with that kind of policy in place.

647 dark shadows roger gun

David takes care of the wire-stretching, so Amy has the job of waking up Roger and getting him down the stairs. She tells him about the strange noises she heard, and he immediately goes to the roll-top desk right next to his bed and pulls out a loaded handgun, because obviously if your last name is Collins, then you have to maintain at least one murder weapon in every room of the house.

I swear to God, it’s amazing that there’s a single member of the Collins family left to take revenge on. I bet if Quentin just waits a couple months, they’ll wipe themselves out completely. This may be one of those problems that solve themselves.

647 dark shadows roger screenshot

Anyway, the plan works great for everybody, except for the guy trying to get a decent screenshot of the event. Roger takes a tumble, although he somehow manages not to fire the gun for a little ricochet bonus-points action.

647 dark shadows roger blood

Roger ends up on the floor, shattered into several pieces…

647 dark shadows david unbothered

While his young son is standing by observing the wreckage, entirely unbothered. And there you have it: screw turned.

647 dark shadows david bothered

Now, the weird thing, spooky-kidwise, is that David was in charge of this conspiracy yesterday, but as we transition into today’s episode, he’s had a bit of an attitude adjustment.

Roger didn’t die, as it happens. He’s got a limp, some bruises, a dazed expression and the certain knowledge that somebody in the house is trying to kill him, but he’s otherwise perfectly fine, and David actually seems relieved about it.

You can handwave and say that seeing his injured father shocked young David out of his temporary hypno trance, but really the explanation is that Gordon Russell wrote yesterday’s episode and Sam Hall wrote today’s, and they didn’t really bother to synch up on David’s emotional throughline. It happens. This is the “good enough for rock ‘n roll” approach to soap opera dramaturgy.

647 dark shadows david amy executive

This isn’t an isolated incident; we’re going to see a lot of this kind of thing over the next few months. The kids can’t actually be equally mesmerized in any given scene, because then there’s nothing for them to talk about, and we have all this time to fill between sponsorship breaks.

Basically, one of them has to be Executive Child for the day. One kid says “I don’t want to play the game anymore,” and the Executive Child says, “Quentin won’t like that,” and then tomorrow they can do it the other way around.

647 dark shadows amy david weapon

In the best spooky kid moment of the day, David says he’s going outside, and Amy takes that moment to tell him that Quentin has started calling him Jamison. David says that’s his grandfather’s name, and Amy says that Quentin thinks David looks just like his grandfather.

While she says this, she’s looking straight into the camera — maintaining eye contact with the audience for more than ten seconds, even while the camera’s moving. It’s a really compelling, creepy moment.

So you know what this means, right? They’ve finally weaponized backacting.

From here on, all bets are off; nobody’s safe. Watch your back, people, or somebody else is going to watch it for you.

Tomorrow: Astral Disturbances.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In her first line, Madame Findley says, “No, Mrs. Stoddard, you must tell nothing about this house, neither its history, nor your personal experiences.” She means “you must tell me.” Don’t worry; we’ll discuss her tomorrow. I don’t let something like Madame Findley slip by unnoticed.

Tomorrow: Astral Disturbances.

647 dark shadows david glum

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

27 thoughts on “Episode 647: The Wire

  1. Yeah, that is a great unnerving moment, when Amy speaks right into the camera. Denise Nickerson is amazing. She’s one of DS many little secret weapons.

  2. I’m pretty sure I remember this episode from its original airing, on December 17, 1968. I remember Roger’s tumble down the stairs. It was disturbing.

    Not sure how I managed to be home.
    In Iowa, Dark Shadows came on at 3 pm and school got out at 3:40 pm, so I only saw the original run in summer, on holidays, snow days, and the occasional sick day.
    It was a week before Christmas, so it was probably Christmas break. I just remember finding the wire on the stairs to be kind of shocking. And I was probably real careful on the stairs at my house for a while after that.

    1. My 11-year-old self was shocked by it, too. I remember thinking of it as a serious plot stumble (no pun intended). I was relieved when David returned to David in the following episode. And, of course, relieved when Roger was okay.

      I feel for you–I had plenty of time to get home after school (in Ohio) to see DS. I did miss stretches of the show, however, whenever our TVs went bad (missed the whole 1995 story-line, for instance), and I recall some no-TV-allowed days, all instituted by my mom, who thought the show was a bad influence (too violent, etc.). My mom was an atheist, so religion had nothing to do with it.

    2. Same here. I was watching the show in Illinois and couldn’t get home fast enough to watch when school was going on.

    3. I was also one of those (seemingly few) who was not able to perform the proverbial ritual of “running home as fast as I could to see Dark Shadows.” My school got out at 3:30, and the show as on at 3:00 (Central Time). Luckily, I had a stay-at-home mom who liked to watch soap operas, and if I remember correctly, DS came on right after “One Life to Live.” So she would watch DS for me and tell me what happened. So I’m not really sure what I actually saw or not, but for the most part, like you, it was summer vacation, Christmas vacation, other holidays and breaks, and sick days.

      1. When I first started watching the program it started at 3p, however we did not get home until 3:10p. We were happy when it changed to 3:30p.

  3. Quentin already exceeds Nicholas Blair as a villain because he’s manipulated a young boy into trying to kill his father. This has an emotional heft to it, which is similar to the peak of the early Barnabas story arc because the vampire was trying to isolate a young boy from his family by making him appear crazy. (And the threat of being “sent away” was something any child could identify with.) Laura Collins wanted her son to go up in flames with her, and even Angelique threatened the life of a child to force a man to marry her. Burke and Jason to different degrees threatened the family unit.

    DARK SHADOWS is a soap opera, so naturally threats to the family provide its juice, and I think that’s when the series is the most dramatically effective. And a major character in 1897 completes his shift to anti-hero when he’s thrust into the role of “family protector” due to a villain’s machinations.

    I think 1968 stumbles right out of the gate when it wastes the opportunity for Cassandra to truly do damage to the Collins from “the inside.” (We’d see the opportunity seized in 1840 and somewhat in 1970 PT.) And Adam’s threat to “kill” the entire family if he doesn’t get what he wants is just a plot device, an arbitrary deadline, and a weak motivation in his case.

    If, like me, you think DS had started to lose its way during the Cassandra/Adam/Nicholas story, it’s amazing to see the series find its way back to a gripping emotional path that is genuinely creepy — even more so than a murder lab in the basement or Satan’s bordello by the sea.

    1. Agreed. I really like the back-to-basics approach that this storyline takes, with the core family front and center again and a ghost as the antagonist (which is fitting since the first supernatural characters on the show were ghosts). And David trying to kill his father nicely echoes the early days of the series when David did indeed try to kill Roger, though not because of possession. It’s a smart move, after the campy excesses of 1968, to place the emphasis back on mood and atmosphere and go for creepy, subtle scares.

  4. If Quentin wants for David to have a really good chance of killing Roger, he should have had him remove the break valve on Roger’s car–it was only a stroke of luck that Roger escaped that time largely unscathed. But perhaps Quentin, who seems bound to Collinwood, wants to witness the carnage up close. Still, arranging an accident at home is risky, as it can leave evidence and narrows down suspects. However, Quentin probably isn’t even aware of Roger’s car, or even of motorcars in general, and won’t find out about them until he’s run down by one, driven at excessive speed by a reckless vampire.

    1. Adorable is the word I would use.

      The whole sneak-the-body-out,-right-under-their-noses bit is very Hitchcockian, too, as is the delightful this-could-fall-apart-at-any-second aspect of their little caper.

  5. This just in:
    According to my online TV guide, a non-stop Dark Shadows marathon begins this afternoon, here in Hollywood, at 3 pm on local broadcast ( not cable) channel KCBSDT2 (2.2), starting with episode 285 and ending with 412 at 7 am on Saturday. Then it shows episode 413 & 414 at 10 am, and that’s it.
    I can watch these whenever I want, but it’s nice to see a little Dark Shadows marathon, out of the blue.

    2.2 is a great channel, all they do is marathons. They did a Peter Gunn marathon a while back. It was really cool, Peter Gunn must have been an influence on Twin Peaks, with all that late-nite jazz and violence.

  6. This incident is ‘child’s play’ for David – I thought David was much scarier in the early days of the show – that was the genuine article – this is the David whose creepiness and deranged personality were diluted by Barnabas and is now mesmerized into becoming a shadow of hisformer deranged self.

    1. Yes, the original David was a lot scarier. As with everybody,,, Barnabas pushed him towards a dull normalcy.

    2. David had softened before Barnabas had shown up, mostly as a result of his experiences with Laura. He was on very friendly terms with Vicki by that point and had even reconciled with Roger and Carolyn. Personally, I don’t see this is a dilution of the character but rather him maturing and starting to trust others. He was still a bit mischievous and disobedient by the time Barnabas shows up, but nowhere near the cat-killing, “I hope you die!” levels of the show’s early days.

      1. I’m glad you mentioned this. I always thought Victoria Winter’s greatest achievement was saving David Collins from the loony bin. He was on a bad path, but Vicky turned out to be the friend he needed. I think Vicky was able to convince David that he mattered, that people actually did care about him. Burke Devlin helped David a lot, too. Vicky and Burke both did great things for David’s self esteem, and showed him that it was possible for a friend to have a pulse.

      2. Pretty edgy subject matter for television in 1966, a boy trying to kill his father. Makes Peyton Place look like Leave It To Beaver. I can’t think of any TV shows from that time, much less daytime television, with such a theme going. In the beginning, David surely was the darkest part of Dark Shadows, all the more dark and disturbing when you consider that it isn’t supernatural, that something like this could actually occur.

        1. Yes – as Alfred Hitchcock proved, the most evil things are the ones we meet in our everyday lives. Also the new series Bates Motel (about the young Norman Bates and how he became a human monster) is worth watching – the Pacific Northwest setting makes the storyline very eerie.

          1. I love Alfred Hitchcock, Night Gallery, Twilight Zone as those stories were true horror and scary features. Boris Karloff had a series called the Nightmares or something. It was truly scary. I think Dark Shadows was the last of the truly spooky programs of this era. I do love Bates Motel!

    3. To some extent, the whole Collins family becomes softened and “normalized” over time. While he maintains a bit of sarcastic wit, Roger is no longer the manipulative, smarmy-mouthed “loser” who just might do harm to a family member himself. Elizabeth is no longer the mysterious, bizarro-recluse matriarch with a horrible, murderous secret. Carolyn probably wouldn’t be caught dead with Buzz anymore. As has been noted by Danny numerous times, Barnabas has by now been “de-fanged” to be a kindly uncle. This happens a lot in TV shows that have any length of life to them. The hard edges of characters are often not sustainable if we’re going to want to be with them for years and years. I think of MASH, where the drunkard, sexist, womanizer Hawkeye becomes the quintessential “sensitive man” of the 1970s. We wouldn’t put up with Season 1 Hawkeye for 11 years. (Same with most of the other characters on MASH, where they become family members rather than broadly drawn antagonists. What would Frank Burns have been like in season 11?)

      1. Barnabas who pledged to eventually strangle Julia to death, now will beat up anybody behind messing or trying to hurt Julia. “Julia!…Julia!….Come Julia!…I need you with me Julia!”…too cute!

  7. I watched these episodes again recently. I love Madame Findley. The Ralston Purina lamp is on Roger’s bedside table in 647. A few episodes later it’s on Liz’s bedside table. Yesterday on the way to visit some relatives I passed a feed store that had the Ralston Purina symbol on their sign. I immediately thought of Dark Shadows and laughed.

  8. I had to smile when Liz advises Roger not to move around until Julia can examine him. I hope Julia is living rent-free at Collinwood because those people need medical attention around the clock. Where would they be without Dr. Hoffman to bandage the injured and sedate the hysterical?

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