“Sometimes I get scared to like people, because I’m afraid.”
There are five more Ron Sproat episodes, and then, I swear to you, he is out of my life for good.
To catch up the uncaught: Over the last three months on Dark Shadows, there’s been a behind the scenes tug-of-war between two of the writers, Ron Sproat and Sam Hall. Ron’s been on the show since November 1966, and he lkes to slow things down and take his time. He writes a lot of recap scenes, and a whole week can go by without anything really happening. Sam joined the show in November 1967, and he’s the opposite. He’s smart, fearless and easily bored, and he wants to make the show faster, funnier, and more interesting.
Ron and Sam have been out of synch for a long time, and their disagreements are getting worse. That’s why the last few months have been a patchwork of exciting episodes and boring episodes, even more than usual.
By now, Sam has won, and Ron is on his way out. There’s only a handful of Sproat episodes left — and based on today’s episode, it sounds like he’s already cleaned out his desk.
Honestly, he’s not even trying anymore. I mean, he never really tried that hard in the first place, but now he’s not even trying to look like he’s trying.
Besides the recap scenes, the worst thing about a Sproat script is that his dialogue is functional rather than decorative.
Somebody answers the door, and says, “Oh, hello there. What a surprise to see you this early!” And the other character says, “Yes, I hope you don’t mind me showing up at this hour.” And the first character says, “Not at all, not at all. Please, come in.” And the second character says, “Thank you.” And then they walk all the way into the middle of the drawing room to begin the actual scene.
That kind of thing is the equivalent of Hamburger Helper — just extra junk that fills up the space where there should be a screenplay.
A good writer knows that if you absolutely have to have a door-opening sequence, then you give the characters an emotion to express, or something funny to say, or you have it happen just off screen while another character is doing something interesting in the foreground. You don’t just waste twenty seconds on dialogue helper. This is seriously not a difficult thing for a screenwriter to learn.
Another problem with purely functional dialogue is that everybody ends up sounding the same, with a default rhythm and vocabulary that overrides a character’s individual personality. Everyone has the same feelings, expressed in the same words.
So today, just to make me even more ready for his exit, Ron Sproat has constructed an entire episode out of filler dialogue. I swear, there’s not a single interesting line in the show.
This is what it sounds like.
David! Maggie? Where’s Amy? Amy? David, I heard you talking to her. You couldn’t have. She isn’t even in here. I think you’re lying, David. I heard her voice. Amy, where are you? Here, Maggie.
We’re going to a place in the west wing. Well, why does Quentin want us to go there? You’ll find out when we get there. How do we get there? Well, we have to go through the west wing.
There’s something peculiar about those children. Peculiar? Yes.
I know! What do you know? I know where we are! Where are we? We’re in my room. Your room? Yes.
It’ll be all my fault. Your fault? Yes.
It’s part of our game. Game? Yes.
Tonight? Yes. Tonight.
Always? Yes. Always.
You’re supposed to be in bed! But it’s not that late. Yes, it is.
Well, it’s getting late. I’d better — It’s not that late! Come into the drawing room, and have a drink. Well… Please do. Oh, it’s late. I’d better go on. I’ll take off. All right. Good night, Chris. Good night.
I’ll make sure that Mrs. Johnson’s downstairs, and then I’ll take you to your room. And you go to sleep, David! Okay, Maggie. Good night! Good night.
I was saying good night to David. Is Amy here? Amy? Yes. She’s not in her room, and I thought she might be in here with David. Oh. No, she’s not here.
Amy, where are you?
Is Amy here?
Where do you suppose she is?
What are you doing here? I came to see David. You know you’re not supposed to be here. Yes, I know.
But I like Carolyn. I don’t want to play the game with her. We have to do what Quentin tells us to do. Always? Yes. Always.
You children play very odd games. What’s so odd about dress-up? Didn’t you ever play it when you were a little girl? Sometimes.
I had an idea today. I’ve been meaning to suggest it to you all evening.
Sometimes I get scared to like people, because I’m afraid. I’m afraid that they’ll go away and leave me, or die. Oh, I won’t leave you, Amy. Of course you won’t, David, and neither will I, Amy. I’m ashamed of myself. Why? Because I got scared, and only babies get scared. That’s not true. Even grownups get frightened. That’s what I told her.
What is it? Music. Can’t you hear it? No. Light your candle. All right.
Where are we going? You’ll see.
What does Quentin want us to do? You’ll see.
Why does Quentin want us to go there?
You’ll find out when we get there.
Why does Quentin want us to come here? I don’t know yet. David! The music! I can hear it! I can hear it too, Amy!
Thanks, Maggie! Don’t thank me, just behave yourselves from now on. I promise we will! All right.
I’m frightened of the children. Frightened how? I don’t know how to say it. I can’t put my finger on it, but somehow they’ve changed.
David is changing. He’s not the way he used to be. Change? It sounds natural to me. He’s probably just growing up.
Quentin, you shouldn’t have come here. Why not? Because I’m afraid of them. I’m afraid of both of them.
I’m going to tell her, David. No, don’t. Tell me what, Amy? I’m ashamed to tell. Well, don’t tell her, not if you don’t want to. I do, because I don’t want to get you in trouble. Amy, what are you talking about?
You don’t believe in her powers. You don’t believe in her curse. But you should! I’ll find a way of stopping her. I don’t know if you can stop her! I don’t know if anyone can. Don’t worry. I’m tired of their interfering. I’m going to put it to an end.
Something’s going to happen to Mrs. Johnson. What? You’ll see.
Is something wrong? No. Why do you say that? Well, it’s just the way you look at me sometimes. I just wonder. What do you mean? Shall I be honest with you? Of course.
What are those strange clothes you’re wearing? We found them. Where? In the trunk in the attic.
That doesn’t make any difference to me. Doesn’t it? Of course not.
David, I feel funny. How? I don’t know, I just don’t feel the same as I did downstairs. What are you talking about?
What are you doing here? Is something wrong? Did they explain? Can’t you hear it? Shall I be honest with you? Are we going to be punished? Tell me what? Why did you lie to me? Do we have to? Do you know who I found downstairs? When would be convenient? What kind of a dream? What are you children doing down here? Don’t you understand? Who are you? What’s that? What did he do? What do you know? What do you mean? What do you say? Why do you say that?
What are you talking about?
Where are we going?
What’s going to happen now?
Tomorrow: My Boyfriend’s Back.
There’s another cryptic info-drop about the Quentin/Beth backstory today, which shows that the writers really have not figured out where that’s going. In the scene, David and Amy are speaking as Quentin and Beth, and it is a very “interceding with Oscar” type exchange. Also note the mention of “they”, the dark and shadowy organization manipulating events from behind the scenes.
Amy: Quentin, you shouldn’t have come here.
David: Why not?
Amy: Because I’m afraid of them. I’m afraid of both of them.
David: Don’t be afraid. They can’t do anything to us.
Amy: But he hates you so, and so does she!
David: No more than I hate her.
Amy: You don’t believe in her powers. You don’t believe in her curse. But you should!
David: I’ll find a way of stopping her.
Amy: I don’t know if you can stop her! I don’t know if anyone can.
David: Don’t worry. I’m tired of their interfering. I’m going to put it to an end.
So, first problem: It doesn’t match up at all with what we see in 1897, except for the word “curse”, and the suggestion that infidelity might be involved. Using deliberately unheralded pronouns means that the audience is supposed to be vaguely puzzled by this, and we’re not expected to remember it later in any detail. It’s basically the verbal equivalent of a trilling violin on the soundtrack; it indicates tension.
And then there’s the tone. It’s partly the suffocating Sproatness of it all, but these lines don’t sound like Quentin as we know him. It’s not the kind of thing that Quentin would be concerned about, and it’s definitely not the way that he talks.
Most obviously, they haven’t figured out that Quentin is funny, which is the second most important thing about him. This isn’t Quentin yet.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
David and Amy are in the drawing room with candles, and they hear Carolyn in the foyer. David blows out his own candle, and then blows out Amy’s, but hers is already out. The two kids grin as they go on with the scene.
After Chris leaves and Carolyn goes upstairs, the kids leave the drawing room. David relights their candles, but his blows out before he exits the scene. He puts his hand up as if he’s protecting the flame anyway.
David and Amy make a big deal about going into the abandoned west wing — but apparently, Mrs. Johnson hears them as she’s going to bed. They’re not even talking very loud. Where does Mrs. Johnson sleep, exactly?
Tomorrow: My Boyfriend’s Back.
— Danny Horn